Thursday, July 31, 2008

Gift Exchange or Corruption

Gift exchange has been in the news as of late. It turns out that when Senator Obama visited all those heads of state last week his staff came bearing gifts and he was reciprocated in kind. One might reasonably ask why gifts are needed in this instance – did they have any material effect on the conversations and photo ops that took place? I doubt it. But protocol is what it is and when in Rome… Personally, I tend to think of most gifts labeled as such in this way and where there is two-way exchange, a bow to ritual without any particular productive value. But owing to the insight of George Akerlof, the Nobel Prize winner, most economists think of labor market transactions as having an essential element of gift exchange and in that context the gift exchange is both productive and necessary. I’ll elaborate on why below.

Before I do, however, let’s note that corruption has also been in the news. That’s no shock, what with outrageous CEO compensation, an NBA ref who bet on games he worked in, and, of course, all the transgressions by folks who worked in the Bush Administration, as documented in David Silver’s cleverly conceived Gone Gallery. Nonetheless, the story about Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens taking excessive gifts from the VECO Corporation, an oil services company, and concealing the fact came as a surprise to many. Obviously, VECO expected something in return but according to this NPR piece:

“A Justice Department spokesman said the indictment does not allege any quid pro quo activities.”

This is the nature of gift exchange as favors. When one gives a gift as favor one doesn’t specify the favor expected in return. One might communicate about needs and provide hints as to what sorts of favors would be valued, but there is no quid pro quo. Which leads to the rather obvious question, what sorts of gift exchange are legitimate and productive and what others are acts of corruption? Is it easy to tell the one from the other or is it all very subtle, the appropriate determination made with nuance that many of us might miss?

Here is the efficiency argument for gift exchange in the workplace, articulated at greater length in the Akerlof piece linked to above. (The link goes to JSTOR. If you can’t access it because you are not at a University that subscribes to JSTOR, the original citation is from the Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1982 and you may be able to find the piece elsewhere.) To many people, this argument will seem obvious and not at all surprising. But to economists trained in neoclassical theory, the story poses a puzzle, which I will try to describe as well to help the reader better appreciate the gift exchange idea.

Work happens in a social environment where typically a worker cares about his fellow workers and hence he wants his employer to care likewise. Employers show they care by treating their employees fairly. Fairness is a tricky thing. Usually it is in reference to behavioral norms that are not stipulated contractually. In certain type of work, for example in many sales jobs, employees are paid at least in part on commission, e.g., waiters make a good part of their income on tips. There are many jobs where the output of the individual employee is hard to measure because it is all team production, so in those jobs there can’t be piece work. But in many jobs where output of the individual employee can be measured there nevertheless are no piece rates and each employee doing the same work gets the same wage. That is the puzzle for economists.

Output variation across individuals can be attributed to differences in ability, to differences in the intensity of effort put in doing the work, and to chance factors that are out of control of anyone. Parsing those is a near impossible task, often even for the worker himself. And being punished for bad luck seems inherently unfair. So in a good work situation there is a wage for the job that seems typical for that type of work, a minimal performance standard that if not reached is grounds for dismissal (in real life this is done via progressive discipline rather than as a one shot process) and then a performance norm above the minimal standard which is what good workers aim to achieve. The difference between that norm and the minimal standard is a gift. The workers give it willingly because it is a good place to work. There is also a gift aspect to the wage. The workers would still be willing to keep the job even if they were paid less. But the higher wage elicits better worker performance. (The norm is influenced by the wage that is paid.) So there is definitely an element of I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine to the relationship.

From the point of view of one co-worker dealing with his peers it’s like the Three Musketeers – One for all, and all for one. If a co-worker is struggling there is a sense of duty to help and get that person through the tough time, with an equal sense that the help would be reciprocated if the situation was reversed. This is all part of what makes the workplace attractive for the employees. The employer could opt for the alternative, adopting piece rate compensation and pitting one employee against another by demanding that each monitor the other’s transgressions and then reporting malfeasance when they see it. But the finding is that the performance norms that emerge from these environments are substantially lower, so much so that this “squeezing blood out of a stone” approach is not regarded as good management. It’s in this sense that the gifts are necessary. Without them everyone is worse off.

This continues to be true in the case of corruption, which if we want to think of it as a conspiracy means there is effective gift exchange among the conspirators. The corruption is seen by drawing a larger circle. Others not part of the conspiracy would then take the actions of the conspirators as unfair, possibly hostile, and clearly anti the promotion of the public good.

Recently the film The Insider has been airing on some of the satellite movie channels. It is about the conspiracy by Big Tobacco to withhold evidence about the addictive and harmful nature of cigarette smoking, about the whistle blower Jeffrey Wigand and his breach of contract with Brown and Williamson to do an interview with Mike Wallace to air on 60 Minutes, only to see the piece pulled by CBS management because of the implications the airing would have on CBS’ stock price, but then to have the information leaked by the producer of the show, Lowell Bergman, who was committed to see the truth win out. It’s a compelling film for anyone who hasn’t yet seen it and in this case identifying corruption was a slam dunk; there is no subtlety to that part of the story at all.

Likewise for the case of Senator Ted Stevens, though to date there have only been indictments and, as has been well reported, our system is to assume innocence until proven guilty. So here I mean to argue only that in the event he is proven guilty the harm or potential harm will be straightforward to assess. Favoritism for VECO is unfair to VECO’s competitors and to the extent that VECO got awarded or would get awarded no-bid contracts for services, the public is generally disserved by the process and the lack of accountability in doing government business this way, amply proven in Iraq, which is reason enough to be suspicious of the large gifts Stevens did receive.

But now let’s turn the question inward to our own activities on our respective campuses as learning technologists and ask the same sort of questions.

Do we engage in gift exchange? If so, is it the same when interacting with vendors, professional organizations like Educause, our peers on other campuses, our peers on our own campuses outside our own units, and the people with whom we work every day? Or are there differences to this type of gift exchange depending on nature of the relationship? Is there a risk of corruption in each and if so, how would corrupt behavior likely appear? What are the warning signs that we should be on the lookout for?

I’m not sure that I can answer all these questions well, but some are straightforward. Gift exchange is prevalent in our work. Let’s make the point simply at first and then build from there. Consider the various listservs we find ourselves on. The default minimal performance standard is to lurk and oftentimes when we’re busy with other things, that’s what we opt to do. Then, any informative or thoughtful post that moves the conversation along or starts a new thread has to be considered a gift, ditto for comments on other peoples’ blogs, and also for blog posts each of us make that cause a positive reaction in some of our readers, if only to echo what they’ve already been thinking, and even if the reaction is negative as long as it provokes more thinking on their part. We’re in the knowledge business. Pushing ideas around is what we do.

From there we can likewise reason through something similar for email, instant messaging, phone calls, and face to face conversation. There is a minimal performance standard that in most cases is probably pretty low. And there is the expected norm behavior that differs substantially from the minimum. So much of what we do in this regard is gift. Have you ever seen an employee disciplined for poor performance and possibly let go as a consequence? I’ve been through that unpleasantness, but not often and I take it is extremely rare as a general proposition. It’s outside the usual behavior. Even when there is austerity owing to tight budgets, the inclination is to manage that through the normal turnover - retirements, moves to another town perhaps because a spouse found a job there, etc., and not consider performance related separation at all. The rule is to have work performance substantially in excessive of what would trigger dismissal.

Relationships with vendors have a different aspect to them because money and material goods may be part of the gifts. On your part you may be instrumental in awarding a contract for services, software, or hardware to a particular vendor. They, in turn, may provide gifts, especially meals, at national meetings or when they make visits to your campus. There definitely are norms about these behaviors but not everyone may be aware of those norms. Further, there may be ethics rules at your campus under which you are supposed to operate as well. For example, if a team from your Campus makes a trip to the corporate headquarters of a vendor in its do-diligence to evaluate the company along with its product, then there is a reasonable expectation that the company will pay for meals on the visit and feed you well as a way to facilitate conversation, but if they take you to a swank restaurant and order very pricey wine in the process, potentially you run afoul of the ethics rules. The point is that you are there to evaluate your product and the ability for you to work with the company in as objective a manner as possible and not be swayed in that decision by the food and drink.

That’s the easy part to think through. The harder part concerns access to higher ups in the company and to privileged information, especially after a contract has been signed. There are several issues to think through in that regard – shaping the course of future product development, how information (about how much the service contract costs, bugs in the software, etc.) gets shared with you and other customers that you might view as peers, and managing the relationship which occurs at several levels at your university and at the company simultaneously, to mention but a few of the issues.

As far as I know there is no training given to learning technology staff anywhere about appropriate ways to interact with vendors – what types of gift exchange makes the working relationship better and what pushes you down the slippery slope. Instead, we all work through the issues while doing. Whether training beforehand on this would be of use is something to mull over.

Let’s turn next to working with a professional organization like Educause, where by the nature of the work much of the interaction ends up being with peers from other institutions. The difference between that and interactions with peers elsewhere that are otherwise unmediated is the professional recognition that might be obtained from the one but not the other. The professional recognition is a reward that accrues to the individual mostly and to the home institution of that individual to a lesser degree. That reward goes hand in hand with “responsibility to the profession,” as in it is the responsibility of a senior learning technologist to mentor their more junior brethren. If asked why people do work with Educause, serve on their committees, etc., professional responsibility is likely to be one big reason given. (A third possibility that I’ve not yet mentioned is professional development for the participant. There is much that can be learned from this sort of engagement.) The potential corruption in this case is pretty easy to describe – when is this too much of a good thing where the home campus, the one paying the salary of the learning technologist, doesn’t internalize the benefit from the activity, even when taking a broad and long term view? But, easy though it might be to describe, drawing the line is equally hard. The problem presents itself mainly when the person has discretionary funds and hence controls his or her own travel budget. Here’s another one where I’ve not heard of training to help people sort through the thinking.

The issues about our own learning, on the one hand, and our unit’s internalizing the benefit from that, on the other, also exists in peer relationships that go outside the unit, whether on campus or off. This is a similarity with mediated relationships through professional organizations. The difference is that the recognition factor is lessened and may be entirely non-existent. Replacing that is the friendship factor. Friendships with colleagues may be good and productive things that aide in getting work done. Yet indulging with friends as a substitute for work obviously creates issues. Once again defining the problem is easy but identifying the line is very hard. The related salient issue is hours per week spent at work. Those higher up in administration may be putting in 60 hours per week or more. If one lives the job, the work/play distinction blurs. What difference does it make if one plays during normal work hours but puts in work time during the wee hours of the morning or if one plays at the office and then works at home, provided students and instructors and other clients are not adversely impacted by the time and site shifting? Put this way and given that much of the work is self-directed, a condition that holds for many of us, the individual herself might not know which side of the line she is on. Others may rush to judgment based on an incomplete understanding of the situation and a belief that work should happen in a more traditional manner. But juggling the demands of work and family as well as managing both our productive periods and our dull interludes might mean a non-traditional approach is better. This is another tough one.

Gift exchange in our own unit might be best uncovered by asking how our actions improve the productivity of our co-workers. Sometimes this happens by ceding discretion to co-workers and trusting the solutions they propose. That best encourages their learning-by-doing. But other time this happens by doing the opposite, offering critique of their work they’ve already produced so they have something to react to when trying to make improvements. Yet other times this happens by injecting humor into the work, to encourage the camaraderie a la The Three Musketeers and to create a relaxed tone which helps people to work their best. Corruption when considered in this context might be viewed as going overboard in any of these dimensions.

There are other issues aside from where to draw the line. Norms change over times, differ across generations of people at any one time, and determining whether a gift is given simply to keep up with a changing norm or is meant as bribe may be hard to do. Twenty five years ago I would willingly have shared a hotel room with a colleague when on the road. Now I expect a private room and can’t imagine how I could function otherwise. My parents never outgrew having coffee grinds from a can, Maxwell House or Yuban for their morning coffee and didn’t even move away from making it with a percolator till they retired in Florida. That’s what I grew up with but now good coffee is a very important part of my workday.

I suspect others could make quite a long list of creature comforts that are part of their everyday expectations. Why do these creature comforts evolve over time? As David Brooks observes (and many other have too) we now live in a culture of debt, fueled by expectations that we should have things that cost in excess of 100% of what we earn. If one were to try to thwart this escalation by offering gifts only to the extent that they can actually be afforded, would that person run the risk of converting the effective workplace to the alternative where it seems the bleeding-blood-from-a-stone approach rules? As Akerlof points out, the fairness idea is made in reference to local norms and is all about relative deprivation to those norms, not about absolute deprivation in any sense. Are any of us as individuals in a position to affect those norms to reduce the escalation in gift giving that is needed to generate reciprocity?

And there is the related notion of habituation. Gift giving may work best if there is some genuine surprise in the gift, a signal of thoughtfulness and insight in the gift selection. Grandparents love those cards the grandkids make because they can see in these objects the efforts of the kids themselves. Repeated gift giving makes it harder to come up with the novel offering with the personal touch and that factor in itself feeds the escalation process. If I can’t be clever in the gift I’m going to give you but last time around I spent $50 on the gift, then this time I’ll spend $100 and let my increased spending substitute for my lack of creativity. The issue exists even when we’re giving our own time and effort rather than cash.

There is also the issue of the lag between the original gift and the reciprocal act. In a good and healthy relationship the timing is dictated primarily by productivity considerations. When can the gift do the most good and when is the giver most able to make the gift? A recipient of a rather large gift, however, feels an ethical need to acknowledge the gift as a thank you gesture. Often, to make the thank you appear meaningful, the recipient feels obligated to give a gift in return and to do so irrespective of the productivity considerations. That can speed up the back and forth and a vicious cycle ensues.

What began as a healthy relationship can turn into a corrupt one for these reasons. So we may be tempted on occasion to go the squeaky clean route and avoid any appearance of bribe in the gifts we offer, perhaps by not offering gifts at all. But that will be self-defeating because gift giving is an essential part of work. The best we can hope for, I believe, is to understand that moderation in all things is a worthy ideal to pursue and to periodically keep an eye on and review with colleagues the big picture goals we’re trying to accomplish. If we get off track a bit we can redirect the course we’re on before we go over the deep end. At least, I hope so.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Old And In The Way

Old and in the way
That's what I heard him say
They used to heed the words he said
But that was yesterday
Coal will turn to gray

And youth will fade away

They'll never care about you

Cause you're old and in the way

Complete Song Lyrics
Album
Performance by the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience

I’m not a Green Bay Packers fan, as anyone who is a regular reader would know from my irrational exuberance over the Giants. But I’ve been taken with the Brett Favre debacle, tragic in its utter predictability, the superstar athlete who decides to step away from the game only to find a few months later that there is really nothing else to fill the void and he wants to keep playing. We’ve seen the story again and again. In Favre’s case, the Packers were favored in the NFL Championship Game, played at home under extreme frigid conditions. His own performance was less than stellar in the second half. Then, in overtime, he threw the fatal interception that lead up to the game winning field goal by the Giants. Obviously, that was a bitterly disappointing way to end the season for Favre, a sour note indeed.

Favre was said to have retired for the right reasons. He had performed at a very high level last season so physically he clearly could still play. But mentally he couldn’t handle the guff and, more importantly, he was no longer able to make the total commitment to win the Superbowl, knowing how hard it would be to achieve that outcome and how much it would take to get there. All of this sounds right and convincing, but perhaps a bit too calculating. We know that one shouldn’t make decisions of this sort when emotional. Wasn’t the hurt from the devastating loss six weeks earlier still with him? Would he make the same choice if allowed enough time for that pain to abate entirely?

Professional sport is a business, one that continues whether its star players retire or not. Favre had a professional responsibility to notify the Packers of his intensions so they could make plans to assure continuity of the team’s performance. Unfortunately, the timeframe in which to discharge this notification requirement didn’t allow Favre ample enough time to make the retirement decision in an entirely dispassionate frame of mind. In the meantime between when Favre announced his retirement and now, the Packers made the business decision to commit to Favre’s former backup as the next starting quarterback. So when Favre started to make inquiries about playing again, naturally that triggered some uncomfortable conversations, with ESPN.com really playing out this soap opera to the max. Wouldn’t it be nice if these sort of issues could be resolved quietly rather than online?

Partly because Favre’s beard is grizzled and mine is too, partly because I’ve been thinking about this issue of wanting to be useful and productive as I get older but finding it harder to do (see my previous post), and partly for reasons that I’ll get to in a bit, I started to think about the album and the song Old And In The Way, which explains my subject lines and the links at the top of this post. But in spite of those connections, on closer thought the Favre situation doesn’t really fit. Had he indicated he was willing to return this past March, he’d almost certainly be the Packers starting quarterback now. His teammates wanted him back, some said as much in the article about his retirement, even if the wishes of senior management on that score were a little murkier. For the situation to really fit, the person has to want to stay, yet feel he is being pushed out by those in authority. One example that fits is given in this interview with Joel Klein the Chancellor for the NYC Schools, where he talks about getting rid of more senior teachers if, based on the performance measures his office is establishing, they are no longer up to snuff. It was a point on which I thought Klein’s view weak in an otherwise quite interesting session.

I found another example from a surprising source, the Taiga Forum Provocative Statements. Look, in particular, at statement number 8. It is unmistakable in its meaning, although it couches its conclusion in language that suggests voluntary separation on the part of the traditional Librarians who, implicitly, will choose to either retire or find other work on their own accord. It is not my goal to defend the work that these traditional Librarians do now. But I did take offense at the idea that these people should be discarded since they are no longer useful. So I thought I’d do a little provoking of my own in return.

Note first that faculty have been getting older, meaning either that some fairly senior people enter the professoriate late in their career or, more likely, that senior faculty who’ve been around for quite some time are nevertheless not likely to retire. They have tenure and if in reasonably good health why not continue to work in their lifelong occupation? Some Librarians are faculty too. So the wishful thinking in Provocative Statement 8 aside, the average age of Librarians is likely to be increasing too, largely for the same reason as for faculty.

Next, as the world seems to be turning upside down in terms of addressing the issues tied to the dual problems of increasingly scarce petroleum and the need to retard carbon emissions to reduce Global Warming, it may seem that we can afford to put human resource issues on the back burner, a less immediate problem that we can turn to when we figure these other ones out. But that’s wrong. Life expectancy has been going up for some time. But, more importantly, conditional life expectancy once we reach 65 has also been going up. According to this table from the Center for Disease Control, if I make it to 65 years of age then, based on the results from 2005, I should expect to live more than 17 additional years and if I happen to make it to 75 then I should expect to live almost 11 years beyond that. Do we really want mature adults to stop working early in their lives because their current skills are not in high demand? Isn’t it incumbent on us to find creative ways for bright and willing people to retool so they can continue to contribute? That’s not in the Taiga Provocative Statements, quite the contrary is there in place. But I assume that’s an act of omission. If the issue were considered head on, how would the Taiga Forum folks come down on this point?

Third, and this point I made in my critique of the ACRL Report from a year ago, how can Librarians on their own define a new world of service that is user driven yet without involving the users in the definition? (It makes sense to me that the Taiga Forum Steering Committee is itself comprised entirely of of Library “Insiders” but don’t their recommendations need to be validated in some way by Library “Outsiders” and in a manner where the latter are not captured by the former.)

Then I began to ask myself what might actually be a testable proposition. Does “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks” rule in the Library world, in spite of my protestations because as statement 8 implies you need to be young and vigorous to keep up both with the technology and the changing culture? Or might we design some imaginative program for redeploying and retooling more senior Librarians in such a way that they are invigorated by and productive at their new work?

With that I began to think through what such a program would look like. I quickly came to the realization that I don’t know enough to design such a program in any detail, but I am armed with the conviction from my previous piece that much of the new Library work should be in the form of consulting and preferably in intensive and ongoing projects that develop a substantial personal aspect to them so that the Librarian becomes a core member of the project team rather than in a more anonymous reference role, with the idea that these projects won’t just be a place for the Librarians to showcase their existing skills but also a place to learn in situ and thereby become expert in areas for which there is at least a local demand for the skill set, Also the project must be done in such a way to differentiate what the Librarians bring to the table as compared to Graduate Students in the discipline, who might have more subject matter expertise, but are likely much less knowledgeable about archival, bibliographic, scholarly communication, and other Library issues which are the Librarians’ bread and butter.

How would such projects come into being? Suppose on an annual basis the Campus ran a competition where faculty and perhaps groups of students too are invited to submit proposals where a modest amount of cash might be awarded as well but the principal goal would be to allocate Librarian time (and perhaps other support provider time such as learning technologist time) to the projects. The projects could pertain to any academic function, whether teaching, research, or service. The idea would be to be broad as possible in acceptable scope so as to let the users define the need. Then the awards would be made on a competitive basis by a committee of students, faculty, and librarians, based on the merits of the proposals. Some members of this committee might be designated to perform a “whip” function to ensure the proposals are well written and to eliminate silly errors that might doom an otherwise intriguing proposal. The winners of the competition would then be obligated to pursue their proposal as best as they can and from time to time write progress reports that talk about the project itself and about the Librarian contribution to it. The award committee might also do focus groups with the project winners some time into the projects to get a sense of whether there are lessons to be learned that cut across many of the projects. And then these results would be published on the competition’s Web site, so as to inform future rounds of the competition.

Undoubtedly there is a big risk in going this route, namely that in identifying there are Librarians to be allocated for consultation through such a competition, one is implicitly identifying places where the Library budget can be cut, at least in the minds of those who see the above mentioned projects as a low value proposition. So to make something like this work there would have to be assurances obtained ahead of time that funding for these Librarian lines would not be cut, at least for several years so the hypothesis testing on whether this use might be a productive use of Librarian time, particularly as the Librarian matures.

Of course, doing this is apt to mean there are fewer lines for the type of work that the Taiga Forum envisioned when constructing their Provocative Points. But what is the alternative? If one were to develop a full life cycle model for a Librarian, what will one with 10, 15, 20 years or more past the MLS be doing? Is being a Librarian a good stepping stone toward some other type of employment? If not, and if there is built in obsolescence in the MLS by nature of the work Librarians in the future will be doing, how does it all add up career-wise?

Old yet earning pay
That's what I wished they’d say
They used to heed the words he said
And still do that today
Coal will turn to gray
And youth will fade away
Yet contributing and learning

So supporting his own way


Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Coming of Age

Greg Norman didn’t win the British Open this time around. He didn’t even come in second, though he did lead the tournament after three rounds. There wasn’t enough left in his tank on Sunday. History didn’t get made as some had hoped, the oldest golfer to win a major, close, but golf isn’t horseshoes. The Great White Shark still has that mane of golden hair, but now the face is wizened, the legs lack some of the old bounce, the swing still generates a lot of club head speed but appears not nearly as violent as in his heyday 10 or 20 years ago when he used to really let it rip and was one of the big hitters on the tour. What was he thinking of entering this tournament, preparation for the British Seniors Open that starts next week? Was this a way to prolong the honeymoon with his new bride, Chris Evert?

It turns out that I’ve got Greg Norman by almost a month. I’m January 11th; he’s February 10th. And Chris Evert has me. She was born just before Christmas; now I know where her name comes from. I remember Chris Evert from her first U.S. Open when she was sixteen, exceeding the hype to make it all the way to the semi-finals then to lose, fittingly, to Billie Jean King, a prelude to the baton pass that would happen for sure a few years later. Evert was the first of the teenage phenoms on the women’s tour and ultimately the most successful by far of the American born in that category. Yet she was also a teen idol, her implacable gaze and unruffled composure on the court, so different from anyone else I knew who was my own age. I was still a year away from being on the high school tennis team. My family, which used to play a lot of tennis because my mom was nuts about it, made an annual trek to Forest Hills to watch some of the early round matches in advance of the semis and finals, which we watched on TV. So I had more than a passing interest. This was before the Open moved to the U.S.T.A. National Tennis Center and tennis took on something of a corporate look. In the ‘60s and early ‘70s the stars seemed more approachable – a family friend had worked with Arthur Ashe outside of tennis and I got to see Rod Laver up close at a country club near Binghamton while at summer camp. But memory and fiction blur; I can’t recall whether I saw Chris Evert play live that year. It all seems so long ago.

My affinity with Greg Norman is not about distant memories. It concerns the here and now. This past weekend I spent the entire time in relax mode, recovering from the intensity of the Learning Technology Leadership Program that was held last week in Madison. I watched the playoff for the U.S. Open about a month ago. It was such high drama and compelling viewing that I felt a need to watch the British Open final round, although Tiger Woods wasn’t in the tournament. And true to my expectation it was gripping for me, but for other reasons than the players’ performance. (The wind was the overwhelming factor forcing all the scores to be over par with only four scores better than +10, though Padraig Harrington did play an exceptional final round and deserved to win the tournament.) I was feeling rather spent even though I had vegged out all of Saturday, thus having reneged on a promise to my wife to move the huge mulch pile that was in our driveway to our backyard. So before it got too hot I was loading up the wheelbarrow using the pitchfork stuck in the pile to grab the decomposing mulch that must have been much heavier than it was when delivered because of the retained moisture (we’ve had a lot of rain since), then through our fence with the gate to keep Ginger our dog in the back yard, past the patio with the barbecue and the pond to the shrubs in the back, to dump the load in a big pile, then over and over again, because there was a lot of mulch. I had to sit after a while because my back started to give out. When I resumed it occurred to me to bend my knees while scooping up the mulch and to keep upright rather than bent over while navigating with the wheelbarrow. Then I moved inside to cool off and tuned into the golf.

The first time Greg Norman was on the practice tee. He was warming up far away from the other players. I remember thinking, “I hope you have enough Advil in your bag.” The next time I came in after taking several more loads in the wheelbarrow and another break for my back he and Harrington were on the 5th hole. The lead had evaporated. Indeed Norman was behind by a stroke. Things seemed out of whack for Norman. The commentators (Tom Watson and Paul Azinger) kept on talking about his taking out driver when instead he should have chosen an iron and him not thinking well through the final round. That’s exactly how I felt, how I still feel. That’s the affinity.

This was year two for me as a faculty member at the Learning Technology Leadership Program, with the experience last year exhilarating in its emotion, its tie to the next generation of leaders in attendance, and its bringing to the fore that I have something to contribute to their development. This time around the two sessions where I was a co-presenter, Building Successful Relationships with Shelli Fowler and Influencing Decisions: Strategies for Using Data with Malcolm Brown paralleled sessions I participated in last year and were in the same time slots in the program. (Last year the Program started on Sunday while this time it began on Monday so things were shifted by a day as a result.) The familiarity notwithstanding, I got rather keyed up before the session with Shelli. During the extended part on Faculty, where I played Socrates and through a sequence of questions tried to get the attendees to reason through the motivation and circumstance of instructors at various junctures of the career cycle, I became aware that my memory was failing me. As a teacher it has become my usual practice to not rely on notes and instead to remember in advance the starting point for the questioning and then from there to more or less work through the rest by the logic of the back and forth, this making the entire thing seem natural and the discovery, in particular, more authentic. During the journey I’d have a good sense of where we were going and the route we’d need to traverse to get there. It was familiar terrain so a simple matter to get my bearings. Unlike the year before, however, I hadn’t crossed it fully in my head the evening beforehand so at some point during the thing, already overheated and dry mouthed from performance anxiety, I felt some panic at losing this sense of location. I’m not sure whether it was noticeable by anyone else. On other occasions I’ve been told my nervousness doesn’t show. But it definitely was there.

Whether for that reason or some other cause, perhaps I made an awkward motion or took an imprudent step, somewhere in the middle of that session I became aware of a sharp and excruciating pain in my neck, near the corner formed by my shirt collar and left ear. It felt as if someone had jammed the butt end of that pitchfork into the spot. I kept waiting for it to go away, sharp pains usually do. Immediately after the session I did take 3 Advil and then another 3 right before we went to dinner. That and the wine helped to alleviate the pain. It was better the next day. But rather than go away entirely it seemed to move to the top of my head and it has persisted there since, not nearly as sharp but continually present. Along with the headache I’ve felt out of synch, with my fellow faculty at the LTL program and with the program as a whole. In the last session before the close the mike was passed from one attendee to the next so each could give a sentence or two about what the program meant to them and so they could offer up their main take aways. Their comments paralleled the comments of the group from the year before – some calling this the best professional development experience they’ve ever had. Last year I had been right with them on this emotional response. This time around I was not. That contributed to my disconnect. I was surprised they felt as they did when I didn’t.

After the sessions on the first full day the attendees spend much of the remainder of their time in their “Making The Case” teams, gearing up for their presentations which last week happened on Thursday afternoon, just before the closing banquet. Last year we were quite concerned about dysfunctional MTC teams so at their first meeting we sent each faculty member to monitor a team and make sure the group functioned well with all team members contributing. The faculty weren’t there at the start. They entered about a half hour into the team deliberations. I went beyond the charge to monitor team function, offering up a critique of the group’s ideas. I did not propose alternative solutions, but I did ask questions that poked holes with their initial ideas. This time around we did not have such an initial meeting with the teams, instead letting them go off alone while we discussed how the first day had gone as well as some issues with the composition of the MTC teams. I understood fully why the faculty leaders wanted the teams to take a more do-it-yourself approach. Nonetheless, I felt as if it were an opportunity missed – one of my skills is helping others work through an argument, critiquing the thinking with questions that hadn’t come up the first time through or hadn’t been anticipated at all. This time around I didn’t get to exercise that skill.

We had modified the presentation sessions to have the table teams (distinct from the MTC teams) work through scenarios and report out to everyone. We did this in both the session with Shelli and the one with Malcolm and in each we did this at the start of the second half of the session, right after the break, with the content presentation in the first half before the break. I felt after each of these sessions that I should have ended those first half segments earlier than I did – the ideas had been pretty well milked before we took the break at 2 PM. Then in the second half we were jammed for time so while we did get the table team responses, question by question, there was little give and take to those responses. This was another opportunity missed, where ideas could have been critiqued and pushed beyond what had been offered up. But we didn’t get to that.

We all believe in learning by doing and so it was doing that was emphasized, so far as idea generation in the group work at LTL is concerned. But I, for one, also believe in learning by schmoozing and I wish there had been more of that. In a leisurely one-on-one conversation, a chat that might not be so results oriented, there may be more of an opportunity to discuss the “why” and not just focus on the “what” and the “how.” A critique asks first whether the why is a good one, a cause we want to honor and do well by, so first there is a back and forth on that, ultimately leading to a good reason why. Then the critique moves to asking whether the what and the how are aligned with the why and whether there might be other alternatives that align better. There is back and forth on that too. This happens at each step in the plan and then again on the overall plan. Such a critique is what I’d call “testing” the plan. Being tested can be a discouraging experience and many people avoid it for that reason. It is ego deflating to have a plan defeated by such a test. In a friendly and leisurely conversation, however, it’s my experience that people enjoy this sort of conversation, perhaps because they learn something, perhaps because it helps them to vocalize their ideas to an audience who is at least partially receptive and whom they know would be fully receptive to any idea that passes the test.

I was much more ready for these conversations after the middle of Wednesday afternoon when the session with Malcolm had concluded and I no longer needed to feel on edge since I had no further presentation to make. It’s perhaps strange that I felt shyness earlier in the week, having been through this last year and as a senior administrator with a lot of experience conversing with diverse audiences. But it’s always been for me that I have to understand where the other person is coming from before I can feel comfortable or if not that then that we’ve gone through some emotional experience together that could serve as bond. The first couple of days of LTL performed the latter function. I did get a bit of the type of conversation I was seeking at the meals on Thursday and at breakfast on Friday. Perhaps the happy medium for all would have been if these conversations focused on the attendees’ careers and their actual situations at work rather than on the exercises we had cooked for them at LTL. But it’s hard for that to happen in mid week because they are so immersed in their MTC projects. As we were saying our goodbyes at the end of the closing session some of the attendees came up to me with fragments of their work experience to which I somehow connected in one of the sessions. I was grateful for those comments. But I wish there had been more and the conversations more substantial on these themes.

Thursday night after the banquet the faculty met to discuss the type of feedback we’d give to the MTC teams the next morning when as ourselves each of us reviewed the performance of a particular team. During the actual presentations we role played as Campus personalities with interest in the presentation (I played the Provost) to simulate the circumstance of an actual presentation of this sort. Most of us barked in the role play, as if gruff questioning is the norm in such a circumstance (perhaps it is). None of us on the faculty had any problem with that. But when it came to voicing criticism as ourselves we had a lot to work through about what we were trying to achieve with the feedback and with the exercise itself. What I thought would be a 15 minute meeting to go over the pro forma review that we’d deliver turned into a marathon of almost two hours. And in the process of the following question came up because it was obvious the MTC teams had experienced substantial stress in planning and then delivering their presentations. How would the groups be receptive to any of the feedback unless the tone was gentle and the evaluation mainly positive?

I was vexed by this because I had been tasked to pay attention to the business case being made by each team and on the merits the business case had big holes. This was entirely understandable because the problem the teams had to address was quite hard to solve. The setup of the problem which they were give ahead of time gave a skeletal view of the scenario and the teams had to add some flesh to that. A big issue, something quite relevant to learning technology leadership more broadly, is if in adding that flesh the focus should be only on where the learning technologists have direct control and assume the rest “would be handled” by other, more centrally situated administrators. My own view on this question is that actually the entire problem needs to be solved as a whole to ensure coherency in the solution, so taking the narrow approach and leaving the rest to be handled is something of a cop out. In particular, the setup mentioned fiscal exigency and to address that any real solution requires pain for at least some and likely most of the constituency affected by the plan, where pain here means some people working harder after the plan is implemented and for no additional pay while other people end up even worse off --- they lose their jobs, quite possibly without sufficient notice.

Perhaps the problem is too hard. Last year (and this year too) Carole Barone’s name got batted around as somebody who exemplified the view that in this sort of professional development activity the attendees should struggle mightily, thrash around a lot, and feel disconcerted because the problem they were tackling was well nigh impossible. Get used to it, the argument goes; this is the life of an IT Leader in Higher Ed. I’m sympathetic with that point of view. There is a lot of truth in it. But it leaves some questions open for which I don’t have good answers. What should a leader wannabe do when first exposed to this argument, embrace it or run for cover? And what should those of us teaching/mentoring the fledgling leaders offer up as sage advice when we see their first reactions?

It was a disconnect for me that we’d pose such a tough problem and then be so gentle with feedback on their presentations. But I was probably making a mountain out of a molehill, a personal tendency that becomes all the more likely when doing work in the evening, especially after having a few beers, which is why I don’t do that very often. (The banquet itself was a celebration of the week not a working dinner.) After all, the feedback was being given Friday morning soon before they’d all depart for home. Memories of Making the Case would likely fade quickly but a blunter memory of the entire LTL Program would probably persist for quite some time. Wouldn’t it be better for their parting thoughts to be fond ones? I understood the point but couldn’t let go of making this an issue.

Having made that first mountain, I started in on some others. The facility itself (The Fluno Center) is quite wonderful and one of the attendees in our closing session made a point in observing the she felt pampered in this place and that contributed to the importance and intensity of the experience. As nice as the facility was, however, in the room where we held our sessions the acoustics could have been a little better. Pretty much everyone in the audience can hear the presenter, at least when the presenter faces front. And, likewise, the presenter can hear questions from the audience for the most part. But members of the audience on one side of the room may not hear questions from people in the audience at the other side of the room. We had a handheld mike to bring to the tables where the attendees sat so the questions would be amplified. But it took a moment or two to walk between the tables and deliver that mike. Some of the faculty preferred to simply ask the attendees to speak up and forget about the mike – to keep up with the flow. I preferred staying with the Mike. We never quite resolved this and chose one way or another to address the problem depending on which faculty were facilitating the particular session.

On a more substantive plane, I thought we faculty were too “preachy.” Each of us gave, from time to time, examples coming out of our own work experience, solutions that we offered up to exemplify the points we were trying to make. Providing the examples was a way to show we know from which we speak. It is important to ground the LTL Program this way – the faculty need to have the right sort of experience. But it seemed to me we overdid this and often focused too much on the outcome and not enough on how we got there (so not on how the attendees might imitate the approach and produce their own outcomes of a similar sort).

* * * * *

All told, the post up to this point is kind of a cranky response to the LTL Program this time around, much of it probably the consequence of fatigue, which is the reason why Greg Norman’s performance resonated so much with me.

Just then a friend stopped by the Royal Birkdale locker room to say hello. "Hey, buddy, how are you?" the friend said.

"Um, I'm like a whipped dog, man," Norman said.

He said it with a smile, but he's right -- there was a hint of exhaustion in Norman's voice. You'd be tired, too, if you'd arm-wrestled golf history for four long days.

I don’t remember feeling so tired last year. I’m wondering why it’s this way the second time around. Surely it’s not because I arm-wrestled with history.

I began to think about my reasons for participating as a faculty member in the LTL Program, whether out of obligation to the profession to see the next generation of leaders come along, to be part of something bigger than the interactions I typically have on campus, as a type of professional development for me, or still something else. I see former LTL faculty running a refresher pre-conference seminar at this year’s annual Educause conference. The “normal” rotation for a faculty member is three years (we’ve just completed the fourth program, the first two at Penn State, the next two in Madison Wisconsin, and now they’re trying to identify a new location for next summer). All indications show the original faculty want to remain connected with the program and are very loyal to its goals.

But this recent column by Nicholas Kristof on encore careers seems to suggest that others, some of whom have been wildly successful, want to break with their pasts to take on new challenges and the folks Kristof focuses on are in my age group. (Bill Gates, who is mentioned at the outset of the column, is 10 months my junior.) The encore career represents an investment in a new set of problems. The skills acquired in the prior career are still relevant, to be sure, but the newness and the largeness in what these people are trying to accomplish now makes that a full occupation, not a hobby. A couple of years ago I wrote a post about teaching K-12 as an encore career. (I called it second careers. What do I know about marketing an idea?) This is evidence enough that something along these lines has been in the back of my head for some time. For reasons that aren’t completely apparent to me, being at the LTL Program triggers these thoughts, even though it is itself a limited time obligation (and even though I’m still firmly ensconced in in the job that provides my LTL Faculty credential).

So I’m scratching my head in a similar way to what I did when I was in college, trying to think through what to do after graduation. But I’ve also got this puzzle to work through about why last week was so different for me than for the attendees. And what does the one say about the other?

If I see any of those folks at the annual conference, we should have a chat over a coffee or a beer.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The deficient market hypothesis


http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/11/business/11fannie.html

Ben Bernanke
Looks rather cranky
Because Freddie and Fannie
Are going into the tank-ee.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Bleedership

Progress has always been two steps forward and one step back – even when we know where we’re headed and we have a reasonably good game plan.  Typically there are little things to learn along the way, small mistakes that have to be made because nobody gets everything right the first time through and there’s apt to be some chance events that are relevant in some way and must be taken into account.  Together these necessitate retracing a step or two or three before we can resume with the forward momentum.  But lately it seems most of the steps have been backwards, the game plan not so good or, even worse, no game plan at all, where we are headed obscured by the unwillingness to articulate a full vision of what that place looks like.  And it frequently seems as if making progress is a secondary or tertiary goal.  I, for one, have recently been taken up with the idea that most of us are committed first and foremost to advancing our own personal agenda, irrespective of whether it’s socially progressive or socially detrimental, caring more about maintaining control and affirming our prior held position than about any consequence on others – good, bad, or indifferent. 

About a year ago we had an all day retreat for administrators in my College in order to discuss College Issues and to make relevant connections across administrative units, something we don’t do very often.  When we were talking about the Undergraduate Program we got onto the topic of student preparation prior to enrollment, with a few folks commenting that many of our students aren’t well prepared in spite of their very high ACT scores.  When it came to my turn to speak I said, “I blame it on Bush.”  That got a laugh, although I wasn’t trying to be funny; there has been a narrowing of the curriculum since No Child Left Behind and the kids get a school-is-about-test-taking mentality.  (Business school folks do tend to be more conservative than the Campus as a whole; perhaps that’s the reason for the chuckles, thinking the remark was a gaffe.) 

Blaming Bush has become a national pastime.  But, in truth, Bush is more symptom than cause.  The issues have existed for some time, as this recent Krugman column points out.  But only lately does it seem that we realize that we’ve mortgaged our future and if we don’t take serious steps to reverse things soon we’ll be in a big trouble as a permanent condition.  Bob Herbert rings this alarm, citing David Boren’s new book A Letter to America.   Much of the refrain is familiar.  We heard it especially from John Edwards during the debates, where he talked about fighting the special interests.  But Boren’s other point is a about excessive partisanship.  Extending the olive branch is probably a better solution to that than fighting.  The problem with fighting, as we’ve seen over and over again, is that the combatants lose their sensitivity to criticism.  They harden in their positions and thereby become impervious to reasoned argument and counterpoint.  How else does one explain Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib, and the mismanagement of Katrina relief which still makes the news?

We witness the consequences of the partisanship.  So we spread the blame around to include Congress and those who live inside the Beltway.  And that’s been a national pastime too, a little less focused to be sure, but still in the same ballpark.  That game seems apart from the games we play.  Yet there obviously is a connection.  We get the elected officials we deserve and to understand that it’s time to look closer to home for what ails us. 

More or less on a lark (I needed another purchase from Amazon.com to qualify for free shipping on some other books) I ordered David Brooks Bobos in Paradise.  (Bobo is short for Bourgeois Bohemians, a seeming oxymoron that turns out to describe the high achievers among the Baby Boomers and younger adults, who have to reconcile their own personal value systems that tends to prize fairness and equality with the realities of the marketplace of the knowledge economy where they are the high achievers and hence likely rewarded handsomely for the fruits of their labor while the many others either find their paychecks shrinking or they have no job at all.)  I’ve only read the first chapter and the copyright for the book is from before Bush took office, so I can’t say yet whether Brooks gives a full explanation of my theme – if we coexist with such obvious internal contradictions and we feel a need for both sides to express themselves might it not happen that one sides ends up drowning out the other?  And worse, might it not be the case that we mistakenly take the distribution of economic reward as an ethical statement, that being paid exceptionally well is an indication of moral worth and hence it’s the egalitarian values that end up with the short stick; after all it’s the market making these pronouncements, we don’t do it ourselves.  I’ve got Brooks’ book on a coffee table next to my reading chair.  I may go back to find out whether my theme is all there or not. 

In the meantime, I want to get to the piece that got me into a tizzy and set me off on this theme in the first place – Is Google Making Us Stupid?  by Nicholas Carr.  I took that article very personally.   Part of me agreed with it.  I’m much more impatient in my reading nowadays, often I don’t follow through in reading a piece and instead link off to something else, which in retrospect feels like I’ve given up on the piece too soon.  So there is a sense of a mile wide but only an inch deep in much of what I’m exposed too.  But another part of me disagreed.  Look at this review of .edu blogs by Greg Ritter, just to show I’m not making this up – the characterization of my posts talks about long rambles, not quick hitter items.  I’m an idea guy, even if lacking in some of the sensibilities that Brooks describes for his Bobos.  The way I produce ideas is by constructing narratives; some of those find the light of day in my blog.  And over the last several years, Google has become a key instrument in this writing activity. 

Once an idea for a post has been selected (in this particular case, though I subscribe to the Atlantic on my Kindle, I was alerted to the Carr piece by my friend Robert Baird and dutifully read it following his suggestion) often triggered by viewing a film, reading an article or a book, or having a discussion that left some important points unresolved, I can begin to produce the story and fragments of that emerge.  The need to connect those pieces creates a related need, to document the points.  Sometimes documentation is the process of remembering – finding a reference that I already know – Google is pretty terrific for that.  But sometimes I’d like a point to be true but am not sure it really is.  I’m looking to confirm a hunch.  Google is quite good with this too, especially if the standard for evidence is not too stern, e.g., a Wikipedia entry is acceptable.  So writing has these nonlinear sojourns for documentation and learning about things I only guessed at before.  There can be modification in the story based on what I learn.  Occasionally, but not too often, I’ll abandon the theme altogether based on that. 

Throughout I’m driven by my idea and the story I want to tell.  It’s all an extraordinarily egocentric process and what engages me is the idea itself and the telling the story about it well.  As a solitary activity, that may be for the best.  But in a social setting it’s potentially pernicious and I’m aware for me it’s becoming destructive.  I find myself impatient with the stories of others, especially when they don’t tell their story quite so well.  And in a conversation (watching some of my ooVoo chats really emphasizes this to me) while my partner is polite I tend to hog the time, though I’m playing the role of the interviewer and it should be the interviewee who gets the lion’s share.  It seems the impatience that Google foists on us, as a byproduct of making information so inconvenient, has a different side effect, at least on me.  I start to view other people as information sources only and when their information quality is low they get discarded.  In this reductionist hellhole, if you think your own information quality is better you stick with that.  This is insularity in the making, a first step toward potential disaster. 

After reading Carr I told myself I had to start spending more time away from the computer – sitting at the screen can create all sorts of bad habits, even if it is also a place for learning and, for me, the place where I write.  Wondering whether getting away from the computer would suffice it also occurred to me that I had to get away from my own narratives, I had to spend more time with the narratives of others, if for no other reason that the compulsiveness I feel to produce these stories can be self-defeating, a corollary to what makes Jack a dull boy. 

So I went to the bookshelf in my study to find something to read.  I had purchased a recent John Grisham book earlier in the year, The Innocent Man, it was the slack variable when after receiving a Borders gift certificate and buying a CD I wanted there were still some dollars left over.  I’ve had admiration for Grisham’s writing since I read The Firm, back in the early ‘90s.  I read most of this on an airplane flight with an infant in my arms fast asleep and my arm asleep too, but somehow the story commanded my attention; my surroundings and personal comfort disappeared as the story unfolded.  I would love to be able to produce writing that achieves that type of effect; much of what I read does not.  So, not very confident about my ability to lose my own narrative in favor of the narrative in what I’m reading, Grisham seemed an obvious choice. 

As it turns out The Innocent Man is Grisham’s first work of non-fiction; it’s still Grisham and it is absorbing but he needs to document the circumstances and build his case, so the style is different from his novels, it’s first an identifying of the pieces in a jigsaw puzzle before he then puts them all together, and the tone is journalistic.  The funny thing is that while I was looking for escape I found my theme in reading the book – it’s all there and it shows the problem has been with us for some time.

At root The Innocent Man is about a violent crime in Oklahoma, a rape and murder, for which two people went to trial and were found guilty and then sent to Death Row, in spite of the paucity of evidence to support the verdict.  The crime was White on White,  it happened in 1982, well before Clinton let alone Bush II, and by the time the trial occurred in 1985 the country was well on its way to regaining its confidence under Reagan after enduring the stagflation of Carter and the recession that Volker’s tight money policy induced to wrest out the inflation which happened in the early years of that decade, so the attitudes of the populace were quite different than they are now and the circumstances in this case differ from what we view as the main issues nowadays.  But the crime happened anyway.  The crime itself is only a launching point for Grisham’s story and the real villains in that story are the police and the prosecutor, who “knew” the defendants were guilty in spite of the lack of evidence and that there was another suspect, seemingly more likely to have committed the crime, but whom the police ruled out. 

The book spends much of the time documenting the horrors of incarceration, which might not concern most of us given the evils that these prisoners inflicted on their victims, but the reader is drawn into the barbarism of it all with the observation and personification of others on Death Row who’ve also been wrongly accused.  They are there because the criminal justice system is stacked against the indigent  defendant, where the presumption seems to be guilty till proven innocent.  So the book makes for compelling though depressing reading. 

I don’t want to provide a complete review.  My focus is on the police and the prosecutor.  Why did they come to such a wrong conclusion?  Were they earnest in their convictions or pursuing a different agenda, duplicitous in how the case was prosecuted or, yet a different spin, comme ci comme ├ža?   The book considers their perspective only briefly.  The focus is on the main defendant, once a major league baseball prospect, then later when he failed at that a womanizer, heavy drinker, and sufferer from some serious mental illness.  He was self-centered, loud, and boisterous and as such an unsympathetic character, except to his parents and his sisters and then not always with them.  One obvious reason to believe he was the murderer was a kind of guilt by association that most of us engage in on occasion, putting people into categories; he had the personality makeup of somebody who’d commit this type of crime so it must be him. 

The crime scene showed evidence of a violent struggle and based on that the police concluded there were two perpetrators of the crime; one guy couldn’t pull it off.  The way this was presented in the book it seemed like a natural deduction, not an assumption forced into the evidence to drive whom the police would charge with the crime.  The main defendant had a sidekick – they did bar hopping together.  The sidekick became the other defendant, though the bulk of the evidence against him was simply that he was the sidekick.  The police had no other pair to choose from.  They did have this other suspect, who had a history of crime and was seen talking with the victim at a bar the night before the murder.  But they failed to investigate him thoroughly.  At one point in the book Grisham mentions that he may have been dealing drugs to the police, in which case perhaps the police wouldn’t want to pin the crime on him for fear that he would implicate them in drug-related criminal activity.  Ultimately this guy does get convicted of some other violent crime so it’s uncertain why they steered clear of him in this case. 

The main suspect and sidekick were tried separately. Those trials didn’t happen till three years after the crime was committed.  The police need to solve violent crimes. The community needs to feel safe.  People can’t feel safe if there is a murderer at large.  It’s the police’s job to restore law and order.  But what happens when there’s no smoking gun, nor any incriminating evidence whatsoever, though there is no doubt about violence of the crime, there’s only doubt about who committed it?  Might the police then arrest some suspects just to give the appearance that they can solve the crime?  And might the police try to pin the crime on these suspects; it’s the best they can do to restore law and order under the circumstances? 

The prosecutor’s motives seem similar but Grisham’s presentation makes it seem as if he genuinely thought the defendants were guilty.  Many years later after the original trial a retrial was sought by lawyers working on behalf of the main defendant and as a result new DNA evidence was brought bear.  The DNA evidence entirely exonerated the defendants, there was no match, and indeed proved the other suspect was guilty.  The prosecutor was stunned.  He had welcomed the DNA evidence but thought it would confirm what he already knew.  He was forced to let the defendants go free, though he was slow to prosecute the man who had committed the crime.  One doesn’t know if at various points the prosecutor was playing a charade or not.  Some people are blind to their own errors in judgment, but the blindness is genuine, not an act.

What are the tonics for this sort of blindness?  Now I’m guessing because I really don’t know.  But if there is still some self-awareness and not complete delusion then it makes sense to me to place oneself in a circumstance where self-delusion is not necessary as a survival mechanism, i.e., to consume other people’s narratives rather than to make up your own.  I need to do more of that.  But habits are hard to break.  I like to sit in front of the screen, write my posts, do my Google searches, read the posts of others on their blogs or the commentary of NY Times columnists or other online pieces that come to my attention, so I can weave these into my story.  I no longer can read at the computer and keep that information their story.  I need to read away from the screen.  But how do I get there?  Some blood will be spilled before the cure has been taken. 

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Addendum to Firefox 3, MS Word, and Web 2.0 apps

I verified that I can email post to Blogger and that if I copy from Word and paste into my Outlook email that the resulting blog post will preserve the formatting and none of the xml stuff comes through. So that will be my work around.