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Friday, March 17, 2006

The trek back...

After several days in Melbourne and Brisbane, I am now headed back to the US. Going home two days earlier than expected, but with the prospect of wandering around LA for twelve hours between connections.

That maybe the way to beat jetlag....

Yesterday made a presentation to a small group at Griffith University, and enjoyed the exchange of comments afterwards. The weather was very warm, especially when you make the mistake of dressing in long-sleeve dress shirt, tie and jacket. The walk from the hotel -- about half a mile -- uphill! -- at noontime, the warmest time of the day! -- took its toll. I was drenched by the time I reached the seminar room where folks had been waiting patiently for a bit (I was not quite sure of the time).

This was my second trip to Brisbane, the first being ten years ago to a conference held in city centre. This time I got to see the campus area, and it is quite modern with hallways in the open. Spent time chatting with colleague doing interesting work on accountability, and then had dinner with my hosts.

All in all, relaxing and enjoyable trip -- now for the two day journey back....

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fueling my fire....

Got off the plane in Melbourne and walked into temperatures in the mid-80s -- and it was only morning! My hosts drove me around a bit after checking into the hotel (more below), including a lunch at a wonderful site in the mountains that overlooks Melbourne (hopefully some pics later as well). All very nice, but by four or five in the afternoon I had run out of energy -- and hit the bed as soon as I got to the hotel room. It was 11PM before I awoke....

The hotel room was a bit of a shock. I guess the only thing they had available was one fitted for disabled persons, and so while access was easy, the facilities were odd. The big surprise was that there was no wardrobe with drawers in which to put my clothes (something I didn't notice until midnight when I decided to unpack). When I mentioned that, the staff merely shrugged their shoulders.... It is that kind of hotel.... I think they will have naother room for me when I return later today...

Since I was up in the wee hours of the night, I got to watch the Australia-South Africa cricket match being played in SA, and it brought back memories of my time in Northern Ireland trying to figure the game out as friend Masood Kahn attempted to explain it to me. Watching it blurried eyed last night, I actually thought I was getting it. Yet I was amazed at how many points were being scored. In any case, I fell asleep (finally!) and awoke to find out that the game was in fact a historic one -- that Australia, in scoring 434 had broken some sort of record, and South Africa, in topping them with 438 had broken that record. Hmmm, no wonder the South African crowd seemed so excited -- what do I know?

I am now set up with wireless access on the Monash University campus -- but getting access was like breaking into a bank. What an elaborate system of security.... Even now I have to enter username and passwords everytime I reopen my browser.

While waiting for access I went out to breakfast around the corner from campus, and reading the morning paper found still another case study for my work on accountability. It seems that the Business Council of Australia had just released a report highly critical of universities for not having "job ready" graduates -- and it seems that this was timed to coincide with the Education Ministry's consideration of developing "job ready ratings" to be in place in 2012. Hmmm, mere coincidence? (As it happens, in the US a proposal to establish standardized tests for US higher education graduates is now floating about the Department of Education. Hmmmm, another mere coincidence?)

Coincidence or not, all this is just fuel for my fire of criticism.... This accountability reform stuff is truly getting out of hand....

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The Qantas ride....

I am in my awkward laptop V-writing position again (I should have brought a smaller computer!), about mid-flight, somewhere between Saturday and Sunday over the Pacific on my way to my third stop on this "Six Weeks of Hell" World Tour (I really do need to get a t-shirt made...).

The airline this time is Qantas, and it is living up to its positive reputation of being a decent ride. Seats are a bit bigger than the narrower ones I had in my Atlantic and Pacific crossing with Northwest over the previous four weeks (or so it seems) and they provide things like eye shades, night socks, etc which I had thought standard for any overnight flying. The only bad part was the first leg of the journey from Boston to Los Angeles -- I was on a nearly seven hour flight on Qantas codeshare partner, American Airlines, where the check-in is inefficient, and general service mediocre (although friendly), and they charged for the so-called meal (a sandwich for $5 which was worth perhaps $2.50 at best -- and this flight starting as dinner time!). For years I have taken Continental for domestic flights and avoided United or American, and now I recall why....

The trek to Melbourne is shaping up nicely as far as schedules are concerned. It is taking place during Spring Break, so my guilt level for missing classes is way down. It is early fall there, so the weather is almost ideal (will range from 60-80 F according the weather service), and I have a reasonable speaking agenda -- talks on Tuesday and Wednesday in Melbourne area, Thursday in Canberra, and Friday in Brisbane.

There was one glitch -- I was to stay in the center of Melbourne originally, but it seems that the Commonwealth Games are going to be held this week in that city (which explains the literal uniformity of dress among some of my fellow passengers) -- and so I am relegated to a hotel in the suburbs which (luckily) is located near the residence of my host. I will get to spend time at the main Monash campus as well as its suburban campus, which does gives some welcome variety to the trip...

My goal this leg of the "Tour" is to make my argument against current administrative reform much clearer to general audiences. What I found out in Seoul was that the argument is a difficult one to accept, not only because I am that obtruse in my presentaiton (which I oftentimes am), but also that my point is such a radical challenge to the conventional wisdom on accountability that listeners -- even those who want to get, like my former students who hosted me in South Korea -- could not get their minds wrapped around the basic message. So I am committed to doing that better this time.

My approach will be to challenge our current thinking on accountability and administrative reform as an unframed and untested belief system -- we are operating on beliefs rather than knowledge, and while this might not be too damaging when there is some compatibility between the folk wisdom of reform and the basic governance system, we have moved beyond that with the current global reform movement (NPM?) where we have elevated the folks wisdom into prescriptive strategies for change that in fact challenge and undermine the foundations of modern governance.... (Quite a mouthful, eh?) In taking this approach I feel like I am in the midst of repeating history by substantively bringing Chester Barnard back into the game and strategically adopting the tactics of Herbert Simon. (Ironically, my insprition for this latest approach is Daniel Dennett in both Sweet Dreams -- see earlier posts -- and the new work on Breaking the Spell, which I am reading at the moment whenever I get the opportunity....)

So much for plans; now to put them into action....

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Monday, March 06, 2006

"If I tell you, I'll have to *%$# you...", and other insights from Korea trip

Just some random ramblings on my recent time on the road....

As you might gather from previous posts, I spent last week in Seoul, Korea. I was there primarily to teach a class at the Yongsan US Army post on Bureaucracy and Politics -- part of a relationship I started with the University of Oklahoma well over ten years ago. I also spent some time with former PhD students who now work in the Seoul area, and they arranged for some additional talks at Yonsei and Seoul National Universities.

The OU teaching is actually an interesting assignment because the students are always a pleasure to deal with -- only once or twice in my years of doing this have I run into problems, and although they are typically struggling to keep awake in class after a long day on duty, they tend to be easy to engage in conversation.

One thing was evident to me this trip, and that is the warnings that the military is facing human resource problems in the near future is probably true. As you might guess, I ask each student to introduce him/herself and talk about past, present and future plans. Typically the response is as you might imagine -- most tend to be long-termers planning on using the degree for promotion in the military with the hope that it will be useful outside whenever they retire.

But there was a decidedly different tone to this group -- much more focus on retirement in the next year or two -- a point made by several folks, from the youngest officers to the command rank professionals. The past few years of tours in Iraq, Afghanistan and other "hot" places is definitely taking its toll. They have had enough, and were ready for civilian life....

I also ran into an interesting dilemma while teaching this class. One of the cases I really focused on in this class was the NSA surveillance controversy -- it is almost the perfect example of the constitutional question of which branch really has priority over calling the shots for any US agency. I thought this was not only great for in-class discussion, but might also be the focus on an online discussion forum that is also part of the course requirements this time around.

Well, having made the assignment I got a visit from one of the students who reluctantly gave me a business card -- and while s/he could tell me no more it was obvious that I had put the student in an awkward position, especially given the kinds of quesitons I was raising on the discussion forum ("If you were a member of the NSA and became convinced your agency was doing something questionable, and if you had no internal recourse, would you blow the whistle through the media?). I made the necessary modificaitons of the assignment....

Listening later that day to the audiobook version of James Risen's State of War (he is the NY Times reporter who broke the NSA story), I found out that the NSA has a rather important facility somewhere in South Korea. According to Risen, General Michael Hayden, who headed the NSA for several years before being appointed Deputy Director of National Intlelligence (a title that is just crying out for some comic challenge) was head of the NSA's South Korean operation before being tapped to head the agency in the late 1990s....

So much for some random thoughts. This week it is back to teaching in the US, and preparing for the next trek, this time to Australia....

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Saturday, March 04, 2006

A week in Seoul....

It has been a full and busy week in Seoul for me – lectures each night at the University of Oklahoma Yongsan program, a presentation at Yonsei University on Tuesday, and another at Seoul National University on Friday. In the meantime I conducted an online exam for my classes back in New Hampshire, and that proved to be a reasonably successful experience – although we will wait to see what the students have to say about it when I return this week.

The students in the OU course were (as usual) an interesting bunch, and they endure quite a long week when attending a course like mine. It is especially interesting to teach about bureaucracy and bureaucratic politics to a group that is engaged in subject in real time each day. Although they are very tired after a long day at work, most find the energy to stay awake while someone like me drones on and on and on….

Seoul is an interesting city – I was here ten years ago at a time when the economy was in terrible shape. At the moment that is not the case – the dynamic of growth and expansion can be seen everywhere in the skyline of the city, which one of my former students (a Rutgers PhD from Korea who has been playing host to me at times) claims has a population of well over ten million. If the number of skyscraping cranes is any indication, they are reaching to the sky to house that many and them some.

The traffic, however, is a problem. It often takes half an hour to go just a mile or two from my hotel to the post gate, and if you dare cross town you might as well count on a very long trip time wise. It seems that everyone is in their cars, and this despite the fact that the mass transit system here (subways and busses) are supposedly quite good.

Most fascinating is the obvious formality of the Korean culture – there is lots of bowing, and clearly this probably makes for strained relationships between Americans and their hosts. I sought out some insight on this on the web, and the best analysis was provided by someone who giving advice to those who might be coming to Korea to teach (see The point made about bowing seemed especially true for what I observed:

“A Korean bow is sometimes not much more than a bob of the head, but how deeply you should bow depends on the status of the other person (this is one reason Koreans ask so many questions when they first meet you). When it's a shopkeeper, taxi driver, or other service provider, just duck your head and shoulders a little. Bow more from the waist for older people and rich business people. Elderly men get the deepest bows -- if you ever meet a Korean friend's grandfather, you might want to hit the floor. Seriously.”

When I was on the campuses, it was clear that the status factor was in full play. My hosts at both Yonsei and SNU were very senior professors, and each time we approached any students there was definitely a deep bow in order. The same held true as we approached younger professors, and from many yards away they would start bowing – not as deeply as the students, but certainly with great respect. At one point, as we were walking on the Yonsei campus, my host (the very senior professor) himself was engaging in a very deep bowing effort as a small group of well dressed men approached – and it was clear that this was the president of the University.

When I finished my talk at Seoul National, I engaged a number of faculty and students in a discussion of the points I was making, and that continued in the office of the head of the School of Public Administration where several more junior colleagues sat quietly while I continued a heated but friendly exchange with a very senior professor. At one point he smiled and spoke in Korean to the dean who was sitting across from us and said (I was later told) it was interesting that we were talking as if we were old friends – and given the context and culture I know that it was an important compliment.

Tonight my former students from Rutgers are going to take me to dinner at the Korea House which is located near Nam San park – and I am told by my American students that this will quite a nice experience. I will report back on the experience….

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