Archive for December, 2008

Sick baby update–UPDATED

In this post I wrote about a baby for whose family I was interpreting at Riley Hospital for Children. The baby is back in the hospital as of today and will have a test tomorrow that requires a surgical incision and perhaps even a Kasai surgery to make a bile duct for him out of a piece of intestine.

Prayers for the best result possible would be appreciated–thank you!

UPDATE 12.29.08

Thanks for everyone’s prayers! Today went as well as it could have gone, granted the physical reality that had been hidden up to now from the physicians’ sight: the baby had a rare type of biliary atresia in which the gall bladder is present but the bile duct is not. A Kasai operation was necessary: the surgeon connected a part of the intestine directly to the liver so that bile could flow to where it needs to go.

The statistical breakdown of what happens next is roughly as follows: 50% of Kasai operations fail, and a liver transplant is required; 25% of Kasai operations succeed but a liver transplant is eventually required (can be many years later); and 25% of Kasai operations are good for life.

This family definitely has a tough row to hoe. Please join me in prayer that the Kasai operation is a success; it will take two weeks to know if this is the case. Then please also say a prayer for the long-term success of the operation and the health and happiness of this family.

As I have learned, serving as a medical interpreter can be quite serious business. Certainly, there have been many “My child has the sniffles” cases. But this past week I have interpreted at Riley Hospital for Children and the St. Vincent Stress Center (=mental hospital). I was in the neurological ward of Methodist Hospital yesterday and today as well, which handles many difficult cases, and saw a man with staples all across his forehead. He has brain cancer and just had a stroke.

Today at Riley, I greeted a woman in the elevator with a Riley name tag on and asked if she was a nurse. She said, “No, I’m a bereavement counselor. I’m about to do a pre-death counseling session with a family.” In other words, she was about to tell a family that their child was about to die. It was horrible to hear this. This wasn’t TV; this wasn’t the movies; this was a family about to hear the worst news in the world.

As an interpreter, I could someday be asked to interpret such a session; I have thought about it a lot. I pray that this cup may pass me by, but, more importantly, having observed so much pain and suffering over the years, I pray that the cup may pass everyone by. It’s a naive and childish prayer, but I still pray it.

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The miraculous story of the Christmas cookie (true!)

I have been interpreting at St. Vincent’s hospital a lot lately. Each time I interpret at the 86th St. location, I go to an administrative office on the fourth floor and sign in, receiving my badge (I forgot to return it last time–oops!).

There are some nice women that work there, and one of them had a plate of cookies on her desk this last time. “Help yourself,” she said. I was not that hungry, and besides–these were those ordinary white Christmas cookies–shaped like bells, tress, etc.–with boring white and pastel-colored frosting on top.

I did my interpreting–actually, the patient never showed up–and I forgot to return my badge–and I came back, and of course the cookies were still there on the desk. “Help yourself,” said the woman.

“Okay,” I thought. “I will indulge in the boring cookie. The calories will do nothing for me! Instead of being five pounds over my ideal weight, I will end up 5.01 pounds above my ideal weight. But I’ll eat it. It’s free food. It’s a free cookie.”

I bit into the white cookie tree with pastel frosting. And the cookie was incredibly delicious! It had just the right thickness, it had ultimate freshness, it had a philo-esque flakiness to it, and the frosting had just the right flavor and sweetness.

It was the best cookie of its type that I had ever had. It was a mini Christmas miracle! And I really do try, and sometimes succeed, in being thankful for all the wonderful little things that people and life have to offer.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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The culture's alright, the kids are alright

I’m a Gen Xer, age 37. With one child. Looking across the landscape of people my age, I have some news: We’re doing a pretty good job of living our lives and raising our kids. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors were in Europe, Africa, Asia, North America, South America, and elsewhere. A bunch of people reproduced, and here we are today, doing the same work. We’re doing alright; the human race will be fine.

Thousands of years ago, people had the same complaint: the kids are different, the kids have looser morals, the kids don’t get it. Looking at the teenagers and kids of today, what do I see? That ol’ myth is busted.

Kids in high school are doing their thing–studying, playing sports, listening to tunes–the same as it ever was. Young children like my daughter are watching TV, reading books, taking a look at the world–the same as it ever was. We, as parents, are lending a helping hand. It’s working. The kids are fine. Or pretty much as fine as they ever were.

The culture is fine; literacy is fine. There are plenty of intelligent people out there digesting the wealth of culture that is the gift of the past to us; there are plenty of people thinking about and blogging about all manner of things. If anything, we have greater access to, and appreciation of, our ancestors’ accomplishments than ever before.

All the decrepitude we ever feared–drug use, sexual immorality, violence, laziness–was there back in 1950, in 1850, in 1750, and in 50 B.C. Now, as then, we have for us the daily work of building and preserving civilization and keeping the barbarians beyond the gate, but we as parents are not particularly bad, and our kids are not particularly bad. Indeed, a lot of things are better than they used to be. I have read that, for example, in 19th century England perhaps even a third of the population was drunk all day long. Sexual immorality? There was open prostitution everywhere (in Europe and in the US). In 19th century America, there was a significant percentage of the population severely addicted to alcohol, opium, or morphine. A common medicine–available at apothecaries everywhere–was laudanum, a powerful tincture of opium in alcohol.

It is difficult to keep things in perspective–things can and do get worse. Back in the 1940s, people were slaughtering each other. We’re not there today (WWII ended just 28 26 years before I was born–hmm, not that long ago). There was a fairly awful period in our country after WWII when cities got more violent and ugly and society frayed more than just a little. I remember New York City in the 1970s, visiting with my father, who was from there, and seeing the graffiti on the subway and not feeling entirely safe. But we’re not there today.

They say it’s the worst economy since the Depression and there’s terrorism and did you hear that–but give it a rest! If you’re my age, you’re probably a parent, doing a decent job at your job and raising your kids decently well. That’s life, my friends–that’s what it’s about. Perhaps in the year 2008 at last we’ll accept that the present generations are competent–that we’re as good as any that came before us. Only then will we truly have accepted our mission of preserving the past, managing the present, and preparing for the future.

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Brilliant rule of thumb: if the energy's not coming toward you…

A very wise man passed this piece of advice along to me earlier in the year. I think he got it from someone else, so I’ll have to ask him about his source, but here’s how it goes:

If the energy is not coming toward you, then there is almost no skill or wisdom you can apply to the situation to make it succeed. On the other hand, if the energy is coming toward you, then you can lack skill or wisdom or fail to apply them and still succeed.

To wit:

  • If you really have to sell someone hard on a new relationship or business partnership or your idea or product–give up.
  • If you really have to carrot-and-stick someone to stay in a relationship or partnership or put effort into it–give up.
  • If you really have to sell yourself hard on a relationship or business partnership or opportunity or idea or product–give up!

That’s putting it negatively. Let’s try the positive side:

  • To find love, put yourself out there–online and in person. But don’t sell yourself. Wait until you meet someone who is as crazy about you as you are about him or her. The person who gets it without too much strain is the person you want.
  • Advertise your product appealingly and honestly. Get out and talk to a lot of people about it. Sell to those people to whom you really want to sell and who really want to buy; work with those people with whom you really want to work and who really want to work with you.
  • Spend money only on the things that practically demand that you buy them. Spend time on the people that practically demand that you be with them.

The beautiful thing is that the rule is so easy to understand and apply. For example, you have a friend who is hard to get hold of, who always gets five phone calls when you do, who never has room for you on her schedule… and so on. Stop calling her! When and if she feels the need or the desire to get in touch, she will. In the meantime, spend that effort on the friends who are blowing up your phone. If you don’t have any such friends, go throw it out there and meet some new people.

Back in May or so, I decided to stop fighting the world, and people especially, and the less I fight, the more easily and abundantly things come to me. It’s been a little Napolean Hill, a little Dao De Jing. Give this rule of thumb a try; I think you’ll see immediate results.

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My daughter is healthy; some kids aren't–UPDATED

Happy, healthy Eleanor RougeHospital interpretation for two Japanese families.

At St. Vincent’s on 86th, both kids have pneumonia and asthma. The four-year-old boy gets to leave with one inhaled drug. The girl is worse and stays in for several more days. She leaves with two inhaled drugs and an oral steroid. Again and again and for several days I go over the doctors’ instructions about which drug is which, what they do. This family will be okay: the asthma is going to be a pain, but there is the hope that it won’t affect the kids that much in the future; after all, it was only after they had gotten really sick that it was noticed they had the condition.

At Riley closer to Downtown, a fragile-looking eight-week-old baby has jaundice. He also has two holes in his heart, but they aren’t the immediate worry. The parents have just become parents, but their reality is a thick pack of problems, actual and potential, with obscure names. The doctor fears biliary atresia: no path for bile from the liver to the intestine, treatable with a Kasai procedure (a Japanese doctor’s discovery might save the infant), but many thus treated still need a transplant later. The father’s face grows dark from the burdens the future is pressing upon his child, his wife, him. But an ultrasound reveals that a heart hole has closed up, and suddenly the biopsy is saying that atresia seems highly unlikely. Things will probably be okay. Today I am going back to interpret for another test, and I hope the okay-ness progresses.

Japanese people quite often possess a wonderful stoicism, and it’s painful for me to see the pain and fear ready to breach the barrier of strength. I want to do something to help, and I end up being a kind of therapist. I explain that, in the US, doctors feel obligated to describe every risk, to consider every possibility, no matter how slight or remote. I tell them I’m praying for a swift recovery.

Riley Hospital for Children is big. All around me are children whose diseases seek to define them or even take them from the world. I pray, “Let this cup pass them by,” but my intention is so small in comparison to those of the parents, the doctors, the nurses, and the children themselves.

My daughter Ellie is happy and healthy. This is something I have never taken for granted and never will. She’s in Japan and I miss her.

UPDATE (12.18.08)

I interpreted for the family whose baby had the liver problem again yesterday, and the plan was to discharge them today. The doctor thought that the child did not have biliary atresia, liver function had been compromised by a virus, and time would fix the problem. I’m hoping she was right!

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Now I can feel you out there, soul mate

As 2008, the year of harrowing, draws to a close, I can feel your approach. There is a stunning naturalness to you that I never thought possible, and a fineness of the code, as if our two sets were sand and water, sand and air, sand and sand and the heat of the sun on us. You exceed all of my expectations in your genuineness, in your ease of being, in your orderliness of spirit, and in your love. Already you challenge me to be more than I am, to grow in worthiness of your greatness.

How long now have friends and spiritual advisers said to me, “Be alone!” At last I have accepted your absence, and in paradox I can sense at last that our time apart shall not be long. The melancholy has lifted; the gods and the world are good!

I can already feel our sharing music, food, philosophies, and everything else that a soul may devour and use for growth in togtherness. I can feel us walking in Indiana’s state parks, looking at art in this city’s museums, rummaging through the resale shops of Broad Ripple, and discovering new indie coffee joints hither and yon. I can feel two souls taking joy in union, surprised at the vastness of the joined terrain even in excess of our biggest hopes.

Thank you, soul mate! I can only suppose that you too have suffered without this connection. But the era of heartbreak and privation has ended. In the few months before our meeting, I shall prepare for you, I shall ready myself for the greatness, call it the excellence, term it now the exuberance that you and I, and we, and the family we create shall bring to this beautiful world!

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I hate every audio format

I hate every audio format. Allow me to explain why. Then allow me to tell you what I really want and what the future holds.

I hate CDs

Monkey see, monkey do. When I was out in New York City in February and later in September, I saw how my buddy Tom had pitched his “jewel cases” and put all his CDs in a big book that holds them in a neat and unitary manner. Of course, people have been doing this for years, but I guess I can be a bit slow to catch on. Pitching all those cases reminded me of how much I really don’t like CDs and inspired me to write this post.

I grew up on vinyl, whose sound quality is not perfect but in many ways better than that of a CD. You’ve read the arguments pro and con elsewhere. It really doesn’t matter because in our hearts we all know that neither vinyl records nor CDs are ideal as far as sound quality goes. If CDs were ideal, no one would ever have come up with audio DVDs, etc. More on vinyl’s sound quality in a moment. A lot of the time, however, CD sound quality is okay. I really only notice a lack, an inadequacy, when I’m listening to classical music. Which I listen to a lot. So CD sound quality does bother me a lot!

Moreover, going through my CDs, I realized how much I hate them as physical objects. I hate the packaging, the wretchedly fragile cases with their too-small art. I hate fooling around with them, organizing them, managing them. Too many of them have only a few songs I need. So I have a huge pile of CDs I’m going to sell after ripping the tunes I want to a hard drive or iTunes or whatever. But wait–that’s illegal! Oh no, may lightning strike me dead!

I hate vinyl records–sort of

Vinyl is both great and a huge pain. If a classical music record is in perfect condition, the sound quality pretty much blows that of a CD out of the water. The trouble is that most of the time the condition is not perfect, and you hear all the pops and clicks that made classical music fans aching for CDs in the early 1980s.

Like my best friend Tom, I have a semi-huge vinyl collection, several thousand records, and I do like the physical objects, the covers, the liner notes, the crazy fact that sound can come from a spinning plastic disc. I like the fact that I can play 1940s and 2000s albums on the same machine, the continuity of it.

I have a soft spot in my soul for records, but I can only romanticize them so much. The pops and clicks really are atrocious, and records are a huge pain to transport and organize (I have mine in alphabetical order, but Heaven forbid you put one back in the wrong place! Those thin little sides make searching a chore, people!).

I hate MP3s

MP3 is crapola audio format that is a severe, inarguable devolution from the CD format. It’s just totally unacceptable. Plus, the iTunes store is going to “lock” songs so that I can only play them here–or there? Step off!

I hate everything else–and so does everyone else

The aforementioned audio DVDs–a total flop! And–what are they called?–super ultra-value high-quality CDs? Not beloved by the masses, people!

What I want, and what the future holds

I want a super-realistic format whose flaws are imperceptible to the human ear. I know that some people claim this for CDs (or say that CDs are close enough to be good enough), but don’t believe it, and I don’t think most genuine audiophiles do either (I’m a semi-genuine audiophile). This format may already exist–perhaps just digital audio with a high enough sampling rate is fine. Heck if I know. But I don’t want to compromise.

Then, I want a no-bother delivery system. I don’t want to own anything. I want to go to my computer, stick “Haydn string quartets” in the search and have a list pop up of every recording ever made. I want to be able to pull up the album covers and liner notes for the albums (presumably under such a system album covers would not be made for new recordings, but I would like to access those of the past). I would be willing to pay a substantial amount for such a system–a subscription fee or whatever.

I fully recognize that systems like this already exist: my mom and stepdad have whatever-it’s-called in their condo, and it’s pretty amazing. Clearly, things are only going to keep moving in this direction. We’ll have to keep fighting the record companies and the RIAA and all the other “stakeholders” delaying progress; we’ll have to choose the audio format and iron out the tech; but within no great span of time we’ll have perfect audio on demand without the limitations of physical media, iTunes, and all that claptrap!

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"PHYTALMIOS"–a poem by Matt Rouge





In the past, I can feel his progeny,
pullers of transport and the plow
through and across his captured moisture,
but the black buggies and sun-white pickets
train them minorly. His bounty is the same,
I see, the maize and soy mirror the expanse
he rules best beyond the coast, deep with octopi,
as if these waves could cover anything he knows:


pearl on stalk and drop on leaf, from rain
and things like rain, lulling me awake
at five thirty in the shudder of his rule:
even here that structure, mantle and molecule,
even here within me, tightened by him,
straightened, for strength in trial and tide.

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Bailing out Ford, GM, and Chrysler

I work in the automotive industry in a marketing capacity: about 60% of the writing I’ve done over the past four years has been for two major Japanese automakers, and that figure for this year would be about 95%. I care about the industry, so here is my take on the plight of the American Big Three.

As the MSM and blogosphere have noted, the problem isn’t that the Big Three make poor cars any more: quality is as good as or better than what Europe makes, and about as good as what Japan makes. Nor is the problem sales per se: regardless of the fact that the Big Three have lost market share bigtime to foreign brands since, well, a long time ago, their combined and separate market shares are still huge. Nevertheless, the numbers don’t add up and they are bleeding cash.

And that’s really the essence of the problem: there is no one thing that needs fixing, no two things, nor any group of things that one could change to make things right. Operations, marketing, finances. Nothing particularly stellar, yet nothing standing out as fixable for salvation. This state of holistic malaise is what makes the future of these companies look so grim.

The reason why it has gotten to this point, I surmise, is the same reason why Nissan was nearly bankrupt a decade or so ago: there are too many “stakeholders” with incentives not to change. The parasitic execs and deadwood middle management just want to hold onto their jobs, the union is playing its own game, the dealers want things to be as easy as they were in the good old days, and so on. The change that is required to make any these companies viable will be not pleasant for the majority of people in them. How much easier, then, to cross one’s fingers, beg the government for bailout money, and pray that the same system can produce different results.

I don’t know how easy it would be to implement either legally or culturally, but my plan is, indeed, to change everything:

  1. Put all three companies into whatever kind of receivership is legally possible so that the execs no longer have control. My general impression of “public” companies in the United States (and Japan, for that matter), is that management runs the company for itself, not the shareholders. The cuts must be deep: symbolically canning a few C-levelers will only invite new parasites to take their place.
  2. Give the workers a fair contract paying them what the Japanese companies pay their employees. Use this opportunity to axe mercilessly any deadwood here, too.
  3. Send in the ops people to make manufacturing perfect. Shut down every facility and get rid of every asset that is not performing as needed.
  4. Cut out every brand and every model that is not doing well in the market and does not show potential for success. If this causes dealers to fold, do something for them that is fair.
  5. Let the government enact universal health care and assume the pension debt of the automakers. Let them start from scratch, without excuses.
  6. Let the government subsidize and otherwise support every intelligent green technology the companies are working on.
  7. Install new management from the ground up that is incentivized to make cars of revolutionary greatness.

I’m not talking about cleaning house here; I’m talking about gutting the building.

If this were done, the American auto industry really would have a chance to compete with Europe, Japan, and Korea. I say this because I have seen the Japanese auto industry from the inside: I know the language, I know the culture, I know the thought patterns. Japan does a pretty good job of creating good cars, but the vast majority of its cars are (like those of the Europe and US) boring and uninspired. US companies light on their feet and ready to make bold moves could leave the ponderous Japanese business culture in the dust if they so chose.

The American auto industry is, of course, a lot, lot more than Ford, GM, and Chrysler. It’s the huge RV industry, it’s Mack and Peterbilt and other truck and specialty automotive companies, it’s Harley-Davidson, it’s all the American suppliers to the foreign and domestic automakers producing here, and, yes, it’s also the foreign automakers and their many US plants employing many US workers. That said, automobile design and brands born and bred in the US have an important role to play both here and around the world, so my hope is that the Big Three (or some surviving subset thereof) can get their act together and create a purposeful and exciting future for themselves.

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