Wednesday, February 28, 2007


This year, the Oscars have been knighted the  "Green Academy Awards".   I'm not going to go into "Leo" driving up in a Prius (wanna bet Toyota gave him that one? also, if his was modified to go 100 mph, why didn't he have it souped it up to give it some umph while he was at it?). I know, I know, get to todays subject, so here it is:
I am (as you may have noticed) a "facts and figures" girl. I believe in numbers. There is no more perfect a world. I depend on them. That is why I was thrown for a loop when I attended the Los Angeles Economic Development Commission's (LAEDC's) 2007 Economic Forecast and Industry Outlook this week.

And the outlook wasn't so good. A bit of the local entertainment industry tanking, a bit about a slipping housing market, a bit about defaults and how to hedge your bets in the old investment department (I took notes on that last).

When Jack Kyser, Sr. Vice President and Chief Economist, LAEDC gave his presentation I was all ears. This was man after my own heart. His spreadsheets were impeccable and his data was strong and beautifully represented in elegant graphs. I had that very satisfying feeling of camaraderie with Mr. Kyser. I love that. You may guess where I am going here, but no. He was right on point with no qualifications. So why am I using the ambiguous "was". Here we go:

The numbers were solid and verifiable. Since I gave my seal of approval there, we were good to go. Until...

He moved to his conclusions. All would be well (or at least correctable), he assured us if we could avoid the influence of pie in the sky hopes. Enter...MR. UTOPIA! (and yes this was picture in the slide show). Kyser was one of the lucky ones, he Mr. Utopia's mind! He started by telling us what Mr. Utopia likes: he likes beautiful renovated perfectly landscaped downtown revival, he told us? What else did this weird looking "Utopia" character like? How about ridiculously expensive, unrealistic projects, like restoring the Los Angeles River?

And what did Mr. "U" dislike? A place where business was driven out of downtown by no more cheap office space, effectively killing the whole job markets offered by the garment industry and the flower mart. He dislikes river development, he dislikes converting downtown buildings into lofts with sky high rents, etc. etc.

Everything would be okay he assured us, as long as we didn't fall for silly utopian dreams.

Apparently, the L.A. times agrees with Kyser. In a 2/2/07 article, Steven Hymon gave us "Costly L.A. River plan contains a raft of new ideas"

Hymon's opening paragraph starts out sounding like reporting but gives a "tell" of things to come (emphasis mine):

"Proposed $2-billion makeover of the ugly concrete waterway calls for a string of parks, housing and offices. After decades of enduring jokes about the city's concrete-lined waterway, officials today will release an ambitious master plan for restoring the Los Angeles River, a project that reflects lofty dreams and carries a big price tag."

Then the opinion piece begins:

At this stage, the plan is largely hypothetical. Most of the money has not been secured. Beautifying the river could be a hard sell in a city that chronically struggles to hire more police, repair streets and sidewalks, and find funding for transportation improvements.
Sounds like the Times and Mr. "U' have the same idea: Going Green costs too much money, puts people out of good working class jobs and takes money away from essential policing and transportation budgets.

Well, at least the Oscar's were green (sort of)!

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Nonprofit Series: Burnout, Tech & Fraud Detection
by pam ashlund
Just finished a rant on "blogging about blogging". Took a look at the topics I write and found close to 10% of my posts on blogging & tech. Sigh.

On Blogging and Tech:

Burnout & Balance:


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Sunday, February 25, 2007


I was so steamed I forget to include my most fundamental complaint about blogging in my last post!

I publish a post
You write me a comment
I'm notified of your comment by email
I respond to your comment

Question: How do you know I've written a response?
Answer: You don't! (unless you come back again and again until you see the reply and who has time for that????)

How could it be that in a Social-bookmarked-Wiki-Folksy-World that our most popular tool (the Blog) isn't social? ?????????????????????????????????????????????

Good, now that that is off my chest, I think I'll go listen to a podcast on podcasting!

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Friday, February 16, 2007


Who can put Jesus, Confucius, Dr. Strange, Emma Goldman and Eliza Doolittle all in the same thought? Read on as a Nonprofit Eye reader (Janet) responds to last weeks post: Applying Karma Yoga in the Workplace:

Ah grasshopper, with the dawn of awakening knowledge comes the morning fog of
obscured certainty save for one truth: all is karma. Or, as they put it in the
Fram oil filter commercials: pay me now or pay
me later

It may be possible to use a Calvinist metric to
evaluate one's life choices: those who make the best choices are demonstrating
their closeness to nirvana. Or not. Is the path to enlightenment so easy to
discern? If only it were so.

We look at choices others make and then
compare our own actions and motives. It is strangely remarkable that very few of us, in our own estimation, ever live up to the standards we esteem in

We mistake the simple answer and the shortest route as
the one true path: the person who washes the dishes or cleans the toilets
without concern for payment or fame will 'get to heaven' sooner than the person
who wants a task that offers both a paycheck and a sense of satisfaction from
the work. If it were that simple then the entire 'untouchable' class in India
would self-evidently be far closer to enlightenment than the entire Brahman

In our not for profit universe we over-value the volunteers for
this very reason: they toil for nothing. Meanwhile, the paid staff falls into
two categories, those who work for very little in the form of salary and or
benefits, and those we pay reasonably well for their expertise. We do not esteem
the lower orders of paid staff any more than we do in the for-profit sector. We
highly value those we pay well.

The real hypocrisy in all of this is
that in the end it is a matter of class, not of cosmic or any other form of
reward. If one is wealthy enough not to require payment then that person's toil
is worth so much more than if one needs to be paid in order to live. If a
wealthy person volunteers his or her time it has greater intrinsic worth than if
that person was of modest means.

In the end, after a lot of hard work,
one might know one's own mind and heart; but can never truly know the heart or
mind of another. That ultimate truth does not free us from the responsibility of
flesh and blood humanity. We do not only live on an astral plane, despite what
many of us would prefer.

One may well choose between the 'vita activa'
and the 'vita contemplativa' as the path we think might be best suited to our
own spiritual journey, but in the end we must do both. It isn't enough to only
think great thoughts or do great deeds. Nor is it enough to sit by the road and
observe, (and perhaps teach.) I cannot believe the universe credits us for
getting it "right" only between our ears.

(I would like to take this moment to suggest a look at The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt.)

Not that they agreed on substance, the great masters of the east and the west required right action, not just right thought. This is evident in every permutation from the Vedas to the Old Testament, the Tao to the Koran; in the handed down words of Jesus, Confucius, Dr. Strange, Emma Goldman, or Eliza Doolittle: "...don't talk of love, show me!"

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tonight: p. ashlund ponders LA's social problems
(cross posted in Lofty Thoughts)

Actions believed to alleviate the difficulties of a city can actually make matters worse. --Jay W. Forrester

Jay Forrester penned his revolutionary article "The Counterintuitive Nature of Social Systems" (link to pdf full article) back in 1971. 30 years later, the article has stood the test of time. Since 30 year old academic articles aren't likely to reach the public, I think it's a good time to revisit this masterpiece.

His article examines "four common programs for improving the depressed nature of central cities.:
  1. ...creation of jobs by busing the unemployed to suburban jobs or through governmental jobs as employer of last resort;
  2. a training program to increase skills of the lowest-income group;
  3. financial aid to depressed cities from federal subsidies; and
  4. construction of low-cost housing. All of these were shown to lie between neutral and highly detrimental...
(His) investigation shows "how depressed areas in cities arise from excess low-income housing rather than from a commonly presumed housing shortage."

Forrester describes the counterintuitive downward spiral as efforts to help the poor miss their mark:

" and tax structures...combine to give incentives for keeping old buildings in place. As (the) ... buildings age, employment opportunities decline. As (the) buildings age, they are used by lower-income groups who are forced to use them at higher population densities. (Thus) ...aging buildings cause jobs to decline and population to rise. Housing, at the higher population densities, accommodate more low-income urban population than can find jobs. A social trap is created where excess low-cost housing beckons low-income people inward because of the available housing. Unemployed people continue coming to a city until their numbers sufficiently exceed the available jobs that the standard of living declines far enough to stop further inflow. Income to the area is then too low to maintain all of the housing. Excess housing falls into disrepair and is abandoned. Extreme crowding can exist in those buildings that are occupied, while other buildings become excess and are abandoned because the economy of the area cannot support all of the residential structures. Excess residential buildings threaten an area in two ways—they occupy land so it cannot be used for job-creating buildings, and they attract a population that needs jobs. Any change, which would otherwise raise the standard of living, only takes off the economic pressure momentarily and causes population to rise enough that the standard of living again falls to the barely tolerable level.

Want to read more? Check out blogger Andrew Taylor aka "The Artful Manager" as he takes on the same topic from a different perspective in a 2004 post called Finding Forrester.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Part II: The Yoga Series Continues

How can we change the world? Let me count the ways!

Just as I thought I was forging new ground on Yoga and Nonprofits, a source sends me a lead on a group called "Yoga For Good". Guess I haven't killed my ego just yet.

Check out the PaloAlto Online story: Bad Girls Doing Time Learn Art of Yoga for a story of how yoga is transforming the lives of incarcerated girls.

Another program helping incarcerated youth and at-risk teens and "transitional age youth" GETTING OUT BY GOING IN© is a non-profit organization that educates and rehabilitates incarcerated and at-risk individuals by providing essential tools needed to make stronger decisions.

"I use the breathing technique at night to block out the sounds around me." --C.F., Inmate, Terminal Island, 2005

"On helping children? Love and attention, take the kids out of the hood and show them that there is something else than that hopeless hole."- E.A.C.

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Tuesday, February 13, 2007


Part I in a series examining nonprofit service and "doing good"

What does karma OR yoga have to do with nonprofits?" If you think of yoga as an exercise class with a bit of de-stressing meditation, then the answer would seem to be "nothing". Bear with me on this one.

I think we'd all agree that nonprofit work is based on the principles of doing good.  The reality is that our work may be driven by political goals, seeking funds, getting paid and getting noticed (publicity).

Where does Karma yoga (Sanskrit: कर्म योग) fit in? Karma Yoga is one of the four pillars of Yoga, consisting of entirely selfless service, in which the Ego is given up. It is the path of doing the right thing, of following ones' personal Dharma and accepting destiny.

In less abstract terms, Karma Yoga might be cleaning toilets or washing dishes. Doing any type of service without seeking any remuneration in the shape of wealth, satisfaction, name or fame.

So this got me thinking about "the work", whatever you call it: a "calling", a purpose in life, all the stuff that "do what you love and the money will follow" philosophy is based on.

Karma Yoga is done without concern for whether the money follows or not.

I have been mentored by selfless teachers, who always bewildered me: one who loaned me his car when mine broke down and I had no money to fix it. He rode his bike to work and gave me his car. I thought he must be crazy or just wanting to prove how "politically correct" he was. But now I see that he was doing "right action", he knew I lived many miles from the nearest public transportation, he knew he lived close to work; I also think he did it selflessly and expected nothing in return. That was Karma Yoga.

The questions I'm asking myself today are: Can I do my Karma Yoga? Can I kill that ego? Can I accept that I give my service without expecting recognition, without even expecting to be satisfied? I've always expected to be satisfied. That was the GOAL I was after: to do my life's work by definition included some kind of trade "I work hard and deliver the required work AND I get a sense of meaning and purpose". What I've found out the hard way is that expecting the payoff (meaning and purpose) meant a lot of painful disappointment.

Want to know more?

The Four Paths of Yoga:
  1. Karma
  2. Bhakti
  3. Jnana
  4. Raja
Karma: the Yoga of Action, the path chosen primarily by those of an outgoing nature. It purifies the heart by teaching you to act selflessly, without thought of gain or reward.

Bhakti: the Path of Devotion or unconditional love.  This path appeals particularly to those of an emotional nature.

Jnana: the Yoga of Knowledge or Wisdom This is the most difficult path, requiring tremendous strength of will and intellect. This is achieved by steadfastly practicing the mental techniques of self-questioning, reflection and conscious illumination. The Jnana Yogi uses his mind to inquire into its own nature. Jnana dissolves the veils of ignorance. Before practicing Jnana Yoga, the aspirant needs to have integrated the lessons of the other yogic paths - for without selflessness and devotion, strength of body and mind, the search for self-realization can become mere idle speculation.

Raja: the Science of Physical and Mental Control Often called the "royal road" it offers a comprehensive method for controlling the waves of thought by turning our mental and physical energy into spiritual energy.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


art institutions are a severely limited arena of reception for ideas about public issues --Robbie Conal

If I can't take my coffee break,
Gone is the sense of enterprise
...something within me dies.
-- How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying

I was born with a "Question Authority" bumper sticker metaphorically stuck on the back of my car. I grew up with that expression (and what it represents) as my moral imperative. But I've been worried lately. I've been worried because it doesn't seem to be turning out the way I thought it would. Seems a QA attitude is not necessarily conducive to civil society.

It all depends on who's the authority I suppose. I seem to have the easiest time applying it to government and politics. But at what point do the concepts of "questioning" and the notion of "participating" intersect?

Becoming a manager was a pivotal point in my life. A place where I had to make the transition from "hating the man" to "being the man". That's what we called "selling out" in the 70's. Yet it was eye-opening seeing the other side of the coin. Here were the grown-up headaches, here were the false workers comp claims that drove our operating costs thru the roof, here were the inebriated employees driving company vehicles and exposing us to unimaginable liability, here were the whining, complaining, slacking employees always wanting one more raise, but never doing anything to deserve it! Arrrrrrrgggggggggggggggg

That's when the light first went this is why the company had rules, policies, drug testing, insurance requirements, safety committees... Something inside me cried "nooooooooooooooo". No, I did not like that moment at all. Who wants to come to terms with anything so oppressive, so infringing on individuality, so authoritarian!

That is why, when I saw my first "Obey Andre the Giant" poster plastered on a electric company cabinet, I felt conflicted. The wage-slave in me felt freed, the manager in me felt assaulted. (Sigh)

OK, here's the slightly awkward segue: I have been ranting lately about the Graffiti blanketing my neighborhood. Yet my inner artist feels how strongly the artistic impulse is, the struggle to say "this is me". That impulse survives even when all other vestiages of appropriate social behavior have been lost.

Then again, I learn something new every day, and that something today is "Guerrilla Postering". Fathered by the legendary Robbie Conal, who provides videos, website and list serves to explain the techniques, the art...and even the etiquette of clandestinely plastering your posters on public property (in the midnight hours of course).

Question of the day: Can you can be an activist and cover your a** ?

Darwin has a posse
Obey Andre the Giant

TANGENT: God, there are endless spin offs on this topic. For example, back in September, I wrote a post on Guerrilla Marketing called Your Name Here. At the time I was quite smitten with the idea. Actually, I still am, albeit on unsteady ground about destruction of public property. Don't get me wrong, there are a multitude of opportunities for Guerilla Art, Marketing, Advertising, etc. without resulting in illegal or anti-social means.

Which brings us to the most recent act of a guerrilla advertising campaign...the Turner Broadcast "incident". File it under "how an underground cartoon show "Aqua Teens Hunger Force" was translated into a national terrorist scare...".

Get a sense of humor people! Do we really have to go so totalitarian that individualist artists will be cowering in the corners fearing that homeland security (substitute death squad here?) will be banging on our doors some night?




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Saturday, February 03, 2007


Nonprofit Burnout
by pam ashlund


Cross posted from a differnt perspective in my El Loro blog in the post Don't Want to Work for the Man

Don’t it always seem to go/You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone — Big Yellow Taxi, Joni Mitchell

Somethings comin’ something good…who knows? — Westside Story

I've written about Burnout (see series at end of article) before. Certainly, burnout is not unique to the nonprofit sector, but it has indirectly been on the radar recently re: the changing of the guard, the baby boomer effect of nonprofits, the "are we mentoring a group to replace our current leaders as they retire?

Who wants to talk about that? Normally not I because I still find the prospect of my own retirement (and mortality in general) depressing.

The truth is, that even now (possibly 20 years before retirement), I feel worn out. Words to the effect of “my soul is dying” come to mind. Of course I mainly have these feelings in the context of work, the daily grind, etc. “Don’t want to work for the man!” my soul cries. In answer I just offer it platitudes. “Who ever said you get to be happy”? I tell myself. Or variations: “Nobody’s really happy anyway” ”You should try life in the 15th Century before you complain”. Blah Blah Blah.

I could stay stuck in that place for quite a while. But sometimes, something comes along and SNAPS me out of it. That something was an NPR story

What follows is summarized (by which I mean "cribbed”) from the NPR story “ “Does Age Quash Our Spirit of Adventure?” by Robert Krulwich.”

Note: Must have been a great story since I found a half a dozen other bloggers doing the same summary (wish I found one of them before I cranked out mine).

The author interviewed Robert Sapolsky (now my favorite neuroscientist).


Robert seemed to be going thru the same thing I was, but unlike me (sticking to bitching and moaning), he decided to conduct a study. At what age do we pass from the “adventure/novelty” stage to the "routine/comfort state"?

Here are the results

  • Music – Known in the industry as “Breakthru minus 20”, this is where the 14-21 yrs are Most Open, but by age 35 “window for musical adventure is closed”
  • Food – 95% likelihood that after 39 your adventure window for new food is closed.
  • Body Piercing – 16-23 yr olds will try it; but after 23 your piercing window? Slammed shut.
Is it just that we’re loosing brain cells? Robert replied: “That is pure, pure urban myth”

Avoiding a “Horrible Debilitating State”

But instead of settling for these depressing facts, Robert turned the question on its head (and this is why I love him!). He noticed that some people do retain their sense of adventure, and some don’t. The group that do not have share two common qualities: 1) they spend a long at the same job and 2) they are good at it, they succeed (they become eminent).

The conclusion? If you want to stay open to novelty, don’t stay in the same job too long and don’t become eminent” Because IF you do, “You wind up suffering from this horrible debilitating state”. So “find the “whatever” to pick up and walk away from it”.

Good causes all.

SIDEBAR: The Work of Robert Sabolsky

His bio says his lab “focuses on three issues: a) how a ‘Neuron’ dies during aging; b) how such neuron death can be accelerated by stress; and c) the design of gene therapy strategies to protect endangered neurons from neurological disease.


Last January, in my Braintangents blog post These Are the Good Old Days, I was ruminating about how we think the music we listened to in high school was the best. In the NPR story, the writer cites a quote I wish I’d thought of first: “Music achieved perfection in 1974” Homer Simpson

This article is Part IV in a series on Burnout

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