Saturday, December 25, 2010

Leaderblog

During my studies with the National Urban Fellows, I have been charged with a great many characteristics: gregarious, overly productive, at times mildly pedantic, literary; all of which I acknowledge and accept as things I need to either celebrate, or work on. Since my last post, I've been party to a whole host of leadership decisions, and perhaps have even been involved in a few, though I always hesitate to consider things 'leadership roles' until I've written about it, and perhaps that's one of my faults. In an interesting twist of fate related to that previous statement, one of our recent assignments was to develop a conversation using the Blackboard Discussion Board section of our Journaling class to properly treat the concepts of 'Reflection on Action, Reflection IN action, and Knowledge in Action.' How that has been represented in my agency varies in degree across the profile of personnel, however, I find it at once disturbing and amusing that Pope Benedict XVI would publish a statement using precisely the same terminology at the point in time when we had this assignment. A reflective practice indeed, and quite a serious set of circumstances.

As I wrote to my parents in an e-mail just this past week: "...the Integrated Workplace Management Software implementation heated up, the boss' 'transition team' meeting involved me, and his administrative assistant, and that's it, and strategic planning for the division is underway using the flow chart I designed..." of which I made light as though things had slowed down due to the holidays. But secreted away inside of that short summation of the last 5 days' events was a few kernels ready to pop on the hot surface of my race tuned, fabulous firebird funny car, nitro burning, quarter mile winning mind. That IWMS meeting I attended included, unless I miss my guess, every division head in the agency and me, to represent my division. I managed to gain some key insights, and introductions to the project team from the vendor. Luckily, I've made good friends with the Chief Information Officer, and I was able to ask him some of the hotter questions that remained as I left the meeting. Also, during the meeting, the announcement came of the selection of the interim Director, and they are not somebody at the even Deputy Director level, and that was a great deal more surprising than the mayor not simply picking a standing replacement. I also wonder, as Dove Seidman said in his article for Bloomberg News if this choice has the wherewithall to do that which is  "inconvenient, unpopular, and even temporarily unprofitable," or if there might have been a different purpose altogether.

Of course, this speaks to something that Professor Greg Sicek mentioned during a Brookings Institute presentation that the answer to our country's education dilemma is not something that is fast, cheap, and easy, and rather what we need to do is long, expensive, and difficult. In my training in the martial arts, these sensibilities are always expressed, nearly every lesson. There's no such thing as developing the necessary skills quickly, they are only acquired over time. "Repeating a technique 10,000 times, you begin to understand the reason..." and so on, and so on. A similar thing can be said to be visible in the current climate of 'Leadership training' or 'Business Leadership' wherein collections of people in groups large enough to be statistically significant enter into accelerated programs with pie-eyed dreams of leadership. "Tai Chi in 12 steps" as quintessential NYC personality Roberto Sharpe comments in the video below.


So, leadership, what does leadership mean? How can we assess who it is that has the prowess, training, and proper mentality in order to lead? The Harvard Business Review Blog carried a recent post entitled 'The Value of Ritual in Your Work Day,' in which the opening remarks contain a recollection of a scene in 'The Last Samurai' of a japanese warrior performing a tea ceremony. This, to the Western mind, is undoubtedly oxymoronic - a warrior arduously focusing on the minutiae of properly preparing something so effortlessly simple as tea. But, the author notes:

"This, I realized, was the source of the samurai's strength."

And I believe that is in essence the point of this post. Peimin Ni is a philosophy professor who periodically writes columns for the New York Times, and two of his recent posts are appropriate here. He starts by quoting an earlier article written by a visitor to the Shaolin temple in China:

In a 2005 news report about the Shaolin Temple, the Buddhist monastery in China well-known for its martial arts, a monk addressed a common misunderstanding: “Many people have a misconception that martial arts is about fighting and killing,” the monk was quoted as saying, “It is actually about improving your wisdom and intelligence.”

Not how easily 'fighting and killing' could be exchanged for 'being productive and making profits,' and 'martial arts' could be replaced with '[business] leadership training.' As is frequently the case, the leader of a particular school defines the character that such training will take: is it primarily technical, with a conveyor belt type approach, turning out finished students as fast as humanly possible? Or are there internal mechanisms that the teacher seeks to instill in his/her students before they are granted 'mastery'? Is the skill of passing on the acquired knowledge also instilled in the student? Or will the storehouse of knowledge for which they are now responsible remain solely with them? This begins to drive at the oft quoted ideallic state of 'creating leaders around you.' Though this is a rare and infrequent practice indeed.

Another story that Professor Ni relates is being invited to a dinner by a practiced and very effective martial artist, who had come to an impasse in a very philosophical section of a manual he had been reading. Knowing of Peimin's facility with Asian philosophical trends through history, the practitioner asked that he please decipher the text, and provide a certain level of insight into its meaning:

"I looked at the manual. It was on a martial arts style called xingyi quan. While the main body of the book was about postures and movements of the body and energy, which Mr. Wu had no trouble interpreting, the introduction was basically a treatise about metaphysics. It contained views derived from the Song dynasty neo-Confucian scholar Zhou Dunyi, in which an abstract concept, called wuji, the ultimate non-being, takes a central role as ontologically prior to taiji (t’ai chi), or “the primordial ultimate.” Oddly enough, the author offered no indication about how the ideas should be translated into the martial arts, as if it were all self-evident.

Thanks to Mr. Wu’s practical background and drawing on my own philosophical training and experience in the practice of Chinese calligraphy art — a form of kung fu which is deeply influenced by traditional Chinese philosophy — it did not take me long to convey the basic ideas to him and help him see the intellectual connection between the metaphysics and the martial arts, though we both aware perfectly well that it would take lots of cultivation for the connection to be embodied and manifested in the practice. The point is basically to empty oneself (including the metaphysical idea), so that, paradoxically, one can achieve unification of the self and the world! Mr. Wu sighed, regretfully, “Today’s martial arts practitioners focus too much on the surface performances. That is not real kung fu!”"
 
"Surface performance" or "performance measurement" or "metrics" or "profitability" or any of a host of other monikers that I could easily list here that readily demonstrate both the inherent callousness, and intrinsic fallibility of that system of thought. Tai Chi in 12 easy steps. What, precisely, has our efficiency gotten us? Robosigning and derivatives markets caused a global problem so severe that it will be a miracle if we ever manage to return to pre-2008 levels. The Washington Post's very detailed article of how we've become responsible for our own runaway extinction train is instructive, to say the least. Eight presidents in a row have touted initiatives to create American energy independence, and none have been successful. We expend far too much effort futilely attempting to create significant change at the margin, when it's the structure of the entire balance sheet that needs to be shifted.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Cogito ergo sum

This past week's election cycle has brought an inordinate amount of commentary, not to mention controversy, and indeed the worst appears yet to come, as one party attempts to functionally reverse the direction in which the other had been taking the country. This pattern is cyclical, and in another couple years, the presidential elections will happen, and there will be a hotly contested battle which I predict, at this early stage, will be a referendum on the current referendum, which was never really a referendum to begin with for the simple fact that noone was call to account for anything, and the - as they've been termed in publications farther out along the political spectrum - 'The Red Scare' was not so scary after all. Indeed, I asked this on my Facebook page the following day: given the fact that there were so many media outlets cheering, rooting, egging on those who would undo all of the good that our president has done over the course of his current mandate, that when the chips fell, and the Blue team still held the Senate, and the Executive branch, and the majority in the House was only by 60 seats (near enough so that a few good compromises could create enough influence to stem the tide) it is to wonder the following (and New Yorkers always get blamed for asking the hard questions,): when 2012 comes around, will there then be references to a vast 'conservative media' conspiracy?

Of course, my mother would say, 'out of the mouths of babes', for, as luck would have it, there was the entire Keith Olberman controversy which blew up Friday morning following election night, and continued through the weekend, with MSNBC eventually recanting their suspension of the anchor, though not before suffering umbrage and the hyper-intellectualized deprecation at the gilded tongue of Rachel Maddow. Her comparison at the very least begs for the practices of her competitors to be looked into, if not fully investigated.

But this continues to bring up the critical teaching point, at least for me, of Collins' Level 5 leadership, which is a persistent theme throughout the Public/Private leadership literature. All of the people who just managed to garner positions in Congress spend the majority of their soundbite time trumpeting their cause to unseat President Obama, to repeal health care, to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, to stand in the face of power and shout defiantly 'NO!' These are the same party constituents that orate fervently claiming to be the ones in favor of 'opportunity.' Harvard Business Review has a different perspective on the matter, in an article entitled 'Is what's good for Corporate America still good for America?' The answer, I will allow you to discern for yourself, but the evidence is compelling. Secondly, in a New York Times Op-Ed piece published today, Nicholas Kristof uses a term that brought to mind terrifying images of inhuman labor conditions, should wrenching poverty, greed, pestilence, and eventually revolution. The difficulty in his utilization, however, is the fact that he makes the claim about the US, which increases the potency of the comparison, but perhaps the time has come to make such a comparison, as borne out in Kristof's column 'Our Banana Republic.' For those of us in the Spanish teaching profession, who have made (or previously had made) a career of learning and researching these exact historical details, and carry around montages of photos, paintings, poetry, and period style films in our memories, we warned of the potential for similar consequences in our classes. We spent inordinate amounts of time preparing lessons, and explaining the hard concepts, and the literature, as demonstrated in La United Fruit Company by Pablo Neruda. I would suggest everyone read it and make a distinct comparison between the current (as of 2010) top 1% of Americans absorbing 24% of the GDP, and the situations in the poem.

There has been, of late, -and perhaps I've only noticed it in the New York Times because I only have time in a day to look through perhaps two publications with the flurry of activity that's going on throughout the program and my mentorship,- a renewed focus on the Civil War era. I imagine that is not without good reason. Today on a day when the Commander-in-Chief finds himself beset on all sides by hysterias both manufactured and real, one other such article surfaced in the Times, and its parity with the current duo-chromatic myopia, entitled 'Lincoln wins, now what?' What the historians seem to be telling us is the following: be conscious of your history, lest you be doomed to repeat it. Though, given my recent visit to the Brookings Institute, and seeing insights into the future of Education policy for the years to come, I must ponder the nation's capacity to successfully perform that task.

Finally, in order to bring this full circle, the following blitzed across my e-mail box Wednesday night, after a long day in the office, and an even longer and more involved online session with professors, from an individual in a similar position to mine, which in reality was the purpose for returning to the question of Level 5 leadership:

"Before we end the night and since I deal with this in this group all the time, I have to take the victories I get and rejoice when I can. So I say this with love and respect to all my Dem friends here, which is almost all of you here, NA NA NA NA EH EH EH GOOD BYE (Pelosi) !!!!!!



BIG LOVE"

If this is the character of the supporters of the team opposing Pelosi, and the President, does that truly represent the type of leadership we need in a climate that, above all else, requires maturity, a willingness to reach out, create coalitions, search for best solutions, and best practices, and continue the progress that's been made?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Milestoning in order to drill down into the information

Over the past few weeks I've been in a flurry of activity. At one particular team meeting, I implored the Contract Specialists with whom I sit to invite me into the process, so that I can begin to actually see what is going on.  For the majority of the time I'd been in the division up to then, I had focused almost singularly on the writing of regulations and a new template for Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Maintain contracts, but had not actually witnessed any of the goings on in action. Since then, I've been on multiple site visits, participated in award meetings bid openings, conference calls, and pre-proposal conferences, meetings with policy analysts, general counsels, and all the time maintaining a breakneck pace with developing the writing projects I've been given, and completing class assignments. I suppose I ought to be tired. But, I'm sticking to my self-made promise of exercising during the week, and going on no less than an hour's walk on the weekends. We'll have to see how I accomplish that once it gets cold. But the agency recently granted me access to the fitness facility in the building, so that should prove interesting.

This past week I attended a presentation at the Brookings Institute, the first time I'd ever been there, which provided me with more than enough material to write a solid article on the matter. In stark contrast, I feel that sitting in a room with so many education experts, including the Special Assistant to the President on Education from the Public Policy Council that I may not necessarily have gone down the wrong path. At one point in history, when, to quote one of my professors: "...and then Western Capitalism collapsed..." everyone - including teachers - were loosing their jobs, it seemed that the decade plus of my life that I had spent in the pursuit of higher understanding of education, its principles, and how to apply them, all of the practice, all of the development, had been entirely in vain. But then, enter my time as an interpreter, and following that, my entree into the National Urban Fellows program, and it seems that everything happens for a reason.

Having been through the entirety of the above, it's an interesting thought experiment to consider what is the significance of 'leadership.' That term can apply to the classroom, the agency, study groups, and of course, the frequently named municipal, state and federal levels. But I have yet to truly find myself a leadership role model after whom I would pattern myself, at least in the Public Administration/Business arena. I carry with me images of leadership styles that come from the dojo, and from Steinhardt, and ready comparisons for what Jim Collins would term Level 5 Leadership.

Interestingly, and speaking of leadership, tomorrow is Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. Amusingly, at the same time, the good folks at GovLoop.com have convened an erstwhile collection of Federal level employees, intent on bringing attention to the fact that they, in direct opposition to the popular belief that they are lackadaisical, unskilled, and poorly trained, are anything but those three adjectives for a parallel rally. Additionally, they hope to present that working for the Federal Government carries with it a distinct collection of benefits unavailable to those in positions outside of its purview.

In any event, stay tuned to my Examiner page for the next amazing adventure, and here for insightful commentary on the commentary.

Facade of the Brookings Institute in Washington, D.C.

This, it seems, is a strong argument for story based learning. Every time I hear the word 'rally' this scene kicks on in my head. Never fails:

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Scenes from Reston

Fair warning, this will be an image heavy post.

That said, I haven't been able to present any of my very interesting photographic evidence of my passing through this section of the country. Most of the vegetative representations are from the Snakeden (a fairly ominous sounding name for a public park, no?) Branch in Fairfax County, Virginia. The stream reconstruction is an interesting little public administration project in and of itself, especially given that Reston is the first of the preplanned communities to ever be built in the country (which I didn't know until I lived here.) In any case, whilst living in the Bronx, I was given to wandering the tree lined pathways in the vicinity of my place near the Botanical Gardens, and photographing the changing leaves. Autumn in Virginia, it seems, is an entirely different affair.


Mom's meatball recipe, my sauce...





 

PNut looking for a good book
 


A statue of Apollo on the fountain
in the Reston town Center
 


I'm used to seeing
'NYC Parks' on everything,
so I had to get this shot.



This purple is fantastic
 
An explanation of the Snakeden
Restoration effort. Click on
the title of this blog and it will
take you to a page with a more
 in depth history

I love the panorama function on my camera. This is about halfway along the walking path. A couple weeks ago, this field was alive with an infinite number of snapdragons, all of which have curled up and hidden from the cold front that moved through last week. I'll have to grab them in the Spring time.

I'm not going to start with the
 "Two paths diverged..." bit,
but it's interesting to see
how Fall is represented here,
in comparison to the Bronx...


These types of knots always
evoke images of otherworldly
faces yearning for escape...


More meatballs and sauce,
on the veranda

Sheeba in her favorite spot

Friday, October 8, 2010

Where's the closest tire shop?

So much has happened in the past two weeks, that it is nearly impossible to publish a faithful report, though I will endeavor to create something of a fillet.

As part of our assignments, we've been given the task of reading, and commenting on posts of our choice from the Harvard Business Review Blog, and that said, I've made a range of comments, here (as J. Valjean), and also here (as the title of this blog.) As time passes, and I acquire more information on the management aspects of public administration, it is indeed interesting to see the collection of thoughts on HBR blog. Written almost uniquely from the perspective of the private business industry, rather, as far as I've seen anyway, even as pertains to the field of Education, I'm repeatedly surprised by how - despite undeniably parallel organizational structuring, and practically mirror imaged management philosophies, - that the business world seems to inherently lag behind the public sector in terms of the more internal development type of evolution. Ed Sermier would ask: "What does that mean?"

What I mean is this: I read the "Leadership Lessons of Ants" and I'm still pondering the comments of several of the posters who seemed incredulous as to the validity of a parable to teach any sort of modern world utilizable theory. But then, coming from a teaching background, and having specifically set up learning experiences centered around parables to teach specific life lessons, perhaps I have a different perspective. Of course we use parables to teach life lessons, why do you suppose the Bible is still a best seller? Aesop lived and died centuries ago, but the inherent applicability of creative solutions (as in the crow who filled a jug with stones to be able to raise the level of water and in so doing, drink from what would have otherwise lay at the bottom of the jug, out of reach.) The Lion and the Mouse, another story not from Aesop, but a classic of Spanish literature, and an excellent lesson about how rumors quickly become something other than what we might like them to be: Los Tres Cuervos. And, let us not forget that amazingly talented inventor of moral infused children's literature: Horacio Quiroga, and his 'Las Medias de los Flamencos'. In each of these, lessons from the animal kingdom bear striking resemblance to how we might conduct ourselves amongst friends, family, and even professionals.

In terms of that, our agency is guaranteed to be in flux shortly, as there is an impending mayoral shift, and everyone at executive level has, as a matter of protocol, had to tender their resignation. This puts all of the Fellows at the agency in a difficult spot, because we've only just arrived, and the potential for significant organizational change in a very short amount of time is very real. The one Fellow placed at OCA reported a climate change so dramatic once it was announced that an administrative overhaul would be taking place, that the 6th degree would have been easier to deal with in the Six Degrees of Climate Change. I have personal feelings on the matter, perhaps I will share them as time goes on.

In the meantime, I've taken to inserting myself into as many leadership oriented activities as possible during my time at the site. I've found that it has become necessary for me to specifically seek opportunities for myself to be involved in the leadership process. At the same time, I'm participating in the rewriting of legislation, creating new contract templates, and it's a good thing that I have a background in language and linguistics, otherwise it would be a great deal more difficult for me to handle the tasks I've been handed. Also, in terms of that, I'm still not sure I'm entirely clear on the following that my mentor told me as I was trying to nail down the specifics of piece of the template with him: "Procurement is solely a commercial exercise, whereas Public-Private Partnerships are more development or investment." I'm foreseeing a conversation with Professor Savas in the future...

Last week, our Program Director came down for the Idealist career fair, and several of us in the DC area made it down to staff the table with him. During the couple of hours we were there, we were successful in attracting quite a bit of attention, and at the very least handing out quite a few information packets. I think we caused quite a stir. And speaking of a stir, having to finally articulate the Initial Capstone Proposal this week was even more difficult than the writing tasks I've been handed for the mentorship. I spent the better part of an afternoon scribbling notes and pacing back and forth by my desk muttering to myself (from the example of Booth, et al.) "Where's the closest tire shop?" But, in the end, it got done, and shipped out several hours before the deadline. Now that I have a focus, I can set about streamlining my data collection.

And now, what you've all been waiting for: El Gran Combo

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Money, power, respect

En route to the nation’s capital, I’ve been lucky enough to find my way into a rather comfortable living arrangement, fairly close to the train line, and quite literally across the street from a Safeway that could easily take up six square blocks in the Bronx. Constructions of that size regularly unsettle me, as they are primarily so far from my normal experience that I feel an unarmed adventurer in a wild, untamed land. However, my excellent friends that live in the area are very accomodating, and have made the transition, if anything, exceedingly comfortable for me.

Last Friday, I tested the route in from my home station, and found that from there to my mentorship site takes approximately 45 minutes. Not at all bad, and around the same amount of time that it would take should I still be in the Bronx, and working around Baruch. This morning’s ride was very smooth, and I was grateful for that, though the DC train system is quite different from NYC’s; there is carpet on the train, the seats are cushioned, none of the people on the morning commute are busy endeavoring to consume five course meals in between stations, no dance performers, no ear-splitting, high-pitched squeals from the train wheels on the tracks, no half-possessed citizen preachers hurling lines about repentance, no street magicians… it is, in short, the antithesis of what I understand as a train.

Walking into the office on the first day was a unique experience; I managed to be coming out of the train at almost precisely the same time as two other classmates that work in the same agency, just in different departments. Amusingly, when I beta-tested the ride in the Friday before, I had also similarly encountered them as I was walked back towards the train station from the building. We strolled in together, happy to be embarking on a new adventure, and as the day wore on, we all began to get different flavors of just how the work of the year was going to unfold. My specific projects are going to have to do with an Municipal Regulation Amendment and a workflow management system implementation. Those are going to be fairly hefty endeavors, I guess it’s a good idea that they acquired someone who likes to lift weights!;) During the week I’ve met the agency’s head, as well as the actual Department Head, and both of these have been fairly interesting encounters.

During the week, there was a reception at a local restaurant where our program director, the alumni communications specialist, and a host of alumni who are also residents of the District of Columbia and the surrounding DVM area (DC, Virginia, Maryland; also sometimes seen as DMV – not to be confused with the Dpt of Motor Vehicles) came together. A major networking opportunity was had and many cards were exchanged.

Today, however, is an auspicious event: the anniversary of September 11, the Gen-X, Gen-Y, and Millenial’s version of the ‘Day that shall live in infamy’ (I’m paraphrasing from a report I’d seen earlier today, but the words are as poignant.) I’m not entirely certain however, that the verity of that fragment would be as significant to the whole of the generations mentioned. Yet, as we go forward, with remembrances, and even as I reposted the article that I had written in preparation for this day last year – having not seen as many answers to the questions I posted as I would have liked, there are yet some clearly defined concepts for leadership that I believe have not been focused on with as much fervor as I might have liked, though these come directly from my training in the dojo:

Hassuji: ‘target’, ‘objective’, or ‘angle’. Hit what you’re aiming at, essentially. What you’re aiming at might very well be world peace, or whirled peas, whichever is more crucial at the moment. This applies to both swordsmanship, as well as leading a nation.

Ma’ai: ‘distance’ – which is never static. The space you have to travel to an objective (this can be a beneficial one as well as a deleterious one. A win-win situation ideally,) target, enemy, or the distance along which you have to follow an angle to arrive at one of these, is in constant flux. Knowing how far you have to go in order to achieve what you’re after is essential. How far do we have to go until the economy rights itself? How far is left to go until the Middle East peace process is finalized (if it can be… or is it allowed to continue unresolved in perpetuity for a reason?) How far is left to go until there would no longer be a need for a War on Terror? Or a War on Drugs? Etc., etc., ad infinitum.

Choshi/Hyoshi: ‘rhythm’, ‘pace’, ‘cadence’ – on the mat, as well as in any type of encounter: personal, private, business, martial, or otherwise, if one partner is moving at an entirely different pace than the other, or if they are not steadily advancing towards the same goal at a similar pace, the technique, relationship, economic stimulus plan, withdrawal strategy, any and all of it is destined for failure.

Kurai: ‘spiritual/emotional readiness’ – are you truly ready to commit to a relationship, program of study, new position, conflict, etc. Many times, the answer is no, and if we’re not personally at a stage in our emotional development where we could conceivably engender the change we’d like to see, why then, would we expect someone else to be responsible for it?

Through the operation of all of these principles, two other overarching themes are in place:

Intent – are your actions having the consequence you’d originally wanted them to have? Did you achieve what you were originally intending to achieve? Have you corrected a problem? Or did you create far too many new ones during your operation for it to be considered a success?

Humility – not a trait for which leaders in our country are generally known, but one that is central to the proper attitude for leadership in the new century. If anything is clear, a new vision of what leadership means is in order. The face of America has changed, and our concepts of ‘leadership’ must change with it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mark Twain

"I have found out there ain't no surer way to find out whether you like people or hate them than to travel with them."
-Tom Sawyer Abroad, Mark Twain
 
This past week has been especially harrowing. In the slight amount of time we've had since classes have actually finished, there is the consolidation of (at least for me) 11 years of my history into a few boxes, and jettisoning whatever doesn't fit into the storage unit to be recovered upon my return. It's an interesting side trip down memory lane that hopefully won't take me too long. I'm planning on being in the DC area for the entire week preceding the beginning of the mentorship to get the apartment arranged and visit some long time friends that I haven't actually seen in person in quite some time.
 
Last week I journeyed to our nation's capital with a classmate intent on meeting with my mentor, and seeing the actual location where I'll be living. We actually managed to work rather well as a team on the way there and back, despite both of us being very take charge type personalities. So, Mr. Twain, we found out we don't hate each other. It's a major paradigm shift to go from living right in the middle of the Bronx to the suburbs of DC, questions arise every so often in my mind if I'll actually be able to handle the culture shock, but, stay tuned here, it should be interesting. I managed to trip over a 'New York Style deli' close to the apartment complex - which prepared some excellent sandwiches, had some good coffee, and cakes from Junior's. They will likely be seeing a good deal of me while I'm there.
 
My meeting with the mentor went well, I felt, and everyone in the office seemed excited to have me coming on. We spoke briefly about some cursory ideas relating to the project they decided to put me on, and I expressed my interest in being involved. After returning to New York, I was also able to read the writings of NUF's 2010 fellow that worked in a different section of the same office. Having done all this legwork, I now feel more informed about what opportunities and challenges I might face during the course of the mentorship.
 
And so, the end of an era, to begin anew. Like a phoenix rising out of the flames...
 
 

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Here I am, back on the road again

At a certain point in history, I was constantly traveling. My parents lived in a different section of the country from me during my college years, when we were young, we went on so many road trips they simply became a matter of course. But for the past decade plus, my entire life has centered around the Bronx, and teaching, or translation/interpreting. For the past 12 weeks, we've been in a crucible - a container specifically designed to withstand fantastic temperatures, while at the same time allowing the metals within to compose a supposedly stronger, more resilient alloy. We've been tested, and tried, and not found wanting. Truly, we have woken up this morning to a much deeper understanding of the life process occurring around us, to a clearer perspective of our roles in it, and a renewed sense of purpose. Each of our personalities - all of us bringing worthwhile leadership qualities, - had begun to mesh, we each played off each other, we all contributed to make the classes we began and fought and worked through, the best that we could, and we had all come to rely on each others' strengths, become a unified team keeping each other afloat and keeping the communication very open, not unlike a Spartan phalanx.

And now we are off to widely disparate, very far away places.Many of us (including myself) have networks already where we're headed, and so will be far from alone. Though we won't be able to simply turn to a classmate during a budgeting issue and say "hey, how did we do this on the last case study?" Or, "I'm about to publish this OpEd, can you look at it real quick for me?" or, "Is this supposed to be a chi - squared analysis? Or a regression equation?" The process is a bit more difficult. Ah well. It's amazing how, despite our resistance, we've become so amazingly reliant on each other. I guess this is what Jim Collins is talking about when he suggests 'getting the right people on the bus'. Today was bittersweet: we were all excited for the new opportunities, sad that it won't be until January when we're all in the same space again.

And so, following the theme of a bit of song, Bob Seger:

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ranai

The title of the particular technique above is especially poignant for this entry, given that this week we've had a few major events. From the Japanese, the nearest literal translation is "Order from Chaos" - something that shows direct parity with our current state. On Monday, we finally heard our assignments for the coming year. I will be stationed in Washington, D.C. as a municipal functionary, along with no less than 4 other classmates in the same office. A total of eleven of us from this cohort will populate various Municipal, Non-Profit, and Federal agencies across the metro area, and I daresay that - in and of itself - will be an amusing adventure. That said, in a strange serendipitous twist, a good friend from high school, who's younger brother lives right inside the area, happens to have a place to rent me and so that was worked out with all due haste, and I don't have to worry about the landing pad when I get there. It remains to be seen whether or not I will manage to have time (or money, energy, or all of the above) to get back in the dojo while there. Stay tuned.

Adding to the chaos -> order progression was our reading this week of Jim Collins' book "Good to Great". Prof. Sermier's voice was a constant track in the background of my mind as I went through this book: in regards to executive pay, 'getting the right people on the bus', 'what is essential to the mission of the organization', but then, just last night, he told us this is the management book he would have written had he ever been given the opportunity to write one. My mind is filled with new concepts, and how they relate - connect all the dots - of all the points that we've been learning across the courses: The Hedgehog Concept, The Flywheel versus the Doom Loop. Buildup and Breakthrough, and the 'Stop Doing List'. In a few short hours, the fairly simple language in the book could easily be understood, and re-presented visually, as a road map for take companies from just successful, to industry leaders.

Now is the mad dash to find places to live, hunting for NUF alums from previous classes who are willing to lend a hand while we adjust to the new arrangements, and getting read to leave NYC while still trying to make sure that we finish our PAF 9120 papers due in August. I am almost completely decided on leaving my apartment and finding something else on the other side of the mentorship, unless, of course, they ask me to stay there, which is entirely possible. I'm slightly distraught at being forced to leave my pets with my sister, though, I suppose that's necessary for now. There has been much speculation about whether or not we will all make it through the various odd assignments, the research paper writing, the intense work schedule, etc, during the next twelve months. My personal feelings, following along with my budo training, is that work is work. You do what needs to be done, and reserve your deeper emotions for family life, and those close to you. Understand that statement means nothing at all about having passion for your work. We absolutely should, and it would be futile to enter public service lacking it, however, I hear several of my colleagues already becoming slightly unnerved by the prospect of what needs to be done. Having already been there - twice - perhaps I'm just a bit jaded.

Through all of this, one song has continued to play in the background of my mind for the past week. The Great Satchmo, Louis Armstrong:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The shifting sands of time

This week has been quite the roller coaster ride in terms of emotions. Thursday we had to turn in a batch of case studies (3 total) for budgeting, and this was quite taxing. My classmate and I had already managed to burn through one of them the previous weekend, leaving us, with the highly compressed schedule, only two to complete during the day on Thursday (forward thinking, that) which we did, and finished a full hour before the class was set to start. A good thing too, else we might not have had time to review the case we'd initially done and look for places to improve it, which we did.

There were many bittersweet tears later on in the week, as Friday, in the midst of a seminar on Breakthrough Leadership our Program Director began to pull people out and let them know where they'd been placed. This has also caused a bit of consternation amongst some of the cohort, as those who are in the know have been sworn to secrecy, and are upholding their end of the bargain. But, unfortunately, I'm not one of those, and have to wait until Monday evening, after our last class, when the official lists are handed out. I've been told only that the Godfather has something special in mind for me, and to trust his judgment, which I do, so, I suppose we will see what we shall see. Friday we also had a Q & A session with the outgoing 2010 class, and they provided us with lunch, which was quite the affair. I know that after peppering them about every possible angle for an hour longer than was originally planned, they likely were ecstatic to be leaving, because their last week of classes has been easily as hard if not harder than ours.

At the end of the day, there was a free wine tasting just a few steps from the doors of the campus, which I attended with a few classmates, and we shared some pleasant conversation. The really amusing part of this all though is that, after I left the wine tasting with my classmates, I found myself engaged in an in depth conversation with mom about budgeting and how to design one for her agency's department. I swear, she's going to get charged an hourly rate next time....

Of course, just when we've gotten into the idea of being in New York in the Summer, and spending 9 hours a day with our new family of classmates, we have to uproot ourselves once again, and go off into uncharted waters and try to make our lives work over there. The entire situation reminded me of the following song:

Monday, July 19, 2010

So, MiGoVaSWOT?

This morning started off with a presentation by PMF, one of the NUF's long-time supporters, on financial management, and the highly utilitarian value of Excel and building Macros. While I enjoyed a bit of a review of what we've heard up to now in our budgeting class (structural balance, material errors, amortization rates, time value of money, etc.) and our Public Affairs class (bond structures, bond variations, bond markets, bond manipulation, bond refinancing) I believe the presentation might have been better focused on simply the ways in which the financial model they had set up and were demonstrating during the presentation might have better been manipulated to our greatest advantage in strategic budget planning. Unfortunately, this section of the presentation seemed incredibly rushed, though, I do happen to have the contact information and can likely ask for a more detailed explanation.

In the meantime, I've taken a few more initiatives to heart about the use of social media, and have recently developed and populated a LinkedIn profile. Then, while I was at it, I took something of an initiative to go on the hunt for other, related social media resources that might be of some pertinence to the effort I'm making in the MPA degree. Here's a smattering of the links I farmed from the internet:
  • Latino Rebranded: Latinos and Social Media - Louis Pagan takes a look at this crucial viewpoint. How are we showing up? 
  • The Center for Hispanic Leadership - Interestingly, we've just finished an online lecture for one of our classes entitled "Public Management" where the professor spent a good amount of time discussing how to effectively write a mission statement. CHL's is as follows:  "To empower the professional growth and talent development of Hispanic Employees through the use of culturally-tailored curriculum that helps accelerate the awareness and potential of their unique skill-sets and capabilities in the workplace."
  • The Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity Institute -  "The only proven Hispanic national grassroots network for economic freedom"
Some interesting reading, to be sure. This week also brought us an introduction to PAF 9180 "Policy Analysis" - essentially a research class, which should help streamline us into the Capstone writing experience. Those of us in the cohort who have either completed major research proposals before, or their PhD *grumbles* will recognize the format, and quite likely the resources. The Craft of Research Booth, Colomb, & Williams is the very same text that we utilized in the Intro to Research seminar I took during the latter part of my graduate studies at NYU, which is to say, that right now I'm sharpening up my three minute elevator story (you really have to read the book to get this.).

Oh! and we got our Stats final grades back today. If the graph of the class' grades is a skewed curve with a long left tail, I was closer to the peak towards the right. 'nuf sed.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mediating your social interactions

Today's Public Affairs final really taxed our mental fortitude. Between evaluation of public policy, characteristics of Business Improvement Districts, Iron Triangles of political influence, and so forth our answers quite likely seemed a bit rushed. However, as ever, our class was not without its moment of redemption. All during the course, our Professor had been joking that we'd be doing the final with little party hats on because we'd be having such and amazingly good time with the final. True to form, a couple of our integrants made a side trip to a party store, passed out party hats to the entire class before the exam got passed out, which everyone kept hidden until, at one critical moment while he had his back turned, we all got our party hats on at the same time. I'm certain someone has photos, it was a good memory.

After spending the entire day funneling the greatest amount of information into our already crowded minds for what frequently seemed the least amount of effect possible (a sort of bastardization of the rule of parsimony. A cost-benefit analysis would show this to be an inverse correlation,) we set to the task of writing out the Public Affairs exam. Many of us took the entire two hours and whatever else we could get our hands on, to finish, and, as with many things, quantity does not necessarily denote quality. However, I personally walked out with a good feeling about the thing, and I suspect so did quite a few others, in direct contrast to how many of us felt in regards to the midterm.

Following the exam, we were accosted by a group of 2010 folk who were make a solid attempt to complete a Stats II survey analysis with the objective of completing sufficient data to do some manipulations which were are all assured we will have to experience in approximately 10 months... No doubt of that, though, I'm convinced I will be sending out a version based on a digital platform to as many people as possible engaged with my online presence as possible. Quick like bunny rabbit we hopped on over to a presentation on Social Media by a panel of experts in the industry, where I managed to glean several ideas for how to deal effectively with the several interfaces I currently manage to leverage them for profit and position. Not a bad use of time, though, from what I could gather, the totality of the presentation boiled down to the following:
  1. Utilize the media networking platforms available to you
  2. Don't be scared to deal with people in real time (offline, outside of cyberspace)
  3. Complete your LinkedIn profile 100%
  4. Send vibrations down your web of influence.
  5. Keep all your contacts "warm"
  6. Mind what you're putting out there. This is akin to 'dress the part': whichever way you dress - you're going to find what you're looking for...
  7. Brand yourself, and if you're changing gears, repositioning, or retooling your approach, don't be afraid to re-brand.
  8. Applications like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and so forth for your Smartphone are your friend
  9. Sometimes, you just have to go off the grid.
 Malla Haridat, Kenneth Briscoe of A6 Media, and Allison Jones all contributed valuable insights into the presentation. Now to turn in the first case study for Budgeting. Uuuufff...

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Muga Mushin

Yesterday was the final round of mentor interviews at the end of a highly pressurized week. The Statistical Analysis final had the majority of the class in fits, and I heard from several people their feelings on it were not positive. My heart goes out to them, because I understand their frustration. At times like these, I remember clearly several key words in the writings of Takuan Soho, from 'The Unfettered Mind', specifically the part entitled 'Annals of the Spirit Sword Taia', and 'fudoshin'. But more on that as (or if,) it becomes relevant.

I was selected for interviews with the EPA, in which I spent a good 10-15 minutes responding to questions from the interviewer regarding the children's book I wrote, illustrated, and self-published. The reason didn't become immediately apparent until he got around to making a point of saying that he was specifically looking for creativity and finding someone that thinks in, around, outside, under and over the box. Though, until I heard that I wasn't entirely certain that I might have found myself in the wrong place. The City of Philadelphia Parks Department (currently undergoing a merger with the City of Philadelphia Recreation Department) also asked me to come in, and I signed up for an interview with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This last one was particularly important because of how closely related our work is, given that one of their grantees, the Hablamos Juntos program, was a key factor in a policy paper that I turned in last week for my communications class. Everybody liked what it was that I had to say, and I'm entirely uncertain at this point, having had several 'successful feeling' interviews, where it is that I'll be ending up. I do know, however, that I'm beginning to feel incredibly comfortable with the idea of being in the leadership position.

It's an odd thing - as a teacher, you're automatically a leader in the class, you're a person with a great deal of responsibility, lives depend on you, yet, to consider yourself for a position of leadership as it's contextualized within this program is frequently outside of the realm of possibility for most people in the education field. "I'm just a teacher" is such a common phrase... kind of like "I'm just an interpreter." It sometimes surprises me that I've managed to overcome that feeling, and why it is that the sentiment is so heavily ingrained into the communities in the first place? But, I know I wasn't selected for this by mistake.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The anti-hero

Another Social Studies teacher friend of mine sent along this video of Jay Leno at Universal Studios in California. It brought tears to many of us...
Today we're turning in the memo format book report on Little Pink House - the novel style history of one of the most famous eminent domain cases in the history of the country Kelo v. New London, to which I've alluded in a previous post. Tomorrow is the Stats final, I'm a bit sorry to see it go, I keep repeating this at the end of each session to whomever will listen: had I but known all the statistical manipulations we just learned during my first graduate school experience, how much better would my analyses have been, how much more would I have possibly understood about the research I was reading, and so forth. Ah well. In the end, given that we've just completed quite a bit of deliberating with Prof. Mitchell who, like me, enjoyed making the crossover between stats equations and Public Affairs, in regards to economic development, its effects on children's education, tax abatements and their direct relation to businesses being able to afford to stay in town, and thereby also weakening the tax revenue pool with which to fund school systems, (which historically are the critical things that large corporations go looking for in terms of criteria to stay in a location, because they need excellent schools to train an excellent workforce, in order to maintain a leadership position in their respective fields. So, you see how cyclical this becomes) there's this rather amusing equation to be extracted from the vast waste fields of data (both good and bad):

AGERICH(hat)= 3.141527 - 2.5 SMOKING + 10CEDUC - 8HTMES + 0.6802SMOKING*HTMES

And that said, let us not forget to always pronounce "chi" as [kai], and not "chai" [tshai] which is a very heady, fragrant, flavorful tea from the far East, made incredibly popular by coffee house franchises the world over *shudders*.

Tomorrow brings more mentor presentations, and hopefully an interesting look at a few local organizations. More on that probably this weekend, after the actual interviews happen. Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

How to gain friends and influence people

Just got finished with the 'Little Pink House' memo for Prof. Mitchell's class. Today's been a bit wild: it started with getting the clothes clean while watching the Argentina-Germany match for a stunning loss that eliminated El Albiceleste, and had the entire Twitterverse claiming that Mick Jagger was somehow responsible for four of the most devastating losses in the past week.

We've started our PAF 9140 Budgeting class with Prof. Sermier, whose extensive list of accomplishments and impressive titles is enough to give anyone pause. Having worked in 'all three sectors' private, non-profit, and public, he brings a wealth of information and training to the class that will likely end up benefiting us in whatever position we find ourselves. That said, learning to read a balance sheet while adopting his way of thinking is an interesting and unique exercise. I am quite shocked at the flexibility of my own mind - prior to this program, I had come to believe that there was only one set path for me, and that was one entirely strewn with words, their significance, their manipulation, and how that might be turned into a marketable product. Now, after having survived the majority of statistical manipulation, and for the most part comprehending the mathematical computations in the budgeting class, I'm beginning to wonder if I hadn't pigeon-holed myself into a language based thought pattern early and simply never ventured outside of it for some irrational fear of leaving the comfort zone. It should be interesting to see how this all unfolds.

I skipped a barbecue today in order to complete this assignment, but the folks let everyone know that I was working steadily on homework and deadlines. Tomorrow is one I cannot miss, though I'm fairly certain that I should be alright between waking up early and working on the spreadsheet all day. Then all I have to finish is Stats and readings, and I should be back on track. Thankfully, we got paid this week, though Paychex managed to somehow delay our disbursements by a day, which had the entire cohort in a tizzy. But, now with money in hand, bills are getting paid and food is in the fridge. Phew!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Las piramides de parangaricutirimicuaro

This past week has been quite the adventure. We received our midterm exercises (2 midterms and a paper) graded, and it turns out I managed above 80% on everything. Going forward, I'm fairly conscious of where the differences were in what the professors were asking for, and what I did so that when finals time comes around, I'll be better prepared. This week's main focus is getting started with Sermier and budgeting, and turning in the communications paper on Wednesday, which will likely take up the entirety of my schedule on the morrow.

Last Wednesday, as a result of no shortness of puppeteering on the part of one of our classmates who has a personal connection with the man, Puerto Rico Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock (some NY Daily News articles that include his name here and his bio here) came and spoke to our group about the island nation becoming a state incorporated into the union of the United States of America, and the benefits that integration might confer. This particular policy proposal was one that I might not necessarily agree with, and whose argument had a few holes, though I will have to argue that at a later post as I'm sitting with notebook in hand where I scribbled various thoughts and counterarguments during his conversation.

Friday was the last day of interviews on Fridays, as the school - pursuant to a directive from CUNY central as a money saving initiative - all facilities, buildings, and so forth will be closed for Friday's during the summer months. However, not to be outdone, I signed up for interviews with CH2M Hill, which has quite a few project happening on privatization of municipal services and where I might be able to infuse quite a few of my linguistic resources and be able to leverage the experience towards language access policy research. The Port of Seattle is in dire need of a fellow to develop a curriculum related to their Workplace Responsibility program speaks directly to my experience writing curriculum, especially for distance learning. New York Power Authority - whose energy sustainability projects really fall in line with my passionate drive to create precisely those types of solutions for the future (they were, after all, a huge drive behind my political choices in the elections) would likely stretch my capabilities, as that environment is clearly something that is outside of my comfort zone. The one organization that had selected me was Indianapolis Private Industry Council, whose inherent need for language ability and someone who has a clear mind of how to engage the immigrant community and develop vocationally related hard skills, as well as codify explanatory curriculums for such was clearly apparent during our conversations. That's an interesting position, and to be clear, there is likely to be a good deal of language access policy to municipal services to be written there. An interesting analysis of the process is delineated at my good friend 4everjung's blog

All of this is happening, I should note, as we're learning about simple vs. multiple regressions in Statistical Analysis, barreling towards a policy position paper deadline (see above,) and having to complete a 3-6 pg memo on the novel "The Little Pink House" which is less of a novel and more of a historical case study of how Kelo vs. The City of New London and starting Prof. Sermier's Budget class this week is swirling about in our brains. In times like these, the concept of 'zanshin' in budo: staring at a distant mountain, not so much a spaced out, disconnected vapidity, but more of an eyes on the prize sort of stare comes to mind. I'll see if I can't track down the kanji and put it in here.


And now for some PAF 9100.... wish me luck.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Don't mess with my cheddar

This past week has been full of adventures, despite the very interesting interview on Friday. Scuttlebutt has it that a pair of mice ran through a couple of our classmates' rooms in the SVA dorms, and caused quite the sensation. The young ladies whose rooms were effected summarily brought the incident to the attention of the dorm's operators, the program director, and everyone in the class. This dovetailed into a blizzard of discussions over lifetimes of mouse sightings, mouse traps, Dr. Dré's having taken turns with removing mice from his apartment with his sister while they were growing up in Harlem waaaayyy back in the day, etc. I've had to remove my fair share of intruders in my day, but not since the girls have come to live with me, and the building has been renovated (knock on wood). However, No sooner had these conversations begun than I remembered this amusing little video:


The other thing I'm rather excited about, despite the fact that I hadn't the actual coin to get into the official viewing area, is that I was able to witness the first ever Red Bull Air Race in New York City standing in Battery Park for free. Since the official viewing area was in Liberty State Park, and the planes were taking off from Teterboro, NJ, the only real obstruction to our view were the water taxis that apparently were unenlightened to the fact that an entire crowd of observers was trying to watch a string of stunt planes rip through a course at around 180 mph, and the ever present haze that manages to consume the intercoastal region on hot, humid days like yesterday. Check out the video of New Yorker Michael Goulian doing a run through the course:


In the end, I guess I'm just a bit like that little kid, who still thinks planes and things with big engines are still pretty cool. Ah well. These guys were amazing though, absolutely unreal.  And now on to Stats...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Can you spare a dollar for whirled peas?

3rd round of mentor presentations for the NUF program today. In an interesting twist of fate, I've not been chosen for any of the mentorships available for this round. I did sign up for Nexus, the company doing work to bring healthier lifestyles to school aged children in the NYC community, beginning with a beverage replacement initiative, complete with a wide range of possibilities for interaction at a great number of city government and local business/sports/health organizations. I signed up for this one, I think I have quite a bit to contribute, especially seeing as how they mentioned absolutely nothing into the foreign language markets directly where the diabetes and asthma populations are greatest, and taking into account my extensive work within the schools system. None of which, by the way includes my understanding of social media, etc. However, I'm absolutely certain that our fearless leader has a general plan for us, and he wouldn't lead us purposefully astray. And now for more stats; today it's chi-square tests and nail biting over whether or not we passed the midterm because we're not getting it back until next week. Here's hoping...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's about the bureaucracy

Today was the PAF 9100 midterm exam, and that, in effect, was the one that held the most potential for difficulty. Whereas Research Analysis was a simple plug and chug workout which, though strenuous, produced easily predictable results, Public Affairs presented a challenge because we had no basis from which to organize our focus. Perhaps the best thing that one of the 2010 Fellows told us when they made a visiting presentation to our class was; "Write down EVERYTHING this guy says." We all were energetically working to figure out the definitions and rhetorical difficulties we had with the essay writing after leaving the lecture hall and reconvening in the lobby area. I, for one, know now that I had completely misinterpreted the term "Apportionment" and fielded the definition for "appropriations". In all likelihood, a common mistake, and not one that definitionally is not entirely incorrect. Essentially, they both have to do with allotting numbers of variables to certain categories, except that one has to do with budget dollars (appropriations) and the other with number of individuals inside of a congressional district. By way of illustration: Census Bureau Apportionment by Congressional District. I guess I'm not getting that wrong on the final.

Today we also have to turn in our rhetorical analysis of an Op/Ed piece to Prof. Devitt. I feel exceedingly comfortable with that assignment, these types of writings are a logical continuation of what it is I was doing in NYU's program, and I just hope that I can do my previous work justice with the current iteration.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's time for the calculator

This past span of 4 days has been all about statistical manipulation. Bring me a data set and I'll force myself to calculate the area under your density curve! After getting woken up at cat o'clock, feeding the animals, and taking the general for a stroll, I was sitting on the edge of my bed holding my noggin in my hands trying to figure out how to relieve the pressure on the inside. My roommate came in and asked why I had such a long face.

"I've failed just about every math test I've ever taken." I replied. To which he countered,
"But you can explain this stuff to me! If you can do that, you'll be just fine! Besides, you're the professor!"
In reality, I almost got teary eyed; there it was again - that inherent faith that people have shown that I'm on the right path, and I have no idea what I've done to instill that in them. I told him he was right, and I went with the warrior spirit mentality - ichi go, ichi e - one chance, one opportunity, right now, immediate victory.

I managed to get through the initial run through the exam with minimal hang ups, then went back through to check the math at least 4 times. I reworked one problem set so many times I had to stop myself from doing it again after I was convinced it wouldn't yield a separate result. At the end, I was more than 95% confident that I had done a reasonably good job.

I walked out of the class amphitheater with a wave to the professor, and proceded downstairs to sit out in the sun on the patio outside of the vertical campus. As luck would have it, that was also the man travel path for everyone else exiting the exam, all of whom wore faces summed up in an excellent Spanish word: extraviada. The first to come out was C.C., and she appeared nearly on the verge of tears, but after a few minutes of discussing the problems and a few lighthearted jokes, we got back to feeling more positive. About half an hour later, the remainder of the cohort - roughly a dozen folks - swarmed out of the building en masse. A scarce few seemed to have better feelings, and several began invoking a higher authority.

If I've managed to do well on this exam (and, judging by my score of 80% on the first homework, and having done the second one also in a similar fashion,) then I will have finally conquered, for what it's worth, the computational arrhythmias inherent in my linguistically predisposed mind. That's got to account for something, no?

"Masakatsu agatsu"
True victory, is victory over self.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Century ride

Happy Birthday to 4ever Jung!

This morning began the second round of interviews with mentors, and we had seen presentations from The Cleveland Foundation, The Knight Foundation, and the Multiple Sclerosis Society, but there were a few for which I held a vested interest. I first came to know about the Knight Foundation's work during my time at NYU, when I had fond fantasies of someday becoming a well respected journalist, or at the very least, a published writer. Having accomplished that (see the link above) and garnered attention from the likes of Impre.com, I'm not entirely certain that a syndicated column is necessarily the objective any longer, but more the promulgation of ampliatory effects for the foreign language journalism industry in this country as a whole. Unfortunately, I did not warrant an interview with them, though I did manage to slip a business card (with a cue towards my writing) into Damian Thorman's hand, and I felt this to be a positive interaction, especially since he spent a goodly amount of time speaking on the foundation's work in developing foreign language media after I pressed him on it.

The one organization that did, in fact, express an interest in my abilities was the Multiple Sclerosis Society, where I imagine that I might be able to find a happy home; their newest initiatives relating to developing a diversity council, creating a curriculum for interpreter training and development, as well as being able to readily deploy the program to different locations around the country, produce, direct, and capitalize on web 2.0 media, etc, sounds as if there is a definite possibility of deep connectivity in terms of what I might be able to offer them. Both of us mentioned this during the interview. This could, in effect, be quite beneficial for all concerned, because I would get to remain, as Miguel says, in the center of the universe, and I would also be able to finally bring to bear the totality of my breadth of experience and education in a position where every last one of these skills is appreciated. Let's all of us keep our fingers crossed. But, as Miguel is also wont to say, this is only the second round, and we've managed to see a total of half a dozen, out of a total of 42 total mentorship opportunities, some of whom are looking for multiple mentees. We shall see.

Two exams coming up this week and an op-ed analysis is due for Devitt's class this week in the middle of all of that. This past Wednesday, during the several hours break in between Devitt and Mitchell, I went to the gym with one of my classmates, and after days upon days of sleep deprivation, working out pretty hard, and then not having eaten very much during the day, I suddenly felt as if my mind was short circuiting, and had to sit down as I drank my extra large gatorade. After that I fell asleep atop a pile of folders in the lounger area of the 8th floor, and woke up approximately 30 minutes later. It was surreal, as a linguist, to feel as if my language skills were failing (perhaps this is just my personal neurosis, after spending so long hyper-focused on discreet meanings and semantical analysis of particular phrazing - I should post the diagram of Groucho Marx's now famous "I once shot an elephant in my pajamas..." for the rest of the class to see,)


and then the last year in translation and interpretation, if I feel that the message escaping my lips isn't exacting in diminutive detail, or if I sense the language centers of my brain shutting down due to lack of sleep [because I was up til odd hours trying to finish readings for PAF 9103 AND 'Question of Intent'], I'm immediately frustrated, and this in turn worsens the problem, even if it doesn't seem that way to the radio audience... But, it seems I didn't make any egregious errors, and that, in itself, is pleasing. Tonight is hammering away at the above mentioned David Kessler book, and trying to put something together for Communications. Tomorrow is pancakes and an editing session involving Dr. Dre, presumably June, Dante, and a few others, and pancakes. Lots of pancakes. Tonight, possibly in between Communications and Public Affairs, I need to clean. Amusing how little things like that go by the wayside when the work you're doing is seemingly so much more important. Maybe I need to investigate finding a place with a dishwasher next time.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Schroedinger's cat



One of the great examples that Neil Bennet, our phenomenal Statistics professor keeps sharing with us is his supposed 'Neil's black box' in which is contained the totality of a given population, from which a simple random sample (SRS) of sufficient size can be selected. I asked him last week, if that was not somehow representative of Schroedinger's cat, being that the population of Lilliputians may or may not exist at any one given time, though the supposition that they do is the driving force behind the grandiose theorizing that we were undergoing as a result of this class. He got a chuckle out of it and really, that's all I was after...

The process of certification for NYS teachers is a similarly exhausting experiment in logic. One must send funds, frequently the evaluators of the applications are temps who simply check over files for correct entries, and you can never get anyone on the phone. There is an online system in place, though the atrocities committed in logging on, logging back on after a certain amount of time, being able to find the correct information inside the online system, are voluminous. My experience was thankfully somewhat streamlined, though this last piece has been quite the stomach turner. I had submitted the length and breadth of my experience to the New York State Education Department nearly a year ago, more than sufficient time for them to review my qualifications, the fact that I'd been tenured in NYC, my 12 years of full time work, my Master's degree + 30 hrs, my continued professional development in AP Language and Literature, QTEL, SMARTboard, pick a thing for Foreign Languages, I've done it.

Today, fully 4 days before my initial certification was set to expire, and now that there are statewide layoffs of roughly 8,000 teachers expected for this year (6,500 of which are expected from the city alone, while at the same time Bloomberg Eduaction, Inc. has managed to find money to open more charter schools, fund the induction of new teachers, as well as the Teaching Fellows program, and the city's involvement with the Teach for America initiative, but I digress) the Professional Certification arrived in the mail. I think I'll frame it and put it next to the cherished photo of my friend and I at the Yankee Museum during our trip to the new Yankee Stadium during its inaugural season, or perhaps file it under 'Boulevard of Broken Dreams.' I wonder if they'll count studying for a Master's in Public Administration as appropriate professional development to maintain my certificate...?

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ichi go, ichi e

Today was the first day of interviews with mentors that are accepting fellows for the current cycle. I purposefully inserted myself into the list, being the aggressive swordsman, and knowing that I had not initially been selected by any of the three organizations initialy, but having strongly caught the interest of all three organizations that were selecting candidates. Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have inserted myself into the third list, if only to preserve my position in the "center of the universe" as Miguel calls it - NYC, but, then again, you don't come here because you want to be comfortable. You come here so that the process will change you. I am prepared for that change, and though it will definitely be outside my normal purview, that's particularly why I came here. I desperately need to acquire wide reaching, universally applicable skills. My first interview today was with Southern California Leadership Network, and I think that there some real themes on which we can make a great deal of difference and then pattern wider reaching lasting evolutions in social policy and Administrative rules with significant benefits for the general population. That and I sincerely think that Kevin Cottrell and I managed to develop an excellent rapport during our brief but very informative interview session. We seemed to be on the same page in some key areas of mutual interest and have, if not similar visions, at the very least similar passions for directions to take the agency. Stay tuned here for all the latest.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Public administration? How do we feel about that?

The question in the title was one that our Intro to Public Affairs professor posed at the outset of his class. Most of the fellows took it as something of a humorous question, but after some careful reflection, I've come to realize that he's ingeniously managed to frame one of the key problems we'll have to continue to solve for the extend of our public service career.

How do we feel about that?

The problem indeed becomes, 'how do we feel about that?' Is it just a job, is it , or is there something deeper. Amusingly, the Woodrow Wilson paper that we had as homework was an excellent comparison of values: are we just a cog in a wheel, or are we passionate Administrative policy making difference engines (and yes, I know the artificial intelligence statistical analysis variant of that term)? Are we the comfortably insulated bureaucrat, or are we the functional, boots on the ground, troop directing field officer? Interesting problems to have, and none too light to consider with a deeper sense. According to our instructor, we're training to be bureaucrats, but then, has the definition of such changed over time? And would we necessarily be involved in a change agent program if we were simply going through a tool gathering mission to arrive at a carefully arranged, comfortably insular place? I think not, and so, bureaucrat, supposedly, must not have as decidedly unseemly a tone as it might have once had. Or I miss my guess.

Public Administration?

Any decently trained public administrator, or one that is effective at creating Administrative Policy changes, are those that bring with them passion, interest, and skills to effect the changes in society that they are desirous of creating. To that end, statistical analysis is crucial, and indeed, essential to the mission. How are results of administrative policy showing up in the population? How are people utilizing the benefits which administrative policy makers are putting into place? Amusingly, the precise areas of statistical analysis that we are covering in the course that we're relentlessly plodding through currently are the very same ones that were a gap in my understanding during my waning years at NYU. Had I but known that invariable utility of a z-score during my doctoral seminars in language acquisition and linguistics, how much better might my analyses have been? If only I'd comprehended the determinance of a standard error calculation, what might have changed in my perception of intake versus uptake? I jest, but, in reality, these are the precise questions playing out in the back of my mind while the professor is busily questioning the other students what the probability of random samples selected from his 'little black box' having income ranges from $25,000 not known, but then, how could I? I had never been in a class that explicitly covered it, it had been nowhere in my electives or required coursework up until then, and I hadn't specifically sought out the knowledge, but neither did I know that I had a need. There is an aulde maxim in education - 'thou shalt not test that which has not been taught', though, experience is a cruel and unforgiving mistress, for she gives the test first, and the lesson after.

Special thanks to the fine gentleman from Atlanta who has affectionately come to be known as 'Dr. Dré' for providing me with this particularly useful Latin proverb: post hoc, ergo proctor hoc
After this, because of this... meaning essentially, if I play the harp every morning just as the sun is about to rise, the doesn't rise because I play the harp.