Blog: July 2011

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Why should you "consult your local rabbi"?

A common response in online Jewish discussions -- I first saw it on Usenet on soc.culture.jewish -- is "consult your local rabbi" (or sometimes "consult your local orthodox rabbi (CYLOR)"). An early question on Mi Yodeya asked: why? Why is it necessary to consult a rabbi when you have a question about what you should do, when you could instead look up an answer online?

This is the answer I wrote for a community of people who answer non-personal questions online:

We are concerned with being the cause of somebody else erring. Parshat Kedoshim tells us "do not place a stumbling-block before the blind", which is interpreted to mean not only what it plainly says but also "don't be an enabler for a bad outcome". Causing somebody else to unknowingly transgress what God wants us to do is a pretty serious "bad outcome".

In order to become a rabbi one must study halacha (Jewish law) and the sources that inform it in depth. Non-rabbis can also be serious scholars and I wouldn't write off a lay person who is, but most people don't know one.

As for "local", I think this is shorthand for "consult someone who will be your rabbi". Pirke Avot tells us "make for yourself a rav"; this is because most questions are not so clear-cut, and individual circumstances can bear on the answer. The rav needs to know not only the specific question but what is causing you to ask it. For example (and I'm just making this up here; I am not a posek etc), if you ask the generic question "can I go to a church service?" the answer is generally going to be "no". If you ask "can I go to the wedding of the sibling I've just recently reconciled with, who is marrying out, but not showing up could undo that reconcilliation?", the answer might be different. Your rav should be someone who knows you and ideally you should be having these conversations face-to-face, hence "local".

Random bits

It's summer. High heat and humidity are normal for summer. I get that. But I still hold that, for Pittsburgh, temperatures in the 90s and heat indices in the 100s until 10PM and by 10AM are abnormal. Just sayin'. I sure hope I can catch a ride to Shabbat services tonight; there's nothing to do about the walk home, but it'd be nice to not arrive soaked in sweat. Especially since I'm leading.

Buying subcutaneous fluids from the vet is expensive, except that they had a price-match policy so it wasn't. But they restricted that policy, so I asked for a prescription. I was going to fill it online but it'd be easier not to, so today I talked with someone at CVS who determined that yes in fact they could order these (by the case -- which is fine). So today I dropped off the prescription and met the full force of the paperwork engine. After supplying the cat's birth date, drug allergies, insurance information, primary care physician, and a few other things, we were ready to go. I wonder if Giant Eagle, where I had the Prednizone filled (but they don't do fluids), just punted on this info, filled in N/A, or what.

I got a postcard notice of a class-action suit this week. They know their typical audience: "how much can I get?" and "how do I get my money?" were in bold; "what is the suit about?" took rather more digging. I've gotten money from a few class-action suits over the years (and I'll send this one in too), but I always do so with some degree of ambivalence, not knowing which ones are real (and people should be compensated) and which are "it's easier to settle than prove plaintiffs are on crack" -- and in the latter case, how I feel about benefiting from ill-gotten gains given that the defendants are going to pay the money out anyway. But I also admit that thus far I haven't been motivated enough to actually research any of these cases... the moral high ground is way over there, not here where I'm standing, it would appear.


The comic on this Language Log post made me laugh. Three negatives in six words indeed!

In the spirit of the song, kinda: Weird Al, Stop forwarding that crap to me (video).

Told them so!

Several weeks ago:

Tech lead: And we need to make a visualization to show X (which, from context, TL thinks is a big deal).
Me: Don't sweat it. I can code that in 10 minutes, once Y finishes the information architecture.
TL: I'm holding you to that.
Me: Project Manager doesn't go smaller than hours, so call it one hour.
TL: And we also need a chart that shows Z.
Me: That's harder -- put down two hours. For the pair.
Project Manager: I'll allocate a day to be safe.


TL: (angst) and you're going on vacation in August! What do you mean you haven't started?
Me: Y is finishing the information architecture this week.
TL: (angst angst angst)
Me: Ok, I'll talk to him and see if he can hurry it up.

Time elapses while I acquire a stable baseline. An hour and a half after that:

Me: See the two attached screen shots. By the way, you didn't specify A and B but they seemed like good ideas so I added them. I could add C and D tomorrow morning if you like.

I am vindicated. And I have learned something about how hard TL and PjM think certain tasks are, which I may someday need to use to my advantage. :-)

Erik update

Erik saw the vet in late June and had lost weight, gained bilirubin (the jaundice number), and was heading toward anemia. The vet discontinued his hyperthyroid meds (which can aggravate liver problems), started him on daily fluids, and wanted to see him again in three weeks. That visit was last Tuesday.

He had lost more weight (5lb 14oz! ack!), the bilirubin doubled to 3.7 (this is way high), the quasi-anemia hadn't changed, everything else was about where it usually is... and his T4, the hyperthyroid number, was up to 29 (normal for him is about 1). My vet didn't think she'd seen one that high until I reminded her of Embla's record-setting T4 of 70 right before she had the radiation treatment. So we started him back on the meds for that right away.

She speculates that he has a blockage in the gallbladder. Since his surgery ultrasounds in that area are pretty inconclusive, so there's no point in doing that. If it is an obstruction (a stone) then he would need surgery; the other possibility is that things are inflamed. So after she got a second opinion she suggested we start him on Prednizone (the general "itis"-fighting drug), which I picked up tonight.

Two years ago I had to make a "now or never" decision about surgery (he appeared to have smaller stones that might someday cause problems). The surgeon thought there was serious risk of doing harm, so I chose not to do it. I do not regret that decision; however, now I'm seeing the consequences, I guess. Erik is too frail for surgery now unless there's nothing to lose. It sounds like the Prednizone is the last non-surgical option, so now we wait and see what that does. Meanwhile, my vet will talk with the surgeon. If the Prednizone doesn't bring the bilirubin down and the weight up, that seems like the next step.

Erik's quality of life is still good. He eats (not enough); he curls up in my lap; he shows no signs of pain (only old-age slower movement). I really hope the Prednizone helps him. (Apparently it's an appetite stimulant, yay.)

My choir is 25 years old

This year at Pennsic the Debatable Choir will celebrate our 25th anniversary. Wow. No one has been a member for all 25 of those years, but we have some long-time members and three of the founders are still around. It pleases me that even with the weight of that much tradition, we add new members fairly regularly -- along with the dinosaurs we have people who've only joined us in the last year or so.

The Pennsic performance includes a bunch of our own favorites, and I think it's going to be a blast. Anyone who's sung with us in the past is invited to join us for one song; I know a few of my readers are past members, so y'all come. :-) (Email me to find out what song.)

And this month we're recording a CD. Our first recording session is next week. I think we sounded really good at practice tonight; of course a recording reveals all, but I think we've done a good job of preparing. I'm really looking forward to this.