Geek's Grief - RIP Pepper

The once animated photogenic face lies ashen, motionless in the casket, surrounded by symbols of a well lived life; an American flag is in the corner, a rosary in his hands and a Yankee’s jersey. The individual in the casket, the people gathered round and specific pictures on the easels are what make this different from all the other wakes in all the other funeral homes across our country. For those caught up in their grief, it is unique. For those who have been fortunate and have not been visiting too many funeral homes in the recent past, it is unique.

The pictures show a life well lived, with children and grandchildren at births and weddings. They show good times on a boat or at a hunting club. They show thin you men, little older than boys in Vietnam. Next to the pictures are medals earned.

While the war ended some forty years ago, it has ranged on inside many of our vets, and while the brief illness may have been referred to as organ failure by others, the organs were most likely victims of the ongoing conflict.

I look at the mourners, hard working men and women, cops, nurses, and teachers. I look at the friends who have shown up, burly men with bulging muscles, tattoos, Fu Manchu moustaches and pony tails. Perhaps they are friends from the VFW. Perhaps the Vietnam War rages on in some of them as well.

The ex-wife, whom everyone loves and was so sad when they split up is there with a male friend. The nephew’s ex-girlfriend, whom no one could understand why they broke up, they were so perfect together, is heartily hugged by all the relatives as the nephew stands by awkwardly. A woman that no one seems to know, who was a close friend for several years appears briefly, in deep grief.

We all have our own ways of mourning. Our grief can be complicated, ambiguous, disenfranchised, and it takes place against the backdrop of our lives. One friend has had a major court battle which has disrupted years of his life, take a very positive turn. I sit there quietly, amidst great turmoil in my work life.

I’m a geek. I’m normally connected to social media 24/7. Out of respect for the family, I leave my Google Glass in the car. I set my two cellphones and my smartwatch to vibrate. I know there will be emails for me, and messages on social media about an ex-employee hurtling down a self-destructive road.

A Catholic Deacon conducts a brief service for the deceased. Afterwards, I head home, listen to a few hymns and other songs of remembrance, and think happier aspects of my work, what to teach young kids about technology and how to program my smartwatch.

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Little Brother

Recently, a friend posted on Facebook a link to Cory Doctorow’s post on BoingBoing, Why I'm sending 200 copies of Little Brother to a high-school in Pensacola, FL.

The principal of Booker T Washington High in Pensacola FL cancelled the school's One School/One Book summer reading program rather than letting all the kids go through with the previously approved assignment to read Little Brother, the bestselling young adult novel by Cory Doctorow. With Cory and Tor Books' help, the teachers are fighting back.

Before I learned that I’m supposed to be embarrassed to read young adult novels, I downloaded it for free.

At the top, Cory has “THE COPYRIGHT THING”. It is chock full of great quotes:

Universal access to human knowledge is in our grasp, for the first time in the history of the world. This is not a bad thing.

As to why he gives away his ebooks, he says,

For me -- for pretty much every writer -- the big problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity… I'm more interested in getting more of that wider audience into the tent than making sure that everyone who's in the tent bought a ticket to be there.

Well, I’m glad to help with that. Perhaps this blog post will encourage a few more people to check out Cory’s writing.

Yet the quote that has particularly jumped out at me is this:

If you're not making art with the intention of having it copied, you're not really making art for the twenty-first century.

Of course, I wonder what people who advocate not making art, just making something think about this final quote.

The Return of Music Mondays

A few years ago, I tried to put up a blog post every Monday about music. Sometimes, the blog posts would be about Falcon Ridge Folk Festival or local concerts. Often, this would be tied to some performer calling into Fiona’s Radio Show.

Yet I’ve gotten pretty busy and have had less time to write blog posts and my music posts have fallen by the way side. A month or so ago, I put up a listing on SonicBids looking for performers that wanted to be on Fiona’s Radio Show, and we’ve gotten a bunch of submissions. Yesterday, I went and looked at the submissions.

Fiona is old enough now, with her own tastes in music, so she could select the performers that she wants on her show. She has selected two so far and so I’m busy scheduling performers for her to interview. Coming up soon, SuperMonkey

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The Turtle

Saturday was a beautiful summer day. I mowed the lawn, went to the dump and managed to get a half mile swim in. The underlying unease remained mostly out of mind. Yes, there were the text messages, emails and phone calls about and issue at work and the nagging concern about the uncle in hospice, but all in all it was a good day.

Sunday started off full of promise. The weather looked just as good. It was Pentecost. There would be a baptism at church followed by a picnic. I was singing in the choir as well as playing hand chimes. I awoke early so I could get to church for choir practice before the service.

As I drove down the road, I saw something in the middle of the road. It wasn’t clear what it was, perhaps some sort of child’s toy that had fallen from a car. As I got closer and carefully drove around it, it became clear. A large turtle on its back in the middle of the road. Had it been hit? Was it dead or still alive? I found a place to turn around and head back.

It was a good sized snapping turtle, a little larger in diameter than a dinner plate. It didn’t move. I approached it cautiously. I’ve helped snapping turtles cross the road in the past. I know that they have strong jaws, longer necks than you’d imagine and can stretch their necks around quickly.

Carefully, I picked up the turtle and turned him over. He had been hit, badly. The rear left side was crushed in. There was a large blog of red goop, I assume it was his blood, on the road. Yet his legs still moved, and he feebly lifted his head. I set him, right side up, on the side of the road and called my wife. I didn’t want to leave the turtle alone, in case there was hope that someone could save him, or, in case there was no hope. I called my wife and described the situation. She started calling wild animal rescue organizations and I headed off to choir.

The site of the injured turtle stayed with me. Should I have stayed with him till he died? Should I have taken him to the nearby pond that I imagine he had either just left or was heading to, in hopes that the water my bring restoration? I knew my wife would do as much as could be done.

At church the choirs practiced. Afterwards I checked my phone for messages. The crisis at work was worsening and the turtle had died. Was this an omen about work, about the uncle in hospice, something else, or simply more road kill?

Turtles carry great symbolism. They are what holds the earth up in various myths. The symbolize being grounded, moving slowly at peace, emotional strength, understanding and ancient wisdom. This ancient wisdom had been hit by a car, most likely driving too fast on our local road, and our peace, strength and wisdom has been shaken.

The turtle I stopped for is now dead. The crises remain and I am trying to keep moving slowly, peacefully, and provide emotional support, understanding, and wisdom for those around me.

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Influence and Incentive

On Friday, I filed my SEEC Form 1 with the State Elections Enforcement Commission. This form, along with others, provides the SEEC information about how the candidate is complying with campaign laws and provides the public an opportunity to find out who is influencing the candidate, at least in terms of financial contributions.

Yet with campaign finance reform in Connecticut, at least for state offices, the effect of financial influence is not as significant as it used to be, and it may be time to look at other forms of influence. We are all influenced by our family, friends and neighbors, and what we see in the media. An interesting book that explores this is Personal Influence: The Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications by Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld. It was first published back in 1955 and is perhaps even more relevant today as we think about influence online. This book influences my own thoughts about how we can work together for the sake of our community, state, and country.

Another key influence shaping my run for State Representative is the Connecticut Health Foundations Health Leadership Fellows Program. I became a fellow in this program last year. A key focus of the Foundation and the program is ‘Expanding Health Equity’. The program provides many great opportunities to gather with thought leaders to find ways to address health issues in Connecticut.

One opportunity was when Francois de Brantes from the Health Care Incentives Improvement Institute spoke to fellows about payment reform. In preparation for the talk, the fellow read the policy brief, Improving Incentives. It is well worth the read. What incentives can we offer to medical providers, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and others to reduce the cost and improve the quality of healthcare in America? As an example, are their incentives for medical providers to encourage caesarean sections when natural childbirth would provide better health outcomes? Are their incentives to have a caesarean section prior to 39 weeks, even though, as the March of Dimes notes, at least 39 weeks is best for your baby.

Through the fellowship, I’ve connected with people at many great organizations, the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, the Connecticut Multicultural Health Partnership, the Commission on Health Equity, the Connecticut Health Policy Project to name just a few.

Yet there is much more that needs to be considered when we think about the wellbeing of our community, state, and country. On Friday, I spoke with the producer of Conversations on Health Care about an upcoming guest, Elizabeth Bradley, who wrote the book, The American Health Care Paradox: Why Spending More is Getting Us Less. While we spend more per capita than any other country on health care, our results are not as good as other countries. Why is this? Perhaps some of it comes from failing to spend enough of what leads to healthy societies, like good food and housing. Perhaps some of it is due to flaws in our educational system or transportation system.

These are the issues that we need to be thinking about. We need to find incentives that will help our communities, our state, and our country be stronger and healthier. This is where you come in. Who influences you? Who do you influence? Who has good ideas that need to be brought into the conversation? What are those ideas? Let’s talk. Let’s use this as an opportunity to work together for better communities.

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