Peace Should Know No Boundaries

Malala Yousafzai, 2013. Crop from public domain White House photo by Pete Souza.

Malala Yousafzai, 2013. Crop from public domain White House photo by Pete Souza.

Congratulations to Malala Yousafzai and Kailash Satyarthi on winning the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. The Pakistani teen girl and 60 year-old Indian man are sharing the award “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.”

Satyarthi gave up a career as an electrical engineer to take a stand against child slavery. In addition to leading public protests, he has rescued thousands of child slaves and helped them start new lives.

“Child slavery is a crime against humanity,” he told the Associated Press. “Humanity itself is at stake here.”

Although Yousafzai is only 17, she has spent years speaking out on behalf of girls’ right to an education. Her 2013 book, I Am Malala, became a best-seller.

Although working independently, both Yousafzai and Satyarthi have been targets of violence. Satyarthi has survived multiple murder attempts. Yousafzai was shot in the head while traveling on a school bus in 2012.

“The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism,” says the committee’s official press release.

Yet while both winners have made an enormous difference, much remains to be done. Women and girls continue to be oppressed in various countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. And child labor continues to oppress roughly 168 million young victims.

“It is a prerequisite for peaceful global development that the rights of children and young people be respected,” the Nobel committee stressed. “In conflict-ridden areas in particular, the violation of children leads to the continuation of violence from generation to generation.”

The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize celebrates the work that its two deserving honorees have done so far. Yet it is also a challenge to the rest of us: What is each of us doing to promote peace in this world?



Can Religion Reduce Risks of Suicide?

Teen suicide is always a tragedy. Sadly, it’s the third leading cause of death in the United States for young people between the ages of 10 and 24, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And beyond the 4,600 young people who die from this preventable cause each year, another 157,000 in that age group wind up at emergency departments for self-inflicted injuries.

Torahs at Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah. Photo (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Torahs at Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah. Photo (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

While these figures are just for the United States, teen suicide is a concern for countries around the world. Now a new study from Tel Aviv University provides some interesting insight.

Researchers Gal Shoval and Ben Amit found that observant Jewish teens displayed 45 percent less suicide risk behavior, including attempted suicide, than Jewish teens who did not actively practice their religion. The study appears in the journal European Psychiatry.

Previous studies of Christian teens had also found lower risks for suicidal behaviors among those who actively practiced their faith versus those who didn’t. However, Shoval and Amit believe the explanation for the lower risks are different for the two groups.

As Amit explained in the press release from Tel Aviv University:

Using statistical tools, we demonstrated that the protective effect of the practice of Judaism was not associated with a decreased risk of depression. Instead, it enhanced effective coping mechanisms. This stands in direct contrast to studies of religious Christian teenagers who reported feeling less depressed than their secular peers. According to our study, religious Jewish teens appear less likely than secular ones to be at risk of suicide even though they are still likely to be depressed.

Shoval suggests that practicing their religion might provide Jewish teens with a source of hope, even if they continue to suffer depression:

We know from working with suicide survivors that even when they were 99 percent sure they were going to kill themselves, they still sought hope. Jewish faith and community may be their most important source of hope.

This raises some questions and challenges for everyone, regardless of which faith they may follow or not follow. For starters, what can everyone who cares about teens do to spread hope, both at and outside of a church or other religious community?

Beyond that, how can we address continuing problems of depression for all teens, both as a society and in our individual lives? Even if a teen is not suicidal, living with depression is not a happy situation.

Access to mental health services and support for getting help are crucial. After all, someone’s life may depend on it.




Read, Plan, Prep, and Indulge

Large dinner salad with steamed clams, drizzled with citrus balsamic olive oil. Photo (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Despite lots of local stores hawking Halloween candy, my husband and I are continuing our healthy eating habits from summer into fall. And no, I’m not viewing this as a diet. Rather, it’s an adventure in living the good life.

Fortunately, there are lots of awesome fresh fruits and vegetables still available at both groceries and local markets. Better still, today’s food stores carry a wide array of foods from around the world.

So, yes, I am reading labels–a lot. In particular, I’m checking out sodium, carb, sugar, and calorie info.

Especially for sodium, it’s clear that the best way to stay within recommended guidelines is to cook more meals from scratch at home. Doing that helps keep refined sugars and calories in check too.

On the other hand, life gets busy. To do things most efficiently, I try to plan ahead. I cooked twice as much salmon today at lunch so I could save some to top a salad tomorrow or Friday. A couple of chicken breasts roasted next to them at the same time, to make sandwiches or other meals through the weekend.

I don’t plan too much, though. When it comes to cooking styles, I might read recipes for ideas or basic info, such as how long meat or fish should generally cook or how to handle a whole bulb of fennel or a blob of celery root.

Beyond that, though, I mainly improvise. Among the nutritional gatekeeper cooking styles described by Cornell University’s Brian Wansink, I’d count myself among the 19 percent who are “innovative cooks.”

Wansink, who heads up the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University, surveyed hundreds of domestic cooks. All were ranked as “great cooks” by themselves and at least one other adult family member.

The resulting study, published in 2003, identified five different styles of cooks: giving cooks, healthy cooks, innovative cooks, methodical cooks, and competitive cooks.

Wansink’s point was that knowing about the different styles could lead to tailoring nutrition education. The information could also provide clues about who might be early adapters when it came to trying and promoting different types of food.

But the best part of this whole innovative healthy food lifestyle isn’t the planning and prep. It’s the eating!

And tonight for supper, I had a large low-sodium, low calorie, and thoroughly yummy salad topped with steamed clams and drizzled with a tablespoon of citrus balsamic olive oil. As Julia Child and Julie Powell would both say, “Bon appetit!”

Fracking Foe’s Billboard Signs Will Come Down


—These billboards are at the center of an Ohio lawsuit against a local man who opposes fracking and related activities.

—These billboards are at the center of an Ohio lawsuit against a local man who opposes fracking and related activities.

An Ohio opponent of fracking and activities relating to shale oil and gas has been sued in state court by a deep well injection company and its on-site manager. As I wrote last week for Midwest Energy News, the case to force him to remove two billboard signs fits into a broader pattern.

Various citizen groups and advocates feel that public agencies and private companies are not listening to concerns about the rapid expansion of shale gas activities in the state. More detail about the lawsuit is available here:

Now it seems that fracking foe Mike Bolls will have to take down the billboard signs after all—and without any court ruling in the case. Bolls says the owner of the billboards has given him until September 9 to remove the signs.

The reason, Bolls says, is pressure on the owners from lawyers for the injection well company. According to Bolls, the company threatened to add the billboard owner to the lawsuit if they did not terminate the contract.

Bolls notes that the billboard owner and his wife are both in their 70s. “They’re just not wanting to go through the battle of having to fight a court case at their age,” Bolls says.

The contract with Bolls was a month-to-month oral arrangement, so Bolls says he won’t get any money damages or refund as a result of the early termination. But Bolls speculates that other billboard owners could lose money if anyone who was offended by a sign could get it down with the threat of a lawsuit. People would be less likely to rent billboards, he reasons.

Taking down the signs won’t automatically make the pending lawsuit go away. For one thing, the complaint’s request for injunctive relief goes further than that. Moreover, the plaintiffs have also sought an unspecified amount of punitive and compensatory damages.

Whether they will proceed with the case remains to be seen, however. And Bolls says he wouldn’t change anything he’s done.

“I would not have done anything different,” he says. “I believe the message is true.”



Dancing and Darts

DanceSport at Gay Games 2014. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

DanceSport. Image (c)  Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Gay Games 2014 has lots of the same events as the “regular” Olympics. These include rowing, swimming, ice skating, track and field, and so on. The week has also offered a variety of other sports that demand skill, practice, and devotion from their athletes.

In fact, the Gay Games are ahead of the “regular” Olympics in some areas. Golf won’t return to those games until Rio hosts them in 2016. But the Gay Games has already had its golf competition at the Firestone Country Club in Akron.

Similarly, the “regular” Olympics had bowling as a demonstration sport in 1988. But the Gay Games had its competition out in Wickliffe on the far east side of Cleveland. And while the “regular” Olympics has equestrian events, the Gay Games had a whole rodeo.

Earlier this week I went to two other sports that aren’t in the “regular” Olympics: DanceSport and Darts. Both were held at the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel on Public Square. Fortunately, the events were in separate ballrooms.

DanceSport is a ballroom dance competition. Imagine something like “Dancing with the Stars,” but with more modest costumes. Some of the outfits were brocade or tuxedo style. Others had chiffon drapes or skirts that floated and swirled with dancers’ motions.

The couples I saw were the women’s finalists. The dancers moved with grace, skill, and style. When the groups got to the “A” classification, the dancers were indeed—as the emcee said—“a-MAY-zing!”

Bullseye! Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Bullseye! Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

The darts competition was just as amazing. The last dartboard I handled hung in my son’s old bedroom and was surrounded by holes in the wallpaper from missed throws. The Gay Games competition had a row of electronic dartboards along one wall of the ballroom. The dartboards automatically scored each hit, and computers tracked teams’ progress through different brackets on a large electronic screen.

The room hummed with chatter as groups of men competed in teams. A team member would step up to the duct tape line on the floor, take three shots, and then remove his darts. Then the next team member stepped up. It was like going to a bowling alley on league night—but with dartboards and sharp projectiles instead of bowling lanes and heavy balls.

The last time I threw a dart was when I was at the MBL hands-on environmental program for journalists. It barely landed on the random number chart we were using to determine transects for field sampling.

These contestants easily got all their darts to land on the dartboard. In fact, I saw at least six instances in which players got all three darts right on the bullseye. If it were me, I’d have stood there jumping up and down and calling for someone to take my picture. These guys calmly removed their darts so the next player could throw.

Just as bowling alleys offer refreshments, so did the darts competition. A snack bar offered nachos, trail mix, and warm pretzels.

Plus, there was a full bar. As one Gay Games volunteer at the competition said, for most people, “If you’re going to throw darts, you’re going to do it in a pub.”

“This is my kind of sport!” added another.



Three Cheers for the Gay Games

CHEER at Gay Games 9 in Cleveland's historic Music Hall. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

CHEER at Gay Games 9 in Cleveland’s historic Music Hall. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Monday night found me at Cleveland’s Music Hall for the Gay Games’ CHEER competition. And there was lots to cheer about.

For starters, the atmosphere was great. Enthusiasm filled the historic theatre, and the crowd was wowed from the start of the opening ensemble routine through every stunt and pom pom team’s performance.

The athleticism and skill in the stunt routines was incredible. These teams were equal to or better than many college cheerleading teams as they did lifts and acrobatics.

Peppy music for each routine added to the energy level. Robot Unicorn hit it right on the head with their choice of The Lego Movie’s “Everything Is Awesome.

I’ll admit I was a bit skeptical when emcee Sanford Smith announced that the second part of the evening would be the pom pom competition. But these were not your 1980s Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders.

Instead, teams performed intricately choreographed dance routines that incorporated pom poms into the dance. And they surpassed dance routines I’ve seen at professional NBA basketball games. My favorite was probably the Cheer New York team’s number, where the variations on hip street clothing really gave you a sense that they could be dancing in the streets of the Big Apple.

Beyond all that, here are three more things to cheer about:

1. The teams were very diverse.

Duh! I know, this is the Gay Games, so you’d think the coed teams would be diverse. But the diversity went beyond making sure LGBT people were included.

As judges scored each team, Smith invited different team members on stage to talk a bit about who they were and their experience with cheerleading. One mom of 4-year-old twins traveled to Cleveland for the games, while her partner was back at home in California with the kids. Another woman had been encouraged to get involved by her husband; they were moving soon because his medical residency had just finished, and she hoped to start up a cheer team in Seattle.

There were young men in their 20s, and a British man nearing 50. And then there was Caesar, who is mostly deaf. When he was growing up, people told him “You can’t dance, you can’t cheer, you can’t hear,” he said. “It bothered me, and I did it,” Caesar added.

2. The teams were not your stereotypical cheerleaders.

Again, duh! But again, it was more than gay pride.

Some of the women were cute, tiny, and petite. And some of the men were tall and muscular. However, there were both men and women with lots of curves who fit the classic endomorph body type. This was a refreshing change from my memories of grade school and high school.

Cheer New York performs in the pom pom competition at Gay Games 9. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Cheer New York performs in the pom pom competition at Gay Games 9. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

3. It’s all for a good cause.

Competing against each other was actually not the teams’ usual focus. Instead, they raise money for charity.

“”What we really do is raise money for people living with HIV/AIDS and other diseases, such as cancer,” Smith said. The group also supports the Gay Games scholarship fund.

Towards that end, funds from a goodwill collection at the end of the evening will go to help the AIDS Task Force of Greater Cleveland. The organization provides a wide range of services, from health and adequacy to assistance with food, housing, and transportation. And that’s something to cheer about too.


Welcome–And Not So Welcome

Giant letters on the Cleveland Public Library form a welcome banner for Gay Games 9. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Giant letters on the Cleveland Public Library form a welcome banner for Gay Games 9. Image (c) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Cleveland has rolled out the welcome mat—or at least giant signs and big banners—for Gay Games 2014.

Presented by the Cleveland Foundation, the week-long athetic games will attract approximately 8,000 participants from more than 50 countries and 48 states, plus Washington, D.C. All told, about 20,000 to 40,000 people will gather in Cleveland, Akron, and surrounding suburbs to take part in sports, cheer on athletes, and participate in additional activities and events.

As far as numbers go, the games are not as big as the 2016 Republican Convention is expected to be. Nonetheless, it’s a pretty huge event, and lots of local volunteers are greeting visitors, giving tours, helping with directions and registration, and performing other tasks. My guess is that the participants and their families and friends will feel they are indeed welcome by the cities.

Contrast this with the plight of LGBT homeless and missing youth.

Situations vary greatly from person to person, Dan Hansen told me at Bellefaire JCB’s exhibit booth in the registration hall yesterday. He’s a case manager for the organization’s homeless and missing youth and street outreach program. He also mans the hotline several days a week.

Sadly, some parents abuse their children—straight or LGBT.

However, over 50 percent of the overall clientele have behavioral issues, Hansen noted. Teens often wrestle with depression, anger, and other issues too. Whether the client is straight or LGBT, Hansen and other staff work to deal with the problems.

In some of those cases, conflicted feelings about sexual identity could aggravate those issues.

“Twenty-five to 30 percent of our clientele struggle with sexual identity issues,” Hansen told me, He bases that estimate on his own experience, although some national statistics place the number as high as 40 percent.

Even when teens know their sexual identity, family members may not accept it. Hansen told me about one very extroverted young man who “was out and proud.” He’d gotten into some trouble with the law and was no longer welcome at home with his grandmother.

“I tried to reason with Grandma to accept him back in the home,” Hansen said, “and she was willing—as long as he didn’t throw his gayness in her face.” After lots of work to help her see how extroverted the grandson was, she finally agreed to let him come home.

In another case, a girl’s behavior problems were so serious that she could be considered “criminogenic.” Yet as Hansen saw it, her adoptive parents seemed to mind more that she was gay.

Both teens are now over 18—and thus out of Bellefaire JCB’s program. Yet many more straight and LGBT youth continue to face the harsh reality of homelessness. And the Bellefaire JCB program—and others like it in other cities—struggle to do what they can in crisis situations.

“We’re a temporary bandaid,” Hansen said.


NOTE: Bellefaire JCB’s hotline for homeless and missing youth is 1-216-570-8010.

For help in areas outside the Cleveland area, teens can contact groups such as Covenant House or call the National Runaway Safeline at 1-800-RUNAWAY.


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