Showing posts from April, 2017

Boston Hassle youth space

Boston Hassle is a underground’ish, grassroots arts and music organization that curates lists of music and art events in Boston. They’re part of Brain Arts , a volunteer-run arts advocacy non-profit, that hosts events and publishes on the arts and music. And they’re raising funds for a new space. As they put it: Greater Boston needs an all-ages community space in order for the region’s creative possibilities to be fulfilled. We need a venue that is safe, sustainable and does not stymie innovation. The Boston Hassle brings 15+ years of arts programming, and community building experience to the table and we are determined to actualize a space to house our programming as well as the programming of like minded organizations and individuals in the Boston area.  Today, I made a donation to the Boston Hassle  GoFundMe page . More of this, please. Today, I also did some maintenance on this site, including moving the domain name. And I posted my first 100 days report card on Medium. You can re

People's Climate Mobilization

I’m disappointed that I can neither be in Washington for the People’s Climate March or be in Boston Common for the People’s Climate Mobilization . But I found another way to contribute. Today, I helped Food for Activists  set up for the People’s Climate Mobilization in Boston. Activists need to eat and have soft drinks available. So Food for Activists solicits donations from local restaurants and distributes them at rallies. I helped to load and unload their van, and set up their tents on Boston Common. The hard work of organizing food donations had already been done. And I unfortunately couldn’t stay for the rally itself. But I’m glad to have put in a few hours of labor.

The People's Science

Science is a strong theme this week, which makes sense given my interest in the sciences. Today, on a tip from the organizers of the March for Science (subscribing to newsletters really pays off), I made a donation to the People’s Science . (I would have also signed up for their newsletter, but their website is broken. That’s a shame.) I had never heard of this organization before, but they have a fascinating portfolio of projects. I particularly like their “ Self & Bias Education ” effort. As they put it: The biggest threat to a healthy, equitable democracy is not human bias. It’s humans believing that their own biases don’t exist. They have a couple of nascent projects underway for that, including one that addresses science communication. “The responsibility is put entirely on the public to determine high from low quality content,” they say. “We can do better.” Indeed. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

World climate simulation

It took 23 years for UN climate negotiators to get from the Kyoto Protocol to the Paris agreement, in 2015. And these are negotiators who, for the most part, already agreed on a shared objective – to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees and thus limit the worst effects of climate change. But it still took two decades. Today, I took part in a climate change negotiation simulation , another event hosted by the City of Somerville for  Sustainaville week. Essentially, a group of us got together for a little role play, representing different nations and regions in the climate change negotiation. It’s kind of like Model UN. I was on a team representing the largest emerging economies, including China, India, South Africa, Brazil, Indonesia and Mexico. It was fun getting into negotiations, particularly trying to hold developed countries’ feet to the fire. We demanded they put in most of the funding for the global fund for mitigation and adaptation, for example, and they eventually co

Citizen Science

About 20 years ago, I contributed a few extra cycles of my home computer to the SETI@Home project.  When my PC was idle, it would spend a little bit of processing power helping to analyze radio telescope data in the search for extraterrestrial life. It was an early experience with citizen science, essentially crowd-sourcing scientific research, with mass contributions made more viable by the proliferation of computers and Internet connectivity. Fast-forward to today. The near ubiquity of GPS-enabled mobile phones has enabled new opportunities to crowdsource citizen science, some more arcane even than searching for ET. Check out SciStarter for a database of opportunities. Today, I downloaded Dark Sky Meter, an app that lets me contribute to the monitoring of light pollution. Unfortunately, it’s an overcast sky tonight, but light pollution is something worth addressing. Check out Ian Cheney’s documentary, The City Dark, if you’re interested in learning more. (The link is here , if I can

Mystic River herring monitor training

Centuries ago, herring in the Mystic River, which runs through Somerville, were extraordinarily abundant. But river herring runs on the Atlantic Coast have declined by 95%. Here’s what the Mystic River Watershed Association says: In 2006, the National Marine Fisheries Service designated river herring as a species of concern. Population decline may be associated with numerous factors including by-catch, habitat loss and degradation, water pollution, poaching, access to spawning habitat, and natural predators. Prior to renovations in 2011, the DCR Upper Mystic Lake Dam prevented river herring from reaching the Upper Mystic Lake. In the past, a volunteer-run bucket brigade hoisted the fish over the dam. Thanks to the Upper Mystic Lake Dam Rehabilitation project, a new fish ladder allows passage for river herring and the opportunity to monitor herring. Today, I got trained to volunteer as a herring monitor. What does that mean? Basically, you sit on the dam above the fish ladder and count

Net Zero Somerville

Cities are where the battle to reduce carbon emissions will be won or lost. They host the majority of the world population, consume 78%  of the world’s energy and produce more than 60% of all carbon dioxide emissions. My city, Somerville, is out in front, driving to become “carbon neutral” (that is, for us as a community to emit net-zero carbon dioxide equivalents) by 2050. That’s a science-based target, as they say, which will be required for every city to achieve if we are to limit the worst effects of climate change. Mayor Curtatone made that pledge in 2014, joined the Compact of Mayors in 2015 and led the creation of a 14-city metro-Boston net-zero region in 2016. I’m proud to see my city lead. The city even has its own brand microsite:  Sustainaville . Today, I went to a presentation by the city on its carbon neutrality pathways. Basically, the city presented its modeling of how the city can move from its baseline emissions, measured in 2014, to net zero, in 36 years.  From addre

The Anka Cooperative

There are over 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey right now. That’s about the population of Philadelphia, the fifth largest city in the United States. And they won’t be going home any time soon, judging by the geopolitical escalation in the region. Providing those refugees with opportunities is a necessity. That’s where efforts like The Anka Cooperative come in. Anka is a social enterprise that teaches Syrian women refugees transferable skills, providing them work, and enabling cultural integration. They currently work with 250 weavers in two camps in Turkey, training them to make fine carpets. Today, I supported the Anka Cooperative on Kickstarter . They would like to grow to serve 20,000 refugees by 2020, which is ambitious to say the least. At that kind of scale, they may need to address their impact on their host communities. Even setting aside what economists call the “ lump of labor fallacy ” (the misperception that there is a fixed amount of work to be portioned out to the w

March for Science

The need for policy to be driven by evidence would seem to be unassailable. Yet, policy often responds more to passion than to science. While the past few months have seen an acceleration of post-truth policy-making, there’s actually been a long nationwide shift away from trust in science. Michael Specter’s Denialism is an excellent review of the issue. And, while liberals like to claim the higher ground on science-based policy, they are equally prone to alternative facts. The New York Times wrote an interesting article on GMOs in the context of science and partisan beliefs here . Science should be non-partisan. Today, I took part in the March for Science , in Boston. There were marches going on in 500 cities around the world, in celebration of Earth Day. Yet, organizing the event has proven to be difficult. For one thing there was a big risk that the basic platform for the event – the need for evidence-based policy – would be diffused by many other causes that are clamoring for atte

Climate reality training, part deux

On February 2, I wrote about signing up for the Climate Reality Project. The blog post is here , in which I note my excitement over the possibility of joining a future Climate Reality Leadership Corps training. I received an email yesterday with the details for their next training in June. Today, I applied to join the Climate Reality Leadership Corps. I’m excited about the possibility, which dovetails with some of my professional work, but would enable me to have more impact on my own, in addition to helping clients with their climate initiatives. Wish me luck.

Kathryn Allen for Congress

Today, for the first time during this project, I made a donation to a political candidate. It was for Kathryn Allen, who is running for Utah’s 3rd Congressional District. She has some high profile support , well, if you still count Rosie O’Donnell as high profile. Dr. Allen is a Democrat and a doctor, which is part of her appeal. She’s also running for Jason Chaffetz’s seat. Chaffetz is of course the House Oversight Committee chair, who seems to be refusing to conduct any oversight of the president. He could at least pretend to be doing his job, right? I suppose good for him for recognizing his own hypocrisy and deciding not to run again if he won’t do his job, and potentially even deciding to step down early. I have the sense that Dr. Allen would do her job, regardless of what party were in control of the executive branch.  


Giving and volunteerism are two distinct forms of civic engagement. Through this project, to date, I’ve done more for the former than the latter. But volunteerism is important, too. One research effort concluded that: Greater volunteering is most strongly promoted by community ties and increased giving is best explained by personal resources and helping values. As a result … giving and volunteering represent distinct means of engagement and the potential substitution of money for time in formal helping has important implications for the civic life. Today, I took three steps toward more volunteerism. First, I signed up for a training with the Mystic River Watershed Association to join their volunteer corps for specific projects. Second, I signed up for an orientation with Boston Cares , which helps facilitate volunteerism and places volunteers for different projects. Third, I’m helping to arrange a group volunteer opportunity for members of my coworking office, Workbar. There’s more t

Renewable energy case study

Moving our current power generation capacity to clean energy is capital intensive – but necessary to address carbon emissions. Power companies know this and many are quite open to finding new ways to lower emissions in their power generation, as well as find new ways of financing that new capacity. Take NRG, for example, one of the bigger integrated power companies in the US. NRG launched an MBA case study competition with the Economist magazine to search for innovative combinations of technical and financial solutions for four possible generation scenarios: a hospital in NJ, a California college campus, a NY town or a Texas data center. One prize for the competition is determined by audience votes. Today, I voted for a UCLA case study team, whose proposed solution reduces carbon emissions by 75%, improves resiliency, and provides a 50% internal rate of return. Sounds like a win-win. Truth be told, all of the solutions were win-wins. I did like their particular solution, which did no

One Boston Day and the Boston Marathon

It’s Marathon Day in Boston (excuse me, “Evacuation Day”), which is a big deal in these parts. The event creates over $150 million of economic activity in Greater Boston. Many athletes are able to run only by raising money for charity – over $25 million of donations are made each year. But the Marathon Day bombing in 2013 also remains on Bostonians’ minds. That year, the marathon was on April 15, a date the City of Boston has christened  One Boston Day . Every year, the Mayor calls for citizens to commit a civic act on One Boston Day. I happened to be at the Tax Day Rally on April 15; I didn’t think that was the best act to pledge for One Boston Day. Today, I made my pledge for One Boston Day by donating to the Brittany Fund for Trauma and Recovery . The long and short of it: Brittany Loring was a survivor of the Marathon Bombing four years ago. The fund she started, with her family and with the Good Samaritan EMT-in-training who helped her at the scene focuses on providing assistance


Last night, two friends lost their Somerville home to a fire. They’re okay, but it’s an incredibly disruptive time. Another friend put up a Gofundme campaign to get them back on their feet; they raised $5k quickly and the campaign ended. Today, I reached out and offered our home to them. I hope they take us up on the offer; we have an empty guestroom and off-street parking, both of which are at a premium in Somerville. But I’m also sure they have other options and I’m not going to be pushy in a very dire time of need for them. [ Edit: I thought I posted this April 16. ]

Tax Day rally

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis observed, espousing the idea that transparency is good for democracy, because it exposed conflicts of interest. Which is why every president since Richard Nixon has made his tax returns public. It’s not so we can see how much they make or what their effective tax rate is. Rather, it’s so we understand whether they have financial interests that might conflict with governing for the public good. Indeed, some financial conflicts aren’t just awkward, they’re illegal under the Emoluments Clause of the US Constitution . Every president has done it, that is, except for the current one, which is a problem because of the broad foreign interests he controls. So today, I went to a Tax Day Rally on Cambridge Common, joining with thousands of others to call for the release of the president’s past tax returns, in full. I have to admit, though, it was a mixed affair. There was a menagerie of progressive speakers,

South Bay Children's Health Center

Today, I donated to the South Bay Children’s Health Center , an organization that provides dental and mental health services to low income children and families in the South Bay area of Los Angeles County. Why? I’ll let my sister explain: Toothpaste. When I run out, I go to the store and buy another tube. To many of us, it’s a basic essential and yet there are children and families who struggle to maintain good dental hygiene practices because they can’t afford a tube of toothpaste or a toothbrush for each family member, not far away in a third world country, but right here in Los Angeles County. According to the CDC, dental caries remains the most common childhood disease in America. Why is dental hygiene so important, even for baby teeth? Baby teeth are critical to speech development and maintaining spacing for the proper placement of permanent teeth. The effects of poor childhood dental hygiene can last a lifetime. Join in her fundraiser for the South Bay Children’s Health Center.

May the Force be with you

Today, I made a donation to Unicef and the Starlight Children’s Foundation. Great causes, right? I concede there was something in it for me, too: a chance to appear in the Han Solo movie . I essentially bought a lottery ticket through my donation. I’m a fan of these unique experiences that Omaze pulls together for charities.

Social Innovation Forum

There’s an enormous ecosystem of Boston-area entrepreneurs who are launching or scaling social enterprises, whether non-profit or for profit. Today, I had lunch with the Social Innovation Forum , an organization with accelerator programs for both non-profits and for-profit social enterprises. The accelerators give a ton of support to each cohort, including pitch coaches, consulting, executive coaching, board training and, of course, introductions to funders of various sorts. Some of the support is through their staff, some from volunteers and some through the events they host, which bring that whole ecosystem together. Cool program, which I might try to get more involved with. I would start with their Social Innovator Showcase on May 2, although right now I have a few conflicts for that date. It’s also pricy, but I’m pretty certain the funds will be well used.  

Small Towns Rising

I firmly believe the future of this country won’t be determined by residents of Boston or other urban areas of the Northeast. Rather, it’ll be settled in Rust Belt cities and in small towns across America. To a large degree, they’re the ones who feel most marginalized by political parties and most let down by economic institutions that are supposed to benefit everyone. I’d like nothing better than to help those areas, both in terms of economic development and finding a political voice. Today, I supported a Kickstarter project  called “Small Towns Rising.” An activist is working to create a resistance strategy: “People of all political affiliations and levels of experience are fighting back, working from a place of love toward an inclusive society that honors our diverse communities.” So this project will lead to toolkits and trainings for groups of people new to organizing and activism, written specifically for small town residents.

Massachusetts Creative Council Budget

Public funding for the arts is under pressure from the federal government. But I didn’t expect pressure from the Massachusetts government as well. The Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee’s new budget recommends a 28% cut to the arts and cultural community by funding the Massachusetts Cultural Council at $10 million, down from $14 million last year. Today, I sent letters to my state representatives, asking them not just to restore last year’s funding level, but rather to raise the funding to $16 million, in response to anticipated federal cuts. MASSCreative made it easy, through this link . But I would have done it anyway, to support the creative economy that has added the state so vibrant for so long.

The Monkey Wrench Gang

Environmental activists of a certain sort point to Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench  Gang, published in 1975, as an inspiration. Indeed, the Earth Liberation front has a monkey wrench in its logo; that’s no accident. The book was thought to be an inspiration for Earth First’s formation, as well. The idea that activists should fight for the environment by sabotaging industrial interests in the wild has an allure. Today, I finished The Monkey Wrench Gang . And you know what: it’s a great read. To be clear, I don’t advocate the vandalism that the book makes heroic. I doubt I will ever reach that point. But I get where it’s coming from. And hat tip to a friend for telling me about it. He’s probably a step closer to this kind of activism, so I won’t name him.


I found myself with an unexpectedly free evening today. So I scrolled through 15 pages of events on Eventbrite until I came across a concert called #Earth2Trump. (I might be the first person in history to do that on Eventbrite.) The event was hosted by the Center for Biological Diversity, which aims to protect endangered species. They had a table and I had a nice conversation with them; they laughed as they told attendees that population control was on their agenda – while handing out condoms. We also joked about seeing familiar faces; she recognized someone from the immigrants march, and I recognised someone from the Planned Parenthood rally. Also cohosting was the ACLU and the Sierra Club, so I ended up signing a few postcards for my state and federal reps, and signed an  Amnesty International petition regarding an imprisoned Iranian filmmaker. (There really is a terrific Iranian film scene, by the way.) So who played the concert? Damned if I know. It wasn’t LiveAid. And with all the

Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Comic books are among the many forms of art that have explored the boundaries of our First Amendment rights. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent , published in 1954, famously portrayed comic books as dangerous to children, and sparked a campaign for censorship. The Senate formed a Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency, which held hearings that year specifically on comic books. I guess they had nothing better to do. The industry decided to self-regulate under the Comics Code Authority  to preclude government regulation and the Comics Code held forth until the early 2000s. The  Comic Book Legal Defense Fund was born in 1986 to protect the First Amendment rights of the comics medium. You’d be surprised how often those rights are threatened, whether for making, selling or just reading comic books. Recently, the CBLDF successfully defended an American citizen arrested at Canada Customs for having manga images on his laptop. It carefully watches other cases, such as the Washington sc

Breaking bread

Quick: When you think of Italy or China or Mexico, what’s the first thing that comes to mind. For many of us, it’s food. Food is such an important way to be exposed to different cultures. It’s an experience that can be shared by people from different parts of the world and from different walks of life. Even if you don’t enjoy a certain dish or cuisine, food serves to humanize people from foreign cultures. Today, I planned to go to an event called YUM: A Taste of Immigrant City . 10 restaurants from Somerville – all run by immigrants – sampled their fare. Proceeds went to the Welcome Project , which provides education and advocacy to Somerville’s immigrant community. There restaurants from Portugal to Italy to Ethiopia to India to Nepal to Japan to Mexico – four continents. When we arrived, they were at capacity, unfortunately, so we couldn’t get in. That’s great, for them! So today, I instead donated to a Kickstarter project called Eat Offbeat: The Cookbook . It’s a cookbook featuring

A movement?

The purpose of this blog is to change my personal civic engagement. And it has. While I considered myself relatively engaged in the past, since I started this project, I have found myself learning about subjects and attending events that I never would have considered before. I’ve also found civic acts in places and at times when I wouldn’t normally have looked. It’s actually not that hard because there are inspired initiatives everywhere, if you’re attuned to them. And this project has tuned me into what a lot of other people are already doing. The encouragement of peers has helped to keep me motivated. Is it time to try to motivate others? Today, I attended an event called Curiouser and Curiouser, designed to bring out new ideas and innovations among a group of smart folks curated by my friend, Zach. I was a stranger to all but Zach, who brought together a really interesting and, yes, curious group. We each had five minutes to share an idea. The idea I presented was this project, One

The United States of Cinema

George Orwell’s 1984 , the dystopian classic about life under a totalitarian regime, is making a comeback. It topped the Amazon bestseller list in January, according to the New York Times . I haven’t read it since high school and I also haven’t seen the John Hurt movie since, well, 1984, when it was released. Today,  I saw 1984 at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. In the front row. There was a recorded into and Q&A with the director, Michael Radford. Fun fact: The movie was shot in the Spring of 1984 and released in the Fall. Crazy. I didn’t see it today arbitrarily. April 4 is the date on which Winston Smith begins his forbidden diary in the book. Indeed, that’s why independent cinemas around the country organized to hold the “ United States of Cinema ” – nearly 200 independent cinemas in 187 US cities, plus a handful in Canada, Europe and Oceania are screening 1984 today. These theater owners, according to the Regent, “also support the National Endowment for the Arts and see any

Buy one give one

Socks. I couldn’t be writing about a more mundane topic than socks. But, hey, I need a new pair. And so do people in homeless shelters. Today, I bought a pair of socks on Bombas . Bombas is an online sock vendor. That’s all they do. Socks. But they also  donate a pair of socks to a homeless shelter for every pair of socks that you buy. It’s the buy one, give one model, just like Tom’s Shoes. You may be aware of some criticism that Tom’s Shoes has come under, for giving away shoes. Mostly, there’s a fear that in the local markets where shoes are given, the free shoes undercut local shoemakers and thus depress economic development. Here’s a quick synopsis of some research from the Economist . I’m not so convinced that the research completely captures the social costs and benefits of a pair of shoes given. In any case, I also feel confident that giving a pair of socks to a homeless man or woman in the United States isn’t taking away the livelihood of a sockmaking neighbor.

The Circus

I was channel surfing today and came across season 2 of The Circus. Actually, I hadn’t realized the show had been renewed; season one was about the presidential campaign so I thought it was all over. Season 2 is apparently about the presidency itself. Today, I watched episode three, in which our intrepid reporter, Mark Halperin, travels the country to talk to people about how the current administration is doing. As I noted two days ago, empathy is important and the show does a decent job of drawing out different viewpoints, if only on a facile level. I particularly found his visit with a 5th grade classroom interesting. Here’s a link to the show: To be sure, I had bigger plans for my civic act today than to watch a show on television, but my day got a little messed up. Still, I found the episode illuminating and I probably would have watched the Simpsons had it not been for this project. Not th

Art wall in the South End

The Peters Park  handball court in the South End of Boston has hosted an art wall for graffiti artists for 30 years, providing an outlet for budding creatives in the neighborhood. The Mayor has put a new call for artists to continue the tradition, for a new generation of artists to put their mark on the public art. Check it out. [youtube] Today, I donated to a campaign to maintain the art wall, and what it represents for public art, for economic development, and for youth empowerment.

Kitchen table conversations

Empathy is a powerful driver of civic engagement. I’m writing this just before midnight, and not according to plan. I had intended to attend a pretty cool event: an all-night reading of Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here , at Brookline Booksmith. If you’re not familiar with the novel, it’s a 1930s exploration of how an authoritarian regime could take hold in the US. The bookstore connected with an arts organization to bring in guest authors all night. Pretty damn cool! Unfortunately a snowstorm scared me off, as it turns, needlessly. But I did discover something else today. There’s a really interesting NPR podcast called Kitchen table conversations , that presents stories and perspectives from unexpected sources. Notably, it gives meaningful voice to voters who switched from Democrat to Republican in the past presidential election. Check out this one, for example: I listed to five episodes today because i really do believe more em