Getting ready for NOLA

We’re getting ready to go to New Orleans for the Urban Bush Women Summer Leadership Institute. This means getting ready to dive in body soul mind and spirit into some tough questions.

To prepare, we’ve been given a list of resources. Check it out – not sure I can get through all of this in such a short time – but going to make a valiant effort..

Anything else I should be checking out? And anyone want to volunteer to do an interview with me?

Articles
Websites
Books
  • The Rich & The Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto
    • By Tavis Smiley & Cornel West
  • The Warmth of Other Suns
    • By Isabel Wilkerson
  • Women and Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny
    • By Suze Orman
  • Suze Orman’s Action Plan
    • By Suze Orman
  • The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom: Practical and Spiritual Steps So You Can Stop Worrying
    • By: Suze Orman
Interviews
Every person who participates in the SLI is encouraged to conduct, prior to arrival in New Orleans, at least one interview with someone from your family or community about their economic journey.
  • What are their opinions regarding access to opportunities?
  • What are the family migration stories?  How did they arrive where they are now?  What facilitated or made the road difficult.
  • What practices have sustained your family and /or what has made the road rough?
  • What does it feel like to make and or nurture something tangible?
Each Participant is also encouraged to conduct personal research using the following questions as a guide, prior to your arrival in New Orleans.
  • How do the young people in your neighborhood make money?
  • What lessons or values did your family instill in you regarding money?
  • If your income doubled tomorrow, what would you do? Why?
  • If your income was cut in half tomorrow, what would you do and why?
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What’s going on in Mali??

I wrote the below a good while ago – but have been sitting on it. Not sure why today I choose to publish, but it is so.
And continued insightful posts here: http://bamakobruce.wordpress.com/
And my friends have returned home to Mali, including Sali (who’s husband and kids are in rebel controlled Gao). Other friends report relatives fleeing the north to avoid the rebels, and this seems to be a pattern, with hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people throughout the country (the NYTimes had a decent photo essay this past weekend documenting this – check the photos associated with this article).
I continue to worry about the situation there, especially as gas supplies draw down in the north – affecting the generators used to bring water up from many wells…
And no one really seems to be able to grab the situation and improve it….
Sigh.
I pray for peace.

ORIGINAL POST:

What’s going on in Mali?
So there are some crazy things going on in Mali now – a coup, a civil war / rebellion / uprising / reclamation (depending on your POV).
And although there are many people writing about it (most of them smarter than I, and most of them with greater access and information than I), I am compelled to write about it, to put my own thoughts in order, and to let those who I know get a bit of filtered information about what is happening.
Here are the facts as I know:
* Captain Amadou Sanogo led a coup on March 21, 2012 and has assumed power in Bamako.
* Several armed groups have overtaken large areas of northern Mali, including Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and other smaller cities.
Beyond that, everything is gray…
How did this all happen? What does it all mean?
First off, Mali – although calm – is at the center of a few storms. Since 2001, the USA has had military advisors working with the Malian military up north to “control” the spread of “Al-Qaeda” Islamists. Since 2001, various Islamist forces have been working to spread their influence across the Sahel, including in northern Mali. Who came first? And who eggs who on? Not quite sure. In the past 10+ years, the South American drug cartels have started to firmly grab power and control in West Africa. They are using West Africa as a way-point in their transit of drugs to Europe. Does this influence extend to Malian politicians? Does it extend to “Islamist” groups in the north of Mali?
Mali has been a “democracy” for 20 years. Based on some reading (of Bamako Bruce, and other Mali-philes), and my own experience, this democracy has essentially been a “every four years” kind of democracy. People vote for politicians, and then the politicians run the country (for their own end). Without a powerful press, without a literate populace, and without an active and politically engaged populace, politicians have been free to make deals that ensure their personal prosperity (with the assumed corrallary that this is done at the expense of the rest of the population). When people complain (for example university students), they are easily pacified through government jobs or other small favors. This means that institutions are weak, people understand that they largely have no power, and may explain the perceived indifference by Malians when the coup occured.
Mali has been host to countless refugees over the years – from Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Sierra Leone, Guinea, and many other hotspots. After the coup, some of these same countries (Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal) “sealed” their borders with Mali – a step which has infuriated some Malians as they sense a failure by a neighbor to assist a brother in need.
Now the personal – one of our friends, a dance teacher who is in the USA for a couple months as a guest of Brown university lives in Gao. She has been speaking with her husband and family there, and they are safe and ok. Seydou’s brother is in the army and is not in Bamako (read – he could be up north), and Seydou maintains that he is fine. Seydou’s brother in law is/was a Minister in the Malian government, and is apparently fine (and his home & family in Bamako are also ok).
It’s been interesting to watch what people are posting on FB – those friends who have worked with musicians from the north (Tuareg) are sympathetic and enthusiastic about the turn of events in “Azawad”, which is fascinating to me – I’m not sure how this will ultimately benefit either the north or the rest of Mali.
The money quote (from Gregory Mann’s article in Foreign Policy) may be this:
“At the moment, the political game in Mali resembles two games of three-dimensional chess being played simultaneously. The first game is in the capital, where Sanogo is in over his head and seems to have no real plan for what to do next. That political game is currently at a stalemate, but a variety of opponents are looking to maneuver Sanogo into checkmate. In the second game, the Malian Sahara represents both the board and the prize — and neither the Malian military nor its rivals knows what the rules are. But the game is on.”
I’ll try and update this with some other articles and bits of info, there is some good stuff I’ve read that I haven’t linked to yet.
Who are the groups in the north:
* MNLA: Tuareg separatist movement with a “secular nationalist bent”
* Ansar Dine, an Islamist group led by Iyad ag Ghali, a Tuareg who led a major rebellion in the 1990s, and who recently served in Libya fighting for Qadaffi.
* al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) – half-opportunistic, half-islamist – almost entirely non-“Malian” (to take the pre-coup land boundaries as definition of Malian-ness)
If you want to read some good articles, check these out:
* http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/04/05/the_mess_in_mali – many of the “quoted” sections above are taken from this excellent article
* http://bamakobruce.wordpress.com/2012/03/24/the-coup-day-four/ – check out the section heading “11:00 am” for some really good stuff on the democratic situation.
* http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-17612789 – decent short overview by the BBC
For more reading, check out this great blog (by a guy I know who came through Brown – the Malian nexus in the northeast):
And even more stuff can be found linked from this page of Americans & Friends in Mali: https://www.facebook.com/groups/224494404308242/

Online Learning at Public Universities

As you might imagine, I pay attention to articles about learning online. My job is to train as many people as possible about Drupal (and in using Drupal). So online learning is clearly a large component of our forward looking strategy.
Articles like the below from today’s Boston Globe catch my eye…
There’s not much to say after reading this other than
  1. Thers is some cool experimentation happening with online learning right now, and we’ll need much more measured research to learn how online tools can be applied to solve our world’s educational gaps.
  2. We must not lose sight of the fact that creation of high quality, effective materials still requires significant investment upfront, and significant investment to maintain and evolve that material. In this area, these tools are no different than traditional tools (and in fact, are probably more expensive). But – many more students can theoretically be reached, thus lowering the per-student cost of course material creation.

The report backing this article can be downloaded on this site.

22 May 2012
Boston Globe By Mary Carmichael GLOBE STAFF
Findings give boost to online classes
Method effective, study concludes
‘They see now that it is a valid way to teach. It’s undeniable.’
JOAN THORMANN, professor at Lesley University
The burgeoning movement to put more college classes online, which attracted the support of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology earlier this month, is getting another endorsement that may have an even greater impact: rigorous evidence that the computer can be as effective as the classroom.
A new study compared two versions of an introductory statistics course, one taught face to face by professors and one mostly taught online with only an hour a week of face time. Researchers found students fared equally well in both formats on every measure of learning. The only difference was that the online group appeared to learn faster.
The report — being released Tuesday by Ithaka S+R, a nonprofit think tank focused on technology and education — is the first large, randomized study to support online learning. Ithaka also published another report in early May laying out the current landscape of online higher education.
Taken together, the reports ‘‘don’t suggest that interactive online learning is far better than traditional forms of instruction — but even in its infancy, it does well,’’ said Lawrence Bacow, the former Tufts University president, who co-authored the first paper. ‘‘And today’s students become tomorrow’s faculty. They will have much greater comfort using these tools. This is only going to get better over time.’’
The report also suggests that online courses can suit a wide variety of students, not just the elite. Previous studies have looked at small groups of students or only those with strong intellectual or financial backgrounds. Other comparative studies used research techniques that could have skewed their results, such as neglecting to randomly assign students to online or in-person instruction.
But the Ithaka study looked at hundreds of students randomly assigned to comparable online and in-person statistics classes at six public universities. Many of the students had family incomes of less than $50,000 and college grade point averages of lower than 3.0. Even those groups learned as well online as they did in the classroom.
‘‘ The notion that online courses might work at MIT or Harvard or Stanford or Carnegie Mellon is in a certain sense neither here or there, because those places are going to survive and thrive whatever they do,’’ said James Mccarthy, president of Suffolk University, who helped design and implement the new study. ‘‘Whether this approach works across a broader spectrum of institutions is what really matters.’’
Mccarthy plans to distribute the report to administrators at Suffolk and hopes to pilot the online statistics course as early as next spring. Online education may be a lifesaver for middle-tier universities, many of which are financially strapped. By allowing them to adapt free materials for their own use — and teach the information to many more students than can fit in a classroom — it could save them money.
‘‘I honestly feel that for the first time we have a potential model that can totally change the teaching and learning process while lowering costs,’’ said William ‘‘Brit’’ Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland and an adviser to Ithaka. ‘‘I just don’t know where we go as a country if we aren’t able to deliver on some new paradigm that will accomplish those twin goals.’’
Online instruction has been the talk of higher education in recent months as prestigious universities and venture capitalists alike have jumped in with plans to offer classes to the masses, typically free and sometimes with credentials attached.
‘‘It’s unreal how fast this space has heated up,’’ said Michael Horn, executive director of the Innosight Institute, a think tank that focuses on innovation in education. ‘‘It has become a ‘cool’ problem for engineers to solve.’’
On announcing that Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology would partner on the edx initiative, Rafael Reif — MIT’S new president — said online courses ‘‘will probably, quite frankly, revolutionize the way higher education is practiced in the next few years.’’
But there have been skeptics, too, as academics have questioned whether it is advisable or even possible to provide a good education largely via screen. Even online education’s advocates acknowledge they are not yet sure how best to deliver it.
‘‘This is like the automobile industry in 1912,’’ said Lawrence Summers, the former Harvard president and Treasury secretary who now chairs the advisory board of a major online-education startup, the Minerva Project. ‘‘We don’t know what the right model will be.’’
The new report demonstrates that at least one model — a highly interactive one, with brief in-person tutorials — works. ‘‘People can no longer dig their heels in and say, ‘Oh, I can’t do this, my subject matter can’t be communicated in an online format,’ ’’ said Joan Thormann, a professor at Lesley University who published a book this year on how to design and deliver Web-based courses. ‘‘They see now that it is a valid way to teach. It’s undeniable, and it’s unavoidable.’’
Bill Bowen, Ithaka’s founding chairman and a co-author of the new report, said that if online classes are to truly transform higher education, one piece is still missing: a large investment in basic, free versions of courses that universities could tweak for their own purposes.
Creating high-quality online courses ‘‘is not easy work to do, and it is not an approach that can be developed campus by campus,’’ Bowen said.
‘‘No individual campus can really muster the resources — in not just money, but also talent,’’ he said. ‘‘One hopes the foundation world, or maybe the government, will step up and invest.’’

Are we a Cover Band?

One of my band mates in Federator N*1 recently asked me “are we a cover band?”, which I thought was a very interesting question. That immediatly spun me into tons more questions. To whit:

What is a cover band? Were the big bands of the 1930s-60s cover bands? Would they ever describe themselves as such? Does simply playing repetoire that was originally written by other people qualify a band as a cover band? Do artists who play songs written for them qualify as cover bands?

After a while, I reframed the question as something that I wanted to answer (old politician’s trick), which was “What kind of band are we?”

To which, I had the answer!

We are a dance band. That’s our primary goal. We are a political band. That’s our secondary goal. And we are a band where the priority on internal experience is one of brotherhood and enjoyment (which one may argue is tied to the second part – enjoying one’s activities certainly can be seen as a political act*).

As a dance band, our goal is to get people on the dance floor, keep them there, and engage them with love, light, joy, and awesome music. If that music is written by a band member – fantastic. If the music is written by someone else, great. If we’re playing a tune in a similar vein as someone else – great. If we bring our own spin to the tune – that’s to be expected.  So we play a variety of tunes to make that happen. Some tunes have hooks or whole sections that are familiar to people and known to get them moving. Other tunes have rhythms and melodies that we’re pretty sure will get people moving.

The second part of my thoughts had to do with remix culture. In a world in which new things are often not new – but rather new creations based on old material. Mixed with other old material. Mixed with new ideas. So DJs now get to do some really innovate stuff putting disparate ideas together into one coherent whole. Why can’t bands do the same? And if they do, are they a cover band? I have no interest in putting together a band that does only “faithful” interpretations of other songs. I have lots of interest in creating our own versions of awesome songs written by people outside of the band. Shoot, if we could afrobeat Drake of Kelly Clarkson, I’d be totally stoked. And what happens if we did a modern afrobeat cover of an Adele song? What does that mean? We’re covering a young white british woman’s faithful interpretation of a style created in the 1970s by black american artists, and our cover is done in a style created in the 1970’s by black african artists…

This bandmate, he had other questions too, which are very interesting:

if it is a cover band, what are purpose are we serving for whom?
for me a cover band is best suited for fun local gigs ideally a weekly gig would be the best or a money gig ie function gigs.
the incentive for the musicians in a cover gig has to be clear.
i don’t feel tremendously concerned about following and building an audience.
i feel a little bit more interested in the the vibe of the band itself.
the hang is really fun.
the song choices are interesting.

I’ll be coming back to these questions in other posts, and in other thoughts. For the moment though, I’m happy I could answer 1 question – “What kind of band are we?”

*I decided a while ago that I wouldn’t work with people I didn’t enjoy as people. That holds true in the music/art side of things as it does in the business world. Is that a political decision? A political act?

Occupy

Occupy!

Fascinated by the negotiation of public space.

Great article on the 1 problem – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven-van-zandt/democracy-in-america_b_1139463.html?ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

Also I’m somewhat happy to see the tent-cities go – this can’t become just about the ability to occupy public space – it has to be more than a debate about land-use.

Devotion of resources – $1M+ in police overtime and $40-60k of park “damage” – this is investment the city made – why can’t we occupy hot spots in dorchester and force the cops to hang out there and effectuate their strategy of “trust building“?

First Mali Pix

I’ve got the first bunch of photos from our trip to Mali during the summer of 2011 up on flickr.

More to come… sorting through 1800 photos, and picking the best ones.

Here is one of my absolute favorites. A portrait of a friend of Sharon & Alex’s (and now ours), Issiaka Kane, aka Siakaba:

Mali2011_1489

The Costs (and Economic Benefits) of Throwing Parties/Concerts/Festivals

I just read a fascinating quick take on finances of a festival written by Patrick Jarenwattananon over on great NPR blog ‘A Blog Supreme’ (full text of the article below the fold). This is especially interesting to me as we evaluate the financial aspects of throwing our JUMP! parties. We’re currently losing money on each party, but are self-financing the party. Obviously, sponsorship would be a great way to bring in some money and break even (even just 30% of our costs as in the article).

For the economic benefit piece – we’re employing around 8-10 people at the venue for one night, as well as a band, our DJ/VJ/percussion crew, and giving some serious business to a local restaurant. So our parties drive money to somewhere between 10-25 people. Pretty nice for a one-night show. But the losses add up, so even though the losses mean some tax write-offs, they certainly aren’t sustainable.

Anyway, I’m fascinated by the numbers on these things and finding balance. I’m of course trying to figure out how to maximize profit (to keep the parties going), maximize artist payments (something I hold near & dear to my heart), and minimize my own financial risk (or loss), keep prices as low as possible (to keep parties accessible to the most number of people), and maximize the cultural experience and the fun factor.

The full article:

Published: December 22, 2010

by Patrick Jarenwattananon

Ever wondered how much money actually gets thrown around at a major jazz festival? The French festival Jazz in Marciac recently divulged some financial data from its 2010 edition, and Frédéric Noiret of the newspaper La Dépêche du Midi recently reported on it. If my Google Translate + cognate recognition are correct, here are some highlights:

Jazz in Marciac generated over 7 million Euros’ worth of economic benefit for the Marciac region.

The festival’s overall budget is 3,455,000 Euro. Public financing makes up 421,000 Euro, while private sponsorship provides 354,000 Euro. Thus, the festival is 72.1 percent self-financed, accounting for additional revenue.

225,000 people came for the festival (up 2.3 percent), and 66,500 tickets (up 8.46 percent) for paid shows were sold.

The festival depended on its 800 volunteers. They would have cost 950,000 Euro to employ at minimum wage alone. However, the festival did host 400 of those volunteers on site for a total of 6,000 person-nights.

17,500 meals were served in all, including musicians, technical crew, staff and volunteers. The volunteers accounted for 11,190 meals alone.

Currently, one Euro is worth around 1.31 U.S. dollars, which is about the exchange rate at the time of the festival this past summer.

I’ve never studied the accounting sheets in depth for other festivals, but one element looks to me to be rather extraordinary. For a festival of such magnitude to generate 72.1% of its revenue by itself — largely in ticket sales, one imagines, though “l’autofinancement” isn’t exactly defined — is a serious achievement. Even Jazz in Marciac says that 2010 was a banner year (an “année record”) for them.

But it isn’t shocking that these sorts of things bring in so much money for their communities. The arts seem to require a lot of money, especially when you bring in Wynton Marsalis, Diana Krall, Chick Corea, Jamie Cullum, Chucho Valdes, Ahmad Jamal and Esperanza Spalding, plus tons of other artists. (That was just in 2010.) But the arts can also be even more massive economic engines; in this case, the economic benefit to the area far outstrips taxpayer cost. Plus, how do you put a value on human creativity? [La Dépêche du Midi: Festival Jazz in Marciac tient la forme (French) / Jazz in Marciac festival takes shape (automated English translation)]

P.S. A nice English-language article profiles the Marciac festival, a gigantic production which takes over a tiny rural town for two weeks every year. [Copyright 2010 National Public Radio]