Thursday, December 11, 2008

New photo

Don't give me any grief about this; I'm posting it because I like it and I want to. :)

It's a picture of me that was taken last month by a photographer at a convention I attended. GOOD photographer, I say.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Thoughts on my hobby - a chapter in transition

My chapter of the Barbershop Harmony Society is going through transition. After 9 years as Northeast District Champions and representatives of the District at International, many are burned out, and others are frankly tired of the eternal tension that exists in many hobby chapters between those who want to excel (weeding out the members who hold back our quality) and those who either can't or don't want to put in the extra work to achieve the quality.

In the past year or so, "the handlebars have come off the bicycle," in a sense – our previous responsiveness to our director and music team's pull has not been what it once was. So we're going through a process of recreating ourselves. We'll have a new director and before we can hire one we need to decide what kind of chapter we want to be. Some dedicated members have worked on detailed proposals of several different models. And we're near the final stages of that process.

Today in our email group, branching off a different discussion, I posted the note below, which expresses what I feel about all this. Those of you who know me well know how much it's meant to me to sing in this chorus in recent years. Who knows what the future holds, but I wanted to express this.

I share this with you partly because I have a sense that there's something in this for all of us, all of America, even all of humanity, not just my chapter of the barbershop society.


You know, gents, for a variety of reasons I don't know if I'll be on the risers after 1/1/09, for a while at least. But none of it depends on what the chorus's standards will be.

I'm going to stick my neck out for a minute and maybe embarrass myself a little, and because of that, I presume nobody else will take offense at what I say.

I started in 2002 pretty much at rock bottom level. At my first audition, one of the guys who was hearing me literally fell backward when I let loose with my very sincere bellow. :) And there was a time when I handed in a tape to David Patterson and he came back to me with the gentlest look on his face as he asked me some delicate question about it, only to discover it was NOT the tape I'd meant him to listen to - after my take, he'd continued listening to some old junk I'd not recorded over, which was the grossest squawks. Yet he was gentle about it; I was aghast later when I listened to what HE'd listened to.

Over the years I learned to hear overtones (now I can hear about half of what Boot and Steve hear), which makes it infinitely easier to fit into the sound. I'm still not instinctively good at flatting the thirds and adjusting volume based on where I am in the chord - that's all filtering in slowly.My breath and vocal production are much better than they were. And through the incessant training, I've learned something about interpretation.

Ironically, recently I've been thinking that in six years what I've really learned is to understand how good my voice is NOT. :) But I sure have fun.

Here's where I'm going to get dicey: [Recently at an event] I heard some truly bad singing. Even by my standards. I heard some choruses galoomphing along, with the chorus moving from note to note more or less like an amoeba, galoomph galoomph, not like a unit. And yet as I heard it, I found myself thinking "That must be what I have sounded like to others, and what I probably still sound like to some." And perhaps what Nashua sounds like to some, today.

So as I found myself thinking "Don't they know how bad they sound? How can they be enjoying that?", I was at the same time thinking "Without people in our chapter who were willing to suck it up and TEACH ME, I wouldn't be one bit better today than I was six years ago. I improved by better singers sucking it up and being generous with me."

I have to say this was not an easy thing to realize. But for the first time, I felt that if I knew how to teach, I'd be willing to.

I fully understand the guys who want to excel and don't want to be held back. God bless 'em, I say, personally. And at the same time, I hope everyone who has it in 'em will continue teaching. I am so, so grateful to those people, for it's they who have given me my hobby. They helped me, literally, give voice to what I love to do.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Shrimp on a treadmill

Shrimp on a treadmill:

If HE can do it, I can do it!

~ Rhonda

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hmmm, somebody's not updating his LinkedIn profile meticulously

Responding to a LinkedIn email tonight, I ran across someone's page that contained this little bit:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Singing: the key to a long, sexy life (Brian Eno)

British composer, artist and activist Brian Eno was a founding member of the rock group Roxy Music, and has produced recordings by Talking Heads and U2. He was on NPR's Weekend Edition Sunday today. Audio and text available here. Appetizer:

I believe in singing. I believe in singing together. ...

I believe that singing is the key to long life, a good figure, a stable temperament, increased intelligence, new friends, super self-confidence, heightened sexual attractiveness and a better sense of humor. A recent long-term study conducted in Scandinavia sought to discover which activities related to a healthy and happy later life. Three stood out: camping, dancing and singing. ...
“A capella singing is all about the immersion of the self into the community. That's one of the great feelings -- to stop being me for a little while, and to become us.”

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The River of Time

To enlightened observers, time is a river of new beginnings. Little by little, we purge ourselves of the stagnant past by comforming to new circumstances which reveal themselves one minute at a time in our daily lives. Above all we must acquiesce to these circumstances which are borne along the river while the future is suspended behind coffer dams of hope.-– hoarded, as it were, so that we might put forth greater effort. If we are not yet perfect, we soon will be. Deliverance is certain to flow along this same current as one of these circumstances which is why Kierkagaard said. “Life makes sense looking backward, but it must be lived forward.”

The front page we thought we'd never see: 7/4/09

(A tip o' the hat to classmate Tim Koranda.)

Beer launching fridge

Who says American ingenuity is at a standstill?

Passing thoughts on the "new New Deal"

Many observers are talking about the chances of Obama leading an initiative similar to FDR's New Deal, so these two items caught my eye this morning:

Obama Vows Swift Action on Vast Economic Stimulus Plan
[Includes "addressing neglected public infrastructure projects like roads and schools..."]

The New Deal Didn’t Always Work, Either
"The traditional story is that President Franklin D. Roosevelt rescued capitalism by resorting to extensive government intervention; the truth is that Roosevelt changed course from year to year, trying a mix of policies, some good and some bad. It’s worth sorting through this grab bag now, to evaluate whether any of these policies might be helpful."

I'm no historian nor a deep student of today's challenges. I'd welcome comments from those of you who are.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A genuine hand-made Raggedy Ann

Shhhh..... here's the hand-made doll that Ginny just made for her daughter Lilly's fifth birthday later this month.

Isn't she talented??

(This blog is about impatience, and I'm too impatient to create something like this. But Ginny's not. Good thing. There are some things that grandmothers are just really ideal for!)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Japanese Mall Fountain

What a nifty invention. What won't people think of next?

A tip of the hat to Uncle Sandy.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Palin Pipeline: Superb Washington-style methods

I know Internet political messages don't generally change anyone's opinion. But I'm gonna post this one anyway because in my opinion it adds insight that's truly new to me: it appears that Sarah Palin's signature achievement, her gas pipeline deal to carry Alaskan gas to the lower 48, was executed with slick and savvy Washington-style buddy-buddy lobbyist deal-making.

Most potential bidders were excluded by the bidding terms, and the corker is that the deal eventually to a firm that had previously offered to do it without government subsidy but may now get a half billion of government subsidy:

AP INVESTIGATION: Palin pipeline terms curbed bids

Now, I know some people will say "There ya go again, tha lib'ral mediah." I'll touch on that subject tonight, regarding a station that sued for the right to fire reporters who won't lie.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Want your vote to count twice?

I'm impatient about.... idiots.

“While well-intentioned, this type of exercise may only drive fear for the voting public,” said a spokesman for a company that makes voting machines.

What was she speaking about? Why, it's a successful effort to hack into voting machines, as reported by MSNBC.

By security experts? No, by undergraduates in a course.

At MIT or Caltech? No, at Rice.

One of the groups not only hacked in, they hid their hack so well that it survived two audits. Punch line: the same company spokeswoman then had the b@lls to comment that there's never been evidence of such fraud.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education. (A tip of the Hatlow hat to our friend who calls himself The Hat.)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Caption contest

You know what to do: click the Comments link below.

(A tip of the hat to cousin Bob & Louise.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Another Bill Buckley ex-columnist on Palin

David Brooks, former columnist for William Buckley's National Review, and the "house conservative" columnist at the New York Times, speaking at the big shindig in New York last week introducing the new layout of Atlantic:

You might be interested in the whole write-up over on Huffington Post, in which he also recounts an interview he had with Obama. One excerpt:

Obama has the great intellect. I was interviewing Obama a couple years ago, and I'm getting nowhere with the interview, it's late in the night, he's on the phone, walking off the Senate floor, he's cranky. Out of the blue I say, 'Ever read a guy named Reinhold Niebuhr?' And he says, 'Yeah.' So i say, 'What did Niebuhr mean to you?' For the next 20 minutes, he gave me a perfect description of Reinhold Niebuhr's thought, which is a very subtle thought process based on the idea that you have to use power while it corrupts you. And I was dazzled, I felt the tingle up my knee as Chris Matthews would say.
Please note something: the headline on that Huffington post is inflammatory, even though it's a direct quote from Brooks. I'm intentionally not posting that here, because as I've said to some of you, I think we'll all be better off if we focus on exchanging ideas, not being inflammatory. Let it start here.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Buckley: "Sorry, Dad, I'm voting for Obama"

The son of William F. Buckley has decided to vote for a Democrat

Let me be the latest conservative/libertarian/whatever to leap onto the Barack Obama bandwagon. It’s a good thing my dear old mum and pup are no longer alive. They’d cut off my allowance.

Best election status tracking site

Tonight's news once again reported the nationwide poll results for Obama vs. McCain, which is the most useless thing you could possibly track. What are these people thinking? The only thing that matters on election day is state by state.

So I googled "obama mccain poll results" and found what seems to be by far the most useful site I've seen, named, appropriately enough, Real Clear Politics.

Intelligently, their navigation list on the left shows a list of the battleground states. Clicking one produces a list of recent poll results, like many sites. But unlike many, it also shows the blue/red trend. Here's my state. The red-blue chart shows the individual candidates' numbers; the graph below that shows the point spread as it waxes and wanes. (Click image to enlarge.)

The site also has a "RealClearPolitics Map" which shows the current status of all the states that are solidly in or leaning toward one camp, or tossup. Remember, judgments about what's a tossup and what's not are highly subjective.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Intergalactic quartet

Lifted from the Wired blog.

Gives a whole new meaning to the term "classless society." Completely classless.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Introducing my new self - today and 9 years ago

I decided to use a different Blogger identity for this blog: ImPatient Dave. Here's my first post.

I added a new, better kind of subscription over there on the right. I had some problems on the other blog's email list - replies would unintentionally go back out to the whole list. This one should work better.

For this account's photo, I even dug out a photo from 12/31/99, Millennium Eve in Provincetown, a few weeks after I'd proposed to Ginny. Here are a few pictures from that evening:

First, my new profile picture: A peaceful, happy looking boy - hm, doesn't look very impatient!

With the lady herself - with dark hair!

And with the sister, happy and playful as always:

Life is good.

btw, one thing Ginny brought into my life is her hairdresser in Provincetown, who at the time was also a genuinely fabulous impersonator of famous songstresses. That weekend was one of his last performances before retiring from show biz. Here are some snapshots of the show - these are all one guy!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Agency’s ’04 Rule Let Banks Pile Up New Debt

I've long been impatient with people who assert that our chief problem is too much government regulation, and this is a perfect example of why.

Friday's Times has a long, meaty article detailing how a key SEC ruling in 2004 let investment banks throw caution to the winds by removing the rules about how much debt banks could take on. The reasoning was that the banks were grown-ups and would know how to watch out for their own best interest.

They used financial modeling software to assess risks. The author of that software wrote to the SEC saying that removing those regulations was a really bad idea - the software the banks would be using to "watch out for their own best interest" couldn't anticipate severe turbulence, as had happened in 1987 and 1998. The SEC never replied.

At the time, some regulators questioned whether investments would be secure enough. A senior staff member said the SEC would hire the best minds, including people with strong quantitative skills to parse the banks’ balance sheets. It never happened.

With cash reserve requirements removed, some banks ran up their debt to 33 times their actual amount of cash. Imagine if you had $10,000 of life savings and you took on debt of $330,000!

A good friend of many years, with whom I differed on several points, used to assert that government should just get off the back of business. He also objected to taxes in all forms. I wonder how he's reconciling that, now that taxpayers are bearing the brunt of the irresponsible businessmen who made those choices, and the other irresponsible people who failed to hire those quantitative experts.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Debate party (last Friday) at Boston's ICA

Wellllll, lookie here, isn't this fun!

Last Friday, Boston's new Institute of Contemporary Art hosted a live remix of the Presidential debate. (Live remix means geeks in the back room would be intercepting the life feed of the debate and scrambling its parts into a semi-psychedelic six-screen experience.)

My company's founder, Marco Peterson, invited me to go along, suggesting meanwhile that the occasion would require an attitude appropriate to a Samoan attorney.

Well, I gave up psychedelics long ago, but I did happen to have a conspicuous Mexican hat in the back seat of my car, left over from a wonderful party hosted by long-lost friend Pete Moloney a week earlier. So I grabbed the hat, went inside and had a good time.

Today Marco sent me a link to a column in the Boston Phoenix about the event. And lookie here!

Downstairs there were some serious politicos watching closely, others (including me) fading in and out of the debate, and a handful of cats dancing while the late night DJs warmed up quietly. One guy who fell into the latter group was wearing a sombrero, which was great since I’d forgotten mine. It was official – ReConstitution was the dopest debate party I’ve ever been to ....
Dude! My sombrero made a Phoenix writer say it was his dopest debate party ever??

It's all part of the job, sir. We just do what we see must be done.

A tip of the Happy Hat to Marco for putting me in the appropriate mental space TO see and do what must be done. And a re-tip to Pete for handing out the hats at his party's door!

Disgusting SEIU ad against my hospital

A post on Paul Levy's blog about SEIU, a union I've mentioned before, led me to look into a new web site they've started, to slander Levy himself and the whole hospital.

As the post describes, they've put up signs at bus stops implying that the hospital is full of corruption and malfeasance, with a companion web site: "". I saw a "Share Your Story" link and went there to say how much I (and every employee I've spoken with) like the hospital, but look what I saw: (click to enlarge)

If you're not already familiar with this story, which has been going on for ages, it's summed up in the many comments on Paul's post.

Several months ago in a comment on a similar post I told an SEIU organizer "This gives organized labor a bad name. Why not go after some evil company??" And to me giving organized labor a bad name really is a problem. But, as shown in a link on Paul's post, it appears the union's leadership has ethical troubles of its own now:

The president of the Service Employees International Union said this week that he plans to consult with two labor reform groups in an effort to clean up his scandal-stained organization, beginning with a new ethics code and an internal watchdog commission.

But leaders of both groups said Wednesday that they were skeptical of Andy Stern's proposals.

"Why does he need a new code of ethics?" said Herman Benson, founder of the Assn. for Union Democracy. "People didn't know that what they were doing was wrong? It's preposterous."

More on Kathleen Parker

Phooey. The link didn't show up in my earlier post. Here it is:

Conservative commentary on Sarah Palin

Kathleen Parker, a respected conservative columnist, has written a column on Sarah Palin's candidacy that is worth reading before tonight's debate. Nothing terribly new, but it does come from a thoughtful source on the right.

Some good questions for the VP debate

The NY Times Op-Ed editors asked people with knowledge of the vice presidency, the candidates and their records to suggest questions they’d like to hear answered from the stage at Washington University in St. Louis this evening. Just reading the questions is informative, about both candidates.
Questions for the Next Vice President

The gasping dollar

In the past, the value of the dollar was tied to gold - it had real value, $35/ounce. In 1971 we went off the gold standard. I've never been entirely clear what the reasoning was; all I can say is, I'm glad I bought my college class ring before then - it's an ounce of gold. Now the value of the dollar isn't tied to anything real, and the US dollar price of gold is one measure of the world's belief in the American economy.

Various web sites will let you track the history of the price of gold through the years. During the Clinton years the price of gold dropped from $329 to $265 - the dollar became 20% stronger. It was the first time since 1979 it had been that strong.

Today, in just 7.5 years, it's exploded to $869. Your dollar is worth 3.3 times less in the world market than it was when W took office. From

I'll have more to say later about why I think this is happening. (It's not all Bush policies.)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"We've had quite enough recklessness already this century"

Interesting, thoughtful review of a few issues that I think bear considering. 12 minutes.

Let's stop being binary:
The first 1:45 is an expression of something I've long felt - that we as a country have become far too binary - someone is great or abysmal. (This commentator had simply written that Palin did "great" in her Charles Gibson interview, and got flooded with angry emails.)

Palin's experience: The next 7:45 considers the suggestion that her experience is normal for VPs. I think the commentator twists Palin's words a little but the review he presents is worth considering. In his view, relevant experience would be (1) significant experience focusing on federal issues, or (2) significant executive experience, typically being governor for a significant time.

The 20% issue: 20% of all VPs (9/46) have acceded to the Presidency. Since McCain is the oldest candidate ever and he has health challenges, the odds of his VP taking over can't be less than that 20%.

I'm not 100% certain I agree with everything this guy says, but I like that he seems thoughtful, seems to consider things.

I chose his closing line for the title of this post: "We've had quite enough recklessness already this century."

Salon: The Sarah Palin Pity Party

Well written column. A bit long but easy to read. Sheds light on some confusing reactions columnists have had about Palin's recent embarrassing problems in the spotlight; points out that she's a tough politician who knows how to cut up a moose, didn't hesitate a moment to accept McCain's offer - "a politician who took the national stage and sneered at the work of community activists."

The whole thing is worth reading; here's an excerpt:

Sept. 30, 2008 | Is this the week that Democrats and Republicans join hands -- to heap pity on poor Sarah Palin?

At the moment, all signs point to yes, as some strange bedfellows reveal that they have been feeling sorry for the vice-presidential candidate ever since she stopped speaking without the help of a teleprompter. Conservative women like Kathleen Parker and Kathryn Jean Lopez are shuddering with sympathy as they realize that the candidate who thrilled them, just weeks ago, is not in shape for the big game. They're not alone. The New Republic's Christopher Orr feels that Palin has been misused by the team that tapped her. In the New York Times, Judith Warner feels for Sarah, too! And over at the Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates empathizes with intelligence and nuance, making clear that he's not expressing pity. Salon's own Glenn Greenwald watched the Katie Couric interview and "actually felt sorry for Sarah Palin." Even Amy Poehler, impersonating Katie Couric on last week's "Saturday Night Live," makes the joke that Palin's cornered-animal ineptitude makes her "increasingly adorable."

I guess I'm one cold dame, because while Palin provokes many unpleasant emotions in me, I just can't seem to summon pity, affection or remorse. ...

I don't want to be played by the girl-strings anymore. Shaking our heads and wringing our hands in sympathy with Sarah Palin is a disservice to every woman who has ever been unfairly dismissed based on her gender, because this is an utterly fair dismissal, based on an utter lack of ability and readiness.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Waking Up Is Hard To Do


How often do my two after-work passions come together? Singing and healthcare? (And they're from Minnesota, no less, like me.) A group of nurse anesthetists, singing medical parodies.

(From the amazing Toni Brayer MD, via KevinMD, all brought to my attention by Paul Levy. Looks like these boys are goin' viral in the medical blogosphere.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Great article about barbershop harmony

I attest, this article in the Saturday Evening Post completely captures the joy of barbershop harmony.

Great personal connection for me, too. In Wisconsin a few years ago I was coached by Todd Wilson, father of Taylor, and several times I've seen Rick Spencer perform - he's from my district of the barbershop harmony society.

(btw, a confession - my kid sister Amy sings in a much more competitive chorus in Sweet Adelines (Pride of Baltimore) than my chorus! And on their annual show this weekend, the featured quartet is Old School, which debuted at this year's international competition and placed fifth in the world - after being penalized for blowing a major note in one song. Some serious good songitude there.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Takin' It Back with Barack, Jack

As many of you know, my sister Suede is a professional singer who's just released a new CD, "Dangerous Mood." Two of the songs have fabulous harmonica accompaniment from a guy named Will Galison. When I saw her CD launch tour's inaugural show in DC this summer, he was there, live.

Little did I know he can sing. Here he is with a swing group – and what a song!

(A plug – this weekend we're going up to see Suede at Jonathan's, a fabulous restaurant and music venue in Ogunquit, ME. We saw her last weekend in Provincetown, and even with a cold she still got a long standing ovation and hollers for multiple encores. What a trouper – can't wait to hear the full voice again!)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Cross-posted: "Born To Be . . ."

From Paul Levy's blog:

Born to be . . .

Following up on the theme introduced last Friday, here is a pertinent animated view of the Baby Boomers.

All I could say in my comment was "o... m... g..."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Inspiring news from my cousin's blog

In May I wrote about my 28 year old cousin Chris McCulloh, who had a spinal cord injury in January (C6-C7 subluxation, for those who know such things). This happened as he was about to enter Case Western Reserve School of Medicine.

He's been blogging occasionally about his recovery. I was inspired to receive this from him last Thursday - a wonderful story of the classmates he hasn't met yet.

Spinal Cord Injury and Healing

A special thanks..

Posted: 07 Aug 2008 07:37 PM CDT

Recently, I received a package in the mail from Cleveland, OH. It had been something I was expecting, as I'd been told by a few folks in the admissions office that something was on the way. But I had no idea what was inside, and so I anxiously awaited its arrival. When it did come, I was beyond surprised.

When I first opened the box, I found a bag with the Case Western Reserve School of Medicine logo on it. About the size of a laptop, looks like it'd be perfect for carrying one to and from classes. There was also a batch of materials that had been from Second Look Weekend, since I had unfortunately been unable to attend due to the injury. Those were all pretty cool, but they paled in comparison to what else was in there. I pulled out a t-shirt, and the first thing I saw was the Case Med logo:

This alone was exciting, as I had tried to order a shirt with the medical school logo on it after I was accepted. Unfortunately, the only shirts available online from the Case school store only have the basic CWRU logo on them, and no mention of Case Med. So having a shirt with the medical school logo on it was awesome. Then I unfolded the shirt and saw the rest of it.

All over the shirt in silver marker were signatures and notes from the entire Class of 2012, the group I was to join this summer in matriculation at Case. I saw the names of people who have contacted me since the blog URL was given out to the students, and there were very touching notes from people I didn't know. I was blown away.

The front of the shirt:

(Click to enlarge)

The back of the shirt was even more awesome. In addition to all the other signatures and notes, the students had printed "Dear Chris, Welcome to Case Med! Class of 2012″ in big letters.

The back of the shirt:

(Click to enlarge)

I cannot even begin to express how moving it was to see all of the names. It was one of the few times I've ever been left speechless, and I have been sharing it with family and friends that I've talked to since then. They've all been equally as blown away by the thoughtfulness of the students.

Mr. Essman and Dr. Mehta made it very clear to me that it was entirely the students' initiative to create and send the shirt. And this is precisely the reason I chose to attend Case - the people. The student body and the entire community as a whole are truly a supportive group, and the school lacks the cutthroat competition so prevalent at other institutions. I felt something special when I visited the school during interview season in all my dealings with students and faculty, and I've felt that even more so now. The warmth has really made me feel a part of the community, even from nearly 500 miles away.

To all the students of the Class of 2012 at Case Med, I thank you with my whole heart! I cannot tell you how much the gift means to me, and how much I cannot wait to get out to Cleveland to meet you all at some point. It is truly special to be one of your peers.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Beth Israel Deaconess on ... Jeopardy??

One of my earliest posts on this blog was a thank-you to Dr. Drew Wagner, the amazing surgeon who removed my yucky-sticky-rude-tumored kidney, without cutting me wide open - just little tiny slits. Amazing.

In that post was a mention of the amazing simulation/training facility at his hospital (and mine), Beth Israel Deaconess. Well, today while chasing a link in the blog of that hospital's CEO, I came across this video clip: last December, their simulation center was featured on Jeopardy's Tournament of Champions!

And yes, they inflated my belly with that unnamed gas. (Yes, I have a bikini scar, and no, you may not see it.)

p.s. To be amazed at the openness of communication at that hospital, and the transparency they're bringing to the world of healthcare, go directly to that video site and page through the "More from this show" items on the right side. The video featured today is a real-life sample of how the hospital now approaches suggestions from workers at every level of the enterprise. What a beautiful example of empowering everyone, and the results it produces.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day 2008

Updated 5/27 - fixed typos.

1. The ceremony

Today I sang at the Groton (MA) cemetery, in their Memorial Day ceremony. This is the first time I've ever participated in such a ceremony, and it's time to say why, and what's different this year.

I came of age as assassinations and disillusionment put an end to post-WW II optimism. When I was 13 JFK was shot. We lived near DC and Dad took us to his office to watch the cortege. When I was 18, leaving high school for college, Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy were shot.

Something horrid was happening in the country. Then the Chicago Democratic convention happened, with cops bashing demonstrators on TV while a circus went on inside. (This was when reporters had the guts to call a spade a spade, and show it.) I couldn't believe what I was seeing; I was raised an optimist, fully participating in that post-WW II sense that America was great so all we had to do was work it out by talking.

I moved to Cambridge for college, where my optimism was ultimately shattered when I saw a cop smash the skull of a kid who was simply standing on a corner, while rioting happened 1-2 blocks away. (I know, many of you have heard that too often.) In my world cops couldn't possibly have done that, but I saw it. And suddenly all the things left-wingers and pessimists were saying were happening all around.

That was a filthy, corrupt war. (Note: I did not say anyone who was in it was filthy and corrupt.) I was left with a very disspirited feeling about everything to do with the military, because it seemed so polarized: either you loved everything military or you were anti-American. I just stayed out of the conversation.

Now I've aged. I faced death myself last year, leaving me acutely wondering what we're leaving behind for the next generations. I find myself concerned, seeing the rights that make us America increasingly eroded, and wondering who's going to win that particular fight. And I thought about the people who died to win us those rights.

I realized that for the first time I have a deep respect and appreciation for those who've willingly put their butts on the line for what they believed in, and got killed: went through that portal that I faced involuntarily.

That's really something. Their integrity, standing for what they believe in, transcends any lies and corruption that may have surrounded them.

So today as I practiced (and performed) "the land of the free and the home of the brave" and "America, my home" it had an impact on me that it's never had before.

2. The state of healthcare today

At the cemetery we stood near a tombstone detailing the fate of a family. As we work on solving healthcare's challenges, let's remember what a different world it is today. (The first date is unclear in the photo - it's 1798. Click to enlarge, if you want.)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A new quartet to keep an eye on: "On Air"

At last weekend's local barbershop quartet competition, a new quartet popped a lot of eyes open. Their first song contains, about 45 seconds in, one of the best renderings I've ever heard of a "bangin'" barbershop chord, performed at a level that usually requires an international-top-ten quartet. Three of these four are members of my chorus.

From left to right: Jon Green (tenor), Jayson McCarter (lead), Kurt "Boot!" Boutin (megabass), George "the man" Feinberg on baritone.

What's particularly astounding is that these guys have been singing together for less than two months. Imagine what it takes to be so precise in beginning and ending phrases so completely in synch, not to mention with the pitches matched so well that they produce the "expanded sound" that's the hallmark of barbershop harmony.

What a pleasure to be around at the first coming-out of a new quartet like this.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Neuroanatomist Witnesses Her Own Stroke

Wow, what a speech, tying together so many aspects of all I've studied (many of us have studied) about what it is to be a human.

Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor talks about observing her own stroke as it happened.

(If the embedded video gives you trouble, view it on the TED site here.)

Wonderful insights about the functions of the two hemispheres, and what she experienced as parts of her mental function dropped away, leaving her for a time with nothing but the experience of the moment of Now.

Aside from the inspiring beauty of her story, what smacked me in the face was the great similarities between what she says and what I discussed last year with members of my cancer community, about being at peace with it all, as Buddhists have done for millennia and as teachers like Ram Dass (nee Richard Alpert) continue to do today. A lot in common, too, with the description of psychedelic experiences such as described by Aldous Huxley in The Doors of Perception.

Powerful speaker.

I'm listening to her talk for the third time through. I know exactly what she's talking about re "no longer the choreographer of my life," and several other things, so I have no doubt at all that what she ultimately describes is available to every one of us, and that includes you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A Singing Valentine from a barbershop quartet

This is a commercial for one of the things that makes me happiest in life: singing barbershop harmony!

As this blog's "About me" page says, I sing in a men's barbershop harmony chorus, the Nashua Granite Statesmen. Most people don't know that there are barbershop choruses, but most do know about barbershop quartets. And indeed, as the photo shows, I'm in one, named "Route 5." It's loads of fun - there's a ton of tradition around this style of music - but the most fun is every February 14, when we hire ourselves out in quartets to do Singing Valentines, as a fundraiser.

The photo shows us with one of our "victims" - the head of the English department at a local high school. We ambushed her in front of a department meeting, claiming that our name is The Dangling Participles, and sang her a love song. A yearbook staffer was there, so next spring we'll be in print. How cool is that?

Next year you can order a Singing Valentine quartet (male or female) by going to Or, if you're in the Nashua NH area, just contact me - next year I'm the local chairman. (Better yet, order now - why wait for the rush? :-)

If you're impatient, though, you're in luck - my chorus's annual show, with a superb women's barbershop chorus, is Saturday April 5. The featured quartet is named Rounders - we're flying them in from Fort Lauderdale, because they're good: they placed 8th in the world at last summer's championship. Here they are singing the Irving Berlin classic "They Say It's Wonderful":

As it happens, my chorus is currently recording that same song (a different arrangement) for our next CD, which will be out this fall - all Irving Berlin songs (Midnight Choo Choo, I Love a Piano, How Deep is the Ocean, and many more). When it's available for sale, you'll know it. :) But you can hear a preview, and much more singing, in Nashua NH on April 5. Tix: info -at- (or me).

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Web 2.0 means we get to say.

My post below mentions "2.0" stuff. I've been dealing with this subject at work for the past year, but I know a lot of you have only recently heard this "buzzword" buzzing around like an unexplained annoying gnat that keeps getting in your ear, making it hard to think.

The e-patients blog yesterday has the best layperson's introduction I've ever seen for these key aspects of Web 2.0:

  • blogs
  • wikis (Wikipedia is just one example)
  • social networks
  • social bookmarks.
Worth a view. (These little "training videos" require having your speakers on.)

The big deal about all this is "user generated content" (UGC). See, in the early days of the Web (now known as Web 1.0), the Web was read-only: all web "content" (the stuff you read or view) was created by people who had access to a Web server and knew all the geeky stuff you needed for hand coding a web page.

In contrast to that, today we can create content: Look, I'm sitting here right now, blogging about whatever I want - just as if I could conceive and write a book and get it printed and have it appear in every library in the world, instantly. (Because it IS, right now, available on every computer in the world that has an Internet connection, including my iPod Touch.)

This that you're reading, right here, is user-generated content.

And the big thing about THAT is that it's enabled us to spout our opinions, for instance rating books on Amazon or even posting our own book reviews, as short or as long as we want.

What this means in the world of e-patients is that we ourselves get to talk about anything we want; instead of reading only what a magazine editor thinks we want (or need to know), we ourselves get to start any discussion we want and take it anywhere we want.

You could put it this way: Web 2.0 means we get to say. We get to say whatever we want, and we even get to say what gets talked about.

This is a core principle cited in the e-patients white paper, which you really should read, in PDF or wiki form. More to come.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Books that make you dumb? I don't think so.

Time for another statistics lesson. I'm not the world's greatest statistics whiz (not like the super-geek on TV's "NUMB3RS" show), but that's part of my point: you don't have to be a super-geek to detect major mistakes in statistics that come your way.

This isn't a rant - it's just an interesting example of what to be careful about, with a little entertainment along the way.

I just got an email with something that, on the face of it, is fascinating:
Some one matched up the most popular books in Facebook college groups with average SAT scores at colleges to see what people commonly read at different intelligence levels.
Nice graphics, and a decent explanation about his method. On the face of it, pretty interesting.

But there's this thing about statistics: you've got to be careful about (at least) three things:
  1. When you see a pattern, are you really seeing a pattern you can count on, or is it just a momentary coincidence? (If the first two people to walk into your office are men, does that mean only men will walk in today?)

  2. Even when you do see a pretty reliable pattern, can you be reasonably sure it means what you think it means? (A relationship between the behaviors of two variables is called a correlation, but that doesn't mean you can say one caused the other. A famous example: for some years there was a correlation between wolverine population and the number of sunspots. Did either cause the other? Not likely, and besides, who could tell? The lesson: Similar behavior of two figures could just be a coincidence.)

  3. Finally, you've got to be really careful about whom you actually measured. (If you interview people who are hanging out in skid row bars at 2 a.m., you may reach some interesting conclusions about the opinions of people in skid row bars at 2 a.m., but you can't say they're conclusions about people in general.)
Returning to the email: this guy saw patterns in which books were favorites at colleges with different average SAT scores. Addressing #1, he correctly didn't count colleges with very little data. But blew it on #2, when he titled the page "books that make you dumb," revealing a pretty massive fixation on one aspect of the whole picture, and flying in the face of his assurance that "I know correlation doesn't equal causation."

And besides, on #3, he doesn't even mention the gross sampling error of making an assertion about the book, based on data from Facebook readers who read it AND who participate in listing their favorites. Example 1: the Jesuit scholars at Boston College are highly intellectual, and I imagine that if they ranked their favorite books, the Holy Bible would rank high; but I doubt the Jesuits are ranking books on Facebook, and the Bible ranks among the lowest on this guy's charts.

Example 2: if some book actually made many people so brilliant they ditched Facebook, those people would disappear from this ranking entirely, and all that would remain would be the people who completely didn't get it. And, that book would show up as "making people dumb."

Besides, there's the whole issue of whether SATs are any indication of smartness, not to mention which type of smartness (Gardner's Multiple Intelligences).

He woud have been better off titling it BooksThatLowAndHighSATSchoolFacebookMembersLove.

This isn't just an academic issue - these errors can lead us to drive off a cliff. When we think we see something, and we don't, then with the best of intentions we can make serious mistakes in our conclusions, our policy decisions and our life choices.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

On the health of complex systems

Somewhat related to my "nature of wellness" post is the general question of what is health.

I've known Dorron Levy since November of 1994, and for almost the whole time he's devoted his career to figuring out how to tell whether a system is healthy, with the goal of enabling early detection, which allows solving a problem before its consequences spread, becoming more costly and eventually becoming urgent.

His work that's been published is about computer-based systems, but the underlying theoretical work is quite generalized, and I expect it'll lead to sophisticated early detection of human health problems. He's started a blog,, to lay out his thinking in easy-to-digest chapters. If you're at all interested in how things work, you might enjoy reading it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Don't fall for SEIU

Some of you may have received an email today from MoveOn. I urge you not to donate to this particular campaign, and to go to MoveOn's suggestion form and warn them, as I did:

Be very, very careful about SEIU. I'm a strong progressive myself, very pro-union philosophically, but these people give unions a bad name. They lie, distort, send subversive emails and letters full of half-truths or outright untruths. Creating a strong union movement must not depend on such Bush-like tactics!

I'm quite disappointed to see them showing up in a MoveOn email.

Watch out - they open you to what could be well-documented claims of fraud and deception. That is NOT something MoveOn needs!

Here's why I said that.

These people are weasels. Those of you who've been following Paul Levy's blog, as CEO of my hospital (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, aka BIDMC), and who perhaps have met him, know what kind of man he is: competent, compassionate, committed, honest. SEIU wants to unionize his hospital, and they've been claiming he's a slimy liar who uses manipulative tactics more appropriate to the Bush administration.

Here's a blog post from the other day about a packet they just sent to 500 affiliated doctors (who don't even work for the hospital!). The package suggests, among other things, that Levy is failing to honor the Jewish tradition of social justice.

Furthermore, SEIU is trying to prevent putting the issue to a secret ballot of the affected workers, supervised by the National Labor Relations Board, and has even supported legislation to eliminate those elections. Note - NLRB elections were created specifically to prevent manipulative employers from blocking workers' free choice.

Paul advocated in an August 2006 post for a free exchange of views: "we will vigorously oppose any efforts to short-circuit the legitimate process by which employees of this hospital can consider, debate, and vote on this issue."

Several months later
he again advocated that the vote be by secret ballot. Last summer he spelled out specific tactics the union has used in other cities. One commenter said
The initial cause for unions was to avoid worker exploitation and unsafe working environments. I don’t see this happening at BIDMC. If a Hospital or business provides a good safe place to work with decent benefits and livable wages for all its employees than there is no need for union intervention. That being said I do feel there are still places of business that could use a union…Maybe the SEIU should be looking at Wal*Mart????"
I couldn't agree more. I wonder why on earth they're not doing that. Or, consider Nike, which in 2003 went to court to claim the right to lie about whether they'd cleaned up their sweatshops! They finally gave up, six months later, and agreed to donate $1.5M to a workers' rights group.

Paul's "pages from the playbook" post contains comments spanning three months, with back and forth between Levy and various attackers (and supporters). You can decide for yourself whether he's open and honest. Consider in particular the August 13 comment by an employee, which criticizes several things about life as a nurse at BIDMC - Paul published it unedited. This man is not a manipulator.

We need unions where there are rampant abuses, as with Nike and Wal-Mart. But SEIU does not give unions a good name.

I personally believe the Reagan administration did us all a great disservice when they started busting up unions, starting with PATCO... that's one reason the middle class is disappearing in the US, with grave consequences throughout the economy. But the solution is not to lie and go after great not-for-profit institutions. Shame on them - not only are they not attacking the problem, they're giving the solution a bad name in the process.