Saturday, December 30, 2006

Music Review: Josh Groban - Awake

What can I say? I'm a Grobanite and have been since the term was coined on his early website bulletin board and in the AOL chat room. For the second time, I purchased a Josh Groban CD on the day it was released. Unlike with the release of Closer when I was waiting for the store to open before going to work, I waited until the evening to purchase Awake, but I started playing it in the car before leaving the parking lot. From the first lyric to the last, the trademark Josh Groban voice remains in fine form. If there is a finer male voice in music today, I've not heard it. Certainly some performers have a gimic and some have a greater range, but if I was told I could only listen to one male singer for the rest of my life, I would choose Josh without having to think.

With that said, Awake, is a disappointment in that there is no standout song. The cd contains all original songs (to the best of my knowledge though some of the foreign language tracks may have been recorded by previous artists), but none of them reach out and grab me. I don't hit repeat on my iPod when any one song plays. I can listen to the entire cd repeatedly and be perfectly content, however, almost two months later, I have never caught myself singing along to one of the songs.

The biggest disappointment, though, is that two "bonus" tracks are only available if the cd is bought at a certain store or in a certain format (Target and iTunes for example). More artists and production companies use this practice and I find it highly offensive and discriminatory to consumers. After making my purchase at a store, I came home and purchased two "bonus" tracks from iTunes, one of which is the TITLE SONG. Who thinks this is a good idea? Josh should be ashamed that his production company pulled this stunt and should offer to replace the cd of everyone who purchased an incomplete version with the full fifteen track cd.

Josh continues to grow with his Italian lyrics. Each cd has shown an improvement in his fluency in the language. I do not know how much study of the language he has undertaken since his first cd, but it sounds now like he could converse comfortably. Many singers sing phonetically and do a good job, but they don't show a natural fluency in the language [I don't know Italian at all, but the songs on Awake sound more fluid to my raw ear] which Josh seems to be grasping with each new cd.

Josh's songwriting improves as well on Awake. He wrote the music, lyrics, or both on four songs. One to which he contributed music and lyrics, "February Song" anchors the English songs on the cd. Josh covers his full range on the song. His other music/lyric contributions include: "Now or Never", "Lullaby", and "Machine." Sadly, "Machine," with Herbie Hancock is probably the weakest song on the cd: it simply does not fit him.

As he has on his previous cd's, Josh manages to get some talented guests to perform with him. In addition to Herbie Hancock mentioned above, Josh has Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform on two songs. He harmonized beautifully with them and if I were to put a song on repeat, it would be "Weeping." The lyrics to "Weeping" tell a story that while African sounding, contains lessons for us too.

Despite the fact that I'm disappointed at the lack of any blow-my-socks-off songs, Awake on the whole remains a solid piece of work. I strongly recommend the purchase of the cd, but be certain to purchase it at a store or in the format that contains all fifteen songs, not the thirteen available in some locations - at least until Josh remedies the horror of the short cd.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

More Internet Fun...

Thanks to Velleity NYC who was the first I've seen to post this, one can determine their gender through a submitted writing sample. I was much more masculine than I expected! Go me!

Go you, and check it out at: Gender Genie

A Better Time?

President Ford was the first president I was consciously aware of. There are stories of me being pulled around in a wagon waving my arms with my hands showing the peace sign like Nixon, but I didn't really know what I was doing. Ford, though, I remember being a person in power.

I turned eight two months after he became president and was ten when he left the office, so consciousness that he was an important person is about all I was able to have at that time.

Oddly, my first memory that comes to me about President Ford is from the campaign of 1976 when he made a stop in San Antonio. He was eating some local cuisine - tamales - and did not know to take the corn husks in which they are wrapped off. I suppose someone from Michigan would not know that the finger food would have a wrapping to hold it together. His tamale incident in San Antonio played into his image as a physical klutz. Some say Chevy Chase made a career imitating Ford's mishaps. If one looks into his history, though, one finds that Ford was a rather gifted athlete.

Perhaps Ford's physical clumsiness was merely his way of showing discomfort with the sudden focus placed upon him. He went from being a Representative from Michigan, to the appointed Vice-president, to President following the resignations of Agnew and Nixon. He was a man without presidential ambition suddenly thrust into leadership at the pinnacle of the greatest political crisis in the nation's history. History has generally been kind to Ford and credited him with managing the crisis and restoring confidence and laying the foundation for credibility in the government once again.

President Ford remains a symbol of a much more civil time in Washington. In that time the political parties had genuine differences in philosophy and in governing. They fought bitterly for their side on the floor of the House and Senate - and then went for beers together when the session adjourned for the day. Sadly things have changed with our congressmen and senators genuinely disliking one another on a personal level and choosing to make all politics personal and divisive. Despite the crisis of Watergate, politicians then worked for the good of the country first and their ambitions second. If Watergate happened today, the other party would have the party involved deported faster than an Muslim facing east.

I was too young to realize it at the time, but Ford was also a progressive on GLBT issues. He appointed openly gay people to positions within his administration and in the last few years took vocal stances in support of gay marriage. He was a member of the Republican Unity Coalition advisory board which raises funds and seeks to make homosexuality a non-issue within the party. He always believed the GOP should welcome and include gays. He was remarkably progressive for a Republican of his generation and could set the example for many today.

As an adult, I look forward to learning more about this first president I remember and seeing how the historians address him through the official period of mourning.

And for his progressive stance on gay rights - may Heaven provide him all the unshucked tamales he can eat!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Holiday Recovery

Gifts are given. Trips have been made. Christmas is over.

Despite all the anxiety, everything really went well with me this holiday. A rainy day in the country with a mother who watches the made-for-tv movie channel which is only showing made-for-tv Christmas movies (combined with the Disney Christmas parade [read commercial] hosted by Regis and Kelly) is a torture even Jack Bauer couldn't endure.

Still, my brothers and I got along. My parents didn't do anything to upset anyone, so we all spent all Christmas afternoon together while watching the kids (my three nephews) play in the house and on the lone paved spot in my parent's driveway.

While my holiday was generally boring because I have changed so much since moving to Austin and it seems that they have all stayed the same in the small town. There really isn't much that we have in common to discuss. They catch me up on the news of all the people I know from the thirty-three years I lived there. I tell them a little about life here, but they don't really understand it and I don't really care about a dispute between two people I knew seven years ago.

At least I have a family I can go visit. They don't really accept and are not willing to discuss my lifestyle, but they do take me for who I am and don't make a big issue of it. For that I'm thankful.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Holiday Anxiety #3

And we're done!

The shopping is complete.

The gifts are wrapped.

Now I just have to load them into the car and drive two hours so my nephews can destroy them in two minutes. The loading can wait until after church tomorrow.

Despite the challenges, I'm pleased with the gifting I've done this year. I only relied on gift cards for two people (though I must admit, I would rather get gift cards most of the time).

The wrapping was more of a challenge than I expected. Pillows can be rather tricky: try finding a gift box that fits a penguin shaped pillow the size of a three-year-old. The blanket was not as hard as the penguin, but it came close.

The traffic today was worse than yesterday. I guess that is what I get for doing last minute shopping.

Still, I'm done with the shopping and that feels good.

Now I just have to survive a couple days with my family.

Holiday Anxiety #2

Holiday drivers are NUTS!

I thought Friday morning shopping would not be too wild since people were supposedly still working, but the traffic quickly made me want to just give gift cards. I had spent some time coming up with ideas for "real" gifts for almost everyone on my list, but the mass of drivers soon brought out the scrooge in me.

After some back street maneuvers, I made my way to one of my favorite shopping centers and in going through a few stores, was able to find appropriate gifts for almost everyone on my list.

The one gift I have not been able to find is for my middle nephew. I have his mother's list, but I'm not buying his mother's list for Christmas: I'll buy from his mother's list any time except his birthday and Christmas. So, today, I'm off once again to go find something for him. With luck, I'll find just the right item to give him some excitement through the whole year to come, but it will have to be just right.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Holiday Anxiety #1

Four days to Christmas and the holiday anxiety is setting in. I have three nephews and NO CLUE what to buy them. The one who always had a three page wish list responded with "I dunno." when I asked him what he wanted for Christmas over Thanksgiving. The one who is three will be happy with paper and bows. The other nephew has the list his mother made. Christmas presents from the uncle are for fun - not for school! I'm sure I can find something suitably exciting for him without making his parents too mad.

As far as I know, my brothers and I have called a truce and are not going to exchange presents this year, but I have not heard that directly from one brother, so I don't know whether to be prepared or not. Mom and dad, of course, won't go along with that, so I still have to figure out what to get two people who already have more stuff than house/garage/barn can hold.

Friends are an entirely different matter. Some are doing the gift thing, but I have no idea who, so I feel like I need to be prepared for any contingency. Do I buy "cool" things just to have on hand that can go to anyone male or female? Maybe I'll just do a dinner for them...people usually do enjoy my food. Then there are the random gift bags/baskets...I can do that....

The only way around all this would be to ask everyone if they are getting me a gift - and that would seem like I'm asking. We need to come up with some clear etiquette on gift giving during the holidays.

Dating = gift

Close friends = gift

Acquaintances = no gift

Co-workers = draw or no gift and no breaking the agreement (if one gifts it makes everyone else look bad)

Family = decide (children = definitely, adults = come to an agreement)

Fortunately, I don't live or work in a building where holiday tipping is an expectation.

I don't want to come off as a scrooge, but in the last few years, the most fun I've had is with my aunt, uncle, and cousins. We have the rule that you buy a present for everyone, but for the adults you cannot spend more than $1. That rule suddenly makes shopping a challenge and gift receiving an adventure. When we are together, we laugh and enjoy being with one another more than you can imagine. Instead of being about the gifts, the gifts are the catalyst for much laughter - so much so that I usually ache for days afterward. We are all thirty/fortysomethings, so we don't wait for the holidays: when we need something, we go buy it instead of putting it on a wish list.

It has been much belabored each year that the holidays are too materialistic, so I won't add to that lament. I would like to see my friends and family expanding the dollar gift tradition. It is tremendous fun for the gifter and gifted.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Queer of the Year Conundrum

As I've mentioned before, I'm addicted to a daily check of Joe Jervis's blog, JoeMyGod . He has a relaxed style and experiences across the city of New York that I can only fantasize about having here in Austin. I've managed to catch him a few times on OutQ in the morning on Sirius and that same personality comes across on the air. The next time I get to visit New York, I'm going to have to frequent his haunts in hope of running into him and meeting him.

Currently Joe is running a Queer of the Year poll on his blog with six distinct candidates selected by his panel of judges (other bloggers). I'm having a difficult time trying to decide which one of five I want to win. There is only one candidate I have no desire to see win. Voters are asked to vote for the one who did the most to improve the standing/quality of life for GLBT America. Nominations came from readers of the site and were narrowed down by the panel of judges.

The first candidate he has listed is Laurel Hester. She became known this past year with her deathbed battle to have retirement/pension benefits expanded to domestic partners, not just "married" couples. Her appeal and the groundswell of public support forced the Republican county leaders to give in and extend the benefits to domestic partners about three weeks before she died.

The second candidate, Lane Hudson, gained much more national attention after he anonymously posted emails from Congressman Foley to pages which forced the media to break the story. Hudson has long been a political activist with Democratic campaigns and worked for the Human Rights Campaign (which fired him after he was revealed as the blogger).

The third candidate, Kim Coco Iwamoto, became the first transgendered person to win a statewide election when she was elected to the Hawaii State Board of Education. Somehow this news was not carried in the mainstream media and I have to admit I had not heard of her until her nomination for QOTY.

Candidate number four is the one who, along with Lane Hudson, did more to put the Republicans on their heels leading into the mid-term elections than the entire Democratic party combined. Mike Jones rose to fame just weeks before the election with his exposure of Ted Haggard, the Colorado mega-church anti-gay minister, as a drug-using, gay-escort hiring fraud. Jones was among the advisers President Bush called when devising his anti-gay rhetoric.

The fifth candidate, Rosie O'Donnell, was admittedly selected by the judges just because so many people nominated her from the blog. Rosie remains one of the most obvious gay faces in the media with her recent ascension to a seat on The View, replacing Merideth Viera. She also strives to be a face of the gay family with her partner and the gay-family-friendly cruises she sponsors.

The sixth candidate, Soulfource, is one of the quietest and most unheralded grassroots organizations changing the attitudes towards gays in America by confronting people directly with the bigotry they promote. They began last year touring college campuses that have admissions restrictions allowing access to the college for openly GLBT students. They have also been involved in sit-ins at recruiting stations to challenge the Don't-Ask-Don't Tell policy. The group is made up primarily of young adults who are taking a stand.

The only candidate I don't really support among the six is Rosie O'Donnell. She has on a couple occasions worn her gay badge a little too loosely and after bashing Michael Richard's racial rant, went on her own a few weeks later. While her visibility and activism are good, I don't see how anything she has done this year did anything to promote the GLBT cause.

Mike Jones and Lane Hudson certainly did their last minute hammering of nails into the coffin of Republican majority in the House and Senate. While Jones's actions served to expose the hypocrisy deep within the nation's leadership and Hudson's revelations succeeded in exposing the corruption that went to the highest levels of House leadership, I'm not certain I want either of them nominated for a stamp just yet. Jones spent years as an "escort" who used and had drug connections for his clientele. Hudson, with his experience in politics and abundant free Internet resources for posting blogs, still managed to violate his employer's policies by posting the blog that brought down Foley and ultimately cost Hastert his leadership position among Republicans. Both men's actions took courage and a degree of personal risk. While they certainly played a role in discrediting the powers-that-be, I'm not certain they actually brought down the Republicans dual-handedly.

That leaves a cancer-stricken police officer, a politician, and a group of young adults. All three made a positive change that establishes a precedent for future actions. Hester's victory in gaining benefits, set the pattern for more municipalities to extend survivor benefits to domestic partners. Iwamoto's victory in a statewide election showed that voters can overcome the issue of sexuality and sexual identity and vote based on issues and candidate qualifications. Soulforce's adoption of the strategies of the Civil Rights movement of the '50's and '60's have forced discriminatory institutions to defend their bigotry publicly like none have been called to do regarding GLBT issues.
All three are incredibly worthy, but after debating almost 24 hours, I finally voted for Soulfource. The national work of these courageous young people at a grass-roots level in areas that are most traditionally hostile to GLBT issues is forcing people to look deep within themselves to defend the antiquated ideas about homosexuality. Though many in these conservative strongholds don't like it when confronted with actual facts, the education Soulfource is doing will ultimately lead to national change.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Sinus Infection Hell

I get sinus infections.

It is part of who I am.

This last one wanted me dead!

I have been sick before and have felt really bad, but I don't think I've come close to this last experience. And the illness was only compounded by the antibiotic the lovely doctor gave me to fight it. For the first three days I experienced some congestion and a very hoarse voice, but I actually felt good. I did not sleep well because all the congestion made it difficult to breathe any time I moved in the night, but I was handling it and ignoring everyone telling me to take some medication.

I started taking Claritin D early this year because I saw that the cedar bushes were about to burst at any time and cedar is the worst reaction I get each year. I hate Claritin D due to the jitteryness and sleeplessness it causes in the first few days, but it is the only allergy medication I've found that does what it needs to do.

Since I knew cedar was on the way and was already on the Claritin, I scoffed at everyone telling me to go to the doctor. I knew I was feeling great and that my symptoms were minor and would soon pass.

That was fine until Friday about noon. That afternoon, we had a meeting about something (I honestly don't remember it). I sat at the end of the table away from everyone fearing I would give them whatever had caused the whole world to crash down on me. About 3:30 Friday I left the office, went home, wrapped myself in blankets and crawled on the recliner.

I began to move again late Tuesday night.

Monday morning I did make it to see the doctor (a fill in since my doctor was fully booked). He dismissed it as a sinus infection and gave me some poison he and the pharmacist called an antibiotic. When I finally read the full statement about the medicine on Thursday, I began to understand why I truly felt so bad. Side effects include potential disruption of the digetstive tract (as is common with antibiotics - they kill the good and the bad). Another potential side effect is the sensation that someone has buried the dull side of a hatchet in the center of your forehead, just above your nose: I have never had a headache sustained for so long.

On top of it all, the taste in my mouth made eating anything essentially unbearable. In just over a week, I've lost thirteen pounds and with the digestive issues, feel certain to drop a few more before the course of antibiotics is done. Unfortunately, they are all coming from the face, legs, and arms, not the mid-section where they need to be leaving. If an illness is going to have this effect, surely it should do it in a positive way. I look in the mirror and see a figure that reminds me of the images of a childrens drawing - a bloated round torso with stick limbs. Having a buzzed head also does not help when one is feeling bad.

Three more antibiotic pills to take and I'll be done with this course of treatment. Hopefully Monday I can start re-introducing the good things back into my body and I can get some energy do do more than pile the freshly washed clothes on the bed. Maybe I can actually get them folded and hung.

Music Review: P!nk - I'm Not Dead

I have been a fan of P!nk since "Get This Party Started" but I never explored much of her music. She appealed to me as a fun and energetic performer, but I didn't attribute much more to her than than.

Aside: One of the nice features to iTunes is that one can sample parts of each song before purchasing. I enjoy and often use the feature to decide whether to purchase individual songs or an entire cd. Most often, I purchase the individual songs rather than the entire CD. Artists rarely put together 10-13 songs I really want to hear.

I went to iTunes to purchase "U + Ur Hand" the first single from I'm Not Dead. While there, I started listening to other songs from the cd. After about the fifth song, I realized I was into a remarkable collection. Every song was unique P!nk, but they varied in style from hip-hop ("Stupid Girls") to acoustic-folk ("Dear Mr. President" feat. Indigo Girls). The fourteen tracks on the cd each stand alone, but together have a nice mix and flow.

"U + Ur Hand" is a typical P!nk, rockin', attitude-filled song. If I were straight, I would be terrified to find this woman as my girlfriend - something I fear I would find out much too late. On days when it is good, it would be awesome, but on those certain days, I would seek residence in another city (an idea strongly supported by the video). The suggestiveness of the title is made clear in the song through the lyric, "Keep your drink, just give me the money. It's just you and your hand tonight." Despite the aggressiveness of some of the lyrics, I can't help but come away from the song smiling. It's just fun.

"Dear Mr. President" which features the amazing Indigo Girls is just what it's title suggests, an open letter to President Bush that asks some direct questions covering issues his administration appears blind. With a Dixie Chicks set of balls, P!nk and the Girls directly go to the compassionate heart of the country. The acoustic nature of the song is not what one would normally expect of P!nk, but allows her voice to be heard.

The hidden track on the cd is a duet P!nk sings with her father. She offers a nice introduction to the track and it is a pleasure to hear the kind of harmony that only comes with family.

Across the cd, P!nk's voice servers as the most powerful and consistent intstrument. Her voice has matured since her earlier cd's and she utilizes it for full effect in each song. She presents it as a clearly tuned instrument as mentioned regarding "Dear Mr. President," and then transforms it to the rhaspy, emotion-filled blues horn in "Nobody Knows" and "The One That Got Away."

Songs from across the cd are already making it into my various playlists -ranging from workout playlists to cooking, housework and reading/studying playlists. It has such a variety that one can find a song for so many different situations. I'm looking forward to getting to know the cd better in the months to come as I'm sure I will.