Showing posts from March, 2017

March for Science prep

The March for Science will take place on Saturday, April 22 – Earth Day. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to march in Washington or in Boston. But I’m pretty certain I’ll be hitting the streets. Today, in preparation for the March for Science, I bought a March for Science t-shirt, from the March for Science shop . Net proceeds will go to the March for Science organization. I opted for an environmental shirt, but other options are equally inspiring. Now I just need to decide where to show up — and which comfortable shoes to wear.

Neighborhood Association

Neighborhood associations are a good example of meaningful civic engagement. Done well, and they provide not only a voice to a community, but also a counterweight to moneyed interests. My neighborhood, Davis Square, has many politically aware and civically engaged citizens. And yet it hasn’t been able to get an association to stick around, partly, in my opinion, because of a resistance to a formal structure, roles and accountability. Today, I attended a meeting organized by my Alderman, but intended to be the start of a new neighborhood association. Very promising. Unfortunately, the old hands were present, pushing again for a loosey goosey structure. And I couldn’t help influence it, because I had to leave early and wasn’t able to speak before I departed. It’s a shame. But I’ll stay involved because I want it to work.

Arts Matter Advocacy Day

MASSCreative works with the arts, cultural and creative community to advocate for the resources and support necessary for the creative sector to thrive in Massachusetts.  On Arts Matter Advocacy Day – today – MASSCreative is bringing together the creative community for Arts Matter Advocacy Day to show our state political leaders that arts matter in Massachusetts. Here’s more: Arts Matter Advocacy Day supports MASSCreative’s campaigns to increase the MCC budget, establish a public art program at state owned properties, and increase student participation in arts education. On January 25, Gov. Baker released his FY2018 budget with a recommendation to fund the state’s investment in arts and culture at $14.3 million. In the coming weeks, the House and Senate will release their respective budgets. Because of the positive impact that arts and culture has on the quality of life in every community across the Commonwealth, as the budget process proceeds to the Legislature, we will urge lawmaker

The Do One Thing Project

It’s day 66 of One Civic Act. I’m still pushing forward despite the fact that I’m on a rather grueling business trip right now. Still, I’m finding that doing one thing just isn’t that much of a burden. Indeed it’s been a privilege so far. I’ve gotten positive feedback , and I have to admit that it motivates me even more. Today, I subscribed to updates from another “do one thing” project: named the Oyster-Adams Bilingual School’s Do One Thing (DOT) Project . What’s that, you ask? At the school, 61 students and 2 teachers pledged together to do one thing to be “more mindful of their consumption of natural resources” over the course of a month. Here’s more: During the first week, students and teachers will collect baseline data on their current lifestyle/actions. Then, for four weeks, those involved will record quantitative and qualitative data to record their new lifestyle change. That may well trump my more humble effort; I’ve done nothing to empirically record progress other than write

Chinese American Museum

Today, I visited the Chinese American Museum in Los Angeles.I made a small donation, as well. It’s a small museum, with some exhibits that document the contributions of Chinese Americans to American culture and civic life, and the life and times of immigrants from China. The most important displays for me, however, were those that covered issues of social justice, for racial minorities, in general, and, of course, Chinese Americans in particular. Some of our laws, against homeownership, citizenship, marriage and much more, might surprise you in their cold-heartedness and longevity. Case in point, check out this law, as this article in the American Studies Journal points out: “‘any woman citizen who marries an alien ineligible to citizenship’ – in other words any Asian alien— ‘shall cease to be a citizen of the United States.’” That’s right, it actually revoked the citizenship of American women who deigned to marry an Asian man. That law wasn’t repealed until 1936 and of course the Chi

Of Echo Chambers and Filter Bubbles

A few weeks ago, the New York Times published an interesting reader service piece, called “ How to Escape Your Political Bubble for a Clearer View. ” The general idea was to use different technology tools to get you either to understand how politically biased your social networks and news sources are, or to expose you to views that are outside of your typical view. There are some interesting tools out there, from Twitter plug-ins to Chrome extensions, to help you manipulate your filter bubble. Today, I re-read the article and downloaded one of the apps they mentioned:  Read Across the Aisle . The app, in the words of the Times , “gamifies political outreach — as you read articles from The Huffington Post or The Federalist through the app, you’ll see a meter turn red or blue based on the particular site’s ideological bent.” It has political coverage from the Washington Post to The Hill to the National Review , among others. This should give me a different spin on the morning news. L

Civic pride

“Civic pride” is usually associated with pride in your city. But I take a broader view, one still rooted to a place, but a place that can scale from smaller communities (e.g., neighborhoods) to larger communities (e.g., regions, countries). Today, I expressed my civic pride at the national scale by cheering on the US Men’s National Team soccer match. It wasn’t just any match; it was a World Cup qualifier, against Honduras. After an embarrassing start to qualifying, the US had its work cut out . You might had even called it a must win. They won, emphatically, by 6 to 0.

Zebras vs. Unicorns

Peter Thiel’s exhortation that, “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” is just one articulation of a frustration that startup culture, particularly in Silicon Valley, is too focused on the mundane. To paraphrase others, founders seem focused on starting companies that provide services their mothers no longer provide them. Think laundry, groceries or a ride to the airport. Wouldn’t we rather the best minds of our generation solve the biggest problems in society? This Quartz column calls for founders to strive not to become unicorns, but rather zebras. Zebra companies make profitable, sustainable products and services that benefit the social good. Why the “zebra” as a symbol for this new kind of startup? I’ll let them explain: Why zebras? * To state the obvious: unlike unicorns, zebras are real. * Zebra companies are both black and white: they are profitable and improve society. They won’t sacrifice one for the other. * Zebras are also mutualistic: by banding together i

Boston Globe grant program

The Boston Globe isn’t just the area’s local newspaper, it’s a civic institution that participates in so many ways to civic life in the Greater Boston area. Case in point is its GRANT program, through which it lets subscribers choose donation recipients from the Globe Foundation. In its own words: All subscribers receive vouchers for varying amounts of GRANT dollars. Amounts are based on subscription tenure; the longer a subscriber has been with us, the higher their voucher amount will be. Vouchers can then be submitted on behalf of the subscriber’s favorite non-profit. Way to tap into the crowd, Boston Globe. While high-profile institutions top the leaderboard – Planned Parenthood is currently in the lead with $43k pledged, and Mass Audobon is second with $23k – so far 2,139 non-profits have received a grant. Wow. Today, I used my voucher as a subscriber to make a grant to the Brattle Film Foundation, on whose board I used to serve, because it’s an organization I really believe in. Th

A Conscious Conversation - About Purpose (in Business, that is)

A firm’s purpose is the glue that holds it together, that keeps all of its moving parts focused on what it is trying to achieve, indeed, even why it exists. The Purpose Institute defines purpose as “a definitive statement about the difference that you are trying to make.” And that difference is usually rooted in the human condition, not pure profit for its own sake. Every company should have such as a statement. Companies are more successful when they are articulate a purpose and really drive its importance through its employees. In one study , EY segmented companies by how they well they had implemented a purpose internally. It found that 42% of the “laggards” segment reported declining revenues. And the leading segment was well ahead of the pack in terms of their innovation, market expansion and other measures. Today, I moderated a panel discussion and workshop for the Conscious Capitalism Boston chapter , for whom I’m volunteering. We moved quickly past “What is purpose?” and “Why i

The 2018 election, part 1

Do you believe citizens should have to choose between buying an iPhone and buying health care? When Senators say things like that, it really pisses people off. Including me. And Utah’s Jason Chaffetz really stepped in it this time . It seems that one statement was enough to spur a physician, Kathryn Allen, to finally file her election papers to run against Chaffetz. And she’s raised nearly a half million dollars in the process. Today, I donated to Kathryn Allen’s campaign, through CrowdPac . Allen isn’t a partisan hack, she’s a free-thinker, one who just happens to believe that, you know, people should be able to get healthcare and a smartphone. I’m confident that she’s not just going to follow a national platform and that she’ll speak for her constituents, from a sane, reasoned and inclusive perspective. Is that too much to ask from all politicians. The interesting thing is that Evan McMullin is also mulling over a run for Chaffetz’s seat, as an independent. McMullin famously got 21%

The Countable App

There’s a lot that goes into policymaking, more than most of us know. The moving parts behind any piece of legislation are numerous and the amount of pending legislation is far deeper than newspaper headlines would suggest. Today, I downloaded an app called Countable, which “makes learning about what your government is up to easy and fun.” Well, easy and fun might be hyperbole. I guess the “fun” part might be that you can send video messages to your elected representatives using your phone. Whatever. But what I do like is that you can get up-to-date commentary on current debates easily, with daily notifications of upcoming votes and subsequent notifications for how my representatives actually voted. That seems particularly useful to me. Hat-tip to my friend Andrea for pointing me toward this one.  

In praise of vehicle emissions standards

Current rules in the United States call for the industry-wide vehicle fuel economy standard to rise to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. That will be a challenge, requiring “step-change improvements, not incremental ones,” according to PwC . But it’s achievable: “Experts believe that petroleum-based vehicle fuel economy can be improved by as much as 75 percent with combustion breakthroughs…, exhaust aftertreatment technologies that further reduce emissions, and the recovery of energy from waste heat.” Sources of innovation like these could lead to a lasting competitive advantage for the automaker that breaks through. Expect innovation to really ramp up in the sector. That is, unless the fuel economy standards are rolled back. Today, I signed the Climate Reality Project’s pledge , calling to keep the standards in place. In its words: “These standards will prevent about 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions and save over 2 million barrels of oil a day and $1.7 trillion in fuel c

Save the Citgo Sign

If you’ve spent time in Boston, you’ve come to realize that the most iconic element in Boston’s skyline is more of a billboard than a building: the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square. It has added relevance for me; when I was in college, we could see the Citgo sign from our house. It was a part of my college experience. The sign had been in danger because of, what else, a landlord dispute. Just yesterday , the new owner of the building finally came to agreement with Citgo to renew the lease on the sign. Hooray. That’s not enough. Today, I signed a petition to ask the city of Boston to grant the Citgo sign Landmark status. Landmark status would, in the words of the petition’s sponsors, “protect the CITGO sign permanently and require any possible changes to be reviewed. Further, it will recognize the CITGO sign as an important piece of Boston history and culture.” How could anyone argue with that?

Safe Communities Act

There is legislation pending in Massachusetts called the Safe Communities Act to support civil rights, particularly applicable to immigrants. I’ll let the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Coalition explain, with a summary four points: No state support for Muslim registry. Prohibits access to information in state databases for use in any federal registry program based on national origin, religion or other protected characteristics. Ensures Basic Due Process Rights for people detained in state and local facilities for civil immigration violations. Requires informing detainees that they have the right to decline an interview with ICE agents, and to have their own attorney present (at their own expense) if they so choose. Use police resources to fight crime, not separate families. Ensures that state, local and campus police don’t participate in immigration enforcement activities, including inquiries, investigations, raids, arrests or detentions that are based solely on immigration s

The Ides of March

It’s March 15, a date made notorious by the prophecy told by a soothsayer (according to Shakespeare) to Julius Caesar: “beware the Ides of March.” If only he had listened. An anonymous group has organized a postcard-writing campaign to the President timed for the Ides of March . While I do not endorse the ominous implications of using the Ides of March to communicate with a leader, I find the overall intent playfully amusing. Here’s what they write: No alternative fact or Russian translation will explain away our record-breaking, officially-verifiable, warehouse-filling flood of fury. Hank Aaron currently holds the record for fan mail, having received 900,000 pieces in a year. We’re setting a new record: over a million pieces in a day. Today, I wrote a postcard to the president with a very simple message: “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” wrote Abraham Lincoln. Please begin to govern for the united, not for the divided. It begins by listening. It’s my contribution to break

Pi Day at MIT

It’s Pi Day, otherwise known as 3.14. My alma mater, MIT, sends its acceptances today and greets them video. This year, it’s this Marvel Comics tie-up.  [youtube] Building on this public display of school spirit, and with well thought-out coordination, MIT is also running a “24-Hour Challenge” fundraising campaign . If 1,500 alums give on Pi Day, an anonymous donor will give an additional $150,000. Today, I added my name to the rolls of Pi Day givers. With over 1,100 gifts as of 9:30am, the challenge is pretty much in the bag. [ edit: they ended with 6,051 donors, raising $3.8 million .]

How Community Solar Works

Back on March 2, I wrote about Relay Power , which is marketing community solar programs around Massachusetts. Today, I had an hour-long call with Relay Power to learn more about it. Currently, they’re working with 12 solar farms around the state, with at least 3 more to come online this year. The one we talked about is being built on a landfill in Dover. The basic premise is that I would commit to buying power from x number of solar panels from their development partner, Blue Wave, for 20 years. In exchange, Blue Wave would provide power to me at a 10% discount to the current pricing (the whole bill, not just the generation) that I get from my utility. That’s pretty much it. What’s the catch? As far as I can tell the only risk is if I move. There’s a $1,250 early cancellation, but only if they’re not able to find someone to pickup my contract. According to them, there’s always a waiting a list so they discount that possibility, but of course, I think it’s a pretty real risk. . We talk

Books for the Bronx

True story: The Bronx has no bookstores. Seriously none. Barnes & Noble closed the last one back in October, according to The New Yorker . Today, I supported this Indiegogo project to open an independent bookstore in the borough. This isn’t a charity shop. Independent bookstore sales grew 10% last year. They are viable businesses and important community hubs. And the Bronx should have one. Plus, you have to watch the founder, Noelle Santos, pitch on her video. It’s worth it.

People Power - Resistance Training

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the ACLU fomenting a grassroots movement of non-lawyers, called People Power . Today, I attended its first “resistance training.” The trainings consisted of house parties – 2,000 of them across all 50 states, with 200,000 people signed up. We watched a livecast of the ACLU talking about understanding our First Amendment rights when protesting, and about the details of the immigration rights that are under attack right now. This was perhaps the most inspiring day of this project. I’ve signed up to help out, initially helping to push for more sanctuary city legislation, particularly in the state of Massachusetts. My city, Somerville, and my county, Middlesex, are already pretty progressive on that front so there’s not much I can do. But there is pending legislation that could make a big difference in Massachusetts. I would write more – much more – but I have only three more minutes to get this blog posted today. Suffice to say: I’ll be writing about Pe

Post-partisan political debate

[ Edit: This was written on March 10, but somehow got left in draft. Sorry about that. ] It was a super busy day today, and it’s pretty late for me to finally pay attention to my civic act. But I will not give up; there is so much to do. Today, I gave to to a Kickstarter project called Ctrl-Alt-Del. No, it’s not tech related at all, for those who remember the reference to the old PC-reboot keyboard command. Rather, it’s an effort to reboot political conversations, through a new publishing platform. Here’s what they say: We are creating Ctrl-Alt-Debate to reboot political dialogue in America. Ctrl-Alt-Debate will be the place to quickly find primary sources and facts about important statements, issues, and events, as well as side-by-side interpretations from both a liberal and conservative perspective. We believe that honest, fact-based dialogue is critical to ensuring the best policy decisions are made for Americans. However, we think there is a better way to facilitate that dialogue t

Transforming pollution from cars

Environmentally damaging emissions from cars aren’t limited to carbon dioxide (for those with catalytic converters, anyway). There is also soot – particulate carbon. Particulates are a particular problem for diesel engines, and car manufacturers have struggled to address the problem. Just ask Volkswagen . Today, I gave to this Kickstarter campaign . This enterprising group in Singapore developed a way to capture carbon particulate emissions at the tailpipe and turn those particles into something useful – ink for pens and markers. They’ve had successful pilots in India and are ready to commercialize. I’ll get a pen, for my donation, which contains about 40 minutes of a car’s emissions. That’s one mighty pen.Imagine if we all used a pen like that one?

Swipe Right for Girls Who Code

It’s International Women’s Day, which commemorates the women’s rights movement. Today, I gave Girls Who Code a donation through a tweet. Why Girls Who Code? Software development is grossly imbalanced by gender, with some estimates saying 90% of coders are male. Big corporations, not just those in the tech sector, are faced with a problem in pursuing gender balance, which is often a strategic objective, while quickly building their development teams. And our workforce is lacking in software talent of any gender. So it seemed right to support a program that aims to change youth culture to encourage more girls to learn code. And how did I give with a tweet? Tinder, of all organizations, pledged to donate $100 for every tweet that references #FundHerCause, to female-oriented non-profit of your choice. Swiping right for @GirlsWhoCode . This tweet for #InternationalWomensDay supports @Tinder ’s #FundHerCause initiative. — Larry Yu (@laryu) March 8, 2017 I feel a little dirty engaging with

Environmentalists don't vote

The surprising reality is that environmentalists don’t vote. In the 2016 presidential election, they were 15% less likely to vote than the general voter population. Today, I went to a talk hosted by Boston Area Sustainability Group , called  Inside Elections and the Environmental Vote . The presenter, Nathaniel Stinnett, Founder and CEO of the Environmental Voter Project , crunched big data on the electorate and uncovered surprising facts about who these environmentalists are. It’s not hipsters in Oregon, he made clear. It’s more likely to be grandmothers in the urban core. Actually, the real takeaway was just how rich personal data on voters is. The era of targeting “soccer Moms” is so 1996. Now, campaigns target YOU. The amount of data in your voting file, linked to all kinds of public records and purchasing behaviors can tell them frighteningly true things. They’re literally more accurate than just asking you directly. The Environmental Voter Project is laser-focused on getting envi

Art Break: Restoring Public Trust - with a Promise

Public trust is in the doldrums. It’s not the first time it’s happened, of course. Trust in institutions periodically hits the skids and we collectively respond with different kinds of trust mechanisms to restore trust. Think lemon laws and occupy marches. Could art be one of those trust mechanisms? Today, I went to a public trust book launch and discussion, the result of an interactive arts experience called Public Trust , which began last fall. Artist Paul Ramirez Jonas took a team of ambassadors to three locations around the Boston area and collected promises from 956 Bostonians. The promises were made very public, on a marquee, but also given to promisers as a charcoal rubbing. And they were codified in a book, too. Great stories from the panel. One participant told of the promise she made, back in September. Two months later, she woke up in despair, after the election. But she remembered the promise she made: “I promise to never give up hope.” And she treasures the experience. The

Buy Nothing

Stuff. I haven’t yet gone over to Essentialism . But stuff tends to accumulate and the responsible thing to do is find a proper home for the stuff you no longer want. Donations to charity shops are fine, but often go to waste or languish on shelves. Why not find a home for your cast-off goods directly? I’ve been using the Buy Nothing group , which connects people via a Facebook group. It restricts membership in a particular group to residents of that city and you have to have a Facebook profile. Today, I gave away a coffee table – it was picked up by someone who lives about half mile away within two hours of my posting. I also lent out a garment steamer, the recipient promised to have it back to me by the end of the day. Buy Nothing is not perfect. You get a few no-shows, though in my experience not nearly as many as when you try to give something away on Craigslist or Freecycle . There is a better sense of responsibility and community on Buy Nothing, given everyone’s proximity and the

Standing with Planned Parenthood. In the cold.

Planned Parenthood is $1.3 billion non-profit that provides reproductive health services. Government funding accounts for about $530 million, which has put the organization in the eye of a political storm centered on women’s health, human rights and social justice. Bills have been proposed that would “defund Planned Parenthood,” meaning they would prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funding, including Medicaid. While private fundraising has no doubt boomed over the past few months, it’s not likely to fill a half billion dollar gap. Today, I went to a rally for I Stand with Planned Parenthood , on Boston Common. It was about 19 degrees Fahrenheit (-7 C) outside, but a big crowd assembled. Among the political speakers: Congressman Joe Kennedy, Congressman Mike Capuano (Somerville’s former Mayor), Congresswoman Katherine Clark and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who gave perhaps the most impassioned speech of the politicians. Incidentally, Governor Charlie Baker wasn’t there.

Conscious Capitalism

I’m a founding member of the Conscious Capitalism Boston chapter . We’re a non-profit organization that recognizes the power of capitalism to improve the human condition and create enduring value for all stakeholders. As members, we’re bound by our common curiosity about these ideas and the desire to create change in our organizations and in our society. Here’s John Mackey talking up about Conscious Capitalism. [youtube] Today, I hosted a meeting of our programming committee, where we planned an upcoming event, called A Conscious Conversation About Purpose . (Better link coming soon.) I’m looking forward to being a part of that conversation, which I’ll be moderating, later this month.

Community Solar

We’re pretty conscientious about our power consumption. We’ve changed over to all LED lighting, for example, we select appliances by considering their power requirements and we haven’t electrified simple things that are just as easily done by hand, like grinding coffee beans. But we’re a modern household, to be sure, and it all adds up. Today, I signed up for a community solar program called Relay Power . They are gathering enrollees right now for a new solar farm in Dover, Massachusetts. Sadly, they don’t provide enough information on their website for anyone to figure out how it works; they say no upfront expense, for example, but how could they possibly fund the solar farm without taking capital from enrollees? Nevertheless, I’ve scheduled an interview for Monday, so I can find out more. Alternatively, my neighbor put solar panels on their roof this winter. I’d like to hear more about their experience. I have more tree cover than they do, but still might have enough exposure to get

Day of Empathy

Did you know that the US hosts 25% of the world’s prison population? I think we’re doing something wrong. Today, I joined the Day of Empathy , organized nationally by #cut50 and locally by MassINC , the Massacushetts think tank. #Cut50 is part of Van Jones’s Dream Corps and is trying to catalyze legislation to safely reduce our prison population. MassINC organized this event at the State House to tell stories about people affected by the criminal justice system. At this Day of Empathy event, we heard just how difficult it is to break out of the cycle of poverty and incarceration, messages of how, in effect, we have systemically criminalized poverty. Powerful and moving. One speaker asked us to break out of our comfort zone and help. It’s not clear how I can make a difference, however, which seems to be a recurring theme of my exploration so far.