Archive for October, 2008

I'm splitting my ticket: Obama and Daniels

I’m neither a Republican nor a Democrat, although I have been more of a Democrat over the past eight years because George W. Bush has been a horrible president, and the national Republican Party has enabled him.

Here in Indiana, however, the parties are not so far apart, there are good politicians in both, and so for me it comes down to who is the better candidate for the particular office.

Why Obama?

Obama is the first presidential candidate in my life about whom I am genuinely enthusiastic. He is intelligent, inspiring, and appears to be of good character. More importantly, he seems to be wise, understanding people and the world on a deep level.

I don’t just think Obama is a good guy; I also think that he, unlike Carter, will be able to deal with the people and institutions of Washington successfully and accomplish things. Further, I agree with what he wants to accomplish, especially universal health care. I think it’s hard to object to Obama unless one is a hard-core dogmatic conservative who recoils in horror at any whiff of liberalism.

Why not McCain?

I would have preferred Gore, but McCain could have and I think would have been a decent president eight years ago. Today, however, he just seems old and off his nut. He is flailing, saying anything to get elected, and some of it is pretty execrable. In the debates and TV interviews, McCain just seems rageful, resentful, and on the verge of totally losing it.

But I don’t think McCain has just become unappealing as a person; I have also not heard from him a single appealing idea. I think he would be pretty ineffective in getting anything done of substance, and I see no signs that he would diverge much from GWB’s disastrous foreign policy.

I like Palin as a character; she would be fun to watch on TV. I think she is an absolutely dangerous wacko as a political candidate, not to mention completely incompetent. Her selection was a joke.

Why Daniels?

I have met Daniels and have talked to a lot of people who know him personally; the consensus is that he is just a great, genuine person. But, more importantly, Daniels has a record of success in office. We had a horrible property tax problem here (my own more than doubled), but Daniels handled it deftly and quickly in bipartisan cooperation with the legislature. Daniels has worked tirelessly to bring business from Asia to the state and overall has supported policies that are good for business and good for the people of the state at the same time.

So I’m going to vote for him and the rest of the Republicans running for relection in the state; they have done a good job.

Why not Thompson?

To be frank, I have not been following the campaign in detail. There seems to be nothing wrong with Thompson, but Daniels has been such a success that I have no reason to consider anyone else (I guess I am a “low-information voter” in this case!). Thompson seems good and competent, but even with long Obama coattails I do not think this is going to be her year.

There you have it: a split ticket. I think many Hoosiers will be voting similarly next Tuesday.

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Matt Rouge at Firefly coffee shop in Fort Wayne, Indiana.I’m worried about you: broke, pregnant, switching from a more stable job to a less (any new job is unstable, but this one seemed especially so to me). Worried that you’re going to go back to him and he’s going to beat the crap out of you or worse. Worried that you’re too proud and obstinate to call me if something really bad does happen to you.

It’s been nearly a year since we first met and my reality changed forever, for the better, despite the tribulation I went through by first touching the divine (I did, even if you feel you did not) and then losing the divine. “Better to have loved and lost,” as they say.

If I emailed you, I know you’d write me back: you like the attention. Then I’d have to endure the same passive-aggressive communication, the doling out of words on your part, the puling for attention on mine. I don’t miss that.

But I miss you, the higher you. The advocate. I hope she’s taking care of you and your/his baby.

I was up in Fort Wayne recently to check out a manufacturing facility. Wherever, however you were and are, I raised and raise this morning chai in your honor. Blessings to you, Great Spirit!

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Love of neighbor

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him, and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.

Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves?
And he said, He that shewed mercy on him.
Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

Luke 10: 30-37

I believe that 95% of what we need to know about morality or ethics is contained in the above story and a little background information. Jesus, of course, had a purpose in making the neighbor of the story a Samaritan: the Samaritans and the Jews of Jesus’ time did not get along very well, and yet it is the Samaritan, the outsider, who shows compassion, and not the priest or the Levite, men of social standing who ostensibly had a duty to serve the unfortunate.

It is hard to thinking of anything I’ve done wrong in my life that is in harmony with the spirit of this parable. Indeed, if one follows this spirit, about the worst one can do is err on the side of kindness and generosity.

Love of neighbor is my personal big takeaway from the New Testament. Jesus certainly puts a good deal of emphasis on it:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Matthew 22: 37-40

So why am I talking about love of neighbor in this post today? One, I do so as a personal reminder that love of neighbor is what I need to be thinking about in my interactions with others.

Two, as this blog is in part about spirituality, I wanted to point out that, in my experience, New Agers like myself revere Jesus and his teachings. Further, sometimes the most important spiritual lessons are the simplest. A lot has been said and written about morality and ethics over the millennia, but I doubt that anyone will ever improve upon this short and simple but deep story (I recognize that the Old Testament contained these teachings as well, but Jesus conveyed them in a new and maximally effective way). We New Agers may meditate, mind our chakras, and engage in all manner of spiritual thises and thats, but if we forget love of neighbor we are not being true to our principles, and our practice is for naught.

Three, I don’t often get political or negative in this blog, but I need to comment on an aspect of the Culture War and certain Christians’ role in it.

I do not see love of neighbor in the hatred expressed by these Christians toward Muslims and people in the Mideast. I don’t see love of neighbor in their calling Obama a Muslim and thinking that being a Muslim disqualifies one from being president of the United States. I don’t see love of neighbor in the jingoistic, Christianist worldview in which the United States is inherently righteous and tasked by God with smiting those who don’t think and act as our “Judeo-Christian” country would like. I don’t see much love of neighbor in the way these Christians denigrate gays and fight against their equality in marriage.

In general, the political right in the United States calls itself Christian, and George Bush calls himself born again, but in the Bush administration I have not observed much love of neighbor. (Need I go into details?) In the ugly McCain-Palin campaign and in the unhinged right of radio and TV, I am not observing much love of neighbor. Instead, I am seeing something harsh, hectoring, inflammatory, and invalidating. It is not a worldview that wishes things were right, even by its own standards; rather, it takes delight in things being wrong so that there is plenty of butt to kick and excuses to grab more power. Its adherents don’t succor the outsider, pouring wine and oil in his wounds. They kick his ass.

Lest I be unclear, Christians in this mode are in a very small minority, but over the past 30 years they have raised an increasingly loud ruckus. I don’t mean to search for a mote with a plank in my own eye, but this is no mote: it’s a complete disconnect with the core of Jesus’ teachings–an ocular telephone pole, if you will. I would request that those who call themselves “Christian” while engaging in the above-mentioned behaviors reread the parable of the Good Samaritan and ask themselves if they are being a neighbor or passing on the other side.

At the same time, we who are disturbed by the Christianist right must ourselves practice love of neighbor, resisting the temptation to make them an enemy by which to feel good about ourselves or an “other” through which to build our own unity.

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Dear Future Soul Mate

Dear Future Soul Mate,

This being the fallow time, I have difficulty in finding you out there in the ether. Since you and I are two persons with a connection that defies normalcy, you are probably going through a similar period. But there is hope: I am here, waiting for you and sending you love, and the day is not so far when we will be together.

Like me, in the past year you have probably had a glimpse of what it will be like for us to be together: a glimpse of light that gave hope, followed by darkness that sought to end all hope. But you and I are strong: we accept the lessons that both the light and the darkness have to offer. Hope now lies not in what the world chooses to give us, but in ourselves as individuals and in our future unity.

I am preparing for our meeting. I am taking care of business. I am working hard. I am making improvements. I am letting go of that portion of the past that requires my letting go.

I am curious as to how we will discover one another on the physical plane; I’m thrilled to know that it must happen, and soon. Although this post will not likely be your first experience of me, I write it for you knowing that, somehow, it will reach you before that physical discovery.

Until that day, be strong, Great Spirit!

In care, respect, and love,


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Darts can teach you a lot about yourself and reality

The dart board of Matt RougeI first really played darts in 1999 when I was interning at Schering-Plough and spending a lot of time in Brooklyn with my best friend Tom. Thereafter, I didn’t play until 2006, when I joined the Columbia Club in Indianapolis. That got me back into it. I bought a dart board in early 2007, which entertained me a bit when I was snowed in, but I lost interest and didn’t play again until late August of this year, when I drove to New York to hang out with Tom, who now has very cool pad in Manhattan.

I think I’m hooked on darts for good this time.

Darts is a great way to meditate. It’s all about you, your mental state, your skill, and your relationship to physical reality. In other words, it’s just “you” and “not-you.” Whether “you” and “not-you” are in harmony or disharmony is up to you–and not-you.

Why did you let yourself hit the target this time and not that other time? Does “zoning out” allow you to hit the target better? Or are you just aimlessly firing and taking what comes? Do concentration and careful, conscious aiming help you hit the target? Or does focusing too much produce the opposite result? Why does a certain mental state help you sometimes and not others?

These are the questions you might ask yourself, and often answers come to you.

One thing I have explored through playing darts is how the self allows the self to succeed or not succeed. Practice certainly has the effect of honing actual skills like aiming and throwing, but the negotiation the self engages in with reality (not-self) while practicing is extremely interesting to observe.

Self: “Is it okay for me to hit the bullseye this time?”

Reality: “I’m not sure. You’re really quite inconsistent. You need to prove to yourself and me that you can hit it so many times in so many throws. Let’s work up to it a bit.”

Self: “But I’ve got mojo this time. I can feel a kind of electric charge on the board; it’s going to suck the dart right into the bullseye.”

Reality: “Okay, I know how that feels, and I can accept that. But on the throw after that, as a kind of recompense for success, you’re going to throw wild. Can you live with that?”

Self: “Yeah. I guess.”

Reality: “Go for it then.”

Thunk. Bullseye. So much in life works this way.

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Where's my licorice?

You said you’d send it….

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The words "sympathy" and "empathy" are ruined

Now and then an English word gets ruined. For example, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language (The World Publishing Company, 1959–this is my favorite old stand-by dictionary), “livid” means,

1. discolored by a bruise; black-and-blue: said of the flesh.
2. grayish-blue; lead-colored: as, livid with rage.

How many people imagine “grayish-blue” when they say things like, “He was livid”? Nearly zero, I suspect; in fact, I suspect that most people imagine that someone who is “livid” is red and excited with anger, as that is how we normally experience very angry people (the word “livid” used to be, I assume, useful precisely because being ashen-gray with anger is an uncommon but recognizable phenomenon).

For my point to have meaning we do not have to enter into the old argument of whether the dictionary definition is “right” or common parlance is “right.” Rather, it need merely be the case that the common usage is chaotic or empty; that is, one can turn neither to the dictionary nor to common usage to know the meaning of a word. In the case of “livid,” it is not so that, pace the dictionary, there is wide agreement as to what the word precisely means; instead, it has merely become a word associated with anger but not portraying the mode of anger in any specific or definite way. It has, in short, become a non-value-adding word. Ruined.

“Livid,” however, is a word without any political import. In contrast, “sympathy” and “empathy” have normative connotations to their modern and chaotic usage: “empathy” is good; it means really feeling what someone else feels and reacting to that feeling in an appropriate way. In the movie Species, for example, Forest Whitaker plays “Dan Smithson, Empath,” a character who readily feels as others do and is deeply affected thereby. In modern usage, if you cannot empathize, or “really feel” what others feel, you are insensitive.

“Sympathy” under the new usage is less definite in meaning but somehow less desirable than “empathy” and sometimes downright bad. Perhaps it is seen as a more superficial, less sincere version of “empathy” in which one doesn’t really get inside someone else’s skin or walk in his or her shoes.

If we turn to the same dictionary quoted from above, we will see that the classic definitions of these words differ from their vulgar cousins (I quote the most relevant definitions):


5. the entering into or ability to enter into another person’s mental state, feelings, emotions, etc.; especially, pity or compassion for another’s trouble, suffering, etc.


1. the projection of one’s personality into the personality of another in order to understand him better; intellectual identification of oneself with another.

In vulgar parlance, the definitions of the two terms seem to be more or less switched: empathy is the “true feeling” and sympathy the colder, more intellectual function of the mind.

The Wikipedia article on empathy is for the most part in harmony with the classic definition and starts off thus:

Empathy is the capacity to recognize or understand another’s state of mind or emotion. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes”, or to in some way experience the outlook or emotions of another being within oneself.

It is important to note that empathy does not necessarily imply compassion. Empathy can be ‘used’ for compassionate or cruel behavior.

In a bow to what I term the vulgar usage of the word, the Wikipedia article also includes the following:

In addition to the above use, the term empathy is also used by some people to signify their heightened or higher sensitivity to the emotions and state of others. Empathy may be here conceptualised as the ability to fully “read” another person, completely translating each movement into understandable conversation. This, reportedly, can lead to both positive aspects such as a more skilled instinct for what is “behind the scenes” with people, but also to difficulties such as rapid over-stimulation, or overwhelming stress caused by an inability to protect oneself from this so-called ‘pick-up’.

This would seem to be what is classically termed “sympathy”: people resonating with others just as in sympathetic resonance (Wikipedia):

Sympathetic resonance is a harmonic phenomenon wherein a formerly passive string or vibratory body responds to external vibrations to which it has a harmonic likeness. The classic example is demonstrated with two similar tuning-forks of which one is mounted on a wooden box. If the other one is struck and then placed on the box, then muted, the un-struck mounted fork will be heard.

Zig Ziglar uses the words “sympathy” and “empathy” according to their classic definitions in his sales training materials, explicating and contrasting the two concepts. The salesperson who sympathizes with the prospect is less effective because he or she not only suffers along with the prospect but also is inclined to feel and therefore accept the prospect’s reasons for not buying: can’t afford, etc. In contrast, the salesperson who empathizes with the prospect fully understands the prospect’s situation and does his or her best to improve it, typically by selling a problem-solving product.

Zig’s explication of “sympathy” and “empathy” strikes me as genuinely useful, and I have adopted his philosophy of trying to help others without “feeling their pain.” Understanding pain and desiring to ameliorate or eliminate it is not the same thing as feeling it directly and suffering by dint of “sympathetic resonance.” One presupposition of the vulgar concept of “sympathy” seems to be that such mutual suffering is good.

Again, it matters not if the usage of the words “sympathy” and “empathy” agrees with classic dictionary definitions so long as clear, distinct, and widely shared concepts are in use. To me, this seems not to be the case. As with the word “livid,” one cannot use the classical definitions of “sympathy” and “empathy” and hope to be correctly understood, and yet one cannot use the “popular” definitions of these words and hope to achieve clarity, as there is no general agreement as to what they really mean.

For now, the words are ruined.

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In honor of Amy

To see you make your bags is to understand your insight into the ways things work and your approach to the world. The final turning inside out to produce a thing of practical beauty. Everyone sees the style and knows that you know something they don’t.

You studied the methods of the engineer; you are an engineer. You used CAD; you will use it again. You have peered into the machine and conquered it on more than one occasion, as when you fixed the garbage disposal recently (prosaic? admirable!).

I don’t take such wisdom for granted, nor your love. I see how you care for your children, encouraging and managing but never fettering. You’ve done a good job; they’re doing well. You’ve stood up for me and beside me when I wasn’t doing so well. Many, many times.

The world has not always given you what you deserved; I alone perhaps cannot pay the debt it owes you, but I have tried to prove that an understanding and appreciation of you is possible to a high degree. Your spirit shines, and your ambition, if I may influence the outcome sufficiently, will be rewarded. I will not forget all that you have given me; may you never forget the depth and goodness and greatness in you that have made such gifts possible!

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Music sets the standard; you and I can only follow

Dear One, going through my albums the other day, I found that I had Piece Heroique by Cesar Franck on vinyl; I had thought I would need to buy it on CD. I found I had his Piano Quintette on vinyl; I had already bought the CD (no loss). I’m listening to the quintet now, thinking of it, thinking of you.

What’s the difference between you and music? Music wrote the Universe, the Universe wrote music. The two of them together wrote the two of us.

Music is the standard: it is venerable old rules and principles that your ear can hear. Your piano tells you this whenever you play it (an altar, no less). However much you or I may deviate from its teachings, its pronouncements, there it is, in our ears and brains, telling us what is true. Love itself must bow or at least nod its head in recognition as this truth in sound passes by.

Franck fought. Brahms persevered. Schoenberg battled. It is up to us, and to the rest of the world, to make their efforts worth their efforts.

I hope the big sky has been good to you. Do you think I don’t still love you, even after all? There are not enough as if!s in the world to respond to that thought. But if I don’t have you, I do have Franck and Brahms and Schoenberg: they’ll take care of me in your absence; and they’ll take care of you, too: the truest you, who lives in their notes.

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I made Punjab Choley

Punjab choley made by Matt RougeMmm… doesn’t that look appetizing?

Having grown dependent on Trader Joe’s Punjab Choley for home enjoyment of this dish, I took the choley challenge. Soaked a bunch of chickpeas overnight, tossed them into the slow cooker with tomatoes, a ton of ginger, a megaton of spices, and cooked it all for about 12 hours. You can find recipes online (hey, did you think think this is a cooking blog? I don’t know why I’m posting this either). This is low-fat (I skimmed the oil), and because I didn’t use butter, it’s vegan, too.

To repeat, I have no idea why I put these cooking posts up, but somehow it feels right, you know?


I wrote a new post about Punjab choley, complete with recipe.

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