AMERICAblog News A great nation deserves the truth // One of America's top progressive sites for news and opinion Fri, 23 Jan 2015 16:36:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Darth Vader’s gay daughter speaks Fri, 23 Jan 2015 16:36:31 +0000 Mary Cheney, the openly-gay daughter of former Bush administration Vice President Dick Cheney, gave an interesting talk at DC’s American University the other day.

While it was cute that Cheney referred to herself as “Darth Vader’s daughter,” the substance of the discussion was actually quite interesting.

Mary talked about marriage equality (aka “gay marriage), and her belief that the Republican party might finally embrace gay marriage by the year 2020 or 2028.

Mary also seemed to signal that she’s still on the outs with her conservative sister Liz, who ran for the Senate in 2013, and came out publicly against gay marriage. Liz’s comments at the time didn’t sit well with Mary, who is married to her longtime partner, Heather Poe — the couple have two children. Mary publicly blasted Liz at the time.

VP Cheney being sworn in (source: US Senate photo study).

VP Cheney being sworn in (source: US Senate photo study).

When asked this week whether she had mended fences with her sister, Mary responded: “I don’t have to answer that.” One would imagine that had the sisters put the past behind them, Mary would have laughed the question off with a “what family doesn’t have a little tiff once in a while.”

Mary’s response is vintage Mary,  and it’s what got her into some hot water with her own community back in 2004 when she refused to speak out against President Bush’s push to enshrine a ban on gay marriage in the US Constitution.

At the time, Mary was heading up the re-election campaign of her father, the then-VP. And while Mary’s sexual orientation was known in the gay community, the general public remained unaware that the Vice President had a gay kid. Which was interesting, as Mary had previously worked as the gay liaison at Coors, a company that had problems with the gay community in the past. So clearly Mary was already “out.” But she wasn’t out to the anti-gay voters she was wooing for her father and his boss, George Bush.

In any case, Mary was hardly a beacon of outspoken gayness back in 2004. But since that time, she’s been slowly coming out of her shell, culminating in her slap-down of her homophobic sister during Liz’s Senate campaign. Which ain’t nothing.

Having said that, let’s see who Mary actually supports for president, and who she donates money to, and raises money for.

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City of Paris to sue Fox News for defamation Wed, 21 Jan 2015 17:25:46 +0000 The mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, says the city is planning on suing Fox News.

The charge? Lying about France in general, and Paris in particular, by claiming it is filled with Muslim-inhabited “no-go zones” so dangerous that “real” Frenchmen dare not tread.

Except that, as I reported the other day, it’s not true.

I lived in one of Fox News’ Muslim “no-go zones” in Paris for a few months back in 2009. Near Metro Goncourt in the 11th, it’s a colorful neighborhood comprised mostly of blue collar north Africans and (rather-white) gays. So it’s not only not a no-go zone, it’s not even a no-gay zone.

I noted last week that it was interesting that conservatives were acting so pro-French in the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attacks two weeks ago, in which masked gunmen shot and killed 12 people (including two police officers) at the Paris headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. (Another gunman went on to kill another police officer, and then take hostages at a kosher supermarket (he killed four of the hostages).) Conservatives in America were irate that President Obama didn’t show solidarity with our French allies by attending a religious service and march for the victims in Paris.

Well, that didn’t last long. Only days later, the lead conservative propaganda organ was back to bashing the French, this time with a little Islamophobia mixed in for good measure. (Conservatives did the same with New York City; a place they loathed and routinely vilified, until September 11, when you’d have thought Ronald Reagan was born in Chelsea.)

Back to Paris. CNN’s Christiane Amanpour broke the news yesterday that the mayor of Paris says the city his going to sue Fox for “insulting” and “discriminating” against the city.


Interestingly, Fox “corrected” its error and apologized — four times in fact — for the reporting. (For also reported that the city of Birmingham in England is a “totally Muslim city where non-Muslims don’t go in.” That was news to the 78% of Birmingham residents who aren’t Muslim.)

French comedians had a field day visiting the “dangerous” zones of Paris, pretending to be Fox News reporters. My favorite part was the sledgehammer machine guns:

The reporter overly-concerned about his breath was pretty funny too.

And we close with Jon Stewart’s response to all of this, that is of course priceless:

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Billy Crystal concerned gay TV characters will become “everyday thing” Tue, 20 Jan 2015 17:17:15 +0000 In an oddly supportive, yet not really supportive, talk about his new TV show “The Comedians,” actor Billy Crystal had some odd things to say about the proliferation of gay characters on television.

The discussion stated off well enough, with Crystal talking about his portrayal of the first recurring gay character on network television on the show “Soap.”

“I did it in front of a live audience and there were times when I would say to Bob [Seagren], ‘I love you,’ and the audience would laugh nervously. I wanted to stop the taping and go, ‘What is your problem?'”

Then things got a bit odd.

Crystal added:

“I hope people don’t abuse it and shove it in our face… to the point where it feels like an every day kind of thing.”

Here’s the thing. Not having seen the video, it’s difficult to know if this is as bad as it sounds — particularly in light of the fact that Crystal is obviously pro-gay, and had earlier made some great comments about gay characters on TV. It’s possible that Crystal simply meant that he hopes shows don’t use gay characters and storylines as some kind of “oh my god!” cliché where, eventually, viewers will get sick of it. But the phrasing is still a bit odd.

Gay characters and relationships are “an every day kind of thing,” so gay storylines should be regularly appearing on TV. Crystal’s comment sounds like he’s saying that if gay characters pop up as often as straight characters, then this would somehow be shoving it in the viewer’s face. But considering his pro-gay history, I’m having a hard time believing that’s what he meant.

I do think Crystal should clarify his comments. But I also think we ought to give people who already have a great pro-gay track record a chance to explain themselves before we simply assume that they’ve gone bad. On this one, time will tell.

UPDATE: And in fact, Crystal has clarified his remarks. Via JoeMyGod.

“What I meant was that whenever sex or graphic nudity of any kind (gay or straight) is gratuitous to the plot or story it becomes a little too much for my taste.”

I’m not sure that clarification clarifies what Crystal actually said. I wonder if Crystal wasn’t actually trying to be very pro-gay, and trying to say “don’t go and do with gay relationships what they did with straight relationships, and shove the sex down our throats.”

Of course, if the networks do it with straight couples, they really should treat gay couples the same way, otherwise it sends a bad message. Though I hate to suggest that true equality means being as garish with gay sex on TV as the networks are about straight sex (did I really need to see Olivia Pope having oral sex?), when you start to treat it differently, it means you consider it different. And that’s never a good thing.

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Richest 1% will control 50% of wealth by 2016 Mon, 19 Jan 2015 16:58:04 +0000 The richest 1% will control 50% of the wealth worldwide by 2016, per a new study by Oxfam.

The report also reveals that “85 billionaires have the same wealth as the bottom half of the world’s population.”

The report has a number of pretty interesting charts. I’m posting them below.

I do wonder of the recent increase in disparity is due to: 1) the global recession/depression making the poor even poorer, while 2) people with money have investments that did quite well after 2008 (the US stock market doubled in the last four years).

In fact, the report reports on this, and says it’s a variety of investments:

There are a few important economic sectors that have contributed to the accumulation of wealth of these billionaires. In March 2014, 20% of them (321) were listed as having interests or activities in, or relating to, the financial and insurance sectors, 9 the most commonly cited source of wealth for billionaires on this list. Since March 2013, there have been 37 new billionaires from these sectors, and six have dropped off the list. The accumulated wealth of billionaires from these sectors has increased from $1.01tn to $1.16tn in a single year; a nominal increase of $150bn, or 15%.

Rich 1%

Rich via Shutterstock

Between 2013 and 2014 billionaires listed as having interests and activities in the pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors saw the biggest increase in their collective wealth. Twenty-nine individuals joined the ranks of the billionaires between March 2013 and March 2014 (five dropped off the list), increasing the total number from 66 billionaires to 90, in 2014 making up 5% of the total billionaires on the list. The collective wealth of billionaires with interests in this sector increased from $170bn to $250bn, a 47% increase and the largest percentage increase in wealth of the different sectors on the Forbes list.

Here are a few of the more interesting charts:


I’m not entirely convinced of the trajectory on this one. One could argue that things got markedly better in 2012, when the increasing disparity finally leveled off.figure-2

This one is pretty wild. Again, I wonder about the influence of the stock market on this:


This one is pretty wild too:figure-4

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Fox News says Paris has unsafe Muslim-controlled “no-go zones” like Iraq, Afghanistan Fri, 16 Jan 2015 13:00:15 +0000 The always-delightful Fox News host Elisabeth Hasselbeck had a breathless report the other day about the deadly Islamic “no go zones” that can be found, she claims, all over France — and even in Paris!

Now, let’s step back for a moment and think about this. An American TV network is expressing surprise that foreign cities have neighborhoods so dangerous that regular law-abiding people don’t dare walk through them.

Yeah, you don’t find those in Amurika.

But I digress. Hasselbeck was horrified at how dangerous socialist France has become, so she invited an expert on France — some guy from New York City — to talk about these dangerous no-go zones.

And sure enough, New York guy confirmed that parts of Paris are like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Well, as you can imagine, French television was unamused by Fox News’ reportage. The wonderful French show “Le Petit Journal” investigated for itself, and found, unsurprisingly, that Paris has yet to be taken over by the Taliban.

The host, Yann Barthès, is a real trip. He calls Hasselbeck and her Paris expert “Barbie and Ken.”


Now, as an aside before watching the video, I lived in one of these supposed “no-go” Al Qaeda zones in Paris. The one just south of Belleville in fact. Remember a few years ago when I had my retinal detachment in Paris, and I stayed for a few months at my artist friend Marcus’ studio? His studio is smack dab in the middle of Fox News’ “war zone.”

The yellow dot is Marcus’ place:


Now, that area of Paris is certainly more colorful than, say, St. Germain. It is, among other things, a heavily Arab neighborhood. It’s also a heavily gay neighborhood. And not exactly Kabul gay — more Fire Island gay. The neighborhood is not dangerous, even by American standards.

And that’s another thing. It’s an interesting thing for an American to lecture a Frenchman about “dangerous neighborhoods.” Let me tell you a story about just how dangerous Paris is….

I was having dinner a few years back with some English friends, the Wests, in Paris. There kids, ages ranging from 16 to 23 or so, joined us, and it was a good old time. They’re a fun family — the parents are English, but the kids were raised in France, so the kids have varying degrees of French-inflected English (their youngest daughter has wonderfully French-accented English).

Anyway, we were having dinner, it was nearly midnight and we were just approaching the cheese course, when one of the kids asked me if life was “dangerous” in Washington, DC.  And I thought about it, trying to diplomatic, and explained that it wasn’t “dangerous” per se, but sure there were certain neighborhoods you ought to avoid at night (and even daytime), and that even in my neighborhood, which is an up-and-coming nook of DC’s already-gentrified Adams Morgan quarter, I watch myself walking home at night, but really it’s not THAT dangerous, I explained.

Then, I threw in, just as a parenthetical really, that, I mean, it’s not like it’s safe to walk home alone at 3am or something, but where can you?!

All the kids gasped.

“I walk home alone at 3am all the time in Paris,” one of the girls told me.

You see, even parts of America that we consider relatively safe are akin to a “no go” zone, as compared to life in Paris.

So it’s really particularly funny, and egregious, that Fox News would try to claim that Paris is like Iraq and Afghanistan. I’ve never had a dead body dumped behind my residence in Paris. I can’t say the same for Washington, DC.

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Jon Stewart leads into interview with Rubio by ripping Florida Thu, 15 Jan 2015 19:30:54 +0000 Jon Stewart had GOP Senator, and likely 2016 presidential hopeful, Marco Rubio on his show. But first, Stewart had a little chat about the state of Florida, where Rubio hails from.

Oh, it was quite juicy. While the segment was ostensibly about the state of Florida’s recent failed attempt to stop the marriages of gay couples in the state, it looked at a lot of other issues addressing Florida.


Among the Florida stories Stewart covered: How one person was arrested for attacking another with a lizard.

God bless Jon Stewart.

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Are the Charlie Hebdo shooters “radical” or simply “Orthodox”? Thu, 15 Jan 2015 17:33:18 +0000 Last week, in response to the brutal murder of ten French journalists and two policemen in the name of Islam (and in response to the liberal community’s unrelenting defense of faith in the face of similar religious violence), I wrote a sarcastic post about how we talk about violence carried out in the name of God: “It’s time for a serious discussion about [insert latest case of religious violence here].”

I hope I never have to repost or refer back to what I wrote, but left the title and text open-ended because I probably will. This was not the first time people have been killed over a religious slight — this wasn’t even the first time people were killed for publishing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad — and it won’t be the last.

London, July 7, 2005. ©John Aravosis

London, July 7, 2005. ©John Aravosis

But I was also careful not to mention Islam by name in the post because what I wrote applies to violence carried out on behalf of all faiths.

To this point, while the piece was written in the aftermath of violence carried out in the context of one particular religion, readers who clicked on the links I cited will have found ghastly examples of violent actions and incitements by members of all three Abrahamic traditions. And not directly mentioning violence carried out in the name of other religions was an error on my part.

The point isn’t that religious people are evil, or that being religious makes you violent by definition. The point is that the dominant religions in our global community grant particular expressions of violence a legitimacy they don’t deserve. It is a legitimacy that cannot be ignored when we try to deal with the aftermath of the inevitable consequences.

We can demur and obfuscate all we want about the underlying causes of believers killing other-believers or non-believers, but they all share a common theme: the aggressors claim otherworldly justification.

Of late, an all-too-common response to people who make these claims of “justified religious violence” is that they aren’t actually religious claims, or at least not correct religious claims. Not only are the perpetrators “fake” members of their faith, the argument goes, but they were driven to violence by secular forces of civilization’s own making. These dual rationalizations bend over backwards to psychoanalyze the aggressor into a box that a secular, Western (often white) liberal can understand, doing everything but granting the violently pious the agency to act on their own terms.

This is patronizing and counterproductive.

// //


We can say all we want that the men who walked into the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo with military-grade weapons, and then opened fire because the paper blasphemed, aren’t true followers of the Muslim faith, but the shooters are fairly certain that they are true followers. Rather than blindly insisting that they’re simply doing Islam wrong, it may be a good idea to start thinking about why it is that so many in the ranks of the religious believe that killing people they disagree with isn’t wrong at all.

But since it’s seemingly impossible to make this point without being called a racist — and I’ll echo the Atlantic‘s Jeffrey Tayler in asking (rhetorically) whether beliefs are heritable — it may be useful to shift our focus away from radical Islam and on to another brand of faith, Orthodox Judaism, to see what separates the two.

The most obvious divergence is in language. Not their language, but our language. You probably read the last sentence of the previous paragraph without thinking twice about my using “radical” to describe Muslims, and “Orthodox” to describe Jews. And that’s a problem, since the two groups approach their faith in alarmingly similar ways.

While we call those who read verses 33:61-67 in the Quran as a how-to guide for prosocial behavior “radical,” and we call those who read 1 Samuel 15:18 as sensible national security policy “orthodox,” both groups are simply reading the words of their sacred texts and following them as best they can. They’re both far more devoted than their “moderate” counterparts who have rationalized those uncomfortable passages away; but one is called insane and one is called resolute.

Placed in the 21st Century, however, both groups are insane in their resolve. As I’ve written before (about a Christian, no less), the more seriously you take these religious texts, the less seriously you participate in modern society. Ultra-Orthodox Jews may delay a flight because they refuse to sit next to women, while ultra-Orthodox Muslims sometimes kill people (even other self-described Muslims) for not following their version of their faith. The former is less destructive than the latter, but the principle is the same: God wants us to do this, and we know because he told us so.

Oddly enough, we don’t bother coming up with rationalizations for the flight delays the same way we come up with rationalizations for religious terror networks like al-Qaeda. Practically no one says that we need to place the actions of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the proper context. Nor does anyone say that ultra-Orthodox Jews have misinterpreted all of the passages in the Old Testament that are strikingly clear about how unclean women are. Quite the opposite: To us, they aren’t “un-Jewish” at all — they’re too Jewish.

Perhaps it’s the disparate levels of destruction that leads us to use words like “radical” instead of “Orthodox,” and encourage us to explain away Islamic violence while completely ignoring Jewish “quirks” that occasionally inconvenience us. If we define terrorism as political violence by non-state actors, Islamic terrorism is more prevalent than Jewish terrorism, so maybe we feel the need to assign a harsher label to one as opposed to the other.

The problem here is that while Jewish terrorism may be less of a global phenomenon than Islamic terrorism, it still exists in spaces where it is given social license and political opportunity. In the increasingly classic debate within the liberal community as to what causes religious violence — religion, or political and economic conditions — this may be a hint at some common ground. New Atheists such as myself are more than willing to admit that violent religious movements require political and cultural space in which to operate, but our more reverent liberal counterparts should be willing to concede that religion acts as more than just a vehicle for these movements; it amplifies them.

The Charlie Hebdo shooters were as radical as they were Orthodox. They were radical in their refusal to be on, as Jon Stewart put it, “Team Civilization“; and they were Orthodox in their rigorously straightforward reading of a very old holy book.

The sooner we realize that in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shooting #NotJustMuslims is a more appropriate hashtag than #NotAllMuslims, the more the social and cultural space for all forms of religious aggression will shrink.

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Yet another supremely homophobic TV commercial from Snickers Wed, 14 Jan 2015 19:00:53 +0000 Snickers has done it again.

The candy bar that raised gay-bashing to a commercial art form during the Super Bowl a few years back, has another commercial I just watched that suggests Snickers can (and should) turn a flaming homosexual straight.

(The commercial apparently came out six months ago; I just watched it live on TV for the first time.)

Whoever does Snicker’s PR should really be fired at this point. There’s a latent homophobia in the company’s advertising — advertising that finds gay-bashing funny. And considering that this has happened beforerepeatedly, it’s likely not a fluke. It’s by intent. There’s someone high up in Snicker’s marketing department who thinks that in 2015 bashing gays is funny.

In the commercial in question, Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel plays a seriously effeminate aerobics instructor who is clearly intended to be flamingly and effeminately gay. He swishes around the room, and his voice is kinda gay too.


But once he eats a Snickers bar he turns back in to a real man. His voice even deepens (like a “real” man).



You might recall that Super Bowl series of Snickers commercials was even worse. They showed men accidentally kissing, then beating each other to a pulp with crowbars because they were accidentally gay.

At least in this case, Snickers is simply mocking gay people as effeminate wusses who can butch up and became “real” football players by eating a Snickers bar.

Considering the ongoing problems gays have had with professional football — homophobia is rife in the NFL — it’s pretty abominable for Snickers to play into the problem.

It’s even worse that this is the third time that Snickers has released a homophobic television ad. Homophobia isn’t funny, Snickers. And it’s more than ironic that a TV commercial that supposedly is urging people to become who they really are, risks pushing young gays further into the closet.

For shame, Snickers. For shame.

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The power and peril of holding hands Wed, 14 Jan 2015 17:17:17 +0000 Irish gay rights advocate and drag queen Rory O’Neill, aka Panti Bliss, is an amazing speaker. We’d posted an earlier speech by Panti about homophobia that went super-viral a while back.

This time, Panti is speaking at a TED conference about a fear gay people have that straight people never experience: getting gay-bashed for holding hands in public.

It’s an amazing, and spot-on, observation. Gay people, in most cities, have to think twice, and then look around, before holding hands or showing any other form of affection in public. Why? Because we might be assaulted verbally or physically.

Panti Bliss

Panti Bliss

I’ve only held hands with a guy in public once. It with an Italian guy I was seeing, we were in NYC, and it was around midnight. He was more afraid than I, but we both looked around before daring to hold hands.

I’ve also danced in public with a guy — in a heterosexual context, as it were — once. And I mean really danced, formal dancing, as in the Waltz. We were at the Kennedy Center He was more out than me at the time, but I’d always wanted to dance at the annual Mostly Mozart festival, and was seeing someone at the time, so we did.

Almost immediately he got too scared, and we were forced to stop.

And that is pretty much it for my public experiences displaying affection with another guy. So I get where Panti Bliss is coming from.

I’ve written a lot about how we gays have “won.” (And we have.) Some of my activist friends get their panties in a bunch (pun intended) whenever I write this. They say we have much to accomplish before victory is at hand, that young gays are still at risk, that the gays on the international front still face life and death discrimination in Africa and Russia and beyond. And they’re right.

But the fact remains that we’ve accomplished nearly every big-ticket item on our agenda — from marriage to lifting Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell — and they were items that most of us never expected to accomplish in our lifetimes. And while that hardly means that our agenda is now complete, it does mean that we’ve passed a tipping point where American society and politics have no choice but to eventually accept us, and our demands for full equality. To me, that’s victory — even if it’s not yet time to fold up the tents.

But I still worry about holding hands in public in any city. And while I believe the fear is warranted, I suspect it’s something so ingrained in me that likely won’t go away with ease.

Here’s a snippet of Panti Bliss’ speech, transcribed by Towleroad.

“Everyday I am jealous of straight people because that tiny intimate expression of affection has never once been mine…I am jealous of that because gay people do not get to hold hands in public without first considering the risk…We look around to see where are we, who’s around, what kind of place is it…are there bunches of lads outside a pub? … I’m 45 years old and I have never once casually, comfortably, carelessly held hands with a partner in public… I’m 45 and I’m fed up of putting up so I’m not anymore. I’m 45 years old and I’m not putting up anymore because I don’t have the energy anymore. Putting up is exhausting. I’m 45 years old and I’m not putting up anymore because I don’t have the patience anymore. I was born 6 months before the Stonewall riots and you have had 45 years to work out that despite appearances, I am just as ordinary, just as unremarkable, and just as human as you are. I’m 45 years old and I’m not asking anymore. I am just being…human being.”

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New Charlie Hebdo cover has Muhammad saying “Je suis Charlie” Tue, 13 Jan 2015 20:19:01 +0000 Less than one week after masked gunman shot to death much of its staff, the remaining crew at French satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” are fighting back the only way they know: with biting satire.

This week’s edition of Charlie Hebdo will feature the Muslim prophet Muhammad carrying a sign saying “Je suis Charlie.”

Above Muhammad’s head is a caption reading: “All is forgiven.”


Ironically, I was just saying the other day on Twitter that I was surprised no one had done a political cartoon of Muhammad saying “Je suis Charlie.” Who else, but Charlie Hebdo.

The gunman, allegedly affiliated with Al Qaeda, stormed the magazine publisher in response for the publication repeatedly violating Islam’s ban on depictions of Muhammad. And Charlie Hebdo’s depictions were particularly provocative, showing Muhammad naked and sometimes in a sexual context.


The magazine has printed several million copies of this week’s edition. Normally, they print around 60,000.

While many of Charlie Hebdo’s earlier images are shocking to some (myself included), you have to understand that France has a long tradition of rather in-your-face satirical free speech combined with an equally long tradition of keeping religion out of public life; or as the Wall Street Journal put it, “radical anticlericalism.”

In that context, the over-the-top barbs against all religion weren’t over the top at all — if you’re French.

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Parents arrested for videoing 1 y.o. with gun in his mouth Tue, 13 Jan 2015 16:05:54 +0000 An Indiana couple was arrested after police found a video of their one-year-old child playing with a handgun, and the parents urging the young boy along.

“Bang, bang, bang — shoot that thang,” you hear the father say as his son puts the barrel of the gun into his mouth.


The cops found the video after the father was arrested for illegally trying to sell a firearm. Reportedly the father also has a warrant out against him for armed robbery.

As a gay man, it’s always amazed me how people on the far right can talk about gays being a threat to kids, while these same folks on the far right tend to be big fans of guns.

Now who’s the threat to kids?

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ISIS allies hack major US military twitter, YouTube, Google+ accounts Mon, 12 Jan 2015 17:55:54 +0000 Sympathizers of the terrorist group ISIS appear to have just hacked the Twitter account of CENTCOM, a major geographical unit of the US military covering the Middle East.

And Michael Ditto just discovered that they also compromised the CENTCOM’s YouTube and Google+ accounts as well.

The hackers have changed the account’s photo, and are tweeting personnel lists.

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 11.47.41 AM

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 11.53.50 AM

Someone else already noted that the documents they’re posting are hardly classified. Some, in fact, are simply from other public Web sites:

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 12.03.47 PM

Here’s CENTCOM’s YouTube account:

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 12.05.46 PM

And here’s Goggle+:

Screen Shot 2015-01-12 at 12.07.31 PM

Anonymous recently threatened to hack ISIS and other terror groups. Let’s hope they get on the ball.

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Why did the Paris attack go viral, while previous attacks on Jews did not? Mon, 12 Jan 2015 13:00:05 +0000 I was reading an exchange between some US writers and the French ambassador to the US about why France never held massive nationwide rallies after the numerous deadly attacks on the nation’s Jewish community.

And while I find the question a bit unnecessarily snippy in a “my suffering is greater than your suffering” kind of way, the question isn’t entirely off-base.

You hear similar questions asked in America every time a young blonde woman goes missing. Where is the nationwide media attention about the young African-Americans who die every day?

"We are one people."

“We are one people.”

The thing is, it’s difficult getting news stories to go viral; and it’s often even more difficult predicting which ones will.

Much of my professional career has been devoted to making stories explode in the media. And while there’s certainly an art to it — I’ve had multiple stories go viral over the years, so it’s not just a fluke — it’s still not easy predicting which ones will enrage the masses and excite the media. Nor is it particularly easy detailing exactly how one makes a story go viral.

It’s hard to explain why, but some stories just smell viral. Often, but not always, when I hear a story that has the potential to go viral, I get a pit in my stomach (I call it my “spider sense”).

Now, the question is “why” those particular stories smell viral. And I’m not entirely sure. Sometimes the crime (if it’s a crime story) just particularly shocks. And I suspect that crimes that shock the majority are crimes that make the majority think “that could have been me.” Thus, air disasters tend to shock, as any of us could have been on that plane.

Which brings us back to Charlie Hebdo. I’m really struggling with this, because a part of me thinks that whether it be anti-semitic attacks, or violence in the black community, non-Jews and non-blacks tend to think “that couldn’t be me because I’m not black or Jewish.” But even that argument doesn’t hold total sway: We’ve had great success making stories go viral in the gay community, even though most people aren’t gay. (The Matthew Shepard story comes to mind.) And the recent suicide of a teenage transgender girl went super-viral worldwide, even though most of us aren’t transgender.

Then again, Matthew Shepard was white, as was Leelah Alcorn (the trans teen). And it’s entirely possible that America’s white majority reacts more strongly to stories about white people. And in France, it’s entirely possible that people don’t react as strongly to attacks on Jews as they do attacks on journalists. And whether that’s overt racism, or a more subtle form of emotional segregation, it’s hard to say. But I do think a lot of it comes down to people feeling that they can relate with the victim, and that but for the grace of God it could have been them.

And in the end, perhaps the non-viral nature of some stories is discriminatory at its core. I don’t know. But I can’t help feeling that something else is also going on. Some stories, for whatever reason, touch our common sense of humanity. And others, though equally worth, simply don’t.

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24 y.o. Muslim employee saved hostages at Paris kosher market Sat, 10 Jan 2015 21:14:30 +0000 A really remarkable story out of Paris, of how a young Muslim supermarket employee helped save a number of his store’s clients during the recent hostage standoff in Paris.

You know by now that terrorists killed the staff, and two policeman, at the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The next day, another terrorist, allied with the Charlie Hebdo kilers, took over a dozen people hostage at a local kosher supermarket.

What you might not have heard is that a 24 year old employee of that supermarket, Lassana Bathily — a Muslim originally from Mali in west Africa — saved the lives of at least 6, and as many as 20, of the hostages, including an infant.

The woman was originally thought to be one of the hostage-takers, now she is thought to have been an accomplice.

The woman was originally thought to be one of the hostage-takers, now she is thought to have been an accomplice who was not at the raid itself.

When the terrorist entered the store he immediately fired his weapon. A number of the clients in the store ran to the back, and went down some stairs to the basement. Bathily, thinking fast, directed everyone into the store’s freezer, then turned off the lights and the refrigeration system.

At some point, the terrorist realized there were people hiding downstairs, and sent another store employee down to tell them that they’d better come up, or they’d all be killed.

The people hiding weren’t sure what to do. Bathilly came up with an idea: Use the freight elevator (those things that come up right underneath the sidewalk) to escape.

But the hostages were scared the gunman would hear the noise and kill them all. So Bathily went on his own, took the elevator, and escaped.

He was immediately apprehended by the police, handcuffed and interrogated for an hour and a half. Ultimately, the cops believed him, and he was able to give them vital intelligence which helped with their final raid.

So at this point, we have a Muslim hero cop who died defending Charlie Hebdo, a Muslim supermarket employee who helped save hostages in a kosher store, and, I’m told, a Muslim police officer who led the raid on the store.

People keeping asking Muslims to speak up.

And they did.

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Live blog of French hostage / terror crisis Fri, 09 Jan 2015 17:04:34 +0000 Major developments in the nationwide manhunt in France for the terrorists who murdered 12 people at the headquarter of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The two Charlie Hebdo terrorists who were still on the run (the third had already turned himself) are now dead. Another hostage stand-off was also resolved this morning in Paris.

Basically, there were two hostage situations this morning. The Charlie Hebdo terrorists took a hostage outside Paris near Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, and a second possibly-related hostage crisis was taking place in Paris at a kosher supermarket. 4 hostages at least are dead at the supermarket.

The two Charlie Hebdo terrorists are dead. One of the two supermarket terrorists are dead; the other, a woman, is on the run.

These are the second set of hostage-takers, not the Charlie Hebdo terrorists:

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 11.11.10 AM

Twitter headquarters:
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This was the siege of those second hostage-takers:Screen-Shot-2015-01-09-at-10.57.39-AM

"At least 4 of the hostages at Vincennes are dead."

“At least 4 of the hostages at Vincennes are dead.”

Lead American Republicans continue to do what they do best:

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 10.50.44 AM

More from Paris:


The #JeSuisCharlie hashtag is reportedly the most popular hashtag ever in Twitter’s history. I’d be curious if someone can confirm this.

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 11.12.33 AM

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Why did gay activists never embrace violence? Fri, 09 Jan 2015 13:00:10 +0000 Ever since three masked men walked into the offices of French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, and methodically murdered the magazine’s staff along with two French policeman (one of whom was injured and already on the ground when the terrorist walked up and put a bullet through his brain, point blank), there’s been a subtle stream of “yeah but” from some on the left.

I admit to being slightly guilty of the offense myself. I wrote a piece intended to start a discussion on whether Charlie Hebdo wasn’t poking a rather dangerous snake with its sometimes (often?) over-the-top (read: racist) cartoons (though some of the cartoon, like the gay one below, were rather brilliant). My intent wasn’t to even vaguely excuse these terrorists in particular, or Islamic extremism in general. I did, however, want to get people talking about how best to defend freedom of speech and respond to threats like those from Muslim extremists.

The gay one.

The gay one.

Since then, I’ve read a number of things on Twitter that, while claiming otherwise, seem to be making excuses for the violence. A discussion of the French treatment of Muslim immigrants comes to mind, while others have chastised “white people” generally, including “white liberals in America.”

And a top liberal voice, for example, yesterday retweeted a seven-year-old story from the Washington Post about how most of France’s prisons are filled with Muslims. It was difficult not to hear a bit of a “yeah but” when reading all of this.

And it got me thinking. Gays have been rather oppressed too. And we never killed anybody in return. Why is that?

Screen-Shot-2015-01-08-at-4.13.25-PMI’m hardly being facetious. At the burgeoning height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and early 90s, gay men were dropping like flies. Our government wasn’t terribly concerned about addressing the obvious plague that was decimating the gay community, in large part because our government didn’t terribly like gays. So they let us die. A lot of us.

Way back in the 1990s, I remember asking myself how it was that the most radical gay activists never chose violence. Not that I thought violence was a good idea — I didn’t. The last thing a community begging for acceptance as “normal” needed was a “gay terrorist.” But boy did we face a lot of hate (and still do). Back in the late 80s and early 90s, especially, that hate was literally killing us (though it’s still killing gay and trans youth today). And someone months away from death doesn’t have a lot to lose.

But those activists, who understandably hated the likes of Jesse Helms and Jerry Falwell, to name but a few, never lifted a finger to hurt either one of them, or anyone else for that matter. And I find that interesting.

And before anyone claims that gay activists in America were all privileged white guys — gays, and people with AIDS in particular, we’re hardly privileged in Ronald Reagan’s America. They were treated by many as diseased pariahs. Not to mention, gay activists aren’t all American, and they aren’t all white. And in no country in the world can you point me to gay activists who have embraced violence.

So I rightfully bristle when some of my liberal brethren make slimly-couched excuses for the serial execution of cops or cartoonists, be it in France or America. A lot of people have it bad. And not everyone commits mass murder in response.

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Social media reacts to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris Thu, 08 Jan 2015 22:54:25 +0000 The terrorist attack against the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo has turned into a major international story, and a worldwide phenomenon far larger than I might have expected.

The attack struck a chord far beyond a typical murder. Whether it was the fact that journalists were the victims; whether it was the fact a Muslim cop was also one of the victims; whether it was the fact that the terrorists assassinated an injured police oficer, defenseless and laying on the ground, hands in the air, from point-blank range — something about this story touched a nerve to a greater degree than these type of attacks normally do.

Twitter and Facebook have had a number of poignant images surrounding the attacks. I wanted to share some of them with you.

This one might be my favorite:


The lights were turned off on the Eiffel Tower this evening, in honor of the victims:


The Times of London shows the moment right before the terrorists put a gun to the head of the injured cop and killed him.


A different perspective worth discussing:


I was particularly touched by the vigil in Boston, considering that it was 5 degrees Fahrenheit last night, but still they turned out to mourn 12 deaths half a globe away.


More vigils:


My friend Lunise on Facebook: “12 dead, 66 million wounded.”


Another vigil in Paris — there were more vigils tonight:Screen-Shot-2015-01-08-at-4.14.27-PM

Another brilliant cartoon from Lalo Alcaraz:Screen-Shot-2015-01-08-at-4.16.54-PM

Update from AP:


And finally, proof that not every light in the world has been extinguished:


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It’s time for a serious discussion about [insert latest case of religious violence here] Thu, 08 Jan 2015 15:19:29 +0000 It’s time for our nation (and the world) to have a serious discussion about [insert latest case of religiously-motivated violence here].

Here are a few helpful tips to guide you through this very important story:

1. The person/people who just killed a number of their fellow human beings in cold blood claims that they committed this unspeakable violence because God told them to. Either they read it in a book, or they saw a sign, or God talked to them directly.

Ignore them; they’re wrong. They clearly have no idea what their true motivations were, and it most certainly was NOT religion. Always remember that the religion these people claim to believe in would never sanction murder. Ever. Especially not of people who happen to believe in a different religion, or no religion at all.

And even if the main religious books of the world do tell their followers to kill people, no one takes those books literally. Literally.

2. To the extent that these people are carrying out the demands of their religion’s foundational texts, remember that they’re only doing it because they’re practicing the wrongheaded, bastardized version of it, and they don’t follow their holy book’s correct interpretation. You know, the interpretation used by the people we like.

charlie-hebdo-shooting3. Keep in mind that the pious people who just shot / bludgeoned / lynched / burned-alive / stabbed / bombed those they had theological differences with, whether or not they were specifically marked for violence or indiscriminately picked at random, didn’t do so because of their faith. They did it because they didn’t have economic opportunity or educational access or political autonomy (even if they really did).

So the blood is really on our own hands for perpetuating the decades of Western colonialism that drove these people to violence. Any other explanation, ever, is racist — even if the aggressors are themselves white and Western. Don’t let anyone, especially not the violent zealots themselves, tell you any different.

4. While you’re at it, make sure that you keep a vigilant eye out for anyone who criticizes religion’s role in the violent act. They really mean that every single member of that faith is complicit in the crime, and should be called out accordingly — so their views can be immediately dismissed without further consideration.

5. If you find yourself repeating these points to your friends, and you get to the part about how the root cause of religious violence is decades of Western colonialism, don’t forget to forget the role religion continues to play in those Western colonial expansions. Remember, we want to lament the West’s actions, history and existence without criticizing religion, because that would cross the line from reflection to insensitivity.

// //


6. Now, if the violence was carried out to coerce a secular, democratic body politic into adopting a specific set of religious regulations, make sure you publicly denounce their demands while quietly acquiescing.

For instance, if people were killed because they made a joke at the expense of a particular faith, vigorously defend the departed’s right to free speech while being very careful not to repeat the joke or anything close to it. You wouldn’t want anything you say or write to be taken the wrong way.

7. Also be sure to point out that, while free speech is all fine and good, and a number of innocent people are now dead — including, perhaps, an already-wounded police officer who was then shot in the head, assassination-style, at point-blank range — words hurt too.

So while you certainly don’t condone violence, you can at least see where the mass murderers were coming from.

8. And remember, if the religiously violent people in question are white, American and/or Christian, ignore all of the above.

This is obviously not really a case of religious violence; it is an isolated incident brought on by severe mental health issues.

Christians don’t kill people in the name of their faith, because Jesus. And turning the other cheek. And all that jazz (obviously).

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“They wanted to bring France to its knees — they brought it to its feet” Thu, 08 Jan 2015 13:00:08 +0000 I reported yesterday about the terrorist attack in Paris that killed 10 French journalists and 2 policemen.  The story has now exploded into a major international story that has galvanized people worldwide around the issues of freedom of speech and religious extremism.

In a nutshell, three masked men burst into the offices of a French satirical magazine and assassinated their staff and the two policement standing guard. The magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was firebombed a few years ago after the magazine published some covers sharply and satirically critical of Islam (thus the police presence).

UPDATE: It’s time for a serious discussion about [insert latest case of religious violence here]

One news report I saw said the police have video showing one of the assailants walking up to an injured policeman and putting a bullet into his head at point-blank range.

It’s been interesting to watch the reaction in France, but especially worldwide, to the attacks. It’s been pretty huge.

First in France, there was massive, spontaneous protests around the Paris last night. This tweet is perhaps my favorite:

“They wanted to bring France to its knees. They brought it to its feet.”


not-afraid protest paris-12 paris-3

Soon thereafter, media in France and worldwide stepped up as well:


At the Newseum in Washington, DC:







Particularly interesting, Wikileaks tweeted four of the most controversial covers from Charlie Hebdo. First up, a gay one that’s actually kind of brilliant:


Next up, one that at first offended me, but then I got the larger “joke.” They’re not calling the Koran sh*t. It’s a statement on religion and violence. Still, you can guarantee this one would set people off.


The next two covers I’m having a hard time digesting.


This one I don’t even understand. But it feels somewhat racist.


Of course, Fox News’ Erick Erickson couldn’t wait to use the deaths of 12 Frenchmen to bash gay Americans as “terrorists.”

Muslims hardly own the patent on religiously-inspired hate.

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12 dead in Paris terror attack; magazine criticized Muhammad Wed, 07 Jan 2015 18:53:01 +0000 In what is being described as the deadliest terrorist attack in France in decades, 12 people are dead after 3 masked gunman shouting “Allahu Akbar” — “God is great,” in Arabic — burst into the headquarters of a satirical magazine and shot the staff and two policemen to death.

The men then ran from the scene, hijacked a car, and fled. There’s an ongoing manhunt in Paris for them.

The magazine, Charlie Hebdo, had previously been firebombed after its cover featured the Muslim prophet Muhammad. The magazine subsequently published caricatures mocking Muhammad, and more generally has been critical of radical Islam. In the Muslim religion, such things are forbidden.

UPDATE: The world has rallied as a result of this attack.

From NPR:

Many Muslims consider any depiction or mockery of Muhammad to be blasphemous. In a 2005 episode, Danish newspaper cartoons satirizing Islam provoked protests there and in several other countries, some of them violent.

The cartoons in Charlie Hebdo pulled no punches. They included drawings of Muhammad naked and were accompanied by sexual commentary.


Frenchmen are rallying in Paris to honor the victims of the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo.

Our Jon Green has written a number of stories about religious extremism in general, and radical Islam in particular. And the deadly attack in Paris certainly raises a number of issues, again, about freedom of speech, Islamic extremism, and to what degree some in the west continue to poke a stick at people with a known penchant for responding violently to such pokes.

Now, my reaction to this crime is more in line with Jon’s thinking in his various pieces. But it’s easy and obvious to write a piece today about how radical Islam is out of control. I think the more interesting question is how to challenge religious extremism, especially violent Muslim extremism, and whether these naked cartoons of Muhammad are the best and most effetive way of doing that.

There’s an interesting theory in the law called contributory negligence. The idea is that while the other guy hurt you, and it’s certainly his fault that he hurt you, the law recognizes that you kinda sorta helped as well. Wikipedia gives a few examples:

For example, a pedestrian crosses a road negligently and is hit by a driver who was driving negligently. Since the pedestrian has also contributed to the accident, they may be barred from complete and full recovery of damages from the driver (or their insurer) because the accident was less likely to occur if it weren’t for their failure to keep a proper lookout. Another example of contributory negligence is where a plaintiff actively disregards warnings or fails to take reasonable steps for his or her safety, then assumes a certain level of risk in a given activity; such as diving in shallow water without checking the depth first.

Now, it’s not very PC to discuss whether victims’ own actions play a role in any particular crime. But it’s an interesting, and I’d argue useful, means of trying to understand incidents like this that have much larger societal repercussions.

Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of killing people for insulting any deity. But I also wonder sometimes at people who insist on poking Islam in the gut by continually taunting them with depictions of their prophet, in this case, naked in a sexual context. That surely is begging for an angry response. Though, no reasonable person in the West would argue that even righteous anger merits violence.

Frenchmen are changing their Facebook photo to a black square to honor the victims of the Charlie Hebdo terror attack.

Frenchmen are changing their Facebook photo to a black square to honor the victims of the Charlie Hebdo terror attack.

But let’s take this a bit further. While violence isn’t merited, it is sometimes anticipated. We know that factions of radical Islam respond to criticism of Muhammad with violence. So what’s a sardonic editor to do? Stand by her principles, knowing that she’s risking the lives of her staff; or take a pass on treating Islam as one would other religions?

The question I’m really asking is this: When you choose to walk home at 3am, through the worst neighborhood in town, knowing that everyone who walks that path ends up getting mugged — and lo’ and behold you get mugged — do you really share none of the blame for what happened?

In this case, I’m playing a bit of a devil’s advocate. I’m shocked and sickened by the crime, and it’s renewed my ongoing concerns about the dogmatic extremism of many modern religions and their followers — particularly Islam. But I also wonder what benefit there is to publishing images of anyone’s deity naked. You could argue that it’s a blow for free speech, but is it? Is this really the best way to teach uber-conservative religionists about freedom — by turning their deity into a sex object?

I think back to Salman Rushdie, a British novelist who was sentenced to die by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini. No one in the West has any sympathy with Iran over that issue. And I have no sympathy with the attackers in Paris today. But I do wonder whether all of these cartoons mocking Muhammad are the same thing, morally and ethically, as what Salman Rushdie did.

In fact, Salman Rushdie spoke out today about this crime:

Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.

Perhaps it all comes down to pornography. Hustler is not “A Farewell to Arms,” and the Nazis are most certainly not the VFW, but all are protected by our western notions of freedom of speech. The vileness of the message does not alter the degree to which we protect the messenger. And my gut reaction to the attack in Paris is most certainly not any kind of sympathy with the attackers — the attack has only heightened my ongoing concerns about our tendency to coddle religious extremism. But, I do think it’s interesting to think about this issue in terms of how best to respond to intolerance. And I’d welcome some comments below exploring this further.

UPDATE: The BBC had an interesting take on the tradition of French political satire:

Charlie Hebdo is part of a venerable tradition in French journalism going back to the scandal sheets that denounced Marie-Antoinette in the run-up to the French Revolution.

The tradition combines left-wing radicalism with a provocative scurrility that often borders on the obscene. Its decision to mock the Prophet Muhammad in 2011 was entirely consistent with its historic raison d’etre.

The paper has never sold in enormous numbers – and for 10 years from 1981, it ceased publication for lack of resources.

But with its garish front-page cartoons and incendiary headlines, it is an unmissable staple of newspaper kiosks and railway station booksellers.

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