Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Short timer's club

There's a path near my house,
I walk it every day.
Once going out...
...and once coming back.
I realized yesterday there are a finite number of times left
that I will walk those steps.

I say goodbye to my friends,
just for the night,
not knowing if I will ever see them again.
Did I tell them that I love them?
Do they know?
Did we spend our time together well enough,
if this is the last bit we get?

Seeing the seconds slip away,
so many of them, but
going so fast.
An eternity to wait, with no time to act.

Today I walked that path for the very last time.
Unless, someday, I chance to walk those steps once more,
and say to myself,
I never thought to pass this way again.

It's always the little moments that break my heart.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Is circumcision mutilation?

So this is interesting.
A San Francisco group looking to outlaw the practice of circumcision in the Bay Area is one step closer to getting its way...
If the measure passes, circumcision would be prohibited among males under the age of 18. The practice would become a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or up to one year in jail. There would be no religious exemptions.
And it seems Santa Monica is considering a similar measure. The Santa Monica article contains a number of gems from the head (no pun intended) of the group backing the measure, such as comparing the "mental scaring of circumcision" to what rape victims endure, stating that adult males that get circumcised feel "a sense of loss", and this:
"If you raise your child to be smart and practice safe sex," circumcision is unnecessary..."If you're raising a dumb kid who won't use a condom, then go ahead and cut off two-thirds of his nerve endings and one-half of his penile skin."
It's interesting this is starting in San Francisco; a place so liberal they now want to protect us from our constitutional protections. How can a city with "Pro-Choice" practically printed on the official letterhead get away with restricting parents' right to chose?

My wife thinks this is a thinly veiled attack on Jews - or at least on non-Christians. I don't see antisemitism at the core of this, but I am sure many bigots will eventually sign on. Unless they decide it would be better to see us suffer diminished sex lives; could go either way, really. I think the debate started as a side-effect of increased public awareness, and opposition to, female genital mutilation. That's horrible, but, unfortunately, usually happens in far away places where our protests do no good. So, deciding that all cutting of children's genitals is equal, people started looking at male circumcision.

The two practices are NOT comparable. The difference is like trimming your nails, or having them ripped out. Like removing a mole from your arm, or amputating your hand. Granted, there's risks with any medical procedure, but I have never met, or even heard stories from, anyone who had a modern circumcision go awry.

Historical circumcision was a horrible thing. But all "medicine" was pretty barbaric in the days before antiseptic practices and sterilized instruments. Many rabbis would use their mouths to draw blood away after cutting, which is both disgusting and an excellent way to spread infection (especially if you're living in a time before flossing). I am strongly on-board with the idea that anyone practicing "traditional" circumcision in this manner should serve some jail time.

But for modern circumcision, performed by trained professionals with sterile implements? I'm less concerned.

I never really bought the "it reduces sexual enjoyment" argument; generations of Jewish men have complained about their sex lives, but typically that was because they lost sensitivity, but because they were married to Jewish women. On the other hand, I don't buy the "it reduces vulnerability to STDs" argument either. The "30% reduction!" is pretty exciting, but less so when you consider that reduced a 10% infection rate to 7%; neither of those are population-shifting numbers. Looking more closely, most of those studies measured the impact of circumcisions performed on grown men. I'm willing to bet the reduced infection rate roughly corresponds with the reduction in their total sex life during the recovery period. Not to mention that any adult male religious enough to get circumcised is probably also religious enough to avoid a lot of sexual contact.

So where does that leave us?

Technically, circumcision is genital mutilation. But only in the same sense that ear piercings are auricle mutilation. How does that weigh against being part of a tradition stretching back thousands of generations? I don't think it's fair to say "Let the child decide when he's old enough!" Elective cosmetic surgery on a sensitive body part right as you're entering college? Not likely. And not even a very reasonable request. The penis changes a lot during puberty; I don't know if nerve sensitivity increases during that period, but I was much more aware of it afterwards.

In the end, I'm still left with doubts. Would I want my own son circumcised? I'm not sure. Would I condemn someone else for circumcising their son? Not likely. Is this law a good idea? Absolutely not. But for reasons larger than antisemitism. It attempts to curtail the debate through legislation, rather than persuasion.

As a response on GetReligion.org puts it:
However, the crucial legal question is whether the medical opinions and evidence can trump the religious liberty of Jewish parents to make this decision to follow the tenets of their faith. Does the state, in effect, have the right to change the doctrinal content of the Jewish faith by moving this rite from the first week of life to the, well, first week of adult life?
Where do we draw the line? At what point do we permit a discomforting practice to occur on religious grounds, and when does public health and safety trump even constitutional rights?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Liberal Judiasm's two foundational problems

This post by Bruce on Three Jews, Four Opinions is the type of thing I aspire to achieve with my own blog. 
This is the scylla and charybdis of liberal Judaism: inauthenticity and irrelevancy. And these two manifests themselves in much of liberal Judaism. I attend a Conservative synagogue, and I certainly see both of them. Many Jews my age (mid 40s) simply opt out of many traditional Jewish practices. They do not keep kosher, attend synagogue, celebrate many holidays, daven, wear tefillin, etc. The attitude of many of my friends is simply that it seems irrelevant, sort of silly, and a little strange to do these things. After all, God did not literally said to do these things, and there just does not seem to be a good reason to do so. And when they do do these things (for whatever reason), it lacks authenticity. So someone might to go synagogue (say, for a bar-mitzvah), but will not feel elevated by the davening, does not know what the Torah parsha says, and does not expect these things. They feel a little like a religious tourist, watching and even going through the motions without really participating.
It gets straight to the core of the issue, presenting it clearly and insightfully. I can't wait to see the rest of the series!.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Myths We Want To Believe

Cracked.com has a post "4 Reoccurring Myths We Apparently Really Want To Believe" that examines some of the more persistent internet rumors and the reasons they have endured. The author is mostly speculating (but probably fairly accurate) about what type of socially unacceptable needs get met by, for example, watching videos of rich people behaving badly.

Amusing, possibly accurate. My favorite part, though, is the ending:
If you ever run into a news story that gets you physically excited, make sure to take a step back and ask why you want it to be true so bad, and see if it's clouding your judgment.
People are frequently reluctant to ask the question, "Why do I believe this?" I'm not talking about major, big-B "Belief", such as belief in God or reincarnation, but the smaller, day-to-day beliefs that we cling to even in the face of other evidence.

"Crime may pay in the short run, but it'll lead to a bad end."

"Study hard in school and you'll get a good job after college."

"Michael Bay is capable of making a great movie."

Big-B Belief tends to be made of many smaller beliefs. in many ways, that makes it worse. It's easy to deal with one potentially non-rational choice, but having to assess and assimilate hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller individual beliefs is daunting. It's easy to believe in big Beliefs like "The government shall not obstruct free speech," or "Thou shall not kill." It gets more difficult when looking at specific cases.

When it gets to the level of these details, it is important to determine not only what you believe but why you believe it. Did you examine the evidence and decide this is the most rational stance, or is it because of a bad experience you had in college? I won't argue that one is better grounds than the other, but it is important to understand for yourself. You may find some of your tightly held beliefs don't actually match your values, if you look closely enough.

Monday, May 2, 2011

My trip to the doctor's office

My hand has been hurting pretty badly for about a month now. Last Tuesday I decided it wasn't going to get better on its own so I looked up a local sports doctor and scheduled an appointment. The earliest they had was Friday morning. I had a day-long driving trip scheduled for Thursday, so this sounded like a terrible idea. Sadly, there were few other options, so I booked the appointment.

Friday morning I arrived early, figuring there would be paperwork. It was a good thing I did.

"We have no record of your appointment," said the receptionist. "Who did you schedule with?"

I did not know who I spoke to. Fortunately, they were still able to get me in. Turns out the doctor had an opening in his schedule at the same time my appointment was supposed to be. So that was convenient.

Then came the paperwork.

I walked in wearing a splint on my left hand, complaining about severe wrist pain. Then signed the check-in sheet - with my left hand, slowly and painfully - while the nurse watched. Then she asked me to complete 12 pages of forms by hand. Now, I would expect many doctor offices to have a system in place to help people that might have difficulty writing, but I understand that a sports medicine clinic might not see those kinds of injuries very often. So that was ok.  I was amused comparing the quality of my handwriting on the first page (pretty good) to the last page (loosely recognizable as English), and contrasting that to the volume and frequency of my screams.

This was followed, of course, by the waiting.



Finally, I got to go to the exam room where a very helpful nurse filled out more forms, asking me for all the same information as on the earlier forms. So it's a good thing I wrote it all out.


Then it was time for the X-rays. The tech was very helpful, and promptly tried to X-ray my knees. I mentioned that probably was not the right strategy, as it was my wrist that was hurting, and, in fact, still had the large splint on it. He consulted his notes for a moment, then stepped into the hallway for a consult. He then returned, and I, reassured by his diligent attention to detail, moved to a new position to have my wrist X-rayed.

Bones properly scanned, he helpfully said, "You're done here," and left. I then ventured forth and attempted to find my original exam room again.

Eventually I did, and was rewarded for my efforts with more waiting.

Doctor finally showed up. Strong jawed, well groomed, looking more like a heroic leading man than  a medical professional. I'm fairly certain he maintains the borderline incompetent staff to make him look even grander by comparison.

He was actually fairly helpful. Although the stereotypical surgeon who doesn't really listen to what I'm saying, or let it deter him from his pre-programed script. Eventually I realized we were having two nearly parallel conversations that would, given time, eventually intersect somewhere around my bill.

"Ok, so what you have is a condition with
a funny name called..."

"De Quervain's tendonitis?"

"...De Quervain's tendonitis. It's an inflamation of the
tendons by the thumb that..."

"Yeah, I figured; I had it a couple years ago."

"...can come up without warning.
After the first case it can reoccur..."

"Yeah, I know. I had it a few years ago. They gave me
one of those funny splints to immobilize my thumb."

"...anywhere from months to years later."

"Yeah. So I'd prefer not to have surgery
at this point, but figure a cortisone..."

"Treatment can involve surgery, but usually we just use
a cortisone shot and a special splint called a 'spica' splint
that immobilizes your thumb."

"....I'm not actually needed for this part of the process, am I?"

"I don't think you'll need surgery; we'll do a quick
ultrasound to make sure, and I'll have someone bring
you a splint. Do you need us to show you how to put
it on? It can be confusing the first time."

"...That would be very helpful, thank you."

So they did the ultrasound - no tendon damage, yay! - then pulled out Satan's own hypodermic and gave me the cortisone injection. I hate needles, so I turned away while he did it. Which meant I got to watch the process on the ultrasound monitor. It's possible that was more disturbing.

Hand's feeling better now. The shot was full of painkillers to tide me over until the cortisone kicked in, which made the rest of the day fun, and the brace did help a lot. The doctor was, overall, very friendly and helpful, so on balance it was a good experience. He even invited me to come back next week if my knees are still hurting.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My reactions to the news

This is not the first thing I wrote about today's news. Nor even the second. It is a hard thing to discuss without becoming preachy for one point of view or another, and that is not what's needed on this day.

So let me say just this:

It's a good thing he's dead; he was a bastard and I'm glad he's gone. I will not be joining the dancing in the street, but also will not judge those that do.

This is not the end, though.

Osama's death means very little while our troops are still in harm's way. Celebrations tonight mean little if tomorrow is the funeral for another soldier. Already the news tells us the State Department is putting out travel advisories; killing Osama may have made air travel more dangerous. This, in turn, means the lines at the airport will take more time, not less. Already our sights are turning towards Pakistan; what they knew, why they concealed it, and why they did not help us.

To honor those who have died, both on September 11 and in the wars since then, to make Osama's death mean something, make this a step back towards peace and freedom. To the relative sanity our nation enjoyed before the attacks.

Congratulations to our military, who demonstrated once again their devotion and training. Congratulations to President Obama, who probably just secured re-election. Congratulations to all those still hurting from the attacks, who got the vengeance they deserved. 

Osama is now a part of yesterday; make tomorrow about us. They've told us how he died; now let's show them how we live.