In the beginning, God separated Heaven and Earth

Biblical news from Academia:

Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis “in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth” is not a true translation of the Hebrew. …

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb “bara”, which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean “to create” but to “spatially separate”.

The first sentence should now read “in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth” …

She writes in her thesis that the new translation fits in with ancient texts.

According to them there used to be an enormous body of water in which monsters were living, covered in darkness, she said. …

She concluded that God did not create, he separated: the Earth from the Heaven, the land from the sea, the sea monsters from the birds and the swarming at the ground.

That doesn’t make for great dogma, but it fits in with my thoughts on consciousness: it’s the continual process of creating meaning by separating something from the nothing at the corners of our consciousness (not to mention beyond it) that is the world around us. The fun of consciousness is taking control of that process of separation—which is why I spent so much time rewriting that last sentence.

Perspectives on Building Power

Flitting around on, I came across this review of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals:

As a VISTA “organizer” in Columbus, Ohio(1969-197):CMACAO)I heard the name of Alinsky quoted like biblical scripture. I read excerpts from his writing and suffered through several seminars led by his disciples from Chicago. As I explained to one(garbed in a suit with short hair-cut in contrast to pseudos garbed in hippie gear and “hair down to there”)I disagreed with many of the implications of his mentor because they seemed to be based on ENVY,INDOLENCE and IGNORANCE of the organizees and that the stirring of conflict for its own sake was counterproductive and created new dependence and an ensconced Underclass.

The man asked me what I did in VISTA (at my idealistic age of 21)and I told him I taught GED classes for adults and moved a lot of donated furniture to the apartments of poor folks.He stated that what I did was “practical” and not really the Alinsky thing.

After VISTA I spent three years in the Army(USAREUR/NATO duty).It was non-combat, showing the flag as a trip wire threat to the now defunct USSR. But it put the Vista time in perspective. Most of my buddies in Vista were pseudo hippies and draft dodgers (my room mate had spent 4 years in the Air Force as a Russian language translator). Half my Army buddies had served in Vietnam. The point is that Alinsky was a “guru” for middle class ingrates with pretensions to “playing” revolutionary. (Mark Rudd;Bernadette Dohrn etc). And they had a field day encouraging students at OSU to walk-out of class during the disruption of campuses in the spring of 1970.It was a Felini movie. Alinsky’s book as the script.It was a game.RULES FOR RADICALS was his money-making,”rock-star” text(sucked-up by college kids with names like Obama and Clinton).

The most important/impotent chapter in the opus is “Tactics” (pp. 126-164). At he center of this chapter are the 13 rules on how to raise hell by creating guilt. He left-out the 14th. “Organizer potential “organizees”usually have one set set of “values”incommon~ENVY;IGNORANCE; & INDOLENCE(or you can plant them in varying degrees!).This unwritten rule for targets turn the struggling person into the malcontent that the organization(say, ACORN)can use and abuse for their own glory and self-apotheosis: HENCE President Barack Obama,”the dream of his father Saul.D. Alinsky.” Read this mess and laugh/weep at a con artist at his best.

The reviewer gave the book 3 out of 5 stars.

Millenial Nonprofity Exposition

I was recently invited to participate in a blogging alliance of millennial nonprofity folks. Which is pretty fitting considering I am of the appropriate age range, employment and that “nonprofit” is the largest tag in the tag cloud in the sidebar of this blog.

I can’t speak to any teleological path leading me to where I am today. I can though give the short and contextualized version:

In 2001, as I was preparing to graduate from high school I really wanted to do AmeriCorps (or the military, but my parents were strongly against that). I also hedged my bets and applied to some state colleges—being in California I had some decent options. Unfortunately my AmeriCorps dreams were cut short when my entire application packet (motivational essays, letters of reference, etc.) was lost by the USPS… or so I assumed since no one from AmeriCorps was ever able to consistently return my phone calls. So I went to college.

Three years later, as I was preparing to graduate from college I was looking for things to do. My parents were strongly against me enlisting the previous year (when I really wanted to go) and my friends now in the officer’s program weren’t singing many praises either. I was accepted into Teach for America; but after taking their welcome packet’s advice and calling some alumni, I was told that the benefits I really wanted—structured personal and professional development—weren’t there. The post-graduation internship I really wanted at a local defense contractor didn’t come through either. So I (re)applied to AmeriCorps. To my glee, the new application packet now came with a FedEx envelope. So I moved to Boston to serve in AmeriCorps.

Five years later, I haven’t moved far from that. Working within and with nonprofit organizations has afforded me a lot of flexibility in the work I do and the people I do it with. I find myself driven more by excellence than by mission. Mostly I enjoy the direct problem solving and latitude I have: I haven’t worked myself out of a job yet, so there is obviously room for innovation.

If that’s not a millenial memoir, I don’t know what is.

Janets Spiral Periodic Table

Janets Spiral Periodic Table

My office bookshelf fell off the wall today; to lighten the load I decided to read something on it: working in an environment of higher education, I pickup a lot of junk books:

Above is Janet’s Spiral Periodic Table from E.G. Mazur’s Graphic Representations of the Periodic System during One Hundred Years

(1974), cited in Punyashloke Mishra’s_ The Role of Abstraction in Scientific Illustration: Implications for Pedagogy_ (1999) republished in Carolyn Handa’s Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. Got all that?

I had to scan Janet’s Spiral out of the book since I couldn’t find it on the internet. I did find Alexander Roy’s patented and $14.95 Desktopper. He seems to tout it as originally his, but it’s trivially Janet’s Spiral Periodic table if you stuck your finger into each spiral and pulled up.

**Update: **

_ Having just printed off and built the paper template included in the patent application, I must admit the design is a unique and  innovative._

Below is from the patent:

Alexander Periodic 1 Alexander Periodic 2

Nonprofit Budgeting Scenario

While cleaning up some files, I came across this awesome scenario I wrote for our AmeriCorps*VISTA orientation last summer. I wrote it to give our new service members an idea of what it’s like to enter a small community nonprofit organization in contemporary times: under-staffed, under-resourced, broadly missioned, lacking in a comprehensive strategic plan. Most importantly, the nonprofit in this scenario lacks a well-prepared board… which is the role you play in this scenario.

I pasted the text of the  scenario below, though you can download the whole thing along with the budget worksheet in a word document(.doc).

Nonprofit Board of Directors Roleplay:

**Rural Food Services **

Mission: “SERVING the needs of Spring County


You and your table make up the Board of Directors of a small nonprofit organization: a rural food-bank that also houses a community radio station. As the Board of Directors, you are responsible for setting overall strategy: balancing the health of the organization with the needs of the community. Every year you create an Annual Budget that provides the Executive Director with the expected income and expenses she is to manage. Unfortunately, you were just informed by your primary funder, a Private Foundation, that due to the current economic climate, all funding will be cut by 50%.

Using the following information about the organization and the community—and your own experiences and imagination—together design an Annual Budget that balances expenses with the newly reduced income. There is no “right” answer.

You have been provided with a Budget Worksheet to help you understand the current expenses and plan your cuts. Do not sweat the math so much as what your overall cost-cutting strategy is.

Be creative, but remember that this is a very common scenario that nonprofit organizations find themselves in.

At the end of this activity, your group will be asked to briefly share your budget with the room. While you do not need to go line by line, you should summarize your overall strategy for the budget, where you had to make major cuts, and the impact you expect those cuts to have upon the organization, its services and the community.


Your organization, Rural Food Services is the only Food Bank in rural Spring County. Covering 1,200 square-miles, Spring County has a population of 40,000 , an average age of 42, and a median income of $22,500. Light commercial (call centers) and light manufacturing (automotive and industrial parts) are the primary employers. And a WalMart Supercenter.

Rural Food Services was founded in the early 1980s to provide free and reduced-cost food and staples to rural Spring County. It is the only Food Bank in Spring County.  20% of residents (8,000 people) in the county receive aid from the Food Bank each year.  The food itself is donated from distributors and the government, but Rural Food Services must pickup and store the food, dispose of rotten or expired food, and comply with licensing and inspection requirements.

In the year 2000, the organization applied for and received a low-power, non-commercial radio license. Since then, KSRV has been broadcasting local news, disaster alerts and community-produced stories from a small studio in a former storage room.  KSRV is the only non-commercial radio station serving Spring County, and the only radio station that consistently covers local issues. All programming is created locally by volunteers, but Rural Food Services must pay for music licensing, antenna-tower rental and equipment maintenance.

Rural Food Services depends upon volunteers for nearly all of its operations. In addition to the Executive Director, the staff only includes a Finance/Operations Manager, a Grants/Fundraising Manager, and a Volunteer Manager.

**Current Circumstances: **You have just been informed that your primary funder, the Pierpont Memorial Trust, has decided to reduce all grants by 50% because of the current economic climate. Though your organization receives a mixture of private and government grants, individual donations and earned income, this news will severely impact your organization in the coming year. Tough decisions have to be made about how to cut costs with the knowledge that the need for your organization’s services has not lessened (they have most likely grown). The questions you must tackle include:

  • What do you think the organization’s priorities are? Immediate and long-term

  • What values do you think the organization should protect? Internally and externally.

  • What sacrifices are you willing to make to get the organization through the year?

In addition to cutting expenses, Rural Food Services has two “Earned Income” strategies for creating income based on their services, though each has its own drawbacks and implications.

  1. Sliding Scale Fee charged to individuals using the Food Bank depending on their ability to pay. Increasing this income increases the amount charged to Rural Food Services’s clients.
  2. Underwriting (advertising) for the Radio Station from local and national businesses. Increasing this income will reduce the local/independent focus of the station’s community-led programming.

Lastly, income from Individual Donations (“Individual Giving”) has been left open. While the current economic climate forecasts a decrease in individual giving, you could recommend the implementation of aggressive individual fundraising (especially from “Major Donors”); though such a strategy would require significant inputs of staff time and resources.

The Budget Making Process:

As the Board of Directors, you have control over how much money is allocated for specific expenses (“line items”) in the budget. For example, “staffing” or “rent”. You must take into account the impact of that reduction upon the activities that money is used for—though ultimately it is the role of the Executive Director (not yours) to cut costs within a particular line item. For example, you can decide to cut staffing costs by $20,000, but it is the Executive Director’s role to decide whether that becomes an across the board pay-cut or the elimination of a position. You still must take into account the impact such a cut will have though and make a recommendation for what that cut will look like.


Reduce Staffing by $20,000 - The Volunteer Manager position could be reduced to half-time. Volunteers themselves could take over some responsibilities.

Reduce Equipment Maintenance budget by $5,000 - Try to stretch things out. Seek equipment donations if necessary.

Stop providing Health Insurance - Staff can apply for individual coverage (a de facto pay-cut)

Budget Worksheet: this can be downloaded in the attached Word Document.


But licensed in how many dimensions?

My boss came in this morning to gripe about how a media service, Mixcloud, wanted her to upload her media to their service, rather than link to where it’s currently hosted. As always, the reason was in their Terms and Conditions (snarky emphasis mine):

11. User Submissions

b. Grant of Rights. You shall retain all of your ownership rights in your User Submissions. However, by submitting User Submissions to Mixcloud, you hereby grant Mixcloud and its affiliates a non-exclusive, fully paid-up, royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable, sublicenseable, and transferable license, throughout the universe, to use, reproduce, distribute, modify, adapt, prepare derivative works of, display, perform,** and otherwise exploit your User Submissions** in connection with the Mixcloud Platform, including, without limitation, for promoting and redistributing part or all of the Platform (and derivative works thereof) in any media formats and through any media channels.

I love that “throughout the universe” part. Harvard Law’s Berkman Center used to have a project parsing Licensing Agreements, but I can’t find it. So here’s a recent report on how Charitable Foundations could benefit from more freely licensing their publications and those of their grantees. An excerpt:

Thoughtful and intentional decisions about how to license foundation-supported works currently happen only in a limited number of cases. The status quo prevails, often for no reason other than inertia, and generic contract language regarding copyrights is often used in place of genuine consideration or conversations about best practices between foundations and their grantees and consultants or within foundations.

Intellectual activity

Only those who have power, for example, can define what is correct or incorrect. Only those who have power can decide what constitutes intellectualism. Once the intellectual parameters are set, those who want to be considered intellectuals must meet hte requirements of the profile dictated by the elite class. To be intellectual one must do what those with the power to define intellectualism do. The intellectual activity of those without power is always characterized as nonintellectual. I am auditing a class this semester on Quantitative Reasoning with Prof. Marilyn Frankenstein offered through the College of Public and Community Service at Umass Boston. The above quote was mentioned in our first class and taken from Literacy: Reading the World & The Word by Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo (who is also on the UMass Boston faculty). Connect this to the oft criticized communications of today’s youth despite the slowly emerging recognition of a New Literacy: > … young people today write far more than any generation before them. That’s because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

My use of the comma

I have been reflecting on self-deceptions in my writing. A fine analysis can be found in Noah Lukeman’s excellent A Dash of Style: The art and mastery of punctuation under the subheading “What your use of the comma reveals about you”:

The writer who overuses commas tends to also overuse adjectives and adverbs. He tends to be repetitive, won’t be subtle, and often gives too much information. He grasps for multiple word choices instead of one strong choice, and thus the choices he makes won’t be strong. His langugae won’t be unique. Commas are also used to qualify, offset, or parse, and the writer who frequently resorts to this tends to be reluctant to take a definitive stance. He will be hesitant. His characters, too, might not take a stand; is plot might be ambiguous. It will be harder for him to deliver dramatic punches when need be, and indeed he is less likely to be dramatic. He is interested in fine distinctions, more so than pacing, and is likely to write an overly long book. He writes with critics in mind, with the fear of being criticized for omission, and is more likely to have a scholarly background (or at least be well read) and to consider too many angles. This writer will need to simplify, to take a stronger stance, and to understand that less is more.

In my defense, an Amazon reviewer says these sections are “presumptuous and insulting”.

Technology 2.0: Mapping Presentation

On Saturday I presented on Mapping at the Technology 2.0 community summit convened by the Organizers Collaborative (I’m chairperson of the board), Boston Neighborhood Network (the local cable access TV station) and the John O’Bryant African American Institute. I had 10 minutes to…

  1. introduce the technology (mapping) with a very short description and reference to particular brand names (if that helps)

  2. say how they use it and why it works for their purposes (“I use  google maps to…”)

  3. demonstrate online (if this helps)

  4. provide a sense of how this technology is changing or has changed the world (i.e. why people should care about learning this tech).

  5. wrap up

I shared a panel with Curtis Henderson (BNN), Denise Moorehead ( Third Sector New England) and Gabriel Fishman ( Open Air Boston); it was moderated by Suren Moodliar of Massachusetts Global Action and the Organizers Collaborative. The presentation will be cablecast eventually, but I posted some pictures on Facebook and despite my attempts to tamp down the enthuisiasm, people were very interested. So here’s what it was (only lacking in my dynamic physical presence).

  1. I introduced my relationship to the others on the BNN panel. Most people think of a map as geographic tool to get somewhere; I wanted to break people out of that mode of thinking and instead think of a map as a way to quickly show relationships and information visually. If I had to explain the same information using text, it would be much longer, more complicated and might not have the same impact.

Mapping Relationships

  1. I showed the excellent Boston Chinatown map from Paul Niwa of Northeastern University which explores social linkages and the flow of news and information in a community.  This type of visual representation allows us to very quickly see relationships and make inferences from what otherwise would be a very complicated explanation.


  1. So much of the formal knowledge we have about the world around us is tied up in spreadsheets. While it’s information rich, it can be difficult to analyze, or, from a community building perspective, it’s difficult to motivate people towards action by just showing them a chunk of text. To contrast, I first pulled up the Boston city website, which showcases the Boston neighborhoods as a uninspiring drop-down list.  I then showed the awesome Boston Neighborhood Map by Cosmo Catalano that was built using data from the Boston Redevelopment Authority and probably equal amounts of guesswork. The map provides much richer information than any amount of text could.



  1. Now that the audience was thinking more about the power of maps, I wanted to show them that mastery of technology wasn’t necessary. To do that, I brought up the East Somerville Community Mapping Project. This was done entirely with pens and markers on paper before it was scanned and put online. The project used mapping as a focal point for dialogue about community issues and community building. The map is also cool too because they collected basic community information that most people ignore or overlook, like where the postal boxes are, yet still shape the community. The act of creating a map can be a powerful tool in itself.


  1. To continue talking about mapping community resources, I showed the  Social Capital Incorporated Lynn Community Guide (the SCI Dorchester website was down at the time). The guide provides good contrast because it allows you to both show a list of services and their addresses as well as those services on a map, clearly demonstrating how a map can make information more accessible to questions like “which location is nearest to your home?” (as an aside, I helped the late Paul Hansen develop the original MyDorchester website that has been used as a template for their other community websites).


  1. Returning to the idea of building maps together, I showcased the City of Boston’s Bike Map project, which asked people to share their bike routes using paths on Google My Maps. The city then took the more than 200 submitted routes and used them to create a printed map (PDF) of the cities best bike thoroughfares.



  1. Since I had been talking a lot about using maps for directions, I showcased the I Love Mountains campaign website. This website uses maps to show visitors the coal powered generators near them and then draw a line to where the fuel coal is mined. This is to raise awareness that issues of environmentally damaging mining practices (like mountain-top removal) are linked to all of us. Maps can be a great tool for finding commonalities between people that might not otherwise think of themselves as connected. The world (or even a neighborhood) can be made much more intimate through a map.


  1. Lastly, I gave people a quick hands on demonstration of how easy it can be to create a map using Google My Maps. Using the (extensive but ungainly) list of Boston Community Gardens from Boston Natural Areas Network, I quickly ran through how to create a map and begin adding points to it. A map like this could begin any number of neighborhood dialogues about acting upon and improving the world around you.



I was pretty satisfied overall with the presentation and I think I only went over by a minute or two. A few community members spoke to me afterwards and said that the presentation had inspired ideas for their neighborhood association and for starting a campaign to increase the number of benches at bus stops in the city.

My featured dead cockroach


A photo I took in the halls of UMass Boston was featured in a _Wired Magazine _(well, on the website) in “ Universal ‘Death Stench’ Repels Bugs of All Types”.

Image: Flickr/bensheldon. Note: This photo was chosen from a disturbingly large volume of dead cockroach images on Flickr.

There is a tiny bit of controversy though: I was made aware the photo was being used when a good samaritan emailed the author saying Wired had not respected the Creative Commons Attribution–Non-Commercial

–Share-Alike license under which the image had been posted to Flickr. We’re currently awaiting a response from the article’s editor.