Adonis Diaries


Getting weirder: Power of vulnerability?

I’ll start with this: a couple years ago, an event planner called me because I was going to do a speaking event.

She said, “I’m really struggling with how to write about you on the little flyer.” And I thought, “Well, what’s the struggle?” And she said, “Well, I saw you speak, and I’m going to call you a researcher, I think, but I’m afraid if I call you a researcher, no one will come, because they’ll think you’re boring and irrelevant.” (Laughter)

And I was like, “Okay.” And she said, “But the thing I liked about your talk is you’re a storyteller. So I think what I’ll do is just call you a storyteller.”

And of course, the academic, insecure part of me was like, “You’re going to call me a what?” And she said, “I’m going to call you a storyteller.”

And I was like, “Why not magic pixie?” (Laughter) I was like, “Let me think about this for a second.”

I tried to call deep on my courage. And I thought, you know, I am a storyteller. I’m a qualitative researcher.

I collect stories; that’s what I do. And maybe stories are just data with a soul.

And maybe I’m just a storyteller. And so I said, “You know what? Why don’t you just say I’m a researcher-storyteller.”

And she went, “Ha ha. There’s no such thing.” (Laughter) So I’m a researcher-storyteller, and I’m going to talk to you today — we’re talking about expanding perception and so I want to talk to you and tell some stories about a piece of my research that fundamentally expanded my perception and really actually changed the way that I live and love and work and parent.

And this is where my story starts. When I was a young researcher, doctoral student, my first year I had a research professor who said to us, “Here’s the thing, if you cannot measure it, it does not exist.”

And I thought he was just sweet-talking me. I was like, “Really?” and he was like, “Absolutely.” And so you have to understand that I have a bachelor’s in social work, a master’s in social work, and I was getting my Ph.D. in social work, so my entire academic career was surrounded by people who kind of believed in the “life’s messy, love it.”

And I’m more of the, “life’s messy, clean it up, organize it and put it into a bento box.” (Laughter)

And so to think that I had found my way, to found a career that takes me — really, one of the big sayings in social work is, “Lean into the discomfort of the work.”

And I’m like, knock discomfort upside the head and move it over and get all A’s. That was my mantra. So I was very excited about this. And so I thought, you know what, this is the career for me, because I am interested in some messy topics.

But I want to be able to make them not messy. I want to understand them. I want to hack into these things I know are important and lay the code out for everyone to see.

where I started was with connection.

Because, by the time you’re a social worker for 10 years, what you realize is that connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. This is what it’s all about. It doesn’t matter whether you talk to people who work in social justice, mental health and abuse and neglect, what we know is that connection, the ability to feel connected, is — neurobiologically that’s how we’re wired — it’s why we’re here.

So I thought, you know what, I’m going to start with connection. Well, you know that situation where you get an evaluation from your boss, and she tells you 37 things you do really awesome, and one “opportunity for growth?” (Laughter)

And all you can think about is that opportunity for growth, right? Well, apparently this is the way my work went as well, because, when you ask people about love, they tell you about heartbreak.

When you ask people about belonging, they’ll tell you their most excruciating experiences of being excluded.

And when you ask people about connection, the stories they told me were about disconnection.

About six weeks into this research — I ran into this unnamed thing that absolutely unraveled connection in a way that I didn’t understand or had never seen. And so I pulled back out of the research and thought, I need to figure out what this is. And it turned out to be shame. And shame is really easily understood as the fear of disconnection: Is there something about me that, if other people know it or see it, that I won’t be worthy of connection?

The things I can tell you about it: it’s universal; we all have it.

The only people who don’t experience shame have no capacity for human empathy or connection. No one wants to talk about it, and the less you talk about it the more you have it.

What underpinned this shame, this “I’m not good enough,” — which we all know that feeling: “I’m not blank enough. I’m not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, promoted enough.” The thing that underpinned this was excruciating vulnerability, this idea of, in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen, really seen.

you know how I feel about vulnerability. I hate vulnerability.

And so I thought, this is my chance to beat it back with my measuring stick. I’m going in, I’m going to figure this stuff out, I’m going to spend a year, I’m going to totally deconstruct shame, I’m going to understand how vulnerability works, and I’m going to outsmart it.

So I was ready, and I was really excited. As you know, it’s not going to turn out well. (Laughter) You know this.

I could tell you a lot about shame, but I’d have to borrow everyone else’s time. But here’s what I can tell you that it boils down to — and this may be one of the most important things that I’ve ever learned in the decade of doing this research.

My one year turned into six years: thousands of stories, hundreds of long interviews, focus groups. At one point, people were sending me journal pages and sending me their stories — thousands of pieces of data in six years. And I kind of got a handle on it.

I kind of understood, this is what shame is, this is how it works. I wrote a book, I published a theory, but something was not okay — and what it was is that, if I roughly took the people I interviewed and divided them into people who really have a sense of worthiness that’s what this comes down to, a sense of worthiness — they have a strong sense of love and belonging — and folks who struggle for it, and folks who are always wondering if they’re good enough.

There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it.

They believe they’re worthy. And to me, the hard part of the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection, was something that, personally and professionally, I felt like I needed to understand better.

what I did is I took all of the interviews where I saw worthiness, where I saw people living that way, and just looked at those.

What do these people have in common? I have a slight office supply addiction, but that’s another talk. So I had a manila folder, and I had a Sharpie, and I was like, what am I going to call this research? And the first words that came to my mind were whole-hearted. These are whole-hearted people, living from this deep sense of worthiness. So I wrote at the top of the manila folder, and I started looking at the data.

In fact, I did it first in a four-day very intensive data analysis, where I went back, pulled the interviews, the stories, pulled the incidents. What’s the theme? What’s the pattern? My husband left town with the kids because I always go into this Jackson Pollock crazy thing, where I’m just writing and in my researcher mode. And so here’s what I found. What they had in common was a sense of courage. And I want to separate courage and bravery for you for a minute.

Courage, the original definition of courage, when it first came into the English language — it’s from the Latin word cor, meaning heart — and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. And so these folks had, very simply, the courage to be imperfect. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first and then to others, because, as it turns out, we can’t practice compassion with other people if we can’t treat ourselves kindly.

And the last was they had connection, and — this was the hard part — as a result of authenticity, they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be in order to be who they were, which you have to absolutely do that for connection.

9:38 The other thing that they had in common was this: They fully embraced vulnerability. They believed that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful. They didn’t talk about vulnerability being comfortable, nor did they really talk about it being excruciating — as I had heard it earlier in the shame interviewing. They just talked about it being necessary. They talked about the willingness to say, “I love you” first, the willingness to do something where there are no guarantees, the willingness to breathe through waiting for the doctor to call after your mammogram. They’re willing to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out. They thought this was fundamental.

10:42 I personally thought it was betrayal. I could not believe I had pledged allegiance to research, where our job — you know, the definition of research is to control and predict, to study phenomena, for the explicit reason to control and predict. And now my mission to control and predict had turned up the answer that the way to live is with vulnerability and to stop controlling and predicting. This led to a little breakdown — (Laughter) — which actually looked more like this. (Laughter) And it did.

11:23 I call it a breakdown; my therapist calls it a spiritual awakening. (Laughter) A spiritual awakening sounds better than breakdown, but I assure you it was a breakdown. And I had to put my data away and go find a therapist. Let me tell you something: you know who you are when you call your friends and say, “I think I need to see somebody.

Do you have any recommendations?” Because about five of my friends were like, “Woo, I wouldn’t want to be your therapist.” (Laughter) I was like, “What does that mean?” And they’re like, “I’m just saying, you know. Don’t bring your measuring stick.” (Laughter) I was like, “Okay.” So I found a therapist.

My first meeting with her, Diana — I brought in my list of the way the whole-hearted live, and I sat down. And she said, “How are you?” And I said, “I’m great. I’m okay.” She said, “What’s going on?” And this is a therapist who sees therapists, because we have to go to those, because their B.S. meters are good. (Laughter) And so I said, “Here’s the thing, I’m struggling.” And she said, “What’s the struggle?” And I said, “Well, I have a vulnerability issue. And I know that vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.

And I think I have a problem, and I need some help.” And I said, “But here’s the thing: no family stuff, no childhood shit.” (Laughter) “I just need some strategies.” (Laughter) (Applause) Thank you. So she goes like this. (Laughter) And then I said, “It’s bad, right?” And she said, “It’s neither good nor bad.” (Laughter) “It just is what it is.” And I said, “Oh my God, this is going to suck.”

13:37 (Laughter)

13:40 And it did, and it didn’t. And it took about a year. And you know how there are people that, when they realize that vulnerability and tenderness are important, that they surrender and walk into it.

A: that’s not me, and

B: I don’t even hang out with people like that. (Laughter) For me, it was a yearlong street fight. It was a slugfest. Vulnerability pushed, I pushed back. I lost the fight, but probably won my life back.

And so then I went back into the research and spent the next couple of years really trying to understand what they, the whole-hearted, what choices they were making, and what are we doing with vulnerability. Why do we struggle with it so much? Am I alone in struggling with vulnerability? No.

So this is what I learned. We numb vulnerability — when we’re waiting for the call.

It was funny, I sent something out on Twitter and on Facebook that says, “How would you define vulnerability? What makes you feel vulnerable?” And within an hour and a half, I had 150 responses. Because I wanted to know what’s out there.

Having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married; initiating sex with my husband; initiating sex with my wife; being turned down; asking someone out; waiting for the doctor to call back; getting laid off; laying off people.

This is the world we live in. We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability.

I think there’s evidence — and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause — We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.

The problem is — and I learned this from the research — that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment. I don’t want to feel these.

I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. (Laughter) I don’t want to feel these. And I know that’s knowing laughter. I hack into your lives for a living.

You can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the other affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness.

And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.

One of the things that I think we need to think about is why and how we numb. And it doesn’t just have to be addiction. The other thing we do is we make everything that’s uncertain certain.

Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up. That’s it. Just certain.

The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There’s no discourse anymore. There’s no conversation. There’s just blame. You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort. We perfect.

If there’s anyone who wants their life to look like this, it would be me, but it doesn’t work. Because what we do is we take fat from our butts and put it in our cheeks.  Which just, I hope in 100 years, people will look back and go, “Wow.”

17:51 And we perfect, most dangerously, our children. Let me tell you what we think about children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. And when you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect — make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh.” That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say, “You know what? You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” That’s our job.

Show me a generation of kids raised like that, and we’ll end the problems I think that we see today. We pretend that what we do doesn’t have an effect on people. We do that in our personal lives. We do that corporate — whether it’s a bailout, an oil spill, a recall — we pretend like what we’re doing doesn’t have a huge impact on other people. I would say to companies, this is not our first rodeo, people. We just need you to be authentic and real and say, “We’re sorry. We’ll fix it.”

19:00 But there’s another way, and I’ll leave you with this. This is what I have found: to let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen; to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering,

“Can I love you this much?

Can I believe in this passionately?

Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”

And the last, which I think is probably the most important, is to believe that we’re enough.

Because when we work from a place, I believe, that says, “I’m enough,” then we stop screaming and start listening, we’re kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we’re kinder and gentler to ourselves.

Patsy Z shared this link. TED. 23 hrs ·

“You’re imperfect, and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”|By Brené Brown

Rob your bank from the inside

So today’s top chef class is in how to rob a bank, and it’s clear that the general public needs guidance. the average bank robbery nets only 7,500 dollars. Rank amateurs who know nothing about how to cook the books.

0:29The folks who know, of course, run our largest banks, and in the last go-around, they cost us over 11 trillion dollars. That’s what 11 trillion looks like. That’s how many zeros? And cost us over 10 million jobs as well.

 our task is to educate ourselves so that we can understand why we have these recurrent, intensifying financial crises, and how we can prevent them in the future.

And the answer to that is that we have to stop epidemics of control fraud. Control fraud is what happens when the people who control, typically a CEO, a seemingly legitimate entity, use it as a weapon to defraud.

And these are the weapons of mass destruction in the financial world.

1:21They also follow in finance a particular strategy, because the weapon of choice in finance is accounting, and there is a recipe for accounting control fraud, and how it occurs.

And we discovered this recipe in quite an odd way that I’ll come back to in a moment.

First ingredient in the recipe: grow like crazy;

second, by making or buying really crappy loans, but loans that are made at a very high interest rate or yield;

three, while employing extreme leverage that just means a lot of debt —compared to your equity; and

four, while providing only trivial loss reserves against the inevitable losses.

If you follow those four simple steps, and any bank can follow them, then you are mathematically guaranteed to have three things occur.

The first thing is you will report record bank profits not just high, record.

Two, the CEO will immediately be made incredibly wealthy by modern executive compensation.

And three, farther down the road, the bank will suffer catastrophic losses and will fail unless it is bailed out.

And that’s a hint as to how we discovered this recipe, because we discovered it through an autopsy process.

During the savings and loan debacle in 1984, we looked at every single failure, and we looked for common characteristics, and we discovered this recipe was common to each of these frauds.

In other words, a coroner could find these things because this is a fatal recipe that will destroy the banks as well as the economy. And it also turns out to be precisely what could have stopped this crisis, the one that cost us 11 trillion dollars just in the household sector, that cost us 10 million jobs, was the easiest financial crisis by far to have avoided completely if we had simply learned the lessons of epidemics of control fraud, particularly using this recipe.

So let’s go to this crisis, and the two huge epidemics of loan origination fraud that drove the crisis — appraisal fraud and liar’s loans —and what we’re going to see in looking at both of these is we got warnings that were incredibly earlyabout these frauds.

We got warnings that we could have taken advantage of easily, because back in the savings and loan debacle, we had figured out how to respond and prevent these crises.

And three, the warnings were unambiguous. They were obvious that what was going on was an epidemic of accounting control fraud building up.

Let’s take appraisal fraud first. This is simply where you inflate the value of the home that is being pledged as security for the loan.

In 2000, that is over a year before Enron fails,, the honest appraisers got together a formal petition begging the federal government to act, and the industry to act, to stop this epidemic of appraisal fraud.

And the appraisers explained how it was occurring, that banks were demanding that appraisers inflate the appraisal, and that if the appraisers refused to do so, they, the banks, would blacklist honest appraisers and refuse to use them.

Now, we’ve seen this before in the savings and loan debacle, and we know that this kind of fraud can only originate from the lenders, and that no honest lender would ever inflate the appraisal, because it’s the great protection against loss.

So this was an incredibly early warning, 2000. It was something we’d seen before, and it was completely unambiguous. This was an epidemic of accounting control fraud led by the banks.

What about liar’s loans?

that warning actually comes earlier. The savings and loan debacle is basically the early 1980s through 1993, and in the midst of fighting that wave of accounting control fraud, in 1990, we found that a second front of fraud was being started. And like all good financial frauds in America, it began in Orange County, California.

And we happened to be the regional regulators for it.

And our examiners said, they are making loans without even checking what the borrower’s income is. This is insane, it has to lead to massive losses, and it only makes sense for entities engaged in these accounting control frauds.

And we said, yeah, you’re absolutely right, and we drove those liar’s loans out of the industry in 1990 and 1991, but we could only deal with the industry we had jurisdiction over, which was savings and loans, and so the biggest and the baddest of the frauds, Long Beach Savings, voluntarily gave up its federal savings and loan charter, gave up federal deposit insurance, converted to become a mortgage bank for the sole purpose of escaping our jurisdiction, and changed its name to Ameriquest, and became the most notorious of the liar’s loans frauds early on, and to add to that, they deliberately predated upon minorities.

we knew again about this crisis. We’d seen it before. We’d stopped it before. We had incredibly early warnings of it, and it was absolutely unambiguous that no honest lender would make loans in this fashion. So let’s take a look at the reaction of the industry and the regulators and the prosecutors to these clear early warnings that could have prevented the crisis.

Start with the industry.

The industry responded between 2003 and 2006 by increasing liar’s loans by over 500 percent. These were the loans that hyperinflated the bubble and produced the economic crisis.

By 2006, half of all the loans called subprime were also liar’s loans.

They’re not mutually exclusive, it’s just that together, they’re the most toxic combination you can possibly imagine.

By 2006, 40% of all the loans made that year, all the home loans made that year, were liar’s loans, 40 percent. And this is despite a warning from the industry’s own antifraud experts that said that these loans were an open invitation to fraudsters, and that they had a fraud incidence of 90 percent, nine zero.

In response to that, the industry first started calling these loans liar’s loans, which lacks a certain subtlety, and

second, massively increased them, and no government regulator ever required or encouraged any lender to make a liar’s loan or anyone to purchase a liar’s loan, and that explicitly includes Fannie and Freddie. This came from the lenders because of the fraud recipe.

happened to appraisal fraud?

It expanded remarkably as well. By 2007, when a survey of appraisers was done, 90 percent of appraisers reported that they had been subject to coercion from the lenders trying to get them to inflate an appraisal. In other words, both forms of fraud became absolutely endemic and normal, and this is what drove the bubble.

What happened in the governmental sector?

Well, the government, as I told you, when we were the savings and loan regulators, we could only deal with our industry, and if people gave up their federal deposit insurance, we couldn’t do anything to them.

Congress, it may strike you as impossible, but actually did something intelligent in 1994, and passed the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act that gave the Fed, and only the Federal Reserve, the explicit, statutory authority to ban liar’s loans by every lender, whether or not they had federal deposit insurance.

So what did Ben Bernanke and Alan Greenspan, as chairs of the Fed, do when they got these warnings that these were massively fraudulent loans and that they were being sold to the secondary market?

Remember, there’s no fraud exorcist. Once it starts out a fraudulent loan, it can only be sold to the secondary market through more frauds, lying about the reps and warrantees, and then those people are going to produce mortgage-backed securities and exotic derivatives which are also going to be supposedly backed by those fraudulent loans.

So the fraud is going to progress through the entire system, hyperinflate the bubble, produce a disaster. And remember, we had experience with this. We had seen significant losses, and we had experience of competent regulators in stopping it. Greenspan and Bernanke refused to use the authority under the statute to stop liar’s loans.

And this was a matter first of dogma.

They’re just horrifically opposed to anything regulatory. But it is also the international competition in laxity, the race to the bottom between the United States and the United Kingdom, the city of London, in particular, and the city of London won that race to the bottom, but it meant that all regulation in the West was completely degraded in this stupid competition to be who could have the weakest regulation.

 that was the regulatory response.

What about the response of the prosecutors after the crisis, after 11 trillion dollars in losses, after 10 million jobs lost, a crisis in which the losses and the frauds were more than 70 times larger than the savings and loan debacle?

Well, in the savings and loan debacle,our agency that regulated savings and loans, OTS, made over 30,000 criminal referrals, produced over 1,000 felony convictions just in cases designated as major, and that understates the degree of prioritization, because we worked with the FBI to create the list of the top 100 fraud schemes, the absolute worst of the worst, nationwide.

Roughly 300 savings and loans involved, roughly 600 senior officials. Virtually all of them were prosecuted. We had a 90 percent conviction rate. It’s the greatest success against elite white collar criminals ever, and it was because of this understanding of control fraud and the accounting control fraud mechanism.

Flash forward to the current crisis.

The same agency, Office of Thrift Supervision, which was supposed to regulate many of the largest makers of liar’s loans in the country, has made, even today — it no longer exists, but as of a year ago, it had made zero criminal referrals.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which is supposed to regulate the largest national banks, has made zero criminal referrals.

The Fed appears to have made zero criminal referrals.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation is smart enough to refuse to answer the question.

Without any guidance from the regulators, there’s no expertise in the FBI to investigate complex frauds. It isn’t simply that they’ve hadto reinvent the wheel of how to do these prosecutions; they’ve forgotten that the wheel exists, and therefore, we have zero prosecutions, and of course, zero convictions, of any of the elite bank frauds,the Wall Street types, that drove this crisis.

With no expertise coming from the regulators, the FBI formed what it calls a partnership with the Mortgage Bankers Association in 2007.

The Mortgage Bankers Association is the trade association of the perps. And the Mortgage Bankers Association set out, it had the audacity and the success to con the FBI. It had created a supposed definition of mortgage fraud, in which, guess what, its members are always the victim and never the perpetrators.

And the FBI has bought this hook, line, sinker, rod, reel and the boat they rode out in.

And so the FBI, under the leadership of an attorney general who is African-American and a president of the United States who is African-American, have adopted the Tea Party definition of the crisis, in which it is the first virgin crisis in history, conceived without sin in the executive ranks.

And it’s those oh-so-clever hairdressers who were able to defraud the poor, pitiful banks, who lack any financial sophistication.

It is the silliest story you can conceive of, and so they go and they prosecute the hairdressers, and they leave the banksters alone entirely. And so, while lions are roaming the campsite, the FBI is chasing mice.

What do we need to do? What can we do in all of this?

We need to change the perverse incentive structures that produce these recurrent epidemics of accounting control fraud that are driving our crises.

So we have to first get rid of the systemically dangerous institutions. These are the so-called too-big-to-fail institutions.

We need to shrink them to the point, within the next five years, that they no longer pose a systemic risk. Right now, they are ticking time bombs that will cause a global crisis as soon as the next one fails — not if, when.

Second thing we need to do is completely reform modern executive and professional compensation, which is what they use to suborn the appraisers.

Remember, they were pressuring the appraisers through the compensation system, trying to produce what we call a Gresham’s dynamic, in which bad ethics drives good ethics out of the marketplace.

And they largely succeeded, which is how the fraud became endemic.

And the third thing that we need to do is deal with what we call the three D’s: deregulation, desupervision, and the de facto decriminalization. Because we can make all three of these changes, and if we do so, we can dramatically reduce how often we have a crisis and how severe those crises are. That is not simply critical to our economy.

You can see what these crises do to inequality and what they do to our democracy.

They have produced crony capitalism,American-style, in which the largest financial institutions are the leading financial donors of both parties, and that’s the reason why even after this crisis, 70 times larger than the savings and loan crisis, we have no meaningful reforms in any of the three areas that I’ve talked about, other than banning liar’s loans, which is good, but that’s just one form of ammunition for this fraud weapon. There are many forms of ammunition they can use.

18:21That’s why we need to learn what the bankers have learned: the recipe for the best way to rob a bank,so that we can stop that recipe, because our legislators, who are dependent on political contributions,will not do it on their own.

Patsy Z shared this link

“While lions are roaming the campsite, the FBI is chasing mice.”

An insider’s take on the 2008 US banking crisis — and why it’s likely to happen again.

A peaceful rally of university educated youth in Beirut: Shot at by live bullets and rubber bullets.

The What, Why and How of Saturday the 22nd’s Protest

On January 4, 2016, the director of Internal forces in Lebanon (Basbouss), without referring to the Justice, issued a list of 22 names who must pay about $20,000 for lost days that the forces had to invest in confronting the demonstration.

Note that it is the demonstrators who were severely injured and detained for weeks. Here is what happened then:

We are gathering tomorrow, Saturday the 22nd at 6pm at Riad El Solh, so I decided to write this post to clear any confusion you might have concerning who ‘we’ are and what ‘we’ want. If you’re confused, this is for you. If you’re sure of yourself, read it anyway. Just in case. Needless to say, these words are my own and I’m the only one responsible for them.

First of all, who are we? We are a movement calling itself Tol3et Re7etkom, Lebanese Arabic for ‘You Stink’. We don’t have a leader, but several passionate individuals, women and men, of all walks of life. Anyone can join, anyone can leave. Ideologically? Let’s just say that we are secular, meaning that everyone is welcomed regardless of religion or lack-thereof, are deeply passionate about social justice and are seeking sustainable solutions to the waste crisis in Lebanon. Our methods consists of Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA). We are against violence against anyone and are strictly peaceful.

How do we work? We are functioning as a grassroots movement. This means that we were formed spontaneously, each deciding to join one another for a common purpose. If it sounds simple, that’s because it is. Basically, if you want to help, reach out to us on Facebook and you’ll be considered on board. You don’t even have to contact us directly, just follow the page, join us at every protest and start implementing ecologically-friendly solutions at your household, your community, your neighborhood, your region etc. – and tell us when you do so that we can share your story with the rest of Lebanon.

You don’t recycle your waste? Please start with that. You want to do even more? We’ll be on the streets tomorrow (Saturday) at 6pm. Please learn about us and what you can do to help. We’re an open platform.

And what’s this ‘purpose’ we speak of? We want a sustainable solution to Lebanon’s waste disposal problem. Our current waste disposal mechanism is catastrophic and these past few weeks were a manifestation of this failure. Sustainable solutions are very simple to implement and extremely dangerous not to. The government is already in contact with environmental experts who reached out to us. But for them to get heard, we need to keep the pressure.

Right now, our accumulated waste is not being disposed properly, to say the least. This means that we are breathing filth, drinking filth, eating filth. When the rain comes, the waste will get to our sea. Our forests and reserves are already being polluted very severely. If we do not act, we will be facing a health crisis beyond anything we could’ve imagined. This is very serious.

We have exposed the government over and over again. When they claimed to have found a solution, we showed the world that they were lying. When they claimed to have listened to environmental experts’ demands, we proved that they were lying. They are dumping the waste under bridges, next to working class areas, in our forests and in our valleys. They’re destroying the very Green-ness that we have come to identify Lebanon with.

In other words, it is our moral duty to succeed.

What are our demands?

  1. The immediate resignation of Mohammad Machnouk, Minister of Environment. Even though he doesn’t carry all of the responsibility, he carries the primary responsibility as the Minister in charge of this issue, and in particular due to his deadly decision of hiding the waste.
  2. Transparent bids with environmentally-friendly, safe and sustainable terms and conditions that respect the citizen’s health and the environment rather than the pockets and interests of politicians. We refuse to have 6 Sukleens instead of one! [meaning that Sukleen is part of the problem, and having 6 ‘Mini-Sukleens’ only makes the situation worse.]
  3. Accountability for all those who played a role in the current crisis or wasted public money by pressuring the financial public prosecutor to publicize the results of the investigations. We are also calling for a protest this Saturday (the 22nd) in front of the parliament, an institution whose mandate it is to protect lives and rights of citizens.

Why should you join us Saturday the 22nd at 6pm at Riad El Solh? We are well-organized, our demands are clear and we are fighting for everyone’s rights. Everyone’s, including yours.

This won’t be our first protest, but it will hopefully be our largest. We managed to reach 4,000-5,000 last week. Let’s reach 10,000 and 20,000 this time, and more

Youhanna just came back from the demonstration. Lots of wonderful people were marching and protesting peacefully, no violence at all. Families with children in buggies and older people. The police sprayed water and tear gas at demonstrators for no reason at all and with no regard to the vulnerable people in the crowds. This is incredibly sad. This government is a dictatorship masked in democratic bullshit. Rotten.

How to revive a Neighborhood?

Beauty is a basic service

I’m a potter, which seems like a fairly humble vocation. I know a lot about pots.

I’ve spent about 15 years making them. One of the things that really excites me in my artistic practice and being trained as a potter is that you very quickly learn how to make great things out of nothing.

That I spent a lot of time at my wheel with mounds of clay trying stuff; and that the limitations of my capacity, my ability, was based on my hands and my imagination; that if I wanted to make a really nice bowl and I didn’t know how to make a foot yet, I would have to learn how to make a foot; that that process of learning has been very helpful to my life. I feel like, as a potter, you also start to learn how to shape the world.

1:10 There have been times in my artistic capacity that I wanted to reflect on other really important moments in the history of the U.S., the history of the world where tough things happened, but how do you talk about tough ideas without separating people from that content?

Could I use art like these old, discontinued firehoses from Alabama, to talk about the complexities of a moment of civil rights in the ’60s?

Is it possible to talk about my father and I doing labor projects? My dad was a roofer, construction guy, he owned small businesses, and at 80, he was ready to retire and his tar kettle was my inheritance.

Now, a tar kettle doesn’t sound like much of an inheritance. It wasn’t. It was stinky and it took up a lot of space in my studio, but I asked my dad if he would be willing to make some art with me, if we could re-imagine this kind of nothing material as something very special. And by elevating the material and my dad’s skill, could we start to think about tar just like clay, in a new way, shaping it differently, helping us to imagine what was possible?

After clay, I was then kind of turned on to lots of different kinds of materials, and my studio grew a lot because I thought, well, it’s not really about the material, it’s about our capacity to shape things. I became more and more interested in ideas and more and more things that were happening just outside my studio.

Just to give you a little bit of context, I live in Chicago. I live on the South Side now. I’m a West Sider. For those of you who are not Chicagoans, that won’t mean anything, but if I didn’t mention that I was a West Sider, there would be a lot of people in the city that would be very upset.

The neighborhood that I live in is Grand Crossing. It’s a neighborhood that has seen better days. It is not a gated community by far. There is lots of abandonment in my neighborhood, and while I was kind of busy making pots and busy making art and having a good art career, there was all of this stuff that was happening just outside my studio.

All of us know about failing housing markets and the challenges of blight, and I feel like we talk about it with some of our cities more than others, but I think a lot of our U.S. cities and beyond have the challenge of blight, abandoned buildings that people no longer know what to do anything with.

And so I thought, is there a way that I could start to think about these buildings as an extension or an expansion of my artistic practice? And that if I was thinking along with other creatives — architects, engineers, real estate finance people — that us together might be able to kind of think in more complicated ways about the reshaping of cities.

I bought a building. The building was really affordable. We tricked it out. We made it as beautiful as we could to try to just get some activity happening on my block.

Once I bought the building for about 18,000 dollars, I didn’t have any money left. So I started sweeping the building as a kind of performance. This is performance art, and people would come over, and I would start sweeping. Because the broom was free and sweeping was free. It worked out. (Laughter)

But we would use the building, then, to stage exhibitions, small dinners, and we found that that building on my block, Dorchester — we now referred to the block as Dorchester projects — that in a way that building became a kind of gathering site for lots of different kinds of activity. We turned the building into what we called now the Archive House.

The Archive House would do all of these amazing things. Very significant people in the city and beyond would find themselves in the middle of the hood.

And that’s when I felt like maybe there was a relationship between my history with clay and this new thing that was starting to develop, that we were slowly starting to reshape how people imagined the South Side of the city.

One house turned into a few houses, and we always tried to suggest that not only is creating a beautiful vessel important, but the contents of what happens in those buildings is also very important. So we were not only thinking about development, but we were thinking about the program, thinking about the kind of connections that could happen between one house and another, between one neighbor and another.

This building became what we call the Listening House, and it has a collection of discarded books from the Johnson Publishing Corporation, and other books from an old bookstore that was going out of business. I was actually just wanting to activate these buildings as much as I could with whatever and whoever would join me.

In Chicago, there’s amazing building stock. This building, which had been the former crack house on the block, and when the building became abandoned, it became a great opportunity to really imagine what else could happen there. So this space we converted into what we call Black Cinema House. Black Cinema House was an opportunity in the hood to screen films that were important and relevant to the folk who lived around me, that if we wanted to show an old Melvin Van Peebles film, we could.

If we wanted to show “Car Wash,” we could. That would be awesome. The building we soon outgrew, and we had to move to a larger space. Black Cinema House, which was made from just a small piece of clay, had to grow into a much larger piece of clay, which is now my studio.

What I realized was that for those of you who are zoning junkies, that some of the things that I was doing in these buildings that had been left behind, they were not the uses by which the buildings were built, and that there are city policies that say, “Hey, a house that is residential needs to stay residential.”

But what do you do in neighborhoods when ain’t nobody interested in living there? That the people who have the means to leave have already left? What do we do with these abandoned buildings? And so I was trying to wake them up using culture.

 We found that that was so exciting for folk, and people were so responsive to the work, that we had to then find bigger buildings. By the time we found bigger buildings, there was, in part, the resources necessary to think about those things. In this bank that we called the Arts Bank, it was in pretty bad shape.

There was about six feet of standing water. It was a difficult project to finance, because banks weren’t interested in the neighborhood because people weren’t interested in the neighborhood because nothing had happened there. It was dirt. It was nothing. It was nowhere. And so we just started imagining, what else could happen in this building?

now that the rumor of my block has spread, and lots of people are starting to visit, we’ve found that the bank can now be a center for exhibition, archives, music performance, and that there are people who are now interested in being adjacent to those buildings because we brought some heat, that we kind of made a fire.

 One of the archives that we’ll have there is this Johnson Publishing Corporation. We’ve also started to collect memorabilia from American history, from people who live or have lived in that neighborhood. Some of these images are degraded images of black people, kind of histories of very challenging content, and where better than a neighborhood with young people who are constantly asking themselves about their identity to talk about some of the complexities of race and class?

In some ways, the bank represents a hub, that we’re trying to create a pretty hardcore node of cultural activity, and that if we could start to make multiple hubs and connect some cool green stuff around there, that the buildings that we’ve purchased and rehabbed, which is now around 60 or 70 units, that if we could land miniature Versailles on top of that, and connect these buildings by a beautiful greenbelt — (Applause) — that this place where people never wanted to be would become an important destination for folk from all over the country and world.

In some ways, it feels very much like I’m a potter, that we tackle the things that are at our wheel, we try with the skill that we have to think about this next bowl that I want to make. And it went from a bowl to a singular house to a block to a neighborhood to a cultural district to thinking about the city, and at every point, there were things that I didn’t know that I had to learn. I’ve never learned so much about zoning law in my life. I never thought I’d have to. But as a result of that, I’m finding that there’s not just room for my own artistic practice, there’s room for a lot of other artistic practices.

10:42 So people started asking us, “Well, Theaster, how are you going to go to scale?” and, “What’s your sustainability plan?”

 And what I found was that I couldn’t export myself, that what seems necessary in cities like Akron, Ohio, and Detroit, Michigan, and Gary, Indiana, is that there are people in those places who already believe in those places, that are already dying to make those places beautiful, and that often, those people who are passionate about a place are disconnected from the resources necessary to make cool things happen, or disconnected from a contingency of people that could help make things happen.

we’re starting to give advice around the country on how to start with what you got, how to start with the things that are in front of you, how to make something out of nothing, how to reshape your world at a wheel or at your block or at the scale of the city.  

11:50 June Cohen: So I think many people watching this will be asking themselves the question you just raised at the end: How can they do this in their own city? You can’t export yourself. Give us a few pages out of your playbook about what someone who is inspired about their city can do to take on projects like yours?

12:07 Theaster Gates: One of the things I’ve found that’s really important is giving thought to not just the kind of individual project, like an old house, but what’s the relationship between an old house, a local school, a small bodega, and is there some kind of synergy between those things?

Can you get those folk talking? I’ve found that in cases where neighborhoods have failed, they still often have a pulse. How do you identify the pulse in that place, the passionate people, and then how do you get folk who have been fighting, slogging for 20 years, reenergized about the place that they live? And so someone has to do that work.

If I were a traditional developer, I would be talking about buildings alone, and then putting a “For Lease” sign in the window. I think that you actually have to curate more than that, that there’s a way in which you have to be mindful about, what are the businesses that I want to grow here?

And then, are there people who live in this place who want to grow those businesses with me? Because I think it’s not just a cultural space or housing; there has to be the recreation of an economic core. So thinking about those things together feels right.

13:19 JC: It’s hard to get people to create the spark again when people have been slogging for 20 years. Are there any methods you’ve found that have helped break through?

13:27 TG: Yeah, I think that now there are lots of examples of folk who are doing amazing work, but those methods are sometimes like, when the media is constantly saying that only violent things happen in a place, then based on your skill set and the particular context, what are the things that you can do in your neighborhood to kind of fight some of that?

So I’ve found that if you’re a theater person, you have outdoor street theater festivals. In some cases, we don’t have the resources in certain neighborhoods to do things that are a certain kind of splashy, but if we can then find ways of making sure that people who are local to a place, plus people who could be supportive of the things that are happening locally, when those people get together, I think really amazing things can happen.

14:13 JC: So interesting. And how can you make sure that the projects you’re creating are actually for the disadvantaged and not just for the sort of vegetarian indie movie crowd that might move in to take advantage of them.

14:25 TG: Right on. So I think this is where it starts to get into the thick weeds.

14:30 JC: Let’s go there.

TG: Right now, Grand Crossing is 99 percent black, or at least living, and we know that maybe who owns property in a place is different from who walks the streets every day. So it’s reasonable to say that Grand Crossing is already in the process of being something different than it is today.

But are there ways to think about housing trusts or land trusts or a mission-based development that starts to protect some of the space that happens, because when you have 7,500 empty lots in a city, you want something to happen there, but you need entities that are not just interested in the development piece, but entities that are interested in the stabilization piece, and I feel like often the developer piece is really motivated, but the other work of a kind of neighborhood consciousness, that part doesn’t live anymore. So how do you start to grow up important watchdogs that ensure that the resources that are made available to new folk that are coming in are also distributed to folk who have lived in a place for a long time.

15:34 JC: That makes so much sense. One more question: You make such a compelling case for beauty and the importance of beauty and the arts. There would be others who would argue that funds would be better spent on basic services for the disadvantaged. How do you combat that viewpoint, or come against it?

15:51 TG: I believe that beauty is a basic service. 

Often what I have found is that when there are resources that have not been made available to certain under-resourced cities or neighborhoods or communities, that sometimes culture is the thing that helps to ignite, and that I can’t do everything, but I think that there’s a way in which if you can start with culture and get people kind of reinvested in their place, other kinds of adjacent amenities start to grow, and then people can make a demand that’s a poetic demand, and the political demands that are necessary to wake up our cities, they also become very poetic.

Patsy Z and TEDxSKE shared a link.

Did George W. Bush created ISIS? George Not that smart. But Satan Cheney and his team

Jeb Bush replied by repeating his earlier criticism of President Obama: that Iraq had been stable until American troops had departed.

“When we left Iraq, security had been arranged,” Bush said. The removal of American troops had created a security vacuum that ISIS exploited. “The result was the opposite occurred. Immediately, that void was filled.”

“Your brother created ISIS” is the kind of sound bite that grabs our attention, because it’s obviously false yet oddly rings true.

Bush didn’t like it: he offered a retort and then left the stage. Meanwhile, Ziedrich had started a conversation that rippled across Twitter, Facebook, and any number of American dinner tables. Who is actually right?

Here is what happened:

In 2003, the U.S. military, on orders of President Bush, invaded Iraq, and nineteen days later threw out Hussein’s government.

A few days after that, President Bush or someone in his Administration decreed the dissolution of the Iraqi Army. (Israel was extremely relieved: Iraqi army was the best trained and equipped in the Arab World).

This decision didn’t throw “thirty thousand individuals” out of a job, as Ziedrich said—the number was closer to ten times that. Overnight, at least  250,000  Iraqi men—armed, angry, and with military training—were suddenly humiliated and out of work.

This was probably the single most catastrophic decision of the American venture in Iraq.

In a stroke, the Administration helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency. Bush Administration officials involved in the decision—like Paul Bremer and Walter Slocombe—argued that they were effectively ratifying the reality that the Iraqi Army had already disintegrated. (A silly argument that many could fall in)

This was manifestly not true.

I talked to American military commanders who told me that leaders of entire Iraqi divisions (a division has roughly ten thousand troops) had come to them for instructions and expressed a willingness to cooperate.

In fact, many American commanders argued vehemently at the time that the Iraqi military should be kept intact—that disbanding it would turn too many angry young men against the United States. But the Bush White House went ahead.

Many of those suddenly unemployed Iraqi soldiers took up arms against the United States. We’ll never know for sure how many Iraqis would have stayed in the Iraqi Army—and stayed peaceful—had it remained intact. But the evidence is overwhelming that former Iraqi soldiers formed the foundation of the insurgency.

On this point, although she understated the numbers, Ziedrich was exactly right. But how did the dissolution of the Iraqi Army lead to the creation of ISIS?

During the course of the war, Al Qaeda in Iraq grew to be the most powerful wing of the insurgency, as well as the most violent and the most psychotic. They drove truck bombs into mosques and weddings and beheaded their prisoners. But, by the time the last American soldiers had departed, in 2011, the Islamic State of Iraq, as it was then calling itself, was in a state of near-total defeat. The combination of the Iraqi-led “awakening,” along with persistent American pressure, had decimated the group and pushed them into a handful of enclaves.

Indeed, by 2011 the situation in Iraq—as former Governor Bush said—was relatively stable. “Relatively” is the key word here. Iraq was still a violent place, but nowhere near as violent as it had been. The Iraqi government was being run by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, a fervent Al Qaeda foe and ostensible American ally.

In this sense, Ziedrich is right again, at least notionally: some of the men fighting in ISIS were put out of work by the American occupiers in 2003. Still, it’s not clear—and it will never be clear—how many of these Iraqis might have remained peaceful had the Americans kept the Iraqi Army intact. One of the Iraqis closest to Baghdadi was Ibrahim Izzat al-Douri, a senior official in Saddam’s government until 2003. (Douri was reported killed last month—it’s still not clear if he was or not.)

It’s hard to imagine that Douri—or any other hardcore member of Saddam’s Baath Party—would have ever willingly taken part in an American occupation, whether he had a job or not. So, in this sense, Ziedrich is overstating the case. While it’s true that George W. Bush took actions that helped enable the creation of the Iraqi insurgency, and that some leaders of the insurgency formed ISIS, it’s not true that he “created” ISIS. And there’s a good argument to be made that an insurgency would have formed following the invasion of Iraq even if President Bush had kept the Iraqi Army together. He just helped to make the insurgency bigger.

But let’s get to Governor Bush’s assertion—that Iraq went down the tubes because of President Obama’s decision to pull out all American forces, and that Obama could easily have left behind a residual force that would have kept the peace.

I took up this issue last year in a Profile of Maliki, the Iraqi leader we left in place. Maliki didn’t really want any Americans to stay in Iraq, and Obama didn’t, either. But—and this is a crucial point—it seems possible that, if Obama had pushed Maliki harder, the United States could have retained a small force of soldiers there in noncombat roles. More than a few Americans and Iraqis told me this. They blame Obama for not trying harder. “You just had this policy vacuum and this apathy,” Michael Barbero, the commander of American forces in Iraq in 2011, told me, describing the Obama White House.

So, on this, Governor Bush isn’t entirely accurate, but makes a good point: the Obama Administration might have been able to keep some forces in Iraq if it had really tried.

And what if the Americans had stayed? Could a small force of American soldiers have prevented Iraq from sliding back into chaos, as Governor Bush claims? Americans like Barbero—and a number of Iraqis, as well—argue that the mere presence of a small number of American troops, not in combat roles, could have made a crucial difference. The idea here is that after the American invasion, which destroyed the Iraqi state, the Iraqi political system was not stable enough to act without an honest broker to negotiate with its many factions, which is the role that the Americans had played.

This much is clear: after 2011, with no Americans on the ground, Maliki was free to indulge his worst sectarian impulses, and he rapidly and ruthlessly repressed Iraq’s Sunni minority, imprisoning thousands of young men on no charges, thereby radicalizing the Sunnis who weren’t in prison. When, in June, 2014, ISIS came rolling in, anything seemed better than Maliki to many of Iraq’s Sunnis.

Could all that have been prevented? It’s impossible to know, of course, although President Obama, by sending American forces back to Iraq, seems at least implicitly to think so. Historians—along with Governor Bush and Ivy Ziedrich—will be arguing about the question for a long time.

Andrew Bossone shared this link

“At least two hundred and fifty thousand Iraqi men—armed, angry, and with military training—were suddenly humiliated and out of work.”

A college student in Reno started a conversation that rippled across Twitter, Facebook, and any number of American dinner tables. Who is actually right?|By Dexter Filkins

Ivy Ziedrich, College Student, Warms to Role as Jeb Bush Critic on ISIS


Ivy Ziedrich, a 19-year-old college student at the University of Nevada.
Ivy Ziedrich, a 19-year-old college student at the University of Nevada.Credit Nikita Lee

RENO, Nev. — On Wednesday afternoon, just as she sat down to watch TV and eat a corn dog, Ivy Ziedrich’s phone rang. It was her sister in Montana.

“I am so proud of you,” her sister said, “for yelling at a politician.”

It was the first inkling that Ms. Ziedrich, a 19-year-old college student with a passion for the debate team and the finer points of Middle Eastern policy, had gone viral.

Her confrontation with Jeb Bush, in which she told the former Florida governor a few hours earlier, “Your brother created ISIS,” was suddenly everywhere online, casting an unwelcome hue on President George W. Bush’s legacy from the war in Iraq.

“My sister started freaking out,” Ms. Ziedrich recalled.

In an interview, Ms. Ziedrich described a dizzying 24 hours of social media frenzy, her upbringing in a conservative Republican family, and the circumstances that prompted her to approach Jeb Bush, who was in Reno for a town hall-style meeting on Wednesday.

She had shown up with a few college friends uncertain of whether she wanted to ask anything at all. But as Mr. Bush spoke about the rise of the Islamic State, and put blame on President Obama for removing troops from Iraq, Ms. Ziedrich found herself becoming furious. ISIS, she believed, was the product of George W. Bush’s bungled war in Iraq.

“A Bush was trying to blame ISIS on Obama’s foreign policy — it was hilarious,” said Ms. Ziedrich, who attends the University of Nevada. “It was like somebody crashing their car and blaming the passenger.”

She acknowledged she was deeply nervous about walking up to him after the meeting and asking her question. “I get nervous any time I talk to an authority figure — he wants to be president of the United States,” she said.

Her question and his reply seemed to distill deep, lingering anger of the war in Iraq and encapsulate Mr. Bush’s political challenges as the brother of George W. Bush. Much online commentary has focused on her somewhat aggressive tone, a fact that Ms. Ziedrich finds a bit baffling.

“I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful,” she said. In fact, she said she is grateful that Mr. Bush responded, even if it did not exactly satisfy her.

Ms. Ziedrich, a high school debater who specialized in the parliamentary style and still helps coach her former team, said that all the attention she is garnering from those on the right (who thought she was rude) and those on the left (who want to canonize her) is confounding given her own political journey. Growing up in Northern California, she considered herself a conservative like her mother and father, who is a loyal Fox News viewer.

Then she identified as a libertarian and, ultimately, as Democratic, influenced by her time spent debating and by books like Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.”

Speaking from her apartment, Ms. Ziedrich says she is busy juggling calls from old friends and media outlets.

“I am still trying to process all of this,” she said.

So far, her mother has expressed approval of the confrontation. But she hasn’t yet spoken with her father. “I am hoping he will be proud of me,” she said.


How to Talk to Little Girls

by Latina Fatale on 07/21/2011 ·

in Motherhood, Parenting

I went to a dinner party at a friend’s home last weekend, and met her five-year-old daughter for the first time.

Little Maya was all curly brown hair, doe-like dark eyes, and adorable in her shiny pink nightgown. I wanted to squeal, “Maya, you’re so cute! Look at you! Turn around and model that pretty ruffled gown, you gorgeous thing!”

But I didn’t. I squelched myself.

As I always bite my tongue when I meet little girls, restraining myself from my first impulse, which is to tell them how darn cute/ pretty/ beautiful/ well-dressed/ well-manicured/ well-coiffed they are.

What’s wrong with that?

It’s our culture’s standard talking-to-little-girls icebreaker, isn’t it? And why not give them a sincere compliment to boost their self-esteem?

Because they are so darling I just want to burst when I meet them, honestly.

Hold that thought for just a moment.

This week ABC news reported that nearly half of all 3 to-6 year-old girls worry about being fat.

In my book, Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World, I reveal that 16 to 18% of girls under twelve now wear mascara, eyeliner and lipstick regularly; eating disorders are up and self-esteem is down; and 25% of young American women would rather win America’s next top model than the Nobel Peace Prize.

Even bright, successful college women say they’d rather be hot than smart. A Miami mom just died from cosmetic surgery, leaving behind two teenagers. This keeps happening, and it breaks my heart.

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything.

It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23.

As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing?

A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

That’s why I force myself to talk to little girls as follows.

“Maya,” I said, crouching down at her level, looking into her eyes, “very nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you too,” she said, in that trained, polite, talking-to-adults good girl voice.

“Hey, what are you reading?” I asked, a twinkle in my eyes. I love books. I’m nuts for them. I let that show.

Her eyes got bigger, and the practiced, polite facial expression gave way to genuine excitement over this topic. She paused, though, a little shy of me, a stranger.

“I LOVE books,” I said. “Do you?”

Most kids do.

“YES,” she said. “And I can read them all by myself now!”

“Wow, amazing!” I said. And it is, for a five year old. You go on with your bad self, Maya.

“What’s your favorite book?” I asked.

“I’ll go get it! Can I read it to you?”

Purplicious was Maya’s pick and a new one to me, as Maya snuggled next to me on the sofa and proudly read aloud every word, about our heroine who loves pink but is tormented by a group of girls at school who only wear black.

Alas, it was about girls and what they wore, and how their wardrobe choices defined their identities.

But after Maya closed the final page, I steered the conversation to the deeper issues in the book: mean girls and peer pressure and not going along with the group.

I told her my favorite color in the world is green, because I love nature, and she was down with that.

Not once did we discuss clothes or hair or bodies or who was pretty. It’s surprising how hard it is to stay away from those topics with little girls, but I’m stubborn.

I told her that I’d just written a book, and that I hoped she’d write one too one day. She was fairly psyched about that idea.

We were both sad when Maya had to go to bed, but I told her next time to choose another book and we’d read it and talk about it.

Oops. That got her too amped up to sleep, and she came down from her bedroom a few times, all jazzed up.

So, one tiny bit of opposition to a culture that sends all the wrong messages to our girls. One tiny nudge towards valuing female brains.

One brief moment of intentional role modeling. Will my few minutes with Maya change our multibillion dollar beauty industry, reality shows that demean women, our celebrity-manic culture? No. But I did change Maya’s perspective for at least that evening.

Try this the next time you meet a little girl. She may be surprised and unsure at first, because few ask her about her mind, but be patient and stick with it.

Ask her what she’s reading. What does she like and dislike, and why?

There are no wrong answers. You’re just generating an intelligent conversation that respects her brain.

For older girls, ask her about current events issues: pollution, wars, school budgets slashed. What bothers her out there in the world? How would she fix it if she had a magic wand?

You may get some intriguing answers. Tell her about your ideas and accomplishments and your favorite books. Model for her what a thinking woman says and does.

And let me know the response you get at

Here’s to changing the world, one little girl at a time.

Reprinted with permission.

© 2011 Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk For Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed-Down World

Author Bio
Lisa Bloom, author of Think: Straight Talk for Women to Stay Smart in a Dumbed Down World, is an award-winning journalist, legal analyst, trial attorney, and the daughter of renowned women’s rights attorney, Gloria Allred.

A daily fixture on American television for the last decade, Bloom is currently the CBS News legal analyst, appearing frequently on The Early Show and CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, as well as the legal analyst for The Dr. Phil Show.

Bloom appears regularly on CNN and HLN prime time shows such as Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell, The Joy Behar Show, Anderson Cooper 360, and The Situation Room. She has been featured on Oprah, Nightline, Today, Good Morning America, Rachael Ray, and many more, and she was a nightly panelist on The Insider throughout 2010.

From 2001-2009, Bloom hosted her own daily, live, national show on Court TV, and she has guest-hosted Larry King Live, The Early Show, and Showbiz Tonight.

Bloom has written numerous popular and scholarly articles for the Los Angeles Times, Family Circle, the National Law Journal,, the Daily Beast, and many more. She has also been profiled, featured, and quoted in hundreds of publications, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, Elle, Ladies’ Home Journal, and Variety.

Bloom graduated early and Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA, where she was national college debate champion, and then from the Yale Law School, where she won the moot court competition. She currently lives in Los Angeles where she runs her law firm, The Bloom Firm. recently named Bloom one of the top five celebrity attorneys in Los Angeles.

An Alternative Perspective:
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Femimommy Blog

Counting on you: Tell me if my jokes have tacit issues

It is frustrating for me to describe abstract emotions and moral issues. I feel ridiculous talking seriously on issues that I didn’t experience or are forgotten or can’t recall.

I need to be told personal experiences from others in order to recall or have a handle on what is being asked of me.

This conversation is a fiction, a daydream conversation with myself

She: I don’t know when you’re joking and when you’re serious.

He: As if I know. I’m counting on you.

She: come again, how?

He: When you laugh, it’s probably a joke. When you frown, you ferreted out a serious issue.

She: And you’ll be ready to discuss the issues?

He: No. Maybe your issues. Though it would be useful to know how you discovered and interpreted my supposed issues.

She: So you discuss My lame issues and Not yours.

He: correct. I figured out if we start with mine, you’ll quickly add so many on the list that the backlog will be too traumatic to work on any of them issues.

She: Will make a short priority list.

He: I beg to disagree. I find it more productive to select the easier and more feasible ones.

She: And why you jumped to the conclusion that my priority list is of the heavy guns?

He: We start with the simple ones and surreptitiously you gradually move the hardest to the forefront. I like to leave the hard issues to my next life. Or when age give me an excellent excuse to retire from life difficulties.

She: You certainly love your comfort and won’t take any risks to confront this nasty living of yours.

He: My comfort is to leave me with enough energy to tackles your issues.

She: You jumped to the conclusion that mine are harder than yours.

He: Just untangling your white lies from the darker ones is a full-time job. I’m Not trained for such investigative job of sorting out your ambiguous talks.

She: Not trained? And what you guys have always been doing? Legifering in our name?…

Out of subject matter




December 2016
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