On Halloween, masks and mediation.

I love Halloween in NYC.  In a town where every day is a parade of style and costumery, folks really amp it up for the ‘ween.  (And thus I’ve become pretty judge-y about costumes.  Enough with the “sexy” everything get-ups for women — sexy Freddy Kruger doesn’t even make sense.  Props to those going for precise verisimilitude or the absolutely outrageous.  Feel free to judge my costume.)

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Your cheating art.

My first post-college job was teaching English at a Polish university during the last days of Soviet communism.  When I entered the classroom on the first day, the students stood at attention with a mix of ceremonial deference, existential boredom, and mild derision. (I responded with an awkward, swivel-handed ersatz royal wave.)

It didn’t take me long to realize that the standing-up thing was a trapping of respect, vs. real respect — not unlike the stiff, obligatory applause given at sclerotic Soviet apparatchiks’ public speeches. Scratch the veneer of forced patriotism and you’ll get some serious stick-it-to-the-man subversiveness.  In that classroom, I was inadvertently the man — the central authority that a population of dissidents was hardwired to mistrust.  And the students cheated like there was no tomorrow. Nie wolno oszukiwac — no cheating — was one of the first Polish phrases I learned.

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On Bob Dylan and reverse international development.

So this Halloween I’m going as Bob Dylan, c.1966.  (I’m a bit long of tooth to pull off the 20-something songpoet…my attempt at Bono last year was more age-appropriate).  Dylan’s Bringing It All Back Home has been rattling around my cranium as I think about working domestically vs internationally.

International development work can be like a funnel. The west sees a need in a developing country, and pours lots of money, energy, creative ideas, good intentions, and chutzpah into the fat end. By the time aid hits the ground through the skinny end, bad planning, high overhead for international agencies, cultural misunderstandings, and hubris can reduce it all to a sad trickle.

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We did launch!

Folks, have a peek at some images from our Launch Event on October 6th — at which we celebrated 30 years as a program of Safe Horizon, and embraced our future as the independent New York Peace Institute.  Thanks to all who came out to show your support for our mission to build peace in New York City and beyond!300 of our closest friends celebrating our launch at the Helen Mills Event Space.

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October Mensch of the Month!

This month’s mensch is the shaved-headed, benignly smiling figure you see above.  The one on the right.  In the suit.  Detective Jeff Thompson, NYPD.

Jeff became a mediator with us about five years ago, and his boundless energy, intellectual curiosity, and passion for peace have made him a deservedly recognized figure in our field.

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Why grad schools should be more like steel mills.

(without the part in which management tries to break the back of organized labor or the constant threat of being slammed in the face by an ingot)

My grandfather, Iggie Hoffman, was a crane operator at Bethlehem Steel (the subject of Billy Joel’s Allentown, now a casino).  Imagine the love child of Archie Bunker and MacGuyver, and that’s pretty much Iggie.  He could make, fix, or jerry-rig anything out of duct tape and Austro-Hungarian profanities.  He lost at least 3 and a half fingers on the job, which didn’t impact his digital dexterity, or prevent him from going to the mill the next day and working a double shift.  Had he been born into different circumstances, he could have been a surgeon or an architect or an engineer. Somehow he managed to feed a family of seven, design and build a home, and send kids to college on one blue-collar salary.  Unimaginable today.

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