Are Your Human Rights More Right Than Mine?

31 01 2010

When I say HUMAN RIGHTS, you may think about a trafficked sex slave, a child soldier, a raped woman prosecuted for adultery in a Muslim country, a woman in China who is pregnant with a second child being forcibly taken to a hospital and given an abortion, and the people in earthquake-ravaged Haiti who need food, water, safety, and shelter.

But what about the basic human right to live in peace and quiet in your own home? Most cities…including my new city of Berkeley, California…have ordinances that proclaim that this is a right of residents. Even my own apartment lease declares this one of the rules that residents must abide by.

For over a month I have lived under a family of four who choose not to respect this basic human right.  I moved here from out of state and never saw this apartment except on videotape before moving in. I rented the apartment next door and due to the mold there, was moved by my landlord into this apartment…completely unaware that I’d be moving under a family with two young children.

The family plays drums (which the lease says is not allowed), loud thumping music, allows the boys to run up and down the halls (this sounds like a stampede since there are hardwood floors and no carpet), slams windows and doors, stomps around, argues loudly…everything is done LOUDLY. They tell me they are just living their life.

Who’s to say that me living my life doesn’t include playing my stereo really loudly at 3 a.m. or that I have to turn up my television as loud as it goes because that’s the way I like it or I need to plug my amplifier into my keyboard and play it loud so I can really get the feel of the music when I play it? (I haven’t done any of those things, but sometimes it is tempting.)

I have spoken twice with the mother/wife. The last time, when I calmly explained that the noise was unbearable, she screamed at me and threatened me. She said I had “no right to come from Texas and tell her to be quiet in HER neighborhood.” She also informed me that her children were going to continue doing what they were doing that was so loud and they were going to do it ALL DAY LONG.

My neighbor asserted to me that she and her family have MORE rights than me because they were here first and they are a family (and I’m a single woman). I pay rent here too…no less than they do…and my lease reads the same as theirs. I’m protected by the same city laws as they are that give me the right to peace and quiet in my own home.

I’m saying all this not to complain, but to show how absurd it is when one person proclaims they have more rights than another person and that their rights are more important than another person’s. You could substitute anything going on in the world in exchange for this story and see how ridiculous it is…and yet we do it all the time. My neighbor and her family have a sense of entitlement and so they do whatever they want to do without any regard for my rights.

My landlord/apartment owner has little regard for my rights also…rights that they even decreed in the rules we all signed. Instead of asking these people to leave, I am being let out of my lease. The neighbors will then be allowed to intrude on the rights of the next person(s) who live(s) where I do now. And me? I am spending my time, energy, and money to move to another place where my basic human right of peace and quiet in my own home will be respected.

How often do we let the people who intrude on our human rights or those of others continue? Or perhaps we perceive the person who had their rights violated as a complainer and the violaters just bully us into letting them do whatever they feel they are entitled to do?

In my case, I could go to the city and complain and could probably force the issue so that the people above me are evicted and I could stay here. I choose instead to no longer rent an apartment from a landlord who doesn’t back up the rights they guaranteed me and to no longer live under people who are so disrespectful and scream at me to my face that their rights matter more than mine.

For 5 weeks I’ve felt victimized by these people…the neighbors and the non-acting landlords. Now I’m taking my power back and moving to a place that will be a refuge.  Peace and quiet are an important basic human right to me. I need it to survive…and to thrive.

Do you think your rights are more important…or more right…than those of other people? Are you respecting the rights of others?





Reflection on Human Rights Day

10 12 2009

Today is Human Right’s Day. Take a moment to reflect.

  • Do you respect the human rights of those you deal with on a day-to-day basis?
  • Are you respectful, kind, considerate, thoughtful, encouraging, and supportive?
  • Do you listen to, acknowledge, and treat respectfully people who think, act, look, speak, or practice religion differently from you?
  • Do you ever give any thought to the rights of those in other countries?
  • Do you care if women can vote, hold public office, work, drive a car, have protections through the legal system, love and marry who they want, and speak their minds?
  • Do you care if children are allowed to be children and go to school, wait until they are adults to marry, have nourishment, have clean water, and are free from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse?
  • Have you considered what life would be like if you had been born to poor parents in Afghanistan or Mali or Haiti?
  • Have you considered what it must be like to be hungry, to have no fresh water, to have no parents, to have AIDS, to have no access to the Internet, and to have no hope and feel useless in the world?

We are each important in the world. We each have rights just because of being born. Be aware. Care. Acknowledge. Listen. Then allow your heart to open and do what you can. Even a word of encouragement can make a difference.

Human Rights are not just for a day. Every day we must do what we can to help our brothers and sisters in the world. Every person is valuable, is needed, and is important…just like you.





Stoned to Death for Having Unmarried Sex in Somalia

8 11 2009

33-year-old Abas Hussein Abdirahman, who confessed to adultery in an Islamic court, was stoned to death on 11/7/09 in Somalia for having sex with his girlfriend. She will be stoned to death after she gives birth to their baby. The BBC reports that an eyewitness…one of 300 to the stoning…said that Abas Somali Al-Shabaab - Credit BBC“…was screaming and blood was pouring from his head during the stoning. After seven minutes he stopped moving.”

The BBC reports that this is the third time this year that Al-Shabab, an Islamist insurgency group in Somalia, has stoned a person to death for adultery. Two men were stoned to death last month after being accused of being spies.

According to the BBC, Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed “has accused al-Shabab of spoiling the image of Islam by killing people and harassing women.” Ahmed also had this to say about the Al-Shabab:

Their actions have nothing to do with Islam. They are forcing women to wear very heavy clothes, saying they want them to properly cover their bodies but we know they have economic interests behind – they sell these kinds of clothes and want to force people to buy them.

Somalia has not had a functioning national government in 18 years. Ahmed was sworn in as president in January after UN-brokered peace talks. Ahmed has said he wants to implement the Islamic Sharia law, but the Al-Shabab say he will be too lenient.

One of my most-read posts is Remembering 13-year-old Aisha Ibrahim Duhulow from Somalia. She reported being gang-raped as she walked to her grandmother’s and was stoned to death, accused of being an adulterer.

Surely God would not condone killing a soon-to-be father and mother who physically expressed love for one another and a child who was gang raped. Stoning them are not acts of honor and love for God. These are acts of terrorism under the guise of religion. They are about instilling fear in people in order to control them. They are senseless acts by people who use God’s name to harm others in order to assert their own power.

I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia years ago and I understand that in Muslim countries, religion and law are combined in a way we don’t experience in the U.S.  We must be respectful of the laws and traditions of people different from us. Still, I wonder how long Muslims will stand by and allow this to happen in their religion’s name. How long will the world stand by and quietly condemn these acts while they continue?





A Would-Be Robber and The Power of Love to Overcome Fear and Desperation

24 10 2009

It was October 19, 2009. 23-year-old Greg Smith was out of work, desperate, and needed money. He held Angela Montez at gun point, fully intending to rob a cash advance store, but something miraculous happened. Angela, a mother and grandmother, started crying and began talking to Greg. She told him “‘No, you don’t have to do this. Nothing can be bad enough for you to lower yourself to something so bad.” Even though the cash register was open and Greg could have taken the money and ran, he didn’t. His heart softened and he got down on his knees and prayed with Angela for ten minutes. The two even hugged. He left without taking the money.

Oprah had Greg, who is now in Marion County Jail in Indiana, and Angela, who was in the Harpo Studios with Oprah, on her show on Friday. What Greg Smith - From Oprah websiteunfolded there…and what had unfolded during the planned robbery…was a testimony to what can happen when people let go of fear and see the good in each other.

Out of work for a year, Greg said that he felt like “less than a man” because he couldn’t provide for his family. His driver’s license had been suspended so he lost his job, which required him to drive. Feeling like he had no options, he robbed someone the week before and has since apologized to the woman he robbed.

Something really changed in him when he tried to rob the store where Angela worked. Greg said:

Honestly, it was a feeling when she started talking to me, like I told her, no disrespect to my mother or anyone in my family, but noone has ever talked to me the way that she did. She talked to me like a mother would to her child or a grandmother would to her grandchild. She made me feel comfortable and something just made me open up to her. I don’t know what it was. And I felt honestly something that I had never felt before. Honestly, I don’t even think it was Miss Angela talking to me; I actually think it was the man upstairs talking to me through her.

Upon hearing that, Angela said she wanted to give him a big hug, she forgave him, and that she understood. She told him to take the punishment for what he’s done and “…don’t let the past stop you from being great in the future.” Greg teared up and said “I”m sorry, Miss Angela.” He said he never meant to hurt her. During the encounter in the store, he even gave her the bullet in his gun.

Angela was touched and said “See that is remorse. He has a good heart and good love. You know he has served in the service. You have give four years of your life to our country; we love that. Thank you.” Greg’s mouth was trembling; he too, was touched at the power of forgiveness and love from Angela.

Oprah also had Donna, Greg’s mother, and Sherrie, Greg’s long-time girlfriend and mother of their two-year-old daughter, on the show. Donna saw the video of Greg walking out of the store after the attempted armed robbery on the eleven p.m. news and urged him to turn himself in.

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Sherrie, Donna, Angela, and Oprah - Credit: Oprah.com

Donna knew Greg was depressed and was suicidal at one point because he had no work. Yesterday was Greg’s daughter’s birthday and he was distraught that he had no money to buy her a present.

Sherrie works, goes to school, and pays all the bills. She and Greg are both 23 years old and have been together since they were 15. She said she never thought he would do this and partially blamed herself, saying she felt she pushed him over the edge with nagging him to get work.

Donna told her son she loved him and said that she knew he has a big heart. She was sorry she was so wrapped up in her own problems that she didn’t help him. Greg told her he was not mad at her, didn’t blame her, and loved her. He apologized to Sherrie for putting her through this. Their daughter Mya was there…on her 2nd birthday…so precious. She saw Greg on the monitor and gleefully exclaimed “Daddy! Daddy!” Greg said:

I’ve always been a firm believer in God and Christ, but I’ve never walked that walk. I’ve felt like for the longest time I was in control of everything and everything was supposed to go my way. I feel like a lot of the things that I did have before the situation I’m in now I took for granted and I lost it.

Oprah wrapped up the story and told Greg:

We’re hoping the best will come to you really. You seem to have a good heart and you didn’t harm Angela in that circumstance and allowed yourself to have your heart open enough that you could put the gun down and walk away. I know Angela is grateful and we all are grateful too that it worked out this way.

Greg, Sherrie, Mya, Donna, and even Angela have all had their lives impacted because of the economy and the desperation that people can feel from being out of work and not having money. It doesn’t help that Greg is a young black man without a college education and without the creativity and resources to get the help he needs. He is in jail now and is charged with six felony counts and two misdemeanors. On October 22 a judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf; he does not have an attorney.

By letting go of fear, opening her heart, and seeing Greg as a human being who needed understanding rather than as a criminal, Angela forevermore changed her life, Greg’s life, and the lives of his mother, girlfriend, and daughter. Most likely, Angela’s love and forgiveness have impacted thousands or millions of others who have heard this story, which has been repeated on other shows in addition to Oprah’s. Angela and Greg are each testaments to us that love is a much more powerful force than fear and that what appears bad can be transformative for good in our lives.





Oak Ridge, TN: Developed the Atomic Bomb and Now Stopping Child Predators

19 10 2009

What was rolling farm land in east Tennessee, the city now known as Oak Ridge was quickly transformed by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1942 to become one of the four places that worked on the Manhattan Project and birthed the atomic bomb. Because of the plentiful and cheap hydroelectric power provided through the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Oak Ridge was the place where uranium was enriched. At one point, the Oak Ridge plants consumed one-sixth of the electricity in the entire United States…more than New York City.

World War II-era billboard at the Oak Ridge Facility, part of the Manhattan Project. (Photo: Life)

World War II-era billboard at the Oak Ridge Facility (Photo: Life)

What workers were doing in Oak Ridge was so secretive that not even the governor of the state knew it. The city was not on a map and was referred to as the Clinton Engineering Works.

Today three of the four major facilities used for wartime bomb production are still in use and owned by the Department of Energy. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is the DOE’s largest science and energy lab in the country. It is home to over 4,300 scientists and staff, 3,000 guest researchers annually, a $1.4 billion budget, two of the most advanced neutron scattering research facilities in the world, and the most powerful scientific supercomputer in the world.

They do research there in the fields of nanosciences, biological systems, energy, advanced materials, national security, chemical sciences, electron microscopy, nuclear medicine, and physics.

Detective Tom Evans of the Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (blue shirt) demonstrates child rescue technology to Tom Potok of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (standing) and PROTECT's David Keith

Detective Tom Evans of the Tennessee Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (blue shirt) demonstrates child rescue technology to Tom Potok of Oak Ridge National Laboratory (standing) and PROTECT's David Keith

According to the National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT), “the Oak Ridge research community may be taking on its grandest, and most important, challenge since the legendary World War II Manhattan Project.” Oak Ridge scientists, led by ORNL Applied Software Engineering Group Leader Dr. Tom Potok, and Y-12 (one of the remaining Oak Ridge facilities) National Security Complex’s Steve Payne, are partnering with the Knoxville Police Department, PROTECT, and PROTECT development director and actor David Keith to develop software to help track and prosecute child molesters and pedophiles who traffic in child pornography.

An example of how efficient and effective this software is? An estimated 10,000 Tennesseans traffic in child pornography. Manually sifting through just one of those 10,000 computers takes 40 hours of work. The software developed by Dr. Potok’s team does it in just one hour. Knoxville Police Department is in a pilot program with this software now; if the program is successful, it could become a national law enforcement standard per WBIR.com, a Knoxville news station site.

PROTECT Executive Director Grier Weeks says that the Protect Our Children Act of 2008 was a major step forward that the federal government made, but technology has not been forthcoming. He said:

There’s been a government-wide disconnect, where it is understood that cyber-security and economic crimes require serious resources, but it’s somehow assumed that volunteers and micro grants are enough to drive child rescue technology. Our hope is that when Washington sees the inspiration and passion for rescuing children coming out of one of America’s finest scientific research centers, a light will go on for many people. We can really do this, and this is the way.

I wrote a blog post about the need for technology to stop human trafficking on 6/5/09 entitled Can Retailers Teach Us How to Prevent Human Trafficking? As a member of PROTECT, I received an email on 8/14/09 about what is now being done with technology to stop predators and that’s how I heard about the ORNL project.

I am so impressed with the work that David Keith is doing. He is using his celebrity as an actor…in An Officer and a Gentleman, The Rose, The Great Santini, Firestarter, and many more movies…to bring awareness to sexual abuse and the trafficking of children, and to rescue children from the hands of sexual predators.

David Keith

David Keith

He speaks to groups to enlist help in his quest and tells them how there are 750,000 traffickers of child pornography in the U.S., child pornography is a multi-billion dollar global industry, 50% of the worldwide market for child porn comes from the U.S., 96% of cases of child sex abuse are committed by a member of the child’s family or a trusted acquaintance, and how child molesters assault 27 children on average.

PROTECT operates on only a $400,000 annual budget. So much more is needed. Consider joining PROTECT at http://www.protect.org and donating to help them do this very important work. Here is PROTECT’s mission from their website:

PROTECT is a national pro-child, anti-crime membership association. We are founded on the belief that our first and most sacred obligation as parents, citizens, and members of the human species is the protection of children from harm. We are committed to building a powerful, nonpartisan force for the protection of children from abuse, exploitation and neglect. We believe that this must be done through a determined single-issue focus, a meaningful mainstream agenda and the use of proven modern political strategies.

I have a personal connection with this story. David’s father is a neighbor of my mother and sings in the men’s chorus she accompanies and leads. I met David’s father at one of their chorus performances recently and he told me that he’s most proud of his son (even more than his acting) David for his work to stop child predators and rescue children in their throes. I am from east Tennessee and lived in Oak Ridge for five years and even wrote a weekly business column for a year for the local Oak Ridger newspaper.

To commemorate the 50th birthday of the city of Oak Ridge…the city that was created to develop the atomic bomb…dedicated on May 3, 1996 a Japanese bell (also called the International Friendship Bell) to exemplify theOak Ridge Peace Bell theme of the celebration of Oak Ridge’s birth: “born of war, living for peace, growing through science.” I was privileged to play piano for the chorus that sang at this prestigious dedication, which was attended by many dignitaries and also by representatives from Oak Ridge’s sister city Naka, Ibaraki, Japan. It was a moving experience.

Oak Ridge is a town that was quickly and secretly assembled to build the atomic bomb, which was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan on August 6, 1945 and on Hiroshima, Japan on August 9, 1945, facilitating the end of World War II. The very labs where such destructive power was created is now creating the means to rescue children from the destructive power of child predators and to stop them from ruining any more children’s lives. The peace bell is a fitting symbol…a place, people, facilities, technology, and tremendous brain power are now being used to create peace in the world and stop those who would use their own horrendous power against innocent children and devastate their lives and the lives of people who love them.





I Pray for Grace

13 10 2009

Do you know someone who thinks about God or religion or spirituality differently from you? How do you feel about that? Are you respectful toward their beliefs? Are they respectful toward yours?

Did you pray to Buddha? Someone asked me this today. I was sharing how I have been meditating and doing spiritual work to affirm and attract Praying - Purchased from iStockPhotoprosperity. I incorporate various precepts in my spiritual practice. I love the  Buddhist concepts of loving-kindness, that suffering ceases when we let go of our attachment to ideas, people, places, and things, and that we can increase our own peacefulness (thereby increasing the peacefulness in the world) by practicing mindfulness and allowing life to flow. For some reason, these precepts are threatening to my Christian friend and he often mocks me not so subtly as if to say “Do you think Buddha can hear you?”

Why do we do this? Isn’t there enough derision, separation, and I’m-better-than-you (and so is my religion) mentality in this world without mocking someone’s beliefs…and especially the beliefs of someone we’re close to? Each time I encounter this, I feel battered and feel a need to hunker down and redouble my meditation. I…and my brothers and sisters of the world…really need instead so much healing, understanding, acceptance, tolerance, love, kindness, and grace.

Here’s Michael Franti singing what I ask for right now. I pray for grace…for myself, for my friend, and for my brothers and sisters all over the world.

Thanks to Gerry Starnes for sending me the link to this wonderful video.





Does Barack Obama Deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?

9 10 2009

I was really excited to hear who the Norwegian Nobel Committee would choose today to win the Nobel Peace Prize. Would it be Three Cups of Tea author and Afghanistan and Pakistan builder of schools for girls Greg Mortenson (see my post on Greg here)? Or Dr. Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynecologist who has repaired the damage done to 21,000 gang raped women and given them hope? Both were incredibly deserving and could certainly put the $1.4 million prize money to good use helping women and girls.

President Obama at UN Security Council Mtg (Doug Mills, NY Times)

President Obama at UN Security Council Meeting in September 2009 (Doug Mills, NY Times)

I was as stunned as anyone to learn upon waking today that President Obama had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee received 205 nominations and created a short list of between 5 and 20 nominees. A group of academics who are permanent advisers to the Nobel Institute examined these candidates, gave their input, and the committee made the final decision. They had this to say about why they awarded President Obama the prize:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama’s vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.

Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama’s initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.

Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world’s attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world’s population.

For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world’s leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama’s appeal that “Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had this to say about President Obama’s win:

We are entering an era of renewed multilateralism, a new era where the challenges facing humankind demand global common cause and uncommon global effort. President Obama embodies the new spirit of dialogue and engagement on the world’s biggest problems: climate change, nuclear disarmament and a wide range of peace and security challenges.

There are many naysayers, though…mostly in the U.S….who ask what has he done to deserve this prestigious prize? After all, he’s only been president for 9 months. Go back even to the over two-year election period and you can see him already at work as a peacemaker. Some examples?

  • John McCain called him “that one” in an election debate and Obama turned the other cheek and did not react. He has been very gracious toward McCain and included him in many high-value decisions since he’s been president.
  • Hillary Clinton was snide and mocked Obama repeatedly during the election and Obama never responded in kind toward her. After her vitriol (and Bill’s) toward him, he had the grace to ask her to be his secretary of state.
  • Throughout all the Bill Ayers, Reverend Wright, and Acorn debaucles and Palin hate mongering rallies, Obama said repeatedly that he trusted the American people to see what was really important and not to get sidetracked or misled.

Not once did he let all of the ugliness directed at him cause him to act ugly in return. Many people saw him as weak and thought he surely would not win the election because he didn’t go on the attack, but the American people decided they wanted someone who was peaceful, positive, and projected a quiet calm.

Besides how he conducted himself during the campaign, President Obama, in just a few short months has already done a lot to promote peace. A few of his efforts include:

  • A commitment to nuclear disarmament even in the face of North Korea’s threats and launching missiles
  • Meeting with President Dmitri Medvedev to begin repairing relations with Russia
  • Meeting with President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan to improve relations between their countries
  • Giving a major speech aimed at the Muslim world in Cairo where he spoke of a fresh start and a new relationship based on mutual respect and understanding
  • Working to restart peace talks by meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine

Obama responding to Nobel Peace Prize win - Stephen Crowley - NYTimesPresident Obama’s spoke this morning about this honor; here are some of his remarks:

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

But I also know that throughout history the Nobel Peace Prize has not just been used to honor specific achievement; it’s also been used as a means to give momentum to a set of causes.

That is why I’ve said that I will accept this award as a call to action, a call for all nations and all peoples to confront the common challenges of the 21st century. These challenges won’t all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime. But I know these challenges can be met so long as it’s recognized that they will not be met by one person or one nation alone.

This award — and the call to action that comes with it — does not belong simply to me or my administration; it belongs to all people around the world who have fought for justice and for peace. And most of all, it belongs to you, the men and women of America, who have dared to hope and have worked so hard to make our world a little better.

President Obama will go to Oslo, Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize on December 10. He has announced that he will donate the prize money to charity.

Kenyan Wangari Maathai, the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, said:

Many people are waiting for miracles, when miracles have already happened. The getting of the senator into the Senate, the way he conducted his campaign, the way he won… In America it may not look as big a thing as it was to the rest of the world, the hope and the aspiration it provides for the rest of the world.

Think back to election night and inauguration day. Barack Obama…even before he became president…lifted not only the American people, but people all over the world. He gave them hope, he made them believe again in decency, respectfulness, dignity, honor, honesty, openness, civility, inclusiveness, and the power of trusting and communicating with people all over the world. To me, these are the hallmarks of what creating peace is all about.

Alfred Nobel stated in his will that he wanted the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded to…

the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.

Does Barack Obama deserve the Nobel Peace Prize? For me…and the committee upholding Alfred Nobel’s wishes…the answer is YES, he does. I cannot think of a single other person who is more the active embodiment of what Alfred Nobel sought in a peacemaker worthy of this award. Congratulations, President Obama and thank you for your example and your peaceful tone as a man and as our president.

Here’s Geir Lundestad, Secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, speaking to senior editor Simon Frantz about why President Obama was chosen for this high honor.





Don’t Stop Believin’ – Formerly Homeless Journey Lead Singer and Harvard Student

5 10 2009

The early 80s Journey song “Don’t Stop Believin” was sung on the Oprah show today by their amazing new lead singer (and formerly homeless person in the Phillippines) Arnel Pineda, who was discovered by one of the band members in a video Arnel posted on YouTube. Arnel, who had to fend for himself on the streets after his encouraging mother died when he was 13, is a testament to the power of those words, now living a life he says is way bigger than he could ever have imagined.

The song provided a perfect setup for the story of Khadijah, an African-American young woman who was homeless from the time she was six and slept with her mother and sister in bus stations, on the streets, and in many Khadijah - Homeless to Harvard (Oprah website)shelters. She attended 12 schools in 12 years and was encouraged by her mother to better her life through education. She took this advice to heart, studying hard, and spending a lot of time in the Los Angeles Public Library reading every book she could.

When Khadijah was in the 10th grade, she was determined to finish out her schooling at Jefferson High School, and got up at 4:30 a.m. every day to make the two-hour trip from Skid Row in Los Angeles to school. In May she graduated with honors and is now a freshman at Harvard University. Here’s part of the essay she wrote as part of her admission process. You can read the entire essay at Oprah.com:

Being homeless has given me the skills I need to succeed on the pathway towards my higher education pursuits and life-long goals. My experiences have made me a dedicated student both inside and outside of the classroom. I do not let anything stop me from achieving my goals. Hearing such negativity where I have lived has enabled me to focus on my goals and remain optimistic, even when faced with grave adversity. Having to depend on myself for food has enabled me to take charge of my education. I have learned to be resourceful and diligent and I am confident in saying that I am a very self-motivated and determined individual that will stop at nothing to receive an education. When I go to college, I know that this acquired knowledge and skills will enable me to succeed in whatever I do.

Oprah was so moved by Khadijah’s story that she invited Khadijah to accompany her the next time she visits the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa and tell her inspiring story to the girls there.

Arnel and Khadijah…two formerly homeless people with little to hope for. They both had mothers who believed in them and encouraged them, they both believed in themselves, and they both were willing to work hard to achieve their dreams.

No matter what your situation, no matter how hard or hopeless it may be, don’t stop believing. You never know what miracle is waiting for you!

Here’s Arnel and Journey…





Using the Lost 2016 Olympics Bid to Sow Hatred in America

3 10 2009

Ha ha ha! We didn’t get the bid for the 2016 Olympics. What a loser that President Obama is. That’s what we’re hearing from many conservatives today. Here are some actual statements made today with derisive gleefulness:

  • Rush Limbaugh – “Our president, Barack Hussein Obama, has been running around the world for nine months telling everybody how much our country sucks…. Why would anybody award the Olympics to such a crappy place?…Obama demeaned the office of the presidency, going on this sales pitch….He doesn’t understand how delighted the world is to make him look foolish in order to take a swipe at our country. We’ve got a two-year-old manchild with a Mars-sized ego, which today crashed and burned.”
  • The Drudge Report – “THE EGO HAS LANDED. WORLD REJECTS OBAMA: CHICAGO OUT IN FIRST ROUND”
  • The National Review Online – “Wow, what an embarrassment for Obama. If he can’t work his personal magic with the Olympians, why does he expect it to work with the Iranians?”
  • Michelle Malkin – “Goodbye, ‘Yes We Can.’ Hello, ‘No, You Can’t.’ Like Icarus, President Obama’s giddy ego flight has ended with melted wax and fallen wings.”

This is downright disturbing to see Americans gloating because the U.S. lost the bid for the 2016 Olympics and laughing out loud at President Obama because of it. Lately there have been a lot of outrageous, mean-spirited, derogatory, and frankly anti-American statements made that indicate the speakers of those words hope our country and President Obama fail; Limbaugh even outright said so.

If you are one of the people laughing at our president and hoping our country fails, do you call yourself religious? Do you claim moral authority? Are you a member of the party whose election campaign motto was “Country First”?  If so, I ask where is your decency, your Christ-like spirit, and your caring for and loving fellow Americans including BLACK ones like our president? When you ask the question What would Jesus do? do you seriously think he would behave this way?

Instead of gleeful derision, why not celebrate with Rio de Janeiro on their win today? Why not be grateful for a president who made a huge personal effort and sees this as an opportunity to reestablish relations with people all over the world after they were so damaged by the previous president? Why not be thankful to all the people who spent countless hours putting together the bid for Chicago to host the Olympics? Wouldn’t all that be more Christian, more decent, more American?

I’m really tired of certain factions…incited and egged on by certain media personalities…doing everything they can to tear down our country. Consider the source of your information….it is from opportunists who don’t care about our country and the people in it. These opportunists make a lot of money being outrageous and hateful. They worship the almighty dollar.

Instead of what we saw today, I’d like to see glee being shown when people extend kindness, lift each other up, care for one another, and contribute to the good in the world. 13th century Persian poet Rumi says it so well:

Tender words we spoke to one another are sealed in the secret vaults of heaven. One day like rain, they will fall to earth and grow green all over the world.

What words are you saying? Are they kind? Encouraging? Caring? Loving? Will they fall to the earth and grow green all over the world or scorch the earth with dissension and hatred?

UPDATE 10/5/09: Paul Krugman has an excellent New York Times Op-Ed on this entitled “The Politics of Spite,” which was published 10/4.





Roman Polanski: Brilliant Director and PEDOPHILE

2 10 2009

In 1977, 44-year-old Roman Polanski drugged and vaginally and anally raped 13-year-old Samantha Geimer even while she repeatedly pleaded with him to stop. He fled the country in 1978 before his sentencing and has never returned to the U.S., not even when he won the Academy Award for Best Director for his movie The Pianist in 2002.

Besides that amazing movie, he has directed other noted movies such as Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown. Polanski hasn’t just led a charmed life, though; he has experienced tragedy in his life. He escaped the Krakow ghetto in 1943 at age 10. His mother was executed in a concentration camp. His 8 1/2-month pregnant wife, the beautiful actress Sharon Tate, was murdered in 1969 by followers of Charles Manson.

But all of that doesn’t excuse a man…any man…of raping a child. Polanski was arrested on 9/26/09 at the Zurich, Switzerland airport; he was to accept a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Zurich Film Festival. Lots of famous Hollywood types (many directors themselves) like Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, Michael Mann, and Whoopi Goldberg (who had the audacity to say “It wasn’t rape rape”) are DEFENDING Roman Polanski and THEY are acting outraged that he is being detained in a Swiss jail.

The man is a pedophile. Around two years before he raped Geimer, he had a “romantic relationship” (that’s how it’s reported on Wikipedia…folks, he’s a PEDOPHILE) with 15-year-old actress Nastassja Kinski.

This reminds me of the case of R&B singer R. Kelly. He’s probably most known for the song “I Think I Can Fly” and has a beautiful voice, but R. Kelly is also a pedophile. He has escaped being sent to jail several times even though he’s been found in possession of child pornography including a tape he made of him “having sex” with an underage girl. He also married his protege, the 15-year-old singer Aaliyah (who had to lie about her age to get married)…who he had worked with since she was 12 years old… in 1994.

The response in these two cases is outrageous. In both cases people have closed ranks and supported the guy who was one of them. The Hollywood types are supporting Polanski and African-Americans supported R. Kelly. I checked a forum where African-Americans post and the people speaking out on Polanski almost uniformly believe he should go to jail. People on that same forum stood up for R. Kelly (and also the batterer hip-hop singer Chris Brown) and thought he was being racially targeted when he was being tried for being a pedophile.

When will we stop defending child molesters? I don’t care if you’re rich or poor, famous or not famous, black or white, from the U.S. or from Saudi Arabia, Christian or Muslim, it is NEVER OKAY to molest children. And I am sick of the press saying that an adult “had sex with” a child or that it was “consensual.” It is NEVER consensual and it is not “having sex” when a child is involved. It is RAPE. Children are never responsible and they cannot freely consent to sex with an adult. It is always about adults using their power (and in the Polanski case also drugs) over children.

Bottom line? No matter how wonderful Roman Polanski’s movies have been, he is a fugitive from the law and a child rapist. He belongs in prison. PERIOD.





Congratulations to the New Graduates…in Prison

28 09 2009

A letter to the women in the Lockhart, Texas prison who just graduated from the Truth be Told program

You had no choice but to wear matching dull blue v-neck formless pullover tops and pants, white t-shirts, and tennis shoes. I had the freedom to choose to wear a peridot-green peasant blouse, black capri pants, and close-toed (a requirement) black heels. I wore jewelry. You did not. I freely came in from the outside, handed over my driver’s license, and was escorted into the gymnasium with 17 other women and 2 men who chose (and were pre-screened) to attend your graduation. You, too, were escorted there, but after graduation, you stayed in the prison. I went home.

Despite our marked differences in freedom, we came together to celebrate your graduation from the Truth Be Told program. I recognized the 10 of you in the Talk to Me Speaking Class from when I had the privilege of evaluating five of your this-is-my-life speeches. Many of you ran to me, hugged me, and said how happy you were that I was there. I felt real joy in seeing you and delight in sitting between two of you. Three of you spoke and my heart filled with pride that you so openly and skillfully shared the story of what came before that led to you being in prison.

Three of the nine women from the Talk to Me Circle Class also spoke and shared your stories and three women from the Talk to Me Movement Class delighted us with your expressiveness and impressive moves in the Michael Jackson “Beat It” number. Charlotte leaned over and told me it was the first time she’d heard music (from a loud speaker) in three years.

Walking through History - Purchased from iStockPhotoYou told us stories of being sexually abused as a child, a mother who allowed such abuse toward you and even toward your children, a father who beat your mother, using drugs to dim emotional pain, being forced to sell drugs or to prostitute yourself to support your children, being beaten by men who you thought loved you, never feeling loved, joining a gang to find a sense of belonging, having to give up children, being in and out of prison, and more.

Your stories touched everyone who attended. We gathered afterward to name our feelings: grateful, joyful, amazed at your courage and honesty, a sense of sisterhood with you, pride, recognition and acknowledgment of your pain and what you’ve been through, and honored to have had the opportunity to bear witness to your stories.

The Truth be Told volunteers who facilitate the classes are amazing: Peggy Lamb, Julie Wylie, Natalie Weinstein, Katie Ford, Mary Gifford, and co-founders Carol Waid and Nathalie Sorrell. You are fortunate to have women who are so passionate, so talented, so intelligent, so giving, and so caring guide you in walking your life toward making healthy choices and feeling hopeful for a better tomorrow.

As amazing as your facilitators are, I wonder if you ladies in the Truth be Told program realize how much you give to those who work with you. We feel your humanness, that you are our sisters, and that but for different life choices and circumstances, the roles could be reversed…we could be in prison and you could be on the outside. We see your courage, your vulnerability, your willingness to be open and honest, your admission of bad choices, and your desire to turn your lives around. We admire you, we are Truth Be Told Logoin awe of you, we are touched by you, and we take you with us as we leave.

The experience of being in prison with you and hearing your stories lasts long after we leave the facility.  We share our experience with those we care about and they share it with still others. Something changes in us. We develop an even deeper understanding that we are all one and must do what we can to lift each other up.

Thank you, dear Truth be Told graduates. Take in all the applause we gave you at the graduation and continue to give you every time we think of you. You are changing your lives…and ours…for the better. And that’s the truth.

Become a fan of Truth be Told on Facebook.





AARP Wants All You Cool Hip Peeps (and You Don’t Have to Be 50)

23 09 2009

At the cool, hip age of 50, no one thinks they are old enough to be invited to be part of an organization that was formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons. But it is a rite of passage…AARP finds you, offers you some cool benefits, articles, and information and for a few measly bucks, you cast your pride aside and join. Now AARP is doing soEthel Percy Andrus - AARP Foundermething else really cool.

Their new venture is inspired by AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus (1884-1967). The first woman high school principal in California, Dr. Andrus founded the National Retired Teachers Association in 1947 and AARP in 1958. Her motto, which is still the motto of AARP, is “To serve, not to be served.” Her life of service inspires the new Create the Good program:

Her belief in collective voice and action is at the heart of Create The Good. She believed that anyone, anywhere, anytime could make a difference.

When you visit www.CreateTheGood.org, you can:

  1. Find Good Things to Do by entering in your zipcode
  2. Use DIY (Do-It-Yourself) toolkits or your own ideas to do something good
  3. Post an Opportunity to do good

Some examples of the 629 opportunities in Austin are:

  • Be a tax-aide volunteer
  • Offer clerical assistance to a hospice
  • Help out with programs to empower girls in math, science, engineering, and technology
  • Help clean up a park

Check it out! You can be a part of the AARP program and contribute to creating good where you live…even if you’re way too young in years (or at heart) to join AARP!





NBA Star Tracy McGrady Creates a Darfur Dream Team

7 09 2009
Tracy McGrady Houston Mansion

Tracy McGrady's Houston Mansion

30-year-old NBA Houston Rockets star Tracy McGrady, who makes an estimated $21.1 million a year, is an unlikely advocate for refugees in Darfur. He could just live a cushy life in his 35,000 square foot mansion with his four children and wife. Instead, he heard about the plight of Chad and Sudan refugees in Darfur, wanted to see for himself, thought that surely there was something he could do, and traveled there with John Prendergast and Omer Ismail from the Enough project, which bills itself as “the project to end genocide and crimes against humanity.”

Tracy grew up in a rough neighborhood in Auburndale, Florida where he witnessed shooting, robbing, and dealing drugs. He said that when he got aTracy McGrady - Credit NBA website well-paying job, he wanted to have nice things, but said that “…those things don’t really mean anything to me anymore.” Before he went to Darfur, in the western region of Sudan and bordering Chad, in the summer of 2007, he said he had no idea what genocide was and was nervous about what he would see…and he saw a lot.

His trip resulted in the documentary 3 Points, which has just been released and can be seen on Hulu. Tracy is so passionate about the film and his work that he has changed his jersey number to 3 to remind people of the three goals for the Darfuris: peace, protection, and punishment (of those who have harmed them).

Tracy goes there with a big heart and a lot to learn. He…like most of us…has no idea what the life of the refugees…all 2.2 million of them…is like…that the women are being raped, the men are being killed, and their villages have been burned down. He sees children running and wants to build them a soccer field (which would cost just $1,000) and an indoor swimming pool (which would be considered extravagant), but learns that these children have more basic needs such as clean water, food, safety, and schools and supplies. There are no secondary schools (high schools). The people tell them that they have nothing…NOTHING.

He sleeps in a tent for the first time and displays a lot of naivete, but a willingness to learn about the Darfuris. He learns that children and families walked 200 miles to be in the camps, that the women choose to go out to get firewood because they will only be raped; if their husbands go out, they will be killed. Refugees are bombed by planes that look like United Nations planes, are surrounded by land mines, and eat once a day if they are lucky. People are attacked, killed execution-style, and even buried alive by Sudan’s military and Janjaweed, the government-backed militia. Children watch their parents being killed and are instantly orphaned and traumatized. Even small babies being carried on their mothers’ backs are shot.

Tracy asks questions that reveal a lot about the refugees:

  • “Who is protecting you?” No one
  • “What did you [young children] do when your village was attacked?” We ran, hid in the bush for a month, and walked for 10 days to get to a refugee camp.
  • “What do you want to be when you grow up?” 3 boys: I want to be a teacher. A girl:” I want to run my country.
  • “What kind of help do you need?” We have nothing. Everything was burned.

These are brave people, courageous people, strong people, survivors. They have seen unspeakable atrocities and injustice…the worst from their own government. Tracy reflects…

Tracy McGrady with Darfuri Children - Credit Darfur Dream Team

Just imagine that this could be us. What if the roles were reversed? What if the dice were rolled another way? This is not a joke…it’s not a game…this is real. This is our people we’re talking about. I guess that I am beginning to feel that I was put on this earth to really like help people. There’s more to me than just playing basketball, doing Adidas commercials. This is who I am and who I’m going to be. This is the beginning stages that we’re in. There’s definitely a lot more that needs to be done.

After returning from Darfur, Tracy visited with the State Department with his teammate Dikembe Mutombo and got input about how he can make a difference in Darfur. He recruited several other NBA stars to help in this effort as well as other non-profit organizations. He started a Darfur Dream Team Sister School program, which connects middle schools, high schools, and universities with students in the refugee camps of Darfur.

Tracy also visited his alma mater high school in that rough neighborhood of Auburndale, Florida with his Enough project allies who told the students that by being passive and nothing, they help evil triumph. Omer Ismail, the human rights activist from Darfur who joined Tracy on his travels there, said this to the students:

One day somebody is going to look you in the eyes and ask you “When Darfur was declared genocide, what have you done? I want you to look them in the eyes and say “I knew about it then and I’m proud to tell you that I’ve done something about it.”

Here’s a trailer about the 3 Points movie. Watch it. It will touch you. If it moves you, consider donating to the Darfur Dream Team’s Sister School program. Refugees in Darfur need all the heroes…like Tracy McGrady and you and me…they can get to help lift them up and into a better life.





Truth Be Told by Women in a Texas Prison

5 09 2009

I went to prison on Thursday. Through a friendship with co-founder Nathalie Sorrell, I  had the opportunity to participate in the non-profit Truth Be Told program at the Lockhart, Texas prison. The mission of Truth Be Told is to provide:

…transformational tools for women behind and beyond bars. [Their] programs provide respectful listening and creative tools for personal and spiritual growth for incarcerated women. [They] encourage in them a deeper sense of personal responsibility and help them face the truth of their pasts and embrace the hope of their futures.

The program I attended is modeled on Toastmasters, which I attended for 13 years. In this group were ten women, whose ages ranged from around 22 to 59 and whose crimes ranged from drug dealing to violent crimes. I served as the evaluator for the speeches of five women, who told the stories of their lives and what led them to prison.

PrisonAs I listened, I was struck by how these women could have been any of us…and how any of them could have been living lives of freedom if they had been blessed with emotionally healthier parents, gotten a good education, had not been so desperate for love from the wrong men, and had made better choices. Each woman gave me permission to tell her story…they want others to understand the consequences of bad choices. I promised to change their names. Here goes.

DulcineaHispanic, 35 years old, a beautiful, easy smile, corn rows on top of her head and remaining hair upswept in a bun – Dulcinea’s father beat her mother. Dulcinea had an abortion at age 18, gave birth to two children by age 28, and her father was killed by a drunk driver when she was 28. That crushed her and she began doing cocaine. From ages 29 to 35 she did prostitution and was in and out of prison. She has now discovered that God is the real “man” she needed and that he has rescued her.

CarolBlack, daughter of a Marine father and Filipino mother, 35 years old, trim, shoulder-length straight hair, serene countenance – Carol’s parents divorced when she was five years old. From ages 7 – 13 she was sexually abused by her stepfather and felt hatred toward him, her mother, and herself. Her mother, who was on drugs, blamed her and left her to take care of herself and her little sisters. At age 14, she met an older man, believed she loved him, and sold drugs for him. She was put in prison for the first time at age 17, which led to two “good things”…getting her GED (Graduate Equivalency Degree) and “giving [her] life to the Lord.” After getting out, she became pregnant by a new man, he left her, and she sold drugs again to support herself and her child. She had two daughters by a third man who sold drugs and went to prison. She took her children to her mom’s, lived on the streets, sold drugs, and met another man who she hated. She had multiple suicide attempts, he kidnapped her and raped her repeatedly, she became pregnant with her fourth child, and was sent to prison again…this time for eight years. She was released from prison in 2007, tried dating women, and was still hurt. She had her fifth child by yet another man. She wrote a bad check and wound up back in prison.

CarlottaBlack, 33 years old, curly hair, full-figured, friendly face – When she was seven years old, Carlotta’s mother ran away, her father was incarcerated, and Carlotta was sent to live with her grandmother, who was very religious and strict. Carlotta felt bitter. Looking for love, she became pregnant by a 14-year-old and went to a special school for teen mothers. Despite the separation, when her mother died when she was just 17 and her father when she was 20, she wanted to die too. She lived a life then of sexing, stealing, and clubbing. At age 23, a high-speed chase led to her arrest for shoplifting; she went to prison for a few months and received 10 years probation. She reconnected with a childhood friend, became pregnant, and suffered postpartum depression. While still on probation, she went on the run for 15 months, was caught, and was put back in prison in 2005. Now she is taking back her life.

Rosemaria Hispanic, around 23 years old, innocent looking, smiling – Rosemaria’s mother left her and her siblings in an orphanage when she was just seven years old, which led her to feel rage and hatred. At age 13 she became part of a gang. At age 15 she became pregnant, had three children by age 18, and four by age 21. She said that while in the gang, she didn’t “…feel bad about fighting. We didn’t hurt children or anyone who was innocent.  But now I see that we were hurting innocent children when we hurt their mothers, fathers, uncles….” She said that being in prison is the “biggest test of [her] life” and she now understands that what she did was wrong. She says she is still a “G“…this time God’s child.

NancyWhite, 59 years old, graying hair messily swept back in a bun, peering over granny glasses, thin – Nancy stated out right that she was not like the others. She said that both of her parents were lawyers and Ph.D.s and her mother told her over and over that she was a “loved baby.” She said that she led a charmed life until she came to prison, but didn’t know it. Her parents were in Europe, but her mother “waited to have her” until they came back to the U.S. so that Nancy could possibly be president one day. She watched prison movies and read a lot from the Bible and was determined she would never go to prison and would be the best Christian she could be. Although she says she took extraordinary measures to insure that she was indeed the owner of a house that was deeded to her, she says that her lawyer was crooked and she wound up in prison. Nancy was apparently imprisoned for real estate fraud, but even when challenged about the veracity of her story and what her part was that led to her being imprisoned, still said she is innocent and will one day see her story made into a Lifetime network movie.

Each woman in the group gave me hugs and thanked me for coming. I felt a Truth Be Told Logoreal sense of joy of being with these women who…though they have made real mistakes …are now trying to better their lives. Truth Be Told has several programs that help women build a sense of community, come to grips with the decisions they made that led them to prison, and learn to better communicate with each other respectfully and caringly.

I felt joyful from start to finish the day I went to prison. Through the efforts of volunteers like Nathalie Sorrell (co-founder), Carol Waid (co-founder), Katie, Peggy, Natalie, Suzanne, Julie, Mary, and executive director Shannon Holtzendorf, programs like Truth Be Told begin to bring some joy into the lives of women who have led hard lives and experienced little joy before coming to prison.

I’m going back to prison for their graduation in three weeks. Truth be told? I can’t wait.

Read my blog post about going to the Truth be Told graduation in the Lockhart prison

Become a fan of Truth be Told on Facebook.





Empowering Women to Hold Up Half the Sky

28 08 2009

Her family in need of money, at age 14, Abbas Be left her home in Hyderabad, India and went to New Delhi to become a maid…or so she thought. Instead, she was locked up in a brothel, beaten, gang raped, made to service customers sexually, made to watch girls who didn’t comply be murdered, and was never paid for her work. Eventually she was rescued by police and taken back to Hyderabad, where she found a home in a shelter that helps trafficked girls heal and learn skills for a new life. Abbas is getting an education, has learned bookbinding, is counseling girls on how to avoid being trafficked, and is earning enough money to help her sisters get an education and help them avoid being trafficked.

How can we improve the plight of women and girls globally? One very important way is through education, as is demonstrated in this story and many others in the upcoming book Half the Sky BookHalf the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, which will be released on 9/8/09. The book is written by the husband and wife team of New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and journalist and author Sheryl WuDunn, who have both won Pulitzer Prizes for their reporting. They wrote an essay called “The Women’s Crusade,” which is adapted from the book and appeared on 8/17/09 in the New York Times. Here are some of the things they report:

  • In 1990, while living and reporting in China, they read an obscure report that stated that 39,000 baby girls die in the first year of life annually in China because parents don’t get girls the same medical care they do boys.
  • A bride is burned once every two hours in India because the dowry isn’t high enough or the husband wants to get rid of her to marry someone else.
  • Anywhere from 60 to 107 million females are missing from the planet due primarily to not getting adequate nutrition and health care. This number is more than all the men who were killed in all the wars in the 20th century.
  • The poorest families in the world spend approximately 20% of their incomes on alcohol, prostitution, candy, sugary drinks, and lavish feasts and only about 2% of their income on educating their children. Studies show that when women are able to have an income, it is more often spent on good food, medicine, and housing and children are healthier.
  • In some cases, fathers drink away $5 a week at bars…$5 that could purchase a mosquito net and save a child from dying of malaria.

Sometimes even the simplest things can make a huge difference in the lives of girls. Examples mentioned in the article are:

  • A study done in Kenya by Harvard economist Michael Kremer showed that the best way to motivate sixth grade girls to better academic performance is to offer them a $19 scholarship for seventh and eighth grade and recognition at an assembly.
  • In another Kenyan study, it was shown that dropout and pregnancy rates can be significantly reduced by providing a $6 school uniform to girls every 18 months.
  • Another way to keep girls from missing classes is to aid girls in menstruation by providing pads and a place to change them.
Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn

President Obama has appointed a new White House Council on Women and Girls. Nicholas and Sheryl have three concrete recommendations for the Council, which would cost no more than the U.S. has given to Pakistan since 9/11:

  • Set aside $10 billion over the next five years to educate girls all over the world.  When Larry Summers was chief economist of the World Bank, he said that “Investment in girls’ education may well be the highest-return investment available in the developing world.”
  • Sponsor a drive to help countries all over the world iodize salt and eliminate iodine deficiency. Approximately a third of households in developing countries don’t get enough iodine and it can affect particularly female fetuses and reduce girls’ IQs 10 to 15 points.
  • Provide $1.6 billion over the next 12 years to eradicate obstetric fistulas. A fistula is a hole formed inside a woman during a difficult childbirth and it can leave her smelly, incontinent, and shunned by her village. It only costs a few hundred dollars to repair.

There is a Chinese saying that inspired the title of the Kristof/WuDunn book:

Women hold up half the sky.

Sometimes women just need a little help. If you’d like to make a difference in the lives of women and children all over the world, here are just a few of the many organizations that would appreciate even a small donation:





The Biology of Belief: Moving Beyond the Survival of the Fittest

23 08 2009

The human body has over 50 trillion cells. The world population today is 6.8 billion. Our bodies have more than seven thousand times as many cells as there are people in the whole world! What can science teach us about how to survive, thrive, and co-exist and what spiritual implications can be found?

Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published November 24, 1859 and is considered the basis for the evolution theory of biology. His idea was that populations evolve over time through a process of natural selection or what has been dubbed “the survival of the fittest.” German political philosopher and co-creator of the theory of communism Friedrich Engels said in 1872 that:

Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest historical achievement, is the normal state of the animal kingdom.

Dr. Bruce H. Lipton, trained as a cell biologist and now bridging science and spirit, talks… in his thought-provoking and ground-breaking book The Biology of Belief …of two new biomedical research fields:

  1. Signal transduction science, which “…recognizes that the fate and behavior of an organism is directly linked to its perception of the environment. In simple terms, the character of our life is based upon how we perceive it.”
  2. Epigenetics, which “…is the science of how environmental signals select, modify, and regulate gene activity. This new awareness reveals that our genes are constantly being remodeled in response to life experiences.”

Dr. Lipton has demonstrated in his own research that the nucleus (where DNA is) of a cell can be removed and the cell can still function for a time…until it needs to repair itself…and then it breaks down and dies. He theorizes that the real “brain” of the cell is in the membrane, which interacts with the environment (this is the signal transduction mentioned above). He concludes that “the cell’s operations are primarily molded by its interaction with the environment, not its genetic code.”

Gaia: The World by Lisa Hunt

Gaia: The World by Lisa Hunt

Based on this New Biology, Dr. Lipton suggests that we need to move beyond Darwinian theory…which focuses on the importance of individuals (or an individual cell’s DNA)…to one that stresses the importance of the community (or the connection and reference of the individual cell to its environment).

He talks of the Gaia Hypothesis, which was developed by independent research scientist Richard Lovelock in the 1960s as a result of his NASA work on methods to detect life on Mars. Lovelock postulated in his 1979 book (which was updated in 2000 with several additional sequels including one which came out in 2009) Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth that the earth and all its species constitute one interactive, living organism…a superorganism.

The implications of that are huge. As Dr. Lipton points out, the Newtonian version of the universe is linear. A -> B -> C -> D etc. This is the system that western doctors follow…that we have a universe that is just made up of ordered matter and they must prescribe a pill to act on that matter. Prescription drugs are used at one of these points to try and intercept and repair the defective element in our system.

The quantum universe…or Gaia…vision of the world is holistic, interconnected, and energetic. In the above example, a prescription drug used to treat point B not only treats that element, but also interacts with other elements in our body…thus, we get side effects. Eastern doctors, on the other hand, treat patients with a holistic view, recognizing that the universe…and the human body…is made up of energy. Acupuncture, for example, influences health by stimulating vital Globe in hands smallerenergy that may be blocked in the body.

Dr. Lipton says that an organism…and by implication the larger superorganism of our whole world…has two survival mechanisms: growth and protection. The organism can’t do both at the same time. If it uses all its energy in a fight-or-flight response, growth is inhibited.

Growth requires an open exchange between the organism and its environment; protection requires that the organism close down and wall itself off.  War, violence, depletion of environmental resources, close-mindedness, ideological control (by religions and governments), prejudice, illness, depression, and fear are all examples of what happens to individuals and larger organisms (like countries) that go into protective mode and close down.

What’s the take away from Dr. Lipton of this New Biology? That we must change our competitive, dog-eat-dog, one-up-manship, survival of the fittest paradigm to one that supports everyone and everything on this planet…a paradigm of interconnection, openness, growth, and survival of the most loving.

Thanks to Dr. Wayne Dyer for referring me and many others to this truly elucidating and ground-breaking book.





Muslim Model to be Caned for Drinking a Beer

21 08 2009

For the Muslim crime of drinking a beer, 32-year-old  Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, who lives in Singapore with her husband, has been sentenced to pay a fine worth $1,400 and to six lashes by a rattan cane. The sentence for a Muslim being caught in public drinking can be as strict as a three-year prison term and caning, but typically offenders are only fined. Here’s a short article being published 8/22/09 from The Independent about this:

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno with children Muhammad and Kaitlynn - Source: The Independent

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno with children Muhammad and Kaitlynn - Source: The Independent

‘If you’re going to cane me, then do it in public’

Model’s stand after conviction for drinking alcohol exposes brutality of Malaysian law

by Andrew Buncombe, Asia editor

She says it was only the second time she had drunk alcohol in her life, and even then it was just a few of glasses of beer. But it was enough for a Muslim court in Malaysia to order Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a part-time model and mother-of-two, to be caned. The corporal punishment case has divided the Asian nation and led human rights campaigners to urge the authorities to show restraint.

Now, in her first interview, Ms Kartika has urged the authorities to carry out the punishment in public. “I never cried when I was sentenced by the judge,” she told Reuters at her father’s house in a village 200 miles north of Kuala Lumpur. “I told myself, all right then, let’s get on with it.”

Ms Kartika, who would be the first woman to be caned in the Muslim-majority country, is actually a citizen of neighbouring Singapore, and does not even live in Malaysia. But last year she was caught drinking at a hotel in Kuantan in the eastern Malaysian state of Pahang during a police raid. Under Malaysian law, while it is legal for non-Muslims to drink alcohol, Muslims – even foreigners – may not. [end of article]

I’ve been to Singapore, where this woman is from, and it is strict about a lot of things, but I easily saw women drinking in bars. I don’t know if they were Muslim or not. This incident took place in neighboring Malaysia, but still…I wonder how one of these raids takes place. Do the authorities walk in and demand proof whether you are Muslim or not? And how does one prove that?

I lived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia years ago and drinking was forbidden beerdue to the strict enforcement of Muslim Sharia law. There were no bars to go to and drink, but people still drank alcohol in their homes. Most expats (people from other countries working and living there) made their own wine and beer. Name-brand liquor was smuggled in the country and could be purchased.

As soon as an airplane lifted off and was no longer on Saudi Arabian soil, Saudis ordered and drank alcohol. While I’m sure there are many Muslims who follow the law and do not drink, there are many…like Mormons who also are required to not drink alcohol or religious zealots who are required by their faith to follow other strict codes…who often do what they want when they think no one who could judge them is watching or they are in a place where no could judge (and prosecute) them.

This was a simple case of a young woman sitting in a bar having a beer. If she was non-Muslim no one would care. If the religious police hadn’t shown up, no one would care. But this woman got caught. I can’t imagine a Mormon in our country being sentenced to pay such a hefty fine and being lashed even though their beliefs strictly forbid alcohol also.

The difference is that in our country…at least in theory and in most places…church and state are separate. This is a cautionary tale, though, that we must never allow religious zealots to take over the leadership of our country (as they are training people to do) or else we, too, might see religious “laws” and our judicial system laws become one and the same.

UPDATE: Kartika was on her way to a prison for the caning today, but was taken back home after she received a Ramadan (which began on 8/22) reprieve. The caning will still take place, but after Ramadan (the Islamic holy month) is over.

UPDATE 9/28/09: A judge in Malaysia has upheld the caning sentence and it will still be carried out.

UPDATE 4/1/10: One day before she was to surrender to authorities for the caning, Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang state overturned the Islamic court ruling and commuted Kartika’s sentence to three weeks of community service at a children’s home.





Through the Eyes of My Daughter’s Newborn Child

18 08 2009
Circles of Blessing by Ishara de Garis

Circles of Blessing by Ishara de Garis

Awe. Delight. Ecstasy. Contentment. Pride. Gratitude. Joy. These are feelings I have at becoming a grandmother for the very first time and seeing my daughter Valerie become a mother to Sebastian, who entered the world at 1:29 a.m. PDT today.

I remember how awestruck I was to hold Valerie (and my first-born, her sister Julie) in my arms after giving birth. You can see a thousand tomorrows in the eyes of a newborn, but they remind you with their urgent cries for food and love that this moment is all that matters. A new baby doesn’t understand the concept of “Wait until I finish watching this TV show” or “I’m not feeling well so maybe some other time.” A baby knows now…and now…and now and calls to us to be present so we won’t miss the precious moments that so quickly pass.

A new baby is open…to love, to encouragement, to learning, to being. As a parent, you have the privilege and responsibility to influence who this child becomes. A new baby is trusting…that you’ll take care of him, keep him safe, meet his needs, teach him, and nurture him. You have the opportunity with a new baby to share with him the good in your life and the hope to shield him from the challenging.

One has a sense of wonder looking into the heart and soul of a newborn baby, who has no sense of prejudice, hatred, resentment, or ego. That baby is pure and innocent…the embodiment of all that is good and true in the world.

Sebastian's First Photo

Sebastian's First Photo

One considers all the hopes and dreams you have for a child who extends your physical time on this earth by literally carrying part of you in him. You wonder if he’ll play football or oboe, be on the debate team or the chess team, be married and have children or have a gay partner. There are so many possibilities, so many doors that can open, so many forks in the road that can lead him down paths unimagined as you hold him in your arms.

You’ve yet to make the many inevitable mistakes you’ll make as a parent even as you give your very best to this child. You’ve yet to have a teenage child scream “I hate you!” or take the car without permission and wreck it or fall for someone who doesn’t love them back. You’ve yet to have your heart broken as they make mistakes that have difficult consequences and to feel your heart soar as they make choices that lead to unexpectedly good results. You’ve yet to have your child blame you for their lot in life, swallow your pride, and know in your heart you did the very best you could. And you’ve yet to have your child make countless homemade cards that say “You’re the best mom ever” and to ease your load when you’re tired by dressing as combination wait staff/cooks in your high heels and impossibly large (for them) clothes and welcome you to Mom’s Night Out Restaurant with a menu of everything they know how to cook.

At the very beginning there is love bigger than you ever imagined…and the desire to never let these moments and these feelings go.

Sebastian, welcome to the world. You have two loving, caring, accomplished, super intelligent, personable, independent, creative, kind, and grateful parents. May life always be as full of wonder, delight, and love for you as it is right now. Thanks for making me a grandma. I promise to be the very best grandma I can be and to be present to each of our precious moments together. This is going to be fun! I love you, Sebastian.

…Your Oma





Youssou N’Dour: Goodwill and Music Ambassador of the World

16 08 2009

It penetrates. It uplifts. It feels joyful. Grammy award-winning Youssou N’Dour’s music. Mostly sung in his African Senegal native tongue of Youssou N'Dour Sept 2004Wolof, one does not need a translator to feel this music. Described by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004 as “perhaps the most famous singer alive,” Youssou N’Dour is the subject of a documentary called I Bring What I Love, which was shown at many prestigious film festivals around the world. It is now being shown in theaters across the country and I had the privilege of seeing it on Friday.

I received an email from UNICEF USA about the movie. Youssou is an UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and, per the the email, “advocates for children at home and abroad, giving benefit performances and participating in social mobilization and advocacy campaigns. He has been a consistent supporter of the Roll-Back Malaria Partnership, a global initiative launch in 1998 to significantly reduce the number of malaria deaths.”

The email also had this to say about the movie:

Enjoy the tantalizing beats, be inspired by Youssou’s compelling story, but also go see the film because there is more at stake. It’s all too rare that an African or Muslim subject gets this kind of film making and this kind of attention. Amid the images in the U.S. media of African AIDS, war and poverty, this film is a chance for Americans to see a positive, realistic representation of contemporary Africa. In addition, it is all too rare that stories go below the surface and give nuanced views of a more tolerant Islam.

UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Youssou N’Dour is is often credited with introducing the music of Africa to countless new audiences. Now the innovative Sengalese singer, composer and producer is the subject of a new documentary film, ‘I Bring What I Love’, currently making the rounds on the film festival circuit and in cinemas.

Director and producer Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi’s cameras followed Mr. N’Dour for three years, documenting family life, concert appearances around the world, the infectious energy of Senegal and his Sufi Muslim faith.

The resulting music-driven journey unfolds at an extraordinary moment in N’Dour’s career, when his most personal, spiritual album to date sparks controversy at home when it is released.

Youssou is revered in Senegal and all of Africa, but originally the Egypt album, which was loved all over the world, was rejected in his home country. Considering it a testimony of his faith, he released it during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan; many considered it blasphemous. It was only after the album won a Grammy…Youssou’s first…that it was accepted.

I was privileged to attend the one showing in Austin that was followed by a discussion of the movie. About 20 former Peace Corps volunteers were present as well as several native Sengalese. The discussion was lively and intelligent, as would be expected from the worldly, curious, and open-minded people who stayed to participate. I came away with a new appreciation for the country of Senegal and a renewed interest in Youssou N’Dour.

Not only is he a world-renowned musician and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Youssou N’Dour also:

  • Organized in 1985 a concert for the release of Nelson Mandela
  • Performed in the 1988 worldwide Amnesty International Human Rights Now! Tour
  • Acted in the 2006 movie Amazing Grace about the abolitionist William Wilberforce
  • Performed at three Live 8 concerts
  • Worked with the United Nations
  • Advocated for public health (including AIDS/HIV activism) and civil and political stability in Africa
  • Helped change the economic landscape in Senegal through the Youssou N’Dour Foundation
  • Was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007 by Time magazine

Check out the movie if you have a chance and definitely check out some of his music. It will make you smile and make you want to get up and dance.

Here is the South by Southwest Film Festival trailer about the movie:







Let It Go!

9 08 2009

Full MontyA couple of years ago I played the zany piano player (that’s me in the ridiculous blond wig) in the music theater production of The Full Monty. The plot…similar to that in the movie…is that a bunch of laid off, ragamuffin steel workers stage a production where they sing, dance, and strip to make money. They build confidence and decide to just go for it…to do the full monty. In the last number, they sing “Let it go, let it go, loosen up, yeah, let it go. Let it go, let it go, it’s all right.”

Tuesday, 7/21 was a pivotal day for me…I knew it was time to LET IT GO and change how I responded to an ongoing, difficult situation. I called Gerry…a very spiritual person who makes a living guiding people…and asked if I could see him that day. For 1.5 hours I told him my story…the one I’ve told so many times…the one that is WHO I AM. You know…we all have it…THAT story that we think defines us.

And yet it DOESN’T. Define us. UNLESS. WE. LET. IT. I’m just tired of letting it. I am tired of dragging around that story. It makes me feel low-energy, powerless, and helpless.

I decided that day to get rid of all the stuff I have been moving from place to place for years that tells the tale of that story. I looked up the definition on dictionary.com of what I wanted to do:

Purge: to rid of whatever is impure or undesirable; cleanse; purify

StuffSo for 2.5 weeks, all I did (well, almost anyway) was go through old stuff. I made a huge pile (the picture doesn’t do it justice) on a round stone table in my living room. The stuff consisted of journal pages of pain that I ripped out one by one (that felt good!), caretaker notes, work notes, cards (the ones I didn’t want to keep), many many notes about what I want to be when I grow up…wouldn’t that be NOW???…that were made during countless self-help seminars and readings of self-help books, image pages, and more.

In the process of going through years of papers, I also went through closets and drawers and took a backseat full of stuff to Goodwill.

I not only made this huge pile of papers to destroy, I also put the saved mementos in folders chronologically, going all the way back to when I was born. Now…if I get really ambitious…I can make scrapbooks!

It was hard to let go of all that stuff. I kept thinking “What if I want to refer back to this? What if I want to reread what I was thinking and what was happening on such and such day? What if I ever want to show a family member what I was going through to validate my reality?” But you know what? I decided I didn’t want to do any of that. Nada.

Thursday night I stayed up (with a lot of energy) until 5 a.m. in the morning destroying that mound of old papers, old pain, and old stories. That pile… an ever growing visualization of all the crap I’ve literally and figuratively been holding on to for years…is now gone. GONE. W-O-W.

So now that it’s all gone, I have space…space for new stories, new journal writings, new…well I don’t know what! But I do know that by being willing to let go of all that has burdened me for so long, I can…

Allow: to permit something to happen or exist

Who knows what new stories I will create, but I promise I’ll never let the pile…and the attachment to old stories that it represents…get that big again. From here on out, in each moment, I’ll remember the freedom those Full Monty guys felt and just  LET IT GO.