Thursday, August 26, 2010

We Have Met the Enemy, and He Owns Us..

I know that a lot of people watch Fox News. I'm not one of them.

When I have watched Fox, I've seen some things that were interesting, and some things so crazy that's it's hard to change the channel for the astonishment.

Yesterday, Jon Stewart paid particular attention to probably the most offensive part of Fox News' programming schedule (aside from Glenn Beck), Fox and Friends. He caught them trying to play Woodward and Bernstein, "following the money" that is funding in part the Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero.

Apparently, what Fox found when they went looking for the money caused them to structure their reporting in a particular way. Mr. Stewart and his staff analyzed, exposed, and basically skewered Fox for doing so. Regardless of what you think about Jon Stewart or Fox News, this is worth 10 minutes of your time:

The Parent Company Trap
Fox News has not responded, and very few mainstream media outlets have chosen to delve into this further. Perhaps they will down the road.

To quote the 'On Faith' blog post by Valerie Elverton Dixon:
Islam did not attack the United States on September 11, 2001. Criminals attacked this nation.

The construction of that facility has met all requirements and been approved by the local government of New York City. That's as far as government can and should go. Those individuals and groups that espouse political, economic, and religious liberty, yet are opposed to the right of this facility to exist in the place they have chosen, are hypocrites, plain and simple. 

ADDENDUM 8/27 10:40 AM - ACLU statement regarding Park 51 Islamic Cultural Center. 

Sign O' the Times 8

It's been nearly four years since I wrote about the potential for change in the Downtown area of Grand Junction, given all of the vacant, unused property along one of its major streets, Grand Avenue.

Since that time, the face of Grand Avenue hasn't changed all that much. The economy has certainly played a part in that, as evidenced by the sign above. The First Assembly of God property was initially sold, with plans to develop it along the lines of residential and commercial multi-use as identified for this area in the City's Comprehensive Plan (24 dwelling units and/or 96 jobs per acre). Apparently, that has fallen through.

This is an impressive parcel, located at a major east/west thoroughfare and between the main north and south ingress and egress points for the Downtown area.

This location factor, as well as the property's proximity to City Hall and the County Administration Center, makes me wonder if this wouldn't be a better location for a Public Safety facility.

City Council and administration, what do you think?

Here's a great example of "targeted" advertising. That's Crossroads Wine and Spirits in the background. I wonder if the right wing goes to Fisher's and the left..oh, never mind.

This is posted at the ticket office for the Box Canyon Falls in Ouray. Sorry that it's a little out of focus. The scripture reference is Psalms 93:4.

From a little gift shop inside a historic building in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Enough said. Enjoy your day.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Simple Act of Prayer

I had to pause and reflect a bit when I read the story yesterday about the 33 miners in Chile who have been trapped alive by a collapse for 20 days now. The report that these men will likely be down there for another four months until a rescue tunnel can be drilled was difficult for me to comprehend.

Earlier yesterday, Leslie told me to count my blessings. That's for sure.

Grand Junction blogger Todd Transmeier, himself a former miner, touched on this today in an excellent post that put forth a simple way to offer prayer for the miners' safety, resolve, and sanity as this ordeal continues:
Until these men are freed, I am going to say a little prayer for these men every time I turn on a light switch. I just need a reminder and I thought a fitting reminder would be to turn the dark to light using the resources provided by an underground miner.
I'm going to do the same. There really isn't much more to say except to keep these men in your hearts as the rescue operation continues.

Oh, yeah - count your blessings.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Media and the Homeless - Part 3

Honest differences are often a healthy sign of progress.

Last week I touted the comprehensive reporting of the Fort Collins Coloradoan in documenting the nature of the problem of homelessness in their community, and what is being done.

This included an excellent story on the state of affairs in Grand Junction, and I hoped aloud for the local papers here to continue the spirit of their previous reports on the homeless with renewed fervor and commitment.

Yesterday, the Daily Sentinel put forth quite the story on Page One.

Amy Hamilton's profile of local activist Jacob Richards was a comprehensive, objective, and excellently written exploration not only of the individual, but of the cause for which he has become most associated with. I was personally surprised to see so many column inches devoted to the story, and I wondered out loud if the front page photo really had to be that big.

I believe that the story meets the Sentinel's responsibilities of service to the community by trying to objectively profile one of it's more active members who has made an impact in calling attention to a significant issue, in a way that is bringing people with very different perspectives on that issue to the table. Ms. Hamilton's reporting includes interviews with several other key stakeholders in the issues surrounding homelessness. Some of these people have genuine differences with Mr. Richards' opinions and approaches to problem-solving.

Ms. Hamilton also excelled in chronicling Mr. Richards' less than conventional journey from life as the son of a local government official in Pitkin County, through the criminal justice system as a convicted burglar and member of what many in the Aspen area called "The Dirty Dozen".

We all have one thing in common - we are all flawed human beings who have made mistakes, and we will all make more in the future. That shouldn’t prevent us from striving to co-exist and collectively work to solve those problems that transcend economic, social, or political boundaries.

Mr. Richards will be a polarizing figure in the Grand Junction community no matter what he does. I've been critical of him in previous posts here, but I personally find it heartening that he has learned to work with the processes in place, and has tried to partner with those in a position of authority or established service.

Another thing I find heartening is the (mostly) civil discourse from multiple viewpoints in the Sentinel's online comments section, especially given the vitriolic nature of the comments on homelessness that have been seen there previously.

The activist approach of Mr. Richards and his associates has indeed changed the way that our government and non-profit community is looking at homelessness. I don’t see calling attention to injustice as a radical concept, but I hope that Mr. Richards doesn’t see the need to again resort to overly controversial or illegal means to get his point across.

Thanks to the Sentinel and Amy Hamilton for a great job. Keep it up.

Have a great week ahead.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Homelessness - The View From Fort Collins

I know this is a well-used illustration and metaphor for lots of things, but it definitely fits.

This week, the Fort Collins Coloradoan published an extraordinary series of stories concerning the problem of homelessness in their area, as well as the remainder of Larimer County.

This comprehensive group of articles was written to coincide with the launch of the Homeward 2020 initiative in the Fort Collins metro area. Quoting from this group's robust and highly informative website:

Homeward 2020 is:

  • A ten year plan to end homelessness in Fort Collins
  • An initiative of the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado
  • A collaborative project that will draw from leadership and wisdom all across the community
  • A very metric-driven, evidence-based, strategic approach
  • A community awareness piece for the face of homelessness as well as the educational, economic and legal cost housing instability has on the community
  • A foundational mind-set shift from supporting the homeless on an agency level to ending homelessness on a jurisdictional level
  • Ultimately about Fort Collins having a rapid, easily accessible network of prevention assistance, affordable housing, and wrap- around support services that will make homelessness rare, short-lived, and non-recurring.
The Coloradoan's series includes some forays outside their local area as well. One story is an assessment of Denver's Road Home, the 10-year plan to end homelessness in Metro Denver that's about 4 years old now.

Of significant local interest is a detailed and comprehensive overview of the current state of affairs regarding homelessness in Grand Junction. Reporter Bobby Magill (formerly of the Daily Sentinel) interviewed several of the key players on both sides of the debate, providing a view of the situation in GJ with the eyes and ears of someone familiar, while making it accessible to the front range reader uninitiated in the ways of "River City".

The story also reported on the local efforts to develop a 10-year plan to end homelessness, and what's being talked about so far. It looks to me like there is not just one example, but two now on how to organize an effort such as this.

This is showing me more and more that here in GJ we don't have to re-invent the wheel, but that any substantive movement will require something on the level of a "foundational mind-set shift".

The series also provides a look at both the highly visible facets of homelessness and the familiar battle lines that are drawn in urban centers (there are striking similarities to GJ), as well as the hidden faces of poverty that escape perception by the bulk of us every day.

The staff of the Coloradoan deserves a lot of credit for investigating this community problem from multiple viewpoints and locations, and putting together a series that covers most of the bases rather well.

One question raised in my mind after reading these stories regarded the involvement of Colorado State University. While CSU and the City of Fort Collins share a joint interest in the redevelopment of the Poudre River area that connects the downtown area with the college, I'm wondering how much of CSU's brain trust is involved in the Homeward 2020 initiative.

The list of stakeholders there also includes the major health care player in the area, Poudre Valley Health System, and the local United Way. Should a similar effort be undertaken in the Grand Valley, the presence of St. Mary's would seem almost essential, along with a commitment of resources of some kind from Mesa State.

The Homeward 2020 website, along with the Coloradoan series, should be required reading for anyone here in Grand Junction who has the slightest level of interest in addressing these issues successfully. I am heartened that groups such as Beyond Charity and the Grand Valley Coalition for the Homeless are still active and meeting on a regular basis. Yesterday's meeting was expecting Mayor Coons, GJPD Chief Camper, and a representative from Governor Ritter's office.

Mayor Coons was quoted in the Coloradoan's Grand Junction story as saying, "If we're going to make any strides in solving the problem, we need political clout, a high-profile champion...A Mayor Hickenlooper." That may very well come to pass come November, but some type of institutional will among the local stakeholders to compromise for the sake of true collaboration and success is also going to be required.

I believe that this begins with making initiatives such as Beyond Charity dovetail with the efforts of our front range neighbors in terms of organization, financial commitment, and community involvement. This includes showcasing the issues in the local media. The Sentinel has done some competent reporting on some of the issues and contributing causes, and I'm hopeful that they will continue to do much, much more of this. Someone in the local broadcast media needs to step up as well.

I'm also hopeful that the key players in GJ will see fit to partner with their fellow stakeholders in Fort Collins and Denver to help see our community through what is a true challenge to both our physical and intangible selves.

Enjoy the rain, if you can.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How It's Done

From today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
The (Pennsylvania) Department of Environmental Protection announced today it has fined Atlas Resources LLC $97,350 for allowing used hydraulic fracturing fluids to overfill a wastewater pit and contaminate a high-quality watershed in Hopewell Township, Washington County.

The violations were discovered on Dec. 5 and 6, 2009, at the Cowden 17 gas well on Old Trail Road off Route 844. Once the unknown quantity of fluid overflowed the impoundment's banks, it ran over the ground and into a tributary of Dunkle Run, according to a DEP news release.

"It is unacceptable for drilling companies in Pennsylvania to threaten public safety or harm the environment through careless acts, such as this," DEP Southwest Regional Director George Jugovic Jr. said in the release. "The Marcellus Shale offers significant economic opportunities for Pennsylvania, but these companies must adopt operating standards that prevent these sorts of accidents and they must make protecting our water resources a top priority."
I especially like the last sentence.

The DEP also fined this same company earlier this year for violations at 13 separate well sites in 2008 and 2009. They held public forums last month to further augment existing rules and regulations. Their website is comprehensive and easy to navigate, and includes news releases of meetings, enforcement activities, as well as ways that citizens can become more involved in the processes that define the agency's mission.

In contrast, while the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is making progress toward assuring that energy companies in Colorado conduct themselves responsibly with respect to natural resources and groundwater protection, it looks like there's more to be done. The record fine levied against Williams Co., reported last Friday in the Daily Sentinel, is a continued step in the right direction, but the structure of and manner in which the Commission's activities are reported to Coloradans seems to pale in comparison to the example set forth by Pennsylvania.

The COGCC website has plenty of information on rules, policies, staff reports, and includes a guide for those who are media savvy, but no news releases detailing enforcement activities, or how interested citizens can become more involved in the process. They have a kids page, though.

Many will call this an apples-to-oranges type of comparison. Granted, state governments back east are more entrenched, multi-layered, intrusive, and admittedly inefficient in many areas. There is a lot more at stake in Pennsylvania and other states that sit on top of the Marcellus Shale; the population density is higher, and many people depend on both surface and groundwater resources that require significant diligence to protect, especially given the heavy industrial past of many areas.

I wrote about this same kind of thing over three years ago, and I still feel the same way.

Many in Colorado will cite the manner in which government is reined in, through things like a part-time legislature, decidedly less local government, and TABOR. That can be a good thing in some areas, but not when public safety is threatened through harm to our physical environment. Attempts to further exacerbate restraint on government through ill-conceived initiatives such as Propositions 60, 61, and 101 will not help. You get what you pay for.

Having spent considerable time in Pennsylvania over the last few months, I know that there's a fight brewing over how drilling in the Marcellus Shale will be overseen by not only state government, but by local governments as well. Incumbent, term-limited Governor Ed Rendell will have his replacement elected in November. Many cities and townships are gearing up to attempt to ban drilling outright, and many citizens are calling for a New York-style moratorium on drilling until the regulatory infrastructure can catch up.

Is all of this appropriate, or even workable, in Colorado? Of course not. The squeeze is on for many people in this economy, and seemingly more so in Grand Junction. Striking a balance between the economic needs of our citizens and protecting the environment in which we all have to function will be a subject of impassioned and seemingly endless discussion wherever there are energy resources to be extracted.

How we achieve that balance of sustainability, economic and otherwise, will in large measure define our legacy, and impact the quality of living, for those who live here after us.

Have a great day.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Net Neutrality - This Is Serious

Woke up this mornin', had those hijacked e-mail blues..

I appreciate the concern of those who e-mailed, texted, or called me to let me know.

I'm pretty sure that I've resolved the issue that had everyone in my address book being told I was in Spain and needed money to get home.
The e-mail address associated with this blog was not the one affected.

I'm continuing to mull over the increasing attention that the concept of Net Neutrality is receiving in the mainstream media of late.

The most recent developments seem to have more to do with the attempts by some of the wireless phone companies, at least one (Verizon) in cahoots with Google, to marginalize efforts to assure that, to quote Columbia University professor Tim Wu, the Internet remains "a maximally useful public information network (that) aspires to treat all content, sites, and platforms equally".

There are all kinds of pundits and professional experts expanding on the policy statement issued by Google last week, one week after the New York Times reported that they would. I don't have time to analyze it in detail, at least not for free. My concerns come from these fundamental bullet points that Google led things off with:
1. Users should choose what content, applications, or devices they use, since openness has been central to the explosive innovation that has made the Internet a transformative medium.

2. America must continue to encourage both investment and innovation to support the underlying broadband infrastructure; it is imperative for our global competitiveness.
The subtle differences in language that many might gloss over on the first reading - but are central to the argument - were the first things that I noticed about these statements. Note how "users should choose" instead of "users must be able to choose".

This is likely a tilt of the cap to Apple, which decides for its users what applications they can use with devices like the iPhone, by restricting those applications to only those which are approved and can be obtained from Apple itself.

The second bullet point basically says to me that broadband services, via fiber and commercial wireless, will not grow unless investment capital is attracted. Apparently, the wireless companies don't think this can happen unless they have the ability to create different tiers of information flow, thus compromising neutrality, as an incentive to attract that capital investment.

Hypothetically, this could mean that websites that include embedded advertising for Coca-Cola products will receive priority handling over those with Pepsi ads, because Coke has paid your wireless provider for the privilege. The same could be said for all manner of perceived 'competitive' content - including sites from non-profits or political campaigns.

I'm not a technocrat, so I'll just cut to the chase:
  • Information on the Internet must be allowed to flow without encumbrances like the above.
  • Access to information from websites like this little blog must be able to travel through the Internet at the same speed as the Drudge Report or the Huffington Post.
  • The Internet cannot be allowed to become a bastion of privilege for those who desire to impact and/or control the flow of information, and have the means to accomplish those ends.
The Tea Party movement has come out against Net Neutrality in a letter signed jointly by several Tea Party organizations across the country. They apparently view the issue through a glass that sees potential evil in all government regulation:

This has been debated almost incessantly since the story broke last Friday, but some of the more interesting observations came from the reporting and comments in The Hill:
The free-speech argument holds that, by interfering with how phone and cable companies deliver Internet traffic, the government would be thwarting the free-speech rights of providers such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.
So, it's government efforts in assuring that Internet isn't interfered with that these corporations see as interfering with putting forth whatever message they choose.

I think I will say to them what I used to say to dispatchers; your job is done much better when you act as a conduit, and not as a filter.

The Save The Internet Coalition has been on the forefront of this debate for several years. The latest news from this group, and a link to their website, will be at the top of the sidebar of this blog for the foreseeable future.

Those interested in how freely information flows through the Internet, and how much sway others will hold in how you access and deliver information through this tremendously powerful resource, should review the website information and consider adding your name to those who are alarmed at the developments of the past week.

I will pay particular attention to how this proposed "legislative framework" snakes its way through the halls of Congress and the FCC. I'm not happy with Google's actions here. Suffice to say that if they continue to push this course of action I may see the need to relocate this blog from the Google-owned site that hosts it.

Have a good week ahead.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Of ER's and Airlines

I began Tuesday by looking for some local media coverage of the 'Gasland' screening the previous evening that I couldn't attend.

Finding none (grrrr), I did locate several items that resonated with me and are likely of some significance to all of us:

I've traveled on airplanes a lot over the last several years. A lot of that flying has been on jetBlue, because of convenient flight times, destinations, reasonable fares, and amenities that make the flight go by faster. No bag fees and free satellite TV are big pluses.

I've never encountered a situation like the one that resulted in the flight attendant becoming fed up, which has dominated the Internet chatter since Tuesday and perhaps become its own example of what one online commenter called "narcissistic, impatient, and self-centered".

A lot of people have a large measure of sympathy for Steven Slater; knowing the nature of the airline business, a meltdown such as his might be understandable given the awesome responsibilities, business pressures, and working conditions conducted in the face of an unsympathetic and at times hostile customer base. One could say the same about public safety personnel, especially police officers.

Nevertheless, jetBlue, its customers, and the FAA had expectations of Mr. Slater when he put on that uniform and stepped onto that aircraft in Pittsburgh. Based on other news reports, he may have been on his last nerve even before his initial run-in with the (inexplicably) still-nameless passenger over carry-on luggage.

In the end, Mr. Slater failed to meet those expectations in a most egregious manner. Regardless of how the details are spun or how much sympathy people may have for him, there will be consequences for his failure. To borrow from the sometimes nebulous parlance of today's Human Resources profession, I wish him the best in his future endeavors.

In defense of the remainder of his profession, I believe that a large measure of what a business gets from its customers rests very much on how the employees feel about working there. With the airlines, I'm always intrigued at the different ways that they operate, and how that affects the overall flying experience. Based on all of that, I can say that jetBlue is pretty cool, but that Southwest still has them all beat.

Another profession that is on the front lines of our collective community safety net is the nursing profession, especially those that staff our nation's emergency rooms. I've known numerous ER nurses over my working life, and they are truly a breed apart in terms of their level of commitment, expertise, and general approach to life and living.

ER nurses see the best and worst of what comprises our society; these metrics do not follow the lines of social or economic status. In an AP story from Tuesday, assaults on ER nurses are on the increase, and mental health and substance abuse programs are being cut at a time when economic pressures stand to result in increased drug and alcohol abuse, violence, and as a consequence, ER visits.

Many ER nurses are fed up, and are pursuing criminal charges against those patients that assault, grope, or spit on them in the course of trying to assess their injuries or render care. Nursing groups such as the Emergency Nurses Association are lobbying state legislatures for tougher laws, including making assaulting a health care professional a felony.

The AP story quoted a representative from the International Association for Healthcare Security and Safety about the need for hospitals to re-think their approaches to safety and security in the ER environment. As someone with a lot of experience working in hospitals, I understand the need to devote considerable time and energy to develop policies and practices that optimize the mission and goals of health care organizations.

However, I think that hospitals need to use these opportunities to partner with experts outside of the industry to develop community-based plans for responding to and handling issues in the ER and hospital environment. Hospital security personnel, the majority of whom are not sworn law enforcement officers, should have core competencies in managing critical incidents that dovetail with incident management practices already being used by their local public safety agencies.

Like I've said before, I haven't had any personal experience with uncivil behavior on an airplane, but I've seen enough bad behavior in ER's to last me just fine. Either way, we as citizens and human beings have some responsibilities in these areas, so I'll conclude with my ideas on this:
  • BEHAVE. If you encounter behavior that is an affront to your sensibilities, attempt to deal with the situation calmly, avoid physical confrontation or personal attacks, and try to remember details; names, dates and times, locations, what was said, etc.
  • DOCUMENT what happened, whether it be a police report, letter to management or government agency, or just a personal narrative for later action. Include the details. Be articulate, forthright, and unemotional. Insist on a reply and follow-up action.

With that, enjoy your fellow human beings the rest of this week and the weekend ahead. Some ideas for healthy camaraderie that you might find me at this weekend include the Friday night Glade Park Fire Dept. Movies Under the Stars (still the best family entertainment around), and KAFM's RadioDaze event Saturday at the Kannah Creek Brewery.

Take care.

Monday, August 09, 2010

'Gasland' Comes to Town

This evening the acclaimed documentary Gasland will be screened at 7:30 in the KAFM Radio Room in Downtown Grand Junction. This film, which has received significant recognition at festivals and in the media, is being presented here by the Colorado Environmental Coalition.

Gasland is the work of documentary filmmaker Josh Fox, who hails from northeastern Pennsylvania, in the heart of the Marcellus Shale formation that has generated quite a bit of recent drilling and resulting debate.

Over the course of the last two months (most of which I spent in Pennsylvania), several incidents at gas wells across that state and in neighboring West Virginia, including a fatal explosion in the Pittsburgh suburbs, have left residents of suburban and rural areas increasingly concerned, and local governments calling for a statewide moratorium on drilling until the risks can be better evaluated.

Gasland explores the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking", and its effect on watersheds and groundwater in areas where it occurs. Mr. Fox uses examples not only from his native Pennsylvania and New York, but also here on the Western Slope as well as other areas of the country where fracking is employed to free up gas deposits trapped by underground rock.

Josh Fox will be on hand at the Grand Junction screening to answer questions and offer additional insight into what he has discovered while making and since completing his film. Tickets are $10, and seating is expected to be tight. Those of you with HBO can watch the film now on demand, and the DVD is due out at the end of this year.

While I'll be working tonight, I'm hopeful that the turnout is as expected, and the discussion spirited and respectful. Josh Fox is but one of an increasing number of voices rising out of those areas where natural gas is plentiful, demanding answers to questions about the safety of gas drilling, especially where fracking is used.

Another voice belongs to the Battlement Concerned Citizens, who successfully lobbied Garfield County to fund a health assessment of gas drilling before any occurs in the Battlement Mesa community south of Parachute. The players and their efforts were profiled in a story in yesterday's Denver Post.

It feels like the tide is turning toward providing for energy development that takes into account these factors as well as others, along with new state rules and regulations, and brings about an industry that is able to function profitably while conducting themselves responsibly. Democratic candidate for governor John Hickenlooper makes such a case in his energy issues statement:
Instead of throwing out the oil and gas rules recently promulgated by the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission under the Ritter Administration, we believe it makes more sense to engage industry, the conservation community and other stakeholders in identifying conflicts and resolving them in a collaborative way. Most of the rules reflect industry best practices and we believe the commission process can accommodate changes that reflect different conditions, needs and priorities.
Considering that the GOP candidates have basically self-destructed in recent weeks, this approach stands a very good chance of being implemented with the election of Mr. Hickenlooper in November.

Let's hope it does.

Enjoy the week ahead.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Guardians of Stone

Grand Junction - I returned late this past Tuesday night, and have spent the days since going through mail, catching up on issues around the house, working, and generally trying to shake a quiet melancholy that accompanies every departure from Leslie.

One thing that I grew more familiar with while I was in Pittsburgh was the operations of cemeteries, particularly Sewickley Cemetery, where Michaela is interred. This cemetery has a reputation for meticulous care of their grounds, and for maintaining and encouraging a connection to the history of both the cemetery itself and the community it serves. People started being buried there over 30 years before George Crawford laid eyes on the Grand Valley, and the cemetery celebrated its 150th anniversary this year.

While accompanying Leslie to the cemetery several times before and after Michaela's passing, I was intrigued by the processes, design methods, and meticulous maintenance required to keep such a facility operating in an organized, cohesive fashion. The records of burial sites and maps of burial plots, all maintained by hand or typewritten on cards, set the foundation on which the cemetery is organized and maintained.

Policies regarding certain portions of the cemetery and what can be placed there were also something I was surprised by. In many cemeteries, only grave markers or headstones that are flush to the ground are permitted where there is a hill or incline. This is to allow for maintenance to take place in a more efficient manner, as lawn equipment, tractors, cranes, or excavating machines must be able to freely navigate these areas when necessary. Also, if one wants to erect a grave marker, coordination with the cemetery not only to allow for its placement, but also to have the ground made level and a concrete foundation poured and ready, is essential.

Like many, I never really gave much thought to these intricacies. Cemeteries by and large are out of sight and mind unless you have a loved one there. They offer a connection for the living to those they love who have passed away. They commemorate the sacrifices and loss of too many in times of war. They allow for a place to observe and remember those events in our history.

One memorial located at Sewickley that I made a point of seeing was the USAir Flight 427 memorial. I was working at Life Flight in Pittsburgh on Sept. 8, 1994 when this flight crashed north of the Pittsburgh airport, taking 132 lives. I have a connection to this event that has led me to read many reports and books about it. Yet it was this memorial that helped me to connect to the most important part of the tragedy; the holes left in families, work environments, and the fabric of how our society holds itself together.

A prominent and important feature of cemeteries, especially around Memorial Day, is all those little American flags that adorn the graves of veterans buried there. This struck me as particularly important, as some of the flags at Sewickley Cemetery are placed at the graves of Civil War veterans.

I also thought that this practice was of particular significance, along with the meticulous recordkeeping and maintenance practices, in the wake of the recent news concerning the mismanagement of one of this nation's most hallowed places, Arlington National Cemetery. It's personally hard for me to fathom how those charged with operating the facility with any measure of efficiency could somehow mess up the locations of as many as 6,600 graves.

These errors must have been something that compounded over many years, and the resignation of Arlington's superintendent, hired during the Bush 41 administration, is something that had to happen for the cemetery to move forward. With the help of some technology companies in northern Virginia, Arlington will (finally?) begin the process of digitizing the paper records that it has operated with since Day 1. The staff at Sewickley Cemetery told us that their staff is also beginning the process of entering their records into a digital database, which only makes sense when the contents of numerous file cabinets can be preserved in a virtual state and stored on a small memory card or flash drive.

The digital revolution is also entering the realm of the cemetery in ways that are even more novel and unique. Earlier this year I wrote about the emergence of QR barcodes as a way of linking physical items with limited space, such as printed newspapers and sign-based advertising, with the vast information delivery capabilities of the Internet. Seems that a western Pennsylvania company has taken a page from the Japanese (can't imagine what it must be like to run a cemetery there), and developed a way to link QR barcodes on grave markers to virtual content about the individuals or families buried there that can be accessed via a smartphone.

The owner of this company said in the newspaper story that '"I hate to think that life comes down to this dash' between the birth and death dates on a tombstone." Well, it really does. The poet Linda Ellis has very popularly expanded on this in her poem "The Dash", which Leslie shared with me a couple of years back. It reads, in part:
It matters not how much you own
The cars..the house..the cash
What matters is how you live and love
And how you spend your dash
So in this digital age there emerges a way not only to preserve and catalog those parts of our history represented by those time-weathered stones overlooking, or on the edge of, a town, but to embellish them with a much richer experience of the challenges, the loves, the struggles, and the joys of those who came before us.

I have admittedly been ignorant of the richness of life that one can experience by walking among the dead. Spending more time in a cemetery has reminded me of a great deal that was just filed away as insignificant or too painful, and has given me new appreciation for these places to convey a greater sense of who we were, so that perhaps we can make better sense of who we are.

Thanks to those who are charged with managing these places of repose, all too seemingly forgotten at times, who exercise their duties with the dedication and respect that such a place demands.

While it's on my mind, I'd like to express my condolences to the family and friends of Rebekah King, a co-worker from Cabela's whom I knew, unfortunately, only in passing. Bekah was taken from this world by a drunk driver after only 20 years on this Earth. God's intent in these matters notwithstanding, it's hard to see a promising life snuffed out in such a way.

Bekah's funeral was today. Please remember her, and many others like her, as we continue to struggle with the social paradoxes associated with alcohol and other things that we seem hell-bent on bending our reality with.

Have a good weekend.

Photo Credit: Rebecca Droke, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (barcode on headstone)