Showing posts from May, 2017

Massachusetts Cultural Council budget vote

Last month, I wrote about pressures on public funding for the arts. The Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee’s had recommended a 28% cut to Massachusetts Cultural Council budget to 10 million, down from $14 million last year. Fast forward to last week. The Massachusetts Senate passed a budget that included an investment in the Massachusetts Cultural Council — to $16.5 million. That’s a $2.5 million increase over last year’s MCC budget. They also adopted an amendment to establish the Massachusetts Public Art Program, creating a state program dedicated to the creation of public art on Commonwealth-owned properties. All of this thanks in part to some of the great advocacy work from MASSCreative. Today, I sent a letter to my State Senator, Pat Jehlen, thanking her for her support. It’s nice to get a win.

Committing to the Paris Agreement

The Administration has stated its intent to “decide” about its commitment to the Paris climate agreement this week. Who has the biggest influence in the decision?As Indivisible Somerville points out, it might be the business leaders who have the President’s ear and who have publicly supported the accord. People like Jeff Immelt, Tim Cook and Elon Musk, for example. So Indivisible Somerville put out a call to action: Let’s do it somewhere we know the president spends a lot of time: on Twitter. While efforts on social media may not pack the same punch as direct actions, they can, when done en masse, be an influencing factor. It’s also the fastest and most efficient way to reach out to these CEO directly, and offers a way for people to engage who might not feel comfortable making a call or sending an email.  It’s worth a shot. Leaders like @JeffImmelt @ElonMusk & @tim_cook are fighting climate change. Critical time to give #ParisClimateAdvice directly to @POTUS . — Larry Yu (@lary

Remembering Billy Ruane

I first met Billy Ruane in the early 1990s, at the Middle East rock club. I didn’t know him well, but he was a fixture in the local music community and once you met him, you would see him all the time, out and about in music venues as well as other arts events in Cambridge. I came across him again 15 years later while I was on the board of the Brattle Film Foundation . His support for Cambridge arts institutions never dwindled; he was an ardent supporter of the Brattle. Alas, Billy passed away in 2010. Today, I signed a petition to support the designation of an official square named in the City of Cambridge as a tribute to Billy Ruane. (The corner of Brookline and Green streets seem particularly fitting.) His energy and ability to connect defined what it meant to be part of a community and Cambridge should honor that. A recent Boston Globe article highlighting the campaign also notes, “There’s also a chance that Michael Gill’s documentary about Ruane, which has been in the works for

Porter Square Books and volunteerism

Back in March, I wrote about a bookstore coming to the Bronx. Independent bookstores “are viable businesses and important community hubs,” I wrote. Case in point is our local bookstore, Porter Square Books, which has become a neighborhood institution, a constant hub of community activity. So it wasn’t a surprise when the store announced its “Be the Change” program a few months ago. “In her electric speech to several hundred booksellers, Roxane Gay talked about how bookstores can be refuges, safe spaces for people to find solace, quiet, and thoughtfulness in books. They are places of culture and places of community. We want to continue to be a refuge for everyone in our community and so you are always welcome to come in, browse our books, read through them, and spend some quiet moments away from the rest of the world. … It is also clear that in this tumultuous time our community wants to do…something. Bookstores have always had a responsibility to provide the resources their communit

Remembrance on Memorial Day

It’s Memorial Day weekend, which is best known as the celebratory unofficial start to summer. Do try to remember, however, that Memorial Day exists to remember our fallen soldiers. Which makes this a solemn, rather than celebratory, weekend. Today, I visited the monument on Boston Common, at which 37,000 flags are planted to represent each of the Massachusetts service members who gave his or her life defending our country since the Revolutionary War. In the history of war, 37,000 doesn’t sound like a lot. But when you see the flags, you realize how monumental each loss is. I also sponsored a flag  for the Massachusetts Military Heroes Fund. The MMHF supports the families of military personnel with ties to Massachusetts who have fallen in active duty since 9/11.

Fourth (and fifth) shift as a herring monitor

Today, I returned to the Mystic Lakes Dam for my fourth shift counting herring swimming up the the fish ladder. See here for a reminder. In fact, today, I did a double shift, filling in for someone who had previously had the shift after mine. So I took my count, had lunch, and took a second count. Unfortunately, like my first couple of shifts, it was rainy and cold. And the water was high, flowing over the top of the counting box and creating visibility problems. So I counted only one fish in my two shifts. It’s quite possible that other fish snuck past without me noticing. It’s also possible that the one fish I saw was a shadow. Pretty hard to tell. I suspect the video monitoring would work out better on a day like today.

Buy Nothing training

I raised my hand to be a Buy Nothing Somerville moderator two days. Today, I read their organizational background and training material. I’m told the group is well over 1,000 people so that’s quite the group, although the most active members account for the vast majority of the posts. Looking forward to getting started.

Indivisible Somerville

I wrote about the national Indivisible movement earlier. Basically, it’s an attempt to use Tea Party techniques to advance progressive causes. But it left me unconvinced, as I wrote about. Apparently, there are local chapters, too. Today, I went to an info session from an Indivisble Somerville outreach committee member. And I have to say I was impressed by the amount of coordination and infrastructure they’ve put in place, in just three months of existence. They mostly focus on state and local policy, as well as building some tools to help other chapters. So I signed up. Although I don’t think I’ll have time to do leadership or committee work, they do send daily action emails that seem quite well thought out and researched. Let’s see where this goes.

Buy Nothing moderator

I wrote about Buy Nothing Somerville a few weeks back. It’s a great way to reduce material purchases, and keep things out of the landfill and in productive use. And it helps your neighbors out, too. Just today, there was a request to borrow a wheelchair for a bride’s elderly grandmother to use at the wedding ceremony. As it happens, we had a wheelchair sitting around so we were happy to lend it out for a fellow Somervillian. Our Buy Nothing moderator is moving so he’s passing the baton. Today, I raised my hand to co-moderate the forum on Facebook. I don’t know what I’m getting into, but it should be fun.

The Beer Election

Breaking news: out electoral system is broken. Okay, maybe that’s old news. Today, I went to an event hosted by Ranked Choice Voting Massachusett s. They recognise that everyone has at least one important issue that they advocate for, maybe inequality or environment, for example. But at the end of the day, it comes down to our elected representatives. And those folks are asleep at the wheel. So elections matter. And there’s a better way. Ranked choice voting is a simple fix, in which you vote for your top choice, as usual, along with your #2, #3, etc. If no one gets a majority, the bottom vote getter is eliminated and his or her #2 votes get added to the tally. And so on, until someone gets a majority. And it’s not a pipe dream. A number of cities across the country use it. And Maine just passed a resolution to use it for state-wide elections.  The best thing about this event, though, was that we all used it to rank our favorite beers at Aeronaut Brewery . You can see the ballot in the

New Bedford hidden gem - Glass Museum

We spent the day in New Bedford, supporting the community through the New Bedford Whaling Museum, which is really quite interesting, and the Taste of Southcoast food festival, through which we supported the hospitality industry of the region. We also visited the New Bedford Museum of Glass , which is tucked away in the back of an antiques dealer. I happen to be fan of glass art and this unorthodox spot is totally worth it.  Today, I made an additional donation to the New Bedford Museum of Glass, because its collections were great. I applaud these mini-museums, particularly of art forms I appreciate.

New Bedford arts community

New Bedford is an old whaling town, one of the most important in the world in its heyday. But it’s fallen on tough times more recently. Several big bets to spur economic development have fallen through recently, including hosting Cape Wind offshore wind farm construction facilities, a casino development, and the chance to host Olympic sailing as part of Boston’s disastrous bid for the 2024 Summer games. More on all that from the Boston Globe . But under the surface there’s more going on. The Cape Wind failure has left in its wake the infrastructure of a cleantech hub that is thriving. There’s an arts community that is beginning to take hold. And a shout out to my friends at Groundwork , the coworking center in New Bedford that is hosting interesting organizations, growing businesses, and talented South Coast professionals. Today, I made a donation to the Community Foundation of Southeastern Massachusetts , specifically to support AHA! (Art, History & Architecture), New Bedford’s fr

Somerville Sustainability Office open hours

Getting involved in city affairs seems like a quintessential civic act. Today, I dropped in on the City of Somerville Office of Suatainability and Environment  (OSE) office hours, third Thursday of every month, in case you’re wondering. I was mostly curious about the city’s Commission on Energy Use an Climate Change , a citizen advisory council that works with the OSE. And I was also interested in chatting with the team, whom I find really engaging and open to the public. Special bonus: they clued me into plans for an incentive program for air-source heat pump retrofits. Could be a good way to make my heat more efficient. 

Boston Write-In

This Friday, Grub Street has organized a Write-In to surface stories from recent immigrants and refugees, and build empathy with marginalized populations. If you don’t know Grub Street , they’re a fantastic creative writing center in Boston. I’ll let them explain what their Write-In is all about: Much like sit-ins, where people take up public space to protest and make the case for change, the Boston Write-In will bring together people of all backgrounds for an afternoon of writing and storytelling in support of recent immigrants and refugees. Sharing stories is a uniquely powerful way to see and feel from different perspectives, to build empathy and connection – and stories from those who have been marginalized and who are under attack are crucially important to ensure safety and dignity for all people.   The event is Friday at noon, at the Boston Public Library. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make it; I’ll be counting herring for the Mystic River Watershed Association. But, today,

Library funding

Federal funding for public libraries is inexplicably under threat, notably the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) and Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) programs. You can read more about them at the American Library Association website . My Senators, Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, laudably support full funding for both programs in FY17 and FY18  — except for Senator Markey and the FY18 IAL budget. Today, I sent a message (yes, by Twitter again) to Senator Markey urging support for IAL funding in FY18.

Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund anniversary

On May 18, Mass. Governor Charlie Baker will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Mass Cultural Council’s Cultural Facilities Fund at the Seamen’s Bethel and Mariner’s Home in New Bedford. The MCC helps cultural organisations update their facilities, which is a critical role to help so many arts and cultural buildings maintain their historic significance. And help those with with less historic but equally valuable cultural significance, for that matter. That’s why the MassCreative advocacy organization is organising a tribute to the Mass Cultural Facilities Fund . Today, I joined that #ArtsMatter campaign with a selfie in front of the Brattle Theatre, a vital Harvard Square institution that celebrates film and that I’m a former board member of. And it’s not a current MCC grant recipient, at least that I’m aware of, but I still support the fund. Keep keepin’ it reel, Brattle Theatre. Here's to @BrattleTheatre , my fave creative space! @MassGovernor , thanks for your investment in

Mother's Day

There are about 2.3 million people locked up in the United States (federal, state or local) right now. As a result, 7 percent of children – more than five million kids – have had at least one parent who has been incarcerated. That makes days like Mother’s Day especially poignant for them, if not awkward. Today, I watched a short film, called “ Mother’s Day ,” part of The New York Times’s Op-Docs series and an official selection of the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. The movie “tells the story of an annual overnight bus service that takes children to visit their mothers in prison on weekends around Mother’s Day,” as the Times describes it. “These trips are one of the few opportunities many of these children have to see their parents because remote, rural prisons can be difficult to access for low-income families.” Today, I also made a donation to the Center for Restorative Justice Works , which organizes the trips depicted in the film. It’s the least I could do on this Mother’s Day.  


If you’re not familiar with Acumen , they’re an amazing organization that invests in social enterprise, focusing on scaling organizations, empowering social entrepreneurs and building ecosystems to support social enterprise. They’re one of the best. I didn’t realise there were local chapters. It makes sense, given Acumen’s focus on growing ecosystems in the social enterprise space. And Acumen has a lot of pull, which helps its chapters bring local leaders together. Today, I went to a conference held by the Boston chapter of Acumen . The speakers were excellent, the audience has an interesting mix of practitioners and the skill share breakouts were interesting; mine was a mix of design thinking and storytelling…perhaps ambitious for an hour. But the number of really smart folks working toward social impact is impressive. Events like this one help to give me even more energy.

Second shift as a herring monitor

Today, I did my second shift as a herring monitor at the Mystic dam. I sat for 10 minutes counting fish at the top of the fish ladder. Once again, no fish came through on my watch, on another cool and wet day. The air was still which made the Upper Mystic Lake lovely, however.

Chinatown and community land trusts

Boston’s Chinatown is small but mighty, with all the energy that you’d find in larger Chinatowns, like those in New York and San Francisco. It also has old housing stock and is close to downtown, which makes it ripe for development. Unfortunately, development threatens to encroach on the character and citizens of the neighborhood. Here’s how the Boston Globe put it , two years ago: Boston’s last immigrant enclave in the heart of the city is fighting for its life amid a construction boom, and the shift is setting off a mad scramble to preserve one of the largest Chinatowns in the United States. The Boston Chinatown Land Trust formed two year ago to  try to buy old and renovate rowhouses and set them aside for working families. I’m not sure how far that particular land trust got – they don’t have a website of their own – but I support the idea. Here’s a link to the rationale behind land trusts. And land trusts in the area have gotten together to form their own network: The Greater Bost

50/50 Day

It’s the first annual 50/50 Day, a global day of activism on achieving gender parity worldwide, organised by a film studio called Let it Ripple. There were 11,000 events in 65 countries, exploring conversations about what it will take to get to a more gender-balanced world in all sectors of society: business, politics, culture, home, and more. Today, I participated in one of those events, put together by the Somerville Commission for Women . Together we watched a short film, principally around parity in political leadership. Then we broke into small groups for discussion on steps to take to solve one aspect of the issue, in our case gender norms, locally here in Somerville. Our group didn’t get very far, unfortunately.  It was a little embarrassing. And as I watched the meeting’s group dynamic, purposefully staying quiet, it struck me how gender norms affected the meeting. The few other men were clearly more vocal, often interrupting women who were speaking. It was noticeable and more

Middlesex County Sheriff

I’ve written about immigration before, notably here . And it’s important to recognize that a number of issues are often conflated when discussing immigration. So it’s always good to learn more about the realities on the ground. Today, I went to talk from Peter Koutoujian, the Sheriff of Middlesex County (in which lies Somerville, where I live), about local and federal law enforcement coordination under sanctuary city policies. As the meeting invite , from the Harvard Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, reads: As the sole Massachusetts Sherriff to sign onto this letter, and a Sherriff [sic] for whom the question of the “sanctuary city” has local relevance— with Cambridge and Somerville both designated “sanctuary cities”—Sheriff Koutoujian has first-hand knowledge and a unique viewpoint on debates related to immigration, deportation, and public confidence under the new Trump Administration. Let’s be clear: The differences in practices pre-Trump and post-Trump are pretty small, at lea

The Strand Theatre

The Strand Theatre was founded in 1918, in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood. It was Boston’s first venue designed specifically for motion pictures. The Strand was renovated and restored about 10 years ago, with a $6 million capital investment from the City of Boston, which owns the theater, to turn it into a theater performance space. But the theater lacks programming and is desperately underutilized, in part because it has a massive 1,400-seat capacity. The Upham’s Corner neighborhood, for better or for worse, doesn’t generally draw crowds that large for cultural events. Today, I signed a petition to support the creation of a black-box theater inside the Strand. Creative entrepreneur and activist, Tory Bullock, launched a campaign to open a 40-seat black-box theater to encourage local engagement with this gem of a venue. Here’s his video (if the embed code doesn’t work, just click through to check it out):

Andrew Kim for Congress

Three days ago, Congress moved forward with an act whose only conceivable outcomes were negative for the populace, and that circumvented any conceit of caring about governance. It was an act of “breathtaking hypocrisy” as the New York Times put it: On Thursday, in a display of breathtaking hypocrisy, House Republicans — without holding any hearings or giving the Congressional Budget Office time to do an analysis — passed a bill that would strip at least 24 million Americans of health insurance. Today, I made donation on CrowdPac to support Andrew Kim for New Jersey Third Congressional District. Kim has impressive bona fides , as a Rhodes Scholar who served on the National Security Council. Should he run, he’d be trying to unseat Tom MacArthur, who was a major driver of the Obamacare repeal in Congress and whose background is, get this, as an insurance industry executive. I have high hopes for Kim, despite MacArthur’s fundraising advantage.

Monitor herring at home

Yesterday, I did a shift as a herring monitor at the Mystic Dam. This year, the Mystic River Watershed Association also installed an underwater camera. The idea is that they might be able to crowdsource the count, by having people monitor short snippets of the video from the comfort of their own home. This year, they’re testing to see whether the counts they get from the videos match the counts they get from monitors who show up at the dam. Today, I watched a handful of videos at home and entered my fish counts. Join in the fun here: . It’s kind of addictive…

First shift as a herring monitor

Today, I did my first shift as a herring monitor at the Mystic dam. The idea is to count fish heading up river, from the Lower Mystic Lake to the Upper Mystic Lake, to get a sense for the revival of the fish stock. I sat for 10 minutes counting fish at the top of the fish ladder. How many fish came through? Exactly zero. Zilch. Nada. Nil. Because it was my first shift, I thought I might be doing something wrong. But I checked the logs and the two shifts before me also counted exactly zero fish coming up the ladder. Not a good day for herring, probably because it was cold and rainy. Below is a shot of the viewing platform. It’s not my photo, but rather one that was posted to a our Mystic Lakes Herring Monitors Facebook group, and it’s not from today. Hopefully, I’ll some photos of my own in future posts.

Boston Cares orientation

There are a host of websites that help connect volunteers with opportunities, ranging from the uncurated Craigslist to the family-oriented Doing Good Together , to the State Farm-branded  Neighborhood of Good . Today, I took an orientation class with Boston Cares , another volunteer placement site. Boston Cares is focused on, well, Boston, and they’re the largest such agency in New England. They’re very aware of the real problem with volunteerism for non-profits, which is that volunteers can be unreliable and require more management than you think. Boston Cares penalizes you if you make a commitment and don’t show up, for example, and making people go through an orientation is itself part of the process of weeding out the uncommitted. We had a pretty committed group in my orientation, which bodes well for the city.

World Press Freedom Day

World Press Freedom Day is May 3, as declared by the United Nations. “On World Press Freedom Day, I call for an end to all crackdowns against journalists – because a free press advances peace and justice for all.” — António Guterres, United Nations Secretary-General Today, I commemorated World Press Freedom Day by remembering fallen journalists with a moment of silence and a social share, following a campaign advocated by +Social Good . Join in.

What makes Somerville so sustainable?

Yet more about how awesome my city is. Today, I went to a talk hosted by the Boston Area Sustainability Group about Somerville’s progressive actions toward sustainability. No one from the city could make it, but we heard about the dynamism throughout the ‘ville. Indeed, an important aspect of Somerville’s path is how much that’s being done outside of City Hall. (To be sure, coordinated with City Hall and aligned around the same objectives.) I don’t think we’d be where we are without that business and non-profit activity, and even just private actions by individuals. I’d like to think I’m part of that. I was able to to further connect with an organization that could help as I continue my attempt to go solar. But bear in mind, as I outlined here , that Somerville’s carbon neutrality pathway is still short of the science-based target of net zero emissions by 2050. So much more to go.

The Climate Store

I try to shop responsibly, seeking out products that fit my needs based on more than just price. I factor in what I can about the sustainability of the product, including the material and carbon footprint of its manufacture, distribution, consumption (by me) and disposal (also by me). And I factor in the behavior of the company or companies that created and sold the product, as well. That’s a lot to factor in. Which is why a retailer that I could trust to do all of that factoring for me would be valuable. Enter the Climate Store , which has “hundreds of climate friendly products, reviewed for impact so you won’t have too.” To be sure, hundreds of products isn’t really a lot for an online vendor. Today, I made a small purchase, of rechargeable batteries, from the Climate Store. The batteries will come in very handy; I’ll test them in my mouse, which I use every day and need to replace the batteries every month. But another reason I made the purchase was to test the shopping and service