Archive for the ‘collaboration’ Category

Astute comments from comics

July 7, 2009

Last week I read and was moved by Joe Sacco’s engagingly intense graphic novel “Palestine”. It chronicles Sacco’s travels throughout the the area known as Palestine- the west bank and Gaza. He meet with a number of Palestinans, listening to them and documenting their stories from during the time of the second intifada (around 1993). Unfortunately, I found that his experiences and stories concur with my own experiences – from the time that served in the IDF in the West Bank in the mid-late 70s and from the period of the first intifada (1988) when I was wondering around the same towns that I had served as a soldier, only this time as an artist and witness. I say unfortunate because it is a tragedy of epic proportions- each side making blunder after horrible blunder, enslaving each other to oppression, hate, pain and bloodshed.
One encounter in Sacco’s book that I was deeply touched by occured towards the end of the book In it he recollects a meeting with several people- Israeli Jews, Palestinians, Americans and Europeans. One Israeli is quoted as saying that one state or two states does not matter. What does it matter if the racism of one state oppresses the other. What is important, he says, is if the different peoples there can simply learn to live with each other. A wise comment, almost Buddhist in nature- can we manage to let go of our personal pains and learn to live with each other even with our differences.

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Internet Town Hall

December 8, 2008

Last Saturday, I attended a town hall meeting sponsored by www.internetforeveryone.org/. This was the first or second of a series of national meetings to gather data about internet accessibility in order to assist the government in setting a responsible, comprehensive policy for web access for everyone.

There were a bit over 100 people in a downtown hotel with an interesting demographic. 97% of the people there already had access to the web (that is how most people heard of the meeting). Most of the attendees were men, with the main ethic groups being white and African-American. This became important because as the meeting and discussions progressed, the majority opinion was that there should be a partnership between government, local communities and corporations to provide internet access to all, especially the under- served communities (rural, minority, low-income). This means two things- that the initiatives of the large telecom companies such as ATT and Verizon to control and charge for broadband access need to be held in check and monitored, but also that the communities who most need access were actually under-represented. There were several speakers and videos shown at the meeting who were interesting, but did not present anything that really added to the conversation. The exception was a 13-year old Latina girl who spoke about the problems of not having internet access, especially in relation to her studies and the lack of future opportunities that are created by this lack of access.

We broke into groups and discussed open internet, innovation, budgets and who should be responsible for development and maintenance of internet technologies, access to computers (such as the One-Laptop-Per-Child initiative. These are important conversations that need to be happening across the country, but with a more diverse set of attendees to better represent the constituents and users. We (USA) were once on top of development and usage of these technologies, but we have fallen behind Europe and Asia. Perhaps we should look out for more and better inspiration and guidance for our own policies.

One final note about the meeting. I learned that supposedly, several years ago the LADWP laid fiber optic cable throughout the city of L.A. to provide broadband internet access to everyone. But it remains dark, primarily because of the lobbies of the telecom companies and internet providers because it will cut down on their revenue. Hmmm- data and knowledge for everybody that can only assist the nation (and corporations), or continuing to keep large profits for a few while limiting our ability to provide work and opportunities for the masses. Perhaps I have missed something.

Dancing around the waltz

December 5, 2008

I just finished watching a screening of  “Waltz with Bashir”. It was shown for just before the holiday lunch of one of the departments that I work with. An interesting choice, to say the least, it was ultimately a bit of a surreal experience, which actually mirrors the film. The film is excellent and disturbing, and is described as an “animated documentary”. The footage is shot and then rotoscoped, animated and given effects. The story is of an Israeli man, a film-maker, confronted with the fact that he has no memories of his time during the war in Lebanon, particularly surrounding the tragic events of  the Sabra-Shatilla massacre. He is told by a friend that he needs to find and speak with people who were there with him directly or served in the army at the same time. What follows is a harrowing series of conversations and flashbacks as he tries to recover his memories and understood what happened and where he was.

One of the primary issues addresses historical memory connected to a time of trauma. An Israeli psychologist interviewed in the film describes how a human mind can make itself forget what it needs to, in order to continue to live.

This film touched me deeply and personally. Having spent 2.5 years in the Israeli military (and it seems in the same combat unit of the director), I was familiar with both the visuals and the psychological and emotional issues of serving and post-serving. How memories can get smushed and fuzzed with the passing of time as well as the need to not remember. I was not in Beirut, but was in southern Lebanon, which I often think of in terms of a phrase from the movie “Circle of Deceit”: “There is a saying here, that there are two paradises- one in heaven and one in southern Lebanon”. It was beautiful and experienced too much hell there from all of the wars.

The film was visually stunning, dreamlike, hallucinatory, nightmarish, surreal. It captures the hell, surreal and chaotic nature of war in a way that I do not think a non-animated movie could. It captures the emotional and practical confusion of the Israeli experience as well as the more universal experience of war. The film seems to have been made with a yellow filter, that matches the yellow of the flares that lit up the nights during the war in Beirut, and were part of the filmmakers dream. 

Disturbing as the film may be, it is an important film. It opens discussions about both the Israeli and Christian activities in Lebanon, about the lasting effects war has on the human psyche and condition. I have found many Jews and Israelis who have been unwilling and/or unable to address the the complexity of the war and of Israeli involvement. Although it happened over 20 years ago, its’ effects are still being felt and it is still impacting policies in old ways. Perhaps this movie will help open up discussions and dialogues that can lead to real and positive change.

I served in 1975-7 and went back in 1988 to do art with Jewish, Christian, Moslem an Druze children, perhaps trying to clean up some of my karma, perhaps reflecting a realization that peace is not a passive experience, but rather one that requires action to make it happen and to maintain, like any good relationship. Some images and stories  of these two experiences can be found here: www.golemgrafica.com/photo_1.htm#”

More rants on education and teaching

December 2, 2008

As I read about Michelle A. Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington D.C. city schools, I was impressed on a variety of levels. I am excited and happy to see someone actually taking action in school reform, especially after reading (again) about the problems besetting the L.A. city schools and the push to remove the superintendent, a well-meaning man with little or no experience at all with city schools. At first reading, Rhee comes across like the proverbial breath of fresh air, blowing across the garbage of public education. But the more that I reflected about her and her methods, the more concerned I become. I do believe that a merit based pay system is a good idea, as is removing the semi-instant tenure programs for keeping teachers in their jobs. I also believe in the need to push students to excellence. But I am concerned that her focus is only on teaching and not on educating. Teaching is important- it gives students foundations for all topics. Need to do any type of math? Well, you need to learn the multiplication table by heart. Want to write like Faulkner? Then, you need to learn grammar and punctuation. Want to draw or paint like Pollack or Picasso? Then learn to draw like a draughtsman. Basic skills are acquired through teaching, but the ability to see the spaces in between disciplines and create meaning happens through education.

I am worried that Ms. Rhee may be focusing on teaching at the expense of educating. She also downplays the importance of creativity. She says  “I’m like, ‘You know what? I don’t give a crap.’ Don’t get me wrong. Creativity is good and whatever. But if the children don’t know how to read, I don’t care how creative you are. You’re not doing your job.” I agree that part of the job of a teacher is to teach a child to read. But it is also important to teach the child to understand and crate connections to enable them to understand if what they are actually reading is crap (or not).

The article in Time magazine describes her as curt, direct and more able to speak with children than with adults. This last trait is incredibly important in the education process- to be able to speak with a person on their level of understanding without a condescending attitude. Yet, when affecting major change, it is also important to be able to communicate with all parties involved (often a more difficult path). In the end, I am impressed with the work that Ms. Rhee is doing- it extremely important to create actual change and not remain in the realm of theory. She is on the right track with teacher merits. But I do think that she needs to begin to encourage crativity and not remain in the realm of theory. She is on the right track with merit-based salaries and new ways of defining tenure. But I do think that she needs to begin to encourage creativity as an important element of a true education. The future truly requires multidisciplinary, cross-thinking and collaboration and the schools are good place to begin.

Learning, the future and YouTube

June 20, 2008

An interesting video about kids, stats, global learning, collaboration and the future has been making it’s way around the internet. It is worth looking at here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pMcfrLYDm2U&featur

The question once again comes up- what are we doing about it?

Back to collaborate and cooperate

June 18, 2008

Driving in to work this morning, I was again ruminating on the meanings of collaborate and cooperate. It seems to me that cooperate infers people meeting together so share resources to further their own specific projects or shared goals that are similar, whereas with collaboration, people join together to create something that is completely new and often out of the direct realm of influence or expertise. The sum of the project is really more than the individual parts. This is probably a pretty esoteric distinction, because in the end, it is really about individuals abilities to join forces and expertises.
I also thought a bit about the process of collaboration again and forgot one of the most important components of successful collaborations- a sense of humor.

Apollo 13 and creative solutions

June 6, 2008

In the movie “Apollo 13” there is a great scene that really illustrates creative collaboration and even a project-based learning scenario.  The scientists on the ground have just learned about the problems aboard the space capsule and are given the emergency assignment of finding a solution.  So the scientists are ossed in a room with a whole bunch of objects that are found in the Apollo spacecraft: tape, ducts, pipes and tubes, whatever. There they are- engineers, stuff, a problem and a time frame. Their creativity and ability to cooperate on finding a solution let to their success in bringing back the astronauts alive. Very cool. 

Definitions

June 5, 2008

I just looked up the definition of “collaborate” on dictionary.com and was surprised on how many negative connotations are associated with the word, such as “to cooperate, usually willingly, with an enemy nation, esp. with an enemy occupying one’s country”, “collude”, “To cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupation force in one’s country”. Although there are several more positive meanings such as “to work, one with another; cooperate, as on a literary work” and the etymology states that “collaborator (1802), from Fr. collaborateur, from L. collaboratus, pp. of collaborare “work with,” from com- “with” + labore “to work.”, WWII has left an imprint of  the word as “traitorous cooperation with the enemy,” dates from 1940, originally in reference to the Vichy Government of France.”

What an unfortunate chain of events for such a fine concept. It is time to rehab the meaning so that it leaves it’s destructive past and joins the ranks of it’s more positive and successful cousin “cooperate” , whose primary meanings are :

  1. to work or act together or jointly for a common purpose or benefit.
  2. to work or act with another or other persons willingly and agreeably.
  3. to practice economic cooperation.

How to rise up horizontally

June 5, 2008

I heard an interesting story on NPR this morning about an woman architect in Karachi by the name of Parveen Rehman. She works for the Orangi Pilot Project which helps poor people to build their own homes and even utilities systems. She also works to enhance the status of women in a male-dominated society by teaching architecture in a local school to women.

She said some pretty remarkable things. About “the project’s male founder, who spoke of the power of women. He compared himself to a grandmother — “not your grandfather, because your grandmother gives love … and through love she’s able to encourage and make people grow.”

And of particular interesting to me and my research about the nature of collaboration:
“I feel sometimes — not with men and women — with any group, if you come just upfront and try to be … the person taking credit for everything, that’s where things start going wrong,” she says. Once you rise up horizontally, you take everybody with you. But if you want to rise vertically, you will rise, but then nobody will be there for you.”

Building Collaborations

June 5, 2008

I have been reading a lot about successful collaborations in many different environments, such as businesses, academic, technology, building and more. Most of the articles and books provide examples that are very good arguments for why cooperative projects work. Wikinomics by Don Tapscott begins the book with a great example about a Canadian gold mining company turned around its loosing operation after the president attended a workshop on open source technology. He applied the lessons learned and opened up much of the companied proprietary data about some of its under-performing properties. He realized that the company itself did not posses the human resources to really expand, so he offered a prize for best ideas. His solution worked and he was able to able to increase the value of the company from $100 million to $9 billion. The winning ideas came from a wide range of disciplines.

In his 2005 TED talk (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/216), Howard Rheingold speaks about how humankind has followed a couple different paths. One has been about destruction, the other is about cooperation. He provides many examples how human society is really more of a cooperative endeavor (although I think that sometimes it is hard to see). Nothing that exists today really came out of a vacuum of an individual, but rather out a web of individuals working together. One story that I often think of is about a party that I attended several years ago. It was held at a really cool remodeled Victorian house in N. California. The friend who I went with told me that the owner had done the work. At the time I was working as a carpenter and after looking at the details of the work, I went to congratulate the owner on his fine work. I was not really surprised when he told me that he did not do any of the work, but rather paid a crew to work. I completely understood his (and my friend’s view), yet I could not help but to think that it would have been more interesting to me if he had described it as a collaborative project. This would have celebrated the talents and skills involved in producing such fine work.
Perhaps I made something bigger then it was, but I am always impressed about how individuals with individual strengths and talents can come together to make something that is larger than the sum of their individual work.

Reflecting on these and other examples of successful collaboration (open source software, farming, movie making, just about everything), I wonder about the basic building blocks necessary to make cooperation work. I think that one of the most important components is for individuals to check their egos at the door when working on a cooperative endeavor. This does not mean that I feel that there is no room for individual creativity. I think that each person has a place to really shine in what they do. But more often then not, one person cannot do everything at the same level.

When I began working in new media in 1990, it was called interactive multi-media. There was no web (Internet-yes, web- no) and one talented person could do just about everything. But as the technology developed (as well as user expectations), specialties also developed for video, audio, data base, graphics, content development, subject matter experts, and more. Each task and discipline has its own tools, process and language. It really is like a huge jigsaw puzzle- it really does take a lot of pieces to make it complete.

As individuals understand this, they can begin to see how their strengths are all necessary and vital to a project. They can possibly begin to learn to trust the other experts and professionals to do their parts and that the complete project and process only benefit from this cooperation.