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Of executioners and chimps….

It has now been a few days since “catching” this damn head cold, and each night is proving more difficult — so I plug in my iPod and lay there in the dark wheezing and listening to the backlog of podcasts (the wheeze is very musical — I find myself stopping the podcast to figure out whether it is me or some background music…)

It is now around 6AM and having just listened to (among other things) this week’s podcast of This American Life, I am compelled to post one of my intermittent blogs. The episode is titled “Human Resources” and it is (as Ira Glass organizes it) in three acts (with a nice Prologue). Each is (as is usual with this show) a small bit of genius….

The Prologue is about someone whose job was to fire folks — an HR professional who Glass calls “the executioner”. This (along with Act One) will certainly become part of my case in MPA courses (I really do not like to teach the HR portion — but this stuff makes it interesting). Since he has himself has been “executed” (more than likely through outsourcing), the conversation is a bit more interesting. What is fascinating to me is the management of words during the firing process — not so much to make someone feel positive about what is happening to them, but to make them acquiesce (shades of Murray Edelman).

Act One is about the “Rubber Room” (actually rooms) used by the New York City Department of Education for purposes of “reassigning” teachers determined (for a variety of reasons) to be problems at their former location. Put in perspective (only one percent of NYC teacher, and some are there for short periods, others for long periods), the rubber room arrangement seems very bureuacratically rationale. In that respect it is a great condensed case study of what Ralph Hummel describes in his The Bureaucratic Experience — and so still another instructional resource has fallen into my lap (but oh, those poor people….). (There is a documentary in the works on this…)

Act Two about “The Plan” seems a bit out of place among the segments (even more so than the Chimps segment that follows). It is, however, a terrific example of conspiracy theory thinking which many folks rely on when trying to make sense of the political world. I use the idea of “making sense” in a number of courses — from American government (have even integrated the idea in our textbook) to basic PA and organization theory. This is a keeper….

Finally, Act 3 — the Chimp segment — is a bit weird at first blush, but it can serve a number of purposes. There is, of course, the ethical dimension about our treatment of non-human species (see Nussbaum’s Frontiers of Justice), but there is also the interesting aspect of implementing a formal public policy — they refer to it as the Clinton Chimp Act. The intersection of ethics and policy are interesting enough, but then you add in the observations of a New York Times reporter (who is the main source in the segment), and you have the final reason why listeing to TAL is so valuable…..

Enough — I feel a chill coming on — literally…

March 9th, 2009 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments