Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Turkish Figure Skater

Watching the Olympic coverage tonight I was impressed that NBC started it coverage with a Turkish contestant in the female figure skating finals. This child had no chance of winning she entered the evening in 21rst place and yet NBC thought we should all watch her skate. She fell once and she pulled out of a couple of triple, double spin things. Yet her performance was inspiring.

Her parents gave up a very good life in Turkey to allow their daughter chase her dreams; they spent all their money and took menial hourly jobs in Canada just so their daughter could follow her dream. She competed 4 years ago but her parents could not afford to watch her in person so they watched their lovely daughter on TV. This year an anonymous donor provided her parents with tickets. They were really bad seats but there they were waving the Turkish flag and so proud of their daughter, the Olympic athlete. I am working under the assumption that her parents are Muslim.

I am not as religious as I used to be, I believe that there are many paths to G-D. Do I believe in G-D? Do I think G-D created humanity or did humanity create G-D? Let’s just say I have a few questions.

The Catholic and Baptists churches of my great grandparent led my parents to find a church that would not be so oppressive and not say no to everything. So my parents and their children jumped head first into the United Church of Christ. I am not sure there is another more affirming and accepting main stream religious denomination around.

My first reaction to the Turkish skater was what a great message she sends to the Islamic world. She is an example of the best of modernity. She is loved by her parents and encouraged to pursue her dreams. She is not forced to hide herself and allowed to achieve something. If there ever was a religion in need of a Martin Luther moment it is Islam. There appears to be a culture war within the faith. There is the Islam that we interact with every day and then there is the Islam that we observe every night on the evening news. Which will end up as the dominate strain depends on how much the west embraces its intellect and resources into it.

After all it was only a few hundred years ago my Catholic ancestors were burning the heretics at the stake in Europe and my Protestant ones were dunking them into wells in New England

Friday, February 19, 2010

15th Race: Mafalda Speaks

On Wednesday I attended Bethlehem’s Mayor John Callahan’s congressional campaign kickoff. All attendees signed one of the Mayors nominating petitions. Democratic candidates for US Senate and Governor sent representatives to gather signatures for their ballot petitions. The Callahan campaign very wisely has chosen to remain neutral for other offices. Why take the chance of alienating anyone, they are going to need 100% out of all Democratic activists after the primary. The campaign expected a crowd of about 150 people to attend so John’s mother in law made enough spaghetti and meatballs accordingly. After about 45 minutes campaign workers came streaming through the doors with pizzas because there was not enough food for the over 350 people who showed up. I have been to many of these events over the years and I have to say this was not only the best attended but there was a buzz of excitement in the air rarely seen at a petition distribution event.

The Lehigh County Executive and Allentown Mayor made unimaginative and routine remarks. I almost left at this point but then the candidate’s wife Mafalda began to speak. She told the story of her and her husband’s lives. The room sat riveted by this compelling story. A few people wiped tears from their eyes.

Mrs. Callahan first spoke of her life. A first generation American whose parents left Italy with little more than a dream of a better life, they worked hard became successful, raised their children to believe in the American dream. She talked about how her father would come home dirty and covered with cement and then her mother would leave for work, assuring that there was always a parent around to help and guide her and her siblings. She always knew she was loved, she always knew that she was supported and she always knew her family would be there for her. Mafalda grew up believing that all things were possible in this great country and by graduating from Lehigh and NYU law school she is living proof of it.

Mafalda met John Callahan one day at Liberty High School she was 15 he was 14, she heard him laugh and immediately wanted to get to know him. She finally had a chance to meet him and that was it. She brought him to meet her big Italian family, they took to him right away and welcomed in.

John was not as lucky as his wife; his childhood was one of grief, pain and uncertainties. His parent’s marriage was dysfunctional and after many separations and reconciliations it eventually ended in divorce. His father never held a steady long term job and when he finally found one a medical emergency took it all away.

Young John Callahan and his siblings were pretty much on their own and often had to fend for themselves. John had to find it own way in the world. He had to depend on his coaches, teachers and friends parents as his role models and guides through his young life. He could have been lost, he could have given up on life before he even had a chance to live it but he chose not to. He chose to rise above it up and to be a success. He was a top wrestler in high school and graduated at the top of his high school class. He received an academic scholarship to Moravian College where he again graduated at the top of his class.

He became the youngest person ever elected to Bethlehem City Council and to be Elected Mayor his city. John Callahan is another example of the American dream but different from his wife. He did not have the loving, supportive and nurturing family to help him along the way. He had to do it himself; he had to develop his own support network. John Callahan had to create a “Family of Choice”, as it is called in the LBGT community. And, what a family he has chosen, the movers and shakers, the best and the brightest this area has to offer as well as the 60 members of his wife’s family.

When Mafalda Villani Callahan introduced her husband as her best friend and our next Congressman the crowd was ready to carry him on their shoulders and he hadn’t even spoken yet. I fear I have not accurately portrayed the poignancy of her remarks and the impact they had on all in attendance. Her words were enlightening about the character of the candidate and their emotional impact if properly communicated could have a profound impact on the voters.

My advice to the campaign is to boil this speech down into a very succinct message. It will draw great comparison to the more patrician and privileged upbringing of his likely opponent in the fall. If the campaign is smart they use Mafalda early and often she is likely to be the candidate’s most effective surrogate.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Baptists Stealing Children

I just finished watching Anderson Cooper's story on these Baptist folks from Idaho who went to Haiti to "take care of and find homes for children" this is a compelling story that gets darker and more disturbing by the minute.

When the story was first reported these people were portrayed and naive people of good will just trying to find homes for orphan children. Now it turns out that everything these people have told the media are lies. The do not have a school set up in the Dominican Republic it is a 45 room motel, they do not have non profit standing and most of the kids they had in their possession were not orphans. Now CNN is reporting that the leader Laura Sibly has a record of not paying her bills, lost her home & business and does not plan things well in her life.

Why did these people think they could just fly down and pick up spare children? On whose authority? They claim in interviews that they were doing God's work and that God spoke to them to do this. Really, God took the time out of of his/her busy schedule to approve of their illegal snatching of children from their homes and taking them across international borders to an undisclosed future. Were these children going to be sold on the black market to other well meaning Baptist families in Idaho or were they going to be sold for other reasons? Clearly given Laura's financial problems they were going to be sold.

Why do these fundamental white people think the have the right to do what ever they want? Do they really think by blaming God for everything people would just give them a pass? Just because they think they are the only ones heading into to heaven they think they are above the temporal laws of this world.

I hope the the State Department does not get involved in this case, these people deserve to have the full extent of both the Haitian and American laws thrown at them, if for no other reason then the shear hubris of their actions. Hubris by the way is a very unchristian behavior yet it has been a very common one through out the millennium.

God's will indeed.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What Are You Reading? 2

There have been some changes to the NY Times Nonfiction best sellers list since the last time I posted about it.

#1 Game Change - Heilleman & Halperin - Behind the scenes of the 2008 election. I have not picked this up yet and I am not sure why. I understand the first printing was not as big as it should have been so the book has been hard to find. These two authors are respected political reporters one for New York and the other for Newsweek. These guys are on MSNBC so often I may not have to buy it at all. By all reports it is gossipy and light on footnotes. I was a big fan of all the Teddy White Making of The President books, I have read them all 2 or 3 times. I don't think this will compare with those in scholarship but I suspect it will more than make up for it in gossip and unsavory details.

#2 Committed - Elizabeth Gilbert - The author of Eat, Pray, Love wrestles with and overcomes her ambivalence towards marriage. She was perfectly happy to live in sin with her foreigner boyfriend until he could not qualify for a green card right away. So they went off and traveled through Asia while the were waiting for the paperwork to clear and in the end they had to be married to allow him permanent access to this great country. Now she is Sadie Sade married lady and happy about. I know this from NPR - You don't think I would read a book like this do you?

#3 Have a Little Faith - Mitch Albom - A suburban rabbi and Detroit pastor teach lessons about comfort and belief . This hobbit sized sports writer and failed talk show host scores another big susccess with a book about how to make people feel better about their lives.

#4 Going Rogue - Sarah Palin - A memoir by the former Alaska Governor and VP candidate. She of course did not write this & I wonder if she has read it. Now it turns out she spent close to $60k of peoples contributions to her PAC to purchase books. I wonder how many would have sold had she not bought so many herself. People contributed to her PAC to help her spread her happy conservative message, I guess she believes it was best spread by giving her book away to people too cheap to buy it.

#5 Stones Into Schools - Greg Mortenson - Building schools mostly for girls in northeast Afghanistan This self made millionaire is now giving it all away in an attempt to make the lives of the next generation better than the current. It is a remarkable story and hopefully he will be considered for a Nobel in the future. He is a decent man with only the best of intentions.

#6 Outliers - Malcom Gadwell - Why some people succeed. I either not smart enough or not focused enough to make it through his books. He seems like a cool cat though

#7 The Checklist Manifesto - Atul Gawande - Following checklists makes surgery safer and other things more efficient, says the Doctor - OK that makes sense - I use my Franklin Covey planner for that and I did not need to make someone else rich by buying this book.

#8 Superfreakonomics - Levitt & Dubner - A scholar and a journalist apply economic thinking to everything - Makes sense and I have no doubt that most of the folks who have this book received it as a gift and it looks really great on their bookshelves.

#9 Drive - Daniel Pink - What really motivates people in the drive for autonomy, mastery and purpose, not external rewards. I don't know that I really need to know this. Do I?

#10 - What the Dog Saw - Malcolm Gadwell - A decade of New Yorker Essays. I wonder if I can find them on

#11 - Open - Andre Agassi - His life and times - In pureint details and do we really care? Do we?

#12 - Too Big To Fail - Andrew Ross Sorkin - About the 2008 financial implosion - Mr. Sorkin is my future ex-boyfriend. He had his first by line in the times while still a teenager. I may actually get around to reading this. It has received good notices and I would like to learn more about the topic.

#13 - Anticancer - David Servan-Schreiber - A doctor who survived brain cancer discusses his experience and reviews research on diet and mind-body balance. I am sure this is a worthy read. Nothing snarky about this one.

#14 - All Things At Once - Mika Brezezinsky - How the MSNBC newswoman continues being a wife, mother and journalist - I admit to having a bit of a crush on MorningMika and she is a great balance to MorningJoe. She is magic on TV and hope she stays around for a long time. Her father is also one of my hero's from the Carter administration.

#15 - Born To Run - Christopher McDougall - Secrets of distance running from a Mexican Indian tribe - Great, this is the book I have been waiting for my entire life. I many buy a Kindle just for this opus.

#16 - Half The Sky - Kristoff & We-Dunn - Women fighting sexual oppression in Asia and Africa - Some of the most compelling columns I have ever read in the New York Times were written on this topic by Nicholas Kristoff. This is a topic that he has been a thought leader on for many years. I am sure this is a compelling read.

If anyone wants to buy me a present I will be more than a happy to accept a copy of the following books by number. #1, #12, #16 and an autographed copy of #14.

Happy Reading

Monday, February 1, 2010

Check Out These Folks 2


Hope everyone enjoyed the Grammys last night. My fingers are sore from all the live tweeting. I have added a few new links to some wicked good websites / blogs. Please check them out. You may just learn something I know I do every time I read them.