Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley, and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s

Jeff Pearlman writes in this 2014 book:

* Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hated white people.

Read that sentence again.

And again.

And again.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar hated white people and, quite frankly, why wouldn’t he have? Born on April 16, 1947, in New York City, he was named Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Jr. by his parents—Cora Lillian, a department store price checker, and Ferdinand Lewis Alcindor Sr., a transit police officer and jazz trombonist who graduated from the Juilliard School of music and later played with Art Blakey and Yusef Lateef. Lewis entered the world weighing twelve pounds, ten ounces and measuring twenty-two and a half inches long—signs that America had received its latest future beanstalk.

Growing up in Harlem’s Dyckman housing complex, Lewis became increasingly aware that life for black Americans was painfully confounding. In his autobiography, Giant Steps, he recalled a boyhood trip with his mother to Associated, the neighborhood grocery store. “The store manager decided we were dangerous customers, or maybe he just felt like wielding a little power that day,” he wrote. “He intercepted my mother and told her to check her bag up front. The store was full of people with all sorts of baggage, but he was going to make us the example. My mother took this for what it was, another in a lifetime of petty harassments, and told the man that if he had to satisfy himself that she was no thief, he could inspect the package when she left.”

Lew Alcindor was not merely black. He was tall and black and painfully aware of the stares and the glares and the suspicious looks and the inevitable sight of store employees tracking his whereabouts. His first best friend was a white child named John. They were classmates at St. Jude’s parish elementary school who bonded over model airplanes and funny jokes. By seventh grade, however, an unspoken racial tension divided the two. One day, during lunch, John and Lew wound up in the principal’s office after a scuffle. As Alcindor left, he heard someone yelling at him. “Hey, nigger! Hey, jungle bunny! You big jungle nigger!”

It was John. “Fuck you, you . . . milk bottle,” Alcindor responded.

“It was the only white thing I could think of,” he later wrote. “It really pissed him off, but he didn’t come anywhere near me. We never spoke again.”

* Alcindor graduated junior high in the summer of 1961, and found himself growing apart from white friends. “They made it extremely clear . . . that I wasn’t at home in their crowd,” he wrote. He arrived at Power Memorial that fall, uninspired by the heavy-handed Catholic doctrine. Inside his new school, Jesus was white and Pope John XXIII was infallible and masturbation could result in an eternity of blindness alongside the devil. There was one lecture after another, mostly warning the students that they were sinners who needed to repent.

For a young man who absorbed books (he was addicted to Greek tragedies) and questioned doctrine, it was torturous.

Until basketball started.

* If Alcindor arrived in Los Angeles with particular misgivings about Caucasians, they were only magnified through increased study. Wooden, as open-minded a white man as Alcindor had ever met, embraced his young future star—but with certain limitations. “There was warm, mutual respect,” Abdul-Jabbar later said. “But because I was black, there was never this father-son thing. He couldn’t put his arm around my waist and introduce me as his boy.”

Alcindor began forgoing standard collegiate attire for caftans, dashikis and djellabas—Afrocentric garb ordered from Ashanti Fashions, located in the center of Harlem. An article with the headline FIENDISH IN THE VALLEY WITH LEW ALCINDOR AT THE LATTER’S SMALL BUNGALOW IN ENCINO appeared in West Magazine (a Los Angeles Times supplement), and portrayed him as an America-loathing racist bent on separatism. Asked to assess backup center Steve Patterson, Alcindor snapped, “A white boy from Santa Maria. That’s all.”

* As he dominated on the court, Alcindor turned increasingly divisive off of it. This was hardly the case of a man seeking out trouble. But with media scrutiny came exposure. With exposure came truth. With truth came scorn. Alcindor emerged as a symbol—along with the likes of Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Tommie Smith and Juan Carlos—of the black athlete no longer merely willing to go along just to get along. He would play your sport and dribble your ball and accept your cheers. But he refused to be a pawn. On November 23, 1967, Alcindor was one of 120 attendees (and 65 collegiate athletes) at the Western Black Youth Conference, a meeting held inside the Second Baptist Church on the east side of Los Angeles. The matter at hand: Determine whether black athletes would compete in the upcoming Mexico City Olympic Games.

White media members tagged the gathering “radical,” and they were correct. Harry Edwards, a twenty-four-year-old professor at San Jose State and the movement’s leader, stood before the room and spoke his mind. “We’ve been put in the position of asking the whites for everything,” he said to an ocean of nodding heads. “We’re not asking anymore, we’re demanding. We’re fanatical about our rights. We’ve been put in the position of taking our case to the criminal. The U.S. government is the criminal.”

Midway through the session, Alcindor reportedly rose. “I was born in a racist country,” he said. “I laid my life on the line when I was born. I don’t have anything to lose.”

Alcindor boycotted, as did UCLA teammates Mike Warren and Lucius Allen. When they declined to participate in tryouts for the U.S. Olympic basketball team, J. D. Morgan, UCLA’s athletic director, told Sports Illustrated the decision was based upon academics—a lie. The real reason was Alcindor’s discontentment with the racial situation in America. “Kareem gets along OK with white guys, but you have to be a brother to get next to him,” said Sidney Wicks, a UCLA teammate. “He still resents the white hypocrites more than ever—the people who say one thing to your face and quite another behind your back.”

It was in August of 1968 that Alcindor made a bold shift, leaving Catholicism (which, to the dismay of his churchgoing parents, he believed to be racist in dogma) and making a confession of faith toward the orthodox Hanafi sect of Islam. He shaved all the hair from his body, took his Shahadah (a declaration of faith—La illaha ila Allah wa Muhammadun rasoolollah—that must be pronounced before a witness for one to be initiated as a Muslim) and, in his mind, began life anew. The move hardly surprised Alcindor’s friends, who knew of his interest in the writings and philosophies of the late Malcolm X. What did surprise them, however, was when he received a new name—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (meaning noble, powerful servant).*

So yes, at this point in his life, he hated white people. Hated them. But with a catch—not individually. Though he rarely befriended whites, he was open to discussions. His spiritual guide, a former Malcolm X disciple named Hamaas Abdul-Khaalis, asked Abdul-Jabbar to look beyond skin color and understand that there were plenty of black sinners, too. Abdul-Khaalis referred to Malcolm X’s famous pilgrimage to Mecca, when a militant, anti-white religious leader came to see that race—while important—wasn’t the sole factor in understanding another human being.

“I had a very firm grasp of the concepts I didn’t like—white authority, unbending rules, false-faced people—but was much less certain where to draw the line in real life,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “I was wary, and angry, that I had to examine everybody I came in contact with—sort of an emotional frisking—because every touch could be a slap. All my whites for everything,” he said to an ocean of nodding heads. “We’re not asking anymore, we’re demanding. We’re fanatical about our rights. We’ve been put in the position of taking our case to the criminal. The U.S. government is the criminal.”

Midway through the session, Alcindor reportedly rose. “I was born in a racist country,” he said. “I laid my life on the line when I was born. I don’t have anything to lose.”

Alcindor boycotted, as did UCLA teammates Mike Warren and Lucius Allen. When they declined to participate in tryouts for the U.S. Olympic basketball team, J. D. Morgan, UCLA’s athletic director, told Sports Illustrated the decision was based upon academics—a lie. The real reason was Alcindor’s discontentment with the racial situation in America. “Kareem gets along OK with white guys, but you have to be a brother to get next to him,” said Sidney Wicks, a UCLA teammate. “He still resents the white hypocrites more than ever—the people who say one thing to your face and quite another behind your back.”

It was in August of 1968 that Alcindor made a bold shift, leaving Catholicism (which, to the dismay of his churchgoing parents, he believed to be racist in dogma) and making a confession of faith toward the orthodox Hanafi sect of Islam. He shaved all the hair from his body, took his Shahadah (a declaration of faith—La illaha ila Allah wa Muhammadun rasoolollah—that must be pronounced before a witness for one to be initiated as a Muslim) and, in his mind, began life anew. The move hardly surprised Alcindor’s friends, who knew of his interest in the writings and philosophies of the late Malcolm X. What did surprise them, however, was when he received a new name—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (meaning noble, powerful servant).*

So yes, at this point in his life, he hated white people. Hated them. But with a catch—not individually. Though he rarely befriended whites, he was open to discussions. His spiritual guide, a former Malcolm X disciple named Hamaas Abdul-Khaalis, asked Abdul-Jabbar to look beyond skin color and understand that there were plenty of black sinners, too. Abdul-Khaalis referred to Malcolm X’s famous pilgrimage to Mecca, when a militant, anti-white religious leader came to see that race—while important—wasn’t the sole factor in understanding another human being.

“I had a very firm grasp of the concepts I didn’t like—white authority, unbending rules, false-faced people—but was much less certain where to draw the line in real life,” Abdul-Jabbar wrote. “I was wary, and angry, that I had to examine everybody I came in contact with—sort of an emotional frisking—because every touch could be a slap. All my reservations became conscious, each chance meeting with a stranger and every introduction by a friend became a potential source of pain. I read all gestures intensively, and terribly often found them racially hurtful, therefore personally unacceptable. People who tried too hard to be friendly were being patronizing racists; people who didn’t try hard enough were blatant racists. People I didn’t know weren’t worth knowing; people I did know had to watch their step.”

* “The truth is, the friction between Earvin and Norm went way beyond basketball,” said Cooper, who was close with both guards. “That situation went to the party life. They were fucking the same girls. That was a problem. Dr. Buss was best friends with Hugh Hefner, and that door was open to Magic. And Norm being known, until then, as the number one available bachelor in Los Angeles, as the swinging guy who liked everything, it was awkward.

“This was his team before, but he hadn’t won anything until Magic came along. So they’re bumping heads with girls, they’re fucking the same girls. They didn’t argue about it, but you could hear them talking about it—‘Well, man, you need to stay away from Peggy,’ and such and such. They were friends. Good friends. But then it became competitive with them over basketball and women. We used to call ourselves the Three Musketeers, because we did everything together, and now it was as if I was torn between two lovers.”

Added Ron Carter: “Norm was my friend, but he was cocky as all hell. He has zero lack of confidence, ever. On or off the court. He saw everything Magic did as a competition. For the ball. For playing time. For women. Who’s the coolest? Who’s the smartest? Me and Coop would sit back and just watch. They certainly respected each other. But there was this weird tension.”

* Everything started at the top, where Buss—fifty years old, but with the libido of a rabbit—paraded around town with women barely of age to drive. “Jerry loved the excitement of it,” said Rothman. “And the little nymphettes thought he could get them movie careers.” It was, to the uninformed, a disconcerting sight. Though Buss was certainly a handsome enough man, he looked downright grandfatherly alongside many of his women. Buss seemed to date a different person every week, and—before moving on to the next bubbly beauty—would snap a photograph and place the image in one of his dozens of scrapbooks. Every so often, upon request, he would break out an album and talk about the experiences. Many names he remembered. Many, he forgot. “Jerry once told me something I’ve often thought of,” said Lance Davis, Buss’s longtime friend. “He said, ‘Lance, people try and give me shit over the women I go out with. Why would I want to go out with an older woman when I can go out with one with a fresher, hotter body? Why wouldn’t I go out with a twenty-six-year-old Playmate with a hot body?’ Jerry said it kept him young and alive—and it clearly did. He was the king, and the Forum was his palace.”

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Three-Ring Circus: Kobe, Shaq, Phil, and the Crazy Years of the Lakers Dynasty

Here are some highlights from this new book by Jeff Pearlman:

* To Walker, it’s all a joke. He and Bryant entered the league together, and the majority of players on the roster view Kobe’s latest efforts not unlike MC Hammer’s forever lampooned 1994 attempt at gangsta rap. * Bryant is a “Thank you” and “You’re very welcome” type of guy—polite, suburban, cultured, well-heeled. Truth be told, he’s always been a clumsy fit for this league of superstars with well-earned street cred—the Allen Iversons and Stephon Marburys. The cursing is the latest addition to Bryant’s paint-by-numbers approach to sounding hardened, and it’s as authentic as $5 mink.
“It was his Beanie Sigel phase,” says McCoy. “Really fake.”
Now, if one looks closely enough, he can see the steam rising from Bry ant’s ears. The four-time All-Star leans past Fox, draws back his right fist, lunges across Walker’s head, and— pop! —punches him in the right eye.
For a moment, everyone on the bus freezes. Just for a moment.
Walker, 28 pounds heavier than Bryant, gazes toward McCoy, his closest friend on the roster. “Did this fucker just hit me?” he says. “Did he just hit me ?”
McCoy nods.

* Magic Johnson saying, “Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers.”
Gasp.
Yes, many other celebrities had died before our eyes from AIDS, but this was different. Freddie Mercury, Liberace, Anthony Perkins, Gia Carangi—they were people who shared our dimensions and gravitational limitations. Plus, we had our own built-in excuses. They were gay. They were drug addicts. They screwed around. They lived lives of ill repute. They asked for it.
The idea of bearing witness to a superhero like Magic Johnson devel oping lesions, losing most of his weight, needing a walker, fading to dust before our eyes . . . well, it was too much to handle. Wrote Gary Nuhn of the Dayton Daily News, “I guess we’re going to watch Magic Johnson die just as my father’s generation watched Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth die. Slowly. Painfully. Irreversibly.”
So when Magic Johnson didn’t develop lesions and lose most of his weight, when he didn’t need a walker or fade to dust before our eyes—it felt almost biblical. And as the years passed and Johnson opened movie theaters and coffee shops and shook 10 million hands and hugged 10 million babies and smiled that 10-million-megawatt smile, there was this growing idea that if anyone could accomplish the unaccomplishable, it was Magic.
Especially on the basketball court.

* Over the next few minutes, Bryant offered his version of the story. Which was pretty much [Jessica] Mathison’s version of the story. They met. They flirted. They flirted some more. They kissed. When the narrative turned specifically to the intricacies of sex, however, things became uncomfortable. Bryant admitted that he had a hand around Mathison’s neck, and when Loya asked about the firmness of the grip, Bryant said, “My hands are strong. I don’t know.”
It turned worse.
There was this:
LOYA: Did she, did you get any blood on you or anything like that?
BRYANT: She didn’t bleed, did she?
LOYA: Yeah, she had, she had a lot of bleeding.
BRYANT: What, you got to be kidding. From where?
LOYA: From her vaginal area.
BRYANT: Did she cut herself or something? There’s no blood on me whatsoever, man. Matter of fact, I still have the boxers. They’re all white, they’re all white, there’s nothing on them.
And this:
LOYA: Did you ever ask her if you wanted, if you could cum in her face?
BRYANT: Yes. That’s when she said no. That’s when she said no. That’s when she said no.
LOYA: So what did, what did you say?
WINTERS: What did you say, how did that, how did that come about?
BRYANT: Um, you know, that’s when I asked if I could cum in her face. She said no.
LOYA: So you like to cum in your partner’s face?
BRYANT: That’s my thing. Not always. I mean, so I stopped. Jesus Christ, man.
And this:
WINTERS: Um, did she give you oral sex or anything like that?
BRYANT: Yes, she did.
WINTERS: She did?
BRYANT: She did.
WINTERS: For how . . . when did that happen?
BRYANT: For like five seconds. I said, um, give me a blow job, um, and then kiss it. She gave me a blow job.
LOYA: So the blowjob lasted about five seconds?
BRYANT: Yeah, it was quick.
LOYA: Then what happened?
BRYANT: Wait, not . . . I mean like she was, kept on doing, I just told her to get up. She didn’t know what she was doing.
And this:
BRYANT: She must be trying to get money or something.
LOYA: Are you willing to pay that if she is?
BRYANT: I got to. I got to. I got to. I’m in the worst fucking situation.
And this:
LOYA: So when you penetrated her, was it a simple penetration? Was there difficulty there?
BRYANT: No, it was . . . it was easy. It just slid in there.

* In the minutes that followed, Bryant (who, it can be said again, would have been wise to keep quiet and call an attorney ASAP) told Winters that (a) Mathison “wasn’t that attractive”; (b) he masturbated after she left; (c) he had repeatedly cheated on his wife with a woman named Michelle; and (d) he liked grabbing Michelle by the neck from behind, and she had the neck bruises to prove it.
He consented to allowing the detectives to call in a colleague who’d collect evidence from his room in a series of plastic bags as part of a sexual assault examination kit. At approximately 2:30 a.m., Bryant was driven 52 miles in a sheriff’s patrol car to Glenwood Springs and Valley View Hospital. Once there, he provided DNA samples, then checked into the nearby Hotel Colorado. He flew back to Southern California that evening, hoping the worst of it all had passed.
It was naive thinking.
“I knew he was guilty,” Winters said years later. “And I still know it.”

* Kupchak’s familiar first six words (“You’re not going to believe this”) were simply untrue. Though Jackson had never literally thought of his star guard as a rapist, he knew him to be immature, emotionally stunted, and fueled by an unhealthy rage. For Christ’s sake, he was in Colorado undergoing a procedure without the organization’s consent. Phil Jackson did believe this. “Kobe can be consumed with surprising anger,” Jackson recalled, “which he’s displayed toward me and toward his teammates.”

* Wrote Winters in a sealed file: “Bryant made a comment to us about what another teammate does in situations like these. Bryant stated he should have done what Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal) does. Bryant stated that Shaq would pay his women not to say anything. He stated Shaq has paid up to a million dollars already for situations like this. He stated he, Bryant, treats a woman with respect, therefore they shouldn’t say anything.”

* There was an unspoken code among NBA teammates, and it read (inexactly): What happens with the club stays with the club. Whether or not O’Neal had paid women up to a million dollars was beside the point.

* Along with a play-by-play of the night, Winters and Crittenden presented as evidence a T-shirt found in Bryant’s hotel room that was stained with Mathison’s blood.

* Bryant listened as his defenders argued why they needed to tell the jury all about Mathison’s sexual history, as well as her past psychiatric records (highlighted by antipsychotic drug treatment) and two suicide attempts. Mackey argued that the alleged victim had brought the charges against Bryant as a way of “creating drama in her life to get attention.”

* Nearly 15 years later, both Mark Hurlbert, the Eagle County district attorney, and Doug Winters, the lead detective, remained convinced that Kobe Bryant had raped Jessica Mathison. They didn’t think it might have happened, or it perhaps happened. There was no misunderstanding. “There’s zero doubt in my mind,” Winters said. “He raped her.”
“I’m 100 percent certain,” said the DA. “He did it.”
That’s why Hurlbert was so furious when, on August 10, Mathison ignored his advice, hired an outside attorney, John Clune, and filed a civil suit against Bryant, seeking unspecified damages. It was a crippling move for the criminal case, in that it allowed people to wonder whether, in fact, Mathison was all about the money. “When her attorney called me I said, ‘You need to hold off on this!’ ” Hurlbert recalled. “ ‘It’s just giving them one more avenue of cross-examination that she’s only in it for material gain.’ ” Around this same time, Mathison penned a letter to Gerry Sandberg, a state investigator, admitting that some of the initial details she’d provided to Winters might have been a tad off.

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Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Explain Everything About the World

Tim Marshall writes in this 2016 book:

VLADIMIR PUTIN SAYS HE IS A RELIGIOUS MAN, A GREAT supporter of the Russian Orthodox Church. If so, he may well go to bed each night, say his prayers and ask God: ‘Why didn’t you put some mountains in Ukraine?’
If God had built mountains in Ukraine, then the great expanse of flatland that is the North European Plain would not be such encouraging territory from which to attack Russia repeatedly. As it is, Putin has no choice: he must at least attempt to control the flatlands to the west. So it is with all nations, big or small. The landscape imprisons their leaders, giving them fewer choices and less room to manoeuvre than you might think. This was true of the Athenian Empire, the Persians, the Babylonians and before; it was true of every leader seeking high ground from which to protect their tribe.
The land on which we live has always shaped us. It has shaped the wars, the power, politics and social development of the peoples that now inhabit nearly every part of the earth. Technology may seem to overcome the distances between us in both mental and physical space, but it is easy to forget that the land where we live, work and raise our children is hugely important, and that the choices of those who lead the seven billion inhabitants of this planet will to some degree always be shaped by the rivers, mountains, deserts, lakes and seas that constrain us all – as they always have.

* Take, for example, China and India: two massive countries with huge populations that share a very long border but are not politically or culturally aligned. It wouldn’t be surprising if these two giants had fought each other in several wars, but in fact, apart from one month-long battle in 1962, they never have. Why? Because between them is the highest mountain range in the world, and it is practically impossible to advance large military columns through or over the Himalayas. As technology becomes more sophisticated, of course, ways are emerging of overcoming this obstacle, but the physical barrier remains a deterrent, and so both countries focus their foreign policy on other regions while keeping a wary eye on each other.
Individual leaders, ideas, technology and other factors all play a role in shaping events, but they are temporary. Each new generation will still face the physical obstructions created by the Hindu Kush and the Himalayas; the challenges created by the rainy season; and the disadvantages of limited access to natural minerals or food sources.

* The River Ibar in Kosovo is a prime example. Ottoman rule over Serbia was cemented by the Battle of Kosovo Polje in 1389, fought near where the Ibar flows through the city of Mitrovica. Over the following centuries the Serb population began to withdraw behind the Ibar as Muslim Albanians gradually descended from the mountainous Malesija region into Kosovo, where they became a majority by the mid eighteenth century.
Fast-forward to the twentieth century and there was still a clear ethnic/religious division roughly marked by the river. Then in 1999, battered by NATO from the air and the Kosovo Liberation Army on the ground, the Yugoslav (Serbian) military retreated across the Ibar, quickly followed by most of the remaining Serb population. The river became the de facto border of what some countries now recognise as the independent state of Kosovo.
Mitrovica was also where the advancing NATO ground forces came to a halt. During the three-month war there had been veiled threats that NATO intended to invade all of Serbia. In truth, the restraints of both geography and politics meant the NATO leaders never really had that option.

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Psychobabble: Exploding the myths of the self-help generation

Here are some highlights from this 2012 book by psychologist Stephen Briers:

* The phenomenal growth of the self-help sector in the last century is a testament not only to our rising levels of insecurity and self-doubt, but to the stealthy psychologising of our culture as a whole.

* The ideas and values associated with popular psychology have infiltrated our culture so deeply that we now take them largely for granted.

* Thanks to the powerful engine of the self-help industry, the memes of popular psychology are busy replicating themselves so effectively that they have become an integral part of the fabric of our lives and thought processes.

* The congregational minister Edwin Paxton Hood once admonished: ‘Be as careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be influenced as much by the latter as by the former.’

* I would furthermore suggest that the chances that any significant aspect of our multifaceted, multidimensional and highly idiosyncratic lives (especially those murky unresolved zones we tend to demarcate as ‘problems’) can ever be covered adequately by a brace of simple rules, five key principles or seven effective habits, are practically next to zero. Yet this is precisely what the bulk of self-help books offer.

* …every society needs its myths to stabilise the treacherous, swirling vortex of reality. In our modern world, successful self-help books are almost certainly filling the gap left by the ebbing tide of religious faith.

* The self-help section of your local bookstore is actually a Bill of Rights in disguise, and it sets the bar pretty high. Let’s not forget, you deserve to be happy, accomplished and beloved – just like everyone else. After all, you’re worth it!

* Shimon Peres: ‘If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact – not to be solved, but to be coped with over time.’

* I remember browsing the self-help section of my local bookstore one sunny afternoon and rapidly feeling overwhelmed. There was just so much to do; so many areas of my life apparently in need of urgent attention. If I were to awaken the giant within, familiarise myself with the rules of life, become highly effective, lose 40 pounds and embrace a more confident, happier, assertive, creative, focused, flowing and decisive version of myself I clearly had my work cut out. Where was I going to find the time for all this? Perhaps what I needed was a book that would teach me to speed-read or give me some top tips on managing my time more effectively? Surveying the vast amount of help out there it’s easy to feel like a gardener who returns from a long vacation to discover that their whole plot is completely overrun by weeds.

* I will admit upfront that I am about to start lobbing stones from the glassiest of houses. As a practising clinical psychologist I am a fully paid-up member of the change industry and painfully conscious that over the years my clients have heard a constant stream of Psychobabble issue from my own lips. Even worse, I have written self-help books myself.

* Being able to accept yourself, warts and all, with some measure of compassion is psychologically healthy, but that’s not where most self-esteem gurus are setting the bar.

* Let your feelings out! If one had to pinpoint the most significant developments that have taken place in society over the last 50 years, an obvious candidate would be our radically revised position regarding the expression of our feelings. Prior to the 1960s the infamous British ‘stiff upper lip’ was universally regarded as a virtue, but these days the repression of emotion is seen as the root of a host of psychological and physical problems.

* The growing consensus that repressing your feelings is a bad thing has only been reinforced by reality TV’s love affair with characters whose appeal to the public lies not only in their larger-than-life personalities but their apparent lack of any kind of emotional filter. Jade Goody, who sadly died in 2009, was a prime example. Her utter emotional transparency in the Big Brother house assured her celebrity status. Every fleeting emotion, every high and low was writ large for all to see. Although she was sometimes treated as a figure of fun because of her poor general knowledge (‘Has Greece got its own moon?’) and some fairly spectacular malapropisms (‘They were trying to use me as an escape goat …’), Jade Goody achieved cult hero status. Whatever her educational shortcomings, there was an emerging consensus that her unparalleled degree of emotional directness and expressivity was admirable, while it also made her highly watchable. What previous generations would have considered childlike or undisciplined was construed as a positive: it made Jade ‘authentic’, someone who was always truly and fully herself. Jade Goody’s fame was a product of a culture that views emotional repression as self-denial, surely the most heinous of modern sins.
And yet the story of Jade Goody is also a cautionary one for all advocates of wearing your heart on your sleeve. The Greek Orthodox church has a saying, ‘the greatest virtues cast the longest shadows’, and, ultimately, Jade’s lack of emotional restraint caused her downfall. Her inability to ‘bite her tongue’ and moderate an outpouring of frustration and resentment towards Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty in a later series of Big Brother caused an international outcry. On this occasion it appeared that Jade’s unmediated emotions had unfortunately found expression in an outpouring of racist abuse, although Goody herself always denied that Shetty’s ethnicity had ever been either a cause or focus of those feelings. However, the overnight transformation of Jade Goody from popular folk hero to cause célèbre in the wake of Celebrity Big Brother in 2007 should have been a wake-up call to the potential hazards of giving such free range to the expression of one’s emotions.

* How do we explain the fact that Japan, a collectivist culture in which the suppression of certain emotions is actively encouraged, is also one of the most physically healthy countries in the world?

* According to Professor Jeffrey Lohr, who has reviewed over 40 years of work addressing the issue, ‘In study after study the conclusion was the same: Expressing anger does not reduce aggressive tendencies and likely makes it worse’. Lohr argues that while indulging your angry feelings may be a briefly enjoyable thing to do, this kind of venting doesn’t even ultimately reduce the feelings of anger.

* research has sadly found no convincing evidence that emotional intelligence confers any significant advantage in terms of getting on in the world.

* Nicolo Machiavelli: ‘How we live is so different from how we ought to live that he who studies what ought to be done rather than what is done will learn the way to his downfall rather than to his preservation.’

Take Machiavelli’s advice. Read the biographies of outstanding high achievers throughout history or those of our contemporary Captains of Industry and ask yourself honestly: ‘What is it that enabled these men and women to get to the top?’ If you discover a significant and consistent overlap with the assorted traits and characteristics cobbled together under the heading of ‘emotional intelligence’ I, for one, will be most surprised. There may be many valid reasons to try and become a more empathic, sensitive, and likeable person but, regrettably, I strongly suspect that getting ahead of the pack isn’t necessarily one of them.

* goal setting is only helpful if the goals that we have set ourselves are actually the right ones in the first place.

* Underlying most of our goal-setting activities is the natural belief that achieving those goals will in some way make us happier. Regrettably, according to Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, we are often very poor at knowing what we want or, to be more precise, predicting accurately the true value of the things we think we want.

* The brain, it turns out, is quite a conservative and vulnerable organ, primed to resist any activity that requires any radical reformulation of its patterns of activity. Push too far and your higher centres will shut off. Your grey matter will rebel by seeking to pull you back towards the comfort of the familiar. This process is analogous to what happens in muscles that are overstretched. The myotatic or ‘stretch’ reflex automatically causes muscle fibres to contract and resist the process of stretching, which is why, as any fitness coach will tell you, effective physical stretching has to be done gently and in incremental stages.

* Another problem with our goals is that they can also unhelpfully narrow our attention as all our resources are funnelled towards our target objectives. Under such circumstances we can very easily lose sight of the bigger picture and our lives can get hopelessly out of balance.

* In an article entitled ‘Goals Gone Wild: The Systematic Effects of Over-prescribing Goal-Setting’, the authors point out that losing touch with the context can encourage risky and unethical behaviour and the neglect of equally important objectives and relationships. The prescriptive nature of goals can also lull us into a kind of mental laziness, even downright stupidity: the goals provide us with a simplified agenda and one in which we no longer have to look to the way different elements of the task interact.

* Whilst our goals may all too often induce the kind of tunnel vision demonstrated so elegantly in the Simons-Chabris task, by contrast contentment is one of a group of positive emotions that the cognitive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson believes actively expands our field of attention and the range of thoughts and actions that lie open to us.

* Of course people make us feel things: I challenge you to name one significant emotional peak or trough in your life that does not have something to do with your reactions to a fellow human being. The entire history of our species is a millennia-spanning testimony to the profound impact we have on one another at all kinds of levels, many of which we have precious little conscious control over. The degree to which we are affected and influenced by other people is actually quite terrifying, but equally disquieting is our collusion with the rather smug fantasy that we are fundamentally untouchable, and that we are capable of orchestrating our own reactions to every encounter.

* In the moment, our reactions tend to be instantaneous, unbidden and emotionally charged. It takes time and a great deal of dedicated practice to reprogramme our automatic responses to certain stimuli. The prospect that our rationality is a fire extinguisher capable of dampening down every unwanted emotion may be comforting, but it is largely a fantasy.

* Various studies have confirmed that people tend to copy each other’s body language, facial expressions, speech patterns and vocal tones. The reason this automatic mimicry is crucial in understanding social influence is because psychologists believe it may be one of the mechanisms that underlie emotional contagion, i.e. the ability of one person to transfer emotions to another. What we do with our bodies has a direct impact on the emotions we experience. Smile (even though your heart is breaking) and science suggests you will indeed feel better. Slump in your seat and your mood is more likely to become listless and despondent.

* It seems likely that by unconsciously copying the behaviour and micro-expressions of people around us we consequently end up replicating their emotions. In fact, research has established that even feelings like loneliness can be catching.

* we are neurologically configured to connect up with what others around us are experiencing.

* Mirror neurone research suggests there is substantial psychological mileage in the old adage that ‘we become like the company we keep’. Whether this is pleasurable, enlightening, soothing or discordant depends on a host of interpersonal variables. Other people can expose us to the best and the worst in ourselves. They can transport us to delirious emotional heights but, as Sartre pointed out, they can also take us straight to hell. However, it is certainly naive to assume that we are in full control of the emotional impact of such encounters.
Far from relying upon the dodgy adage that no one can make us feel anything we don’t allow, instead we should recognise just how vulnerable and open we are to the invisible and unconscious influence of those around us. We would be well advised, therefore, to make thoughtful choices about the company we keep or, as the silent movie star Louise Beal astutely put it: ‘Love thy neighbour as yourself, but choose your neighbourhood.’

We should also be mindful of our own impact on others. We’ve seen that other people can’t necessarily choose how to respond to us. So how we are around other people really matters – yet this is rarely, if ever, the subject of any self-help guru. They and we naturally attend to the way other people leave us feeling, but how much do we reflect upon the way we can change the atmosphere in a room or how our manner affects other people?

* Of course, you might also want to question whether you might not want to allow other people to make you feel things from time to time. Rumour has it that other people can sometimes make you feel pretty good. Even when they don’t, while it might be prudent to keep those feelings to yourself sometimes, our spontaneous internal reactions to the people around us and the things that happen to us are an important part of being fully alive. Surely we’re not now aspiring to be emotionally vacant Stepford Wives who sail through life’s twists and turns completely unruffled, with never a hair out of place? Other people will always have the capacity to make us laugh and cry. They can light us up with joy one moment and cast us into despair the next. That’s just how it is. And to be honest, would we really want it any other way?

* Psychobabble has promoted the general misconception that the majority of tensions experienced in relationships are the result of communication failure.

* In any case, the truth of the matter is that the nature of your relationship with your therapist is far more significant in determining how much benefit you will get from treatment than any particular school of therapy they may belong to. Based on a careful literature review conducted in 1992, M. J. Lambert estimated that while the particular techniques employed account for only approximately 15 per cent of the effectiveness of therapy, the quality of the therapeutic alliance forged between therapist and client contributes a whopping 30 per cent. This is only one in a whole range of studies that would suggest it doesn’t matter so much what particular brand of therapy is being used as how you feel about the person doing it. In 2001 Bruce Wampold, a former statistician who examined the outcomes for treatment of depression, supported Lambert’s conclusions and reported that no one modality of treatment emerged as significantly better than any other – including CBT. More recently the American Psychological Association sponsored a task force to sort out once and for all what works in the therapy relationship. Once again, the same conclusion emerged: the consensus of several thousand studies was that the nature of the therapeutic relationship had just as much impact on whether clients improved (or failed to improve) as any particular treatment method.

* CBT has encouraged a widespread and misplaced assumption that our thoughts (positive or negative) are always the root cause of our emotions and on the back of this rides the expectation that we can reliably mobilise our thoughts to subdue any emotions we don’t want around.

* CBT all but ignores a crucial and all-pervasive dimension of consciousness: the fact that in everyday life the stories we weave to make sense of the world invariably carry a moral or ethical charge. Something in the makeup of the human psyche makes it almost impossible for us to experience the world and our lives except in these terms.

* People often come into therapy not because they are plagued by illogical thoughts but because they instinctively feel that the stories they have sought to live by are unravelling. Something has happened that threatens to undermine the integrity of their personal narrative, or they suddenly find themselves cast by events into roles they never intended or chose for themselves. For others, the opposite is true. These clients are locked into stories and roles from which they feel powerless to escape. The stories we tell ourselves are powerful organising forces. They exercise an inexorable pull over our actions, feelings and choices, rather like a magnetic field draws scattered iron filings into alignment with its own invisible lines of influence.
When dealing with the steady undertow of someone’s implicit narrative, reason and logic often prove feeble instruments.

* the brain is at its most creative in its ‘resting’ state, since this is when multiple regions of the association cortex spring to life.

* Rather than affirming that we are all stronger than we know, a more honest bumper sticker for the human race would probably read: ‘Most of us are weaker than we could possibly imagine.’

* …life should feel like some kind of an endurance sport. Ever since Jane Fonda first encouraged us to ‘feel the burn’ back in the 1970s, we have come to view chronic discomfort not as a warning sign but as reassuring evidence that we are getting somewhere. This is not always the case.
The pain barrier isn’t always there just to be crashed through. Like all barriers its message to us is, ‘Stop! Don’t go any further’ or, at the very least, ‘Proceed with caution’. When you feel physical pain in your body and carry on regardless, sooner or later something is going to break. The same is true of your mind and heart. Yet because endurance has become such an aspirational activity, we don’t always pay enough attention to the warning signs.

* So if our will-power is more dilute than we were led to believe, and if the reality is that we are not ‘powerful beyond measure’ as Williamson and others have promised, where does this leave us?
Well, first we need to recognise that we might be wise to conserve our scant resources. This means not overextending ourselves. If we cannot content ourselves with realistic people-sized goals, then at least increase the odds by not trying to excel in more than one or two areas. Also, however busy we are, we must ensure we take time to do the things and nurture the relationships that will replenish our resources. If Baumeister is to be believed, from time to time this may even include eating the odd Mars bar, but boring stuff like adequate sleep, regular meals and a bit of physical exercise will also help.
Secondly, we should probably reconcile ourselves to our human frailty rather than denying it or (even worse) berating ourselves for it all the time.

* Finally, we need to get our heads round the fact that if we are doing the right thing it just shouldn’t feel that hard or difficult. Of course there is effort involved in achieving anything worthwhile and there are storms that absolutely should be weathered. However, life shouldn’t feel crushing. As psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has explained, when we find what works for us, we are naturally drawn into a state of ‘flow’ in which we become effortlessly attuned, absorbed and fascinated by the task in hand. Rather than feeling like we are setting our faces against a gale, under these conditions we find the wind forever at our back, propelling us forward or even plucking us into the sky like mad, dancing kites.

* Re: There is no failure only feedback: Although the NLP maxim looks like it offers us a life raft, the refutation of failure is ultimately a denial of ourselves. When we experience failure we recognise that we have been unable to meet goals and standards that we ourselves have set, that we invested in, that we believed were worth something. Since we set the parameters of success in the first place, to refuse to acknowledge failure is tantamount to denying our own reality. When we brush aside the web of values and hopes we have carefully spun as matters of no importance we kill off a bit of ourselves too. Sometimes we need to accept and mourn the death of our dreams, not just casually dismiss them as inconsequential. NLP’s reframe casts us into the role of a widower avoiding the pain of grief by leap-frogging into a rebound relationship with a younger woman, never pausing to say a proper goodbye to his dead wife.

* Most psychologists would agree that we all share a need for some level of control in our lives. In fact, as I know only too well from treating people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following a car crash or an assault, one of the things that shakes people up the most is the unwelcome revelation that we actually have far less control over what happens to us than we generally imagine. Without control we are not only left vulnerable, but we also have our noses pressed up against the prospects of chaos, dissolution and death – possibilities that really frighten us.

* People are highly complex, inconsistent creatures who reveal very different aspects of themselves in different contexts. We can only explore our full range within a variety of relationships. Friends, relatives, colleagues all have a role to play. The notion that one person (however marvellous) can respond to every dimension of your multifaceted nature is frankly unrealistic. It can put enormous pressure on a relationship. The phrase ‘They mean the world to me’ is not supposed to imply that any one person can be an adequate substitute for the collective. If we cling to the idea that our partner can be everything we may seek from life, we are setting ourselves up for a fall.

* Discovering the ‘real you’ is a recurrent motif in popular psychological lore. Thanks to the legacy of humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers, it is widely accepted that most of our emotional tribulations stem from a failure to inhabit our true selves. Psychobabble has convinced us that our authentic selves lie hidden beneath the surface, obscured by the grime and dust of the endless adaptations and compromises that life has forced upon us. By various ways and means, self-help books urge us to excavate them. They promise us that once we have shed those unhelpful defences and pathological habits, escaped the legacy of our troubled past or learned the recommended life skills, then our true nature will shine through.

* The humanist psychologist Carl Rogers, on the other hand, believed that given generous lashings of empathy and unconditional regard, our positive ‘true’ selves will emerge spontaneously like Athena from the head of Zeus. I really like Rogers but it has always struck me as a rather optimistic assumption that if people are true to their real nature then only sweetness and light will issue forth.

* ‘The pastiche personality is a social chameleon, constantly borrowing bits and pieces of identity from whatever resources are available and constructing them as useful and desirable in a given situation. If one’s identity is properly managed the rewards can be substantial – the devotion of one’s intimates, happy children, professional success, the achievement of community goals, personal popularity, and so on. All are possible if one avoids looking back to locate a true and enduring self, and simply acts to fulfil the potential of the moment at hand … Life becomes a candy store for one’s developing appetites.’

* Bizarrely, if you ask a bilingual person to fill in the same personality questionnaire but present it in each of their different languages they often generate strikingly different profiles. Asking the ‘real’ self to step forward seems an increasingly futile gesture.

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Creating Powerful Radio: Getting, Keeping and Growing Audiences

Highlights from this 2007 book:

* “The experimental test of whether this art is great or good, or minor or abysmal is the effect it has on your own sense of the
world and of yourself. Great art changes you.” —Art historian Sister Wendy Beckett

* Radio is an almost magical extension of the human spirit. It can “cry out” and make a listener feel, laugh, and think. Powerful radio rings true and evokes a reaction. It also makes the listener want to keep listening in the hope that this will happen again…

* One by one, the listeners are hunting for that connection, that powerful magic which is often missing from audio media today.

* First, the audience must care about what is said. It must matter to them. It must touch their lives. The content or topic must reach them in a real and true way. And the topic can never be boring, or the audience will tune out. Before anything goes on air, ask yourself:
* Is it relevant?
* Does it matter?
* Do you care?
* Do your listeners care?

* The key to personality radio is, logically, having a personality. This means having a rich, full life and drawing on all of your experiences. How you relate to life is how your audience will relate to you. The best broadcasters are great observers of life. They filter what they see going on around them through their unique creative process, and send it back out to the world. They talk about what they see, notice, think, and feel. They share their real selves. They mention what irritates them, what excites them, what saddens them. They react honestly to the news, current events, and the music they play. They are good storytellers.

If an air personality is doing the job right, audience members will feel that they are being addressed individually. The words “Hello, everybody” or “Good morning, St. Louis” will likely not be heard. The listener should feel that the person behind the microphone is like a friend. The air personality won’t seem like a star but more like someone they would know in real life—a person with daily struggles, life experiences, and problems. Humor helps. You don’t have to be a funny person to recognize a funny moment. This is a key element in creating powerful radio.

* n  Speak in terms your listener can “picture.” Use details. Describe the little things so your audience can “see” what you are talking about.
n  Always start your show with something very interesting. This ought
to be obvious but often isn’t.
n  Tell the truth. Listeners can tell when you don’t.
n  Never be boring. If you are bored, your audience will be too.
n  If something big or important is happening today, go with it. It
may be a pain to change your program or reschedule a guest, but
it’s worth the trouble.
n  Listen to your station, even when you are not on (and check online
content).
n  Make your program matter. Use your own life as a show resource.
Always answer: “Why is this on the air? Why should someone
listen to this?” Would you talk about this OFF air?
n  Bury the dead. If a topic is overdone, drop it.
n  If you are live on air, anything goes! But anything pre-recorded
should be perfect.
n  It’s okay to brag about your stuff—if it’s good. Promote it.
n  Brag about other people’s stuff. If another host on your station had
a “magic moment,” talk about that too.
n  If you don’t know something, it’s okay to say so. Actually, audiences love it when they sense that you are like them.

* If you’ve ever listened to a talk show that seemed to have a slow start, but then picked up after the interview or calls began, you were likely listening to a reactive talent. The minute the host can “react” off of the callers, or interview guest, generating for him or her, the show comes alive.

Many stand-up comedians are reactors. Although they might seem to be generative—after all, they’re standing up doing a monologue in front of a live audience—in reality, if you put those people in a studio, alone in a room, without that live audience generating for them, they may be less colorful. Reactors work best with other people in the room to spark their creative energy.

* Generators have a lot of ideas and energy. They take huge risks and worry about it later. They have moments of brilliance. They
sit alone in a room, and their minds overflow with ideas.

* If you are looking at a reactive talent, you will notice that he or she is quick with a story, a memory, an imitation or a line for any topic you could give him or her. But you must lead the reactor by giving that first push, that suggestion, or a good opening. Leave the reactor alone in a room with no external catalyst for the show, and he or she is miserable. Reactors may do
brilliant interviews, or pick things out of the newspaper that are unique, but they need some kind of initial stimulus to begin the process.

* Generators are scarce. Most people are reactors.

* People do not like to get up in the morning. They are tired, groggy, and do not feel like hopping out of bed on a dark, cold winter morning if they do not absolutely have to.
People feel that from the moment the alarm rings to the moment they get to their jobs, they are on their boss’s time, not their own. Many people do not love their jobs and there is resentment of the morning rush. Because of this, humor on the radio in the mornings is especially important. If you can make a bunch of grouchy, groggy people smile or laugh when they don’t feel like moving, you can keep them listening!

* When you listen to the radio, you notice people who sound spontaneous. They make their work look natural and easy. It seems these people never make a mistake on the air, or, if they do, you hardly notice, or the show takes an unexpected twist and gets even better.

Then there are broadcasters who seem pained and uncomfortable when things go astray. It can make you very nervous to listen to people reacting to a situation that way. How can you make sure you sound like one of the naturals?

The difference between accomplished professionals and talented neophytes is that the seasoned air talent always give you the feeling that they are in control, no matter what happens.

* Finally, hire smart people. And when you find yourself looking for work, try to find the smartest people you can and work for them.

* Principles of management:

n The employee’s behavior is functionally related to the way you treat them.
n People don’t resist their own ideas.
n People will live up (or down) to your expectations of them.
n You must know the individuals you are trying to motivate.
n People will change only when they think they have to.
n Productive activity that is ignored will tend to decrease over time.
n Achievement and recognition are the top motivators at all levels.

* People care about things that are close to them physically, emotionally, spiritually or intellectually. They care about the security of their jobs, the education of their kids, the health of their parents, the cost of their homes, their favorite celebrities, etc. They care about the consequences of the decisions their leaders make. They want the answer to the question “What does this mean to me?”

* A writer who was supposed to meet her husband at an appointed time showed up hours late. He was rather upset when she finally arrived, but she offered this explanation: “I’m so sorry, but I was riding the bus and when my stop came, the people sitting in front of me were right in the middle of a story, and I just had to hear how it ended. I couldn’t get off the bus!”
Sparked by this story, she wrote a book that was then turned into a movie. She became fabulously famous and wealthy, all because she overheard a conversation on a bus that she could use as material.

* An effective “bit” on the radio includes:
n Statement (headline)
n Elaboration (details)
n Kicker (climax and punch-line).

* Broadcast consultant and program director John Mainelli says: “Entertain informatively and inform entertainingly.”

* Put the fun back in your voice. Practice reading children’s stories or trashy romance novels aloud in an exaggerated manner.
Work with a mirror by the mic. Do not worry if you look silly or stupid. The sillier you look, the better you will sound. If there is emotion on your face and in your eyes, we will hear it in your voice.

Posted in Radio | Comments Off on Creating Powerful Radio: Getting, Keeping and Growing Audiences