Thursday, October 30, 2008

Hope, Healing and High Honor

I’ve always been a political junkie. While I tend to lean left, I really try to do my research. This year, I was looking at Edwards first but after taking some of those surveys on candidates' positions, I chose Chris Dodd as my candidate. Truth be told, another candidate kept coming out first, but for some reason I wasn’t paying attention. But Dodd got 4.5 votes in the primaries so I revisited those surveys to see whose policies I agreed with and Barack Obama still kept coming up first. On the afternoon of December 31st, I sat down with my laptop and reviewed the websites of Obama, Clinton and Edwards and researched where they stood on the issues. The first thing I noticed was that the Obama site was incredibly well done, especially laying out his plan and his positions.

I decided to support Obama and then really started to pay attention. Then I couldn’t stop paying attention. I wanted to hear him speak, I wanted to know more about what he thought, I read his book. I started reading other websites that I’d never even heard of a month before. I am lucky to belong to a non political message board with some of the smartest political junkies assembled and I really learned how to educate others. I bit my nails during the primaries. I pulled on my lip during the debates. I haven’t sucked my thumb since I was six but if there was one more debate, it was either that or start smoking.

The first time I was able to vote legally was the year Carter ran against Reagan. I didn’t like either and hated the fact that I wasted my first vote on John Anderson. I’ve been interested in every election since but I’ve never felt this invested. I’ve never contributed to a political candidate until this year. But, the country that I love was one I feared was becoming unrecognizable after eight years of Bush/Cheney/Rove. How could we find a candidate that was intellectually capable of solving their mess and at the same inspire people enough to want to solve the mess together? There is no denying that Al Gore and John Kerry were smart people but they only made me want to vote for them because they weren’t George W. Bush. I craved for something more.

Obama has been mocked for being all about the speech and all about hope. But when you are facing the problems that America now faces, shouldn’t the first thing necessary be hope? Hope is what keeps this country moving when we are fighting two wars and we’re not sure why we didn’t just finish the first one and avoid the second. Hope is what keeps people working hard despite the fact that their college funds or retirement portfolio is shrinking faster than a grape in the sun. Hope is that there is someone out there who can fix it. Hope is personal. Mocking Obama about hope reminds me of that scene in You’ve Got Mail. When Meg Ryan’s character is losing her business to a ruthless competitor, she is told it’s not personal.. it’s business. And she replies, “What does that mean? Whatever else something is, it should start by being personal. It’s personal to me.”

It’s personal to these women here from a recent Obama rally in Virginia. Look at them, they come from different backgrounds, different faiths. The hope in their faces is personal and yet it’s universal too.

But pull back the curtain on the great speech making; the message, the plan, the ideas are all sound. They aren’t perfect but they are a good foundation to stabilize and then grow the economy. When I watch him speak or when I read about his ideas, I don't see a black man. I don't see a liberal man. I see a smart man. I don't want to have a beer with my president, how ridiculous is that? It's the toughest job in the world and it doesn't belong to an average citizen.

The other thing I noticed as I began to follow Obama is how steady he is when chaos reigns around him with unfounded attacks, campaign suspensions, plumbers who weren’t plumbers just famewhores, constant viral email (and I mean viral in the original and cyberspace definitions) that falsely accuse him of everything under the sun and McCain/Palin harping on one stupid thing after another, in some cases outright lying. Obama continued to keep his cool while McCain gritted his teeth. Obama kept telling us what he was going to do to make things better, John McCain kept telling us he knows how to fix it but not how he is going to fix it. There is a crisis a day in the Oval Office, some we probably don't even hear about. It's been noted that Barack Obama had two presidential level decisions to make in the last few months. One was his VP pick and the other was how he handled the economic crisis. He made these decisions with smart, careful deliberation. He did not make these decisions for short term gains at the expense of an actual solution. John McCain cannot claim the same thing. McCain's constant below the surface tension and anger is of great concern to me. It's right there, visible to everyone. Body language is truth, far greater truth than any "risk" that McCain tries to fabricate about Obama's background. Who do I want leading this great country when Putin shows he still doesn't play well with others? Who do I want analyzing the best course of action if the other economic shoe drops? Not someone who can barely control his anger and contempt in front of tens of millions of people in a debate.

On a side note, I’m partial to Michelle Obama too. Probably because I like smart women, like my ConClayve sisters. I couldn’t tell you if Cindy McCain is smart, she's been a mannequin through most of this election. Her heart does not seem to be in this thing and I actually feel a bit sorry for her until she opens her mouth. I think Sarah Palin answered the smart question after her first two interviews.

I find myself thinking about the election all day, when I’m not checking the market. Bill Clinton said yesterday that right now, our country has so much promise and so much peril. I feel that Barack Obama offers the best chance for a new America; one that competes in the quality of its schools, the innovation of its energy policy, the smart use of its military force. An America that stands tall with honor in the eyes of the world, like the man I hope is elected on Tuesday.

Mosaic found on itech news net made by Charis Tsevis. Constitution picture found on thebruceblog.

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Five Days and Counting

The writers of ConCLAYve blog will be temporarily changing the focus of our topic for the next five days as we approach the homestretch to the Presidential election on Tuesday. The blog topic is not necessarily the opinion of all of our blogging team and in no way is meant to imply any endorsement by Clay Aiken to any particular view. Contributors during this timeperiod will be ConClayve-Nan, Corabeth, berkeley and our newest member, OldMovieGal. We made this decision because of the importance of this election and how committed we are to the outcome. So please indulge us while we say what is in our heads and more importantly, in our hearts.

There is not enough liquor in the world to get me through the next five days. I'm almost afraid to believe what I have seen with my own eyes. This, I think, is what living in America for the past eight years has done to me: I can see an intelligent and informed and articulate candidate who offers hope and decency, I can see poll numbers and anecdotal evidence that point quite clearly to a commanding lead, I can see cheering crowds of people who have placed their dreams in the hands of this man. . .and I still can barely bring myself to imagine that he will win the election five days from now. Because I have felt like I'm living in Bizarro America since the 2000 presidential (s)election, I can look at all of these things – things that any rational and intelligent person would interpret in one way only – and I can still think of all of the almost unthinkable possibilities. Add this to the things that I hope will change with this election: the cynical mistrust of a system that will tell you that down is up and the sky is green, and eventually 50.1% of the population will somehow come to believe it's true.

I just don't know how anyone could look at the Republican ticket (as Alec Baldwin called them on Letterman last night, McBush and Bible Spice) and see a team that is equipped to lead this country in a time of crisis, or even all that interested in that role. McCain is increasingly grasping and confused, pulling random accusations and non sequitur catchphrases out of a hat, but never really seeming to understand or even care that this is a real country with real problems. He seems to want to win just for the sake of winning, but doesn’t seem to realize that winning means having to fix those problems. And Palin -- I used to think that she was just stupid and superficial, with her coy little winks and her cornpone turns of phrase, but now I see her as the most opportunistic, mean, sarcastic, power-hungry psycho I've seen in American politics in my lifetime. And that's saying something, considering that I have roamed the earth in the time of Rick Santorum and Tom DeLay and Dick Cheney and Karl Rove and the rest from their particularly rancid breed of politicians.

I have always known that I am fairly insulated from all of the conflicts of this election by virtue of being in the most liberal corner of a liberal university -- and further by living in the very blue state of Illinois, so I don't see many television ads or get robocalls or have neighbors stealing the signs out of my front yard. But I didn't realize how insulated I was until, a few weeks ago, I went to Indiana to talk to undecided voters. And what I saw while I was there scared the hell out of me. There I was, with my Obama pin and a stack of brochures and my carefully researched talking points, ready to debate policy issues with the people I met. In retrospect, I was such a giant nerd about it all, clutching my brochures and believing that it was really all about ideology, that I would just reason with people and they would come to see that Obama was the best pick, and that even if they disagreed with me, they would do so on grounds that they reached through rational thought. And what did I get? One really scary guy who kept ranting about some bizarre "plan" of Obama's to set up "neighborhood tribunals" and turn people in to the police for being terrorists. (WTF??? My guess was that the idiot had a meth lab in his basement, and that's what all of his crazy-eyed fear was really about. One can only hope, I suppose.) Another man, a middle-aged African-American man living in a ramshackle house in a neighborhood that could most charitably be described as “blighted,” opened his door a crack, yelled that he was voting for McCain, and told me to get the hell off of his porch. And (my personal favorite) one 30-ish guy in frayed jeans but no shirt or shoes ambled out onto his porch, explained that he had just moved and was busy unpacking right now, and said, "I figure I'll take this fall to settle in, and I'll vote in next year's presidential election."

And that's when it hit me. None of this was about conflicting ideologies, or the inability to decide whose tax plan made more sense or who would do better things with the health care system. Yes, I believe there are undecided voters who are truly weighing the issues, who are wrestling with their positions, and I respect their processes in reaching the decision that is right for them. But I didn't encounter any of that on my day in Indiana. These people -- these people whose votes very well might determine the outcome of the election -- were complete morons. How could they be trusted to cast a responsible vote for president, based on what we might assume are carefully considered beliefs, when in actuality they didn't put any thought process into it at all – would uncritically believe the most patently bizarre fabrications and, frankly, didn't even know that we don't hold presidential elections every year?

So, yeah, it's going to be a long five days. I know what I see with my own eyes, but I won't believe it – will barely even allow myself to imagine it – until Tuesday night when I lay my head down on my pillow for what I hope will be my first night of peaceful slumber in President Obama's America.

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Three Cups Of Tea - One Man's Mission To Promote Peace


Today there was an article in LA Times Travel Section about Celebrity Travel. It mentioned Clay Aiken and referenced his visit to Afghanistan. Berkeley blogged about Clay's April 2007 Unicef trip to Afghanistan drawing attention to critical needs of children in Afghanistan. In that blog, there is a quote from Clay:

"As a former teacher I recognize that spark of hope and excitement all children possess when given the opportunity to learn," said Aiken, who spent five days traveling between Kabul and Bamyan in the central region of Afghanistan. "Rebuilding schools, training teachers, providing essential supplies and teaching materials are just some of the advances UNICEF and its partners have made to keep that hope flourishing.".

I was reminded of an amazing book I read a few months ago, Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. Reading this extraordinary true story reminded me of what Clay has stressed about the importance of providing a means for education and it's deep-rooted connection to hope.

Three Cups of Tea
tells the story of Mortenson's unsuccessful 1993 attempt to climb K2 and how his recovery in the small Pakistani village of Korphe led to a promise to come back and build this impoverished town's first school. The book's central theme derives from the Baltistan proverb, which says "the first time you share tea with a Balti, you are a stranger. The second time, you are an honored guest. The third time you become family." Coauthored with David Oliver Relin, the book chronicles the journey culminating in the establishment of the Central Asia Institute, which has since constructed hundreds of secular schools that are educating thousands of tribal Muslim children throughout a war-torn region. The most effective way to fight terrorism, according to Mortensen, is to educate children and give them a future, and help them rebuild their villages that have been shelled into oblivion over the last couple of decades. As the book continues to a post-9/11 world, the authors present a case for the United States to fight Islamic extremism in the region through collaborative efforts to alleviate poverty and improve access to education, especially for girls.

But the book is also an adventure story. A love story. And a remarkable read.

One of the programs central to the CAI is Pennies For Peace, which "educates children about the world beyond their experience and how they can make a positive impact on a global scale, one penny at a time. It teaches children the rewards of sharing and working together to bring hope and education opportunities to the children in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A penny is virtually worthless, but in impoverished countries a penny buys a pencil and opens the door to literacy.".

There are many teachers in the Clay fandom - check out their website and see if perhaps your students might benefit from seeing how they can become positive change agents half-way around the world.

Watch Greg Mortenson talk about Three Cup of Tea for Borders:

Nelson Mandela
once said, "Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world." Greg Mortenson's story is proof that ordinary people can indeed truly change the world.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Clay Aiken & Champions of Change

Is it possible to fall in love all over again? Not that I ever fell out of love with Clay Aiken - but I'm drawn back in to that place where Clay curls up in my heart and it's like a kitten purring. I want to wrap my arms around him. Around Jaymes. Around Parker. I want the world for them all.

MrNan and I were talking about how now - even after five years - we have such an emotional connection to the man that Clay Aiken is. He can make us laugh. Then think. Then feel. Then cry. In the space of one minute. He is an entertainer - of that I have no doubt. But he is also a caring and generous young man who's truly made a difference.

Last night, The Bubel/Aiken Foundation held a gala benefit with the goal to promote awareness of the benefits of inclusion and to support The Bubel/Aiken Foundation’s programs which give children with disabilities the opportunity to experience life with their typical peers.

From the BAF website:

"Our Vision
The Bubel/Aiken Foundation envisions a world where young people with developmental disabilities are totally immersed in all life has to offer. The desegregation of programs, jobs, services, and educational opportunities will benefit children with and without special needs. We will break down barriers that divide by helping families obtain the services, support and financial assistance that makes full inclusion possible. We will work to educate the public and motivate society to move toward full inclusion as a way of life."

This year's honorees were:

CVS Caremark, a Corporate Champion of Change for their outstanding efforts to improve the lives of children with disabilities.

Dan Habib & Betsy McNamara, Champions of Change for their film, Including Samuel which tells their son’s story of inclusion, along with the trials and triumphs of four other subjects.

Rich Donovan, Champion of Change for applying his world-class business acumen to creating means of empowerment for people with disabilities.

Clay's wish for the evening was that “. . . everyone will join us for an enjoyable evening including dinner, silent and live auctions, entertainment - all in support of inclusive opportunities for all children.”

From the first-hand reports of the evening . . . and the video that was taken - it looks like Clay's goal was met. The BAF raised $207,000 from the live auction alone.

I just listened to his speech. I am in awe of what Clay has accomplished. He said, not that many years ago on American Idol, that he wanted to make a difference. He did. And still is.

I just watched him sing Everything I Don't Need and I am aching for a tour -- for the chance to be on my feet dancing at the next concert.

I just listened to him singing Right Here Waiting with such poignancy and tenderness

I've always loved being a Clay Aiken fan. Now I'm more proud and more in love than ever.

Special thanks to thankful4clay and lonelynomore44 for their video.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Gift of Life: Join UNICEF's Clay Aiken to Stop Child Deaths

--UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken with Somali infant, June 2008

(© US Fund for UNICEF/Nick Ysenburg)


UNICEF Ambassador Clay Aiken today launched a campaign aimed at making sure no child dies of preventable illnesses.

Here's how you can help!

Blogging at UNICEF Field Notes, Aiken writes:

Did you know that approximately 25,000 children die each day before their fifth birthday, largely due to preventable causes? Thanks to organizations like UNICEF this number is getting smaller every day. Last year, the number of child deaths worldwide declined to about 9.2 million. In 1990, that number was 12.7 million. That's definite progress, but that number should be zero.

As truly remarkable as it is that UNICEF and other organizations have been able to reduce the number of children who die from preventable illnesses by three and a half million a year in a little less than two decades, it is completely unacceptable that tens of thousands of children continue to die needlessly each and every day, children who could be saved for pennies.

During this worldwide economic crisis, many are looking for ways to save money, not to spend more. I'd like to propose that by pledging as little as a few dollars a month to UNICEF's life-saving programs, millions of dollars can be saved: dollars that would go to military intervention when struggling nations erupt into violence over meager supplies, dollars that would be spent to feed and house millions of refugees forced to flee the desperation of their homelands, dollars that would go to feeble attempts to prevent the spread of what could become a worldwide pandemic rather than taking preventative steps such as eradicating malaria.

The headlines can be bleak, and it is easy to think that it is hopeless. But thanks to UNICEF's child survival strategy, preventable child deaths have declined 27 percent since 1990 and more than 60 percent since 1960 --- proof positive that every penny donated can saves lives.

Don't let another day go by without making an effort to save a child. Whether you have five dollars a month to pledge, $50, $500 or $5,000, every dollar makes a difference.

Even a small amount makes a huge difference. For instance, $5 a month (about 15¢ per day) can ensure five children are protected from measles.

If we could all make this small commitment we may be able to see the day when no child dies of a preventable cause.
--- Clay Aiken

You can save a child's life for the price of a cup of coffee. Join Clay and UNICEF and pledge today.


--- New dad Clay Aiken with his son Parker, September 2008

(Good Morning America/abc News)

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

Clay Aiken - Killing The Elephants In The Room

I've always been a proud fan of Clay Aiken, the entertainer and the man. Now, more than ever. Clay blogged to his fans late yesterday and spoke so eloquently about who he is, his decisions about his personal life, and what role the media should play in a public figure's life.

Clay has never made me cry (well, except for when he sings sometimes - but not just real life) - until I read this blog. And again when I read it to MrNan. Clay Aiken is a remarkable and fascinating human being. I hope that blog is reposted in a variety of different places. It is a beautifully written, heartfelt call for tolerance and privacy. To the gay gossip bloggers who think they can choose for another when is the right time to come out. To the fans who insisted that Clay must identify himself as a gay man - or a straight man - to everyone who thinks their personal interpretation and feelings about another human being trumps the feelings of the person - he has spoken. I am beyond thrilled with what Clay has written and I am so excited about Clay's future, both personally and professionally.

Here is Clay, reminding all of us - fans and not fans - about what is really important in life:

"What a week or so this has been. In fact, it's just been two weeks since I started back to the Spam. Jerome and I were just talking the other day, though, about how the past two weeks have felt like a month. So much routine to get back into and yet so much routine and consistency to break. No doubt, many of you have been going through quite a bit over the past week or so yourselves. What a bunch of headline news we have had in the past 10 days! Wall Street falling to it's knees. Congress propping it back up. Two debates. Hijackers in Somalia. New leaders in South Africa and Japan. You'd think with all of the important events going on in the world, there would be plenty to fill up the pages of America's newspapers, websites and blogs without the need for information on the private lives of the country's singers and entertainers. But, alas, thats never the case. In fact for the last five years, I've found what seems to have been an inordinate amount of interest (not from the public, but from the media) in my own personal life. The questions never seemed to stop. Oh sure, they die down for a period, but they resurface. The wind blows another direction, and I do yet another interview worried that my personal life will become a topic of discussion. No doubt the birth of Parker would bring the same scrutiny, just heightened. It's an interesting time we live in. Gone are the days when entertainers could go about their lives without the invasion of privacy that we now see everyday in the form of paparazzi and internet tabloid bloggers. So, in the hopes of being able to sing and act (and dance poorly) and do what I love to do for a living while raising my son in a hopefully more private and accepting environment, I chose to go ahead and confront things head on. Yes, I would have preferred to separate my personal life from my professional life. I would have been just as happy to go on without discussing my orientation. But, it seems like that was not an option. Make no mistake, its not because I am ashamed. No, not for a minute. I haven't always been as comfortable as I am now, but I am without a doubt, proud of who I am and make no apologies for it. Instead, I would have been happy to have kept my personal life private for that very reason. Because it's personal life and I have always considered myself a private person. But, living as myself without discussing my sexuality publicly would have been as impossible. One chance to expose the truth would have been a payday for any greedy opportunist.

I went to American Idol, much like many of us did "back in the day". Naive. Unlike the contestants who join up today, we had no idea of the power and pull of Idol when we signed on. (I'm sure many of us season two folks like to think we are the reason the show got so big!!! ;-) ) There I was two months off of the biggest show in the country, sitting at a table with a reporter from Rolling Stone who was asking me every single question I would never think of. Twenty-four years old in the rest of America is a LOT younger and more naive than twenty four years old in the media business. So when this guy started asking me about things that I didn't really know how to answer for myself... things that I was not yet ready to admit to folks like my mother and my family.... things that I found intimidating and invasive, I responded in what I assumed was a benign way at the time. I attempted to "out spin" a professional. I wasn't as good as I thought I was. But, I have no regrets. The truth is, I don't apologize for the responses I gave to that reporter or any reporter over the past five years. I did make every attempt I could after that one interview to never say "I am not gay" or "I am straight". And I never said either. (some interpreted my vague answers to mean that... but I never said either) Some will say thats misleading. In truth, it might be defined that way. But, a better definition and a more accurate way to describe it for me, is a redirection and an attempt to change the topic to something that matters more. For some of you it won't be enough, but I can't apologize for keeping my personal business to myself. If someone feels that they were mislead, I can totally understand that viewpoint and apologize for that feeling, but I can't apologize for how I handled questions that affected me and my right to privacy.

In my opinion, sexual orientation is ALWAYS a private thing. I think the OVERWHELMING majority of people agree with that. Why in the world should someone's sexual orientation be a news item? Why should anyone care? Yet, for all we espouse as a society about tolerance and open mindedness we forget to allow folks the opportunity to be who they are without judgement. Making a decision to come out to family is a difficult and heavy decision. But, for every young man or woman who is struggling with it, it should be a decision that is made on his or her own schedule ONLY. It's never acceptable for anyone to make such a decision for anyone else nor to coerce someone to take such a significant step before they are ready. Not a friend, not a stranger, not the media. So, I waited until the time was right for me. For that I can't apologize either.

There are plenty of you who have anticipated this blog in hopes that I would "set the record straight" or "admit to lying for five years and apologize for it". For that small group of people, I am afraid I will have to disappoint you. My decisions over the past five years have been made with lots of deliberation and at times even heartache. Always with concern for folks who might feel mislead. Don't doubt that. But they have also been made as an attempt, not to hide my true self, but instead to allow myself the same liberties and rights that every single gay man and woman in the world should have... the right to determine for myself when I was ready to discuss my personal life. In as much as that, at times, was interpreted as misrepresentation, I feel badly. But I reserved that right for myself and I can't say I regret it.

I have endeavored over the past several days to allow folks to vent and express themselves as freely as possible without restriction on these message boards. There is no way to change a person's mind when you tell them they are wrong. We all, when backed into a corner, have a human instinct to swing. Having different feelings and opinions and viewpoints are only natural. The only way to deal with that is to accept everyone's right to disagree, and allow them to discuss their feelings. I always have, and I always will. That said, it hasn't been, nor do I imagine it will be, my intent to make the message boards or the OFC a clearinghouse or discussion zone for sexuality or such topics. I hope we can always continue to discuss the same things we have always found important. The need for inclusion for children with disabilities. The desire to make sure every child in the world has access to their basic needs for survival. And any other topics that will make our neighborhoods, our regions, our country and our world a better more acceptable place (where that relates to issues involving sexuality, I hope we are able to advocate, at those times for the acceptance of others)... and I hope we will all still use the message boards for the lively discussion of the need for better entertainment and music in the world!!!! ;-) That said, as of this posting, I have asked the moderators to archive the thread regarding the People magazine article and close it from discussion. For those of you who are still struggling, I encourage you to continue to talk to your friends and neighbors and fellow OFC members in the thread devoted to such support. It is not going to be as easy as accepting something over night, but I believe that we are on the right track. The moderators will resume their regular duties of moderating the boards in the fashion that they did prior to last week, and I (and hopefully all of us) will resume our routines in the same fashion as well. Talking about music, talking about potential tours and other performances and appearances, talking about me forgetting my lines of tripping on stage in Spamalot, and discussing with our friends how many times we have seen the show and will see it! (And... looking forward to the announcement of out Playbill contest winner!!!)

Finally, I will say that, also representative of most every other gay man and woman in the world, that I am not defined by my sexuality. No more so than each of you are defined by your sexual orientation. No more than a man or woman is defined by race or ethnicity. It is, simply, a small facet of the same person I have always been. Most of you realize that nothing has changed. I hope to continue being able to entertain you in the same way I have for the past five years. And I hope you will allow me to continue to inform you of the causes that I find important and entertain you with the music and performances I love. For I love and cherish you all. Yesterday, now and forever.


For anyone concerned about this being brought over from the OFC, Clay has given his OK for his blog to be posted on message boards.

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