Sunday, August 25, 2013

Expectations


When I was 10 years old, my school had us participate in an extensive project that amounted to a more realized simulation of the computer game Oregon Trail. We were assigned to families and grouped into wagon trains with our fate determined by our decisions and simple luck (i.e. whatever the computer said). Cross-continental expeditions were beset by attacks from natives, inclement weather, and illnesses. This exercise went on over the course of a few weeks and culminated in a performance for parents where we acted out all that had occurred. In my wagon train, one girl’s simulated baby was near death due to an infection. During the performance, implored by some commendable overacting on the young mother’s part I was tasked with bringing the baby to her. The frantic screams of “MY BAAABYYYY!!!” were all the motivation I need to run as fast as I could to the part of the stage where the baby was and deliver it back to her. Of course, we didn’t use a real baby on stage as we were 10 year-olds and nowhere near responsible enough for such cargo. Instead it was a plush baby doll that in this case had diphtheria or some other such malady. I don’t know if I was hoping to save this little guy, since we already knew the sad outcome of the simulation, but the girl playing the mother was really quite hysterical. So I did what any ten year old boy would do to get that baby back in its mother’s arms. I threw it at her. The way I remember things this was a pretty good throw, possibly even landing in her lap. But, again, fate had spoken previously and the plush baby doll was doomed regardless of my efficient fling.

In school the next day, the teachers went over what had gone well and what had not. My decision to throw a sick baby some 20 feet was decidedly in the second column. At that age I was not so good with verisimilitude. This was technically my first attempt at child care, simulated as it was. In front of a lot of people who knew how to get into character better than I did (and their parents), it was not an Oscar-worthy performance. It was also not the way to treat any sick baby, simulated or not.

This blog has been nearly dormant for the last two and a half years. I haven’t even posted any wedding pictures. But I finally have some news that might not be mind-blowing to you, but is certainly a life-changer for me. My wonderful wife Belu is pregnant, and we’re expecting a girl the first week of November. We’re both extremely excited, and can’t wait for all the impending changes even though we can’t really grasp what they will do to our lives.

The morning we received the happy news, the first thing I did upon leaving for work was glance at the mirror in my elevator. I probably look at myself in that mirror every morning, just to make sure I have nothing in my teeth and that my hair is at least presentable. But on that day, I felt like I was looking at some other, unknown person. I think I blurted out “that guy is going to be a father” with a grin comprised of equal parts nervousness and giddiness.

Since that moment six months ago, there has been a steady progression of newfound understanding. To be sure there are all the mechanical thought processes… What are the most important features to look for in a stroller? How many bibs are we gonna need? How does one complete the legal procedures for the birth of a baby in Switzerland who has parents from two other countries? How do birth-related contractions actually work, and what am I supposed to do about them? Where’s she going to go to college? And so forth. But beyond that I find I’m viewing the world in an entirely different way. We’ve all come into being through the same painful process before being liberated to find our own path. The impact that I’m going to have on this person’s entire life and how she fits into everything else in the world is constantly tumbling around in my head. I fully realize that once she’s born there will be no time for such thoughts. But all of the energy from this eager anticipation has to go somewhere.

I’m thinking about what kind of person she’ll be. Whether she will appreciate or curse us for forcing three languages upon her from the very beginning. Will she be fun, surly, goofy, selfish, sweet, caring? Will every last thing we do affect her? I think about wanting to be sure to do all the superb things my parents did right while improving upon the ones I wish they’d done a bit differently. I’m asking everyone I know who has children what to expect and what to do – constantly making mental notes. It’s not only that I don’t want to screw this up. I want to be a great dad and set her up for a happy life. I never really planned to for this moment, but I think I'm finally ready to be in it.

More than anything I rest assured that having such a strong relationship with Belu will make all of this easier and more successful. I’m not naïve enough to assume that having a baby won’t test us. But as long as we’re together, I know we’ll do the best we can. These next three months will surely pass quickly and my life will change all over again. Any lingering nerves are easily overwhelmed by excitement. And besides, I know that no matter what happens, I can’t do worse than I did at age 10.
Belu modeling the latest baby-bump fad in Chianti

Monday, July 1, 2013

Missing Dan

I hadn’t been in close contact with Dan since college, and I now suddenly realize just how long that’s been. Nearly all of my memories of him are from high school when we overlapped for three years. When he entered as a freshman, I’m pretty sure the first thing everyone noticed about him was, “Wow this kid can run!” It didn’t take long to see that he was an exceptional teammate with a radiant personality. In short, he was someone everyone loved being around.

Dan passed away last week of a rare form of cancer at age 37. The warnings in recent weeks that his condition wasn’t improving hasn’t made the news any easier to take. In some ways I feel I have no right to this post or to comment at all. It’s not that we grew apart in our 20s – better said that we simply found ourselves on different paths. I always thought that one day those paths might intersect again if we ever found ourselves in the same place.

His passing is a shock in so many ways. I can’t seem to let go of how unfair life can be. This was a guy with an incredibly positive spirit, good heart, and as tough a mettle as anyone I’ve known. Like I said, we were no longer very close, but I am certain that in these ways he never changed. He should have lived to be 100.

Danny, as we all called him then, never saw a challenge he couldn’t take on. Even in the rare cases where he was outmatched, he gave his all. In track meets he dabbled in hurdles and shot-put even though he was one of the shortest guys on the team. He was one of the smartest people I hung out with, but never once showed it off – an extremely rare type of humility where I grew up. He would often playfully obsess about trivial minutiae, successfully convincing everyone that, for instance, the team glider we won playing skee ball at Chuck E Cheese was something to be cherished forever. And he was a confidant who would listen to anyone’s worries. I know it’s cliché, but I really cannot believe he’s gone.

Throughout the last week, waves of memories are coming back to me as if they just happened. In all of them, Danny’s just being himself. I don’t often think about my high school days, perhaps because I often didn’t like who I was or how I carried myself at that point in life. I can say quite confidently that whenever I was around him, I liked myself a lot. He brought out the best in me before I had any idea what that was going to be. That’s why and how I always want to remember him. And why I feel so much sadness for someone I didn’t even know how much I missed.

Dan is on the bottom right and was our #1.

A cancer research fund has been set up in Dan’s name and can be accessed here in case you would like to donate.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Why I'm Voting for Barack Obama

I haven’t written anything of substance in my three blogs in well over a year. It took this year’s election to finally shake my typin’ fingers from their slumber. Only barely since this has been the most unbearable slog of an election in memory. Four years ago we were treated to the most entertaining and compelling one we’re likely to see for a long time. It inspired me to compare it to The Big Lebowksi, Dr. Strangelove, and your favorite professional wrestlers. There’s no such fun this time around.

I must begin by saying that I am disappointed by the Obama presidency. Not because I believed in Hope and ChangeTM. I’m not often naïve; I always knew there was a high probability of disappointment. Obama was dealt the toughest of hands, but I feel strongly that he played it wrong. He blew an opportunity that rarely comes along in American politics. From the moment he took office, he looked to extend the olive branch to Republicans even as they repeatedly knocked it from his hand and stomped it into pasta seasoning again and again. Even before inauguration, he went to George Will’s house to court every significant conservative columnist. He held similar court with Republican members of congress even though they were the minority. All of that outreach resulted in zero GOP votes for a stimulus package in the middle of the worst economic situation the country had seen in almost 70 years, even after the Democrats threw in extra tax cuts just to appease them. All of those open-armed gestures resulted in the Senate Minority Leader stating that his single most important goal in the midst of all these challenges was “making Barack Obama a one-term president.”

When he chose how to treat those who got us into so much trouble, he turned the other cheek. Obama did nothing to hold anyone accountable for the economic disaster, despite the myriad of laws broken in the financial sector. He let Dick Cheney, José Rodriguez, and their ilk completely off the hook for the torture programs they devised, leading to a complete scumbag like Rodriguez recently bragging about his “big boy pants” on 60 minutes. And nothing was done about altering the illegal surveillance strategy employed by the Bush administration. Hey, I get it. He didn’t want to lose his financial backing, didn’t want to piss off the CIA right off the bat, and he figured he’d better use everything in his arsenal to avoid any terrorist attack for which he’d undoubtedly be pilloried.

When I say he missed an opportunity, it’s because instead of going straight to the public that elected him, he was too busy trying to make nice with those who were dead set on destroying his presidency with any available weaponry. In his nomination acceptance speech a few months ago, he said “So you see, the election four years ago wasn't about me. It was about you. My fellow citizens — you were the change.” This statement is correct. But it took until this election for him to realize that his energy would have been better spent with those same fellow citizens rather than hoping to appease those who have declared him a sworn enemy. This is of course 20/20 hindsight. I’m not saying Obama shouldn’t have tried outreach first, and he would have been a hypocrite if he hadn’t. But why did it take so long and so many useless peace offerings? The people were indeed ready for major change for the first time since Richard Nixon. But Obama chose a different strategy.

I am, generally speaking, a progressive. It’s not that I expected him to be one. I just think he played the game wrong. Yet my disappointment sells him short. He’s actually gotten a whole lot done despite the mess the country is in. And all this with an opposition party that long ago stopped giving a damn about decency.

The shameless, craven behavior of the Republican Party absolutely astonishes me. I suppose I was naïve about one thing. I thought they would take Obama’s 365 electoral vote victory as a pretty clear sign that the will of the people deserved acknowledgement. For instance, Obama had said if elected he would fight to enact universal health care. He did so with a plan largely devised by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and employed successfully by Mitt Romney. But rather than helping craft a compromise Republicans chose to lie their way into a battle to the death panel (one that was eventually declared alive by their own Chief Justice Roberts). At that point it was clear that whatever Obama proposed, they would be against, and with no qualms about outright lying to garner public support for their side.

But this runs deeper than simply looking to score political points. If these Republicans have shown us any governing principle it’s that they do not think that factual truth is important. This certainly applies when talking about Obama, but also on any relevant issue of the day. When presented with clear evidence of anything, today’s Republican Party prioritizes their beliefs over reality. Think about it. According to the Republicans:
  • ·         Climate change either doesn’t exist or is not important.
  • ·         Obama raised your taxes.
  • ·         Voter Fraud is a tremendous problem.
  • ·         Obama was born in Kenya.
  • ·         Abstinence education reduces pregnancies.
  • ·         Republicans are trying to protect social security and Medicare.
  • ·         Sarah Palin was against the Bridge to Nowhere.
  • ·         Iraq was working with Al Qaeda.
  • ·         Tax cuts on the wealthiest sector of the population create economic growth for everyone.
All of the above is well proven bullshit.

Which brings us to President Obama’s opponent. From the beginning of this campaign, it was clear that Mitt Romney was going negative. This is America, and that’s his right. But during these last 40 weeks, he has told lies on 891 occasions! 891!! That’s simply astonishing. OK, so maybe you don’t believe all of those are actual lies and are open to some interpretation. Even if you want to be extremely generous and take just 10% of them as untruths, that would still be more than two a week for nearly a year. Nobody questions that Romney has told different audiences different things at different times. To be fair, nobody has any idea what Romney would look to do as president. I doubt he even really does. So there’s no reason to trust him on just about anything, right?

Ah, but there has been a handful of areas where he’s actually been consistent. He will increase military spending. He will cut taxes, primarily on the wealthiest Americans. He will cut various public service programs that benefit wide swaths of our fellow citizens in various ways. Aside from also being consistently “pro Freedom,” that’s about it, man. In the only executive decision he’s had to make since 2007, he selected Paul Ryan as his running-mate. Ryan is a self-proclaimed “policy wonk” who can’t even handle basic mathematics and devoutly worships at the altar of voodoo economics. He has also constantly lied about subjects important and banal, from whether he requested stimulus funds to his marathon time. He is in so many ways today’s exemplary Republican.

Over the last 32 years, Republican Party policy has resulted principally in Debt and DestructionTM. We’ve seen unnecessary wars, unfunded mandates, and embarrassing corruption and scandals. This is what Republican Presidencies have meant. And most of these actions were based on lies or false promises. George W. Bush stated again and again that he was against nation building. We know how that turned out. He named his tax cuts “middle class tax cuts” even though the majority of the reduction was for the wealthiest. “Healthy forests” was a veiled giveaway to logging companies. “Clear skies” reduced regulations on polluters. “Support the troops” meant support George W. Bush’s war, but don’t provide any body armor or sufficient health care upon return. And of course to dress every newsworthy wound we got terror alerts that were designed to intimidate and distract us every time something went wrong for the Bush White House. I question whether Americans really remember what it was like with a Republican president. With good reason, we all wanted to move on. But those who cannot remember their past are doomed to repeat it.

Is there reason to think a Romney presidency will be a departure from previous Republican policy and behavior? Lucky for us during the second debate, a conscientious citizen actually asked him “What is the biggest difference between you and George W. Bush, and how do you differentiate yourself from George W. Bush?” I present Romney’s response in full:
 “The — President Bush and I are different people, and these are different times. And that's why my five-point plan is so different than what he would have done. I mean, for instance, we can now, by virtue of new technology, actually get all the energy we need in North America without having to go to the — the Arabs or the Venezuelans or anyone else. That wasn't true in his time. That's why my policy starts with a very robust policy to get all that energy in North America, become energy-secure.
Number two, trade. I'll crack down on China. President Bush didn't. I'm also going to dramatically expand trade in Latin America. It's been growing about 12 percent per year over a long period of time. I want to add more free trade agreements so we have more trade.

Number three, I'm going to get us to a balanced budget. President Bush didn't. President Obama was right. He said that that was outrageous to have deficits as high as half a trillion dollars under the Bush years. He was right. But then he put in place deficits twice that size for every one of his four years, and his forecast for the next four years is more deficits almost that large. So that's the next area I'm different than President Bush.

And then let's take the last one, championing small business. Our party has been focused on big business too long. I came through small business. I understand how hard it is to start a small business. That's why everything I'll do is designed to help small businesses grow and add jobs. I want to keep their taxes down on small business. I want regulators to see their job as encouraging small enterprise, not crushing it.

And the thing I find most troubling about "Obamacare" — well, it's a long list, but one of the things I find most troubling is that when you go out and talk to small businesses and ask them what they think about it, they tell you it keeps them from hiring more people.
My priority is jobs. I know how to make that happen. And President Bush had a very different path for a very different time. My path is designed in getting small businesses to grow and hire people”

In this moment Romney had a wonderful chance to say how his direction would break the trend with Republican presidencies past. He took the opportunity to attack Obama, China, and Venezuela, but didn’t reveal any substantive way he would govern differently. This is because his few consistent policies are nearly identical to Bush’s. And in fact most of his advisers come directly from Bush’s administration.

I acknowledge that Obama hasn’t been perfect. I wish he would have given up on his version of change for something more practical after it simply wasn’t taking hold. At the very least, he’s an honest and honorable guy. Maybe he isn’t wired to be a true leader, but he is perfectly suited to steer a steady course. And right now that’s probably what we need more than anything.

The GOP has tried to redefine reality for decades. Yet given what we can safely believe about Romney, we know these policies will only send us farther backwards, bolstered by dishonest arguments the entire way. Do we really want to reward a party that has so clearly proven that they will never put the country ahead of their own agenda? A vote for Romney is a vote for falsity and pettiness. And it is almost certainly a vote to return to the Bush years. Given that threat, we must give Obama all the support we can.

When Obama was elected, I wrote “He’s got his work cut out for him.” I didn’t realize that the Republican Party would make so much harder than it had to be. If he is reelected, he will have another four years of brutal fighting ahead of him. My hope for 2012 is that he’s been kicked in the balls enough times to know he must come out swinging from here on out. Because even if he wins 365 electoral votes, his opposition won’t suddenly value truth, honor, or the needs of our country. As an American who values all of these things, there’s no other available choice in this election.


And just to show I'm not too much of a Debbie Downer, have a righteous jam by The Equals that's on topic enough:

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The big day has arrived

You may have noticed a severe lack of postings both here and on those other two blogs I try to write in whenever I have free time. Well, my work life continues to be busy, but that's no surprise. I like my job and am very devoted to it.

But the more complete silence as of late is because of another pending event that has required a lot of attention. Today I'm getting married. Yes, again, but now it's a big-time event!

Tons of hard work and crucial decisions have culminated in this day. A day where many friends and nearly all the family have made the trek down to Buenos Aires. The bachelor party is over (which, thank goodness because I would surely be dead if it had continued the entire week). The flowers are chosen. A decent night's sleep was had. The tuxedo is in hand. Just eight short hours from now, I'll still be married, but this time God is in on the deal. My parents are in on the deal, too, and they're pretty darn important.

Today we enjoy the fruits of our labor, and share them with everyone. It is an absolutely gorgeous day here in BsAs - the weather could not possibly be better. I know that by this time tomorrow, I'm going to be lamenting that it all passed by so quickly and hoping everyone had as much fun as I did.

More than anything, I've got the best girl in the world by my side, and that's plenty of cause for celebration right there! And maybe after a couple of weeks on the beach, I'll even get back into blogging again. But today's all about enjoying everything that brought us here. It's going to be an absolute blast...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Winter Wonderings

I'm going to come off like a real jerk on this one. Just try to bear with me.

The blizzard of '11 was relatively major news down here in Argentina, even before it arrived. My wife's grandmother called us up to urgently direct us to warn my parents about the impending weather. Of course they were already prepared.

The Facebook messages came first. Many friends mocked the weather reports. They complained that the stores were sold out of bottled water while taking people to task for readying themselves like a nuclear attack was on the way. I wondered if I would be joining in in the snarky posturing or if I've matured enough to be more adult about the situation. At least I didn't have to decide.

And then the storm began to arrive, and once again Facebook was my source of news. "And so it begins," said one friend in a way that could have been anywhere from completely to not at all sarcastic. A few hours later calls of "Thundersnow!" rang out from all sides of the city. And it was good.

On the Buenos Aires morning news broadcast the day after, they showed subtitled interviews of stranded LSD motorists - before they had to ditch their cars. When I got to the office, all of my coworkers were asking about it. It was another reminder about how globally connected all of us are these days. And though we are smack dab in the middle of a beautiful summer here, I must say that I came away with mixed emotions.

All this news reminded me of how much joy the snow would bring when we were kids. It was never a hardship. On the contrary. My most vivid memory of grade school was a kickball game abruptly interrupted by the first icy flakes - not because of danger or worry, but because every kid on the blacktop had to celebrate the moment. Even helping my parents shovel the driveway was a chore we actually looked forward to, unlike, well, all the other ones. The best sledhill in town was at the end of my block. They permanently closed it because some unfortunate kid hit a tree. But it's got the most climbable fence in the world, so that didn't exactly stop us.

Even when I had to make the commute back from Schaumburg into town on those rare days when the snow would completely mess up everything and it would take three hours to get home, we just buckled up, took our time, and made the most of it. It felt like a small price to pay because it was something. Sure we lost some time, but it sure was pretty. (Note - I never had to abandon my car or anything, but seriously, I'm also not dumb enough to use Lake Shore Drive in a blizzard. Ah, there's the snark.)

I'm now three years removed from my last winter. Seeing all the photos, stories, videos, and more from Chicago, while I know that it has surely been a pain in the ass for a lot of people, I wish I could have been there to enjoy it. I still recall the last time this happened, January 1, 1999. There was no work that day anyway, so we watched movies, ate Chinese food and occasionally went outside to see how much had accumulated. And all of you will remember this day and your personal stories.

It's a gorgeous 85 degrees and sunny here. But in my longing, I appreciate such a gorgeous day all the less. What I wouldn't give to dive headlong into a pile of the powdery stuff right now. I guess I should head downstairs to the swimming pool I never have time to use. But it just seems so pedestrian by comparison.

All photos by Michael Apostolidis

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