AMERICAblog News A great nation deserves the truth // One of America's top progressive sites for news and opinion Tue, 16 Sep 2014 02:54:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Jedi Kittens (video) Tue, 16 Sep 2014 02:54:07 +0000 These are from the same guy who did the special effects video I posted the other day.

This time, it’s Jedi Kittens.


The second video is probably the best.

And 3 isn’t bad either.

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Cops arrest black actress for kissing white boyfriend in public Mon, 15 Sep 2014 17:00:38 +0000 Actress Daniele Watts and her boyfriend Brian James Lucas (aka Cheffy BeLive) have taken to social media to protest Daniele’s recent arrest for prostitution.

The young black woman’s actual crime? Kissing her white boyfriend in public.

It seems someone saw the two kissing in public, didn’t like it, and told them to “stop putting on a show.” Minutes later, the police show up, and start asking Lucas questions which, he says, suggested that his girlfriend was actually a prostitute and he was her trick.


The police, who handcuffed the woman and then threw her in the back of their car, cutting her wrist, now claim that they never suggested she was a prostitute.

Then why exactly was the black woman arrested for kissing her white boyfriend?


I suspect the cops will say it’s because she refused to give them an ID. Yeah, well, I’d refuse to give the police an ID as well if my only offense was kissing someone the police didn’t want me to kiss. Like, say, another man.

Interestingly, a California CBS affiliate says that California has no law requiring you to show your ID to the police if you’re just walking down the street. But they do have the right to detain you if they have “reasonable suspicion” of something. So, if the cops didn’t reasonably suspect that Daniele was a hooker, why did they show up and question her in the first place?

More from the local CBS affiliate:

The LAPD said in a statement Sunday that officers responded to the location around 3:01 p.m. following a radio call of “indecent exposure.”

The couple learned from officers that someone at a nearby office building had called in the report. Watts had just gotten out of an interview at CBS Studios’ Radford lot and was sitting in the Mercedes-Benz on her boyfriend’s lap.

“The citizen who called the police to complain told the 911 operator that a male and a female were involved in indecent exposure inside a Silver Mercedes with the vehicle door open,” the statement alleged.

When officers arrived, police said they located two people who matched the description of the subjects.

Indecent exposure? Seriously? It was obvious from the moment the cops arrived that the couple wasn’t naked, so why did they need to ask for IDs? And what exactly did this call to the police say? I doubt the caller said “they were indecently exposed.” He probably said “they were making out.” And is the LAPD’s offical policy to ask for IDs of people accused of “making out”? Doubtful.

The police are now claiming that they never arrested Daniele, so they have no comment on what they consider a non-incident. Really? What do you handcuffing a woman and placing her in a squad car. And cutting her arm while so doing? A love tap?

Here’s Daniele’s account, then her boyfriend’s:

Today I was handcuffed and detained by 2 police officers from the Studio City Police Department after refusing to agree that I had done something wrong by showing affection, fully clothed, in a public place.

When the officer arrived, I was standing on the sidewalk by a tree. I was talking to my father on my cell phone. I knew that I had done nothing wrong, that I wasn’t harming anyone, so I walked away.

A few minutes later, I was still talking to my dad when 2 different police officers accosted me and forced me into handcuffs.

Now for the boyfriend:

Today, Daniele Watts & I were accosted by police officers after showing our affection publicly.

From the questions that he asked me as D was already on her phone with her dad, I could tell that whoever called on us (including the officers), saw a tatted RAWKer white boy and a hot bootie shorted black girl and thought we were a HO (prostitute) & a TRICK (client).

This is something that happened to her and her father when she was 16. What an assumption to make!!!

Because of my past experience with the law, I gave him my ID knowing we did nothing wrong and when they asked D for hers, she refused to give it because they had no right to do so.
So they handcuffed her and threw her roughly into the back of the cop car until they could figure out who she was. In the process of handcuffing her, they cut her wrist, which was truly NOT COOL!!!

Not cool, indeed.


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Liberals need to stop mansplaining ISIS Mon, 15 Sep 2014 14:53:22 +0000 The secular West doesn’t understand religious social movements

When I was 8 years old, I saw a pigeon poop on a Quran while we were outside doing an Islamic studies class. I showed the book to my grandma, who decided the pigeons were possessed and needed to be executed. So, some men got together and murdered all those pigeons in the name of God. We didn’t know which bird actually did the pooping, so they had to kill all of them.

That quote is from an account on Cracked about what life was like as an atheist in Bangladesh. The account is anonymous because the author was eventually forced to flee the country for the crime of blogging-while-atheist, and still lives in fear of being tracked down in the United States. Before he fled the country, bloggers critical of Islam had already been brutally murdered; he was eventually ordered by local authorities to take down his blog posts, or else “we can’t protect you.”

To say that not all Muslims believe that atheists should be killed for blogging their beliefs belies the fact that, in countries where religious extremism is the norm, piety is a vigorously-enforced substitute for what secular states would consider normal social custom. The account goes on:

When you hear about some country on the news with crazily strict religious codes of dress or conduct, it’s easy to imagine that it’s just a small group of officials enforcing the rules on the common folk, who just roll their eyes and go along with it. But that’s not the way it works: The fundamentalists are your neighbors, co-workers, and classmates, all getting more extreme as they try to top each other to prove they’re the purest of all.

the flag of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or simply the Islamic State (IS). Via Shutterstock.

the flag of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), or the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), or simply the Islamic State (IS). Via Shutterstock.

Liberals have no problem understanding this concept when it’s Republicans trying their damnedest to out-crazy each other in an echo chamber of gunslinging and sweet baby Jeebus, but we tend to explain away religious extremism — Islamic extremism in particular — as being motivated by something else. We never allow ourselves to take these particular zealots at their word; we insist that the problem is economic frustration. Or a lack of education. Or Western colonialism. Or one crazy, power-hungry despot. Or literally anything other than the explanation they are offering: that God is on their side in a holy struggle and they have the religious texts to prove it; and that anyone who stands in their way is either an infidel or an apostate, so you’d better get on board.

To be sure, sometimes we’re right, but the Islamic State’s degree of piety makes Saddam Hussein’s brand of Islam look like Ted Haggard’s brand of Christianity. Contrary to President Obama’s assertion that the group is not Islamic, this is a group that broke with al-Qaeda over the terror network not being Islamic enoughIt’s nearly impossible to be more fundamentalist when al-freaking-Qaeda is telling you to calm down because you’re taking the Quran too seriously.

Perhaps our own secularism puts us at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding the motivations of the self-described devout. We’ve come up with watered-down, a-la-carte versions of these bloody, archaic texts for ourselves, making our religion more cultural than metaphysical, but I worry that we’re projecting our own religion onto our decidedly non-secular counterparts abroad. We assume that violent religious movements are motivated by our shared desires for territorial autonomy and economic opportunity, and just go about acquiring them in ways that we don’t like. In this view, the only thing that really divides us is that we’re powerful and they aren’t.

Liberals need to stop mansplaining ISIS. It isn’t that simple. As sociologist Manuel Castells argued at length in his seminal work on social movements in the globalized international system, The Power of Identity, movements based in Islamic fundamentalism are in many ways reacting to the steady encroachment of Western globalization. However, their alternative to that globalization is a totally different way of life — one based in rigorous, literal and absolutely appalling interpretations of holy books. It’s a way of life that completely rejects our Western norms with respect to markets, freedoms, diplomacy, borders and culture. So, yes, neoliberal globalization is part of the problem, but liberal multiculturalism is not by any means a solution.

The people in charge of the Islamic State really are trying to take their civilization in a different direction than we are. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to attack them — as President Obama conceded in his announcement, they pose no current threat to our national security — but it does mean that we need to be able to think and chew at the same time when we attempt to understand their motivations and principles. Right now, the liberal blogosphere is engaged in a series of religious gymnastics in order to convince itself that the Islamic State is not actually Islamic, which presumably comes with the corollary that its members are not, in fact, Muslims. I don’t think these gymnastics are necessary in order to make the same point: the Islamic State does not in any way represent mainstream Muslims in the rest of civilization.

But that doesn’t quite make hard-line versions of the faith “extreme,” as in two full standard deviations outside of the norm. For example, the outspokenly violent and hateful cleric Mohammed Al-Areefi has 9+ million followers on Twitter. As Sam Harris has pointed out, that’s twice as many as Pope Francis’ English-language account. You can cite a verse from the Quran and declare Islam a religion of peace, or you can cite a different verse to claim the opposite. (Okay, a lot of different verses, most of which were written later and can therefore be claimed to have precedence over the earlier, peaceful ones where contradictions exist.) While this is true of Christianity and Judaism, as well, those two religions settled questions regarding fundamentalist violence long ago. In Islam, the reformation is only just now getting underway; those questions are still very much open to debate.

We can side with and empower the majority of Muslims who reject religious violence, but we should keep in mind that the people coming up with these freakishly scary interpretations of the Quran aren’t idiots: a disproportionately high number have college and graduate degrees. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State, holds a doctorate in education. They’re reading the same text that moderate Muslims are, just as if not more closely, and are coming away with a very different understanding of the faith. So while we absolutely can and should say that a liberal interpretation of the Quran is both perfectly compatible with Western culture and, consequently, is the widely-accepted interpretation among Western Muslims, we can’t say that the interpretation and corresponding code of conduct offered by the Islamic State isn’t textually plausible.

As I’ve pointed out before with respect to Christianity, “the more seriously you take these verses, the less seriously you participate in modern society.” But the Islamic State has no intention of participating in modern society. Their stated goal is to take the Middle East back to the 7th Century. That isn’t a modern or Western flavor of Islam, but it absolutely is Islamic.

At this point, it’s absolutely pointless to talk about correct and incorrect interpretations of Islam, or any other major religion. The texts are opaque and self-contradictory such that anyone at any given time is guaranteed to be wrong about something. As Jerry Coyne, writing in The New Republic, pointed out:

[I]f ISIS is not Islamic, then the Inquisition was not Catholic… Whatever “true faith” means, it doesn’t mean “the right religion: the one whose God exists and whose doctrines are correct.” If that were so, we wouldn’t see Westerners trying to tell us what “true Islam” is.

…[I]f “true” means anything, it must mean “true to some principles.” As far as I can see, there are only two such principles: true to scripture or true to some code of conduct that the writer approves.

We liberals need to stop insisting that all religion is value-neutral, and that any interpretation of religious faith that deviates from our own (Western) set of values is therefore irreligious. As self-conscious as we normally are when Westerners try to explain someone else’s culture to them, it’s incredibly condescending and, well, Western of us. Of course, this means that instead of ignoring them or explaining them away, we may at some point be required to evaluate these religious dogmas in reference to our way of life.

The Islamic State is so far removed from a Western conception of civilization and society that we have a hard time understanding it. As counterintuitive as it may be for us, the easiest way to fix that may be to sit up in our chairs and listen to them.

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Domestic violence is not a “family matter” Mon, 15 Sep 2014 12:00:00 +0000 We published a few stories recently about Baltimore Ravens football player Ray Rice knocking his wife unconscious, and the NFL’s refusal to take serious action until the situation grew so embarrassing, with the release of a video of the assault, that they had no choice but to act.

In response, AMERICAblog reader Judy Brown wrote a comment that I thought merited posting on the home page. Here’s Judy’s comment:

I remember when it wasn’t considered polite to speak about “wife beating,” except as a joke.

It’s was considered a private “family matter” — something a woman should be ashamed to admit, and something the police wouldn’t be bothered with, until or after someone — say the wife — was murdered.

Photo via Shutterstock

Photo via Shutterstock

I broke up with a boyfriend in the early ’70s — who seemed to be one of the nicest guys in the world, for the first year — before he escalated arguments about getting married. He escalated to ordering me to marry him: from screaming arguments to shoving, to the physical, once, but that was enough.

He choked me! It was an uneven contest: I was 4’11” — he was 6’3″, and had gone to college on a football scholarship.

I’d asked him to leave weeks before, he’d refused — even smugly said my father couldn’t force him out. I’d never encountered anything like it before, didn’t understand what was going on, but I ran away from my own apartment.

The police wouldn’t help — asked if he was my pimp. He was an engineer in computer programming, I worked at a magazine — but nope, I was a woman, so police still wouldn’t help me get him out of my place, or charge him.

The apartment was in my name, so I changed the locks while he was at work (I’d warned him he had three days to leave.) I piled his stuff in the hall, and locked myself in, trembling, while he and his three brothers pounded on the door. (The police also refused to be at my apartment when he was scheduled to pick up his things.)

Later, his mother called to ask why I wouldn’t marry him — and whether ashamed, or reluctant to mention the choking – I summed up my fears for the future, “I was afraid he was going to start hitting me.”

A deep quiet on the other end of the phone, and she admitted something she may not have told anyone else, “His father beats me, and it’s ruined my life.”

His father had also seemed to be one of those nice guys — to an outsider — and their family life appeared to be happy. No arguments whenever we’d visited.

They were Catholic, had four children, divorce was a mortal sin, she’d been told that the abuse was her fault — and would have had no help from law enforcement, either.

This all before the term “domestic abuse” had been coined by feminists, who brought “wife-beating” out of the “private, family” closet so they could fight for legal sanctions, and things like women’s shelters and public understanding.

And that’s the point: if you’re polite about it, hold back the details, you can’t activate against abuse.

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The writing’s on the wall (cool special effects music video) Sun, 14 Sep 2014 16:33:37 +0000 Another cool special effects video, this time a music video by OK Go, called “The Writing’s On the Wall.”

In addition to the song being a rather cool 80’s New Wave style, the special effects are just amazing. And fun.





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Really cool (and fun) special effects video – trust me Sat, 13 Sep 2014 16:42:11 +0000 I love this guy.


He does some incredible special effects – I mean, really professionally done.

I’m curious with the last one, the tree, whether it’s a special effect he did with his computer, or whether the print out is sufficient to create the effect. What do you think?

(It’s a Facebook video, so give it a second to load.)

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Per the NFL, Ray Rice’s only crime was getting caught on tape Fri, 12 Sep 2014 17:00:14 +0000 Speaking as someone who experienced domestic violence first hand, I concur with John’s decision to post the animated gifs and video footage to Jon Green’s earlier story about the NFL’s inaction regarding former Baltimore Raven’s star Ray Rice knocking his girlfriend unconscious, on tape.

One of the reasons abuse and violence happens and is allowed to continue to happen is because people don’t see it happening in front of them.

“He hit her. He punched her. He dragged her unconscious from the elevator and then acted like it was no big thing.”

These are descriptive but ultimately abstract statements. People will analyze them in a subjective way. Most people haven’t actually witnessed such things happening, and so in nearly every case the mental image they’ll come up with won’t be nearly as bad as the reality.

Video of Ray Rice apparently spitting on his fiancée right before getting on an elevator with her and knocking her unconscious. If the motion stops, you can refresh the page to restart it.

Video of Ray Rice apparently spitting on his fiancée right before getting on an elevator with her and knocking her unconscious. If the motion stops, you can refresh the page to restart it.

The video… well, it doesn’t lie. Ray Rice and his fiancée are having an argument. And yes, the clearer video before they got onto the elevator does appear to show Rice spitting on her (or some similar motion), and she responded with a rather lame backhand slap.

In the elevator, he shoves Janay a few times. I and several others think it shows him spitting on her a second time, she pushes back, then he appears to slap her face. She then puts her hand up to protect herself.

Ray Rice appears to spit on his fiancée a second time, then appears to hit her for the first time. If the motion stops, you can refresh the page to restart it.

Ray Rice appears to spit on his fiancée a second time, then appears to hit her for the first time. If the motion stops, you can refresh the page to restart it.

She then comes towards him, and he decks her with a punch so hard her head appears to bounce hard off a metal railing in the elevator.

And then — this is the part that gets me — he spends the next several seconds just standing there, waiting for the elevator to stop. Doesn’t bend down to check on her, doesn’t show the least concern that she’s unconscious. And then when the doors open, as John remarked, Ray Rice dragged her out like a rag doll, not caring that her dress was hiked up, drops her on the hard tile floor (even though she’s just had a head injury) and even at one point shoving her leg to one side with the toe of his shoe.

First, he knocks her out.


Then he does nothing, initially. Finally he bends down to pick her still-unconscious body up, like a rag doll. He doesn’t check her vitals. He doesn’t loving touch her face to see if she’s okay. He just picks her up, as if this kind of thing happens all the time.


Then, he appears to change his mind and drops her on the ground. Note her head landing on the right side of the frame, not guided by his hand — she simply appears to have been dropped.


Next comes the rag doll drag and kick. Note the little kick he gives her at the end, after he picks up her shoe:


And then, after the kick, check how many times he bends down to see if she’s all right. Zero.

Video of Ray Rice apparently spitting on his fiancée right before getting on an elevator with her and knocking her unconscious. If the motion stops, you can refresh the page to restart it.

Video of Ray Rice apparently spitting on his fiancée right before getting on an elevator with her and knocking her unconscious. If the motion stops, you can refresh the page to restart it.

The important thing as we’ve learned isn’t that Ray Rice was accused of assaulting his fiancée (now his wife, and about-to-be-statistic). It didn’t matter that there was incontrovertible proof the assault happened. The NFL and the Ravens didn’t particularly care about more than a token gesture — a suspension shorter than if he’d been caught smoking grass — until the video came out and Rice (in their eyes) committed the far more serious offense of embarrassing the league. According to NFL standards, if you want to beat your girlfriend, fiancée, or wife, sure go right ahead, it’s no big deal — just don’t be SEEN doing it, and most of all don’t be videotaped doing it. Or then, we gotta let you go.

So yeah — this stuff needs to be seen. It needs to be experienced and witnessed, or else people will continue to talk themselves into believing “he assaulted her” or “he punched her” can’t possibly be as bad as some might describe it. Once you see the spitting, and the punches, and then see Janay’s head bouncing off the railing, and Rice’s apparently indifference and disdain for her condition — you can’t unsee it. And no one should.

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Should doctors “have” to treat Ebola patients? Fri, 12 Sep 2014 15:31:06 +0000 Do doctors have to treat you?

Are doctors, and other health care personnel, required to treat any and all patients, even if doing so might cost them their lives?

Think about that for a moment. I’d like to hear your opinion.

This is an issue that has come up with the recent Ebola outbreak. Though it is not a new issue, it still requires some thought in the Age of Ebola.

During the early HIV/AIDS era in the 1980s, when there was little information (but a lot of speculation) about the disease, there were physicians and other health care workers who refused to treat HIV infected patients. The doctors (even some dentists) were worried about risking their lives by treating patients who had a fatal, infectious disease that had no cure.

The Ebola virus, courtesy of Shutterstock

The Ebola virus, courtesy of Shutterstock

An accidental nick with a scalpel used on an AIDS patient could lead to the death of the surgeon. A needle stick done on an HIV positive patient by a nurse, who then accidentally stuck herself, could be fatal. Health care professionals were extremely concerned that they might catch the disease. Some outright refused to treat HIV patients entirely for that reason. Others, while concerned over their own health and safety, were also worried that their practices would suffer. Would other patients want to be in the same waiting room with AIDS patients?

You have to remember that, at the time, some members of the general public feared that HIV could be transmitted through casual contact or airborne transmission. The topic of the unwillingness of some health care providers to treat AIDS patients was raised by C. Everett Koop, MD, former US Surgeon General.

Surgeon General C. Everett Koop Wednesday denounced doctors and other health workers who refuse to treat AIDS patients as a “fearful and irrational minority“ who are guilty of “unprofessional conduct.“

In the strongest condemnation yet by any top federal health official of the small but growing number of doctors, dentists, nurses and other professionals who refuse treatment, Koop called their conduct “extremely serious“ because it “threatens the very fabric of health care in this country,“ which is based on the assumption that “everyone will be cared for and no one will be turned away.“

I had several experiences where I saw doctors, nurses, technical personnel and others refuse to treat HIV positive patients, supposedly because of the possible risk to their own health. All were allowed to make the choice of whether or not to treat. As far as I know, none was forced to treat an AIDS patient, and none suffered repercussions for their decisions.

We’re also now seeing instances from the Ebola outbreak where health care personnel have refused to treat infected patients.

Nigeria: Recently, Nigerian doctors were on strike. They had issues with some of their government’s policies. Even as Ebola reached Nigeria, they refused to end the strike (though a few weeks later they did call off the strike with the issues unresolved and are back at work.) Technically, these doctors were refusing to treat all patients, not just Ebola patients — but ethically, do doctors have the right to strike, especially during a deadly outbreak?

Charities in Africa withdrawing: Some charitable organizations have recalled their personnel from Ebola-infected areas because of the danger of contracting Ebola. Others are holding off on sending scheduled medical missions into the areas. Some, however, are maintaining their presence in the regions in spite of the risk to their personnel.

The Peace Corps also withdrew its volunteers from the affected areas a few weeks ago.

And some nurses in two of the affected countries, Liberia and Sierra Leone, are refusing to work at their clinics or hospitals. They say that there are insufficient amounts of needed supplies (masks, boots, gloves, hand sanitizer) available and that isolation protocols for infected patients are not being followed. They are afraid of contracting Ebola and will not return to work.

So we have a number of medical professionals and groups who are not willing to treat Ebola patients because of the degree of risk involved. And there are some individuals and groups who continue to treat Ebola patients, knowing the risks.

AIDS-HIV activist dispenses awareness information near Yoyogi Park, popular with teens and young adults on Sept. 18, 2009 in Tokyo. 20-30 year-olds have the highest rate of HIV in Japan. cdrin /

AIDS-HIV activist dispenses awareness information near Yoyogi Park, popular with teens and young adults on Sept. 18, 2009 in Tokyo. 20-30 year-olds have the highest rate of HIV in Japan. cdrin /

One concern that has surfaced in some online medical discussions has to do with doctors and other health care professionals treating Ebola patients. The question is, what happens if medical professionals refuse to treat Ebola patients because of the degree of risk to themselves? Can they be forced to treat these patients? Or do they have the right to refuse as a matter of self-preservation?

To date, 10 or so Ebola patients brought back to the US have been treated without incident at hospitals forewarned about them. Hospitals that are well-equipped to handle patients who need to be in isolation. But what if some members of the staff had refused? Enough so that the patient’s care was compromised. What happens then? Let the patient suffer or force staff to work?

I’m not sure that there is one right answer for all the possible scenarios in which this might occur. The answer given for poorly trained staff in a tiny, ill-equipped clinic in Africa might be very different from the answer given for the staff in a major medical center in the US. But basically, what it could come down to is who’s rights triumph. Does the patient’s right to adequate medical care supersede the doctor’s right to self-preservation.

I know what I’d say, sitting safely in the US, and currently not having any patients infected with Ebola. But would I hold the same opinion if faced with a patient who had Ebola?

What do you think? Do doctors have to treat Ebola patients?

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A man called Ray Rice Thu, 11 Sep 2014 18:55:44 +0000 So, a colleague was annoyed that I tweeted an animated gif earlier today of former Baltimore Ravens football star Ray Rice beating his girlfriend unconscious.

The image accompanied a story from our own Jon Green, calling for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to be fired over the incident.

The outraged-friend assumed that I tweeted the image in a callous attempt to get “hits” to my blog. (As if trying to get traffic, which equals ad revenue, which equals keeping the blog afloat and paying the mortgage, is somehow a dirty pursuit for a venture that lives and dies based on whether it can earn enough monthly income).

The thing is, I didn’t tweet the image solely to get traffic. I tweeted it because you don’t win civil rights battles by playing nice, and you don’t stop domestic violence by soft-pedaling the crime.

You win by getting in people’s faces and making them uncomfortable. You win by making the offense personal, unforgettable, and ultimately unacceptable.

Baltimore Ravens runningback Ray Rice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in 2012. Photo by 1ravenscowboysnflfan.

Baltimore Ravens runningback Ray Rice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in 2012. Photo by 1ravenscowboysnflfan.

I’d seen snippets of the Rice domestic violence video on TV yesterday, but hadn’t been paying attention to the story, so wasn’t aware of what it was all about. Then last night, I was editing Jon Green’s story, and after reading the shocking details, I wanted to see this video for myself. And there it was — a pro football player knocking a woman unconscious, and then dragging her seemingly-lifeless body out of an elevator as if she were some inconveniently oversized rag doll.

It was shocking. And horrible. And it made me want to know even more about the story.

And that’s why I tweeted the images this morning.

Jeff Gannon, posing on his off-hours Web site.

Jeff Gannon, posing on his off-hours Web site.

I remember, back in February of 2005, when I faced a similar dilemma about whether to publicly share shocking images associated with another graphic story. The story was about a man called Jeff Gannon, a conservative “journalist” covering the Bush White House. Gannon was more stenographer than reporter; tending to regurgitate the far-right line on the issue of the day, including gay rights. It turns out that while staunchly anti-gay by day, during his off-hours Gannon (working under a pseudonym without the requisite White House background check) was actually a seriously-in-debt gay prostitute — something decidedly at odds with a conservative Republican White House that had just launched a campaign to enshrine anti-gay prejudice in the US Constitution.

My dilemma was whether to publish the photos I had discovered on Gannon’s prostitution Web sites. He was nude, they were graphic, and I wasn’t sure whether the images were too salacious for the story. I talked to Mike Signorile, another gay writer, about it, and Mike ultimately swayed me to publish the photos (though I put PG versions on the site, while permitting the readers to click through to the unedited ones).

Mike’s logic was simple: People won’t fully appreciate the shocking nature of the story unless and until you shock them with the full truth of it. Mike had an even more nuanced point as well. By pulling the photos, or at least editing out the naughty bits, I would in fact be complicit in underselling the story. In a very real way, my own reticence about the images risked changing the story for the worse, and ultimately watering down Gannon’s offense in the eyes of the reader.

And that’s why I included the animated gifs, and entire video, in Jon Green’s story this morning.

As Jon reports, neither the NFL nor the Baltimore Ravens took decisive action against Ray Rice until the second, more graphic, video went public this week. The NFL already knew about Rice’s crime, the player had already admitted to hitting his girlfriend, and we’d already seen an earlier video of him dragging her unconscious out of an elevator. Yet, it wasn’t until we saw a video of Rice actually hitting his fiancée in the face that the NFL acted. The brutal reality of the crime didn’t hit home until we witnessed it first-hand.

And such is the nature of successful civil rights activism.

Oh that we lived in a world where you could simply and logically explain a problem — be it racism, homophobia, or violence against women — and the public would rise to redress simply based on the underlying merits. But, for better or worse, life is more visceral, and people more emotional.

While there’s a role for facts in swaying public opinion, I’ve learned through more than 20 years of (rather successful) gay rights activism that few things are as effective at educating the public as a swift punch to the gut.

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NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has to go Thu, 11 Sep 2014 16:29:56 +0000 Yesterday, the AP reported that contrary to claims from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, law enforcement did in fact share with NFL officials video footage of (now former) Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice brutally knocking unconscious, then dragging, his then-fiancée and now-wife, Janay, from an Atlantic City elevator on April 9th.

The video is graphic, but necessary, to fully appreciate how horrific this story truly is.


Prior to Monday, when TMZ published video of the violence, Rice’s actions had only led him to be suspended for two games, causing a public backlash that led the league to make its domestic violence policies stricter.

Of course, prior to Monday, the only available video of the incident was shot outside of the elevator, showing what happened after Janay was already unconscious. In the original video, you see Rice dragging his fiancée from the elevator.

Courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Almost immediately after the second video from inside the elevator emerged, the league suspended, Rice and the Baltimore Ravens terminated his contract.


ray-rice-2The latest news, that the NFL had the more-damning elevator footage months ago, and either ignored it or did not consider it serious enough to merit a harsher suspension, raises serious questions.

The first piece of evidence against Ray Rice – video showing him dragging his unconscious fiancée out of an elevator like a sack of potatoes – coupled with his admission that he struck her, told us everything that happened in that elevator. The league shouldn’t have needed video footage of the actual punch to know that it happened, that it was awful, and that a two-game suspension (which is all Rice originally got for beating his fiancée unconscious) wasn’t even close to enough.

Instead, as satirized by The Onion, on Monday the NFL announced a “New Zero-Tolerance Policy on Videotaped Domestic Violence.”

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Tuesday that the league has adopted a new zero-tolerance policy toward all videotaped domestic abuse. “We hold our players to the highest standards both as professional athletes and as people, so any violence toward women that is recorded, authenticated, and then publicly distributed will be met with an automatic suspension and fine,” said Goodell…

Goodell went on to clarify that in such cases, the NFL will cooperate fully with local authorities as soon as the league can no longer prevent incriminating evidence from being leaked to the media.

But that didn’t stop NFL commissioner Roger Goodell from claiming yesterday: “We (the NFL) assumed that there was a video. We asked for video. But we were never granted that opportunity.”

Except they were granted that opportunity. Months ago. This statement alone, setting aside everything else Goodell has done to mishandle this situation, should be enough to get him fired.

First off, Goodell’s statement is opaque at best and outright false at worst. While the league may have asked local law enforcement for the video, the casino where the incident took place said that they were never contacted by the league for the video, and that they would have gladly handed provided it if asked. This is significant because, in the context of a criminal investigation, the police aren’t allowed to hand out evidence, and the NFL knows this perfectly well. In choosing to ask the police and not the casino for additional evidence — when the league already assumed the casino had video evidence — the NFL, and by extension Goodell, were being willfully ignorant.

Every action the NFL has taken with respect to this issue has, unsurprisingly, suggested that they are acting out of a purely image-based interest, which highlights what is perhaps Goodell’s biggest mistake: If you assume that a video exists, how can you do anything other than act based on what’s definitely on that video, and suspend Rice indefinitely from the get-go? And despite all of Goodell’s claims to have been strictly adhering to league policy regarding Rice’s suspension in this case, this is a commissioner who’s made a habit of insisting that he can exercise discretion – in either direction – concerning player discipline.

From a strictly business perspective, knowing only what we all knew last week, before the even-more incriminating video went public, Goodell could have, and should have, suspended Rice indefinitely. He didn’t. This will cost the NFL a lot of money, as well it should.

Ray Rice’s fate has been sealed for months. The moment he hit his fiancée, his NFL season, and possibly career, was over. While seeing the video of the actual punch is horrid, it shouldn’t change anyone’s opinion as to what happened and what should have been done about it; the facts of the case remain exactly the same. We shouldn’t have to see video of a woman being knocked out in order to exact punishment from someone who has already admitted to the crime.

Yet, as the Onion noted, the only reason the Ravens fired, and the NFL suspended, Ray Rice is because the second video leaked, thus leaving them no choice.

The person we really should be thinking less of as a result of all of this – the person who really deserves to pay for doing the least that was asked of him, hoping the issue would go away so that Ray Rice could keep scoring touchdowns and making money – is NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

At the time of this writing, 62 percent of 392,000 respondents to an ESPN SportsNation poll asking whether or not Roger Goodell should resign or be fired had answered in the affirmative.

Count me as one of them.

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The GOP’s Ebola death panels Thu, 11 Sep 2014 12:00:20 +0000 Remember when Sarah Palin was campaigning against the Affordable Care Act and coined the term “death panels”?

Palin incorrectly insisted that the legislation would empower bureaucrats to decide who would be eligible for care and who wouldn’t. Those who wouldn’t, presumably would be allowed to die.

Well, the ACA passed and is now in place. And we do in fact have death panels. Just not the ones Palin envisaged.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Republicans took that term and created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Preventing the expansion of Medicaid in a number of states is producing the same result as the death panels. The Republicans have decided that some people don’t deserve affordable health insurance. And some of them will die because of the Republicans’ attitude.

They would have also produced death panels if any of their attempts to repeal the ACA had worked. Millions who had finally been able to get insured would have lost their coverage. And for many, that quite literally means death.

The GOP has also instituted death panels when they legislate the closure of abortion clinics.

Or add needless requirements (ultrasounds, counseling) onto pregnant women seeking an abortion.

Well, the Republicans have done it again, possibly on a much grander scale this time, with Ebola.

President Obama asked for $88 million to help combat the Ebola outbreak in Africa. Honestly, we probably need to contribute much more. Just looking at the outbreak from a selfish viewpoint (a specialty of the Republicans), Ebola could get to the US. By investing in quarantining and treating it in Africa, and funding research on drugs to cure and prevent it, we could be helping ourselves. But, not surprisingly, the Republicans have taken the headsman’s axe to the President’s request. They want to make death panels go international.

Symptoms of Ebola, by Mikael Häggström.

Symptoms of Ebola, by Mikael Häggström.

Obama wanted to give $53 million to the Biological Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA). BARDA oversees the development and coordination of experimental drugs and therapies to treat diseases. Remember, Ebola has no proven treatment that is effective. There are a few vaccines and other drugs, like ZMapp (and others), that still need to be produced and tested in animals and humans. $53 million isn’t very much at all to get these processes moving for a number of possible therapies. The Republicans cut the BARDA funding from $53 million all the way down to $15 million.

Remember, developing these therapies could benefit everyone, those currently infected and those yet to contract the disease. The rest of the budget request from President Obama was to go to the CDC. The CDC has sent and is continuing to send personnel to Africa. It is monitoring progress in the affected areas, gathering data and developing statistics and providing its expertise and laboratory proficiency with Ebola to the countries involved. The Republicans cut the CDC’s part of the appropriation, as well, though not so much as they did with BARDA.

The Republicans are doing this as the Ebola epidemic continues to grow. In Liberia and Sierra Leone, the outbreak is virtually out of control. Guinea is a little better. Ebola has spread from the mega-city of Lagos, in Nigeria, to another area of the country, Port Harcourt. It’s also spread to Senegal. There’s also an outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The WHO is seriously concerned over the continuing spread of the outbreak and has earmarked over $100 million for the area. The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is donating $50 million. The CDC has said that the outbreak is spiraling out of control, and that government officials and world leaders need to pay serious attention to it. Doctors Without Borders has essentially said that Ebola is out of control and that they can no longer cope with it. And this group is responsible for providing the lion’s share of medical care in the area.

For both the WHO and CDC to show this degree of alarm implies that things are extremely serious in the area.

I’d guess that the outbreak is going to continue to spread for a number of reasons best detailed in another post. In addition to just the ever-increasing number of those infected, there’s another problem. As President Obama mentioned, there is a concern that Ebola may mutate to a form that may be even easier to catch. Ebola mutates easily. The more infections there are, the higher the number of mutations that can occur. So minimizing the spread is crucial to decreasing the total number of mutations.

The involved countries, mostly incredibly poor, with no medical infrastructure to speak of, are desperate. They don’t have enough health care workers, basic supplies (body bags, hand sanitizer, boot, etc.) to even begin to cope with the epidemic. They have isolation wards (an oxymoron in this case) that might hold 80 patients but they have hundreds of patients who need to be isolated. Some of the countries have swallowed their pride and are literally begging for help: supplies, volunteers, medicine, isolation equipment, funds – anything.

Yet in spite of all of this information, pleas and warnings, the Republicans continue to make cuts, cuts that may eventually affect us here in the US. What the Republicans are doing is morally reprehensible. Not only are they playing political games with a deadly viral outbreak in Africa, by their actions they may be putting thousands of Americans at risk, as well. These are the same Republicans who, a week or two ago, were worrying about Ebola coming across our border with Mexico. They were up in arms about a fantasy scenario there, but are complacent about something real and immensely dangerous happening right now. Are they willing to do these political maneuvers because Ebola is far away? Because only Africans are dying? Because they want to embarrass President Obama and the Democrats?

Whatever reason they have, or think they have, it’s not sufficient.

Let me propose a different scenario. Imagine if Ebola viruses were the size of intercontinental ballistic missiles, and the affected countries had a few hundred of the Ebola ICBMs pointed at the United States. I can imagine that those same Republicans who are so enthusiastically slashing Obama’s budget request, would be screaming hysterically for billions of dollars to be spent, unlimited amounts of protective equipment would be ordered, and thousands of US personnel would be sent to the shores of Liberia, Sierra Leone and the other countries.

Perhaps President Obama should have requested the funds under the title “War on Ebola.” He might have gotten better results.

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Dog faints on seeing owner after 2 years away (video) Thu, 11 Sep 2014 00:47:43 +0000 Oh my God. Adorable video.

This young woman was living and working in Slovenia, and hadn’t been home in two years. When she finally got home, the family’s pet schnauzer went nuts. So nuts in fact, that the dog fainted.


The folks who took the video say the dog went to the vet right after and got a clean bill of health. It simply fainted from the excitement.

So cute.

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Two women, in their 90s, marry in Iowa after 72 years together Wed, 10 Sep 2014 15:53:39 +0000 Vivian Boyack, 91, and Alice “Nonie” Dubes, 90, married in Davenport, Iowa this weekend.

The women have been together for 72 years.

The local paper reports that the two have traveled to all 50 states, to Canada, and to England, twice.

I was curious to see what the comments would be on the local paper’s Web site. Most were pretty good. Here are a few:

“This story made me smile. Bless their hearts!”

“72 years of sin is still SIN. May they come to know Christ before they take their last breaths.”

Then this response: “My aren’t we judgmental.”

Or this: “I’m Christian and would rather spend eternity with these two ladies than with some of the hateful, self righteous, judgmental “Christians” on this blog.”

“Can’t believe u ppl are condoning this smh god intended on Adam & eve not this.”

“Ms. Boyack was my 3rd grade teacher at Grant School. She was a WONDERFUL teacher. Congratulations to both of them!”

Gays really have put anti-gays in a conundrum. For decades, their entire argument was based on the “fact” that we were promiscuous perverts. And now we all want to get married, which is kind of the opposite of promiscuous pervert.

So the anti-gays had to find a new reason to oppose us — the children, or something. And it’s not working.

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Miniaturization in medicine-arrhythmia detection Wed, 10 Sep 2014 14:00:48 +0000 Sometimes patients may have symptoms that can be due to a cardiac arrhythmia, an irregular heartbeat.

An arrhythmia can produce symptoms like vertigo or fainting, among other things. Sometimes it’s critical to verify that this is happening, and to see what type of rhythm occurs, how long it lasts, what the patient may be doing when it happens, etc.

This can be a challenge because an arrhythmia may happen only occasionally — maybe once every few days, once a month or even more rarely. It might be easy to catch and identify the arrhythmia if it’s happening daily. But it it only happens about every 8 months? That’s much more problematic.

There are several methods to check for arrhythmias. The patient can be monitored in a hospital, and his keg is sent to someone(s) who look for abnormalities. Also, if the patient does have an arrhythmia, it can be treated, if necessary, immediately. That costs a lot, limits the patients mobility and has other disadvantages.

One option is a Holter monitor. It’s portable. The patient has EKG leads placed on his chest and the Holter device is strapped to his waist. The device records ALL of his heart beats for a preset period (24h, 72 h, etc.). He’s mobile for this, so that’s an advantage. But he can’t shower lest the leads come loose. And, if he has a dangerous arrhythmia, the Holter doesn’t signal anyone. At the end of the test, someone has to sit and read the data and generate a report. In both of these situations, if the arrhythmia doesn’t occur in the preset timeframe, you’ve done a test that hasn’t produced results.

Heart via Shutterstock

Heart via Shutterstock

Other technologies have extended the time that a patient can be monitored for arrhythmias. A month is possible, even more, under some circumstances. These monitors will also electronically transmit data to a doctors office or other site so that a dangerous arrhythmia might be detected. But, again these methods have their limitations: if the electrodes adhere, patient compliance, etc. Again, if the arrhythmia doesn’t occur during that period, then there are no good results.

Other problems with devices like the Holter are that they are moderately large, wires need to run from Holter to patient’s chest, patient may need to take off Holter if he needs an MRI (because of magnetic effects), etc.

One company has developed a miniaturized version. Implantable and wireless, it can measure rhythm, communicate with a doctor’s office or other site, and can record and transmit for up to three years. That’s great for that arrhythmia that might only be happening every 8 months.

With this new version, there are no electrodes on the chest (patient can swim, bathe, shower). The design is compatible with MRI equipment so that if he needs an MRI with the device in place, not a problem. The insertion is simple, almost like getting a shot, in fact, it’s a lot like getting a shot because the device (which gets implanted in the chest wall) is about 1/3 the size of an AAA battery. In most patients, it’s invisible after being implanted. And it can easily be removed once the arrhythmia has been detected and treated.

The original Holters were fairly large, bulky devices that were strapped to the waist (think about a laptop-sized device, somewhat thicker and heavier. Now there’s something available that has more benefits and is only a tiny fraction of that size.

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Christians should accept marriage equality Wed, 10 Sep 2014 12:00:48 +0000 Last week, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, writing in The Week, argued that we shouldn’t expect Christians’ resolve to weaken when it comes to marriage equality for gay couples.

You see, while Christianity has evolved on a number of social issues over the course of its history – slavery, scientific freedom, eating meat on Fridays outside of Lent — in order to conform in the face of popular pressure, homosexuality is a dealbreaker for Christianity because sex matters too much.

The story Christians have been telling for 2,000 years goes something like this: The God who made the Universe is also, by his very nature, Love…

Humans are meant to reflect His glory in the world; to be like God, that is to say, to be lovers and creators…

michigan-gay-marriage-6The sexual act is meant to reflect God’s love by fostering a union at once bodily and spiritual — and creates new life. The complementarity of the persons in a marriage reflects the complementarity of the Persons of the Trinity, and the bliss of marital union is an inkling of the bliss of the union of the Persons of the Trinity. The fruitfulness of the marriage act reflects that God is a creator and has charged man to be an agent of his ongoing work of creation. And, finally, if God’s love means total self-giving unto death on a Cross, then man and wife must give themselves to each other totally — no pettiness, no adultery, no polygamy, no divorce, and no nonmarital sexual acts. According to the story that Christianity has been telling for 2,000 years, Christianity’s view of sexuality isn’t some encrusted holdover from a socially conditioned patriarchal era on its way out, but is instead deeply connected to its understanding of who God is and what human beings exist for.

In light of the marriage-as-procreation argument having just been brilliantly, comprehensively and unequivocally smacked down in court, I think it’s worth examining Gobry’s claim from a few different angles:

1. Christianity compromises on sex all the time, and is in the process of doing so right now

To restate Gobry’s thesis: Christianity was willing to be bullied into rejecting slavery, but it won’t be bullied into accepting homosexuality because sex is a metaphysical issue, not a social one.

But even using Gobry’s own examples of sexual regulations that are essential to Christian theology, his thesis has been and continues to be rejected by Christianity’s leading spokesmen (I’d say spokespeople, but it really is men, here), to say nothing of its rank-and-file.

For starters, Pope Francis has recently signaled that the Catholic Church is willing to compromise on divorceextramarital sexpriest celibacy and even — gasp! — homosexuality. Even as Gobry was drafting his article claiming that Christianity will not evolve its positions on these immutable sexual principles in light of shifting social norms, the Pope was busy analyzing results from a survey of everyday Catholics, commissioned late last year, regarding the status of the family and sexuality in the modern world. The survey was conducted in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the Family, set to convene this October, where the Church will discuss —  you guessed it — how to evolve its positions on immutable sexual principles in light of shifting social norms.

But let’s say for the sake of argument that Pope Francis is a fallibleleftist figurehead who misunderstands the Bible and should never have been elected Pope in the first place. There are plenty of other instances where seminal Christian thinkers espoused views on Gobry’s carnal prohibitions that…well, let’s say they fall on a spectrum.

Family celebrates marriage equality victory in Michigan.

Family celebrates marriage equality victory in Michigan.

Take polygamy, for example. The two cases Saint Augustine made against the practice were both based in custom: First, he argued that God’s injunction in Genesis 1:28 to “be fruitful and increase in number” — a prior justification for polygamy — only ceased to apply in the Common Era because it was no longer necessary, as the world was already well-populated. Second, since marriage was defined by custom, and polygamy was no longer custom, polygamy was no longer kosher even though it was fine in the Old Testament.

Martin Luther was also open to polygamy in certain cases, saying that it did not directly contradict Scripture and that “true Christian[s]” of the Old Testament, namely Abraham, were able to lead perfectly moral, polygamous lives.

Finally, the German theologian Philipp Melanchthon, a collaborator with Martin Luther and adviser to King Henry VIII, wrote that polygamy was, is the eyes of Christian theology, preferable to an annulment or divorce from the king’s first wife, Catharine, writing in 1531:

…if the King wishes to provide for the succession, it is much better to do this without any stigma on the previous marriage. And this can be done, without any danger to the conscience or reputation of anyone, through polygamy…. So I hold that the safest course for the King is [polygamy]; for it is certain that polygamy is not forbidden by divine law…

Of course, Henry VIII would eventually annul his first marriage and execute Anne Boleyn, the soon-to-be second wife in question. Apparently, for a man who was first a devout Catholic and would later found a major Christian denomination on the basis of divorce rights, the order of preference went annulment, murder, polygamy. Great moral teaching, no? And when he was finally excommunicated by the Catholic Church, the reasons had more to do with political authority than they did with sex.

The cover of the Arkansas Times.

The cover of the Arkansas Times.

Of course, pointing to Henry VIII as an example of unyielding Christian orthodoxy would be a bit cheap, but even as he was running through women in search of a male heir in ways that would make a mafia boss blush, he was receiving serious theological counsel that he didn’t need to divorce or kill anyone. In a fit of theological legalese, he could just marry as many people as necessary.

All this is to say that, even as late as the 16th Century, major Christian figures haven’t always been sold on the idea that having multiple wives is always a bad thing. When Gobry writes that “Christianity has been surprisingly consistent in holding the line on what our faith views as fundamental precepts of Christian ethics,” he’s simply wrong.

And I didn’t even have to bring up the Mormons — who, in a classic case of buckling to social norms, didn’t have the “revelation” that black people were, in fact, equal to white people until 1978 — to make my point.

(You thought I was going to stick with polygamy, didn’t you? I didn’t have to; you were already thinking it.)

2. It doesn’t matter what Christianity thinks

But let’s forget all of that for a moment and assume that Gobry is completely correct in his assertion that Christianity has always viewed marriage in the context of divine, tantric reproduction with one and only one partner. We shouldn’t have to remind him, or the Church, that this view of marriage, if theologically sound, would still be limited to the Christian faith. As soon as you say that Christianity won’t, or shouldn’t, back down on having this interpretation of marriage embodied in public policy, you have to give up the claim that you’re also in favor of religious freedom for anyone else.

This is especially true for Gobry, who goes to great lengths in his article to point out that Christians more or less invented the idea of marital monogamy and heterosexual piety:

From the beginning, what set apart the new and strange sect called Christians from the rest of their culture was their strange sexual ethic. They refused polygamy. They refused the sexual exploitation of slaves by their owners. They refused prostitution, premarital sex, divorce, abortion, the exposure of infants, contraception — and homosexual acts.

If that’s true — if Christianity really is special in its stance on sexuality — then any sexual regulation based in Christian theology gives preference to a particular religious faith and is therefore in violation of the First Amendment (duh). This is America: if your religious faith prohibits you from getting off, that’s fine, although I think it’s a shame. But in any case, you don’t get to make your divine sexual repression my problem.

Gay couple in New Jersey gets legally married in 2013. In Russia, they'd be beaten then thrown in jail.

Gay couple in New Jersey gets legally married in 2013. In Russia, they’d be beaten then thrown in jail.

Uncle Sam is a devout atheist. Christianity can make all of the metaphysical or theological arguments it wants about what heterosexual, marital (and I’d assume missionary) sex represents. They don’t even have to be historically accurate. None of those arguments give the religion any authority to regulate non-Christian activity.

To this point, as I alluded to above, when lawyers representing Wisconsin and Indiana recently attempted to transmute the Christian injunction of marriage being for procreation and divine love into a secular state interest, they were literally laughed out of the room.

3. Christianity should compromise on homosexuality

Gobry is at least correct in his opening, writing that, “most everyone agrees that same-sex marriage will continue to be accepted by an ever-bigger majority.” But he might not like one of the possible reasons why:

It was slightly longer ago that another writer in The Week, Damon Linker (my favorite conservative — everyone should read everything he writes), made the case that Christianity, combined with democracy, has in fact paved the way for marriage equality, along with most other forms of equality we enjoy today. He cites Tocqueville in arguing that the Christians who came to America to avoid the rigid social hierarchies imposed in part by religious entities have allowed for case after case of appeals for equality being grounded in language that is one part religious and one part democratic.

A gay marriage proposal at a Home Depot.

A gay marriage proposal at a Home Depot.

As Christians began to close the gap between the social elite and the layperson by breaking down aristocracy by way of democracy, the floodgates of social justice movements of all stripes were opened. As Tocqueville himself wrote, on the steady march of personal liberty resulting from democratic governance: “to wish to arrest democracy would…seem tantamount to a struggle against God himself.”

Linker doesn’t go as far as to write that Christians should accept marriage equality, but I will. The religion has consistently proven itself willing to compromise on the very issues that opponents of marriage equality insist that the religion has never and will never compromise. It doesn’t have to like same-sex marriage, but it does have to accept it in the context of a secular state, and this will be a whole lot easier if it stops whitewashing its own past and present when it comes to sexual principle and regulation.

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Severe viral illness infecting children, spreading through several states Tue, 09 Sep 2014 16:00:05 +0000 This post, and others, deal with transmission of illnesses. Proper hand washing is a key to limiting the spread of these illnesses: flu, Ebola, colds, enterovirus (the topic of this post).

Before getting to the basics of this post, I’ve linked to a couple short videos on hand washing. Before you go on, you might want to take a look. You may be thinking that you know how to wash your hands adequately, but chances are, you don’t know how to do it unless you’ve had some specific training (food preparation, nursing.) Once you’ve seen the videos, you’ll be able to do a thorough wash in less than a minute. I’d recommend that spending a few minutes now may be worth it.

A viral illness that can be severe is infecting children and it is spreading throughout several states. The illness causes fever, muscle aches, coughing, sneezing and a skin rash. Many children only develop a mild case. However, some, especially those with underlying respiratory diseases, like asthma, can be much more severely affected. These children may need to be hospitalized, some in ICUs. The most severely ill children may also need to be placed on ventilators.

Pediatric hospitals in affected areas are reporting as many as 30 children seen per day with symptoms. Approximately 10%-15% may need hospitalized. Initial cases seem to have started just before children were to return to school. Probably beginning around August 15th. As classes began, the disease spread rapidly.

Sick child via Shutterstock.

Sick child via Shutterstock.

Specimens from some infected children from Missouri have been sent to the Centers for Disease Control. Testing there has identified one virus present in 19 specimens. The virus that was isolated was enterovirus D68 (EV-D68.) Specimens are being tested from other area outbreaks to see if the same virus is responsible for cases in those areas.

So far, outbreaks have been reported in a number of states (Missouri, Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Iowa, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Georgia.) Missouri, Colorado, Kansas, Ohio and Illinois seem to have the heaviest concentration of cases at this time. But as news of the outbreak spreads, more cases may be reported.

There is no vaccine available and no specific drugs are available for treatment. As with many viral diseases, there is no specific antiviral medication that is known to work against EV-D68. The children receive supportive care to help reduce symptoms. If necessary, they receive intensive respiratory management.

There have been relatively small outbreaks of this viral disease in the past in Asia, the US and other areas. This is the largest in the US, to date. Some doctors in areas first struck by the disease think that the number of cases in those areas may be leveling off at this time.

The disease spreads through close contact, somewhat similar to the flu. To minimize risk of acquiring this virus (and a number of others that are transmitted via the same route):

  • Wash hands frequently and well (See video links above)
  • Don’t touch face (eyes, nose and mouth are routes of entry) with unwashed hands
  • Keep children home if they are ill
  • Wash frequently used objects (door knobs, tabletops, toys, etc.) with a disinfectant.
  • Don’t share eating utensils with those who are ill and avoid hugging or kissing them.
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Three resources for getting into football this season Tue, 09 Sep 2014 14:00:27 +0000 It’s football season.

For my family, and many others across the country, this means a constant struggle in which the football fans in the house try to explain the rules and intricacies of the game to the more or less captive audience of everyone else.

Rest assured, every weekend for the next five months the TV channel will be glued to hulks, helmets and Hail Marys… and the occasional accidental karate kick to the face, which is (of course) a 15-yard penalty from the spot of the foul:


Football is a complicated game (the NFL’s own beginner’s guide is over 1700 words long) that is best understood as a combination of capture the flag and World War I. After what’s nearing two decades of being a self-described “football widow” between the months of September and February, my mother will tell you that she is now just starting to understand the game’s rules, norms and tactics. So why should you care? Well, for starters, football is is our country’s national pastime.  I know, you’ve been told it’s baseball. Well, whoever told you that either did so thirty years ago, or was wrong. In all seriousness, in terms of public opinion and league revenue, the NFL is the biggest slice of the American sports pie, and has been for quite a while.

Michael Sam kisses his boyfriend.

Michael Sam kisses his boyfriend on finding out he made the draft.

But especially now, and this year in particular, there has never been a better time for those on the political left to get into the game. The NFL is in a period of political flux on a number of issues progressives care about. The nation’s most popular sport sets the tone for how our country behaves itself, and from concussions to labor to domestic violence to race to LGBT acceptance, how that tone will be set is currently an open question. We should be adding ourselves to the conversation. Having said all of that, you may need a few resources for becoming familiarized with the game so that, when the time comes, you can speak the language. Here are a few football resources for new/non-football fans to get you started, broken down by what they’re useful for:

Tactics: New York Times 4th Down Bot

The most basic rule in football is the downs system: The team with the ball has four chances to advance the ball a total of ten yards. Each time it advances ten yards, it gets a fresh four chances to do it again; if it doesn’t make it ten yards, the other team gets the ball.

But there’s an added wrinkle: If after three tries a team hasn’t gotten the tenth yard, they can either go for it and risk giving the other team the ball farther up the field; they can try to kick a field goal, which will earn them three points if they make it or give the ball away where they currently stand if they miss; or they can punt the ball as far down the field as possible, ceding possession but making it harder for the other team to score.

Believe it or not, with one click of a button you can be better at making the punt/kick/go for it decision than nearly every NFL coach. All you need to do is follow and/or visit the New York Times’ 4th Down Bot.

Humans are risk-averse, and going for it on fourth down is a risky decision. NFL coaches, worried about being second-guessed by their fan base and, more importantly, their team’s front office in the event of a failed crucial fourth down attempt, often punt or kick when the numbers say they should go for it. And with years of historical data, the New York Times has put together an algorithm, personified in the form of a Twitter account, that calculates which decision is rational in a team’s given situation. It analyzes every fourth down in every NFL game every week, publishing its decisions in real time.

If you want a quick intro to one of the game’s central concepts, or if you just want to troll your traditionalist friends who shout data-less platitudes at their TV every Sunday, keep track of the Bot.

Stats vs. BS: Benjamin Morris

Benjamin Morris (@skepticalsports) is the lead writer for sports at FiveThirtyEight. And while Nate Silver’s brainchild is useful for pretty much everything, Morris’ work on the site is especially useful for breaking down football.

From a quantitative perspective, football is one of the more difficult sports to analyze because the datasets are so small. With 16 games to a regular season, and with so many players switching teams every year, it’s hard to say anything meaningful about a player’s or team’s performance. This being the case, a lot of the commentary you’ll hear on TV (“Team A won four out of six games decided by one possession or less last year”) will be completely meaningless.

Enter Morris. His ongoing division-by-division 2014 NFL preview is already starting to unpack some of the bigger misconceptions about the game’s best players and teams. If you want a football explainer with slightly more quantitative backing than former Jets’ coach Herman Edwards’ famous “YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME! IT’S THAT SIMPLE!” then give him a read.

Rules, context, activism and everything else: Chris Kluwe

The punter for the Minnesota Vikings until he was released for his pro-LGBT activism, Kluwe (@ChrisWarcraft) is the de-facto leader of the LGBT movement in pro sports, particularly the NFL. He’s also a brilliant, clear writer who often tweets during games with helpful explainers on game situations, rules and other intricacies of the game.

John has pointed out Kluwe for our readers before, but if you needed a refresher, here’s some of his best work.

From Kluwe’s viral letter to Maryland state delegate Emmet C. Burns, Jr. in response to Delegate Burns, Jr.’s not-so-subtle insinuation that the Baltimore Ravens should prohibit linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo from speaking out in favor of a ballot initiative for marriage equality:

I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won’t come into your house and steal your children. They won’t magically turn you into a lustful c*ckmonster. They won’t even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population—rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens just like everyone else, with the freedom to pursue happiness and all that entails. Do the civil-rights struggles of the past 200 years mean absolutely nothing to you?

From his response to a Minneapolis Start-Tribune op-ed written by Riley Balling entitled “Why same-sex marriage affects my marriage”:

When you state that “As we have seen, and understandably so, people in homosexual relationships are trying to change society to more readily embrace and promote their view of their identity. This is possible largely due to the disassociation between sexual relationships and procreation.”, what you’re really saying is “Those gay people do sex things that I find icky, and we should oppress them because they can’t have babies.” You completely ignore the fact that “people in homosexual relationships are trying to change society” not just because they want to have teh buttsecks (or rise and grind for the ladies), but also to avoid, oh I don’t know, things like being tortured and tied to a fencepost until you die (Matthew Shepard), shot to death while attending school (Lawrence King), shot to death for being transgender (Moses King), committing suicide by hanging due to repeated bullying and taunting (Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover), shot to death and burned while standing military guard (Seaman August Provost), stabbed to death after serving in the Vietnam War (James Zappalorti) – every single one of these attacks because of the victim’s sexuality. Let’s not even get into the over 1100 federal benefits gay couples are legally unable to obtain in this state because they can’t get married – things like health care, survivor benefits, legacies to pass on to their families (including children); things like tolerance, acceptance, and compassion.

And from his account of the events that preceded his release from the Vikings:

It’s my belief, based on everything that happened over the course of 2012, that I was fired by Mike Priefer, a bigot who didn’t agree with the cause I was working for, and two cowards, Leslie Frazier and Rick Spielman, both of whom knew I was a good punter and would remain a good punter for the foreseeable future, as my numbers over my eight-year career had shown, but who lacked the fortitude to disagree with Mike Priefer on a touchy subject matter…One of the main coaching points I’ve heard throughout my entire life is, “How you respond to difficult situations defines your character,” and I think it’s a good saying. I also think it applies to more than just the players.

Basically, Chris Kluwe is a must-read/must-follow for anyone who cares about anything related to LGBT issues, and keeping track of what he says comes with the added benefit of learning a ton about football.

So there you have it. If you’re new to the game and want to pick up a basic understanding without watching John Madden draw a phallus with the telestrator, here’s where to start.

Are you ready for some football?

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Corruption investigations, and a conviction, dim GOP hopes for the White House in 2016 Tue, 09 Sep 2014 12:00:47 +0000 A week is a long time in politics, as British Prime Minister Harold Wilson famously observed.

Only a year ago many Republicans were touting Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell as a front runner in the 2016 Presidential nomination stakes. Some liberal commentators were complaining about some sort of bribery scandal but these were nothing to worry about.

Not any more. McDonnell has just been found guilty of accepting $165,000 in loans and bribes from ‘businessman’ Jonnie Williams. William’s firm Star Scientific started out making cigarettes, and switched to making tobacco based ‘nutritional supplements’. It has been losing money for a decade and is itself at the center of a securities investigation.

Bob McDonnell

Bob McDonnell

The scandal unfolded after Todd Schneider, the executive chef at the governor’s mansion fell out with the McDonnells and was charged with stealing food from the kitchens. Schneider told investigators that Williams had paid the $15,000 cost of catering McDonnell’s daughter’s wedding. Further investigation quickly uncovered numerous unreported gifts and loans.

McDonnell is hardly the first state governor to be convicted of corruption. Four Illinois of the last eight governors have been convicted of fraud after leaving office. But none of those were considered serious Presidential challengers. Today three of the top contenders for the Republican Presidential nomination are more likely to serve jail time than in the oval office.

Photo by Dave Weigel.

Chris Christie (photo by Dave Weigel).

New Jersey governor Chris Christie is currently under investigation for misuse of public office in the Bridgegate scandal, and for using federal disaster recovery grants given to aid hurricane Katrina victims to pay for what were in effect Chris Christie campaign commercials.

Don’t let the apparent pettiness of Christie’s alleged involvement in the closure of the toll lanes on the George Washington Bridge, for a traffic study now known to be fake, distract you. The closures took place the same week that the city of Fort Lee was attempting to close a round of funding on a billion dollar development on land next to the toll booths. The plots of land have remained undeveloped till now because of a previous scandal in which the New Jersey mob attempted to bribe a previous mayor of Fort Lee to approve a development of their own.

First recall effort against WI Gov. Walker launched—by Walker supporterWisconsin Governor Scott Walker is also at the center of a criminal investigation of alleged illegal coordination between his campaign and special interest groups. Although the prosecutor has stated that Walker himself is not a target in the probe, legal maneuvers by Wisconsin Club for Growth challenging the constitutionality of the law should ensure that the case gets prominent media attention throughout the 2016 campaign season.

Emails sent by Walker campaign managers show them openly touting the use of the fund as a way to make unlimited covert contributions to his 2012 campaign against recall. And the favors returned by Walker are hardly inconsequential, Gogebic Taconite who covertly donated $700,000 to the Walker fund received approval for the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine shortly afterwards.

Texas Governor Rick Perry is also in serious legal trouble after he attempted to use a line item veto to veto funding for the Travis county public integrity unit. While Perry had the right exercise his veto, threatening to do so if District Attorney Lehmberg did not resign was unambiguously illegal.

rick perry brokeback

Rick Perry’s got a problem.

While Perry’s action is the easiest to explain to voters, he faces two major problems that make his position much worse than Christie or Walker. His first problem being that he has already been indicted and by a Republican prosecutor to boot. The second problem is that Rick Perry has already established a reputation as being astonishingly stupid. His attempts to brush off his indictment by pretending it was for ‘bribery’ rather than threatening a public official only remind people why his last campaign crashed and burned.

The Presidential nomination race is an elimination game of course. But most Presidents are former Vice Presidents or State Governors. Senators do win their party nomination fairly often as John McCain, John Kerry and Bob Dole prove. They all lost. Obama is the first President to come from the senate since John F. Kennedy. And JFK was the only man to make that move in the 20th century. And significantly, Obama and Kennedy both won the nomination in a field led by other senators.

The only living Republican Vice Presidents are Dick Cheney, Bush the Elder and Dan Quayle. So a state governor has to be their best chance of winning the WhiteHouse. With McDonnell, Christie, Walker and Perry mired in criminal investigations, the Republican party is starting to run out of choices.

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This is what a massive online privacy violation looks like Mon, 08 Sep 2014 19:20:02 +0000 The popular gay-oriented smartphone app “Jack’d” has a security flaw that permits anyone with an Internet connection to easily find the exact location of any Jack’d user currently online.

I just found literally thousands of gay men across Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

UPDATE: I’ve just received a statement from Jack’d:

Statement by Adam Segel, Jack’d CEO
Jack’d takes the privacy and personal security of its users very seriously. We were informed of this location security issue by a security researcher over the weekend and are currently working as quickly as possible to resolve the situation.

The news of Jack’d’s security problem comes on the heels of a similar flaw that was discovered on another popular gay smartphone app “Grindr.” When the Grindr flaw was initially revealed by an anonymous gay Grindr user in Europe, the company claimed the breach wasn’t a problem.

After a large amount of negative publicity, Grindr turned off its “location” option in countries where being gay is dangerous (Grindr had originally turned off the location function all together, but then turned it back on in many countries.) Which means Grindr users in Europe, America and beyond are still vulnerable.

The exact location of gay men currently on Grindr in Tehran, Iran, a country in which gay men are put to death.

The exact location of gay men on Grindr in Tehran, Iran, a country in which gay men are put to death.

Jack’d’s flaw is reportedly even more serious than Gindr’s.

While Grindr permitted you to find the location of some 50 gay users at a time, using triangulation, Jack’d doesn’t even require triangulation — it simply turns over the exact location of thousands of users at a time, according to the European who discovered the original Grindr problem.

With the click of a mouse, for example, I was able to find every gay Jack’d user in the entire nation of Iran (and a few surrounding countries like Kuwait, to boot). If you zoom in on any of the examples below, you can see what street they’re on, and where they are on the street. (Well, you can’t zoom in, I can via a set-up I won’t be posting online.)

Every Jack'd user online in Iran.

Every Jack’d user online in Iran.

In the past 24 hours in which the security flaw was discovered, the exact location of over 350,000 Jack’d users has been uncovered, including 1,941 users in China, 282 in Iran, 17, 250 in Indonesia, 12,239 in Eritrea, 297 in Russia, 1,499 in Saudi Arabia, 466 in Brunei, 22 in Nigeria, and 2 in Uganda.

Here’s Tehran, where gays can be put to death:

Jack'd users in Tehran, Iran.

Jack’d users in Tehran, Iran.

Here’s a lone gay in Khartoum, Sudan — a country where the law puts gays to death:

Gay Jack'd users in Khartoum, Sudan.

Gay Jack’d users in Khartoum, Sudan.

And here are Jack’d’s users in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — always a fun place to be different:


Jack’d users in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.















And here’s a larger map I created, showing a sampling of the gay men in Europe, Africa and the Middle East who were online simultaneously, and whose exact location I found:

Every gay man online using the Jack'd app in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Every gay man online using the Jack’d app in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

Check out this image of Western Europe alone. Each dot is a different man’s exact location, live. There are so many it blurs the screen. (You can zoom in and see exactly where they live.)


And here’s Paris:




And Berlin:


It’s hard to imagine, with Europe’s strict privacy laws, that any of this is legal over there.

Suffice it to say, our initial concerns, about this problem stretching across other smartphone apps that check your location, have turned out to be well founded.

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But is it art? Mon, 08 Sep 2014 15:27:00 +0000 I recently moved to the Boston area to working at a tech startup in Cambridge.

On my first walk to work, I passed by a small art studio with an oddly straightforward sign in the window.

I snapped a photo of it on my way home that night:


I didn’t think too much of it, except that perhaps the art studio was being a bit pretentious. (I suppose it’s nice of them, at least, to correctly label the product they’re selling.) But then, the following weekend, I was out and about in nearby Somerville and saw this:


Now this is confusing.

Here, at an abandoned gas station, we have a paradoxical, in-the-wild expression of art that claims to be the contrary, with no clear indication as to whether or not these guerrilla non-artists have any connection to the original art studio.

Layers of irony abound.

The more familiar I got with the city, the more I came across the constant reminder that no surface of the Boston metro area is safe from being defined (defaced?) with respect to its status as art. Take this unused billboard in between Inman and Central Squares:


Or this filled-in pothole near Boston University (this photo was sent to me by a friend):


Or this sidewalk:


I’ve never considered myself someone with an abounding appreciation for art. But over the course of this summer I started developing a huge respect for the metro-wide expression of irony.

Here’s why.

The more places you stumble upon anti-art, what first comes off as a pretentious admonition seems more and more like the opposite: an assertion that art is ubiquitous and that the aesthetic doesn’t need an arbiter.

If nothing else, the streets of Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and the surrounding area occasionally remind you to look around and appreciate the things you might not otherwise notice. It’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most since moving here.

In other words:


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