Monday, September 28, 2009

Perfect Weekend for a Birthday and a Wedding

...or a wedding and a birthday, depending on how self-centered one chooses to be.

I entered my 29th year of life with a margarita in one hand and my too-handsome boyfriend on the other. We were celebrating the marriage of our dear friends (and new neighbors) Anne and Kevin. It was a proper New England affair, from the chowder to the chilly sea air and creaky floor boards of our colonial inn, and the festivities distracted me from the fact that I have now begun the last 12 months of the number 2 prefix in my age.

But back to the newlyweds...

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

World Savers Unite

It's a pretty lofty (self-congratulatory?) name for a conference, but the World Savers Congress, hosted by Conde Nast Traveler Magazine yesterday, underscored the point that the tourism industry has tremendous potential to effect positive social change. From green operations to promoting fair compensation and education for workers and their families - your next vacation, if you do your research, could have a huge impact on our planet.

Have you ever heard GCL get this preachy?

There were some great speakers at yesterday's conference - including Wyclef Jean who spoke lovingly and optimistically of his native Haiti, and Mandy Moore (I know, wtf, right?) who is now covering Sudan in mosquito nets with Five & Alive, an organization that aims to stem the deaths of children in the developing world from preventable diseases, including malaria. All of them touted the same message: the billions of dollars generated by tourism, as well as the immeasurable good will that's sparked in someone's heart when they go somewhere new and are given an opportunity to help preserve the site they've visited, are a formidable force against the trend of poverty, disease and even conflict.

I loved the example shared by the CEO of Gap Adventures, an adventure tour operator, who said that travelers who had been to Peru with his company raised over $100,000 in a matter of days back in 2007 when an earthquake hit the country. Then there was a sobering message from Accor Hotel group, which owns thousands of properties around the world, about the AIDS epidemic. The hotel is taking prostitution head on, providing condoms and information on safer sex in all of its rooms - it's aggressive, forward-thinking and much needed.

One point that was made yesterday and hit home with me was "if you don't go you don't know." I got to thinking about how lucky I had been as a child to go to places like Colombia and Venezuela to see what poverty looked like - to come away from those trips smarter, more grateful and more informed has had a profound impact on me. I remember meeting people who couldn't read and people who lived without running water - I lived among them for a while, at age ten, no less. My mom not the least bit worried about my safety, she just thought it was brilliant that I was seeing how good I had it back in the U.S. I would say those trips helped shape the way I see the world, and I'm all the better for it. I went, therefore I know.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Juanes' "Peace Without Borders" Concert

I'm watching Univision's live webcast of Colombian singer Juanes' "Paz Sin Fronteras" (Peace W/Out Borders) concert in Havana and it's easy to forget, listening to acts like merenguera Olga TaƱon singing about bad boys and dark-skinned hotties, that this is a major (x a million) event in Latin American politics. A free outdoor concert is a common occurrence anywhere in the world, but when the image of Che Guevara looms large in the background, the stakes are higher and everybody has to make their opinion heard.

More often than not, I find the Cuban exile community to be a little, um, militaristic and self-righteous. A lot of people in Miami are making a public spectacle of trashing Juanes' CDs and calling for a boycott of anything associated with the singer. And my response to that is really? Come on guys, we all know embargoes don't work. I'm no fan of Castro, but fifty years of towing the hardline of starving Cuba into democracy hasn't worked. Isn't it time to change our approach?

In the meantime, I do love The Simpsons rendering of Juanes as a Pied Piper of socialism.
Image: Adventures of the Coconut Caucus

I want to know where these exiles were when the U.S. was only too happy to play along with China's hosting of the 2008 Olympics? It was communism's greatest feat - having the world bow down before China, worshipping Chairman Mao's vision at the Bird's Nest stadium -- the whole world watched the opening ceremonies in awe and here we are, a year later, in debt to China, but anti-communist Cubans are in a nit over a concert. Como que les falta perspectiva, no? Perspective, people. Please.

Juanes lends a much-needed legitimacy to this latest attempt at dialogue with Cuba. As a Colombian, as someone who has seen the devastation that a socialist revolution can cause, as someone whose country is being threatened by a socialist agitator nation (that would be Venezuela), Juanes lends a spirit of compassion, understanding and forward-thinking that is sorely needed in this debate. If Juanes can extend an olive branch to Cuba, a country that is regarded by Colombia's leftist insurgents as a beacon of what government should look like, then maybe the U.S., which is not the least bit threatened by Cuba at this point, can cut the crap and help the country embrace democracy?

Well done, Juanes. And if Miami gets too hot for you, eff the haters and move to NYC.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Big Day for NY Dems and for GCL

Today's a big day for NY dems: it's primaries and everything from the district attorney's post to the party's nomination for Mayor are up for grabs. As for me, Im in a car hurdling toward JFK for a conflagration of client events. There are mayors, helicopters, nobility and pinstripes. And yes, reporters. I should be a free man by noon, but in the meantime, competing with Obama, the UN and these pesky elections has me sweating in my starched white shirt as I think about how to make these events matter to news outlets that purportedly have 24 hours of programming to fill. Doesn't NY1 care about my ensemble today?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Seeing as We Need More Out, Proud Latinos...

...I'm happy to stand beside Perez Hilton as a trash-talking, high-profile, gay Latino.

According to CNN, gay Latinos are coming of age - there aren't that many of us to talk about besides Perez Hilton, but we're out there. And while deeply seeded notions of masculinity and homophobia still exist in our community, our home countries are one step ahead of the U.S. when it comes to gay rights - "Uruguay, Colombia and Mexico have passed laws granting rights and protections to gays and lesbians."

I've always felt that the Latino community has a love/hate relationship with homosexuality. Yes, it's derided in the church, but popular culture - from daytime talk shows to our telenovelas and our literature, are all laden with strong gay characters. From cross-dressers to fashionistas (after all, Latin America's biggest export is beauty queens - who do you think gets those girls show-ready?), Latinos here in the U.S. and back in our home countries are not immune to things gay - and guess what? They love it.

Of course, I'm writing about how fun it is to be gay and Latino from the perspective of a college-educated man with a white-collar job. I've been fortunate enough to create a community for myself and live the life I want with the man I want, out of the closet and with as much denim and leather as I like. But I do remember how frightening it was to come out of the closet, how horribly embarassed I felt for myself and my parents to confirm the rumors that I was a "pato" - Puerto Rican slang for gay - an insult that first came my way from a kindergarten teacher who thought I was too swishy.

When I think about the role of the church in some Latino communities, I think it's a blessing and a curse for gay teens to be around pious people who make no qualms about condemning gays. I was lucky enough to take the best parts of my Christian upbringing to build a life for myself, but I can see how the same messages that empowered me can devastate someone, sap their will to forge ahead, and ultimately render them another sad statistic.

But this was supposed to be a happy post. I do think things are changing, for the better, for gay Latinos. We just need more of them out there...soooo, maybe I should get a show on CNN? Just axin'..

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Are We Done Being Scared of Healthcare Reform Yet?

It all came down to a speech.

In forty-five minutes, President Obama made a clear and logical case for healthcare reform. I was sold on the new plan when the president said that this effort would cost $900 billion - less than the war in Iraq - and would be paid for with money that's already being spent on a flawed system. In short, everyone gets basic healthcare and then additional care, with controls to ensure that rates remain competitive and citizens don't go broke to pay for medical care. No death panels, no dipping into medicare or social security to pay for it, no adding to our deficit, no coverage for illegal immigrants (I have a problem with that last part but I'll talk about that in another post).

Twice he cited the efforts of his former opponent and senate colleague John McCain in the area of healthcare reform; he invoked the late Ted Kennedy, asking us all to look beyond party lines and address a fundamental flaw in our nation's character that allows our least fortunate citizens to die of preventable or treatable illnesses because they can't afford care. The president asked us to stop the same quibbling that stalled social security during the Roosevelt administration and medicare in the 60s. We're on the cusp of much-needed and rather painless change - why, he asked without asking, are we addressing rumors and lies when we have the resources to fix a problem that can eventually save us money? If the dying people angle doesn't move you how does a $4 trillion reduction to our deficit sound?

To some people, specifically the long-faced, immovable republican block who scowled throughout most of the president's address, healthcare reform smacks of socialism. To those people, I would say that healthcare is as much of a national security issue as the war in Iraq or Afghanistan. And it's an issue that does require government oversight - when the markets imploded last year (a year to the day, actually) it was the government that eventually had to sweep in with a bail-out that has spiraled from an initial $700 billion loan to something in the trillions. Why, then, can't we safeguard the idea that everyone deserves access to basic medical care and that insurance companies should compete for consumers' business?

The democrats have a small window of time to push this bill through the House and on to the Senate. Next year is an election year and there are some on-the-fence dems who fear losing the support of ther conservative base. The White House needs to help these lawmakers make the case to their constituents that this plan is what's best for them and the country. This could very well be the issue that shakes up the balance of power in both houses of government, as New York magazine's Michael Tomasky pointed out this week. I doubt that will happen, I remain optimistic about the future of this plan.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Dems Haven't Sold Us on Healthcare

President Obama is taking to the airwaves tonight to make a case for healthcare reform. The question that looms large and isn't being talked about is this: Should taxpayers really have to pay for everyone else's healthcare?

It's a tough question but I wonder: if we already have Medicaid and people can sign up for programs like Health Plus, why do over 45 million people in America still go without access to basic medical care? And is the solution to this problem really government oversight? The same government that signed off on legislation that gave everyone with a dollar and a dream a home they couldn't afford now wants to control billions of dollars of taxpayer money to dictate which doctors we can go to. That doesn't sit well with me.

CNN posits a frightening scenario: "the Obama platform would mandate extremely full, expensive, and highly subsidized coverage -- including a lot of benefits people would never pay for with their own money -- but deliver it through a highly restrictive, HMO-style plan that will determine what care and tests you can and can't have. It's a revolution, all right, but in the wrong direction."

President Obama, in an opinion piece that ran in the New York Times last month, said his plan will give Americans "a choice of high-quality, affordable coverage for yourself and your family — coverage that will stay with you whether you move, change your job or lose your job...reform will provide every American with some basic consumer protections that will finally hold insurance companies accountable."

That sounds great, but at what cost? Are we all going to be lumped into the same category to pay for care and services we don't use? Our neighbors up north are happy with that arrangement - except when they're not - and other countries' similarly libertine health spending are breeding lazy dependants of the state.

These are the issues the Democrats have to address if they're going to sell Americans on healthcare reform. We have to position reform as cost-effective and break it down in dollars and cents so the average American can understand exactly how much this new system is going to cost. In the meantime, we're getting nothing but bogus and convincing figures from both sides of this debate.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Spare the Children from Obama's "Indoctrination" - We'll Pay for it Later

And now he wants to talk to the children.

Conservatives have been in a tizzy over the past few days because of President Obama's decision to address schoolchildren in a live, televised address today.

"Indoctrination!" "It's not the speech it's the subtext!" "Homeschool your children!" "I'm afraid for this country!"

These are the cries from the far right's minions who will come up with any excuse to thwart the Obama administration. And as the crowds grow ever more vociferous in their indignation and fear of big government (ahem, Patriot Act anyone?), I just want to put this thought out there: Fine, leave your kids at home, don't let them develop critical thinking skills, let's put out another generation of stupid kids who can't even tie their shoelaces unless mommy and daddy are hovering nearby. Wanna know what that kid is going to be like at 25? Popping out kid number 3, recovering from some form of addiction, and with a penchant for fire or firearms. Or both.

Some parents aren't sending their kids to school today, some parents want to be in the classroom to watch the President's address; some parents, if you ask me, shouldn't be parents in the first place. But that's for another blog post.

Here's a link to the much-ballyhooed speech direct from the White House (via Twitter!).

"[...]we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed. And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself."

As you can see, it's some pretty incendiary stuff. Especially the part about personal accountability and respecting adults.

What the right is really doing is re-directing our attention from the most pressing issues facing our country: job scarcity, the need for healthcare reform, two wars and the one-year anniversary of the implosion of our economic system. How does a simple, welcome-back-to-school-now-hit-the-books pep talk from our Commader in Chief rank against the mammoth agenda of repairing our nation?

The right should know when to pick its battles. On this issue, they've only made a mockery of themselves.

**Image: Leo Alberti via Michelle Malkin

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Learn Somethin' From Those Kids on the Rachel Zoe Project

I'll admit it, I watch The Rachel Zoe Project on Bravo. Not only because I support everything my other baby-daddy (and fellow BU alum) Andy Cohen does, but because I glean valuable career lessons from the show. Yes, I approach my job as a publicist just like Rachel does, with a swath of fur hanging over my shoulder (well, I will this fall/winter) and a venti latte in hand, thinking very hard about consumer engagement. While Rachel calls up designers to alter their confections, I turn trends into...headlines. But as obsessed as I am with Rachel and her catch-phrases (sadly, I have none except "please," "thank you," and "have you eaten")I also love watching the dynamic between her two assistants, Brad and Taylor. These three characters represent the trinity that I think exists in any creative/professional environment - it's a union that's fraught with tension and angst, but ultimately, if everyone knows and embraces their role, can be quite fulfilling for all parties. Sadly, Taylor hasn't gotten the memo and that's probably why she'll soon be fetching coffee for Brad, her whiny and tear-prone underling (with a devastating proclivity for oversized bow-ties).

Brad, like many gay men, is only too happy to swaddle his boss in attention and praise. Whereas Taylor wields her superior skill over everyone, including her boss Rachel, Brad just tosses on a pom-pom hat and makes Rachel laugh. He cares about his boss, whereas Taylor sees her as a stepping stone. In the trinity of creative pursuits, there's the scatter-brained ringleader (Rachel), the know-it all martyr (Taylor) and the smart but more importantly likable heart of the operation (Brad). Though I don't cry at work, I empathize with Brad because I, too, have a heart. And that's what I bring to work - before I deliver bad news or assail my boss with a litany of boring client updates and my own personal demands I make sure the big cheese has a coffee and biscuit in hand.

Is this a gay trait or a human flaw? I don't know, but I definitely see it as a competitive advantage in an increasingly topsy-turvey career landscape. What I'm trying to say, kids, is that those rumors about the gays taking over the world are quite true. And they're not doing it with huffing, puffing and sass, they're doing it with charm. Learrrn somethin', Taylor.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Showtunes and Ambition

Last night my friends and I were celebrating the end of another manic Monday - it's not an unusual occurrence except for the fact that our employer has moved us down to oh-so-cool Tribeca, forcing us to leave Times Square, and the proximity of gay hotspots in Chelsea and Hell's Kitchen, behind. In the dark of the downtown night, we meandered uptown, past quaint but not gay, bars and restaurants. Where could we go in our skinny ties and pocket-squares to talk about ourselves, how smart we are and, most importantly, look at boys? Stay with me folks, there's a point to this post.

They say you learn something new every day. Last night, I learned that I better get my act together lest I wind up having to cozy up to octagenarian johns at a piano bar off Christopher Street to pay my rent (and let's face it, I'm pushing 30, who's gonna want this in a few years?). While Greenwich Village may be the historic center of gay life, it's also a modern-day hovel. Walking into the fabled Stonewall Inn on a lark, we were overwhelmed by the stench of history (?) or a smoking, but empty, hot dog roaster. Across the street at the Monster the crowd by the piano was merry, but a bit sad in my eyes. I wondered, will I too, one day after 30, be sitting at a piano singing "pa-pa, pa-pa-razziii" while some 19-year-old reaches for my wallet?

These are the questions one ponders as they near the end of their twenties. But, as I've said time and time again, I am a man of faith and I fully expect great things in life. So, yes, maybe one day I will have James tickle the ivories to play my favorite gay tracks, perhaps It's Not Right but it's OK in b-flat or something, but it'll be in my own home, perhaps overlooking Park Avenue or a bevvy of muscle marys in Rio, but I'll be just fine.