Blog: September 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.

I guess I saw that coming

A couple of years ago my employer earnestly announced a health fair to "help" us better manage our health, and if we would agree to supply certain data like our cholesterol numbers and BMI and other stuff to them (in aggregate only, they assured us), we would be entered into a drawing for a $50 gift card. A raffle ticket with that kind of expected value did not entice me. They did it again, raising the raffle stakes some, but I still didn't bite. (If it's for my own benefit, after all, then my annual physical should do the job, no?)

This year they announced that health-care costs are going up, but if we supply this information -- which we can get from a conveniently-scheduled health fair -- our cost will be $500 lower than it would be otherwise. I signed up. I guess we know what I am; we're just haggling over price.

We now join the 21st century, already in progress

We have joined the ranks of the smartphone-enabled. We had been Verizon customers and the Droid Bionic looked tempting on specs, but we ended up going across the street to T-Mobile (it seems safe now that AT&T is unlikely to buy them), where they're selling an all-you-can-eat plan for less than Verizon's metered plans and the staff were very helpful besides. (By comparison, I was only able to use a dummy Bionic at Verizon and the sales guy didn't seem to understand my need to use the phone before deciding.)

We were both having trouble with the touch keyboard; I assume that's something you just have to learn to do. So we both chose the MyTouch Slide (4G), which also has a physical keyboard that we were both able to use easily. I'll try to transition more to the touch keyboard, but meanwhile I can still complete a Google search or type a text message or the like on the first try when I need to.

(In case you're wondering, Dani decided that if he really really wants the iPhone 5 when it eventually comes out, he can buy an unlocked one and switch over to it.)

So what apps are must-haves? (Android 2.3.)


Thank you everybody for the condolences. It means a lot to me, more than I had realized it would.

My vet called a couple days later with some final information. He was definitely suffering from end-stage kidney disease (which we knew from the bloodwork, but she found more evidence); his liver, while problematic, was not a factor in this. And yes, he did have the gallstone we suspected starting two years ago, but no, it wasn't the problem either. She did not find any tumors. We don't know what was causing the anemia; process of elimination suggests ulcers, which we were treating speculatively.

So, bottom line, according to my vet (and the ultrasound vet) we did everything right. The ultrasound vet told us that he considers any cat who reaches age 17 to have kidney disease whether you see it in the tests or not. I'm introducing Baldur to dietary changes -- can't hurt, might help.

RIP Erik

Erik the Redhead, February 28 1993 - September 8 2011.

Erik, underweight orange tabby, sits in front of radiator, facing camera

Erik has had assorted medical problems for years. In late June we saw the first hints of kidney problems and anemia and started treating those. Both gradually declined through the summer but he seemed to be coping. In late August my vet thought that we would soon need to start a risky treatment for the anemia and we ordered the medicine.

In the last several days he became much weaker and more lethargic, but was still eating and drinking some. Last night he wouldn't eat and wasn't moving much. This morning when I set him down after giving him his medicines (which he didn't resist at all) he took two steps and fell over. Repeatedly. I sat down and set him in my lap and he lay there ignoring me. He would not eat any of his favorite foods.

I called the vet to ask if I should deploy that medicine now. She was about to call me; she'd just gotten the results of Tuesday's bloodwork. She said all the relevant numbers were "terrible"; I don't think I've heard her use that word before. His kidneys had completely given up and his anemia had taken a nose-dive. We discussed options, but there really weren't any and Erik, lying listlessly in my lap, seemed to be giving me his clear opinion (which remained unchanged for several more hours).

The end was very fast. I know I did everything I could for him and showed him lots of love. I like to think he knew that at some level.

He's been part of my life since he was 10 weeks old. I miss him terribly.

Gaming day

This weekend Alaric and Elsbeth hosted a day of gaming. I got to play two new-to-me games (along with others), Through the Ages (board game) and Innovation (card game). Read moreā€¦

Shoftim: kings and awe

In this week's parsha we read about the requirements of kings (Deut 17:14-20). Among things, the king has to write a sefer torah and carry it with him at all times, studying it daily so that he will keep the mitzvot and have awe of God. It's a few steps above the tzitzit that are supposed to remind all of us about the mitzvot; I guess kings need some extra help. Or maybe that's not the reason.

I'll get back to the king, but first I want to tell a story.

Recently I was participating in an online Jewish forum when a Christian asked us for some advice. He wanted to be able to ask us questions and wanted to know what mistakes he should be careful about. He got a lot of practical advice about things like the "old testament" and how to talk about Jesus and whether it's ok for him to write "God" instead of "G-d". Then the conversation went in a more philosophical direction, and I was a little surprised to find myself saying roughly the following:

From the outside people sometimes see Judaism as a religion of "thou shalt not"s and perceive the mitzvot as a burden to be borne for a harsh master. Some of my non-Jewish relatives act as if I have food allergies and take pity on me because I can't go out shopping with them on Shabbat and so on. I've tried to explain to them, but I haven't succeeded. It's not that I can't eat pork, as if I'll get zapped if I do; it's that I don't. I am compelled not by dire warnings; I don't eat pork because God said not to and I care about God. I keep Shabbat because it's important to God. I don't follow these rules because God will do bad things to me if I disobey; it's not about fear of direct punishment. This can be, I've learned, hard to comprehend.

A rabbi I know likes to say that God so loved the Jewish people that He gave us His one and only torah. I chuckled the first time I heard this new form of a phrase familiar to me from another religion. I smiled the second time I heard it. After a few more repetitions, I started to understand it.

When you really look at it, the torah doesn't ask for major sacrifices from us. For example, I'm not required to take a vow of poverty and join a monastery; I'm not required to take up arms for the sake of a jihad or a crusade; I'm not required to risk my life except for a very few special circumstances that are unlikely to arise. Comparatively speaking, giving up bacon cheeseburgers is a piece of cake, so to speak.

Yes, God does make real, challenging demands of us too, in the realm of morals and character and interpersonal relations and tzedakah and, yes, ritual too. I'm not trying to trivialize torah. And I make plenty of mistakes in all of these areas and I feel bad about disappointing God, other people, and myself. And some mitzvot I don't do at all. But the torah that God gave our people has room for me nonetheless. God gave us a torah that allows for errors and teshuvah, learning and growth and change, gradually evolving in our love and respect and awe of God, all while we live in the world with its obligations and distractions and complications.

So back to the king. I used to think that the king had to carry around this sefer torah as a constant reminder of all the laws he needs to follow lest God grow angry with him. That may be part of it, if the king is not very far along in his religious development, but I don't think it ends there. The text tells us that he must do this so that he will be in awe (yirah) of God -- awe of God's grandeur and compassion, not fear of being punished if he makes a mistake. If you fear punishment you act to prevent it; if you are in awe then you want to heed the torah because it's your connection to the object of that awe, God. The scroll is a means for developing this awe, this yirat Adonai.

Those of us who aren't kings don't have to carry the scroll around every day, but if we think upon its words daily, learning and wrestling and arguing and perhaps understanding, then maybe we can become in awe of God too. And when we're in awe of God there is no more "I can't" or "I have to"; there is only "I will" and "I want to".

Daf bit: Chullin 67 (and the kashrut of the leviathan)

The g'mara on today's daf is in the midst of a discussion of which insects are kosher and what happens if they infest other foods. (The question of finding half a worm in an apple is not explicitly raised, but close.) It then goes on to teach: R. Yose ben ha-Damascane says: the leviathan is a kosher fish, for it is written "his scales are his pride" and "sharpest potsherds are under him" (both from Iyov (Job) 41). "Scales", these are the scales that cover him, and "sharpest potsherds under him", these are the fins with which he propels himself. (67b)

Relatedly, Rabbi Symons and I were recently studying midrash about olam ha-ba, the world to come, including how the righteous will feast on the leviathan, which has been held since its day of creation for just that purpose.

I included this entry here (though most daf bits are only at the linked journal) because the comments on this one have some great discussion of kashrut and the banquet at the end of days.