Adonis Diaries

Archive for December 7th, 2016

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.




December 2016

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