Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dumbest thing about swine flu you've read today

From JTA:

Meanwhile, Israel's Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, a fervently Orthodox Jew, during a news conference Monday to update the public on developments regarding the virus in Israel, said that Israel will use the term "Mexican flu" rather than "swine flu" to refer to the virus. Swine, or pigs, are not kosher.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Kishka: The Health Disaster

It's strange how delicacies can often double as extreme health hazards. You may have heard of kishka / kishke, but you probably haven't, it's sort of like haggis - innards stuffed with meat, like an inside-outside tasty animal. One thing I didn't know when I grabbed a few for Passover was what sort of nutrients / fat was going on here. The casing had nothing - the website of the manufacturer had nothing.
I emailed the blogger at kosher.com, and they sent me nutritional screenshots from another site. While this seemed a little odd, I got the news (at right). Amazingly, this strange stuffed meat product was not, in fact, healthy (see right).
They were also kind enough to send me some kishka recipes for people without crock pots, or who buy them frozen. These people are known as "non-Orthodox Jews."
I still haven't been able to find a single frozen kishka recipe... even from the company that makes them.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Friday, April 24, 2009

Shep Smith's Greatest Bloopers

I possess an unhealthy hatred for Fox News Anchor Shepard Smith. Why? Because he, along with fellow blowhard Rush Limbaugh, uses the cheapest debate trick ever - if you are losing your argument, just get angry and people will think that you are "righteously indignant." If you outshout someone, like Bill O'Reilly does on a regular basis, you dwarf what they have to say and make them seem insignificant, even if what you are saying is garbage.

That's what Shep Smith does here, when he drops the F-Bomb. So let's keep the ball rolling with a group of Shep's greatest F-ups:

Shep Smith and the "BJ" reference
Shep Smith and the "C" word
Shep Smith flips out on an interviewee
Shep Smith yells at another interviewee

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why it makes sense to not put some articles online

Because if people can read it online, it would essentially cut out the homeless vendor, who is the entire point of the business model. As the site says:

"Want to read more? Buy a copy of Street Sense today and help a vendor out of homelessness!"

I gets it now...

Monday, April 20, 2009

Published in Street Sense!

Very happy that my article ran this weekend in Street Sense, DC's homeless / "Street" newspaper. Here it is:

Economic Hard Times May Force

Homeless Agencies to Merge, Close

By Jonathan Rubin

April 15, 2009, Street Sense


How is a D.C. homeless shelter like General Motors? Both might need a complete overhaul to stay afloat in the current economic crisis.

From Virginia to Maryland, homeless services are feeling the economic squeeze in two places: decreased donations from cash-strapped citizens and a spike in food and shelter requests. Some nonprofits are even seeing former donors line up at soup kitchens or food pantries, this time with hands out.

There is a nonprofit crisis brewing: Organizations that lack a diverse number of funding sources -those that rely primary on government grants, for example -may not be able to survive the more difficult times ahead. Up to 30% of all nonprofit organizations in the greater D.C. area may up and disappear in the near future, according to analysts at the Nonprofit Finance Fund. They call the phenomenon "compressing the sector."

A March 2009 report by the Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers saw givers in a weakened position - 86% of respondents announced a decrease in assets. More than 50% of foundations reduced their own giving budgets. On top of this, a survey of nonprofits showed that nearly one-in three had a salary freeze in effect, while 13% had laid off staff. And all the while, requests for funds have gone through the roof.

Glen O'Gilvie, CEO at the Center for Nonprofit Advancement, said that one-third of the nonprofits in the area have cut programs, including homeless shelters and other providers. He said organizations are making staff take unpaid furloughs, mandatory vacations and layoffs. To make matters worse, the end is nowhere in sight.

These challenges come at a time when social service needs are at an all-time high.

Thrive DC, an agency in Northwest D.C. that offers meals, laundry services, beds and job training, says they have been serving an additional 1,000 meals a month. At the same time, foundation giving and individual donations have dropped 20%.

"Many of the individuals we serve are used to being marginalized, forgotten, or having their trust broken, and I think they worry or assume that their needs will again fall to the bottom of community and policy priorities," said Erika Barry, Thrive DC's executive director.

So Others Might Eat, a group that provides food, elder services and other programs, has seen an 8% increase in meals served in just the last two months. They now serve about 800 people a day, many of whom have "jobs, suits, construction uniforms, and ID badges," according to spokeswoman Tracy Monson.

Monson said that while foundations are "sticking with us, it's impossible for them to support us like in the past."

Some social service agencies and nonprofit leaders are calling for a "paradigm shift" to keep their own organizations in operation.

Robert Egger, founder of DC Central Kitchen, said that nonprofits are "trapped in a fundraising cycle" where directors spend more and more time fighting for dollars and "everyone is out for themselves." He calls this self-preservation "the Achilles' heel of the nonprofit sector.

"We have a large number of organizations... many duplicating services," said Egger.

The other issue is the financial instability of many social service agencies. Homeless organizations that have only one or two sources of income "are very vulnerable... and, sadly, [are] very common," said Garvester "Gar" Kelley, vice president for the Mid-Atlantic Region at the Nonprofit Finance Fund.

For the time being, governmental funding for D.C.'s homeless efforts seems to be stable. A spokeswoman from the Department of Human Services that he didn't foresee cuts to homeless services in the D.C. area next year. While there will be "necessary budget reductions" in the 2010 budget, she said care will be taken so these cuts will happen "without reducing homelessness services to residents."

Personal donations to nonprofits, however, are unpredictable and can change extremely quickly. Nonprofits received two warning signs that their service model was shaky - 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. While people panicked, nonprofits that weren't the cause célèbre suffered. "The people who didn't have diverse funding streams... they really felt it," said O'Gilvie at the Center for Nonprofit Advancement. He said some organizations have spent "some or all of their reserves." A February 2009 survey of nonprofits across the region revealed that 46% of respondents' had not met their fund raising goals through December of 2008.

O'Gilvie says his organization is trying to provide some new models for the service providers of the future. The key, he says, is cooperation: a group of 830 nonprofits have already banded together to leverage their buying power when purchasing retirement plans and health insurance. Now, he is trying to create "shared back-office services" where accounting, bookkeeping and human resources can be centralized at a significant savings.

"The sector needs to evolve," said Egger, who also co-founded the Nonprofit Congress, a strategic planning group for non-profits.

"We've got the biggest pot of untaxed revenue in the U.S.... [Politicians] are coming for us."

Egger said that people need to wake up to this new reality, and fast. In the 1980s, he said, homelessness was en vogue. More recently, he said, "large-scale fundraisers have shifted to AIDS... and now breast cancer."

"The era in which we can be service providers has passed. We should be developers. I need to become an employer."

That's exactly what Egger did. Rather than teach low-income people job skills and hope someone will hire them, Egger created a culinary job training program to train his clients as chefs and caterers, Whom he then employs. He makes a good deal of revenue from the business, which lessens his need for outside resources.

And his employees? They get $12 an hour and health benefits.

The Nonprofit Finance Fund's Gar Kelley said while innovation is important, collaboration will be the saving grace at the end of the day. And sometimes this means stopping turf wars over funding and joining forces.

"The number of organizations will be reduced," he said plainly.

"The fundamental question is not 'Will my organization survive?', but 'Will the people my organization was established to serve continue to be served?' "


Friday, April 17, 2009

Discrimination

I felt the cruel and unjust sting of unwarranted criticism this week. I spoke to someone who works in the nonprofit sector, and they said, "Oh, I'm sure you have lots of free time - you work for the government."
The governmemt stigma / stereotype goes like this: we hardly work. We get paid for doing nothing, like a group of portly construction workers lazing around a single pothole all day.....
Feh.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tea baggin'

I like political activism. I even like it when it's basically people taking orders from someone they don't know, usually via email or a website, for some cause.
But for some reason I find this new trend - sending tea bags to government agencies and elected representatives, to be kind of silly. It just feels manufactured and orchestrated rather than grassroots or spontaneous.
On the left is a picture of a letter we received at GSA. I hid the return address to protect the identity of the sender. Someone mailed a Lipton Tea Bag - and nothing else. Also, the American flag is turned upside-down and slightly tilted, which apparently is also part of the message.
But then again, making I'm just hatin' on it because it's hating on my boss.

Lame note: These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent GSA's positions, strategies or opinions.

A Passover story for the kiddies

At our second Passover Seder, I arrived at the house to find my hosts on the front porch feverishly making cell phones calls. Apparently, they had found a cardinal with a broken wing, and had called animal control to see if they could help.

Since I'm not a veterinarian or anything, we went inside and soon the Seder began. At some point the animal control person rang the bell and our host ran outside and showed them where the bird was. We finished the Seder and someone commented that we had forgotten to open the door for Elijah the Prophet! (here's what that means, BTW).

Turns out we were covered. When we spoke to the person who had called animal control, who wasn't Jewish, she mentioned casually that the name of the responder was, no lie, Elijah!

Case closed. Rack those mitzvahs!

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Word or the Edited Word?

USA Today had a great op-ed today called Fightin' words: Is the Bible the literal word of God, or a historical compilation written by different people in different situations over a period of years?
It was a great op-ed for me, because I've been examining this issue for some time. In Judaism, this idea has been brought up by Jewish greats from time to time, most famously by Spinoza and even, I believe, Maimonides.
This issue came up in Judaism in a big way in 2002, when the Conservative movement released its new edition of the Etz Hayim Humash (The Torah / Five Books of Moses). The book was extremely controversial because this holy book, an official commentary on the Torah by one of the three-largest Jewish denominations in the country, said that the Torah was a man-made product. Divinely inspired, perhaps, but composed by a group of editors in different historical periods. And, what's more, the use of certain words, tenses, and locations in the text of the Torah / Bible appears to back up this "layered" theory.
More when I have time.....

Sunday, April 12, 2009

No Nuts

It seemed strange - you can eat walnuts on Passover but not peanuts. Huh? My coworker sent me this explanation:

Peanuts are not nuts - they're legumes. Just like peas and beans. Walnuts and pecans and filberts and pistachios and macadamias and almonds are all tree nuts so are considered OK even if you can make flour (of sorts) from them.

Rabbis have told me before that its unwise to try and determine "the mind of God." Fair enough. But I think we can reasonably assume that these laws were put into effect to prevent us from eating certain things. 3,000 years ago, we didn't have the ability to properly store and label things, so we decided to be safe and not eat nut flour because they resembled other kinds of flour. Today, we no longer confuse one type of flour for another - the FDA, weak as it is, wouldn't allow it. And yes, it would be strange to suddenly be able to eat new foods on Passover, and create new traditional recipes, but so what? After a generation it would be forgotten, and people would still be keeping the laws of Passover but with a little more variety.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Recovery in the house!

Well, actually it's in in the Executive Branch...
Good news! The stimulus funds designed to update infrastructure and create jobs is affecting my office. Here's an official email from some invisible Bureaucrat:

Last week GSA delivered a $5.5 billion Recovery Act project list to Congress. Included on that list was the renovation of the GSA Headquarters building.
Renovating the building at 1800 F Street will occur in two phases. The first phase will cost roughly $161 million and address:
removing and replacing building systems, such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical, telephone, fire and safety; installing advanced meters to improve monitoring of electricity and water use, lighting controls and sensors that turn off lights when not needed, new and improved heating and air-conditioning systems, and renewable energy sources; replacing all existing elevators and increasing their number; expanding our space by 105,000 square feet by filling in courtyard space; installing blast protection perimeter windows; and, providing perimeter security.
Since the renovation will be a phased construction project, employees will naturally be moving out in phases as work progresses. You’ll have lots of questions and issues will arise. That happens in big construction projects, but be assured that there will frequently communication.


1800 F Street has served as GSA’s headquarters since we were established in 1949. It will probably come as no surprise that the last major modernization was in 1935 – almost 75 years ago.
(my bolding)
During this renovation, we will work together and continue to provide outstanding service to our customers as we move toward a modern and energy efficient building. With the green transformation of our nearly 100-year-old home, we will not only be talking the (green) talk, but walking the (green) walk as well.

This is a great time to be at GSA.

Lame note: These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent GSA's positions, strategies or opinions.

Picky, or keepin' the faith?

Here is an email Dianna sent to a coworker of mine who wanted to cook something for my birthday:

"So during Passover (which starts at sundown on April 8), Jon can't eat anything with: wheat, barley, spelt, rye, oats, rice, corn, lentils, beans and peanuts. It's extensive, I know!! And the whole time he still maintains his usual dietary laws of: no meat mixed with milk, no shellfish, no pork. So basically...he can't eat anything fun at all."

Wow... I look like a bubble boy... :)

Monday, April 6, 2009

Real men love Korean Spas

I went to one of my favorite places for my birthday - A Korean spa.
Now before you start jeering, let me interrupt your witty insult and say that Korean spas are family-oriented. It's not like a truck-stop restroom. There are no "erotic massages," and it's not a Roman bath. Well, actually it's a lot like a Roman bath, but a tasteful one.

My spa is located about 30 minutes outside DC in Centreville, in the Korean commercial district. It's called Spaworld and it combines Korean cultural habits with German engineering.The result is clean, relaxing - a real treat. If you don't believe me, check the "yelpings."
The place does has a protocol, kind of like the Soup Nazi, but with friendly Asians. You walk in and trade your shoes and $35 for a rubber bracelet with a key card thingie on it. If you balk at this price, remember: this is good for ALL day.
After you get your key, you enter a men's / women's locker room and hang your clothes up.

Now, this is the part that freaks Westerners out.
... You enter a gigantic tiled room which looks like Atlantis, if it were located in a high-end gym. There are fountains, hot tubs and water jets and showers and steam rooms and icy-cold pools for giving you heart palpitations. The entire room is open, so, yes, you might be staring at naked people. But they probably won't be staring at you, because they are used to public bath houses.
They give you a toothbrush and toothpaste and you can shower, shave, and literally spend hours here moving from pool to pool. You haven't lived until you've had your kidneys pummeled by hot water jets... You get some benefits of "internal organ massage" - it's like yoga for really lazy people.

But the bathing room is only HALF the reason you're there. Because, after you dry off (with provided towels) you put on a pair of orange trunks and a shirt that they give you. Then you enter the poultice room, which is Korean for "the most relaxing room you have ever been in, ever." The first thing you see in this large rooms are large ornate fans whirling gently above people taking naps. Around them are various saunas - a lot of saunas. One 150-degree room has salt crystals coming out of the walls, which supposedly leaches toxins out of your pores. There is a room full of small heated clay balls that you call roll around in. There is a room of blackened charcoal that has a smell like an old fireplace, and many, many others. Whenever you don't feel like lying and getting a good sweat, you can can curl up on a mat and sleep, watch TV, eat lunch at their restaurant or use their free Wifi (although this seems silly to me).

The mix of people is usually 85% Asian and 15% "other." Quite a few Russians frequent the place, as do some amateur sports teams, presumably after a tough practice. There are often small children, senior citizens and everyone in between. Everyone is there to do the same thing - nothing. Tough to think of a better, more relaxing day to spend your birthday....

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Lyrics that make no sense

Anyone want to try this one?

I won't tell you that I love you
Kiss or hug you
Cause I'm bluffin' with my muffin
I'm not lying
I'm just stunnin'
With my love-glue-gunning

- Lada Gaga, Poker Face

Friday, April 3, 2009

Recovery.gov

I feel very proud that I was picked to help with Obama's Recovery.gov project. Officially, it's a program of Bidens, and is being assembled by the Office of Budget and Management and the Inspectors General of the U.S. It's goal to create transparecy to the Recovery Act (i.e the Stimulus Package). My position is small - quality assurance on many of the documents that are to be posted to the site. Still, some of my journalism skills have come into practice when fact-checking and doing grammar checks.

There have been problems, however, and this Washington Times article seems to hit the nail on the head of some of them. It's a good project and could really represent a chance in the way our government talks to us, but it needs work.


Obama's stimulus-spending

Web site short on details

April 02 2009 10:28 AM BY Amanda Carpenter



Concerns are piling up that www.recovery.gov, the Obama administration's online clearinghouse for stimulus- spending information, isn't producing the kind of transparency it promised.

Obama said the Web site would provide a way for taxpayers to track and monitor how the $700 billion in stimulus money was being spent, yet more than two months after some of the funds were released, the Web site offers little detail on where the money is going.

Rather, the site mainly provides links to other government agencies and features press releases. A stimulus time line reveals government agencies will not be required to provide financial reports until May 15. The site doesn't provide any kind of search function to scour the Web site for information either.

The Sunlight Foundation's Bill Allison praised the administration for moving in the right direction but said, "What's there just isn't that helpful." He noted it would be very difficult to create a system where taxpayers could to track the money after it flows from the federal to the state to the local level. "If I live in Lancaster and I want to see the federal money coming to Lancaster and who is getting the jobs and what effect this is having locally, we are not even close to the point of being able to do that," he said.

(Click link above for rest)

Lame note: These postings are my own and do not necessarily represent GSA's positions, strategies or opinions.