Unforced Errors

I just got an email with a copy of the most recent community Kollel* program flyer. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I often am an apologist for communal authority, and tend to think that modern society (secular and Jewish) has gone too far in autonomous directions. As an observant orthodox Jew, I’m into the whole “follow the rules and behave” thing.


This is absolutely appalling to me. There are five programs listed, and they are artificially divided into “men’s” and “women’s” programs. Now, there are educational methodology arguments which can be made about separate-sex education, and there are relatively flimsy religious arguments regarding women studying Talmud which too can be made, but that isn’t the worst part of the problem.

The problem here is the obliviousness of the authors of the file to precisely how separate but unequal this looks (and it looks that way because it is that way). Men’s learning is “advanced” or “sublime” – even the “yesodei” (foundations) class is instruction in not just passively receiving teachings, but rather going and getting them from the source. Women’s learning, by contrast, is “highlights.” Somehow, that doesn’t imply either teaching women how to learn or engaging in a multi-directional learning process. And of course, the balance of classes, at 4 to 1, is no balance at all.

Also bad is the implication here that Bible study (parsha = “weekly Torah portion”) is inferior to the study of Talmud (and other “sublime” topics) – if it were, then that class would also be open or offered to men. So women get the cast-off topics, and the rabbinic leadership wonders why so many folks in the current generation are pretty much ignoring their calls for respect.

I’m disappointed, but as I think on it, I wish I were more surprised.

* Definitional note: a kollel is an Orthodox Jewish institute for intensive / advanced religious learning. The current custom is that kollel members do not work and are instead supported by the community, and generally teach communal classes and the like. Most kollel members are not degree / ordination seeking, and the intention of many if not most is to remain in that environment indefinitely.



Recovery from surgery is a drag. I’m not a good patient by any means- I’m more of an “impatient”- but the 80/20 rule applies to healing as well, and the long tail of debilitation feels to me like it is longer than it should be.

So one thing I tend to say to myself when I’m troubled by whatever-it-is, is “it’s not forever; it’s only for now”. (cue Avenue Q, “For Now”).

But I started thinking about this, and had the realization that “forever” is merely “now” repeated. Given our perception of time, that every day is today, and every time is now, what would it mean to differentiate between them?

Obviously, forever is a plural concept, but is it qualitatively different than “recently” or “soon” (likewise plural concepts, where they represent specific relational subsets of forever)?

Likewise, the proverbial formulation gam zu ya’avor (this too shall pass) implies a sameness between all of the various nows, the sum of which are forever.

I’m not sure where that leaves the “only for now” mantra: it’s certainly true, but is it trivial? Is there actually a perceptual difference between forever and now, or can that only be understood in retrospect? In any case, it is less of a salve than I would have expected.

Perhaps that expectation may be part of the trouble? Expectations in general cause more trouble than gain, and the whole difficulty here is unmet expectation of a complete healing, right now. So maybe this is a reminder that I am neither the first man created, nor was I there when God created the earth. My expectation of understanding causes difficulty, and this could be telling me that I should focus instead on my actions, and on acceptance of the realities which confront me rather than dwell on “how long?”

More USPS follies

You might think that the Christmas season, the busiest package mailing time of year, would be anticipated by the Post Office. But you’d be wrong. Many businesses hire seasonal temps to handle the extra load, but apparently not the USPS.

At the Georgetown PO, I’ve been in line for ~40 minutes and am about halfway through the line. There’s one teller open. When another clerk came out of the back, the first clerk closed her station.

Wasn’t there a whole bunch of handwringing about the USPS financial viability? I think I might have an idea about where they’re missing the mark.

If you don’t get it, you really don’t get it

The wapo shows a bunch of people who read the Bible, but not closely enough. It’s worth it, when making Biblical allusions, to reread the relevant passages to double-check the imagery.

This time around, the reference is to the single biggest sin committed by the Israelites– the making of a golden calf. There’s just one flaw: the response of those loyal to God was to kill the makers of the calf (Aaron excepted) and strenuously punish everyone involved.

Seriously: if you want to say that Wall Street is bowing to Mammon, why precisely are you the one making the idol?

The Price of Beauty, or, Unintentionally Mixed Messages

I saw some pictures of the national Christmas tree, and it is quite pretty. The use of LEDs is a welcome improvement, and that suits my conservationist tendencies just fine (hopefully they can be reused year after year).

But I do have a lingering feeling which isn’t so positive: cutting down a century-old tree and shipping it across the country for one month of display sure seems like consumption of a relatively conspicuous kind- the fuel footprint and use of difficult-to-replace resources (century-old trees aren’t quite so abundant anymore) seem incongruous for an administration which styles itself as being against the lavish lifestyles of the wealthy.

It isn’t always easy to make choices which are values-driven; I’d be curious to know whether this disconnect between words and deeds is an accident.

A phrase I will never use again

I would give my left nut to do/have X

I’ve said that blithely regarding items of extreme desire: often, musical opportunities or the like.

Given how close this came to reality today, that won’t pass my lips again.

Note: the following may be TMI but it is SFW and as not-gross as possible, although is extremely cringe-inducing. You have been warned…

Background: Sarah and I aren’t terribly into kink, but we’re quite literate regarding it (for no obvious reason). As an example, we’re much more likely to have heard about (or read about in a book) some random practice that Dan Savage will mention than we are to finding said practice the least bit enticing. This background is necessary because I had learned that there are in fact men who fetishize what I’m about to describe (if you look up “ball-busting” you will quickly get to NSFW stuff, but that link is Wikipedia), and I do not want to give the slightest impression that this is something we’re into.

Anyway, last night, I had a little bit of pain- well know to all men- that I had attributed to a bit of “congestion” for lack of a better euphemism. No big deal and a matter of routine which can be ignored or not.

And then something changed: I found I couldn’t focus for ma’ariv, and would have to stop and catch my breath in the middle of washing dishes, and I’d find myself on the edge of doubled over. This went on for a few minutes while I thought it would pass, but it didn’t.

Using the google, I quickly found the Mayo clinic’s wonderful site, specifically the pages about testicular pain.. There’s a couple of scary things there, and seeing it I got a bit scared. Between the pain and fear, I found myself both nauseous and having flop-sweat (which leads to chills but it took me a bit to figure out).

I woke up Sarah, who urged me to calm down and take deep breaths (good advice), and I eventually paged the on-call doc at my PCP practice. She responded a few minutes later, and after about a minute of description she said that I needed to go to the ER and that it sounded like testicular torsion.

To clarify the pain level involved, it would hit peaks and then back off a little. The peaks were as painful as (or more than) anything I’ve ever experienced, and they made the spinal tap, EMG, and all of the other recent unpleasant procedures feel like nothing.

So Sarah drove me to Sibley Hospital (because we’ve learned that Sibley, unlike some other hospitals, is both uncrowded AND staffed by people who really want to help patients feel better), and we got into the ER there. The ER doc did an exam & ultrasound to confirm the diagnosis, and then paged the Urology team and OR staff, and gave me some dilaudid (hydromorphone) to dull pain. That’s a pretty powerful opiate, but even it couldn’t remove pain: it just reduced my ability to focus on or care about the pain, which helped.

I was surprised to learn that you can’t feel ultrasound.

Another surprise: 1 ER doc, a Urology attending, a Urology resident, 1 ultrasound technician, and a couple of nurses- that is more people touching my junk in a non-airport situation than I wold have expected, and I wouldn’t have thought that I would be totally fine with it. I had no concept of just how quickly personal modesty preferences or quirks (for instance, reticence regarding using hand urinals in a bed while nurses are present) would fall away. We asked what could cause torsion, and while the most common causes are athletic (running & biking), it can happen randomly for no obvious cause. One nurse said that in 20 years, she’s seen 5 cases, so it’s not common, but also not unheard-of.

When they told me that I was going to need surgery, that the risk was possible loss (requiring amputation) of testicle(s), and that they were optimistic, I felt a LOT of fear. Thank God Sarah was there to comfort and support me – I have no idea how hard this must be for someone who is alone – she is a rock in a crisis, and she and I prayed together, and that helped calm me down. I don’t share Sarah’s ability to compose payer on the spot, but it is a great skill.

Lesson here: maintain a list in some easy to describe manner of the logins / passwords / account numbers etc, so that if you’re about to do something dangerous, this isn’t a concern. More important lesson: tell the people whom you love that you love them often- it was a comfort to me that I tend to do that, so there would be fewer things unsaid.

So the surgery came and finished- I was out before I knew what happened (no “count backwards from 100” like I expected), and the next thing I knew I had a lot more pain and my throat hurt. I presume that the doctors visited in recovery, but I have no recall of that at all.

I had a tough time coming out of anesthesia- my blood pressure is normally low, and got low enough to trigger alarms several times, but the bigger deal was that the respiratory function (needs to be > 16 to not b a problem) would fluctuate from about 12 to zero, even when I would focus on deep diaphragmatic breathing.

We were told that the doc saw evidence that their had been torsion, but that it has corrected – either the ER doc had put it back, or the Dilaudid allowed enough relaxation for it to restore. Regardless, one of the treatments is the horribly-named “orchiopexy“, where the testis is attached to the scrotum so this can’t happen again, and that’s most of the recovery time.

Eventually we were able to leave, and I realized the problem with wheelchairs are that they really make you put your legs together (ow!). Stairs are also a drag, so I’m mostly living upstairs the way Sarah did after her ankle surgery.

The prognosis is good, but recovery isn’t fun: using the toilet while one’s genitals are bound inflexibly is unpleasant, and it’ll be a while before I’m allowed to lift Kacy (let alone allow her on my lap, which is where she wants to be. Happily, neither potency nor virility is expected to be impacted.

So the big lesson from this for men is twofold: first, don’t ignore intense testicular pain; second, marry a woman who is awesome and caring.