Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Birthday Manifesto 1999

Though Russell provides an explanation below, here's a more recent preface. Wow- nostalgia can really make you wince sometimes, but I'm not one for (much) revision of history.

Well, here I am. I've come upon yet another birthday. In the past year I've made some new friends and, unfortunately, lost others. But the world abides to spin 'round, regardless. For the newbies, I'll let my associate Russell fill you in:

Hi there. My real name's not Russell, but I thought a pseudonym would be appropriate for this occasion, as I don't wish to shame my family name or myself. For the past several years, [PH] (or Case # 6655321, as he may be known to some of you) has followed a tradition of issuing a bombast-laden proclamation to the inhabitants of his world at large on the occasion of his birthday. If you did not hap to receive any of the previous ones, do not fret. Please don't take your exclusion as an expression of [P]'s feelings towards you, he wasn't fortunate enough to know you at those times. If he did, I apologize for him; he's just a little slow. Unfortunately, most of [P]'s ramblings from the past were consumed in the Great Brine Shrimp Fire of '97. Only that year's proclamation survived, joined by last year's. These promulgations are available to view on the World Wide Web. Future issuances will be added as they occur. The address is as follows:

Thank you for that, Russell, I sincerely appreciate it. Now that everything is in order, I would like to address the issue of competition, as well as righteous pride. I realize that it's a bit of a diversion from the usual focus of this letter, but I was made all too aware of its caustic, disruptive invasion into our lives by a dream I had one stormy night, several weeks ago. I dreamt that Ronald McDonald and Colonel Sanders were fighting over my soul. Now that in and of it would not be particularly disturbing, but what really shocked me was that this affray took place in the courtyard of a dilapidated building in downtown Omaha.

It became painfully obvious to my therapist and me that something would have to be changed, as far as my bedtime snack was concerned. We cannot be certain if it was the pickled blueberries, the imitation poppy extract, or the aged tandoori, but I was not going to risk future slumbers (and possible somnambulations) on continuing any part of this reprehensible diet.

That is how I came to calm myself before bed and temper my jangled nerves by reading or composing poetry. But do I read William Wordsworth's "Lines" (Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798)? Or perhaps "The
Æolian Harp" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge? You can see my dilemma. I became so distraught by Wordsworth and Coleridge's incessant bickering in my head that to teach them both a lesson they wouldn't soon forget, I soothed my nerves with a dog-eared issue of Casper the Friendly Ghost.
There is a lesson to be learned for us all from my quasi-deranged rambling. It may well serve you in the future. Please, when you are entangled in an argument, forgo pride and think of the greater good.
You'll be glad you did.
Peace be with you.


perambulate through the door
retrogress to the future before

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blink and ya missed it

This past summer, traveling along Route 50 between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento, we passed the town of Kyburz, CA. I suppose you can call it a town, I mean it is on the map.

A few indicators of how small this municipality is:

It was named after the postmaster (Mr. Kyburz, I presume).

To get from Kyburz Drive to Kyburz Drive, you take Hillbilly Lane.

But the best sign of how small the place is, well, a sign. A single sign on a store on Route 50 proclaimed:



Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Thoughts on psychosis

Some details have been changed to protect the confidentiality of protected patient information (Thanks Ariel for the consult).

Leaving the hospital right after my session with a remarkably insightful young man who some time ago, in a psychotic and drug-intoxicated state, shot and wounded several police officers, I heard a report on the radio about the developing case of Khiel Coppin. I'm sure news reports will be more comprehensive by the time you read this, but for now you can check out the story here (be sure to read the transcript of the 911 call) and here.

Basically, Khiel, an 18-year-old living in Brooklyn, was killed in a confrontation with police. He had stopped taking his anti-psychotic meds and decompensated. His mother called 911 because of his threatening behavior. He can be heard in the background saying he had a gun. The police responded and Kyle ignored their orders to stand down and surrender. He threatened them with a knife and then brandished something from under his shirt. It was a hairbrush.

People will blame the police for firing 20 shots at him (10 hit their mark). I don't blame the police. I don't blame Khiel. I don't blame his mother. It's just so sad when this happens. No one is directly responsible. There are only victims: the ill, the police, or in the case of other patients on my ward, a father perceived to be a robot sent by the CIA, a great-aunt who was believed to be turning into a witch.

I work with people who've committed horrific, violent crimes with incomprehensible intensity and purpose. Were these people not psychotic, they would be tried, vilified, and incarcerated. Thankfully, the law recognizes their impairments and commits them (usually) under Article 330.20 of the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL), otherwise known as "not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect."

In the short time I've served on my externship, I've come to understand two major concepts:

First, when you encounter in the news someone who is arrested after committing or attempting an exceptionally violent act (like this recent case), you can usually count on reading the words "motive unknown." You can also expect that person to fade from the media's eyes. But he (or she, though usually he) doesn't disappear. He gets swept under the rug. I work at that rug. They appear on the news radar when their actions are salient and shocking, but they often get better with medication and therapy. I often encounter incredulity when I relate the story of a given patient who committed any given -cide, who is doing really well and is heading towards discharge.

Which leads me to my second discovery. These are regular people, though ill. They are not hell-spawn or terrorists and they are not sociopaths
(usually, though some of our patients are). They see and hear and experience as real things we only encounter in horror movies, and worse. When psychotic, they can feel terrified, entirely overwhelmed, with no one to turn to, and especially, no one to trust. If I were seeing demons all around me, my grandmother were the devil and angels were telling me to kill her to save my life and the world, why wouldn't I follow through?

When they are treated and come out from within the delusions and hallucinations, they can realize what they've done and they express a remorse that can be existential and eternal. One patient is reconciling with his mother for killing her mother. He is working to stay healthy and lead a productive and fulfilling life in the community. He says, "I realize what I've done. I'm horrified at what I did, I'm angry at myself, and I pray for her soul everyday. I have two choices- I can kill myself or try to move forward with my life. I choose to live. I don't want that ever to happen again and I'll never go off my meds." And he means it.

When talking about the kind of people I work with, I'm often asked
whether we rehabilitate them to the point that they can then begin serving the appropriate jail time. That would be a terrible thing. The law recognizes that their crimes were not committed with an intact mind and thankfully does not punish them for being sick; it tries to ensure they are helped to heal and to cease being a danger to themselves and others. When a person like that becomes well, he is not the same person who committed the crime and doesn't deserve to suffer the criminal consequences of the act.

It is important to know that a very small percentage of people with psychosis are violent or act violently, but when I work with these cases or hear about them on the news (and I feel like I've been hearing more and more of them), it makes me so sad.

UPDATE: A follow up post on another tragic case.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Just another day on the road

I've never experienced another human being willfully and intentionally try to cause me grave physical harm and quite possibly death. Until last Wednesday.

I was doing one of my usual commutes (school, externship, and research take me different places every day) that morning and was driving over the bridge at 9:45, in the right-most lane. Because of construction, the lane was closed ahead of me and I had to merge left. I was running out of road, but found space in front of the blue dump truck to my left. I signaled and merged in, and he HONKED. He had been going pretty fast and was right on my tail, so I jerked back into the right lane. I sped up to make some more clearance, and merged in again. He sped up. I brake-checked him to slow him down (until about 20 seconds later, I thought one of the scariest things was to have an 11-ton dump truck bearing down on you), and he got mad.

The lane to the right had opened up again, and he passed me- dangerously. I had to brake hard to avoid him smashing the front passenger side of my car. So now I'm behind him in the middle lane and starting to realize that he's a little nuts. I went into the left lane and tried to pass him, but as I sped up, he jerked his wheel into my lane. I had to slam on the brakes to avoid being crushed into the concrete divider or flipping over it into oncoming traffic.

Like a faucet opening full throat, adrenaline carried a primal, existential fear to every cell of my body. Thankfully, I've been driving long enough that I'm able to hold my own in tight situations and remained (behaviorally) calm. He had slowed down to antagonize me and I had a patient to see at the clinic, so I didn't want to trail off behind him. He was watching me intently in his driver's-side mirror, so I picked up my cell phone and pantomimed a phone call to the police, hoping to maybe intimidate him enough that he would back off. I should have actually called. He picked up his phone and I didn't want him to see my license plate, so I moved behind him again, in the middle lane.

I followed him this way off the bridge and onto the expressway, waiting for an opportunity. After another mile or so, the road curved sharply to the left, and there was no one in the left lane. I put my accelerator to the floor and passed him on the inside of the turn- barely. Again he tried to slam me into the divider. I got by with my car 1/4 in the left lane and 3/4 on a rough, narrow shoulder, riding up right against the divider.

I zoomed ahead, keeping sight of him in my rearview mirror and scanning the side of the road ahead for police or highway patrol. Where are they when you need them? I got off at my exit and was stopped at a light with a view of the expressway behind me. I saw him coming and got a quick glimpse of the side his truck as he passed:

8 9 3 9 3 0 8

I had dealt successfully with the situation, or at least survived, but only afterwards when the thought crossed my mind, "He tried to kill me!" did I get really shaken. I was glad my patient didn't show up, because it would have been very difficult for me to function in that session (though not as difficult as the session I had with a patient 30 seconds after receiving a call that a friend died unexpectedly of a brain aneurysm), and I was also mad at the patient for an additional no-show/no-call. I had left earlier and had to deal with this dump truck to see him and he didn't even meet his commitment.

I searched online, trying to find the company that operates that truck, but came up with nothing. PLEASE CONTACT ME IF YOU CAN PROVIDE MORE INFORMATION.

By the end of the day, the memory seemed so surreal that it provided a functional emotional remove, for the time being. On Friday, I went to my local police precinct to inquire about the utility of filing a report. The desk agent told me it was just road rage and there was nothing to do unless our vehicles had made contact. When I told her that this isn't about a motor vehicle accident, but that this person should not be allowed on the road, she said that he might say the same about me.

In the eyes of the law, this was a benign, everyday occurrence. I now have a greater appreciation of all the "unreported" incidents that qualify statistical presentations. In my eyes, I chanced to meet a psychopath (and I know- I work with his type and worse at the psychiatric hospital) who clearly had no concern for causing a serious accident, and apparently not much more concern for causing my death.

This story is not the truth, it is my defended representation of what happened that day. I know that I played a role in provoking this person and I don't hide from that, at least within myself. But I can also be honest with myself and realize that his reactions were unconscionable and disproportionate.

Attempting to file a police report was one step towards finding closure. This post is another. But the one that affected me most profoundly and unexpectedly was in shul this past Shabbos morning, when I recited the bracha of gomel.

In the times of the בית המקדש, those who survived peril offered a sacrifice, a קרבן תודה, in thanksgiving to HaShem. In our time, we cannot offer korbanot and instead recite this blessing before a minyan (preferably including two wise men, as it is written, וירוממוהו בקהל-עם ובמושב זקנים יהללוהו):

ברוך אתה ה' אל-נו מלך העולם
הגומל לחייבים טובות
שגמלני כל טוב

Blessed are You, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe,
who remunerates the culpable with good,
so You have repaid me with all good.

I thought I had been doing better three days after the incident, but as I stood before the whole shul and clearly recited the bracha, I was swept up in the emotions again. A couple people were sensitive enough to notice that I was not discharging my obligation after flying back from overseas, and they asked me about it.

Ultimately, processing the experience with others (repeatedly) has been a boon to my getting back on track. Thank you, everyone.

Addendum: As you may have discovered in the gomel document linked above that only someone who was in a serious, life-threatening accident makes the bracha. Someone who was almost in an accident does not make the bracha (with 'שם ה).

As Rav Bick [sick [sic]] told someone who came to him asking if he should make the bracha after a large tree branch fell right where he had been standing a minute before, "This morning my wife ironed my pants. If I had been in them..." Ergo, I should not have bentched gomel with God's name. I did so based on my interpretation of an otherwise murky threshold of danger the bracha requires.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Words for the Wise #2

...and we're back.

I've been laggardly in updating the blog, so here's a new word (courtesy of T) to keep you chomping:

resistentialism (n.)

Conceived in satirical reference to existentialism, Paul Jennings posited the the belief that inanimate objects have a natural antipathy toward human beings. (Terry Pratchett refers to this in Discworld as "malignity.")

Lost your keys? It's not a memory problem. Closed the car door on your hand? Don't worry about your coordination. THINGS ARE OUT TO GET YOU!

A long standing problem in the scientific community, researchers at the Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health Research in Melbourne, Australia sought to conclusively establish, "Where have all the bloody teaspoons gone?"

May all your days be minimally resistential,

The other words in this series can always be found here.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Building up our future, one map at a time

I guess when they were handing out coherent speech and attention span she went back on line for doubles of blonde (no offense to blondes, especially the really smart ones I know :-)

Well, she had a chance to explain, but I personally believe she didn't make things any better, such as.

Monday, July 30, 2007

On the abortion debate

The video below asks a simple question and reveals that the single-mindedness of some anti-abortion activists (these in Libertyville, IL) has prevented them from thinking beyond their immediate goals and considering the implications of their platform.

They demand that abortion be instituted an illegal act. The reporter asks them what should the penalty be for a woman who has an abortion under such a legal prohibition.

CAUTION: Visible in the video briefly are graphic pictures of aborted fetuses.

Well, the submitter of the video requested that embedding in blog posts be disabled, so here's a link.

Friday, July 27, 2007

I thought this only happened in email forwards...

So my university's IT people are upgrading some marginally important who-knows-what and had to shut down some systems to do it for a few days. One of these systems allows off-campus access to library databases, which I need to continue moving forward with my master's thesis and get articles for class, etc.

To accommodate people like me, they said we could ask for a temporary login and password that would permit off-campus access. I sent an email requesting these and got this reply:

Hello. The best way to obtain a password for remote access is to contact the computer service desk in S_____ Hall. The number is 3768. They may not be able to help today but they can on Monday. The computer systems are expected to be down until Monday.
I dunno, what do you call this? Technoratic idiocy? Institutional oblivion?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Location Location Location

A few weeks ago, my brother helped me install air conditioner support brackets to appease the landlord, who apparently didn't know (or didn't care to let me know) that it's a moot endeavor.

For a while, I've heard chirping from outside our kitchen window. We couldn't see where it was coming from because the AC unit blocked the view, but I thought a bird had built its nest on our sill. Indeed, when we removed the monstrous AC from the window, we found a bird's nest on the original wooden AC support. It was a struggle to extricate the AC from the nest from the support, but we managed to preserve the nest and its eggs (save for one unfortunate egg that was cracked). We installed the new AC support and gingerly placed the nest, eggs and all back on the windowsill (it had previously been on the wooden support, so it took more maneuvering to make sure it was steady) and put the AC back in the window.

Job well done!

Except for that one egg we missed, still on the kitchen floor. It was late and we were tired, so we had omelettes. Just kidding- we took out the AC unit, which is HEAVY, and put the egg back in the nest.

A few people told me that if you touch a hatchling in the nest, its parents will not return. I don't know the veracity of this phenomenon, but I wondered whether it applied to the eggs as well. A few days later, though, I heard chirping again, unmistakably adult. Score one for ornithology!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Sephardic Pirate (or, Oy Vey, Matey!)

I was at a sheva brachot a few months ago and the chattan's grandfather fascinated me with stories about the Jewish pirate, Jean Lafitte. I'm going to leave you to explore this one on your own and won't expound on it other than to provide some food for thought: How did Lafitte's family history in the Inquisition influence his dealings with the Spain?

P.S. I know the title is incorrect- Sephardim would say Wai Wai, but cut me some slack.

Thursday, June 28, 2007


With Americans becoming ever more clueless about the world in which we live, I applaud MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski, who refused to report a "lead story" about Paris Hilton. See for yourself (courtesy of M.Bieler):

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


I was driving along this morning to clinic for practicum, like any other Wednesday morning, amidst throngs of other commuters in the urban haze of summer. I certainly hadn't been preparing myself for the moment, but out of nowhere, a vision appeared before me. I was surprised and scared, but also rapturous.

I never really expected to merit prophetic endowments, let alone to perceive the image with such clarity. I reproduce it here:

When the vision presented itself, the world went on around me. Traffic continued to ebb, and I continued to drive while experiencing this epiphany, lest someone crash into me.

Though the image was clear and persisted for the duration of my journey (until I parked and turned off the car), I realize that gleaning its interpretation for myself or mankind is the challenge. What do I make of it? How am I to understand the word "CHECK?" Should I skip dessert and get the bill? Is it time to reorder my Donald Duck checks? Am I about to be slammed up against the glass? The numerical value of CHECK is 30 or 3 (3+8+5+3+11 = 30 = 3+0 = 3), but what does that mean?!

And what of the glyph? Maybe it's a four-winged seraph trying to convey a divine message. Is it a map or schematic? Of what? Which way is north? Maybe it's a studio with walk-in closet and two balconies.

My intuition, my gut sense, takes this as an ominous portent of things to come. I'm still not sure, but it fills me with foreboding. I can do naught but sit and wait for another sign to appear and guide me. Maybe it's on YouTube.

Update (or, The Oracle)- So AutoZone will check your car's diagnostic codes for free with a scanner that plugs into a port in your car (in my car the port is on the steering column- who knew?). What was the problem with mine? Code P0442- a small fuel vapor leak in the Evaporative Emission Control System. Most common cause? Loose gas cap. Indeed, care of the gas station attendant in NJ (where competent self-service is illegal), my gas cap was not fastened tightly.

A satisfying solution to a perplexing mystery.

Monday, June 18, 2007

לא תקלל חרש ולפני עור, לא תתן מכשל

Last semester, I took a course in Cultural Diversity as it relates to psychological and clinical practice. It was enlightening, though remarkably biased. You see, the instructor is black and virtually all the case studies presented were of black people who had achieved great success despite backgrounds of poverty, abuse, neglect, and/or discrimination. These were all great and inspirational stories, but the curriculum seems to have gotten swept up in the mistaken notion that diversity=minority. (If you think this is racist, get an education, see the world, and have a neurologist check out that knee-jerk.)

Anyway, we had a guest speaker one day, a hearing psychologist who had worked for many years in the deaf community. The presentation was fascinating and enlightening, but I learned one thing that greatly disturbed me.

Because they cannot hear, deaf people often miss out on a lot of background information. Think about it; how much useful information do you collect every day by overhearing (not eavesdropping)? Because of this information deficit that leaves them out of the loop, deaf culture tries to glean the information directly and places a great value on information. The consequence of that is that deaf people are very self-disclosing and will ask very personal, intimate, and private questions (e.g., "How much do you make?" "Were you always overweight?" and the like). When communicating with a deaf person, it is considered an affront to deny them information; it says you don't trust them.

The guest speaker related a conversation she had with a supervisor about how to respond to these probing inquiries if disclosing the information made her uncomfortable. Her supervisor told her that there is a practice that has arisen among interlocutors of the deaf. The solution is to simply lie. That way you're not disclosing and not insulting.

Personally, I find that even more insulting and disrespectful. I learned growing up and in my professional, clinical development that the way to demonstrate your respect for someone (and indeed, to actually respect them) is to be honest with them. Sometimes the truth is scary, painful, or inconvenient. You don't have to deliver it with a sledgehammer, but you don't sugarcoat it, beat around the bush, or lie about it. The truth with compassion is the ideal.

This earth is blessed with myriad overlapping cultures. It is inevitable that many of them will clash. The mature, productive reaction should be to address the clash and reconcile differences; it doesn't mean everyone will walk away happy, but they should feel respected. Shirking away from this responsibility by misleading or misinforming the deaf, in this case, is a twisted, selfish, and cowardly response to personal discomfort.

Now that I've expressed my criticism, what solution do I have, what would I do? I would consider the nature of the question asked of me. I may find that though I am unaccustomed to disclosing the requested information, I may not really take that much issue with it and wouldn't really mind that much answering the question.

If I truly don't want to reveal the information, I would tell the deaf person that I understand their culture's value of self-disclosure and that while they are not lacking for my trust, my cultural background makes me uncomfortable answering the question. If the deaf person is sufficiently mature and culturally responsible, he or she would endeavor to understand or at least respect my culture (which Randy Cohen failed to do) while accepting that I am not being insulting.

This may not occur, and the deaf person may adopt a view that hearing/male/Jewish/etc. people are culturally obtuse and offensive. That would be sad, but at least I would have met my responsibilities.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Words for the wise

I'm introducing a new feature today that I hope will improve your vocabulary and/or social mobility & life-long financial security. Every once in a while, I will present a word I find interesting, one you probably hadn't known before, but can now use with abandon in small-talk, doctoral dissertations, amortization calculations, marriage proposals, challenges to duel, and pet care. Who knows how far you can go if you introduce these incredible words into your life.
So without further ado, the first word:

arachibutyrophobia (n.) - the fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of your mouth

Sufferers of this devastating condition can be helped and often look to the most famous recovered arachibutyrophobe, George Washington Carver, for inspiration.

This inaugural post is dedicated in honor of my friend Daniyel's recent dissertation abstract submission and proposal acceptance.

The other words in this series can always be found here.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Birthday Manifesto 2000

In 1997, I wrote my first birthday manifesto, an epistle I sent out in a mass email on my birthday. I continued the tradition for a number of years until life got too busy (READ: lazy) to compose new ones. For those of you who did not have the pleasure of knowing me in those days or the privilege of being in my address book, I am posting them here, not necessarily in order.

This particular one, from 2000, received the most vocal and appreciative responses. Friends said it helped jar their perspective a bit, enough to regroup and pursue their goals with renewed purpose and vinegar- um, vigor.

Well, the year 2000 has come. I remember thinking years ago, "Man, I'm going to turn 21 in the year 2000." It seemed so far away, so foreign. What was once the future is now here, and will soon be past. Time is a funny thing, it can seem to resist our wishes to just move along or it can slip through our fingers in blatant disregard of our need for it to slow down and give us pause for rest. Sometimes though, things are simply perfect. But that passes, too. As human beings, we are fickle, and the world changes around us. This is not pessimism, it is fact. So we must learn to deal with it.

I once made a sign that I posted on my desk to motivate me to work when I was slacking off or got distracted. It said, "Lost seconds count." It was meant to remind me that as a conscious entity, I am aware of the passage of time, on a scale of seconds to years. I can count seconds as they pass by. One, two, three, four... These very seconds can be spent working productively or they can be wastefully squandered. Whichever seconds I spend "playing" are lost forever, I never again have the opportunity to spend them more wisely. These lost seconds count as part of the sum total of my allotted time on this planet (before they call me back to my home planet). I can't disqualify them and say, "Those don't count, I didn't mean them. Let me do them over." The sign worked. I would look at it, realize how foolish wasted seconds are, and get back to work. What was once future is now here, and will soon be past. What is now future will soon be here...

There are intrinsic elements to my life now that I could not have possibly imagined in the past. That is another property of time and our place in it: we only know the past (one would hope), occasionally the present, but never the future. The future will bring what you make of it, what you make for yourself, with an added dose of FATE thrown in for good measure. I see people I know and care about get frustrated by the pace of their lives, saddened at the absence of certain things that they feel should have been achieved, granted, or found by now. To these people I say, there is a "before", a "during", and an "after", nothing else. If you are at the "before" part of your life, there will be a "during". It will come. It just hasn't yet. If it is not yet to be, there is nothing you can do about it. But if it will be, it will be. Effect change when you can, but accept when you cannot.

Patience is a virtue. It is an elevation past the base state of "I want it now, it's not fair." You can't change the passage of time, but you can change your perception of it. The old adage, "A watched pot never boils" comes to mind, as does "Time flies when you're having fun." When you can relax and let go of your need for a premature future, things happen smoothly. They happen in what feels to be (because it actually is) their right time. Things have a tendency to fall into place with a perfection that can't be anything but divine.

What is now future will soon be here...

Which brings me to the closing.
Thank you, everyone, for your love, your friendship, your support, help, and good wishes.
Zei gezunt.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Flip your lid redux

As T. and I look towards August and start planning our vacation, I am reminded of an intensely meaningful interfaith encounter we had last summer. We traveled through central and western New York (the banner on top of my blog is from a picture I took of a sculpture at the Corning Museum of Glass), entered Canada in Niagara, and drove up to Niagara-on-the-Lake (a jaunt Winston Churchill rightly called the prettiest Sunday drive in the world), a pretty, quaint town with shops, bed & breakfasts, and three theaters, all surrounded by orchards and vineyards.

We caught a play, The Magic Fire, at the annual Shaw Festival (as in George Bernard), and stayed at a B&B. We like staying at B&Bs on our travels- prices can be comparable to the cloned hotel rooms you'll find in any city, but they are so much more cozy and interesting. (Explaining kashrut to the hosts is a separate story.) The one we stayed at in NOTL was actually the hosts' house. The family of four lived in the basement and the upstairs was for (paying) guests. The hostess is Sri Lankan and had worked for many years in Dubai at Jumeirah's Burj-Al-'Arab, the best hotel in the world. There she met her husband, who is also in the hospitality industry.

They decided to semi-retire and moved to NOTL, opening up her B&B. She is a Muslima (but is not an Arab) and over the course of our stay, she kept wondering why the Jews and Muslims have such conflict if we can all get along under her roof. She knew about kashrut because she keeps halal. She told us how she wakes up at 3:30 every morning to pray and prepare a scrumptious breakfast. In the afternoon, I told her we also pray and asked her which direction is East. She directed me towards the Kaaba. Close enough.

As we checked out out the next morning after breakfast, she stopped us and turned to me. With great anticipation and trepidation she inquired whether she could ask me something about Judaism. I always welcome opportunities for us to learn about each other and I acquiesced. She asked me, with all the serious curiosity of a seven-year-old, "How do you keep that little hat on your head?"

Friday, May 04, 2007

If you don't have your health... least you'll have good grades.

So I've been more or less sick since חול המועד, the worst symptom being a horrible cough (words cannot describe how the magma in my chest has been affecting me). I tried two different inhalers, but they didn't really do anything for me. What I really needed to do was to see a doctor, but this was the last week of the semester. For the past three weeks or so, I've been using all my free time to write papers, reports, and a presentation.

So now I'm done with the deadline stuff and will finally get to a pulmonologist on Monday.
Here's to breathing again soon!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Flip your lid

Who says scientists don't have a sense of humor?

Some of the problems are so pervasive in research that one can almost always be sure to point them out. For example, when a student comes into my office to discuss a study, I usually start the conversation by rubbing my fingers through my toupee and shaking my head back and forth as if I were saying "no" to convey signs of deep frustration and despair. I usually have my student's riveted attention (not counting the time my toupee fell to the floor). Then, before he or she speaks, I begin the back-and-forth head shaking; continue that for at least two seconds of silence; and then say, "Oh- no, no, no- your sample is much too small." (I have been wrong on a few occasions, such as the time the student entered my office merely to ask where the bathroom was.)

Kazdin, A. E. (2004). Methodology: What it is and why it is so important. In A. E. Kazdin (Ed.), Methodological Issues & Strategies in Clinical Research, Third Edition (pp. 5-22). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Update: Kazdin is the American Psychological Association's President for 2008, minus toupee.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Just look at the monitor and smile

I just saw this ad on my Gmail, promising "Life-changing makeovers- Professional Teeth Whitening Online" and was profoundly amazed at what they can do with technology these days.

But what if you lose your internet connection in the middle?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Our reputation precedes us

What is it about this world, or maybe the Germans in particular, or Europe somewhat less particularly, that they have these caricatured notions of other cultures? Too much Hollywood? I don't know, I just don't know. I'll just let the facts speak for themselves.
The NYTimes reports:

A German Army instructor ordered a soldier to envision himself in the Bronx facing hostile African-Americans while firing his machine gun, a video that aired on Saturday on national television showed. “We are currently investigating the incident,” said Florian Naggies, a spokesman for the army and the Defense Ministry.

The clip shows an instructor and a soldier in camouflage uniforms in a forest. The instructor tells the soldier, “You are in the Bronx. A black van is stopping in front of you. Three African-Americans are getting out and they are insulting your mother in the worst ways. Act.” The soldier fires his machine gun several times and yells an obscenity several times in English. The instructor then tells the soldier to curse even louder.

You can see the video here (I'm not embedding it in my post because of the obscenities). And by the way, you can rest assured that Al Sharpton got in on this act, too, demanding that President Bush intervene. Hey Al, why don't you go over there yourself and personally shove some sauerbraten down their- oh yeah, right, I was talking about this intercultural respect thing. Well, you get the point.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Practice makes perfect

In these sad days where parents need to check before moving to a new neighborhood (or letting their kids out in their current neighborhood), many are teaching their children explicitly how to respond to molestation attempts.

My sister recently taught her toddler son how to respond to such a situation:

Don't touch me!
That's private!
I'm going to tell my Abba!

My nephew, thus armed, was later quizzed by his aunt how to respond to someone who touches him inappropriately. He confidently recited:
Don't touch me!
That's private!
I'm going to sing you a song!

He needs some work, it's true, but he'll get there.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

My two cents in WH

I just wanted to share my thoughts, as I commented on another blog about a controversy I think has become a great embarrassment.

I don’t care to comment on my personal opinion regarding whether the shul’s announcer may be a woman (other than to applaud Sharon for stirring things up), but I would like to comment on Rabbi Schnaidman.

I’ve known him for four years. Not a lot, but significantly longer than many of the current mitpallelim/ot at our shul (I’m one of the geezers of the younger cohort). I’ve had many personal and private discussions with him over this time regarding life in general as well as nuanced halakhic issues pertaining both to bein adam l’chavero and laMakom (sometimes both at once). These were usually not black or white, yes/no, muttar/assur issues.

Sadly, many figures of religious authority I’ve encountered in the past have withdrawn from taking an unequivocal stance and accepting responsibility for their answers, or they have so diluted the matter with superficial hashkafic platitudes.

Rabbi Schnaidman never backed down from tough issues and sought, with great sensitivity and gravity, to find appropriate solutions that would maintain people’s dignity and rights, and especially his commitment to halakha. I have been repeated impressed by the creativity he draws upon to reach such solutions.

That many of you were not satisfied with his logic does not mean he is old-fashioned, inconsiderate, or obdurate. He recognizes the inherent challenges in leading a shul comprised of very different populations and has taken great pains to foster the spiritual & personal devlopment, comfort, and acceptance of each, though such effort has often been fraught with conflict.

He is not perfect, but he is sincere and sensitive to the individuals that comprise the kehillah. I know first-hand the angst he experiences when he feels that someone may have been slighted or excluded within the context of his shul (and the hospital to which he devotes so much of his energy).

My only disappointment with the recent influx of new members of this community (of which I am part) is that so many see him only as “the old guy who gives really long drashot and seems kinda out of touch with us” and don’t appreciate the opportunity they have to be part of his flock.

I know I probably got a little too worshipful of the good Rabbi, but I guess I had a point to emphasize. This incident has been very upsetting to me, and people don't seem to have any הכרת הטוב for what has been accomplished in this community, much of it with the support of Rabbi Schnaidman. Of course, before recognition, one must be aware of the good that was done.

How many of the מתלוננים were even in this community to remember when the young people had their own minyan in the basement, once a month? How many of them appreciate how far out on a limb the Rabbi went to make the eruv a reality, how much indignation from others in the community he will have to still absorb even after we've moved on in two or three years?

Someone commented to me cynically that these dissatisfied youth should seek a younger, more progressive Rabbi and go to the Bridge Shul. Of course, no one really goes there anymore because the shul was not willing to make the accomodations Mt. Sinai and its leader have made.

These events have reinforced for me how alienated by the younger community I feel here. T and I have been talking about moving for a while, but never got our act together. It's time to move on.

What life asks of us

As stressful as life can be, we usually have a good handle on what we're supposed to do. I know I have to pick up my dry-cleaning or I won't have anything to wear for Shabbos. I know I have to use a pot holder or I'll seriously burn myself. Some decisions may be nagging, but ultimately don't invoke much responsibility because their consequences are not significantly influential for our future. Should I order the pasta or the fish? (The pasta- I don't like fish.)

And then there are times where life asks more of us, times where our impotence to really control our destiny becomes painfully obvious. During January/February, I was applying for externship positions for next year. I sent out five applications and was called in for three interviews. Awesome.

The first interview was on a Wednesday with my last choice hospital site (my fall-back). I considered it a practice interview. At the end of the interview with the training director, she offered me a spot for next year and asked me to let her know my decision within a week. My other two interviews were the following Tuesday. I told each interviewer about my offer and the pressure for a decision and asked them if they could let me know, in a non-binding way, where I stand. They understood my predicament and explained their predicament, which was basically that they couldn't really tell me because they weren't finished interviewing and would contact me the following week. One advised me to go ahead and "make [my] decisions."

Tough situation, right? It was literally "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." So what do I do? Take the ho-hum sure thing and feel I didn't get the exciting, prestigious placement or hold out hope but risk ending up with nothing for next year? What would you do? This was one situation where I wished I could just know one relevant piece of information from the future. That would ease my decision and give me the serenity of certainty.

So many times we ask life for its meaning, what it expects of us. Viktor Frankl, in his seminal work, Man's Search for Meaning (an explication of his experiences during the Holocaust and how they contributed to his theories of Logotherapy and Existential Analysis, which posit that our greatest drive is not towards pleasure (as per Freud) or power (as per Adler and Nietzsche), but toward meaning- buy and read this book!) informs that it's the other way around.

"Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible... [In the concentration camps] we needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life - daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual"
-Viktor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
The responsibility is upon us to discover, define, and pursue our meaning. So, my friends, where does this leave us? Well, I'll tell you what I did.

I called the director of the first site on Wednesday and blubbered a request for more time to decide. I tried to frame it in a way that didn't convey that "I don't really want to go here, but you may be my only hope." It's like this- T. pointed out that people tend to respond more positively to requests based on a principle than just a סתם request because "I want/need it." I told her that I try to make my decisions with knowledge of all my options, that if I didn't want to go there, I would tell her, but I wanted to find the placement I would gain most from and could contribute most to. She very tactfully did not point out to me how full of it I was and graciously offered me a couple more days to decide, as they expected to fill all positions by Friday. She said she'd call me when they'd all been filled (not, of course, when there was one spot left I could still accept). That bought me more time, but not enough.

I let Friday come and go (along with the phone call that all positions had been filled) and hoped for the best the next week. Monday I received a call from one of the other two places, rejecting me. I should have seen it coming. The director told me that it wasn't becasue of any lack of qualification, but that they generally seek externs with more experience. As such, they usually interview applicants for 4th year externship poistions, a preference the director informed me of during the interview. I was applying for 3rd year externship. They called me in for an interview because they were impressed with my CV and wanted to see what I 'm about. In the end, they went with 4th years across the board. I should have put the pieces together earlier. 20/20 hindsight, right?

Later that day, I got a call from my last hope. The director asked if I'd accepted the other offer I told her about at the interview. I responded cooly and calmly that I hadn't and in fact preferred a placement at her site (READ: I reallyreallyreallyreallyreally want you to take me because I have nowhere else to go). She said she'd let me know their decision on Wednesday. On Wednesay, I got the good news. I'm really excited to extern next year on two MICA wards with ex-convicts and oodles of psychopathology. In addition to the experience, this institution's name on my CV will help take me places in the future.

Does this mean I made the right decision? Not necessarily. As much as I got the outcome I'd desired at the time, I still have no way of knowing what the consequences of my decision may ultimately be.

When I called the director to accept her offer, she told me that they were very impressed with me when we met (on Tuesday the week before), but that they had to finish all the other interviews [as a formality]. So it turns out that at the very time I was troubled by uncertainty and the decision required, the conclusion was already there (she could have saved me a lot of stress had she told me then!). Of course, I could have chosen the fall back.

I'm curious to hear your about your throughts and experiences.

Update 12/28/08:
At the end of the following year's application process, I was in a similar bind. I had an offer from one place I thought I'd have been very happy with, but still had another interview, with another place I also thought I'd be happy with. At the end of the interview, I frankly told the interviewer my dilemma and empathized with her position (having come to understand it from last year's process). This time around, she offered me a position on the spot! She didn't make me accept right away, but I did ultimately accept the position and am very happy there.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Hey Al, your slip is showing

Injustice in the world? Al Sharpton to the rescue. Well, let me emend that.

Injustice for the black community? Al Sharpton to the rescue. Wait, wait- one more time.

Injustice or actual justice for the black community? Al Sharpton to the rescue.

If you couldn't already tell, he really irks me. He is an opportunistic, oratorical tornado of righteous indignation who touches down wherever something unfortunate happens to people of minority communities as a result of some action or inaction by the majority community or authority (two of the NYPD officers involved in the Sean Bell shooting case are black) that he perceives as unjust. He takes advantage of grieving families to further his own public exposure and political ambitions, claiming to represent their views and their furor, while often slipping into first person ("I will not tolerate..." vs. "they" or even "we").

What infuriates me more than this clown and his traveling circus is when he or others like him, when interviewed or holding a press conference before a verdict, hope or demand that "justice will be served." Now, correct me if I'm wrong (you can comment below), but the justice system generally performs justice whenever it gives a verdict (of course, I acknowledge exceptions).
What these people are really saying is, "I demand a judgment in my favor" and vesting this selfish, biased demand in the sheep's clothing of impartial, uniformly desired "justice."


Anyway, here's a clip of Rev. Sharpton (I will not refer to him as Dr., as he sometimes calls himself, because he never earned a doctorate or equivalent) recently speaking his true mind.

Monday, March 19, 2007

City Gripe #956

I suppose this one really doesn't have to do with living in the city, although alternate-side parking rules add to the anxiety. So it snowed over the weekend. Well first it rained, then it hailed, then it snowed, hail again, then back to rain. The long and short of it is that my car was blocked in by a foot of what used to be snow on Shabbos but later froze into one massive ice shelf.

It took me two hours using the shovel and ice plunger/breaker/thingamajig I borrowed from my super to get to a point I could pull the car out. Along the way, I discovered that it wasn't ice all the way down. If I cleared out the hard packed snow underneath, I could break the ice with less difficulty into chunks. I carried/threw/shoveled these chunks (the larger ones weighing 30-40 lbs) onto the sidewalk. It was long, arduous work, and I almost gave up a few times, but I stuck with it. As the sun began to fill our little valley of a street, it made the ice a littler easier to break.

As I was nearing the back of the car (after discovering and partially dismantling the solid ice shelf that also ran underneath my car, blocking the rear tires' path), a man came up to me. He said very politely and articulately that he wasn't going to take my time and beg, but would like to do some honest work for a few bucks, not even 5 or 10. So I let him finish the job and instruct me to take a breather. He made sure I could pull into the street and I gave him $8. I asked him where he lives, but he said he doesn't have a home. I told him to come say hello if he sees me around.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Laplap slurpslurp glubglub lub dub

So there was this really tall guy who bent down to drink from the water fountain in the hall just now. It struck me in a funny way and reminded me of something...

Actually, the giraffe's circulatory system is one of the
wonders of Creation intelligent design evolution whatever. Because its head (and the brain within) is so far above its heart, the giraffe must maintain a blood pressure much higher than other mammals (about 240/160), and has a very large (~24 lbs) and powerful heart to accomplish this.

Because of their hard-working hearts and high blood pressure, giraffes are very susceptible to heart attacks when frightened or experiencing prolonged exertion, so when catching a giraffe, be sure not to chase it too long. Zoo-keepers also blindfold giraffes sometimes to avoid stressing them too much.

And finally, a mystery solved:

"...researchers explain that most other mammals, including humans, elephants, and mice, have similar blood pressures, because all of them have a similarly proportional distance between the head and the heart. Because of its long neck, a giraffe's blood pressure is twice as high as a human's blood pressure, yet it doesn't suffer from blood pressure-related diseases or dizziness -- despite an extraordinary rush of blood from the head in the two seconds it takes to lift its head 15 feet from a drinking position to a standing one.

The model reveals nature's evolutionary solution, which prevents giraffes from becoming dizzy in their predator-studded environment. A muscular cuff, which acts much like the device used to constrict a human arm during blood-pressure tests, surrounds the jugular vein. It regulates blood flow while the giraffe lifts its head, until the animal's powerful heart can pump blood up its long neck to the brain."

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Today I had to do something I feel is wrong.

In my clinical training, I perform psychological assessments. I was finishing up one such assessment process today, and met with the examinee for a feedback session to discuss the results. The assessment report can be very technical and difficult to interpret (or interpret correctly) for the lay-public (hence the feedback session to explain in everyday language).

Of course, at this point it's entirely appropriate to reference Simspons episode 9F09 (Homer's Triple Bypass):
Dr. Hibbert:
Homer, I'm afraid you'll have to undergo a coronary bypass operation.
Homer: Say it in English, Doc.
Hibbert: You're going to need open heart surgery.
Homer: Spare me your medical mumbo jumbo.
Hibbert: We're going to cut you open, and tinker with your ticker.
Homer: Could you dumb it down a shade?
For this reason, my supervisor does not like to give examinees their reports after testing and, when requested, sends the report to the proper audience (e.g. a school or other doctor). When asked for a report during a feedback session, he tells the examinee that it's not "his policy" to release the report. If they continue to ask for it, he gives it to them. After all, they have a right to it- he just doesn't like to give it to them. This is not a unversal practice (even within our clinic, other supervisors don't subscribe to this policy), but it's his, and I think it's pretty deceptive.

As his supervisee, I am expected to practice this habit. Today, after doing a good job explaining to my examinee what I'd found, she asked for the report. I told her, "It's our policy not to release the report." I told her we would send it wherever she needed it sent. She asked if there was any way to get the report for her records, to facilitate sending the report in the future, to have it for her records. All I could do was repeat, "It's out policy not to release the report."

It went on, but I feel dirty enough already. I need a shower.

Update (3/15/07): The clinic's policy is, in fact, to release reports to patients, but to make them jump through minor hurdles to get it (submitting a written request and signing consent to release their report to.. themselves- huh?). So, this examinee will get her report. I feel better now, but it's yet another strike against my supervisor, with whom we already have some major issues.
At times like this, it's important to remember advice my old alte-supervisor gave me when I left work before returning to school to start my graduate studies-
תזהר מחמור נושא ספרים" (Beware of donkeys carrying books)

Update to the update: My aforementioned alte-supervisor is a secular Israeli with contempt for the practice of religious Jews (a tradition in which he was raised; in his youth, he attended an elite yeshiva, possibly qualifying him as an authentic apikores. His advice to me suddenly takes on new meaning.

Monday, March 05, 2007

תפילה אחרי משחק ספורט

דחוף לקום בבוקר בשביל לראות משחק ספורט
תוכן השאלה: האם מותר לקום בבוקר מוקדם בשביל לצפות במשחק ספורט ולהתפלל אח``כ? מדובר במשחק של פעם בשנה. אם אני אקום לראות את המשחק ואתפלל אח``כ, זה יהיה הרבה יותר מוקדם מאשר זמן התפילה הרגיל שלי

So apparently there's this website about Judaism, where people ask questions, presumably for psak. This particular question was from January (click on the post title for the link) and seems to be referring to the Super Bowl. Those in Israel would have to get up pretty early to watch the game. This guy wants to know if it's ok to get up early, watch the game, and then daven (at a time that would be earlier than usual for him).

The response questions why a sports game can motivate this guy to wake up so early, but the Shulchan Arukh cannot. He goes on to hope that this fellow will begin the practice of arising early for the game, but make a habit of it for tefillah.

What do you think? Was this question serious or just baiting for a too frum response?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

City Living Gripe #483

As my friend Arona already noted, we city folk don't always have it easy. Urban dwelling brings with it some surreal protocols and implications we must confront. Here's one that bothers me.

We are lucky enough to have a laundry room in our building (the fact that we don't have to schlep to the laundromat makes this a distinctly NY type of luck) that has five washing machines. Our building has 60 apartments. You do the math.

We're vigilant enough to catch a machine when its wash is done. The washes' owners, however, are not always so vigilant. What this means is that, as per building's consenual, tacit etiquette, we take the other person's clean laundry out of the machine and put it into an empty dryer (if there are no empty dryers, the wash goes on a table in the room). Now I know that these are freshly cleaned clothes we're talking about, but still- I don't want to be handling someone else unmentionables! There must be some evolutionary advantage to being repulsed by others' clothes (a.k.a. xenovestiphobia), but what could it possibly be if we're even disgusted by clean clothing? I'm open to hearing all forms of conjecture, speculation, and MAS on the topic.

We also had to deal with an urban laundry excursion when we were in San Francisco for vacation. Being soon after the 9 Days, we packed dirty laundry to wash at the beginning of our trip. We asked at our hotel and they directed us to the Brain Wash Cafe & Laundromat. We realized we weren't in the tourist part of town anymore when every storefront was a body shop- alternating car's and women's bodies (if ya know what I mean ;). I've never seen such a trendy laundromat; I guess that's the point. Our load was way under the minimum weight, but the heavy-lidded hipster behind the counter, apathetic and detesting of her bosses anyway, didn't even to try and make us pay the higher fee to meet the minimum.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Muslims excel in Jewish day school!

The Jewish school where half the pupils are Muslim
Some might call this article inspirational- I don't know if I'd go that far, but it is somewhat astounding. The two levels that get me are first, that the Muslim parents are so into enrolling their kids in a Jewish school and second, that other members of their community seem to be ok with it. Presumably, the Birmingham (UK) Muslim community is more moderate.

Thanks to Avi Z. for the link.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Wear Red Day 2007

I didn't think about my decision to wear a red sweater on February 2nd, I just pulled it out of the closet. I'm working Fridays doing research in a cardiovascular department of a major hospital. Someone popped her head in the room I was working in and, noting that I was wearing red, asked if I was wearing "for the cause."

Indeed, I wasn't, but what cause? Apparently, it was Wear Red Day, in support of women's heart disease awareness. Being a cardiology department, everyone's for this cause. We took a staff picture with all of us Redcoats. Afterwards, I got a red dress pin (aka a זונה* pin)

What was I doing that day? Proofreading my professor's chapter galleys, punctuation and all. Sound familiar? I present to you the Maestro, Victor Borge!

דרב אדא בר אהבה חזייה לההיא כותית דהות לבישא כרבלתא בשוקא סבר דבת ישראל היא קם קרעיה מינה אגלאי מילתא דכותית היא שיימוה בארבע מאה זוזי א"ל מה שמך אמרה ליה מתון אמר לה מתון מתון ארבע מאה זוזי שויא -ברכות דף כ,א

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

...with a little help from my friends

American עולה Harry, of The View From Here, reports on a blog of blacks who are friends of Israel. A small sampling includes Mike Tyson, P. Diddy, Mr. T, and Condoleeza Rice.

Good for the Jews?

Well we love you, too