Thursday, November 10, 2011

American Fall


Every year I make sure to travel upstate and photo-document the autumnal changes to the scenery. In taking the long view of my history, and a quick tour through my external hard drive, I have gigabytes of space dedicated to pictures of trees from prior years. The shot above is from the Katonah Reservoir, a town in upper Westchester county where I used to teach at a private school early in my career as an educator. The picturesque clouds reflected in mirror-smooth water are like something out of a fantasy, and it's part of why I do this. Back when I still had my motorcycle, the ride was very nearly religious - crisp New York air, smells of earth, and leaves, and the bike. There's a really funny story about how on Sunday afternoon ride came to a sudden halt due to a family of wild turkeys quite literally, crossing the road. It's a great motivation for me to get back to a different financial paradigm. But late-year nostalgic musings are not the reason for the title, however it may be tangentially related.

Insofar as this blog is frequently a study of topics related to Public Administration, I will follow a suggestion put forth by the Rachel Maddow show that the reliable theme to use for parsing the national conversation is the Occupy Everything movement. I have spent a considerable amount of time following it, and even been on site, interviewing participants, following the action for my news column. But of late, Michael Moore - despite emphatically refusing any responsibility for leadership of the movement - has become something of a celebrated representative for media outlets far and wide. Whether this is good or bad is still subject to speculation and your own preferences. However, one thing did come up as Moore visited even greater numbers of demonstrations and talk shows along the way: he decided his was an expert voice for the revolution, and even decided that he had the proper ideas for parenting a living, breathing, global political imbroglio successfully towards adulthood. Where this falls apart is in the direct purpose for formation of the Occupation to begin with yeah these many long months ago. Initially, Occupy Wall Street was a movement that included all viewpoints, all idealogical convictions, all regions of the nation. It was also definitively leaderless.

Moore's positioning of himself in the interview spots on the massive slew of talk shows in which he appears fails the movement on both counts: in being a recognizable, frequently seen celebrity in relation to this movement, he drives directly against his own messaging to the movement, which has regularly been 'do not allow yourselves to be coopted by any political party.' Moore's extreme leftist leanings, and his almost ubiquitous appearance at as many OWS rallies as humanly possible alongside his television appearances creates the risk of his face being quickly associated with leadership of the movement. Secondly, this past week he made an egregious error: for some unknown reason, and in accordance with the demands of mainstream media outlets (the New York Times, The Washington Post, MSNBC, Fox News, and CNN among them,) have all habitually called for the dedicated list of demands to which the Occupation adheres as reasoning for their continued unrest. This is fallacious in the extreme. Part of the genius of the Occupy movement was the fact that no such list existed, and that the occupiers existed as a repository for the frustrations and discontent of the American people towards a non-functional political class, and a well fleeced elite playing the stock market as if it were the nickel ante table somewhere in a forgotten corner of Las Vegas where the edges of neon lights no longer reach. But the crucial piece was that no set list of demands existed for the simple reason that the second a list of demands exists, the moment a central core document listing the movement's ideals crystallizes, an opposition can be created, and in the same moment begins the chilling denouement of a once powerful and growing, impassioned drive for social change.

So, how does this become resolved? While Moore's appearances, and celebrity do in fact draw greater attention to the movement, organizers would do well to caution him to not be so visible in terms of talk shows, interviews, or the like lest the media establishment erroneously begin to equate his characteristic Detroit hat and fair figure with representing the movement itself. Also, they should remain adamantly devoid of a central core set of demands upon which politicos, the pundit-tree, and legions of naysayers could glom on and declare "these are un-American." Lastly, and this is perhaps the most crucial piece, the direct action portion of the movement - that which facilitated Bank Transfer Day, which is organizing around voting and the campaign season, - must continue with their plans and endeavor to create many more direct actions. The exact extent of the power of the people has yet to be proved, thought recently, in direct correlation to this movement, ever greater numbers of citizens are awakening to the idea that the governments and corporations exist to serve us, not the other way around.

Whatever dreams may come, this is certain to be quite an adventurous time. A time for us to break free of feeling like just another brick in the wall.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

So you say you want a revolution....

I'm always shocked, slightly unnerved, and a little dismayed by the amount of time that passes in between posts here. Perhaps because I spend so much time elsewhere writing, I suppose that through some manner of digital osmosis that a measure of writing will find its way here. Unfortunately, despite my fancy for Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Jorge Luis Borges, and Laura Esquivel, I have not been sufficiently infused with the flavor of cybernetic magical realism to achieve such a feat. However, if none of that last sentence made any sense to you, I suggest watching Tron: Legacy - for the combined illusory/illustrative effect.

Since the middle of the month, I've been steadily following the Occupy Wall Street protest, and even visited and written a related article. The first time I visited the occupiers, it was slightly after my visit to the 9/11 Memorial site (pics below) and I must say I was incredibly impressed. The mainstream journalistic coverage of the movement has been entirely plagued with misinformation and doomsayers warning of a maleficent dystopia if these activists are permitted to continue what in many venues is being called lambasted as adolescent, fleeting hysteria. But after two weeks of constant occupation, 66 other cities getting involved, and scheduled appearances of union backing on the schedule for the near future, the truth of the matter is that the mass media's portrayals of this "tiny, insignificant rally" can no longer be ignored. Thousands of protesters showed up for the Brooklyn Bridge incident that took place on Saturday, and it grows exponentially by the day. I expect I will have at least one more article out in the next few days, and that in the offing, it might actually be more.


In other news, I've been asked to report for a linguist exam this coming Tuesday (as in, in two days.) This normally wouldn't be a concern, though, for the past year I haven't actually been doing the work of a linguist, save for minor conversations here and there, and during the past two weeks, my brother's been in town, so there was truly no opportunity for studying of any kind. Talking with another interpreter colleague who knows my skills rather well, I asked what I should do given the extremely tight turn around time. She suggested I go with a 'Zen mentality' to the exam, and try to be as calm as possible. That may just be what I need to do, right after I spend all day tomorrow reviewing all of my notes.

Today was rather interesting, one of the NUF 2011 class members showed up as part of a trip for her new position, and half a dozen of us appeared to share brunch with her. It's always interesting hearing what everyone is doing in the interim, and how many folks have moved on to something new and interesting, or have taken a left turn at Albuquerque, etc. There are many of us that came out of the program and walked straight into positions, but there are a group of us that are still searching for the proper fit, or the right opportunity, and frustrations run high at times. Frustration echoed in the protests by placards reading "Overeducated, underemployed" or similar slogans. In many corners of the internet, this is being called our 'Tahrir Square moment.' Odd that this singular theme has seemed to usurp whatever other message I'd been trying to convey.

In my next post, which first I'll have to be sure to make in the very near future, I shall have to talk about my volunteering at the VA Hospital, and how that has all gone. But for the time being, it's late, and I must sleep.

Good night!


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A public administration exam.

This past week has been all about public administration field tests. First, with and entirely unprecedented earthquake in the middle of the week trembling the very ground upon which we walked, and then a strong - although not as much so as we had originally believed would be the case - hit from a slowly spinning down Category 1 hurricane, the leadership and governance systems in the great State of New York were sorely tested. But New York State, as well as the City have experienced both of these types of adverse conditions before, and not nearly as far back as you might believe (but long before it was discovered that oversized - even for New York - rats of a separate genus from our usual Norwegian brown rats are now scurrying the tunnels below the City streets. Where might all these Herculean rodents escape to once their underground havens become inundated with spillover from a storm surge at high tide?). So, as photos of damage and videos of rivers rushing through rural (and not so rural) America populate the previously unseen corners of the interwebz, let us explore some of the more pertinent questions from, even for New York City, what amounts to a really wild week.


On Friday of last week, I published an article in my Examiner.com column asking a whole range of difficult questions about the operation of the State, whether our infrastructure is prepared to handle two natural disasters in one week, and what we could possibly do about it. In the interim, I've managed to rediscover this page documenting New York's share of the 2009 stimulus funds (referenced in the article) which offers a clearer picture of what the former governor's office identified as areas where he should dedicate spending, which, if I remember correctly, met with some changes after he was ousted. That minor detail is now more crucial than ever since, in a recent Wall Street Journal article that drew direct relationships between reactor safety and their geographic location in earthquake prone areas the author said:


"Last year, the NRC produced an updated assessment as part of the seismic review, which found that many of the 96 reactors east of the Rockies faced higher earthquake hazard levels than previously thought. The assessment found 22 reactors where a rough estimate showed a potential hazard higher than several important metrics, including the level of shaking the plants were originally designed to withstand."


Asked to react to these sorts of statements, industry officials tended to repeat the same message as Alexander Marion - Nuclear Energy Institute's VP of Nuclear Operations: 


"I'd caution against reacting too much to the data since the hazard analysis is still under way and the industry already is looking for ways to increase the safety margin."


Which is closely akin to a collective thumbing of the industry's nose at the American public. Population security be damned, there's money to be made. Following that inherently faulty logic is the Aleberta Canada Tar Sands debate. Here we have an entire portion of another country's province specifically dedicated to the production of a type of crude oil that is expensive to extract, rips up the environment in the process, and threatens people, wildlife, and the global climate as a result, all in the name of, as the Manhattan Institute's Robert Bryce said: "cheap, abundant, reliable energy." Later on in the PBS interview where he made the statement, he clearly says that the tar sands project will produce energy that is 'abundant and reliable,' the subtext being that economic exclusionary principles will undoubtedly apply. 


The very well known and possibly overused statements are recycled as he cites unemployment rates and reduced dependence on foreign supply. That is an argument, however, that presupposes there is only one conceivable solution to the problem at hand - fossil fuels. With the variety, breadth, and quantity of unemployed, high achieving, highly educated individuals in the country at this moment, there simply has to exist the possibility that alternatives can be produced. Bryce's position throughout the interview is that despite environmental costs - the potential for a spill underneath the largest freshwater aquifer in the middle of the country, the potential for terrestrial leaks similar in scope and effect to the BP Macondo blowout, the fact that greenhouse gas emissions (read: contributing factors to larger storms that will effect the coastline) are all allowable costs to be paid for an energy solution that is outdated, expensive, and dangerous. So dangerous and unsavory the potential consequences that protesters have begun risking jail time in the nation's capitol  for the cause. 


This century, it was promised - from both the current administration and the last - would be all about alternatives to oil and renewed interest in clean, renewable, profitable energy sources. If you have any doubts about the fierce urgency of now, and whether we can actually afford the environmental costs, you should definitely view this slideshow, and read its accompanying text. Possibly one of my side projects may become researching this line of thought and attempting to cobble together some form of policy paper which could be exported to those with sufficient clout to make a change. Anyone out there have any ideas of where to start?


Lastly, there was quite a bit of messaging, movement of people, administering to the public, and distribution of resources in preparation for, and in the wake of Irene. Many in the regions that were not utterly destroyed are vociferously complaining about their minor inconveniences due to forced evacuations. I still have difficulty fathoming this concept. Had there been catastrophic devastation, and the government either not been prepared, nor issued these warnings, those same people - given their unlikely survival - would be the same mugging the camera to complain on any available news source that they had been slighted. All reports point to the fact that there is more flooding yet to come,  a smattering of information for which can be gleened from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's website dedicated to Irene's after effects.


And just because I can't leave you without a little music - 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well...


As this blog has evolved, it has been equal parts expressions of catharsis, elation, surreptitiousness, serendipity, and lollifying loquaciousness. I am reticent to disrupt the pattern. The remaining weeks in July after my last post were precisely the unrelenting parade aux folles one would expect when confronted with 12 graduate credit hours to complete in six weeks. Still and all, I often felt the comfort and familiarity that I had developed over time in the Division, and spoke about my experience there frequently during my classroom experiences. We all did everything we could to make the stress of the perilous trek that much less, but, inside of the pressure cooker, there really is only so much you can do. I worked with different groups, directed as I could, offered help where it was needed... and I think that went well. I was selected to help deliver the address to faculty at graduation, something for which I had originally imagined volunteering when the opportunity arose whilst still in Washington, DC, though I never actually raised my hand (virtually), I suppose because I was too caught up in 'productivity.' But, a second chance is always well received, and the speech seemed well received.

Leadership has become an interesting topic of discussion of late, with presidential hopefuls from the opposition party beginning their erstwhile campaigns for the vaunted office. How they shall fare remains to be seen, though the whirling dervish of bravado and politicking currently monopolizing all possible media outlets. Much is at stake, and the field of contenders shows the potential for the country to drift dangerously towards versions of the future that inevitably would prove disastrous for us.

At the same time, this is a period of both great opportunity and great peril. I've begun donating some time to the VA Medical Center, if only to keep busy and gain exposure in a public service position as I search frantically for the next big step. I am making some interesting connections, and I'm certain this won't be the last I write of it. Also, I now have a broad network with a variety of connections, we shall see how that goes. But as August draws to a close, so do the remaining funds that I received from the NUF experience, and the very stark reality of a very limited safety net. Trying to keep things in perspective - balancing opportunity with cost, and cautious optimism with a slippery slope of aggravation. However, my current status is not entirely depressing, there are some prospects on the horizon, and this feels like my time. To quote one of my classmates: "You can master the universe..." and given the amount of obstacles I've managed to overcome just over the summer, I'm inclined to believe him.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A very real an tangible way...

The past three weeks of the NUF experience have been entirely different than any other point in the past year. We returned to New York the last week of May, and for me, there was the added difficulty of being injured. Complications between the insurance company and my orthopedist's office impeded the process of my recovery, but after finally getting everyone to talk to each other (it only took two weeks to get an MRI done) the actual process of discerning the difficulty took far too long (the results of my MRI didn't arrive to the doctor's office until several days after the scan was taken) all of which left me dealing with a level of pain that, on a scale of 1 to 10, I would assess at 20.5. Fortunately, the day that the scans showed up at my doctor's office, I was also able to get in to see him, and to his credit, he prescribed the best option (an anti-inflammatory medication) which reduced the swelling of the disc and allowed it to move off the nerve, relieving a great deal of the pain.

Fortunately, classes started after I started taking the medication, and had already started on the way back towards being whole. The outlink for this post is to the organization run by one of my professors for this semester, and it is to him that I credit the title. We were having quite an in depth conversation regarding the Human Resources frame in an organization, and how the language in memos, though the requester of a feedback memo might be asking for valuable feedback, might not land just right when it reaches their ear once they've actually begun to read said memo. Truer words were ne'er spake, and as I frequently communicate to the class of 2012; you can redo a budget, you can ask for another strategic plan, you can even reshuffle the organizational chart, but you cannot, cannot, cannot pull back a message.  Especially if it's on the internet. There's a leadership lesson to be learned here.

The past three weeks have been a complete test of endurance: 12 graduate credit hours in 6 weeks, several days out of the week where we are in class for a total of about 9 hrs a day, trying to squeeze in a few workouts in between piles of reading, writing effective papers, statistical analysis, and economic theorizing. As I commented to one of my classmates this morning, I feel as if one of the widely destructive tornadoes that blew through the South last month continues to rage unrelentingly throughout my cranium. So far, we've received back our Stats and Econ midterms, and papers from each of the classes where we need to submit them. Everyone has a clear idea of where they're standing, and is feeling incredibly worn and as if their reserves of motivation are running a bit low. We all do our best to keep each other up, but it's like the last mile of the marathon, where you feel your body on fire, and there's still a climb to the crest of a hill to cross the finish line...

In the midst of all the coursework is the need to find my way into a new position, something which - to quote a classmate, - is renting a lot of space in my head. But, several opportunities are beginning to show up, and I'm confident that something will solidify shortly.

However, these past few weeks have not been devoid of fun, and I'll have to follow up this post with a write up of the scavenger hunt that I designed and led, a couple weeks ago for the incoming cohort of NUFfies. As always, I intend to leave you with a bit of music, but of a different sort: One of the most amazing things in NYC is a program called 'Music Under New York' where the MTA actually pays artists to perform in the subway stations, turning the entire affair into a form of public art (see also Jerry Mitchell). To that end, the video below was one such artist that really reminded me of the spirit of New York the first weekend after I was back in class:

video

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Media Strategy

This week has been full of unexpected surprises. For example, what started as a minor twinge in my back Tuesday night ended up being a slipped disc Wednesday morning, and that has peppered my experience throughout, up through today. To be sure, the symposium which I'd signed up for on Wednesday was a difficult experience to sit through because the very act of sitting caused me so much discomfort that I'm not entirely sure how, exactly, I was able to accomplish it for hours at a stretch. In contrast, having been to this event, I've managed to make a few new contacts, and find out more information about potential places and positions towards which I can focus my efforts. Also, it's been raining in the capitol region for the past several days, which pleases me greatly since it keeps the heat and mosquito population down, and makes the experience a bit more bearable.

The Dialogue on Diversity is a series of day-long symposia focused on different topics, and this one was specifically tailored for the purpose of discussing health disparities in the minority and immigrant communities in the United States.  One of the main presenters with possibly the greatest number of representatives from its myriad offices and subdivisions was the Federal government's Department of Health and Human Services. Specific sections spoke on topics that ranged from obesity - one study claims that every child born in the US in 2000 will in some way be affected by obesity, unless, that is, we make some changes in our diet and practices, - Food Insecurity - one representative spoke on the evolution of Food Stamps into the Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program, and it's potential for wider impact in minority communities that are in need, - the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (which, it so happens, is the purpose for the title of this post,) and quite a few others, including National Minority AIDS Council, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Council of La Raza, the League of United Latin American Citizens, and several others who made clear several crucial health concerns for the future of our communities.

One of the most salient messages from everyone's presentation was the fact that information needs to be more available, more accessible, and more clear for the general public, especially those who stand to benefit from the broadest range of programs. For example, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius put together a video commemorating the first anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.


This is fantastic, but many more people need to be drawn to the site, and made aware of the fact that Healthcare.gov is a central information warehouse where they can make comparisons between healthcare plans, search for providers, understand the law, and find contact information for DHHS personnel. Also, there is the potential for several of these organizations to partner together for the purpose of realizing their communications outreach goals, and bringing their message to their target audience. I'm hoping I can help in that endeavor in several ways, this particular blog piece being one of them. 

But that was just Wednesday...

Friday, I presented a Social Media 101 workshop for the Altrusa District 2 conference, and it went over fabulously. Altrusa International, from their website, is "...an organization of professional women and men who volunteer our energies and expertise in projects dedicated to community betterment. We are also a community service organization that espouses volunteerism, service and fights for literacy and against AIDS." They are presently in the midst of a rebranding campaign, looking to increase their membership, and in truth, having heard some of the fantastic stories that this organization has been capable of achieving, they ought to attract a very wide audience. I would personally like to see the organization draw in a much larger crowd, committed, as I am, to the public service, hence the current objective in educational attainment.

I'm always pleased by how much people change their minds in an hour's worth of presentation and a few short demonstrations. Nearly the entire room went from eschewing the concept of even getting involved in any sort of social media interactions, to questioning excitedly what are the next steps. Once they realized that you could use these newfound super powers for good instead of evil "Can we set up a Facebook page for a Community Activity?" Absolutely, go and check out the Friends of Van Cortlandt Park.) "What if I don't want to have a blog where I tell the world every last detail about my life?" That's not necessary. You have complete control over the content of your blog (and for a great example, read mine! Or, go and see the Bronx News Network) Also, don't confuse your LinkedIn with your Facebook page PLEASE!!! I was asked several times if I was available for strategy sessions (yes,) and if I had a consultation fee (also yes,) but noone seemed to flinch at that idea. Many business cards were exchanged, and I feel fairly certain that I might soon be needing a secretary. I kind of like this sort of adventure, truth be told, I'm getting to utilize my technological, educational, and business acumen, and manage my own schedule. I could see myself falling easily into this pattern. Stay tuned and we'll see how this goes. If you find yourself needing to work on such a project, find me on my LinkedIn, through Facebook, or leave a comment here.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Ya sé como convertirme en viento


Esas palabras de 'El Alquimista' me siguen de lugar en lugar. Varios hechos últitmamente me hicieron recordarlas. En fin, me he convertido en el mero imagen de lo que nunca pensaba que iba a ser: el analista estadistico y presupuestario, no muy diferente del Santomé—protagonista de Benedetti,—aunque no me haya acordado a ninguna tregua conmigo mismo todavía. Es una cosa bastante desconcertante para un lingüista, de repente contar con tanta destreza matemática, pero no hay que complicar la felicidad. Falta un més para regresarme a casa, a Nueva York, digo, la casa en el Bronx ya no me queda abierto. Sin embargo, me encantaría regresar al lugar, o quizás un lugar cerca del mismo.

Today is Saturday, and it's an odd feeling. I finished, printed, bound, and packaged my capstone this past Thursday. I could have actually put it in the mail then, but I just didn't move fast enough to get out of the office on time, so it went into the mail yesterday (Friday). The required postmark date for the final draft is this coming Monday. There is only one other classmate of whom I am aware with enough forethought and planning to have completed the project at the same time, and she is to be commended. Every other classmate I've spoken with is steadily chipping away at the final version as I write this, or has already pleaded for an extension already cognizant of the fact that they won't be capable of making the deadline. I mention this because this blog, our cohort's studies, and even the entire point of this accelerated course is to train "leaders." Leaders prove themselves in the heat of battle, under the pressures of actually being in the lead, they manage their time well, know how to access the right resources at the right time, know who to call if they don't have the answer to a problem, and so forth. 

Leadership, in contrast, is not endemic to those with a haughty attitude, a practice of unprecedented self ascription of power, the inability to speak softly and wield a big intellect, or any of the myriad personality malaises which I've witnessed in excess along this very uneven and incredibly difficult trajectory. Of course, there are several people in my current experience that do not fit the disparaging commentary above. In point of fact, I can think of several. But I am distressed and disappointed by those that do. I feel sincerely that a poor choice was made in many cases, and that these individuals, in truth, do not belong in the position of access to power.

In reality, the whole purpose of this post was to announce that I had managed, much as I did with every other version, data set, or significant piece required by the professors, to turn in the final draft early. By all counts, mine arrived the date it was due, hard copy, through the mail, and an extra one sent to the folks so they can have it on their shelf. I had to maintain a personal standard, you see, though that has caused several of my cohort members great consternation. But, I can tell you, given that the chips were down, who I would rather have on my team.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mentor for a morning


Last Thursday I took a personal day and went up to New York City for the Mentor for a Morning event at Baruch College. I'd been anticipating this for some weeks, it was an opportunity to meet with several people with whom I would not otherwise have interacted, or, more specifically, had the opportunity to interact. Really, I dislike doing 24 hr turnarounds in NYC; I don't get to see my family as much as I'd like, I completely miss out on the opportunity to see my friends, and it feels as if there's something waiting for me on the other side of the mirror (if anyone understands the pre-Colombian mythology reference.) Officially, we are down to less than two months away from the termination of our mentorships, and it feels like I could seriously use a vacation. I told several people during my trip that they shouldn't be surprised if I suddenly turned into Ghost Rider and my head burst into flames spontaneously. 

Talking with the mentors, I've found out several things: 1) my resume seems to be needing a bit of tweaking if I'm going to anxiously pursue a communications position. 2) As one mentor mentioned - 'There's a lot of gold here.' I am often - despite any outward appearances - unsure of whether or not that's actually true, so it was good to hear it reinforced. 3) Two different mentors suggested that I take the time to attend whatever free events I could get myself into related to the agencies with which I'm interested in working. Interestingly, both also suggested the idea of sending introductory letters, and how to format them - something I always forget to consider entirely. So, in between completing the last two assignments for the semester, gingerly escorting my capstone through a wordsmithing forge, and preparing my taxes this week, I'm going to be carefully tooling a letter of introduction to several places, to be followed up perhaps around the beginning of Summer II with official cover letters and resumes. In the interim, resumes, cover letters, applications to Federal and Municipal agencies, and some serious networking has been going on, all with the objective of being able to step lively from the stage for graduation into a desirable position.

The way back and forth from NYC, however, was incredibly adventurous to say the least. On the way up, I met an Audio/Video producer who does some fairly high level work I was fortunate enough to hear about but won't repeat here. We managed to get along swimmingly, and the best part is, one of my closest friends from years and years agone is also an A/V specialist and in need of something to do. Taking care of my friends, cuz it's all about your network. The way back, however, was not so pleasant, as it took six hours plus to complete a four hour trip, something about the air inside the bus completely unsettled my stomach, and I was unable to complete anything remotely resembling 'work,' even blogging. Once safely returned to the District of Columbia, it was still an hour plus to get home since we returned at an hour when the bus/train connections slow down and are entirely disjointed. The remainder of the weekend was mostly unproductive, I'm only up to about 5 pages with the final assignment for Management II (we have an 8 pg limit. Who puts page limits on these things? Ugh,) and still have to knock out 600 words for the last Leadership class assignment, but I'm not concerned about those getting done by the end of the day tomorrow. It's the whole taxes thing that's got me worried.

While I was in NYC, since Friday was a furlough day, I made the decision to stay an extra night so I could wake up and have breakfast with my dad, who I don't get to see or interact with enough while I'm here, and spend some time with one of my close friends from the city Thursday night. He's one of the integral members of a small collective I've affectionately termed Team Green, but it is to him and the rest in that collective that Joe Cocker is dedicated:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jeff, her son...

As promised, I'm adding a few shots from my trip to the Jefferson library, and a couple more from mid-March that show Spring waging a relentless battle to peak through the gloominess of an extended winter (although I really like Winter, Virginia winters are completely unlike the frolicking, hot chocolate necessitating, snow-flaky, snow ball throwing fun fests that are winters in New York. Here, they are just an unending series of broad, immeasurable expanses of gray clouds, unpredictable temperatures, and wind. And noone seems capable of enjoying the experience. Almost to a person I've heard a ceaseless string of complaints since the month of November from neighbors, co-workers, people I've seen at the store. Luckily for the past couple weeks we've been having temperatures trending towards a more spring-like atmosphere. As 4everJung noted in one of her social media posts: "Bring it!"

And now, some photos -

The stairwell to the second floor
Detail of one of the corner elements surrounding the ceiling glass

The ceiling inside of the entryway to Jefferson's personal collection
Stained glass in the ceiling of the main entryway
Detail of the archway over the exterior door

The 6 panels of stained glass in the ceiling
Close up of one of the stained glass panels

Exterior of the library from street level. Notice the Neptune
fountain in the foreground
The Capital building, at dusk. 

A panorama shot of the library's exterior, from street level
A few blossoms along the street leading to my block



Dogwoods, same street.

I don't know the name of these.
But they were pretty

A string of cherry blossoms. Not exactly the
National Mall, but fairly impressive.
A superb effort.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The creation of myth

 Last night, on my way home from the office, my brain buzzing from sifting through a regulation on procurement, I saw a backlit advertisement in the DC Metro proclaiming a display of Gaugin’s famous works at the National Gallery of Art. For a fleeting moment, I thought to myself, “…that piece isn’t in the Met’s collection of Gaugin…” until, that is, I realized with a sudden shock that I wasn’t in New York. To purloin a phrase that has been recently circulating the interwebiverse relating to census counts and economic pressures – this was a ‘thud’ moment. But, there were boxes yet unfilled on the crossword, e-mails awaiting responses, media messages to be crafted….

Two weekends ago, my parents arrived in town to pass a few days with me. We saw the Thomas Jefferson building of the Library of Congress which was truly impressive. I will have to create an entirely different post with a series of photos. Much as the opening statement to this entry, I was overwhelmed suddenly with the thought that I was not at home, having personally been inside of literally dozens of venues similarly adorned there, and began to feel on edge. The saving grace of the building’s environs was the fact that I heard every one of the half dozen docents leading tours around the building repeat the same refrain: “…he [Jefferson] wanted the building to be an intersection of art, learning, and culture.” So impressive was the display that I would quite well be inspired to create the same type of surrounding in my own home, once I have one, that is. Of course, I’m not likely to be gifted with several acres of Federal land and monies for the project, but a guy can dream, no?

Interestingly, on the second floor of the library was a Mesoamerican exhibit entitled “Exploring the Americas.” The rooms contained several pieces I’d never been able to see before, an unexpected pleasure. The collection’s variety of books spanned crucial recompilations of original drawings of petroglyphs, interpretations of calendar stones, depictions of Aztec, Inca, and Mayans from the origination of the ethnography field, and chronicles of the Europeans’ initial interactions with the New World.

Jefferson’s personal collection, on display on the opposite side of the library from the Americas exhibit, was a testament to the breadth of knowledge of a president and fellow bibliophile. If nothing else, it helped to embolden my own fascination for books, despite having to divest myself of the several copies I had been warehousing of former teacher’s editions of textbooks, and half dozen repetitions of novels that served little other purpose than to possess extra copies. Once this fellowship is over, and I triumphantly return to New York, I shall endeavor to install myself in a viable location, and further develop my extensive library. One of us must be responsible for the protection of knowledge.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Power

I've listed The New Teacher Project as this blog's out-link for a purpose; It's been roughly two months since I've posted something here, and in that time, the NUF mid-year conference has happened, at which we heard incessantly about leadership, what it means, precise ways for you to foment that within yourself, and what precisely to do with it after you've managed to get ahold of it. Gina Rudan spoke to us about how she helps others find the intersection of their skills and their passions, and that was an interesting conversation. David Mensah spent a great deal of time talking about finding your personal mission, and I realized at that particular point, that I hadn't really nailed down what mine was. All was not lost, however, as I realized shortly after my triumphant return to the Capital region what precisely that was.

One of my closest friends in New York has a brother-in-law that lives in the area, and inevitably, we've also become fast friends. His children likewise think I'm the greatest thing since sliced bread. Once I was back there, interacting with youth, it came to me like a Mack truck to the face - the youth, the future of tomorrow. That is my mission: to make sure that they are raised well, that they are shown the proper way to operate in society, that they learn well how to be valuable members of our culture. To that end, I've begun to refocus my post-fellowship job search to ensure that it has to do with Youth Development or a position as Education Director for an institution.

Amusingly, I recently read about a program in Philadelphia that has to do with interpreting in the school system. At the same time, I found myself wondering if there has been sufficient forethought and planning gone into the program for them to select a director. I know that operating simultaneously in two fields that I hold near and dear to my heart would be closely akin to paradise. We shall have to see how close to that I manage to find myself.

I continually refer back to Collins' scale of Level 5 leadership for a reason. Having participated in martial arts, operated in a school system, studied leadership through this fellowship, performed as an interpreter, written as a citizen journalist, and a whole variety of interesting things during my professional life, I believe I have developed a sense of what the term entails. I know for a fact it is horrifically overused. I also know that a majority of people overusing it have generally done so for the purpose of powerful self ascription of importance. My particular issue is education, youth development, and within that language access. So, when I see like posting a list of nearly 5,000 teachers who will find themselves under the ax due to 'budget constraints' and other efforts meant to unwind collective bargaining are solely to the detriment of or nation, and most specifically the more than 1.1 million students in the NYC Department of Education's care, I know 'leadership,' due to its overusage, is losing any semblance of validity. There is a better way, and there are agreements to be made. Students of history remember that the first thing every cult of personality did in order to rise to power was to decimate the teaching force. TNTP has been complicit in producing proposals to that end, and it is apparent that their objectives are in line with the philosophy.

Leadership is not only in the professional field, however, and this is where I find myself in a quandary. Our capstone experience is potentially one of the most intense pieces of the entire fellowship, but having done one or two dedicated research papers while in my initial Master's degree at NYU, and very similar types of brain intensive work as a teacher for 12 years - curriculum writing, and major projects that I developed to be able to utilize in the classroom, - this was perhaps less of a stressful enterprise for me than it likely should have been. I turned in 51 pages (with 52 references) nearly a week before the due date, and dedicated the remaining time to advising and coaching classmates that might be finding themselves in a difficult place. This week, I also received word from one journal that I had pitched an essay to that they are willing to accept my writing. I'm incredibly pleased about this because, not only does it result in a publication credit, it also results in remuneration! This, I believe, is more the type of leadership - thought leadership - for which we should be aiming.

Next weekend, my sister, my parents, my closest friend from high school whom I have not seen in nearly 20 years, and his wife and children descend upon my small hamlet for the weekend. My sister is also participating in a range of events and conferences with the City Council Chairman of her town, meetings with Congresspeople, and so forth as she climbs the political ladder. There is an evening planned for the DC dozen to meet with her, the City Council Chairman, and several other key players in about a week, and it will be the first time I'm in the same room with so many noteables at once. I think this is the point at which I should feel apprehensive. My main preoccupation for the evening is to make sure that I have enough networking cards available to hand out at the encounter. I can almost guarantee that there will be interesting photos from the affair.

Not necessarily as interesting as a Mariachi band headed by Antonio Banderas, but, you get the idea...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

El Distrito de Columbia utiliza sus fondos para fomentar la comunidad de negocios hispanos

La nota que añado abajo la escribí para entregar a Washington Hispanic, uno de los periódicos locales escrito en castellano. Se lo mandé al editorial esta tarde y ojalá que me respondan con el afirmativo. En cambio, por si acaso que no, la tengo aquí desplegado para todo el mundo.

Durante el año fiscal 2010, solo por la agencia pública el Departamento de Servicios para Propiedades (Department of Real Estate Services, o DRES por sus siglas en ingles), el Distrito de Columbia entró en contratos con negocios hispanos como parte de sus esfuerzos de privatización cuyo valor total de más de $92 millones de dólares. La razón por la cual esta única agencia es de tanto interés es porque tiene responsabilidad por más de 95% de los contratos escritos para la comunidad hispana. De modo que es imprescindible seguir fomentando negocios entre el distrito y los latinos, la siguiente información viene a ser de mayor importancia.

Durante los próximos cinco años, el total de dólares que se predice tener el presupuesto del municipio decae por alrededor de $300 Millones, o sea, tres veces el valor total de contratos escritos con la comunidad en total. Estos datos son libremente asequibles entrando en la página del Contable Principal (Chief Financial Officer, o CFO por sus siglas en inglés) y buscando los enlaces del presupuesto. 90% de la cantidad total que DRES utilizó durante el año fiscal 2010 se dedicó a proyectos de construcción. Pero, como antes mencionado, durante los próximos años (comenzando con el año fiscal 2012) los fondos disponibles para tales trabajos se disminuyen hasta la mitad. Ese efecto marca la pauta hasta por lo menos el año 2016, el cual debe ser preocupante para todo quien es dueño de una compañía de construcción.

En realidad, nos quedan bastantes opciones para solucionar este dilema. Para comenzar, los negocios primariamente enfocados en construcción son capaces de crear alianzas estratégicas con otras compañas que trabajan en ámbitos diferentes. Las alianzas más lucrativas estarán en los campos de informática, servicios profesionales, ingeniería, diseño de arquitectura, traducción e interpretación, y en adquisiciones gubernamentales. Lo que ha dicho el presidente Obama repetitivamente con respeto a esto es que los puestos de trabajo laboral se han esfumado a lo largo de los últimos años es una realidad. Lo que necesitamos ahora es dedicarnos a nuestra preparación, nuestra formación en una fuerza laboral más adiestrado. Las compañías americanas buscan empleadas con una amplia variedad de habilidades como los designados arriba, y existen posibilidades de hacerse estudiante de cada campo listado arriba, muchos con la oportunidad de acceder fondos en forma de becas para estudiar. Póngase en contacto con el Departamento de Servicios de Empleo (Department of Employment Services, o DOES por sus siglas en inglés) para comenzar.

Para las compañías interesadas en crear alianzas estratégicas con otras compañías, basta con ponerse en contacto con el Departamento de Desarrollo de Negocios Locales (Department of Small, Local Business Development, o DSLBD por sus siglas en inglés. Allá deben también entregar una solicitud para hacerse un Negocio/Empresa Certificado (CBE por sus siglas en inglés). Eso le proporciona la ventaja de ser incluido en la lista de tales empresas, y considerado para proyectos de cierto tamaño (normalmente de $100,000 o menos) antes de los negocios que no lo son. Lo más ideal para las empresas en la comunidad sería que hicieran una combinación de los anterior: adquirir personal para diferentes destrezas, reentrenar algunos de sus empleados para que dispongan de nuevas capacidades, y desarrollen alianzas estratégicas con otras compañías para poder acceder una variedad más amplia de contratos no solamente con el Distrito de Columbia, sino con el mercado en general.

Seguir ignorando las señales que cada día nos aparecen como bofetadas al cerebro nos llevará a estados infortunios. Comunico mi mensaje para el bien de la comunidad, solo quiero que avancen, y recompongamos esta nación mejor que a nostros se nos entregó.

La reina del Nilo, o la reina del reniego. Cual quieras.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Un umim, y un tumim.

Those who have not read "El Alquimista" by Paolo Coelho, if you can comprehend it in Portugese, good for you. Spanish is a highly suitable secondary stand-in. The English version is only minimally approximate. But the reference to his work in the title of this blog is crucial. It is an experience I do not hesitate to recommend.

These past weeks have been so full of momentous events and developmental challenges that it seems impossible to approach them all with a clear head and find a particularly poignant point with which to punctuate my pontifications. But then, at the same time, that specifically is the purpose of this post; 'pontification,' as if emanating from the office of a pontiff, which clearly I am not, nor do I harbor any desire to be. Besides which, Jewish heritage likely precludes you from such a position, though I'm certain I don't know the rules behind it. 

In any case, I had initially intended to deal with this in a later paragraph, though it seems to have jumped to the fore much earlier. Following directly on the title, and my perambulatory ramblings above, I'll have to begin with Tuscon, and the most recent shock to the National psyche. Avid readers of this column will have already developed a prescient sense that I published a timely article regarding Jared Lee Loughner's atrocities, though my purpose here is unique. Much like the allusion to pontificatory publications in the principal paragraph, we suffer in this country of ours from predilections for perturbations and aversion to sobriety. We love dirty laundry, the public is galvanized and drawn as iron filings to a magnet once the mudslinging starts in a political dialogue of any sort. Politics infects everything - our schools, our national sports, our buying choices. And the virulent infection spreading throughout society erupts from series of non-events, is perpetuated by a two-step flow, and is delivered by the hypodermic injection of the ubiquitous media-rich environment that surrounds us. As a teacher, we are admonished for allowing students to witness anything visual, read anything, or hear lyrics that might be considered overtly contentious, inciteful of violent behavior, or blatantly erotic. Never mind that some of the greatest - both greatly inspiring, and tremedously soul wrenching - moments in history were caused by none-too-mysterious confluences of all three. Perhaps that, in a sense, is an indicator in our supposed 'last bastion of freedom,' and that instead of a tacit acceptance of the modernized version of barely beveiled Puritanism as the subtext to the national political conversation, perhaps we should convert to a more strict orthodoxy of freedom. This coming Monday is Martin Luther King day, a holiday repealed by the Tragedy in Tuscon state, and how might the overarching themes inside their political borders change if public service, peace, and not just tolerance, but acceptance of brothers, neighbors, and all the children under the sun dominated instead of guns, hatred, and discord? As a teacher we are trained habitually how to interact with developing minds, how to treat them with care, what to say, and what not to say, and how to urge them along in a positive direction. 

Similarly, and I've said this habitually in conversations recently: way back in the 90's, when Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls were gunned down mercilessly (depending on how you view this,) a call went out to the entire rap community to calm down the lyrics because the country could ill afford to continue losing children to inner city violence. We all know the power and reality of influence that media has on the developing mind. That is the both the reason for and against using it for carrying punditry along the pundit-tree while the majority of the students across the land are crippled due to plummeting literacy rates and incapacity to comprehend, let alone remember history, nor understand the importance of the imagery that's being used. In stark contrast, every available voice that regularly utilized inflammatory language, consistently poured vehemence onto the airwaves, perpetually placated the masses with their rage inducing rhetoric, immediately took to their chosen distribution device - radio, television, web page, newspaper, - and quickly claimed "it couldn't have possibly been the lyrics." In the Communications field that's known as ad-libbing (or liberalizing your dialogue. Perish the thought!) In the Education field that's known as 'Brain Storming.' I claim no responsibility for the parity of this technique with another, much more pedestrian term. What I'm driving at is the fact that every single one of the "operators" - even that is a military term - pontificates, from every side of the quadrangle. O'Donnell's "Where is freedom of speech in the Constitution" to the Libertarian "What does the EPA, or the Department of Education...do?" to the Sarah Palin "blood libel" to Paul Kanjorski's hugely inflammatory commentary on Rick Scott. The answer, as I've said often and early in my column, is Education. Not the kind that's going on now, but the kind that takes into account classics, critical thought, philosophy, and trains students to be thoughtful, insightful, and enlightened citizens of the union. 

To that end, the College Board has made the magnanimous decision to revamp the AP Biology course and exam (two separate operations that, of all things, are closely coordinated.) This is crucial, because at a certain point in educational history, the Advanced Placement curriculum and exams were the gold standard against which each other class was measured. They represented - and I would warrant they still do - the pinnacle of educational achievement, the meter stick against which all other class curriculae were measured. Disproportionately, and as is pointed out in the excellent piece by Valerie Strauss, the longer we perpetuate that continually failing No Child Left Behind and conversion to privatization of our public experience has to be universally tempered with the ever present ideal that our objective is to plant the seeds of the ongoing Enlightenment Era thought experiment that is American Society. At the same time that the AP curriculum was the universally held ultimate objective in terms of educational attainment in the Secondary system, Arts, Sports, Music, and Foreign Language programs flourished, and this was indeed for the betterment of our society as a whole. Heed well the lessons of the daguerreotype analysis. For if we should continue down the path we are currently following, we shall be lulled slowly to sleep by our infinite ignorance, only to be woken up, as the man in the video, by the scurry of rats as they seek to do their natural, genetically precoded duty to help decompose that which is dead: our minds.