Heard this great quote yesterday at a knowledge management conference. Unfortunately, I missed the source so whoever the brilliant thinker is, apologies for not being able to attach your name. The speaker (another whose name I missed - appears to be a pattern) used the phrase as a way of setting a vision for knowledge dissemination. I like it. What I don't like is the word "management" after knowledge as if it reports to you, is subject to performance reviews, or perhaps gets assignments...
I've been railing on here about transparency as it relates to the financial crisis of late, which opens the door to pointing to today's front page of The Boston Globe. Patricia Wen's "Errors test openness at Beth Israel Deaconess: Disclosures will benefit hospital, president insists" catalogs the stuff that's gone awry at this academic medical center and the lengths its CEO-prez, Paul Levy, has taken to beam kleigs into the dark places: Wrong-side surgery, a plastic surgeon literally asleep in the operating room, the suicide of a young, apparently drug-addicted, doctor, and the horrible tragedy of the past week when a young mother died during an emergency (not elective) caesarean section (thank heavens, the baby survived).
In the interest of full disclosure, Paul's a friend and colleague whose success I celebrate, thus I am pleased to see him get this kind of coverage. But even if I didn't know him, I'd be obliged to cover today's Globe article here because it contributes to our understanding of what transparency looks like "in real." Being willing to put the mistakes out there, not exposing some while shielding others, not "PR"-ing ugly stuff in corporate double-speak. Just the facts, sir, and asking people to reflect on what this means. Paul Levy, photo taken June 4, 2008 What's the real benefit here? It is that great intangible, trust. As Paul is quoted in the article, "Levy said he is confident the 'short-term adverse publicity' will soon
be outweighed by improved patient care and greater trust within the
institution." Which is what we've been writing about as regards the financial crisis on our website and here. There is no institutional health without trust - whether we're talking about the body politic or your body. Remember: the word credit comes from the Latin credere, meaning "to believe in or trust." Paul's blog, which I've written about before (search on Running A Hospital here for more), is one vehicle he uses to drive around the 'sphere and show the rest of us what's going on inside. May the rest of you CEOs reading - and you young 'uns hoping to be someday - learn how to drive the same way. Credibly, with trust.
About 25 years ago, Massachusetts launched a project to reclaim the land along the sinewy Charles River that runs from the starting point for the Boston Marathon (Hopkinton) through 58 cities and towns before dropping into Boston Harbor.
Mostly the river is very narrow -- except for where it widens in Cambridge (the spot where the Head of the Charles takes place) and for many years was highly unpleasant to behold in many spots because no one was taking care of it. All that changed in the early '80s and now, thanks to the efforts of the Department of Conservation Resources, it's a gorgeous 20-mile, close-to-the-city promenade of bike trails, paths, footbridges, and walkways. We walk there often - can even walk to it from our house - and yesterday, though the skies were gloomy, we did so again.
Most shots were too dark to post but these two...judge for yourself -- Eastern Massachusetts at the end of October, 2008.
Juliana, Roland, and Alexandra Merullo, photo by Amanda Merullo
Roland Merullo has his own category here on Endless Knots because of my deep regard for his work and his talent. Author of ten books, with two more on the way, his range is astonishing--from his earliest Leaving Losapas about a dejected Vietnam Vet who takes shelter on a Micronesian island only to be haunted by his life back home in a working-class Boston suburb to The Italian Summer, coming next Spring, about time he spent in 2007 with his three loves--golf, food, and family--at Lake Como.
I've read and savored (speaking of food) all of Roland's books, the only author other than Edna O'Brien for whom this is true. Why? Because his writing is inventive and interesting, his understanding of human nature unusually enlightened, and he's very, very funny. I was lucky to land in a novel-writing class of Roland's nearly four years ago, which led to getting to know him and to being beneficiary of his counsel. I'd say I wish the same for every writer but I don't because then we wouldn't have Roland's prolific output.
Just out is American Savior: A Novel of Divine Politics, a daring book about a US
presidential election. Why daring? Because Jesus runs for the highest office--on the Divinity ticket--recruiting a bit of a ragtag team to promote him, while he surfboards, disappears from time to time, and chooses his Native American mother as his running mate.It's impossible to read this book and not think about our impending election as the crucial issues blast out of every page--religion (obviously), authenticity, duplicity, honesty, trust, cynicism, and, need I say, the role of the media. But, as you'll see in this interview, Roland also plays with some deeper issues around belief.
Rather than write yet another review, which, after all, would be just one woman's opinion, I decided to fire off some questions to Roland. Here are his responses. If this prompts any questions from you, I'll send those to him as well.
Q: American Savior is the third in a series [following Golfing with God, whereby a pro golfer finds himself dead, in heaven, and recruited by God to teach him--or her--it's hard to say, golf, and Breakfast with Buddha, whereby an agnostic New York food critic finds himself on a cross-country (and pan-spiritual journey of enlightenment) with something/one akin to Buddha--maybe or not quite]. Did you conceive of all three originally or did one evolve from the previous?
A: No, I definitely did not conceive of them as a group. I started with Golfing with God, which had a strange history. Originally it was a non-fiction account of a trip we took to get out of the worst winter of our lives (debt, cold, snow, and one of our daughters diagnosed with cystic fibrosis). But it did not work as non-fiction, and so I turned it, after a few years, into a novel. My editor at Algonquin, the wonderful Chuck Adams [excellent interview with Chuck by Jofie Ferrari-Adler in this month's Poets & Writers], said he wanted another book that was along the same lines--funny, "spiritual"--and I had always wanted to see North Dakota, and I love driving, so that's how Breakfast with Buddha came about. American Savior grew out of my twin fascinations--politics and religion--and my fairly obsessive following of developments very early in the presidential campaign.
Q: You've now made main characters of God, Buddha, and Jesus. Is Mohammed next? Or have the various literary dust-ups around portrayals of him precluded that?
A: I have been specifically warned away from writing about Mohammed, which I think is a shame. The truth is, though, that I don't have much knowledge about Mohammed, or any particular interest. I have a detailed proposal written for a next book along the same lines, but I don't want to say any more about it. For me, writing is a way of working out the things I think about anyway, and I have pondered our existential predicament endlessly every since I was a little guy. These books feel like a natural extension of all those thoughts.
A: That's a good observation. I think there was a way that I had to take myself seriously at first. It was a kind of defense against some imagined criticism. And, like a lot of young writers, or aspiring writers, part of my motivation came from wanting to be like the famous writers I idolized, to have a life like their lives, to be spoken about that way, and they were all serious types, at least on the page. I have grown out of or away from most of that. Having children helped. There is a way in which the love a child gives you--and the love children bring out in us--can make you not have to prove things to yourself or others. Maybe a better way of saying it is that having children--which Amanda and I did at a later time than most people--had a great healing effect on me. I was always goofy-funny in person, especially after a couple of drinks. Somehow, after the girls were born, I let myself be that way in print.
Q: This book, American Savior, is biting satire, sending up everyone from Larry King to George Stephanopolous to the whole political process. Have you gotten any hate mail for this or for portraying Jesus as almost human?
A: Strangely, no. I did a radio interview recently that had people calling in. This was in Alabama. And a Baptist pastor called in and I thought, "Here we go; the guy is going to hate me." But that was my own prejudice talking. He understood the book in exactly the way I meant it to be understood, as a very reverent, if slightly offbeat look at the way we behave in America now, especially in big campaigns. I tried not to be too unkind in the depictions of well known commentators. I poked fun. There are a couple of them whom I felt really had it coming, so I tried to give it to them. The heart and soul of the book is the different ways different people react to a holy being. It's more about that than about Jesus. I have seen a few online reviews in which people take some mild offense, but I don't pay a lot of attention to reviews, on line or otherwise. There are always going to be people who dislike a book. No writer pleases everybody, and it is a mistake to try.
Q: American Savior is also prophetic. A "good" candidate who seems committed to kindness and helping everyone - a "transformational figure," as a certain current "one" has been called, runs for office and throws the others off their games. Was there a moment while writing this when you realized that you might be writing an allegory?
A: Late in the game, yes, when people started making Obama into a larger than life figure. But I started the book before I or almost anybody else knew who he was. And, while I admire him, I think there is still a fair distance between him and Jesus and I really did not write scenes in the book to correspond to his ideas or personality.
Q: What surprised you in writing this book, if anything?
A: The realization that the people around Jesus in the Bible were really pretty troubled and ordinary. I had always seen them as special, and in a way, of course, they were. But they were disloyal, competitive, vain, whiny, full of doubt and fear and confusion, and out for themselves in a lot of ways. Like the rest of us. Writing the book helped me understand that better. The other thing was that Jesus has become a figure a lot of people don't want anything to do with. They have had Jesus crammed down their throat, and they are tired of hearing about him from glassy-eyed, smiling, know it all types. Which is a shame, but perfectly understandable. Others don't want him messed with. They know exactly who he is, and how he would behave, and God forbid you challenge their idea of him. It would be funny if it didn't cause so much trouble. I talked to several of my Jewish friends, too, because I wanted to know how they thought of Jesus. What surprised me about that was that they all seemed to say he was not a big deal in their lives. No negative feelings, not many positive feeling, just not an issue.
Q: I understand that you don't outline your books. Do scenes come to you as the story unfolds or do scenes come whenever and then you find where they fit?
A: I outline a little bit, but usually only after I get going, and I change the outline about as often as I change shirts. It just doesn't work for me to set things out. It deadens the book, takes the surprise out of it for me. Scenes come to me as I go. I'm a good Virgo, and pretty orderly in some ways, so I simply can't write in anything other than a chronological order. Chapter four comes after chapter three. I just start with an imagined scene and sometimes a very general idea of where things might go, then I try to figure out what the characters would do next in real life, and to have those actions make sense, and give the book some kind of tension.
Thanks, Roland. As they say in the biz, moretocome, moretocome, moretocome...
If you visit my study, you will notice one shelf with some 25 books by the same author. They're not my original copies because, of course, in a fit of "every girl should read these," I gave mine away to a younger girl when I was seventeen. Who was so deserving of my Nancy Drew collection? The daughter of my first editor at the Pottstown Mercury, Bob Boyle, who teased me mercilessly about everything from the length of my skirt to my poor spelling...and who taught me how to write on deadline. Thanks, Bob. (Wish you were still here to read my blog.)
But I never forgot Nancy, nor has anyone else of my generation, including the supremely talented Kathleen Aguero (Kathi to the rest of us), whom I first heard read her poetry at Solstice Summer Writers Conference, where she is one of the founding faculty (and a faculty member at Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, Mass).
So it is a great moment in Nancy's history that Kathi has published Investigations: The Mystery of the Girl Sleuth, a chapbook (literary-ese for a small collection of poetry) about Ms. Nancy. Lee Hope and Bill Betcher hosted an evening for Solstice and for Kathi's book launch on Thurs evening. I was happy to be there and to catch up with friends from the program, which I attended in its first year, 2005. And I'm even happier to report that I'll be teaching there this coming summer on, guess what, blogging! More to come on this. Meanwhile, congrats, Kathi!
And in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month (click there and you give a free mammogram to someone in need), Kathi's poem from this collection, inspired by Nancy.
The clue, a small lump she finds sleuthing in her own breast. She takes this evidence to her doctor who orders the mammogram designed to squeeze truth from the densest tissue.
Dressed in a regulation blue gown whose ties won't stay closed, Nancy waits for the verdict as she thumbs through Good Housekeeping, a subject not exactly in her line of work.
One woman after another, each a potential crime scene, is summoned by the radiologist, let go for possessing a cooperative breast or called in for a closer look.
Nancy's in luck: just a cyst, the doctors says. But keep checking. Trouble can crop up at any moment. Nancy knows it's so. Still, she's been trained danger comes from strangers she can always outsmart. She's felt baffled before, but what is this drop in her gut like an elevator going down?
In our ongoing series about the disposition of our $700B (and counting), two more contracts, each for about three years (just shy of that) have been awarded, one to PriceWaterhouseCoopers ($191,469.27) and one to Ernst & Young (($492,006.95). Check out our pages on the "2008 Financial Crisis," and the updated OrgScope map. For those with long memories, there used to be a lot of firms like these two but, as one family wag put it a few years back, we're down to the Final Four. From the Oct 21 press release (I've inserted links to the actual contracts):
Washington- The U.S. Treasury Department today announced that
PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP and Ernst & Young will assist the
Department in the implementation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program
authorized under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. Treasury
hired PriceWaterhouseCoopers on Thursday and hired Ernst & Young on
Both contracts are "Blanket Purchase Agreements," which give the government authority to issue "task orders" against which the contractor performs and permit the extension of contracts over a broad range of services without having to go back out for competitive bid. You can quickly see the pluses and minuses of this arrangement: it reduces bureaucratic bottlenecks as the bidding process can take forever and result in lowest-cost but not necessarily highest-quality awardees; it increases the opportunity for most-favorite-contractor awards resulting in highest-cost but not necessarily highest-quality awardees. The way around this, of course, is as much transparency as possible and, naturally, truly ethical participants on both sides.
OK. The PWC contract as linked to the Treasury website says practically nothing about what it will do and appears to be a filled-out government form with redacted information (again). The E&Y contract, a retyped version of the same form as PWC's, is for accounting services and contains more detail. It also has redacted info, but in E&Y's case, it says ""Redacted," whereas in the PWC contract it's just blacked out. Here's the Treasury-ese for what they're doing:
PricewaterhouseCoopers will help the Department establish a sound
internal control posture and Ernst & Young will provide general
accounting support and expert accounting advice.
Neither agreement, as posted, contains its attachments where are their price and technical quotes. Because of this, we can't tell what the approximately $700K total is for or whether these two awards cover a week, a month, or a year of work. We're not objecting to obscuring the financial details here. Indeed, we don't publish our rates. But without more detail, it limits insight into the organization, number of people involved, their expertise, or what specifically they're going to be doing--and how they're going about it. We need to make the work of these organizations transparent, not just the contractual vehicles. What do you think?
You may not even know that you want one but, you heard it here, you do. A few weeks ago, Daughter #2 (most recently documented here) and I were enjoying ourselves at the Fort Greene Farmers Market, deciding which delicious bread to buy when she offered a paean to the best sesame pancake in New York, whereupon the baker behind the counter said, "Oh, you must mean Vanessa's Dumplings."
Which she did. And which she took me to yesterday. So next time you're on Eldridge Street in Chinatown in New York - or even if you're all the way uptown or out in the 'burbs - get yourself down there and eat! Had to take some pics.
We had two sesame pancakes with vegetables (crammed with fresh cilantro), sweet and sour cucumber salad, and, of
course, dumplings, plus some special bottled drink of undetermined
vintage and a bottle of water all for $9, including tip.
118 Eldridge St
(between Broome St & Grand St)