Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Studies In Hypocrisy

Study 1: Cutting $50 Billion from programs like Medicaid, food stamps, and student loan subsidies while allowing yourself a $3,100 raise.

Study 2: Justifying a cost-of-living increase when you make $165,200 a year while denying one to those making $5.15 an hour.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

We Decided To Adopt

Melissa and I recently decided to adopt. We’ve been married almost two years now and that “time to move on” feeling had really begun to gnaw on us. It’s a big decision, adoption is, but it’s one we thought about a lot and, frankly, both felt strongly impressed to make.

Be forewarned. Adoption is long and somewhat cumbersome process. There are numerous hoops to be jumped through, the authorization forms are a pain, and the contracts come with a heavy helping of legalese. Worse still is narrowing the decision on who you should try to adopt. A good fit, after all, is extremely important.

We searched for weeks before Melissa fell in love. She found a beautiful 14-week-old boy that she just had to have. Though we decided quickly that he was the one for us, nothing comes that easy. As with most things worth having, adoptions are hard to come by. In fact, they can be among the most difficult things to secure. Our problem was that someone had one-upped us on the wait-list. We did everything possible to strengthen our application, but the final decision was not in our hands.

Last Saturday was the day the contract was to be finalized and the adoptive parents were to meet their little one. The only option we really had was to arrive early and hope the other application would fall through. Melissa took the first shift at the adoption center and was actually able to spend some quality time with the little boy we hoped might be ours. She stuck around for several hours, talking with workers and growing more attached, before she sadly pulled herself away and headed off to work. Hope was flickering as she left though because the other applicants still had yet to show. I took the afternoon shift and persistently lobbied those in charge on our behalf, but the response never seemed to change; there was someone ahead of us on the list.

Then, late that afternoon, it happened. Whether I wore the adoption staff down or they themselves simply wrote the applicants ahead of us off as no-shows, I’m not certain… but the decision was made and he was ours. There was paper work to fill out and future home check-ups to schedule, but I could leave with him that night. When Melissa called from work for an update, I led her to believe that nothing had been finalized and we wouldn’t know anything until Monday. All this so I could surprise her at work with the newest addition to our family. And surprised she was. She's actually been beaming ever since.

So that’s that. We’re now the proud parents of one damn fine 3 ½-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback-Lab. We renamed him Jäger (he was ‘Junior’ before). It’s German for “Hunter”… not really that descriptive of him, but we like it. We haven’t slept much since getting him (he likes to howl from his crate at night – though I should note that he’s been improving), and our days seem to revolve around food and excrement (I swear, he's worse than a hamster). But we’re loving every minute of it (and cherishing the quiet ones).

Thursday, November 24, 2005

This American Life and Shared Experiences

Have you ever listened to This American Life? If you haven't, you should. It's an hour-long NPR radio program that explores the random minutiae of American life. Not the type of show you'd necessarily expect to command an audience... but there is something oddly compelling about it.

Its topics range on everything from prom to mallrats to unorthodox military jobs in Iraq (a segment that included an interview with an aircraft carrier vending machine stocker). Each show captures a snapshot from some angle of everyday American life that always seems to resonate with you. It's really Seinfeld-esque in its ability to delve into the ordinary and strike a chord. I still laugh about episodes I heard years ago (the fact that I can even remember them is a testament in and of itself).

The reason I ask is because my wife and I went and saw This American Life's host and producer Ira Glass speak at GWU last Saturday. Long-time fans of the show, we were excited about going and did our darndest to invite friends and family to come with us. Problem was we couldn't sell it. No one wanted to go. Never having heard a program before, everyone from my father-in-law (who was in town for the weekend), to law school classmates, to old friends, they all shot us down cold. I tried to explain the show's concept (something along the lines of an NPR show spotlighting unique aspects of American life), but apparently my description lacked bite; a little too much like a bad re-telling of good joke. I guess no one was willing to take my word on it that the joke was funny. (In hindsight, I could have referred those I was inviting to Fox’s über-teen drama The O.C., on a recent episode Summer Roberts referred to This American Life as “that show where all those hipster know-it-alls talk about how fascinating ordinary people are.” Probably wouldn’t have made a difference though).

The disappointing part in this all is that the show really was spectacular (see the Post review). It one of the most enjoyable events I've attended in recent memory. So enjoyable, in fact, that I was actually bothered during the show because of how entertaining it was. As I sat taking it all in, I kept thinking how this person or that person that I had invited would have loved this or that about the show and I found myself getting annoyed. A little neurotic, I know... but it got me thinking.

The experience reminded me of my friend Geoff Tice (who, it should be noted, doesn't really fit the neurotic description). Tice is one of those people who seems to get more satisfaction out of sharing things than he gets from the things themselves. An example might prove helpful... In mid-2000, I was fresh off my mission and two-years removed all that is pop culture. Tice, who had returned from his own mission the year before, was insistent that I watch a movie called Waiting for Guffman (it had gotten popular while we were both away). When we finally got around to watching it, I remember him paying more attention to me and my reactions to the movie than the movie itself. I think what entertained him as much if not more than the movie was sharing his "find."

We're all a little that way I guess. We laugh a little harder at jokes we've told a million times when we get to tell them to someone new. We like to see others appreciate things we've grown to love and, honestly, these things would seem a little blander if we couldn't share them. So that's my point really... good things, whether they be Waiting for Guffman or This American Life, are simply better shared... that and I'm neurotic.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Terminate Schwarzenegger

So I’m annoyed with Arnold Schwarzenegger… and it’s got nothing to do with his politics (which are arguably annoying) and only a little to do with his antics (which are unquestionably annoying). My main beef with “Ah-nold” is the fact that he’s given new life to all the aspiring politicians in Hollywood. This includes not only the usual suspects (e.g. Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks and Warren Beatty), but a new generation of Tinseltown lightweights led by none other than Ben Affleck. The only real credentials these actors seem to have are their enormous wealth, their favorite causes (e.g. PETA and the Creative Coalition) and perhaps the occasional semi-political acting role (e.g. CIA Agent, Prosecutor and Senator). But this bunch can laughably entertain the thought of contending for elected office because of the public soapbox their fame provides. This begs the question though, does it really qualify them for public office?

I don't subscribe to the Team America-like notion that an actor has no place in politics nor any right to voice a political opinion. Actors have as much a right to participate in the process as anyone, and that includes a run for office if they are so inclined. The question is whether we, the American public, should buy into the actor-politician. There have been actors who have made a successful transition (e.g. Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Fred Thompson and Sonny Bono), but most of these individuals spent years gaining different types of experience before making their foray into politics. Now one might argue that these examples can’t be so easily distinguished, but in my mind Schwarzenegger has lowered the bar. Here’s why…

First, Schwarzenegger was never vetted by a primary process, and pundits on both sides of the political aisle have publicly questioned whether he really could have won one. This only serves to give hope to other actors who haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a primary.

Second, Schwarzenegger ran against patsy competition. The field included such luminaries as former child star Gary Coleman, independent columnist Ariana Huffington and porn star Mary Carey. Schwarzenegger's stiffest challenge in the election was actually the vote deciding whether to even recall the incredibly unpopular Gov. Gray Davis in the first place. In reality, the recall was simply a perfect storm—an extraordinary series of events that very likely will never to happen again. But starry-eyed actors itching to bolt off the political starting line may fail to read the tea leaves of this storm and delude themselves into thinking that they'll contend at the finish line.

Third, because of the unique recall circumstances, there was no build-up to Schwarzenegger’s run for office. This created a VERY weird situation—a campaigning gubernatorial candidate who was simultaneously promoting a film called Terminator 3. The reason this is so bad is that it utterly distorts campaign reality for the political wannabes in question and makes the idea of cannon-balling into major election like a governor’s race seem plausible.

Lastly, Schwarzenegger’s tenure as governor has been plagued with some most unfortunate rhetoric, which has only served to dumb down his elected office. From labeling critics of President Bush’s economic agenda “economic girlie men” to claiming his unpopularity with the California Nurses Association was “because [he was] always kicking their butt,” Schwarzenegger’s bravado has made politics seem tangibly within the grasp of every other narcissistic, over-paid and over-confident thespian who might be able to deliver a line. Win or lose in his bid for re-election next year, I fear the words "I'll be back" are destined to somehow be incorporated into a Schwarzenegger political slogan.

Since his victory just over two years ago, the esteemed California governor has single-handedly inspired a generation of aspiring Hollywood politicos. You think I’m joking… but Alec Baldwin was recently quoted as saying "I wanted to be president of the United States [when I was younger]. I really did. The older I get, the less preposterous the idea seems." Things have gotten so bad that one of these dreamers last week crashed a Schwarzenegger campaign rally to try and capitalize on the man's dwindling popularity. While some may find these sort of publicity stunts morbidly entertaining, I think they lean more toward the "scary as hell" end of the spectrum. Maybe it's their increasing regularity that's putting me on edge. Honestly though, can you really fathom a Beatty v. Schwarzenegger contest in 2006? I reassure myself by thinking that Pauly Shore has a better chance of reviving the successful movie career he never had than a hack like Beatty has at making it onto the ballot. I tell myself that the perfect storm could only happen once. Schwarzenegger simply (and annoyingly) made the impossible seem possible, and that's the end of it. And that's when I always seem to remember another dreamer... one named Jesse "the body" Ventura. Damn.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Everyone's A Member

Never know who you'll run into at Costco these days... and the Chicken Pot Pie samples were pretty darn good too.