Eat what you like

Day 103: Monday

Morning, Tim!

It’s been a while. I could feign a delightful, planned summer hiatus but you know better than that. Perhaps it was your takedown of language’s role in morality but you know full well that’s even more laughable than the summer hiatus line… No, instead it was just an unfortunate end of what had been a fairly stable habit. I hope to rebuild the blog-writing muscles, so bear with me over these first few posts!

Yep. It’s gonna be a rough start.

“The great seduction confronting every individual or family or church or political party or enterprise of any kind in every age is the idea that we no longer need to change. We think, there’s nothing really major about me or my tribe that God would want to reform. I’m sure he wants to work on those people, but not me. That’s a delusion.” – Rev. Dr. Dan Meyer

That seems to me to be about right. I was recently reading Sapiens. It was an interesting read. The author, Yuval Noah Harari, had a knack for laying out his arguments as follows: Fact A, Fact B, Fact C — Therefore X. X was controversial. How did he get there? X as a conclusion seemed was so far away from the original 3 premises.

One piece of text that stood out was an articulation of Buddhism. At it’s core, the idea was that the mind naturally craves more in all situations. And all suffering arrives from craving. The goal, then, would be to rid the mind of any conception of “good” or “bad” and simply acknowledge things as they were — a body sensation, a feeling, the circumstances that brought those about, etc. Acknowledge, but not label.

While familiar, I haven’t studied Buddhism to any great degree, so I asked a few friends who have to give their take. They suggested it probably isn’t the most fair representation — which makes sense. I felt the same way about Harari’s take on Christianity. That said, regardless of religious affiliation, I see this mindset play out in the culture around me at work.

I’m not sure how to segue here. I haven’t yet figured out how to articulate how I see this, how to point to tangible examples. Yet it seems if true, if we do in fact see ourselves as the stable force and the world as what needs changing, we’ve lost perspective. We make up this world — and rather than expecting some outside thing to change, we need to reflect that in what we can control. That is, if we want a world that is more relational and filled with joy, laughter, and empathy, we need to put down our phones, step away from the artificial “connection” and look up at those we interact with every day. If we want to understand issues of race, gender, or political differences we must stop spending 9% of every day on Netflix and 1/16th on Facebook and instead hold conversations with those in all walks of life.

It’s trite at this point to talk about a filter bubble. Yet with all of the time spent on websites that track our every click to feed us information that we like, it seems vital to talk about it. Mary Roach discusses how “People like what they eat, rather than eat what they like.” This harkens back to the question

Which came first, the chicken, or the word we use to distinguish said young-domestic-fowl-raised-for-meat-and-dairy-products from the so-called “egg”?

Yet in this case, the answer seems clearer — we form our tastes around what we are given. Regular exposure makes things more palatable.

Extrapolating a touch, this is the exact phenomenon that should terrify us when it comes to a digital age. When our every click is known, and we get our news from a feed that is tuned to give us what we’d like (so we spend more time there…), we begin to like what we see. And the algorithm is tuned (because that is how the company is incentivized) to give more information like that. And so we don’t get exposed to anything outside of our circle, our delicate bubble.

Let’s tie these two ideas together more concretely, this time in reverse. We are fed a stream of information that we like — not because of anything external, but because that is what we are fed. When we then come to ‘like’ it, we get more and more of it. This is how we come to see the world — this is “right”. When we are exposed to something outside of this, we don’t see it as us needing to change, because it goes against our whole world (…which just so happens to be made up of the same things we ‘like’ and see repeated every day). And so rather than striving toward any change, we create a world that revolves around ourselves, a world where we sit in the center and the ‘other’ should conform to us.

That’s not tight logic. It’s not crisply written. But if there is a smidge of truth there — oof. Because I’m not in the right. Any glimpse in the mirror tells me I’m not perfect, that I do need to change. It’s the look that sees someone who lies, someone who is slothful at times, overly egotistical and ambitious at others. Someone who struggles with lack of understanding of race, gender, and a host of other issues. Taken to a literal mirror, someone who is obviously gluttonous. I need to change. Not just the world around me, but me within that world.

I don’t want to simply like what I eat. I want to take the time to understand what is good, what is nourishing, and to eat that. I want to eat what I like — with the recognition that taste isn’t the only element of “like”, and that some things I like not because they taste good at first but because I need them to make me a healthier member of the human race.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I made some tea to set the mood for writing. However, like blog writing, it had been a while since I’d made a cup of loose leaf and I was out of practice. I made a lot of it, and it was dreadful. A lot of scrolling says the parallels between my tea drinking and blog writing may not have stopped where I would have hoped…

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More like America-nada

Day 92: Friday

Good morning Zak,

Zak, you’re too clever for me.  I think I must have spent twenty minutes mulling over your use of the letter ‘d’ before I got the pun.

Anyway, you raise a good question: is technology partially responsible for the Excess I’ve been whining about?

When I first got music notation software, I went through a phase of writing all my music directly into the computer.  Eventually I stopped that and went back to writing by hand before copying into a notation program.  The quality of my music improved drastically at that point.

I know correlation is not the same thing as causation.  But I do think there’s something to this…

A lot of music and art in general is predicated on the mechanism of pattern recognition.

“In effect aesthetic pleasure derives from the fact that the soul recognizes in the material the harmony of its own structure.”

—Umberto Eco (In reference to the views of Ugo di San Vittore)

I don’t know if the physical process of writing by hand makes it easier for me to recognize patterns.  At the very least, it makes the artistic processes much more intimate.

But patterns are a big deal.  The more arcane a pattern is, the more rewarding it is when our brain/soul recognizes it.  But if it’s too arcane, of course, there’s the danger that we won’t recognize it at all.

I’ve written before about the pattern of pairing love with death in medieval poetry:

“All I can say is that the collective wisdom of Western poets throughout history tells us that love is a kind of death.”

That’s maybe one of the most interesting patterns in Western literature.  It’s something that resonates with us all on a fundamental level.

That’s why people like the story of Paolo and Francesca so much.  Frankly I get a little annoyed by the excessive popularity of Inferno Canto V.  The fame of Francesca’s little vignette has tragically eclipsed the rest of the Divine Comedy in popular culture.  I went to Bergamo and saw this excessively Romantic depiction.

While the hipster in me is, as I said, a bit annoyed, I do understand why people like this kind of thing.  This story should be popular.  When we experience a piece like this, our soul recognizes in the material the harmony of its own structure.  We understand on a fundamental human level that life couldn’t really be a thing without love to the point of death.

That’s easy to recognize.  As far as other patterns go… a hyphen may be well advised.

Until Monday,

Tim

More like Americanada

Day 91: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

I really appreciated the context around ‘Americanata‘. Perhaps I’m reading it wrong, but it seems like the connotations indicate a certain degree of excess, of some bizarre need for the over-stimulation Aquinas feared.

Obviously the pendulum swings both ways. We have discussed the balance of history, moving between extremes — in this case, minimalist to maximalist (ha). I’m terrible at the music trends, but the same happens in philosophy.

I think it proper to put that caveat forward, though in all honesty I intend to do nothing with it. I agree that we’re in a bit of a ‘maximalist’ society, raising the Americanata flag. And that it is so very distasteful. I spend part of the weekend cleaning out my closet, with a large bag of clothes I no longer need/wear. I look around the train and see many heads down, focused on screens (Though I see two rare objects that I’m not sure I could name — ancient cream things with black etchings, folded open. Still, a head down focused intently). I’ll likely watch a TV show or movie tonight, constantly entertained (or at least busy). There is a lot of excess. Be it ‘noise components, odd timbres, aleatory’ or the ridiculousness that is action scenes in movies, we ‘need’ lots of stimulation.

Yet you seem to dislike it as well. I’m sure many others agree. And under the guiding principle of “I want to enjoy things as much as I can”, I think many times it’s easy to fall prey to having others explain what will be most enjoyable. That’s where there exists a very, very lucrative advertising business — we don’t have to know what we want, others can simply tell us. And yet, it seems that we may just enjoy ourselves all the more if we considered the possibility that less is more.

I look forward to your piano piece.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I realize Americada as a play on Americanata isn’t quite right. It’s not nothing I’m after, but Americaminimo doesn’t quite have the same effect…

p.s.s. How much is technology a culprit? Is it a phase that we simply haven’t figured out how to deal with it? Or it it here to stay?

It’s like Uber for Healthcare

Day 89: Wednesday

Morning, Tim!

Though not feeling poetic today, I love when I have enough energy and mental capacity to thoroughly enjoy my work.

I’ve been working on Non-Emergency Medical Transportation (NEMT) solutions recently.

A bit of background, followed by why I’m interested:

NEMT has traditionally been provided by an array of parties — ranging from taxis to shuttle buses, volunteers to high-priced ambulances. These services are needed not only for patients but for health systems, insurers, and tax-payers. Because transportation to and from an appointment can be a binary limiter on whether someone is able to receive care, the patient certainly has a stake. Importantly, though, because the patient’s health might otherwise deteriorate, health systems and insurers should also care, as handling sickness before it worsens is in almost every case less costly — even if it means multiple visits. Surgeries, scans, lab tests — they are all more expensive than a simple office visit to ensure someone maintains health. Tax-payers in turn should care, as their dollars are going to providing services and care for substantive portions of the population, both young and old.

The challenge of providing transportation fascinates me. Not only because I can throw out tons of transportation puns, getting on a good roll before someone tells me to put on the brakes because they can’t handle it and I have to stop (That derailed quickly). And not just because everyone in my line of work is talking about ‘the next Uber for healthcare’ when in fact, Uber could be the next Uber for healthcare. No, it’s in part because there are substantive operational considerations (i.e. if a patient is late to an appointment and backs up everyone else; if a patient is sitting in a bed waiting to be discharged but doesn’t yet have a ride, and so the hospital cannot use that bed; etc.). Yet the above stakeholders could also be interested for numerous other reasons — perhaps brand (look at how convenient we are!), patient experience (no one likes to wait around), or to better keep a broad population healthy and happy (taking patients to the pharmacy, community center, or beauty salon). It can be not only an issue of ‘sexy’, new solutions like Uber to make headlines to further a health system’s reputation, but also applying that same technology to address the social issues arising as barriers for those who often need care the most.

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There are tons of companies flooding the space, and it’s an exciting time to be looking at this work. I think it’s most exciting because of it is so broadly applicable, with the ability to interest so many.

Until tomorrow,
Zak

Life Abundantly

Day 69: Monday

Good morning Zak,

So I don’t know if you would count blogging as social media, but aside from this blog I pretty much have no presence online.  I don’t do social media.  This is a part of the hipster wannabe in me.  If everyone’s online, I’m not. If everyone likes milk chocolate, I prefer dark chocolate.  Everyone gets their Masters at home, I travel to Italy, etc.

The only downside to abstaining from social media is that it means I miss out on a lot of information.  In Milan there are sometimes weird hipster concerts with zero publicity, but you can hear about them if you’re in the right social media circle.

In your last entry:

“How can [we] use these tools for good — to help others — and not be addicted and lose [ourselves]?”

But there definitely are upsides to being out of the loop.  For one thing, not having direct access to information means that I have to rely on personal human contact to find out about stuff.  Sometimes people realize this and make a point of reaching out to me personally.  Maybe that means I’m a burden on society.  I don’t know.  Frankly I don’t care.  Human contact is worth the extra effort.

I know connection is supposedly the whole point of social media.  But maybe there’s a difference between mere connection and actual contact.  Like, I don’t think everything humans do has to be useful.  Human contact isn’t necessarily about having access to information or gaining a certain number of likes.  It can also be an end itself.

Luigi Dallapiccola used to wear a full suit and tie whenever he sat down to compose music.  He was completely alone; there was no one around to “like” his suit, but he did it anyway.  It was a ritual he needed to do for himself as an artist, not for any practical reason.

As a brief aside, anyone acquainted with the daunting eloquence of Dallapiccola’s music can totally picture him doing something like that.  I’d be more surprised to find out he didn’t wear a suit.

Anyway, I know people do a lot of really cool stuff online too.  I’m not informed enough about social media to really have an opinion on it.  But, Zak, I do have opinions about blogging.  I think we should use these tools to cherish the uselessness of being human.  Life isn’t about getting ahead.  It’s about living.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Overwhelmed – thanks a lot, healthcare…

Day 68: Friday

Morning, Tim!

So I obviously missed my Wednesday post. Not that I didn’t write it — it was scribbled through tired eyes while on a plane home. Unfortunately, without internet, I was unable to actually post it.

If you’d like to torture yourself, it seems the zoom on this image allows you to read the handwriting. For less torture, please see below for what, upon reflection, is exhausted stream of consciousness.

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Morning, Tim!

Obviously this is quite late. I’m on a flight back to Chicago right now, and all of my electronics are out of battery. That might seem weird since you are seeing this online — it was first written in very poor handwriting while experiencing turbulence, though.

I just spent 3 days at a healthcare IT conference. Quite the spectacle, some 40 thousand people convene to discuss how technology both new and old play a role in advancing care delivery. There were companies that helped patients schedule appointments, nurses communicate with one another, physicians dictate their notes. Still others provided security around the information, connected devices to the cloud to share data and enable care delivery in the patient’s home.

I love technology. It allows me to communicate with you seamlessly and empowers smarter, faster decisions to be made all the time. in healthcare, this translates to better patient care and opportunities to save lives. Getting to work in healthcare tech is even better than tech generally — not only is there ample room for healthcare to catch up to other industries, the passion healthcare entrepreneurs bring to helping others is truly inspiring. So I love technology.

I also hate technology.

Phones and tablets abound, alerts all over the place. An amazing amount of opportunity — yet as with everything that comes to mind, the greatest of strengths can also be the greatest of weaknesses. The ability to connect anyone at any time allows a a father to video chat and say goodnight to his kids — so too does it enable a man to get caught up in work, unable to de-tether while home as that same child yearns for attention, guidance, and love. Technology enables the spread of information, empowering scientists to collaborate on wonderful breakthroughs — so too does it enable groups to congregate and self-reinforce radical beliefs that bring harm to others. Technology can help focus, it can be the largest distraction. It can educate or inundate, facilitate encouragement or discrimination. But it doesn’t do any of this itself. It is a tool, used by people, often exacerbating the existing intuitions — booth virtues and vices.

I hope to have kids someday. I’m not sure what to do with technology. TO disallow is to deny the world these kids will be born into, disadvantage them in a world where these skills will be table-stakes. Yet, there seems a certain sadness that comes with this, a weariness weighing on a heavy heart and off-put mind. What about play and creativity, about bodily movement? We are physical beings — is using only our minds a hindrance to what our development might otherwise be? How can they use these tools for good — to help others — and not be addicted and lose themselves?

How do I do that?

Until tomorrow,
Zak

Until Monday,

Zak

Costing a leg

Day 54: Thursday

Morning, Tim!

Silly Josephine…

Tim as you well know I work in healthcare. Thinking about healthcare as a business feels kind of grimy at times — you are making money off of those who desperately need help, many times in order to live. That said, having worked with a lot of Catholic hospital systems, the usual saying goes “No margin no mission”. In order to operate, in order to help all of those people, they need to have the financial backing to do so. They certainly have a lot of write-offs each year, essentially donating care back to communities; but it’s no news that in the U.S., healthcare is expensive, and many people are paying all they can afford in medical bills.

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to think about making money off of others’ misfortune. In one hand, I’m helping them extend life; in the other, the cost of that extension is often a poor quality of life, constantly fretting about bills and work.

I recently came across some articles about financially backing legal cases. I asked a friend of mine with a law degree to explain in a bit more detail, but the gist is that there are many wrongs done to people – e.g. abuse, discrimination, etc. – done by a corporation that has quite a bit of money. If the individual were to sue, there are legal ways for the corporation to spend those dollars quickly prolonging and “drowning” the individual, making it effectively impossible to sue in many cases. There are some lawyers who will work on a contingency basis, not getting paid until the individual does — but they typically have caps far smaller than would be necessary to take on a corporation.

The linked article discusses financially backing some of these cases. Now I certainly don’t have enough money to bankroll anyone’s legal case, but the idea still intrigues me. If real harm was done, shouldn’t there be some recompense paid? The same problem we saw above begins to arise, though – in order to operate like this, the financial backer would need some form of compensation, thus taking a portion of what would go to the individual. There’s this feeling of doing good while simultaneously lessening the good done.

I’m not sure there’s any way around it within healthcare. Hopefully make it cheaper to deliver care, I suppose. It’s just unfortunate that there’s a cost to doing good.

Until tomorrow,

Zak