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  • Why Your Back Hurts (and How to Fix It)
    Are you sitting down right now? If so, please continue reading.

    Being a fitness trainer is a lot of fun. I have the ability to work with people that are looking to improve their health and are eager to get in better shape. I could go on and on about how much I love my job but that's not why I'm writing this article. I'm writing this article today to share with you one area of pain that has been common amongst the hundred+ folks that I've helped: back pain.

    If you are an entrepreneur and spend most of your day sitting, chances are you have experienced some form of back pain. In my experience, back pain is most common for people between the ages of 35-55 (the people that I work with the most). The cause of true back pain can be a number of things, such as:

    - bad posture
    - sitting for extended periods of time without taking a break
    - lack of stretching and mobility
    - and of course, improper lifting

    Now that we've covered some reasons why you experience back pain, let's talk about how you can relieve your pain once and for all.


    The only true way (in my opinion) to get rid of your back pain is to move more. It really can be that simple. I could tell you start doing yoga, go get a massage or a number of other quick-fix remedies but the problem with those is that they are indeed quick-fix solutions and don't offer long-term benefits (which is what you want).

    Besides trying to walk more and sit less, many people that I work with have started experimenting with exercising in their chair! Before you start cursing, let me say that these exercises are meant to be low-impact and are meant to increase blood flow to all parts of your body.

    In my experience, there are 8 exercises that you can do while sitting in your chair that help relieve your back pain. Some of these exercises do not target your back directly, but indirectly offer support.

    If you are interested in these exercises, I invite you to download my free guide -- 8 exercises entrepreneurs can do in their chair.

    I'd love for you to try these exercises and share your feedback in the comments below!

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  • Same-Sex Penguin Couple Gets The Chance To Build A Life Together

    Two male penguins who only have eyes for each other are in a new home where they can be true to themselves.

    King penguins Stan and Olli were previously part of a breeding program at the Berlin Zoo, The Local reports. But they weren’t into it.

    “We don’t know if they are ‘gay,’” Berlin Zoo spokeswoman Christiane Reiss told The Huffington Post. But she added that they showed interest “only to each other,” never to females.

    Since they weren’t particularly useful at breeding, zoo officials decided to move the penguins to Tierpark Hagenbeck, a zoo in Hamburg, where they’ve been living since April 2.

    That zoo has experience with same-sex mates. Juan and Carlos, who are Humboldt penguins, also live there, the German Press Agency reports. Juan and Carlos even incubated an artificial egg together, according to the Hamburger Morgenpost. (Though if there was ever an occasion for the penguins to hatch a real egg, anecdotal evidence suggests same-sex penguin pairs make excellent parents.)

    Reiss noted that the Berlin Zoo has since acquired new male penguins from zoos in the Netherlands. They hope these penguins are a little more interested in breeding with what she described as the zoo's "lonely females."

    While we’re happy these same-sex penguin pairs can stay together, it would be even better if the German government were as progressive as the zookeepers. Same-sex marriage is not legal in Germany, and same-sex couples cannot jointly adopt a child.

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  • This May Be The Biggest Environmental Catastrophe No One Is Talking About

    The oil and gas industry has a major methane problem, according to an extensive environmental study.

    Odorless, colorless methane gas is seeping out of wells and tanks at hundreds of natural gas facilities across the U.S., said the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, whose researchers used infrared cameras to scan for methane leaks at over 8,000 sites in the U.S.

    They found hundreds of leaks scattered in an unpredictable pattern around the country, according to the study that the EDF published this month. 

    “The study confirms what previous studies were pointing to -- that super-emitters are highly unpredictable, and that these leaks can happen anywhere, anytime, at large facilities and small facilities,” Matt Watson, associate vice president for the EDF's climate and energy program, told The Huffington Post.

    Methane, the primary element in natural gas, is a potent greenhouse gas and is responsible for 10 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. It packs 84 times more warming power than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years that it's present in the atmosphere, according to the EDF. The environmental group estimates that reducing global methane emissions by 45 percent could have the same short-term benefit as shuttering 1,000 coal-fired power plants. 

    Natural gas releases less carbon dioxide than coal when burned, making it an attractive alternative to coal-fired electricity production. But methane leaks at gas facilities can cut into its advantage over coal, according to a report from the Smithsonian.

    Oil and gas producers in the U.S., spew more than nine million metric tons of methane into the atmosphere every year, according to the EDF. Some of those emissions come from major leaks.

    In February, seepage at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, near Porter Ranch, California, released roughly 100,000 tons of methane gas into the atmosphere before it was plugged. It was the largest methane leak in U.S. history.  

    The Aliso Canyon breach was an extreme example of a problem that affects natural gas storage facilities across the country, Mark Brownstein, the vice president of the EDF’s climate and energy program, told HuffPost in January.

    The danger of large leaks is particularly pronounced at natural gas fields that have been converted into underground gas storage facilities, like Aliso Canyon, according to geologist Briana Mordick, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Despite the risks at large storage facilities, much of the country’s methane emissions come from small natural gas processing and storage plants, according to Watson. "This study has shown that you can have super emitter problems at small facilities,” he said. 

    The causes of methane leaks vary. Faulty equipment, shoddy maintenance and infrequent inspections can create seepages and allow them to persist. “[Inspectors] run across cases all the time where somebody’s just left a hatch open,” Watson said. “If you’re not out there looking for these things on a regular basis, you won’t see or smell these emissions.”

    Some states have stepped up efforts to find and plug leaks. In 2014, Colorado became the first state to require oil and gas companies to fix seepages at their facilities. Colorado requires companies to capture 95 percent of their routine methane emissions. States like California appear to be following Colorado's lead, as others race each to adopt stricter measures to prevent leaks, according to Watson.

    But fixing the country's scattered methane leaks will require federal laws mandating tougher and more frequent inspections of oil and gas facilities, Watson said. "Unfortunately, we have too few participants in the race, which is why, ultimately, you have to have a federal floor in place," he said.

    The American Petroleum the oil and gas industry's main trade association in the U.S., said in a statement last year that the industry is taking steps to find and fix methane leaks. The API did not respond to a HuffPost request for comment.

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  • Lauren Cohan Reveals Big Secret About The 'Walking Dead' Finale

    Sorry, Negan, but Lauren Cohan is officially our real Savior.

    The "Walking Dead" Season 6 finale had some fans feeling like the new villain bashed them in the head thanks to a massive cliffhanger. As Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) swung his barbed-wire-covered bat down at some unknown victim, the screen went black, and we were all left wondering, "Wait! Who died!?"

    Well, fans of the show have combed through the footage looking for clues about Negan's victim, and now, thanks to some insider input from Maggie herself (Cohan), it looks like they might've actually found something. 

    If you listen to the slowed down audio after the screen goes black, fans say you can hear someone saying "Mag" or "Maggie," aka Glenn's dying words in the comics. There's also a scream that fans have matched up to Cohan's, which may further indicate Glenn is the victim.

    If you listen closely, you can hear something similar to this during the regular audio, too. Alert, there's some disturbing sounds below:  

    This would basically prove it's goodbye for Glenn, right? But did Steven Yeun actually say "Mag"?

    According to Cohan, it's possible.

    The actress told The Huffington Post that the actors weren't even present when Negan swung his bat in that final scene.

    "Here's a good piece of intel," Cohan said. "We shot the scene, and then individually went into a [sound] booth privately to record audio, so I don't know."

    She continued, "Nobody knows what anybody else said."

    So could Yeun have said, "Mag"? Sure. And could that scream belong to Cohan? Yep. It's possible.

    Cohan's been busy since the finale. In addition to being bombarded with questions on Season 6, the actress recently teamed up with Subway in honor of the new Carved Turkey sub and handed out sandwiches to hungry New Yorkers on Thursday, even dropping off sandwich platters to deserving families around the city through the GOOD+ Foundation.

    "We are bringing Subway sandwiches and gift certificates and some awareness to GOOD+, which is here in New York City, so we’re having two celebrations of New York in one place," said Cohan.

    The actress opened up to HuffPost about all those unanswered questions from the finale, hinted Subway could be the secret cure for the zombie virus (duh) and somehow wound up getting the free Subway for Life card during the interview. Like, what?

    What's it been like since the finale?

    We knew that it was gonna have a giant impact, and I think that our creators knew that this was going to get people sort of a little hot under the collar. And we’re just looking forward to coming back, to be honest.

    You and Negan (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) play Batman's parents in "Batman v Superman." What? How did that happen?

    I know. It was so random. This was before he was cast as Negan because we shot the film almost two years ago.

    Wow, so you had no idea?

    No, and we knew it would be crazy, too. Because once he was cast, he came out to set and we were just laughing because the context of which we worked together last time and then the context of this just couldn't be more different. 

    What do you think about the strong fan reaction to the finale?

    I don’t think there would be such a deep reaction if people didn't care so much and our creators hadn't built this relationship between the fans and the show. I feel bad that it’s so tentative, but I'm also glad that you’re going to be on this journey with us.

    And if it’s any consolation, we’re all in the same boat. But I think that’s exciting. It’s incredibly infuriating. It’s like anything else. It’s like, I can’t make Santa come two days before Christmas. He comes on Christmas Day! Negan is not Santa by the way [laugh].

    Was it always a cliffhanger in the script?

    Yeah, we knew it was going to end with a lot of uncertainty. And we don't know. Like, we have possibilities, but we don't know what's actually happening.

    So you're going to have to film the scene again?

    Maybe. It’s just without knowing exactly what the timeline is going to be. It’s still an unresolved thing. I mean, obviously our showrunners know what’s going to happen, but I think they like to make it easier for us to not have to. For once.

    Does that mean you're cutting your hair again? 

    Yeah, I mean it’s only a couple inches. Yeah. If I go back ...

    Oh, whoa!

    I know! It's just so -- I see what you're doing [laugh].

    What was it like actually shooting that final scene?

    We knew we were going to be all lined up, and it was going to end on "eeny, meeny, miny, moe." It’s chilling when you read it, but it wasn't really until the day -- I literally have like PTSD thinking about the place your mind and your body are at.

    Did Negan add in some of his language from the comic?

    Yeah, so we did the PG and the R-rated version. I feel like such a dork saying PG and R-rated. But yeah, definitely. It's on the DVD and it's on the Blu-ray.

    OK, but were there any dumpsters to hide under out there?

    No, but they could've hid under the car I suppose.

    [You hear that, Glenn?]

    Why did Maggie get her hair cut?

    I want people to kind of take their own thing. I think with women, maybe more than men, I think haircutting is a symbolic evolution. Whether it’s cutting it all off or shaving it. I wanted to shave it by the way, but this is not really the right intention or tone, I should say. It’s a preparation. It’s a suiting up.

    Does she fall to the ground because there's something wrong with the baby, or is it just a bad haircut?

    [Laugh] No, she's definitely in a lot of pain. There was a line that we actually took out, where Enid says, "What’s going on?" And [Maggie] says, "Something's wrong," and then we cut to those guys being captured, so it was sort of an intuitive instinct but also a physical pain. You can take it a million different ways.

    Will Enid ever get out of that closet?

    I know! How unfair! I mean, I kind of get it. But I'm so frustrated with Carl right now.

    Yeah, he just locks her in and leaves.

    What if nobody makes it back!

    She's gonna be in there a really long time.

    I don't know how long you live in a closet. She’s gonna have to eat. Are there clothes in there? And Enid’s an asset, too. She’s definitely wily. If Enid had followed us to the woods and was somehow hiding out and protective and invisible ... she’s not, so whatever. Dreams, dreams.

    Also, what happened to Jesus? He disappeared, too.

    Yeah. Jesus, Carol ... Morgan, Enid, Heath, Tara. We’ve got a handful of people that we didn’t see at the end ...

    What would a zombie get from Subway?

    They would get better [laugh].

    I'm just kidding. I think we’re better off if we take the Subway to the zombies, just because we don’t want to scare people off.

    Would Subway make it through a zombie apocalypse?

    No, because it’s so fresh.

    In "Happy Gilmore," Adam Sandler gets a Free Subway for Life card. Does this exist and have you used it yet?

    I will get this card at the end of today.

    Wow. What are the perks?

    Extra cheese, extra turkey, you don't have to wait in line. This isn't real, so don't put this in [laugh].

    [NOTE: The following events are unbelievable, but they are recalled to the best of my ability.]

    As Cohan and I chatted about the unattainable bliss of a Subway for Life card, the publicist chimes in and tells Lauren, "We actually do have a Subway Black Card we can give you. They're not like Subway for Life cards, but they essentially are because you can just refill them." Cohan then whispers to me, "I'll share it with you."

    This is about the time I blacked out. It also strangely coincides with the same time I heard angels singing. Thoughts of being in sandwich heaven are just too much for yo boi.

    So yep. Lauren Cohan is definitely a savior.

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  • 6 Tips to Optimize Your Small Backyard Design

    There is no doubt that having a small backyard can be a real challenge. Whether you live in the middle of the city or out in the country, the lack of space can really cramp your style -- especially if you have kids. Check out these six tips to help you optimize your small backyard.

    Photo courtesy of Burns Gardening in Lake Forest, CA

    #1 Remove clutter.

    Clearing away the clutter is absolutely essential if you have a small backyard. Remove any toys, gardening tools and anything else you do not need at the moment. Store your extra items in your garden shed or garage. Remember to keep the remaining items in your yard neat and tidy.

    #2 Start a container garden.

    Gardening can be a real challenge in a small backyard. Use a variety of pots and hanging planters to create a container garden.

    Photo courtesy of Pools, Patios, Ponds in Painesville, OH

    #3 Replace large furniture.

    A huge patio set will look out of place in your small backyard. Replace your larger furniture with a small table and chairs. Your backyard will look roomier and you can enjoy the great outdoors in style.

    #4 Choose a simple look.

    Think about installing a single pathway through your yard. You can also experiment with different colors, plants and flowers along your backyard path. (Just make sure it doesn't become a jungle.)

    #5 Utilize fencing.

    A fenced-in backyard gives you privacy from street traffic and neighbors. Instead of a solid fence, choose a style that is more open. A lattice fence is perfect for small backyards.

    #6 Consider bright colors.

    The right color scheme can make a world of difference when dealing with small spaces. If your backyard looks cramped and uninviting, incorporate bold, bright colors to open up your space.

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  • Why I'm Not Cheering for the Redskins, or any Other Teams With Racist Names

    Eastern Connecticut University '18

    There are 5.2 million Native Americans living in United States, many of whom reside on one of 325 federally recognized reservations. They're severely marginalized in regards to income, education and healthcare.

    Native Americans face a 25 percent poverty rate. Their dropout rate is double the nation's average dropout rate. Of the Native American population, 27 percent are uninsured compared to the national average of 14.5 percent.

    There are serious problems and challenges to achieving equality and human rights for all Native Americans, and the institutional racism promoted by sports teams' racial slurs and stereotypes is only making it worse.

    The Chicago Blackhawks, Golden State Warriors, Cleveland Indians, Florida State Seminoles, Atlanta Braves and Washington Redskins are just a few of the team names that are unacceptable.

    I'll never understand what made someone want to name a team after the race that their ancestors slaughtered and raped #NotYourMascot

    — not taylor day (@kawisahawii) February 26, 2016

    These names trivialize Native American culture and history. According to The United Nations, the use of Native Americans as sports team logos promotes the wrongful perception that Native Americans are historical relics.

    Many have shown support for initiatives to change racist sports teams names. Even members of the British Parliament have spoken out, writing to the NFL that the Washington Redskins are not welcome to play in London in the fall as scheduled.

    The two members of the parliament that wrote the letter claimed that the slur "directly contravenes the values that many in Britain have worked so hard to instill", and requested that America send a different team to represent the country -- "one that does not promote a racist slur."

    In America, media organizations and individual journalists have refused to use the names in their articles. President Obama has collaborated with Native Americans to speak against the names and search for solutions. Adidas has gone so far as offering to fund a change of mascot for U.S. high schools that use Native American-inspired mascots.

    The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights deems racist sports team names a form of discrimination that infringes upon students' rights by making them feel stereotyped and even limiting their college choices.

    #NotYourMascot #INDIGENOUS #TAIRP

    — Indigenous (@AmericanIndian8) February 13, 2016

    Native Americans are speaking out, too. Most telling is the National Congress of American Indians' statement against the names.

    The Oneida Indian Nation has also been powerful in protesting the use of racist sports names, protesting outside Redskins football games. A representative of the group, Brandon Stevens, says, "The warrior image is not the image we want to be portrayed. ... We're educators, we're community members, we have families and go to work like everyone else. Having those negative stereotypes takes us back 100 years."

    The stereotypical portrayal of Native Americans has prompted Native American youth to doubt their identity when it doesn't match up to the Plains Indian caricatures typically used as a mascot. It's these stereotypes that lead people like Donald Trump to respond to Native American activists by saying, "they don't look like Indians to me... They don't look like Indians to Indians."

    The activism of organizations and individuals that have spoken up is paying off. At the high school level, California Governor Jerry Brown prohibited the use of the term "Redskins". The Oregon Board of Education has banned the use of Native American mascots. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has created a commission to research and address the issue with legal action.

    If we expect similar action at the collegiate and professional level, it's up to us to speak out, as many already have. That's why I refused to cheer for my hometown (I'm talking to you, RHAM Sachems), and that's why I refuse to cheer for any team that promotes Native American stereotypes and slurs.


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  • Tracking China's Political Change Through Dazibao Posters

    Note: Our accounts contain the personal recollections and opinions of the individual interviewed. The views expressed should not be considered official statements of the U.S. government or the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training. ADST conducts oral history interviews with retired U.S. diplomats, and uses their accounts to form narratives around specific events or concepts, in order to further the study of American diplomatic history and provide the historical perspective of those directly involved.

    Chinese "big-character posters," or dazibao, are handwritten posters mounted on walls and published in papers or pamphlets to communicate protest or launch ideas into public discourse. During the era of Mao Zedong, throughout the Great Leap Forward and the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, dazibao were part of mass campaigns directed by the Communist Party. As the Cultural Revolution wore on, the posters began to appear widely, conveying everything from satire to denunciation, sometimes used as weapons of aggressive personal attacks which cost the targets their jobs.

    Recognized as an important propaganda tool, these posters attracted the attention of U.S. diplomats, and of journalists who published photos of them as the U.S. and China were normalizing the bilateral relationship. The posters reflected political development in mainland China, including a movement towards democratization.

    This account was compiled from interviews done by ADST with Donald M. Anderson (interviewed in 1992), Dennis G. Harter (2004) and William W. Thomas Jr. (1994). Read the entire account on
    ANDERSON: We did a lot of China watching, which consisted of reading the newspapers and periodicals, trying to figure out what the historical references were, the implications of rather arcane philosophical discussions that appeared in the newspaper from time to time, getting out on the streets and walking around...

    There was a period during that time when big-character posters were put up, a form of expression that the Chinese [government] permitted from time to time. We would go out and literally spend hours just standing in front of a wall reading the big-character posters, then exchanging notes with western journalists who were out doing the same thing, and collecting as much information as we could that way...The journalists were much more open about photographing, and this sort of thing.

    THOMAS: When we first arrived in 1975 there weren't many wall posters, but we discovered later they were of great significance. We would take a different route going to work every morning, riding bicycles mainly so that we could see if there were any new posters up. We found out that Hua Guofeng was Chairman of the Party by going through our hospital courtyard and looking at all the new signs that were up.

    We thought it best not to go out at night in those days and so we never saw any signs being put up, but occasionally you could see something. The people putting up the signs would do it late at night and in a place where they were protected by their own people...

    At first the Party people felt they had enough support where they could do this without too much risk. Later others decided the risk was not too bad and they might get punished anyway, so they were more free about wall posters.

    The posters' areas were chosen because of their conspicuousness. For example, the poster for the big 1976 demonstration for Zhou En-lai was put on a certain monument because it has Zhou En-lai's calligraphy on it and therefore everybody would know that this was support for Zhou En-lai who happened to be dead at the time.

    The central wall posters were put in Tiananmen Square along the four walls, one of which was a police station, which was burned in the 1976 riot. There was a lot of damage during that riot, but there was no press, so it got no press coverage. And if there is no television, it didn't happen. The later Tiananmen thing was thoroughly covered by C-Span and was quite extraordinary. I never saw anything like it...
    There was frankness in the wall posters that we hadn't seen before in China. Throughout 1976, for the entire year, it was very prolific in wall posters and a lot of political information was available this way and through no other way.

    HARTER: At this time there were a number of very well-known poster-writers, like Wei Jinsheng (seen left), who achieved great readership not only in China but outside, because the journalists who were in China all began to go out with their interpreters to photograph, to copy down the posters, translate them and publish them abroad. So, you had big articles coming out of The New York Times, The Washington Post, and LA Times all about these wall posters.

    It was a tremendous art form then - historical allegories, cartoons, satires, and of course the written word. I still have a collection of photographs that were informally taken in Beijing and Shanghai and a few other provincial cities depicting wall posters and people reading them. This included the period when Deng was purged by the Gang of Four and then the posters when they ended up purging Jiang Qing, Mao's wife, and the other members of the Gang of Four. The caricatures of the Gang of Four were particularly lively and imaginative.

    Some also cover posters from the democracy movement, which occurred later. This was a period of tremendous change and upheaval, and you knew that what was being written at the universities and on the streets was being read, and read probably by people at very high levels.

    It was a difficult to do analysis of developments in China, but we regularly received commendations for our analytical work from the East Asia Bureau, from the Secretary and other people in Washington. So we had a pretty good audience for our reporting.

    The wall posters had been used in the past and in the '50s and '60s to purge those already discredited by the Party authorities and to develop mass support for the campaigns. In the early days, these were part of the mass campaigns organized by the Party - sloganeering for the Great Leap Forward, the anti-Soviet campaigns and of course the Cultural Revolution itself.

    During the Cultural Revolution you had people targeted by personal attacks and posters, but they were largely part of party-run effort more than expressions of public concern or criticism...During the seventies, the poster campaigns were designed to generate public support for the downfall of the Gang of Four. They used all sorts of caricatures of the people being criticized.

    Because Jiang Qing had been a 1930s movie actress and then, as Mao's wife, associated with a series of dramas, operas, ballets to commemorate the revolutionary spirit, she was portrayed and written up as "the white-boned demon" a traditional opera figure. Posters showed a caricature of her head on top of the body of a snake. Then written below these drawings would be the criticisms of specific actions she had taken, to purge good people, to elevate her cronies, to undermine Mao and the revolution etc.
    During this period, there was certainly no critique of Chairman Mao, as there would be later on, and many of the posters continued to praise his contributions while pointing out how Madame Mao had distracted him and corrupted his policies.

    It was only later that the posters became more of a public expression of intensity or even rebellion. That was most evident during the Democracy Wall movement and again later in the 1980s after the death of Hu Yaobang which led to the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989. But the involvement of students and ordinary people in the poster writing campaigns of the late 1970s were clearly the start of this form of individual or group expression and the start of real criticism of the government and the party. There was a certain amount of democracy.

    There were people who did begin to put up their posters, because they felt that this was a part of a new openness. Individuals were putting up posters and student units at the universities were putting up posters during the period, particularly in the latter phases when the Gang of Four was purged and Deng Xiaoping came back. There were discussions of political change.

    Deng had proposed major changes and "four modernizations" for China - agriculture, industry, science and technology and national defense -- at the end of 1978. And then Wei Jinsheng put up a poster on the "Fifth Modernization," Democracy. It was posted on a wall outside of Beijing University and that became the center for this sort of expression. The location became known as Democracy Wall and activities there just grew and grew.

    The Chinese media made much of Deng's early post-Liberation slogans - "seek truth from facts" and "it doesn't matter if a cat is black or white so long as it catches mice" - and the students took these slogans as the impetus for spelling out all sorts of complaints about the Party and how the people were being treated. Unfortunately, because the party and government leaders were not ready - the government and party personnel were still largely synonymous - the Beijing University location was gradually closed down and the posters were moved to a more obscure location where, to enter, one had to register. The wall posters there died out by the end of l979.

    There was no indication the leadership was ready for any real relaxation of control, and there was certainly no commitment to a western style of democracy. There had been a change of people at the top and a greater flexibility in how these new people wanted to deal with the rest of the world for China's economic benefit, but there was certainly no intention to move for political change. There was no plan to change anything politically.

    So, Deng and the others said "enough is enough" and they just closed it all down and arrested people and sentenced them to long terms in jail. There were appeals for democracy and freedom, as well as named criticisms of some of the leaders for their politics, particularly during the Cultural Revolution. The posters in these instances served the Party well, as it made it easier to eliminate leaders who had been "leftists" in the Cultural Revolution but who tried to hold on to their positions afterward.

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  • A Century Of Bodybuilding Photos Show A Marked Shift In Our Perception Of Body Image

    Over the years, bodybuilding has literally grown.

    Bodybuilders are getting bigger, bulkier and more orange as time advances, and while it's a part of our culture that many of us don't really understand, bodybuilding -- especially the Mr. America contests -- reflects "a desired image of modern manhood," John D. Fair writes in the introduction to Mr. America: The Tragic History Of A Bodybuilding Icon.

    If guys want to beef up to meet some modern standard of desirability, why do they look like a medical illustration of a person without skin, or that they've somehow turned themselves inside-out?

    "As societal views toward the male body and physical culture evolved," Fair writes, "bodybuilders had to redefine themselves in light of the clash between revered traditions and concessions to current tastes. The Mr. America Contest, which once epitomized the aspirations of tens of thousands of weight trainees, was premised on adherence to time-honored values of health, fitness, beauty, and athleticism, while Americans -- and especially bodybuilders -- became obsessed with appearances and engaged in training practices and lifestyles that often subverted those ideals. By the end of the century, physique competitors and promoters seemed perplexed about what constituted a perfect specimen of manhood. Reckoning with these cultural questions became the foremost concern in modern bodybuilding not only in the United States but worldwide, since the Mr. America title, at least from the 1940s to the 1970s, was, like other aspects of American culture, a global icon."

    It's interesting to see just how much these perceptions of pure fitness have changed over the past 100 years, thanks to advances in supplements, workout equipment and our understanding of how the human body works.

    It seems people push these limits harder and farther every year, and when you look at the following pictures of guys at peak physical fitness over history (from a guy who looks like Vladimir Putin sucking in his gut in 1900 to the sinewy muscles on show in 2015, you'll see just how much things have changed.

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  • I'm Not a Perfect Mom, Like Instagram Wants Me to Be!
    Picture this in your head:

    Small photos filled with perfect little people, filtered to make one look like they have slept for 10 hours, make-up that is perfection, & children who are modeling as if they are from a Gap ad.

    Houses that are never messy, food that looks like it shouldn't be eaten, and craft projects that an average mom doesn't have time for during her everyday hustle and bustle.

    That's what you would call Instagram.

    I'm not hating on Instagram -- I'm a huge believer, and if anything I'm obsessed.

    I have met my mama tribe on there, I goo-goo eye the prettiness, and I drink my coffee and envy the Pinterest-filled recipes and ideas.

    But here's the real truth. I can't be as perfect as Instagram wants me to be.


    I don't have an Instagram husband who wants to or will take pictures of me. My house is as clean as it will ever be, and in all reality, there are always crumbs, piles of crap, and laundry on any given day.

    I look like hell on most days, and taking a selfie or picture is on an excellent day. My squares are not filled with pictures from my Canon I got for Christmas.

    I was trying to use my fancy camera, and up the ante on my blog. But when do I have time to capture the little moments in my life? Nine out of 10 times I catch everything on my phone. I don't have time to edit, crop, and filter.

    When I was a newbie mom, and I was sitting in my loose black clothing, and 20 pounds overweight in my bed half asleep, I would scroll through Instagram and almost be in tears. I would ask myself, how come I didn't look like that every day?

    I had black circles, greasy hair, and milk stains all over my clothes.

    I soon realized that those pictures are inspirations to me, but they don't have to be my reality.

    My reality, and message for mothers, was the non-sugar-coated, bare honest truth, and a look behind the scenes of what my life would be in pictures.

    My pictures are of the struggle, the reality, and the sweetness of my life.

    The relationships I have developed over this social media outlet are beyond my imagination. I have never met half these women, and I feel like they are walking behind me in this tribe called motherhood.

    Everyone is just a picture away. We get happy when we see their smiles posted. We get sad when we see their struggles in words. We like their pictures, comment when we need help or praise them when they need to hear it.

    The mothers of Instagram have different views, but we all have the same view, and that's the everyday life of a mother and our reality of what we feel is motherhood.

    I just realized I'm not perfect, nor will I ever be perfect.

    So welcome to my not-perfect squares, where filters happen to cover the real circles under my eyes, the frustrations of my day are documented, pictures of coffee mugs float around, and wine is poured to help me whine my struggles away.

    The end.

    Thank you,

    The not-so-perfect Instagram mom.

    Instagram: @themothereffintruth

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  • Going on an All-Inclusive? Prevent Weight Gain With These 3 Tips!
    You did it. You just booked a trip with you and your friends (or your significant other) and are ready to hit the beach and the drinks. When many people book a trip like this, they see it as an opportunity to binge eat and drink until "they can't remember how they got back to their room" (I won't share who recently said this to me because I know they are reading this post!). Like most people, you want to relax, enjoy the warm weather, take advantage of the free alcohol and of course, hit the buffet for every meal. This all sounds like a lot of fun until day 7 when you look in the mirror and say "ugh." Ring a bell?

    Before you dive into the Piña coladas, take a look at these 3 tips to prevent weight gain on your next all-inclusive trip!

    Tip # 1 -- You MUST Exercise

    "But Karan, why would I want to exercise when I'm on vacation?" -- what I often hear the most.

    Just because you are on vacation doesn't give you an excuse to not take care of your body. Chances are you will be awake for 16-17 hours/day during your vacation. There's only so much lazing around the pool you can do until you get bored. Take 30-60 minutes out of your day and engage in some sort of physical activity. You don't need to go in the gym or even do a workout. Go for a long walk and explore the beach. Play some beach/pool volleyball and make some new friends. The last resort I was at had daily activities scheduled throughout the day that would encourage physical activity. There's no reason to spend 8-10 hours/day sitting on your ass doing NOTHING. Get in the water, build a sandcastle and most importantly, try to be a kid again!

    Tip # 2 -- Enjoy GOOD Food

    BBQ chicken, fresh fish, local cuisine... my mouth is watering just thinking about these foods. There are generally over 40 different types of foods that most resorts offer. Like a typical buffet in your hometown, the foods range from fried to grilled to baked, etc. The food is often very delicious (depending on the resort) and it's easy to get carried away, knowing that you have an all access pass for the week. Here are a few tips that I used during my last all-inclusive vacation that helped me keep the pounds off:

    Breakfast: Focus on eggs, lean meats and vegetables. Every morning you should be eating a huge omelet with onions, mushrooms, peppers, the works! Get one plate and load it up as much as you can, and try not to go back for a second helping. Avoid the muffins, cakes and all that other crap that is really a dessert in disguise. Tip: if you really have a craving in the morning, add a little bit of cheese to the omelet.

    Lunch: Fill up half of your plate with vegetables and the other half with a protein source. Try the local flavors and twists on chicken, beef, lamb, etc. Avoid bread, rice and other fillers on your plate that will make you hungry again shortly after. Go back for seconds and eat as much as you want, but focus on vegetables and meat sources. Tip: eat spicy food that will force you to drink more water.

    Dinner: Enjoy yourself. Splurge a little without getting carried away. Eat foods that appeal to you and don't feel obligated to finish them if they don't taste good. Tip: When it comes to dessert, pick one option and that's it. It can be easy to pick up 3-4 smaller dessert items and if they are on your plate, you will find a way to finish them!

    Tip # 3 -- Booze Responsibly

    The absolute KILLER!

    Most feel obligated to drink as much as they can during their all-inclusive stay. This one might be a tough one to swallow for a lot of people. The cocktails and fruity drinks that they feature at most resorts often look very attractive. The colors and smells make you think they are more fruity, instead of boozy. Often times these are the drinks that contain the most calories and sugar, with the least amount of alcohol. Here are a few tips that might help you booze responsibly and keep the pounds off:

    Don't drink every single day of your vacation. Aim to take a break from booze every 3rd day. Not only will this keep your energy levels up, but it will also prevent unnecessary weight gain.
    Start drinking with your supper, and not a minute earlier. If you start around lunch time, you will be tempted to continuously keep your glass full.

    If you taste something and it's the most delicious drink you have ever had, chances are it contains more sugar than you can imagine. Similar to above, have this drink every 2nd or 3rd day and cap it there.

    Going on an all-inclusive can be and should be a lot of fun. You're going on vacation and you have the right to enjoy every minute of your trip. You have the ability to exercise, enjoy new foods and drink alcohol without gaining even a single pound.

    The choice is yours.

    Have you recently gone or are planning an all-inclusive trip?

    If so, what tips can you share with other readers that have helped you stay fit?!

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  • 5 Reasons You Might Not Be Able To Retire Early

    Many people seek our financial planning services to get a better handle on their over all financial situation and to better understand what they need to do to better meet their future goals.

    A very common goal is to retire early and lead the “easy, good life”! Normal retirement age is defined by Social Security as the full retirement age for those born after 1960 would be age 67. Many of these folks are disappointed to learn that an early retirement may not be in their future and here are the 5 most common reasons:

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  • 3 things that successful business owners do
    Pick a day of the week and at some point you're likely to dream of the success you want to have. The book you're writing will sell millions of copies and you'll be whisked around to speak at conferences for high fees.

    The online course you're launching will hit a nerve you've missed in the past and make a solid 6 figures on day one.

    The 3 new prospects you're talking to will all sign for high value projects that really don't take you lots of time to implement. Then with those 3 in hand you'll continue down a path with lots of clients bringing in lots of funds for what amounts to few hours of work for you. Even with those few hours your clients will reap huge rewards and tell others how awesome you are.

    When you read those stories here you recognize them for the dreams they are. A bit fun and fancy, but a dream still. The thing is that when confronted with no book sales, a course that your mom bought because she's your mom, and 3 clients that didn't come through it's easy to fall in to the blame game.

    No one bought your book or course because they didn't understand how their life would be changed forever by the content. The clients didn't sign because they just couldn't see the good thing they were passing up.

    The thing is that these thoughts aren't the mark of someone that's going to be successful. If you want to be successful you need to approach these setbacks with these 3 steps.

    1. how is this my fault

    First off someone relentlessly pursuing success doesn't blame others for their lack of vision. In his book Tribes Seth Godin addresses this fallacy.

    There's a myth that all you need to do is outline your vision and prove it's right -- then, quite suddenly, people will line up and support you. - Tribes by Seth Godin

    Again we recognize this as we read and yet we still expect it. We need to change that 'build it and they will come' mindset to a mindset that tries to figure out why the current state of events is your fault. In Tribes, Godin also addresses this.

    If you hear my idea but don't believe it, that's not your fault; it's mine.
    If you see my new product but don't buy it, that's my failure, not yours.
    If you attend my presentation and you're bored, that's my fault too.

    This is the mindset that successful people take and it's the first step as you climb to success. When that sale doesn't happen it's time to sit back and figure out what you could have done to increase the chances of it happening.

    Once you have a list of what you could have done to increase the chances of success it's time to move on to the next phase in stepping in to you're next success.

    2. Plan

    It's a fallacy that you should just plan for success, you need to also plan for failure. In fact this is where planning for most projects should start, anticipating failure.

    In The Obstacle is the Way this planning for failure is called a premortem.

    A premortem is different. In it, we look to envision what could go wrong, what will go wrong, in advance, before we start. Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don't have a backup plan because they refuse to consider that something might not go exactly as they wish. - The Obstacle is the Way

    By anticipating failure we can expand our plan for success. That book you wanted to write may not sell because you really don't market it, so you put time in to a marketing plan for the book. Those clients you want to land may not see the value, so you spend more time up front talking to them about the value you bring to their business so that by the time you put in a proposal it's mostly just a summary of what you've already verbally agreed to.

    With that premortem in hand you can put together a plan for your project. I like using Post-It notes with the top row being the months of the year and the ones below being the big tasks that need to happen inside the month. This method allows you to move things around as you make your plan for the project.

    Don't just stop with the monthly plan though, break it down to weeks and individual tasks. For that book do you need to do research? Find the top 10 books you should read and then put together a plan to read a book a week and review it.

    For those prospects add a reminder to your task management system to make sure that you touch base with them weekly and book the meetings you need to so you can talk value with them.

    Don't just stop with the lofty goals, put a plan together and break it down to it's components. Relentless execution of one item every week will get you to the goal and that plan will increase the chances of your success.

    3. Never stop learning

    Finally, successful people never arrive. Pick a famous business person and you'll find that they read books and attend seminars and hire coaches. They don't just rest on their laurels of success, they continue to pursue excellence in their life. Typically it's only those that are trying to find success that don't invest in themselves because they view it not as an investment, but as an expense.

    If you want to be successful set aside at least 5% of your income for training. Start with books and aim for a book a month. As you learn and your income increases keep it at 5% and start to look at conferences, and not just the cheap ones.

    Save for a year to go to that 'dream' conference and have a plan when you go in to maximize your return. Find 3 awesome people that will be there and make sure you engage with them. Don't be shy, just go up and introduce yourself. Don't wait for them to ask you questions, have a bunch of questions ready to ask about what they're working on. Your genuine interest will help you stand out from the rest of the crowd that's simply trying to see how they can get a leg up via every connection they make.

    If you want to really head down that path of success take these three steps. First, figure out how it's your fault. Second take that knowledge and do a premortem to plan for failure. Then put together your plan for the next project. Finally, put money aside to invest in yourself every month.

    Keep following those steps with each new thing you do. You'll look back and realize that you've achieved more success than you first thought.

    Connect More

    If you liked this content don't forget to subscribe to my site. You can join the email list and get my free manifesto to help you change your mindset about your business so you can live the life you want to live.

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  • Why We Made A Video Making Fun of Patriarchy
    When Sojourners released its most recent video, "7 Reasons Men Should Not Be Pastors," we were not prepared for the overwhelming reaction. Three million people have watched the video, which satirizes the misguided reasons people say women shouldn't lead in the church. We've received countless comments from women saying they've heard every single one of these used as a reason they shouldn't be in leadership.

    But not everyone was happy. Some have said this video simply presents a "giant straw-man" -- that the real reasons for male-only leadership are grounded in scripture. Of course, I disagree -- I'm married to one of the first women ordained in the Church of England. My wife, Joy Carroll, is well known in the U.K. as the Real Vicar of Dibley (after the hit television show in which she was the script consultant).

    In fact, one of my favorite memories was of Joy celebrating the Eucharist for 25,000 British young people one summer at the Greenbelt Festival -- an annual gathering for arts, faith, and justice where we had first met. My son, Luke, who was 4 years old at the time, was sitting in my lap, watching his mom on the stage leading the service. After a while Luke looked up at me and asked, "Dad, can men do that too?"

    Women in ministry are changing the narrative in the church, in the society, and in our families. And thank God for that -- we need them.

    Sojourners created this video -- featuring many of our own female leaders on staff -- to be satirical, clearly. But there are strong theological reasons women belong in church leadership.

    The Bible is full of female leaders. Deborah, for example, exercised complete authority over Israel -- the people of God -- and carried them through violence into a time of peace. Junia was named by Paul to be "outstanding among the apostles," and was an example for the early church until a male medieval theologian changed her name to the male "Junias" to reconcile the text with church patriarchy.

    And women played a central role in Jesus' life -- as disciples, financial supporters, and the first to see the risen Christ. From Mary and Martha to the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus challenged his culture's patriarchal assumptions and affirmed and empowered women for ministry. So why are we quick to dismiss the gifts and contributions of women whom Jesus radically valued?

    In the midst of a sexist and even misogynist conservatism that calls itself "Christian," and a secular left that too often discounts the value of faith in the public sphere, we desperately need women faith leaders. We need women who will preach good news to the poor and proclaim liberation to the oppressed. We need female clergy like Traci Blackmon, who courageously went into the streets of Ferguson and has served as a spiritual mentor to many young leaders in the Black Lives Matter movement. Or Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who has been such a visionary denominational leader in the U.S. and globally. Or Sojourners' very own Lisa Sharon Harper, who reminds me how the "very good gospel" offers God's shalom to a broken creation.

    Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, America's Original Sin: Racism, White Privilege, and the Bridge to a New America, is available now.

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  • Grandma Goes Gaga
    There is no doubt my grandmother is a vain woman. I'm sure in her teens and twenties she was a fireball, in spite of being just 4-foot-9. She loves the story of her being rebellious and wearing bright red lipstick as a young woman. Her hair has faded from a deep, dark, brown to a cotton white, which suits her nicely. She's worked in a factory, been a supervisor and a year after she retired, she went back to work for Walmart in the Girl's Apparel Department.


    Grandma and I have been best friends for a decade or two. She will be 90 years old this year. We both loved my Grandpa Jack. We have chased shoplifters, raised children, and encouraged the other to make choices outside our comfort zone.

    My earliest memories are of her canning pickles. Growing up I sat around her kitchen table, eating her homemade bread with globs of butter.

    Now in her 80s, I recognize her life hasn't been an easy one. Her skin is paper thin and seems to barely cover the purple and blue veins. Still, she is jovial and can contort her mouth in a way that has had each of my children begging her to "do it again!"


    Charlotte the Great, as my children call her, loves to read and is proud that she keeps up with current events.

    One day over coffee, I asked her, ""Grandma, do you know who Lady Gaga is?"

    "I think I have probably heard of her."

    "I have an idea! Let's dress you up like Lady Gaga and take pictures!"

    "Let's do it!" she was enthusiastic.

    "I think we should start with her infamous meat costume!"

    My grandma's chocolate pudding eyes stared at me, double their standard size. Her cup of Joe rose slowly to her mouth.

    "You don't know how Lady Gaga dresses do you, Grandma?"


    "Nothing comes to mind." She finally admitted.

    So, we pulled up Google and I zoomed in on Lady Gaga in her "meat" costume.

    My grandma said nothing, so we kept looking. Grandma studied each picture.

    After a VERY long silence, my grandma scolded, "What the heck have you gotten me into?"

    I ignored her, as I usually do when I am about to lose my way, "I know! Isn't this going to be great fun!"

    She gulped her coffee hard, "I don't know about that."

    I called her a few days later to let her know the costumes had arrived and we did not get the "meat" costume. I knew Charlotte the Great was excited when she showed up after work, tired, but ready for her photo shoot.

    We layered on the makeup. It was a time of girl bonding. I learned, as I attached false eyelashes to my grandma's eyes, this was the first time she had worn them. It made her giddy, like a young school girl. She wanted to see them flutter in the mirror as she flirted with herself.

    It took both of us to get her into the costumes.

    She complained the entire time.


    Then the lights came on and Charlotte the Great became a woman I didn't know in front of the camera. She was filled with energy and exuberance.


    She forgot the signs of her aging were visible. Her weary posture became what she believed to be smoldering.


    She danced and asked me to help her pull her leg this way and her shoulders that way, to be a two-inch shorter version of Lady Gaga.


    Lady Gaga has built a brand of glamor, fashion, and appeal. It isn't a brand that typically appeals to women Grandma's age.


    On the other hand, in this moment, Grandma didn't have to know the music of Lady Gaga, she seemed to hear the message that she is empowered. She is not defeated by her age.


    Watching this woman, four decades older than me, forget about being labeled "old", or that her skin sags and looks like crepe paper, made me realize that there is beauty in the actual experience of aging.


    While my grandma is not the superstar of Lady Gaga proportions, she is my very own rock star!

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

  • Head Choppers For Hillary
    Hillary Clinton might struggle with young voters, but she polls well with medieval dictatorships that execute wizards and don't allow women to drive. Unfortunately for Clinton, Riyadh isn't scheduled to hold a Democratic primary (yet). But there's nothing that Debbie Wasserman Schultz can't fix.

    We understand that part of the job of Secretary of State involves "diplomacy", that long-forgotten art of talking to people instead of drone-bombing them. And we recognize that being an effective diplomat means building cordial, constructive relationships, even with countries that lob off the heads of Hogwarts graduates.

    But when you receive "white gold jewelry with teardrop rubies and diamonds containing a necklace, a bracelet, earrings, and a ring" from the despotic ruler of a 14th century kingdom of sadness, maybe it's time to find a new not-so-secret admirer.

    There are many hurtful accusations on the internet which suggest that Hillary Clinton is cold, calculating and generally incapable of normal human feelings. Horrible slander. Back in January, Hillary and her husband said they were "saddened" by the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, their philanthropic "friend" who donated $10 million to the Clinton Foundation. Later, as Secretary of State, Clinton approved a $29 billion weapons sale to Saudi Arabia ("not a bad Christmas present", according to Hillary's e-mails). And rest assured, The Kingdom has put this high-tech U.S. hardware to good use:

    These are the very fighter jets the Saudis have been using to intervene in the internal affairs of Yemen since March 2015. A year later, at least 2,800 Yemeni civilians have been killed, mostly by airstrikes--and there is no end in sight. The indiscriminate Saudi strikes have killed journalists and ambulance drivers. They have hit the Chamber of Commerce, facilities supported by Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders), a wedding hall, and a center for the blind. The attacks have also targeted ancient heritage sites in Yemen. International human rights organizations are saying that the Saudi-led strikes on Yemen may amount to war crimes.

    There is now a growing international movement which seeks to place an arms embargo on Saudi Arabia. This would be an unacceptable blow to America's bustling defense industry.

    Frankly speaking, Bernie Sanders lacks the foreign policy expertise -- and fancy-pants "nonprofit" Foundation -- to keep the weapons to Riyadh flowing.

    Head Choppers 4 Hillary.

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  • Why Older People Just Love Facebook

    When Facebook was born in 2004, the oldest baby boomers were in their late 50s, and older members of the silent generation were reaching their early 80s. If you thought they were going to sit back and let gifs, emojis and status updates pass them by, you were wrong, according to new research.

    In a survey of over 350 American adults between the ages of 60 and 86, researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that older people enjoy the same things their younger counterparts do: using Facebook to bond with old friends and develop relationships with like-minded people. They also like to keep tabs on their loved ones.

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  • I Couldn't Disagree More With What David Brooks Said In His Article "How Covenants Make Us"
    I typically agree with much of what David Brooks has to say. However, I'm afraid that he was way off the mark with his article "How Covenants Make Us."

    Demographic diversity in the United States is a good thing. The problem has to do with the lack of integration and assimilation of demographically diverse communities. As the Editorial Board for the New York Times said in an article titled The Scrambled States of Immigration, "laws and policies that deny rights and promote exclusion have been the source of shame and regret throughout American history. Integration and assimilation are the core values of a country that is in danger of forgetting itself."

    Consider the following comment from Shikha Dalmia's articles titled What India Can Teach Us About Islam and Assimilation that was published by Time Magazine on April 10, 2015:

    "All of this suggests that if 150-million-plus Muslims have managed to 'melt' in the 'pot' of India's young and fragile democracy without boiling over into violence, they'll be able to do so in America even more easily, especially given that its democracy is stronger and more established, and their numbers are much smaller. What won't help, however, is anti-Muslim fear mongering based on a narrative knit from gaudy acts of extremism that fails to take full measure of the broader Muslim reality."

    We have a very serious problem in the United States with self-segregation. We fear those who are different from ourselves and we aren't allowing for assimilation to occur. If we focused on our similarities rather than our differences, diversity would be a very good thing. Demographic diversity isn't a problem in those parts of our country where there has been both an integration and assimilation of diverse groups. However, it is a problem where such integration and assimilation has not occurred.

    It is impossible to open up a newspaper or watch any news program without hearing about States that have enacted, attempted to enact or are attempting to enact "Religious Freedom" laws. However, so-called "Religious Freedom" laws increase conflict through isolation." For clarification purposes, isolation is the opposite of assimilation. Integration and assimilation are very positive things because they enable people to see other perspectives, which is the core of empathy.

    Brene' Brown, Ph.D., LMSW's thoughts on this issue are as follows:

    "We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can't have both. Not at the same time....

    For leaders, vulnerability often looks and feels like discomfort. In his book 'Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us', Seth Goldin writes, 'Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable.... It's uncomfortable to stand in front of strangers. It's uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. It's uncomfortable to challenge the status quo. It's uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle. When you identify the discomfort, you've found the place where a leader is needed. If you're not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it's almost certain you're not reaching your potential as a leader.'...

    "Disengagement is the issue underlying the majority of problems I see in families, schools, communities, and organizations and it takes many forms.... We disengage to protect ourselves from vulnerability, shame, and feeling lost without purpose. We also disengage when we feel like the people who are leading us - our boss, our teachers, our principal, our clergy, our parents, our politicians - aren't living up to their end of the social contract.

    "Politics is a great, albeit painful, example of social contract disengagement. Politicians on both sides of the isle are making laws that they're not required to follow or that don't affect them, they're engaging in behaviors that would result in most of us getting fired, divorced, or arrested. They're espousing values that are rarely displayed in their behavior. And just watching them shame and blame each other is degrading for us. They're not living up to their side of the social contract and voter turnout statistics show that we're disengaging.

    "Religion is an example of social contract disengagement. First, disengagement is often the result of leaders not living by the same values they're preaching. Second, in an uncertain world, we often feel desperate for absolutes. It's the human response to fear. When religious leaders leverage our fear and need for more certainty by extracting vulnerability from spirituality and turning faith into 'compliance and consequences,' rather than teaching and modeling how to wrestle with the unknown and how to embrace mystery, the entire concept of faith is bankrupt on its own terms. Faith minus vulnerability equals politics, or worse, extremism. Spiritual connection and engagement is not built on compliance, it's the product of love, belonging, and vulnerability....

    "Compassion: Recognizing the light and dark in our shared humanity, we commit to practicing loving-kindness with ourselves and others in the face of suffering.

    "Empathy: The most powerful tool of compassion, empathy is an emotional skill that allows us to respond to others in a meaningful, caring way. Empathy is the ability to understand what someone is experiencing and to reflect back that understanding. It's important to note here that empathy is understanding what someone is feeling, not feeling it for them... We can fake empathy, but when we do, it's not healing or connecting. The prerequisite for real empathy is compassion. We can only respond empathically if we are willing to be present to someone's pain. Empathy is the antidote to shame and it is the heart of connection....

    "The idea of 'do this or dislike these people if you want to be accepted into our group' emerged as a major shame setup in the research. It doesn't matter if the group is a church or a gang or a sewing circle or masculinity itself, asking members to dislike, disown, or distance themselves from another group of people as a condition of 'belonging' is always about control and power. I think we have to question the intentions of any group that insists on disdain toward other people as a membership requirement. It may be disguised as belonging, but real belonging doesn't necessitate disdain.

    "A faith community can choose to be a place of hurt or healing. That is a binary. Those are the only two choices. There is no neutrality. That's it. If you're not healing, then you are hurting."

    We have quite a number of politicians who use religion in the exact same way that Dr. Brown mentioned. What could be more dangerous than having religious extremist politicians who are "not living up to their side of the social contract"? Of course, since religious extremists lack empathy or compassion for anyone who falls outside of their particular religious worldview and since we live in an incredibly diverse society, they can't possibly "live up to their side of the social contract."

    The need to belong and feeling of disengagement cause many people to join extremist groups.

    Economic globalization is not creating inequality, but rather crony capitalism, corruption and the fact that politicians are in the pockets of the rich and powerful.

    I agree with David Brooks that "over the past generation we have seen the rise of a group of people who are against politics ... [which] has had a wretched effect on our democracy. However, when "politicians" are in the pockets of the ultra wealthy elite and don't give a hoot about the constituents who actually voted them into office, there's a serious problem. This reality has been going on for a very long time. We can blame it on Citizens United, but that merely worsened an already very serious problem. The problem ultimately lies in politics having become a career. That being said, it doesn't help that our politicians don't tend to have a thorough understanding of civics.

    Regardless of how you feel about President Obama, he understands civics.

    President Obama recognizes that the President of the United States represents the entire country. As he said, "whether that president is a Democrat or a Republican, once the debates have been had here, that he or she is the spokesperson on behalf of U.S." In that regard, the President represents all of the citizens of the United States, regardless of their race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, height, weight, genetic information, marital status, disability, or veteran status. This is something that the Republican leaders better come to understand because it is Civics 101.

    It seems as though many of the Republican Governors and Congressmen currently in office or who have previously held office seem not to grasp the fact that it is their job to represent all of their constituents, not just those in their political party, those in the majority, or those holding their same views, but all of them! By the way, the same is true of some former Presidents. They should have learned a bit about civics before taking elected office. In fact, it seems that a great many of the problems we are having with our government in this country (federal, state and local) is that our politicians don't understand civics or just opt to ignore it, even though they work in that field. If someone runs for elected office, regardless of their politics, they better be ready, willing and able to represent all of their constituents. If someone is not prepared to take on that responsibility, they have no business running for political office.

    Anyone running for President in 2016 better learn a a thing or two about civics. With power comes responsibility!

    I'd like to share a proposed California ballot measure that would have all gays and lesbians put to death. It was submitted by a licensed California attorney. My point has to do with the damage caused by fundamentalist thought and teachings. Are people born with hate or are they taught to hate? If so, why and what can be done to cause the beliefs to change?

    The following are the lyrics to Rogers and Hammerstein's song from South Pacific titled You've Got To Be Carefully Taught:

    "You've got to be taught
    To hate and fear,
    You've got to be taught
    From year to year,
    It's got to be drummed
    In your dear little ear
    You've got to be carefully taught.

    You've got to be taught to be afraid
    Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
    And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
    You've got to be carefully taught.

    You've got to be taught before it's too late,
    Before you are six or seven or eight,
    To hate all the people your relatives hate,
    You've got to be carefully taught!"

    We have problems in this country with regard to persistent racism, anti-gay's running for President. By the way, that is the same as running for President and proudly stating that you are a racist.

    The article titled How Gay Marriage Became A Constitutional Right that was published by The Atlantic on July 1, 2015 explains why this had to be decided by the Supreme Court one way or another. Consider the Affordable Care Act, for example. It was passed in Congress and has now been challenged twice in the Supreme Court based on Constitutionality issues and upheld.

    It's not up for the people to decide. If that were true, we would have majority rule. Our governmental system was designed to protect people from majority rule.

    The fixation with marriage being defined as one man and one woman has to do with confusion of civil marriage with religious marriage. With civil marriage comes the 1,138 benefits, rights and protections provided on the basis of marital status in Federal law. Moreover, according to a report done by the New York Times in 2009, the lifetime value of those benefits ranges from $41,196 to $467,562 per married person. We all pay taxes. Have you heard of "taxation without representation"? What makes anyone think it is Constitutional to have all citizens pay for those benefits and deny them to gays and lesbians by denying them the right to marry? That is what happens when things occur as a result of majority rule. The gays and lesbians get to subsidize the straight population, by denying them the opportunity to marry.

    Before raising the issue of the marriage penalty for married couples, please note that there are far more taxes than just income taxes. For example, the DOMA decision from 2013 involved estate taxes due from the surviving spouse of a lesbian marriage that was legally recognized under State law, but not federal law. As a result, the surviving spouse was compelled to pay $363,053 in estate taxes that would not have been paid, had it been a marriage between a man and a woman. That inequity caused the provision in DOMA to be struck down.

    While the gay and lesbian community now has marriage equality, there is a long road ahead. This article titled Tolerance Is Not Enough by Thomas Watson on November 7, 1990 describes cause and effect.

    The most ironic thing about the Tea Party is the name itself, considering the beliefs held by the members of that Party. The Boston Tea Party and the ensuing American Revolution occurred as a result of "taxation without representation. Meanwhile, the Tea Party wants just that for U.S. citizens who happen to be members of the LGBT community.

    Returning to David Brooks' article, the problem isn't the choices offered by the internet, but rather the fact that people don't know how to critically think and their attention span is less than that of a goldfish. Therefore, most people just seek out that which confirms what they already believe or want to believe - confirmation bias, among other things.

    The problem also isn't "a culture of autonomy [that] valorizes individual choice and self-determination", rather the damage that's been caused as a result of people giving up their individual choice and self-determination. We do this when we allow biased judges and arbitrators to decide our disputes, rather than exercising self-determination.

    Just yesterday, I learned that Christine Wolf, the ex-wife of Dick Wolf, the creator and executive producer of the Law & Order franchise, contended that "the law requires a mediator to be a person who is without bias." The judge disagreed.

    No human being is "without bias." The question is whether or not someone is self-aware enough to be impartial. I'm afraid that self-awareness is an aspect of emotional intelligence, something most lawyers and judges have in very short supply.

    We allow lawyers to destroy children, families, and the fabric of our society by playing win/lose games, which don't play out well when families and interpersonal relationships are involved. Mediation and Collaborative Law are processes used to resolve conflicts and disputes through self-determination. However, people are misled into believing that litigation is the answer because it is our primary means of resolving disputes in the United States. Other countries have changed that default to mediation and made litigation the alternative.

    None "of these forces have...been bad for national cohesion and the social fabric."

    I agree with the following: "The weakening of the social fabric has created a range of problems. Alienated young men join ISIS so they can have a sense of belonging. Isolated teenagers shoot up schools. Many people grow up in fragmented, disorganized neighborhoods. Political polarization grows because people often don't interact with those on the other side. Racial animosity stubbornly persists."

    However, I completely disagree as to the reasons. My analysis was set forth in my article titled "The Need to Belong and Feeling of Disengagement Cause Many People to Join Extremist Groups."

    Furthermore, as Brene' Brown says,

    "When it comes to our sense of love, belonging, and worthiness, we are most radically shaped by our families of origin - what we hear, what we are told, and perhaps most importantly, how we observe our parents engaging with the world....

    "Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. One of the biggest surprises in this research was learning that fitting in and belonging are not the same thing. In fact, fitting in is about assessing a situation and becoming who you need to be in order to be accepted.Belonging, on the other hand, doesn't require us to change who we are; it requires us to be who we are....

    "Throughout the country and regardless of type of school, middle and high school students talk openly about the heartache of not feeling a sense of belonging at home.

    "The important thing to know about worthiness is that it doesn't have prerequisites. Most of us, on the other hand, have a long list of worthiness prerequisites - qualifiers we've inherited, learned and unknowingly picked up along the way. Most of these prerequisites fall in the categories of accomplishments, acquisitions, and external acceptance.... Shame loves prerequisites....

    "Are we sending them overt or covert messages about what makes them more or less lovable?"

    Mr. Brooks is also concerned about fitting in and Brene' Brown is very clear about the distinction between fitting in and belonging.

    I agree that "we want to go off and create and explore and experiment with new ways of thinking and living. But we also want to be situated -- embedded in loving families and enveloping communities, thriving within a healthy cultural infrastructure that provides us with values and goals." However, if you are mistaken as to the cause of the problem, you aren't going to develop "new ways of thinking and living" that solve it. If you ask the wrong question, you get the wrong answer.

    Patriotism is also not the answer because today's problems are global problems and can only be solved by collaboration among countries, not patriotism for each citizen's own country. Furthermore, "love of country" does not "necessitate love of each other." The Republican party has always claimed to be the patriotic party. However, that party does not stand for liberty and justice for all, equal dignity under the law, or equal rights - quite the contrary.

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  • 5 Red Flags To Watch For When You See A New Doctor

    Red Flag #1: They don't mention medication cost.
    Why it's worrisome: Cost is one of the reasons why 20 to 30 percent of prescriptions are never filled, according to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Not taking meds as prescribed has been found to lead to 125,000 preventable deaths per year, according to the National Council on Patient Information and Education. It makes sense: You can't take your meds if you can't afford to get them.
    What to do in the moment: Ask how much the medication they're prescribing is going to cost you. "Your doctor might not know how much a drug costs offhand, but they should be willing to look into it," says Leana Wen, MD, coauthor ofWhen Doctors Don't Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Medical Tests. If it's more than you can pay, discuss whether there's a less expensive option. The CDC also suggests doctors provide manufacturer coupons to patients—ask if they have any available in office. If they say it's your responsibility to figure it out, see if there's someone else in the office—like a physician's assistant—who can help.
    Do you need a new doctor?: Probably not. You likely won't need to have this conversation more than once, so unless there were other things about the visit that concerned you, you can stay put.

    Red Flag #2: Every question they ask can be answered with a yes or no.
    Why it's worrisome: Open-ended queries are one of the most powerful tools doctors have to identify a problem, says Wen. Of course, many medical issues are diagnosed or confirmed via tests or physical exams, but those should come afteryour doc hears you out. If every question is more "Is this symptom new?" and less "When did the symptom start?" there's a chance you could be misdiagnosed or given tests that you don't need. Wen points out that 30 percent of all health spending, including tests and treatments, is unnecessary, per the Institute of Medicine —and with that comes the risk of side effects, anxiety and expensive medical bills.
    What to do in the moment: If you feel that there's more info your doc needs to know, try saying, "The short answer is yes, but there are some other factors that I think might be relevant." They'll likely want to hear what you have to say next.
    Do you need a new doctor?: Possibly. Communication styles can be stubbornly hard to change, and if you noticed other signs of a personality mismatch between the two of you as well (like rushing you through your longer answers or interrupting you), you should think about other options.

    Red Flag #3: They may not be putting their own health first.
    Why it's worrisome: No one's perfect, and physicians are human (they've raided the vending machine for lunch, too), but your doctor should be demonstrating basic healthy-lifestyle practices, especially when it comes to weight management. One study from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that 18 percent of overweight and obese doctors talked about weight loss with their obese patients, compared with 30 percent of docs at a healthier weight. Physicians who were in better shape also said they felt more confident in their ability to give useful diet and exercise advice to patients. That confidence matters: Obese patients who gave their docs high "helpfulness" ratings lost more than two times as much weight as those who said theirs weren't helpful (11 versus 5 pounds) in a 2015 study.
    What to do in the moment: If you want to talk weight—and your doctor isn't bringing it up—make the first move and ask for their advice. Most likely, they'll have plenty of ideas and resources to help you reach a healthier weight.
    Do you need a new doctor?: Yes, if they brush it off or offer less than helpful tips. You want a doctor who can help you identify the issues keeping you from getting to a healthy weight (you might know how to work out, for example, but just can't find the motivation to do it versus someone who needs a detailed fitness plan to follow) and come up with solutions tailored to you.

    Red Flag #4: They're quick to dismiss alternative remedies.
    Why it's worrisome: If you ask about herbs for your high blood pressure or taking up meditation for your anxiety and get little more than side-eye in response, you've got two problems. First, some alternative therapies could be harmful (certain herbs could interact with medications you're already on) and your doc should be able to clearly communicate any risks to you. Second, there are some non-traditional remedies that are backed up by research (and there's always new research being published)—you want to feel that you can trust that your doc is up to date on the literature. They may not have ready every study on the therapy you're suggesting, but "they should at least be open to discussing it," says Trisha Torrey, patient advocate ( and founder and director of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates. That shows a level of support, and a stronger patient-physician relationship drives better health behaviors, reports a 2011 study in Health Services Research.
    What you should do in the moment: If you've brought up your suggestion and your doctor says it's not a good idea, ask them to explain why.
    Do you need a new doctor?: Maybe. If they don't care to elaborate on why they're against the alternative option, you two probably aren't a good fit. They don't need to be an expert in using yoga for back pain or acupuncture for migraines for you to stay, but if they're willing to share their thoughts on it, it's a good sign that you two can come to a decision that's best for your health.

    Red Flag #5: They're making more eye contact with their computer than with you.
    Why it's worrisome: We're all for electronic health records, which are great for keeping your medical info in one place and are increasingly required by law. But being absorbed in them during the appointment means your doctor may not hear everything you say or may fail to notice telling body language, making it more likely that they'll miss key diagnostic information, says Zackary Berger, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine and author of Talking to Your Doctor and the forthcomingMaking Sense of Medicine.
    What you should do: Ask if you can spend a couple of minutes talking without the computer.
    Do you need a new doctor?: Probably not. Odds are your doctor won't take offense to your request (they likely don't enjoy staring at that screen any more than you enjoy feeling ignored), but if they do, you may want to find a doctor who takes a more personable approach to appointments.

    -- This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.

  • Your Life Is Now. Stop Waiting Until Your Ducks Are in a Row
    Your life isn't about reaching the final goal. It's not about crossing the finish line. It's about the beautiful roads you'll traverse on the way there.

    Life is a lot like marriage this way. It's not about the ceremony (which many people feel is the destination). It's about living and loving with another person every day for the rest of your life. It's time to love yourself and your life NOW and to stop waiting on reaching some imagined "destination".

    "Life is a journey, not a destination."
    - Ralph Waldo Emerson

    We've all heard this quote a hundred times. And it makes me giggle because I still think about that Aerosmith song when I hear it (and I'd probably sing you a line if you were sitting here with me! lol).

    But honestly, life is what happens on the road to reaching that ultimate goal.


    Photo by Author in Bisserup, Denmark

    Life is made up of the memories we cultivate on the way there.

    Will you be happy when you reach whatever goal you think you need to get to in order to finally be happy? Happiness doesn't just "click in" like that. It's something that develops through the trials and tribulations of the every day - it's a choice to be happy even when the shit hits the fan and things are uncomfortable. You can be happy even when getting a colonoscopy (seriously!).

    "Life is what happens when you're busy making others plans"
    - John Lennon

    John Lennon was right. Your life is happening RIGHT NOW.

    Time waits for no one. Every day and every hour that you wait to be happy, wait to enjoy things in your life, wait to use the "special linens" or "special dishes" is a day that you could have been ultimately and fully enjoying your life.

    Each day is an opportunity to live your fullest life or an opportunity to cheat yourself out of the juiciness that life has to offer because you think you're supposed to hold off on being happy, or having any fun, until you reach some imaginary goal.

    Guess what?

    Once you reach that goal, there's going to be another one, and another one, and another one you think you'll have to reach before you can allow yourself to be happy.

    First you think you have to graduate and get the college degree, then you think you have to get married to be happy, then you think "well, as soon as we have a house and I have a couple of kids I'll take time to enjoy life".

    But your life is passing you by each day you post-pone really throwing yourself into things full-bore and enjoying the HELL out of your life right at this minute.

    Think for a moment about what you feel when you hear me say "you're dying. Right at this moment. You're dying and moving closer and closer to death".

    How does it make you feel? Afraid that there's still a lot to be done? Sad that you've wasted time worrying about little things that don't really matter? Does it put you into a panic?

    Well, I hate to break it to you, but you ARE getting closer to death. Each day brings us one day closer. Each second. There's no denying that. There's no denying that time.

    "Time keeps on slippin', slippin', slippin'....Into the future"
    - The Steve Miller Band

    But don't let that scare you!

    That just means that you need to ride the HELL out of this wild adventure we call life in the here and now.

    Stop waiting for something to happen to make things fall into line and start working on your unleashing the true joys in life now. Right here in this moment. Tickle your spouse. Dance in the kitchen. Talk in muppet voices. Laugh at your farts for god-sakes. They're funny!!

    Stop refusing to see that you have control over how fun, enjoyable, and outright fantastical your life can be. You are NOT a victim of circumstance.

    Because YOU'RE NOT A VICTIM. YOU have the power. YOU have the power to change your life. YOU have the ability to go out there and live your life FULLY. Right in this moment. Right now.

    Seriously, what are you waiting for? Get up right now and do something that you've been putting off and postponing because you thought you had to wait until you had something in line or something figured out before you did it. Your ducks will never be all in a row. They're ducks. They don't play like that. And neither does life.

    Things will always be a little off kilter. And that's okay!! Because you can handle it and you can move forward on your journey.

    Start With Gratitude
    One great way to start living in the moment rather than constantly living for the future is to start being grateful. Start by seeing the wonder and glory of each day to help your mind form new neural pathways that are open to the positivity and wonder of the moment. A gratitude practice is a great first step to get you to stop living for the future and start appreciating the now!!

    "Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude."
    - Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Think about it this way, you're like a bud opening into a beautiful flower. But a flower doesn't open all at once. It's not like it's a bud one moment and then BOOM the next second it's a beautiful blossom.


    It takes time. One pedal at a time flourishes outward to express it's beauty until the entire flower is open and glorious. But we all love to look at roses when they're still not fully bloomed. They're still gorgeous in process!

    And so are you.

    You don't have to wait to be fully bloomed, for your journey to be fully realized, for you to appreciate yourself, your life, and enjoy the hell out of every moment.

    Start today. I dare you.

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  • Thousands Of Syrian Refugees Struggle To Survive In Turkish Port City

    During the early years of the Syrian conflict, Mersin was considered “the best place to be Syrian in Turkey” and thousands of middle-class Syrians fled to the port city. With few allowed to work and their resources now exhausted, most now struggle to survive. Mersin is the second stop in our series "Route Mediterranean."

    MERSIN, Turkey – Leila Ahmad still wears her wedding ring, a shiny silver band on the third finger of her left hand. At 37, she is the mother of four children – and a widow.

    A Palestinian refugee from the Golan Heights, occupied by Israel in 1967, Leila was married to a Syrian. As the civil war in Syria neared its fifth year, her oldest daughter, 17, began her final year of high school. But before she could graduate, the family was forced to flee.

    Leila's husband was detained by the Syrian regime. The family knew nothing of his whereabouts or fate until they received a photograph.

    Leila's second daughter, 15, hands me a phone with two images of her father on the screen. In one he stands outdoors beaming, his body silhouetted against the sun. The next image reveals a close-up of his face with him lying on a cement floor. His mouth hangs open, his eyes are frozen and his skin paled by a deathly blue hue.

    That was five months ago and the only closure the family had regarding his death.

    Now, Leila and her children are in Mersin, Turkey, a southern port city about 185 miles (300km) from the border with Syria. They share a room with 11 other people, all mothers and children. The dormitory they live in is run by a U.S.-based charity started by a Syrian engineer. “Without this center, we’d be sleeping in the street,” Leila said.

    “If they give us the basic support, we’ll stay here,” Leila said of the Turkish government. But her family receives no support from the government or international organizations. Even though she would take up any menial job to provide for her family, Leila isn’t able to find work. “I don’t want to travel [further] … I’m very afraid of migrating because you see people drowning at sea, but I don’t have a choice," she said.

    But even that option may soon cease to exist. With the E.U.–Turkey deal deterring refugees from attempting to travel to Greece, Syrians have few options other than to remain in Turkey. Due to uncertainty about their legal status and difficulties with integrating because of language barriers, Leila and other Syrians in Mersin find it hard to imagine a future here.

    Mersin, a city of around 1 million, hosts some 300,000 Syrian refugees. During the early years of the Syrian conflict, middle-class Syrians relocated here, contributing to its reputation as “the best place to be Syrian in Turkey,” according to Mohammed Rabie Zein, a 43-year-old businessman from Latakia. Zein helped found an NGO called the Syrian Social Gathering (SSG) four years ago. SSG has been a vital link between the Syrian community in Mersin and the Turkish authorities in providing educational, health, legal and social support to refugees. But the organization has financial difficulties and the staff has been working for six months without pay.

    Aid and support are dwindling at all levels. Many of those who came to Mersin with money and resources are now struggling.

    “If the same services were available here as in Europe, no Syrian would leave Turkey,” said Hussein al-Ibrahim, a 48-year-old judge from Manbij in Aleppo. He fled his home in January 2014 when it was overrun by the so-called Islamic State.

    Like all Syrian refugees, al-Ibrahim is in Turkey under a “temporary protection” regime that allows him to be here legally and have access to certain services, like free healthcare. But, like other Syrians in Mersin, he said he received very little support.

    “When refugees reach Europe, they are given housing and a simple salary until they can take care of themselves,” al-Ibrahim said. “This is why people go to Europe. They just want to survive.” None of this basic support exists in Turkey. Even food aid, clothes and blankets are in short supply in Mersin, and it’s difficult to find work.

    In January, Turkey introduced a new regulation allowing people in the country under the temporary protection regime to apply for work after six months of residency. This is “an example to other countries on how refugees should be received,” UNHCR spokesperson Selin Unal said. Previously, it was almost impossible for refugees to be legally employed.

    Less than 0.1 percent of the total Syrian refugee population in Turkey qualifies for work permits, according to a Turkish government report shared with aid workers in late March. This amounts to just 2,000 out of the 2.5 million registered refugees.

    “The situation here for us is unstable. If they give us refugee status we will have rights, but under temporary protection our rights are unclear,” said Mohamed Arabo, a 46-year-old lawyer from Afren in Aleppo, expressing a common sentiment among Syrians in Mersin. Highly qualified, he simply wants to continue working as a lawyer. But the system makes those like Arabo, who arrive with intellectual and financial resources, equally desperate. While they wait for an opportunity to restart their lives they slide into poverty.

    Most Syrians in Mersin work illegally, making them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. Language is a major barrier. European countries offer courses as part of an integration process. In Mersin, a few Arabic language schools teach a modified Syrian curriculum plus Turkish. Private institutions and NGOs, like SSG, offer courses, too, but there is no systematic program. Of roughly 35,000 school-age children in Mersin, only around 17,000 are actually enrolled, according to SSG statistics. Language is one of the main reasons for the low enrollment rate.

    Among those who do continue their studies, some learn the language and try to earn a degree here with the hope of finding employment after graduation. But many parents send their children to Europe, along the dangerous route across the Aegean Sea, so they have the opportunity to graduate from high school and attend university.

    Three of al-Ibrahim’s five children are in Germany. “The most important thing they went there for is education. Nothing else matters. If we didn’t send them there, they wouldn’t have a future,” he said.

    Al-Ibrahim spent a total of $13,000 to have his children smuggled out of Turkey. “I sold my house to pay for them to reach Europe. I spent 20 years building that house just to sell it like that,” he said, raising his hand and snapping his fingers.

    “When I left, I thought I would just stay for two or three months and go back to Syria.” Now, with his resources nearly exhausted, al-Ibrahim struggles to pay rent from month to month. Two of his three sons are adults, and the other is nearly 18, so making it to Europe through family reunification seems like a long shot. Building a future in Mersin, with all of the uncertainties, seems equally unlikely.

    With the borders closing and no possibility of returning home, al-Ibrahim feels stuck. “I regret I didn’t go with them,” he said.

    With the E.U.-Turkey deal returning Syrians to Turkey, the situation is set to become even more precarious as more refugees compete for a limited number of illegal jobs. With mounting accusations against the Turkish government of turning away Syrian refugees, it remains to be seen if those already in Turkey will outstay their "temporary" welcome.

    Route Mediterranean is a Refugees Deeply series that follows one of several refugee routes that form the Mediterranean Crossings.

    This article originally appeared on Refugees Deeply. For weekly updates and analysis about refugee issues, you can sign up to the Refugees Deeply email list.

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  • Saudi Arabia--A Kingdom In Retreat
    SBM decapitation illustration

    Illustration by Sam Ben-Meir

    The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which was once at the front and center of the Arab world and a significant player on the global stage due to its oil riches, has been steadily losing its regional influence and prominent role. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has been confronted with multiple challenges simultaneously, including its domestic, social, political, economic and religious trials, its conflict with Iran, its bilateral relations with the US, the rise of extremism, and the intra-Arab crisis. Saudi Arabia failed to catch up with the rapidly changing developments that engulfed the region, and now it finds itself squeezed from all angles, with little prospect of relief unless the kingdom undertakes sweeping changes.

    The challenge for Saudi Arabia is that given its culture, socio-political make up, and the dominant role of religion, it will be extraordinarily difficult for the Saudis to change direction without experiencing great turmoil that could destabilize the country for many years to come. That said, the Saudis have little choice but to begin serious domestic and foreign policy reforms consistent with the changing regional geopolitical environment, and do so gradually to preserve the integrity and stability of the kingdom.

    The growing domestic challenges:

    Since the 2003 Iraq war and especially in the wake of the Arab Spring, the country is going through an identity crisis. There is growing unrest among many youth who no longer tolerate living in servitude and oppression--they want more freedom and civil rights, and refuse to settle for handouts to keep them quiet.

    With the eruption of the Arab Spring, the government spent $130 billion to silence the opposition. These top-to-bottom handouts failed to satisfy the nearly 60 percent of the population under the age of twenty-one.

    They are unwilling to live in a country where criticism of the government is considered a threat to national security, live fire is used against protesters, secret police are everywhere, freedom of speech is completely stifled, and women are confined to the home.

    Any political opposition is quelled by force, and punishments for crimes such as blasphemy, sorcery, and apostasy, are gruesome and carried out publicly. In 2015 alone, 157 people were beheaded, and more than 82 have been executed thus far in 2016, which is twice as many as have been beheaded by ISIS in the same time period.

    Moreover, political activists serve long-term sentences and administrative detention is rampant. The opportunities for upward mobility and personal growth are limited, leaving little for which to aspire. This has led many young men to join various terrorist organizations in the search for a new identity.

    Although there are women activists struggling for reform, violence against women is symptomatic in Saudi culture and is accepted as a means of controlling their behavior. The state-sanctioned execution of women convicted of adultery (whom are often in reality the victims of rape), and killing of women by male relatives (honor killing) for sexual offences, perceived or otherwise, is acceptable.

    Religious oppression:

    Given that Saudi Arabia is the custodian of Sunni Islam and is the seat of the holiest Muslim shrines in Mecca (the birthplace of Mohammed) and Medina, the Saudis have carved for themselves a special role in the Sunni Muslim world.

    The annual Hajj to Mecca further enshrines the Saudis' religious role and enhances their strict form of Sunni Islam (Wahhabism), which they have been exporting to every Muslim state by building thousands of schools (madrassas) at an exorbitant cost.

    The country is run by sharia law, music is not allowed, religious police are given extended authority to use extreme violence, and the religious Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice enforces Islamic law. All Saudis are expected to attend mosque every Friday, and Wahhabism is taught from an early age.

    Saudi Arabia uses religion to control the population and teaches to hate those who do not share their Islamic values. The clergy exercises extraordinary power and are free to issue edicts (Fatwas) at their pleasure.

    The religious system is often run contrary to the social, political, and economic aspirations of the young, and is leading to a growing resentment which is becoming increasingly troublesome for the government.

    The looming economic crisis:

    With estimated oil reserves of 270 billion barrels, the fall of oil prices has had an unprecedented effect on the Saudi economy. The oil crisis has inflicted major economic disruption, forced the government to cut subsidies and curtail many development projects, and reduced its international stature and ability to exert influence over other Arab states.

    Although the Saudis have nearly $660 billion in cash reserves, the government has withdrawn roughly $70 billion to make up for shortages in the fiscal 2015 national budget. If the price of oil decreases further in the next few years, the Saudi economy could go bankrupt.

    There is massive inequality between the various classes. Nearly one fifth of the population lives in poverty, especially in the predominantly Shiite south where, ironically, much of the oil reservoirs are located. In these areas, sewage runs in the streets, and only crumbs are spent to alleviate the plight of the poor.

    While the poor are getting poorer, thousands of princes and princesses live lavishly (mostly in Europe), spending hundreds of millions of dollars and occupying opulent villas, which further drains economic resources.

    Being that Saudi Arabia has and continues to be almost completely dependent for revenue on oil exports, which has more than covered its national budget, it had no compelling reason to develop diversified industries.

    Moreover, the Saudis became increasingly dependent on millions of foreign laborers, who are subjected to abusive, slave-like conditions, to do the 'dirty work' that Saudi citizens are unwilling to undertake.

    The hostile rivalry with Iran:

    The relationship between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran has always been characterized by tension and mistrust. The quiet enmity came to the fore in the wake of the 2003 Iraq war and the growing influence of Tehran over the Shiite Iraqi government.

    This was further aggravated with the eruption of the civil war in Syria, where Iran supported the Assad regime with money, military equipment, training, and subsequently foot soldiers, while the Saudis provided similar aid to the rebels opposed to Assad, short of dispatching ground troops.

    The enmity between the two countries took another turn for the worse when it was suspected that Iran was pursuing a nuclear weapons program, which Riyadh viewed as a direct threat to its national security. Despite the Iran deal, the Saudis remain deeply skeptical about Tehran's ultimate intentions.

    The Iraq war also ignited the dormant millennium-old religious conflict between Sunnis and Shiites, and Syria and Iraq became the battleground between the two sects, where the bloodshed continues unabated, claiming the lives of thousands each year.

    The execution of the Saudi Shiite cleric Sheikh Nimr al Nimr--an icon who called for addressing human rights violations in Saudi Arabia, was charged with incitement and treason, and sentenced to death along with 46 others--further deepened the animosity between the two countries. This caused unrest among Shiites in the country, sparked protests in Tehran, and was condemned by the international community.

    To be sure, although Tehran recently called for reconciliation with the Saudis, the latter rejected the Iranian gesture as the Saudis view the conflict with Iran as irreconcilable, mainly due to religious and geopolitical reasons, as both seek to exercise regional hegemony.

    Due to the size of the population, its natural resources, and industrial advancement, the Saudis believe that Iran will inevitably become the regional powerhouse, with the ability and resources to intimidate the entire Gulf region (especially once it acquires nuclear weapons), which the Saudis consider their own domain.

    The unsettling relations with the US:

    Although Saudi Arabia and the United States have enjoyed decades of close bilateral relations, the relationship has soured over the changing geostrategic interests of the US and its 'pivot' to the East, and the manner in which it has tackled the Syrian civil war and the Iran deal.

    While the US continues to support Saudi Arabia militarily and remains the de facto guarantor of its national security, the Saudis remain unconvinced of the US' commitment to that end.

    Indeed, from the vantage point of regional security, the Obama administration chose to draw a balance between Saudi Arabia and Iran. In a recent interview with the Atlantic, President Obama said that they "need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood." Moreover, Obama believes that bringing Iran out of its isolation will lead to greater regional stability, from which the Saudis will also benefit.

    Another point of contention between the two countries is Obama's failure to make good on his vow to punish Assad if he crossed the "red line" of using chemical weapons against civilians, which created serious doubts in the minds of the Saudis that the US won't come to their aid, even if their security is threatened.

    Despite repeated efforts by the US to assure the Saudis of America's unwavering commitment to their national security, the strained relationship is likely to persist. The Saudis still believe that the nuclear deal will only delay rather than end Iran's ambition to acquire nuclear weapons, which may lead to regional nuclear proliferation.

    The dangerous intra-Arab crisis:

    Due to its riches and ability to provide financial support to several Arab countries including Jordan and Egypt, the Saudis have been able to exert significant influence throughout the region and essentially assume the leadership role of the Arab world, which was traditionally held by Egypt.

    With the rise of Egyptian President Sisi to power, however, the pendulum swung back and Egypt reassumed its leadership role, even though the country remains in need of Saudi financial aid. The recent visit of the Saudi monarch attests to the Kingdom's need of Egypt's support in confronting Iran, the turmoil in Iraq and Syria, and in its fight against the Houthis in Yemen.

    The prognosis for the future does not bode well for Saudi Arabia as the Sunni-Shiite conflict is simply unwinnable, and regardless of how the civil war in Syria comes to an end, Iran will continue to exercise considerable influence in the country. The same can be said about Iraq, which has, in any case, a Shiite majority.

    In conclusion, Saudi Arabia must face these challenges head on and avoid what might become an albatross that would choke off its potential to be a significant player in and outside the region.

    In dealing with human rights, the current state of affairs is bound to come back and haunt the Saudi government as it would be impossible to silence such a huge segment of the population, even with the use of brutal force.

    Young men should be given greater opportunities for growth, and women deserve basic civil rights and freedom from servitude; the Kingdom can accomplish this while still maintaining Islamic tradition along the lines of what other Gulf states have successfully done.

    The Saudi government must wake up to this ominous development because it is now only a matter of time when the young will rise and be prepared to die, like many of their brethren in Egypt, Libya, and Syria, for a cause they believe in.

    In relation to the practice of religion, the survival of the kingdom may well depend on its ability to ease religious pressure and decisively limit the internal religious police's prerogatives to use force at their whims without any accountability.

    It is about time to modify the criminal justice system and end the public display of beheadings, which does nothing but further alienate the public--instead of spreading fear and awe, it breeds hatred and resentment of the government, which only increases defiance.

    The government must heed the public outcry without necessarily compromising the religious principles that guide the county. Being a devout Muslim is one thing, but using religion arbitrarily and as a tool to subjugate the people will no longer be tolerated.

    In addition, the government must end draconian legislation in the name of religion. In fact, the more religious laws and edicts are imposed, the greater the youth's rejection will be.

    Economically, the country must now focus on industrial development on a large scale and gradually reduce its dependence on revenue generated from the energy sector. This will provide over time millions of jobs and create a self-sustaining middle class.

    In addition, the government should also invest in sustainable development projects that would allow communities to choose their own projects, develop a sense of empowerment while supporting themselves without handouts, and regain their self-respect.

    Regarding the Saudi-Iranian conflict, both sides ought to begin a process of reconciliation and restore diplomatic relations, which could also potentially help facilitate a mutually-accepted solution to Syria's civil war.

    With the best of intentions, the bilateral relations between the two countries will continue to experience ups and downs, and hence accepting the inescapable reality of where each stands religiously and geopolitically could ease tensions and lead to improved relations, recognizing that neither of them can win the religious war or dominate the entire region.

    In respect to the US, the Saudis have little choice but to trust the US to stand by it, not only because of the US' commitment to shield the kingdom from outside threats, but also because the US continues to have major strategic interests in the region.

    The Saudis, however, must also understand that in being a global power, the US must balance its overall strategic interests with its bilateral relations with countries who are hostile to one another; the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Iran deal offer good cases in point.

    And finally, in connection with intra-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia can still play a leading role, but it must adjust to unfolding events throughout the region while maintaining its leadership role in the Gulf.

    Moreover, the Saudis, who have genuine concerns over the security of the entire Arabian Peninsula, should work toward ending the violence between the Houthis and the internationally-recognized government of Yemen.

    Saudi Arabia is facing a pivotal crossroad; the kingdom must take a hard look at its internal and external affairs and chart a new course to stave off the otherwise inevitable violent eruption by the country's youth who are no longer willing to live with the status quo.

    The above challenges cannot be overcome unless Saudi Arabia faces reality, as none will be mitigated by wishful thinking or by the use of excessive force and brutal acts in the name of a higher authority, which has long since been universally rejected with revulsion.

    Saudi Arabia has the human and natural resources to reclaim its leadership role in the Gulf, and together with other regional powers must embark on a process of reconciliation, which is the only recipe for stability and peace.

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  • #TalkToMe: Rabbi Shmuley's Daughters Interview Him

    When Arianna Huffington first asked me to do a #TalkToMe video with my daughters it raised all kinds of fears. What would my children ask me? What would I have to reveal to them? What if there were things that I did not want the rest of the world to know?

    Slowly the power of the idea hit me. We as parents are so often asking questions of our children and trying to engage them as much and as deeply as possible. But the idea of a reverse engagement, of opening up the well streams of our experience, wisdom, and knowledge to an eager next generation of youth, is no longer a modern rite of passage, even with our own children.

    When I sat down to do the interview with my eldest daughter Mushki, and my third daughter Shterny, they were insistent that I could not have an inkling of the questions before. That made it more mysterious but also created more anxiety. They are accustomed to seeing me interviewed, and they're even more accustomed to my peppering them with questions at the dinner table. With the roles reversed I was in a position of disempowerment. It made me feel vulnerable. But it was also invigorating and lots of fun.

    At the end an intimate video emerged, bright and hopeful. It created a deeper bond between my daughters and me as they got me, like no other interviewer before, to speak candidly and emotionally about all that is valuable about being a father.

    This is a brilliant series idea by Arianna, which I am so glad to participate in.

    Now, watch with kid gloves and please be gentle.

    Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

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  • Hero Bus Driver Saves 6-Year-Old Boy From Choking On Coin

    Oklahoma school bus driver Ginger Maxville leapt into action when a 6-year-old boy started choking on a coin.

    She got out from behind the wheel, lifted little Cameron into the aisle and performed the Heimlich maneuver. As the boy's face turned red, the Mannford Public Schools employee repeatedly pressed into his abdomen.

    After a few moments, she eventually got him to cough up the coin, and it rolled onto the floor.

    The dramatic incident was captured by a surveillance camera on the bus, and the footage is now going viral.

    Maxville, who is also a special needs teaching assistant at Mannford Public School, said she initially thought Jansson was messing around.

    "I thought he was just teasing me and I thought he was just not following my instructions and not sitting down," she told KTUL-TV.

    But she soon realized the youngster was being deadly serious when his sister, who was sitting next to him, said she thought he'd swallowed a coin.

    "I made sure the bus was secure, went back and grabbed the student," Maxville, who'd just let another student off the bus, told ABC News.

    "He was just red and gasping for air." It's the first time Maxville has used the life-saving technique in her 17-year career.

    "I was just surprised that this was happening and I thought I got to see if I was really paying attention when I had my training and it paid off," she told news station WEAR.

    The youngster later asked if he could keep the coin. Maxville agreed, but on one condition: that he never swallowed it again.

    The boy's mom, Robin Jansson, said he was now back to his happy self, and had nothing but praise for Maxville. "She just really is an angel in our eyes," she told

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  • Bitter's Kiss Is the Musical Lovechild of Lana Del Rey and Lorde

    "Who are you trying to impress when you pray?...How many things can go on in a day/That you stay on your knees so long?" starts "The Rope," the lead single from New Jersey singer-songwriter Chloe Baker, known on stage as Bitter's Kiss.

    The track, like many songs on Bitter's Kiss' self-titled debut album, is so well-anchored by its atmospheric arrangement and Baker's enchanting voice that if you aren't listening closely, you might miss the lyrics' poignant exploration of teen suicide, made apparent with lines like, "There's a quicker way to heaven if you can find yourself a rope."

    Both Bitter's Kiss' dusky sound and thematic focus on life's darker, more painful realities naturally evoke comparisons to fellow East-Coaster Lana Del Rey. Like Lana, Chloe debuts with support from her instrumentalist father, Michael, the other half of her act. The two recorded and produced the album together in their home studio over the course of several months.

    Other tracks, including "No One Will" , "Love Won't Make You Cry," and their most recent single, "Friday Nights," parallel Lorde, another teenage singer-songwriter with musical maturity beyond her years. If David Bowie's prophetic instinct that Lorde is the future of music turns out to be true (and, let's face it, it's Bowie -- it probably will), there's no doubt Lorde will find herself in the company of Bitter's Kiss in just a matter of time.

    However, the album, like any artist's first foray into recording, isn't perfect. Its weakest track, "Lovin' Life," plays like an early Sara Bareilles song that likely wouldn't make the cut on her albums today, and displays a more GAP-compilation-CD path Bitter's Kiss could potential take, which would likely be the wrong one.

    But a few flouncy tracks do little to lessen the emotional impact of the album as a whole. "Waste of it All" and "Already Gone" carry listeners back into Bitter's impressive melodic world, demonstrating yet another route Barker might toy around with in the future (a more expensive one that'd have to happen after the success of her first radio single, when her production value increases), with symphonic instrumentation similar to arrangements found on Airborne Toxic Event LPs and some of Brandi Carlile's more sweeping recordings.

    The bottom line with Barker -- for me, at least -- is she reintroduces us to a time in pop-culture when the diary-style lyrics of everyone from Riot Grrrl musicians to Lilith Fair acts were allowed to enter the mainstream and take even the most macho radio listeners on catchy journeys into young women's most private moments and thoughts. With 90's trends reviving in full force, Bitter's Kiss' storytelling and aesthetic seem poised to hit at the right place and time. If this cover of The Cure's "Just Like Heaven" doesn't get you excited for her impending moment, you just aren't hearing it right.

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  • If You've Lost Faith in Humanity, This One's For You
    Here's something I'm noticing in alarming frequency: there's a lot of blame happening, especially and overwhelmingly on the internet. And the blame I'm seeing is this pointing-of-fingers on who is ruining our humanity, which honestly seems like a tall order to throw onto ANYONE. I'm not really talking about politics or social justice issues or anything that high level, although that is certainly part of the finger-pointing.

    I'm talking about blame in terms of the substance of culture, the quality of our celebrity idols, and ultimately the decline of kind acts and compassionate people. Almost every day I see an update where a person posts something redeeming about humanity and captions it by saying it has "restored their faith in humanity."

    This is wildly condescending. And unproductive. To shift blame on others and to belabor the "downfall of humanity" by way of any number of things misses a crucial part of this picture: that you are humanity, too. And we are all responsible for the shape of our planet and the state of our world. To point fingers and blame others is to rid yourself of responsibility.

    And, truly, this is an epidemic: that people believe it is other people's responsibility to prove to them that humanity is good while never taking a look in the mirror to determine if they are being that proof to someone else today. If you are tired of meaningless celebrity culture, stop consuming it. If you are tired of art that is void of quality, start making the damn art you want to see in the world. If you walk around believing that the way it is is the way it will always be, then you've already lost the game. If you are exhausted by irredeemable people, be redeeming to someone else today.

    It is not someone else's responsibility to give you permission to be a kind, compassionate, and loving person today, right now, or ever.

    Change starts in you -- and if all you do is spend your time focusing on what everyone else is doing wrong, you are contributing to the problem. Just because someone is rude to you doesn't give you permission to pay that unkindness forward. Just because everyone else -- in your eyes -- is vapid or vain or devoid of substance doesn't mean that you shouldn't stand tall in your own substance, that you shouldn't think long and hard about how you can shift something, anything in this world so that it better reflects what kind of place you want to live in.

    Whether we want to believe it or not, we are part of this whole system, each one of us. To blame is to ultimately usurp your own power to make a change, to have an impact, and to create even a tiny revolution of your own doing. By letting other people dictate who you are or what you are capable of is to give them more power than they already have. Take it back and take onto your back the responsibility of creating a better world for yourself and for generations to come. The more of us who feel infinitely and intimately responsible for what progress humanity makes, the better off we will all be.

    If you've lost faith in humanity, others have, and that means even more so that we need to make compassion, kindness, and love the priority in every interaction. It starts with you. It always has.

    Stop giving other people your power. Rein it back in. And ultimately, be the damn change.

    For more from Jamie Varon: Facebook and Twitter and Instagram

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