Thursday, February 28, 2008

Chicago Visit was an adventure

This first published February 28, 2008 in the Henderson Home News, a Community Newspapers of Nevada publication.

A few thoughts after a winter week in the Windy City.
First off, if you are from Chicago or any of the surrounding suburbs and now living in Southern Nevada, I don’t ever want to hear you complain about the roads or traffic here. Before leaving for Chicago, my biggest concern was dealing with snow. Even though I learned to drive on the snowy roads of Northern Nevada, I was still a bit apprehensive.

To my surprise, the greatest challenges of driving in and around Chicago were the monstrous potholes the size of swimming pools. While staying in the suburb of Oak Park, I encountered one intersection at West North Avenue and North First Avenue on the border of Melrose Park and River Forest that made the back roads of Africa seem tame. Actually I’ve seen 4x4 trails in Nevada less intimidating.

It was quite a sight, waiting three light cycles to reach the intersection, then watching vehicles of every shape and size swerving, rocking and bouncing to negotiate the moon like terrain of the crossroads.

I’ve often been told how beautiful Chicago is by several former Chicagoans now living here in the desert Southwest. Granted, Chicago did appear much nicer when my bride, Donna, and I were there in late August dropping our daughter Brenna off at school. It must be the winters that drive folks to Las Vegas from the Midwest.

Have you ever noticed people in Chicago don’t smile in the winter?

The locked Apple experience
While Donna and I were there this week to visit Brenna, I was given the challenge of removing a cable lock from her laptop that a roommate’s father was kind enough to give to her to secure her computer. It worked really well until the key was lost and the cable had to be cut. She was tired of walking around with a laptop that looked like it belonged on a stolen property list.

We planned a trip into the city, to the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue, to get the lock removed. After arriving at the store, we did the customary login at the Genius Bar – or for non-Applephiles, the service counter –where we learned it would be about an hour’s wait.

That would give enough time to walk down Michigan Avenue and grab some lunch. Even though it was about 6 degrees with wind chill, the sun was shining and the sights were amazing, even though no one was smiling.

In the end, our trip to the city would be fruitless, because the lock was more sophisticated than the Apple Genius.

What to do? Hit the Internet and start looking for locksmiths, of course! After a few calls, that plan, too, looked discouraging. None of the locksmiths had ever removed a lock from a laptop computer. However, one suggested I reinstall the software because that’s what he does when he gets locked out of his laptop.

Clearly he was thinking of the wrong kind of lock.

The situation was getting desperate, so we turned to the Internet searching “computers locks” and “removing lock from laptop,” where we found a video of a guy removing a similar lock. We gathered up the materials needed from the video, which consisted of an empty toilet paper roll, some tape and scissors.

It didn’t work, so I won’t bother explaining how it was supposed to work. So much for the Internet. Turns out half of the businesses we looked up on the 'net in the Chicago area were out of business.

I suggested we actually stop at a lock shop, so the locksmith could see the lock. Brilliant, ehh! We did, and the guy had a picker that could work on this type of key slot.

Still, after about 15 minutes, he gave up and said, “Sorry can’t help you.” There must be an easier way, so I convinced Donna to let me buy a hacksaw. Yes, I asked her permission, because we have this agreement when it comes to
me buying tools. I have too many already that I don’t use. She agreed, and we were off to Sears to buy a $6 saw, plus $4 in extra blades, because this lock must be made out of some kind of super steel that
would dull the teeth on the toughest blades.

With saw in hand, I suggested while the girls were in the mall I’d hang out in the car to work on cutting the lock off. Surely, it would take time and patience. Wow, within 30 seconds the lock was off without a single scratch on the computer.

Frankly, I’m still kicking myself, because I could’ve bought a single blade to do the job. On second thought, I have one more tool I won’t use, but hey, it’s from Chicago.

Ice on the lake

One of the most beautiful sights in Chicago in the winter has to be the ice on Lake Michigan. Its illusionary sight is hypnotic in some ways. The eye is unable to find a focal point, making it look never-ending. This is highlighted by harbor ice broken up by an icebreaker that glistens like floating diamonds in sunshine.

Polar Adventure Days
Finally, we went to the Polar Adventure Days at Northerly Island, where kids and parents were treated to horse-drawn wagon rides, ice sculpting, arts and crafts projects, live owls, several Siberian huskies to pet and many other fun things to do in near-polar temperatures.

I did pick up a handy travel tip before I left, and it paid off for us. A
friend suggested we fly into Rockford on Allegiant Airlines. Although it’s
80 miles from Chicago, it’s a lot less hectic than O’Hare International
Airport, and the flights are cheap. We had to rent a car anyway, so it
worked out well.

Tim O’Callaghan, co-publisher of the News, can be reached at 990-2656 or

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thomas Awiapo: Search for food led to a new life

This first published February 14, 2008 in the Henderson Home News, a Community Newspapers of Nevada publication.

In my advocacy work to assist the marginalized in our world, I’m often blessed with the presence of wonderful people. Once in a while, an opportunity will arise where my family gets to enjoy the grace of those less fortunate than ourselves.

There is man from Ghana in West Africa who has touched our family in many ways not only collectively but on a couple of individual occasions. Thomas Awiapo first left an extraordinary impression on our oldest daughter, Brenna, during his first visit to Las Vegas three years ago while talking to a group of Bishop Gorman High School students.
Brenna came home from school and told us about the visitor from West Africa and how he overcame great odds to not only survive being orphaned but to eventually become educated and is now giving back to society.

Within a few weeks I would unknowingly be enriched by the story of Thomas, told by him to a group of Catholic Social Action advocates from around the country in Washington, D.C.
He spends several months of the year on a speaking tour around the United States addressing mostly Catholic parishes and schools on behalf of Catholic Relief Services, raising awareness of the millions of dollars collected in the U.S. through the Lenten program Operation Rice Bowl and how this money is used around the world to break the chains of poverty.

Thomas was the second of four boys born to a couple in a small village in the isolated northern lands of Ghana, where the family barely eeked out an existence living in a mud hut. Within a year of each other, his parents became sick and died, leaving the four boys orphaned to fend for themselves.

Faced with starvation, the boys did whatever they could to survive, often fighting over a small bowl of food, which wasn’t enough. Thomas would eventually see his two younger brothers die from starvation. Later, he would be abandoned by his older brother, who said he couldn’t stay in the village any longer because there was too much misery. One morning when Thomas awoke, his brother had disappeared never to be seen again.

He would have faced certain death with no one left to help him, until a Good Samaritan came along help him. The Good Samaritan was not a single person but Catholic Relief Services, which built a school in the village. Thomas had no interest in going to school — no one in his family had ever gone to school. He needed to find food every day to sustain his existence, and this couldn’t possibly be found in schools.

Well, he was mistaken. He would soon learn that food could be obtained from school in the form of a small snack in the morning and a little lunch later in the day. The food was provided by a program funded by Operation Rice Bowl.

Every Lent when U.S. Catholics fast on Fridays, Rice Bowl encourages them to take the money saved through fasting, place it in a bowl, then donate it to the program on the last Sunday of Lent. Last year Operation Rice Bowl raised $10 million that helped curb hunger around the world.

Thomas would show up to the school, get a snack then sneak away from school. The teachers figured this out, and tricked him and others into going to school by withholding the snack until after the lesson.

“They held me hostage” he said, “tricking me into going to school.”

Eventually, Thomas would get an education, then an advanced education in the United States, where he earned a master’s degree in public administration from the University of California, Hayward. He returned to Ghana to, in his words, “continue the practice of tricking children with a little snack to go to schools” knowing that education is the best tool for breaking the chains of poverty.

Last week, we hosted Thomas in our home during his visit to Nevada, where we had the opportunity to be touched personally by him. During Thomas’ previous visits to Las Vegas and many other U.S. cities, he rarely had the chance to see the communities he visits. This trip would be different, because we scheduled some down time during which we could show him a few sites.

Donna and I had the wonderful experience of seeing the Bellagio fountains through the eyes of a man who grew up without truly clean water. Together we watched as he marveled at the acres of crystal clear water on the Strip, and showed even more amazement as the fog rolled across the lake and the fountains burst to life with thunder and light.

As we walked through the mall in Planet Hollywood, Thomas noted the beauty of the evening sky, how it appeared so close you could touch it. I must admit being a little confused until I realized he thought the ceiling was really the sky. This is cause for pause, because we have become so accustomed to these facades that we don’t notice them anymore. This experience through Thomas’ eye whirled me back in time to when the Forum Shops first opened at Caesars Palace, to my own wonderment of the sky within the sky. How jaded we have become, our senses numb to ever-changing technology.

Thomas spoke of growing up without electricity, how excited they were when the moon shined full, lighting the village so they could dance and drum into the dawn. Having experienced the darkness of Africa last September, I recalled listening to the drums and singing, how the stars hung so low you could almost touch them.

With that in mind, we thought it would be appropriate to show him Hoover Dam, where electricity begins for much of the Southwest.

As you probably well know, a trip to Hoover Dam isn’t complete without stopping at the marina to feed the fish. While he and Donna strolled the dock, I ducked into the store for a bag of popcorn. The rest is history if you have ever experienced the feeding frenzy of giant carp.

However, Thomas was even more frenzied watching the last quarter of the Super Bowl after I explained the game. He rooted relentlessly for the underdogs, his new team, the New York Giants. He understands being the underdog. I think that’s why he asked me before the game started, “Who is the underdog?” then said, “That’s who I will cheer for.”

Even observing Thomas watch his first Super Bowl brought more excitement than the game itself.

Tim O’Callaghan, co-publisher of the News, can be reached at 990-2656 or

Monday, February 4, 2008

Bush: What he did and didn't say

This first published January 31, 2008 in the Henderson Home News, a Community Newspapers of Nevada publication.

As a good American I listened intently to the president's State of the Union Address to the 110th Congress earlier this week, probably more so than any other State of the Union address in my lifetime. It has been a tradition for me passed on by my father to take the time to either watch it on television or listen to it on radio.

The purpose of my keen listening was to hear what the president was saying and at the same time listen to what he wasn't saying, which is often more telling.

I find it even more telling to watch it on television, not read the emotions of the orator but rather the mood, attentiveness and response of the audience, those folks we elect to represent us in our government including the vice president and the speaker of the house sitting directly behind the president during his presentation.

So let's examine the highlights of what I heard President Bush say Monday night and what I didn't hear him say.

The president said,“To build a prosperous future, we must trust people with their own money and empower them to grow our economy. As we meet tonight, our economy is undergoing a period of uncertainty. America has added jobs for a record 52 straight months, but jobs are now growing at a slower pace. Wages are up, but so are prices for food and gas. Exports are rising, but the housing market has declined. At kitchen tables across our country, there is a concern about our economic future.”

What he didn't say is we empowered millions of people to grow our economy, which they did, but not wisely. That's why our economy is in a period of uncertainty. What I'm referring to is the proliferation of sub-prime loans, whereby banks made larger loans, with less accountability and lower interest rates. We allowed more Americans to purchase larger homes and more homes, creating a false market that artificially inflated values, generating unearned equity that was tapped and spent.

Not to worry though because he then said, “On housing, we must trust Americans with the responsibility of homeownership and empower them to weather turbulent times in the housing market. My administration brought together the HOPE NOW alliance, which is helping many struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. And Congress can help even more. Tonight I ask you to pass legislation to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, modernize the Federal Housing Administration, and allow state housing agencies to issue tax-free bonds to help homeowners refinance their mortgages. These are difficult
times for many American families, and by taking these steps, we can help more of them keep their homes.”

What he didn't say is “don't worry, we're going to bail you out.'’

The one thing the president said the most was people would be empowered by our government ‹ he used the word empower 11 times.

What exactly does he mean when he says “empower," is it the government is going to give us the tools to become empowered?

So I ask what would empower you as an American? Do you know? Think about it!

Many young Americans in their 20s could be empowered with a college education or their parents empowered to afford a college education for them. However, that would just become another entitlement, wouldn't it?

The president surprised me with his remarks on immigration, leading me to believe he actually gets it. No it doesn't resonate with many Americans and that was showed by the gentle applause from the battered Congress not yet recovered from last session's defeat of immigration reform.

He said, “The other pressing challenge is immigration. America needs to secure our borders – and with your help, my administration is taking steps to do so. We're increasing work-site enforcement, deploying fences and advanced technologies to stop illegal crossings. We've effectively ended the policy of 'catch and release' at the border, and by the end of this year, we will have doubled the number of border patrol agents. Yet we also need to acknowledge that we will never fully secure our border until we create a lawful way for foreign workers to come here and support our economy. This will take pressure off the border and allow law enforcement to concentrate on those who mean us harm. We must also find a sensible and humane way to deal with people here illegally. Illegal immigration is complicated, but it can be resolved. And it must be resolved in a way that upholds both our laws and our highest ideals.”

What he didn't say is we can't just remove 12 million workers from the economic machine without choking it further. That illegal immigrants contribute billions in tax revenue. Even though he didn't say it directly, the president has reinforced what I've been yapping about for months. The truth is empowering and fear is simply paralyzing, so spare me the hate mail this time.

Finally, the president spoke about the war in Iraq and how we must empower the troops with the tools to succeed and how many troops will be coming home soon.

What he didn't say, and it speaks volumes, is what we are doing to help the soldiers who have served in Iraq and returned wounded, traumatized, jobless, homeless and hopeless.

Tim O'Callaghan, co-publisher of the News, can be reached at 990-2656 or