November 30, 2015

According to Jake Gyllenhaal is Ok to Come Out in Hollywood Now


Jake Gyllenhaal has said that he believes Hollywood is “changing” and becoming more gay-friendly.

Ten years after the release of Brokeback Mountain, Jake remembered his time with the film and said he had no issues about taking the role.

In a round table discussion with the Hollywood Reporter, he said: “It’s one of the most beautiful scripts I’ve ever read, and it was Ang Lee, and at the time Heath [Ledger] was a friend of mine — before we even shot the movie — and always sort of alluring to me.”
Jake was also asked if there would come a time when actors could be openly gay without fear of backlash or losing work.

He replied: “I wish I had that answer. I think it is changing. And it’s pretty amazing how it’s changing. And one of the things that I’m so proud of [about] that movie, was to see, within the past basically 10 years, how much has changed.

“When the Supreme Court [issued a ruling] just a little while ago, I felt like we had been part, a little part and parcel of that movement. I was proud, you know?

“To me that’s really a pretty incredible moment. We had to wait a little while for it. But when will it be OK for an actor to be gay? I mean, it’s OK now.”

The comments come after Matt Damon recently landed himself in hot water when he appeared to suggest that coming out could harm an actors career.

Gay History of Scots


For many years Scotland just did not do gay. Homosexuality was dangerous and taboo, and it was actually against the law right up to the 1980s. So how did a country that seemed to take pride in its prejudices end up with the best gay rights in Europe?

Post-war Scotland was a deeply conservative place. In fact, half the country voted Tory in 1950 and most people attended the Kirk on a Sunday. Sex was rarely, if ever, mentioned.
If talking about the birds and bees in the 1950s was taboo then mention of the possibility of bees getting together with each other was totally forbidden.

Dr Jeff Meek, the author of Queer Voices in Post-War Scotland, says: "There was almost a bar on talking about same-sex desire."
He says homosexuality was something families, religious institutions, the medical profession and society at large all chose to ignore.

Acts of male homosexuality had been outlawed for centuries and were made stricter in the late 19th Century but same-sex contact between women had never been targeted in law and was not illegal.
Scottish society just chose to believe lassies did not do that kind of thing.
Author Val McDermid says: "When I was growing up the word lesbian was in our vocabulary but it was a kind of fabled beast like unicorns.
"You heard about them but you never met one. It was always someone’s cousin knew a lassie that knew one."

Gay men were known to exist but they did not fit the Scottish image of robust masculinity.
Homosexual men were forced underground to public toilets or illicit parties.
Dr Meek says: “The consequences of being caught were significant.

"You knew being caught meant being excluded from your family. You could be sacked for a hint of homosexuality, never mind a prosecution.”

Douglas Pretsell and Peter Gloster formalised their marriage in Sydney
People went to prison for sometimes two years or were locked up in psychiatric institutions.
In 1957, after a succession of well-known men were convicted of homosexual offenses, the Wolfenden report recommended that "homosexual behavior between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offense".

However, the Scottish representative on the Wolfenden Panel was James Adair.
Dr Meek says: “Adair disagreed with almost all the recommendations the main committee had come up with.

"He saw homosexuality as the first step into moral turpitude.
"The Scotland he loved would be lost. This upstanding, moral, conservative, religious society would descend into decay and would be destroyed.”

It took a decade for the recommendations of the Wolfenden report to be become law in England and Wales, decriminalising homosexuality for men over 21.
But because of James Adair, homosexuality in Scotland remained illegal, classified as criminally-depraved behavior.
In 1969, a brave group of gay Scots decided they could not change their sexuality so they set out to change Scotland.

The SMG (Scottish Minorities Group) arranged discos and get-togethers for gay men and for lesbian women.
They were very respectable events, usually held in a pub on a Monday or Tuesday night when there was little other business. They had rules about public displays of affection in order to keep within the law. Although small at first, word spread and the numbers grew.

The SMG started to make money and leased property in Broughton Street in Edinburgh where it set up the Gay Information Centre and operated a telephone helpline.
Writer, historian and gay activist Bob Cant says: "I think the Scottish Minorities Group deserves an enormous amount of credit. Their achievement in changing public consciousness was enormous."
Thirteen years after the law was reformed in England, Labour MP Robin Cook lodged an amendment in the Scottish Criminal Justice Bill and homosexuality was finally decriminalized in Scotland in 1980.

That decade saw an explosion of gay culture into the mainstream. In Scotland, the newly legalised gay men had a fantastic time. In Glasgow, the gay mecca was Bennets.

Social commentator Damian Barr tells a BBC Scotland documentary: "I could not have imagined a place like this existed. I'd not even seen a gay club on film or on television. It felt like Xanadu.

"To walk into a room and see all these men dancing together and kissing, I actually thought something bad was going to happen. I thought these people can't be allowed to have this much fun."
But along with fun came a new threat in the form of HIV/Aids.

If Scotland was ignorant about Aids it was rudely awoken in 1985, when 60% of injecting drug addicts tested at an Edinburgh hospital were found to be HIV positive.
As a result, the Scottish capital was labelled the HIV capital of Europe.

David Taylor, who was at Lothian health board in the 80s, says: “It certainly stuck as a label but it was blatantly untrue."

Despite the study relating to drug addicts and the figures being debatable, homosexual sex was once again portrayed as something to fear.

In 1987 Margaret Thatcher's government went to war with the gay community.
The prime minister told the Tory conference: “Children who need to be taught the traditional moral values are being taught that they have an inalienable right to be gay."

Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988 prohibited "the teaching of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship".
Historian Dr Amy Tooth Murray says: “Section 28 basically says 'you can not talk about non-heterosexual relationships at school'."

There was outrage and protests across the country at this rolling back of the rights of gay people but the law stayed in place until the re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.
One of its first acts was to repeal Section 28 but it had a battle on its hands.

Billionaire businessman and born-again Christian Brian Souter did not support the move and used his money to back a strong Keep the Clause campaign, which had the backing of Scotland's best-selling newspaper The Daily Record and the Roman Catholic Church.
The Scottish Executive stood firm and abolished the clause. Westminster followed suit three years later.

Journalist David Torrance says that despite being very unpleasant at the time it was a "cathartic" experience that got Scotland talking about gay rights issues and finally swept away the old attitudes.
Since the Millennium, Scots attitudes to homosexuality have changed dramatically.
Surveys show that a third of Scots actively approve of gay marriage and it is now homophobia that is taboo.

In 2005, civil partnerships were made legal for gay couples and the following year same-sex couples were able to adopt.
Last year, as the Commonwealth Games was being shown around the world, Scotland declared its new openness with a kilted gay kiss as part of the opening ceremony.

The year ended with gay marriage becoming legal in Scotland and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, a lesbian, passionately supporting the move.
Earlier this year, Scotland was rated the best country in Europe in terms of legal equality for LGBT people.
A remarkable transformation in just a generation. A queer tale indeed.


Results Are in of Who is The Most Charitable Nation on Earth (US is not it but close)


And the winner for most charitable nation in the world is ... Myanmar. Coming in second: the United States.  (I remember Posting in 2011 about the US being no.1)

If you're scratching your head, one reason may be that the ranking confounds the common perception "that generosity and wealth are connected to one another," says Adam Pickering. He's the international policy manager of the London-based Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), which publishes the annual World Giving Index, now in its sixth year. Only five of the G20 countries appear in the top 20, he points out. So “even though you might think it would,” wealth does not necessarily translate into greater generosity. 

Another reason is that it's not the total amount of money given that the index is measuring. It's the act of giving itself, in the form of three specific charitable behaviors. The Gallup World Poll asked people from 145 countries: In the last month, have you donated money to a charity; volunteered time to an organization; helped a stranger or someone you didn't know who needed help? When the results to all three questions were averaged, Myanmar came out on top.

Still, why Myanmar? The answer lies in the strong influence of the particular form of Buddhism (called Theravada) practiced there, according to Paul Fuller, lecturer in Buddhist Studies at the University of Cardiff. Throughout the country, he explained in an email, "The notion of 'generating merit' is very pervasive." The belief is that whatever you do here, in this life, will have consequences for your next life, he explains. Thus, the more merit you acquire now, the more you increase your chances of your next life being a good one.

Acquiring merit in different ways — such as meditation or ethical acts — is important in all forms of Buddhism. But in Myanmar, special emphasis is placed on acts of giving. And the most common manifestation is making daily offerings of alms or food to monks — so much so that they have become what Fuller calls "an essential religious practice."

May Oo Lwin, who is originally from Myanmar and visits there frequently with her husband, Paul Fuller, says, "'There's a strong culture of giving, not necessarily an obligation but more like giving what one can possibly contribute to those in need. It doesn't have to be big but something meaningful and something you could do to help a bit. In that way, you are doing a good deed, [you] generate some merit as a family and making [the recipients] happy brings happiness to you as well."
Myanmar Is Also Known As Burma, But We Won't Keep Repeating That
For example, when Lwin and Fuller visited Myanmar in April, they made a point of going to an orphanage that cared for children who had lost their mothers to AIDS and made an offering of several hundred dollars. "I wanted to do something nice and meaningful as a family as we have never done it before," Lwin wrote in an email. "I thought of our children who are so lucky compared to those children who are being deprived of so many things."

This tradition of giving can be traced through the country's art, says Catherine Raymond, associate professor, Southeast Asian Art and Director, Center for Burma Studies at Northern Illinois University. "Religion and culture are intertwined there," she says — evident in the inscriptions of donations recorded at the entrances to temples dating back to the 11th century. "In Buddhism, there is the notion of dana, which means giving." It means you "give rice to the monks who come to your door every morning. Or you bring some food to the monastery, or you sponsor a young kid who will come to the monastery, or you build a religious structure or you donate a painting” to it. 

As impressive as this tradition is, in more recent decades, Myanmar has become associated with the repressive military rule that ended only in 2011. And yet this strife may also have served, in a counterintuitive way, to solidify the culture of giving. According to Jenna Capeci, who has worked on projects in Myanmar as director of Civil and Political Rights at American Jewish World Service, the turmoil "has done more to reinforce this culture of charity and resilience because the people could not count on the military junta or local authorities to provide anything for the community."

Billie Goodman, who has also worked on Myanmar projects for AJWS, notes that "generations have grown up in the last decades seeing a government that does not provide services or take care of them." As a result, "what emerged is an incredible resilience and an incredible need to take care of each other."

Her examples are myriad. "If you need a road in a rural area, the government is not going to provide it. But you can get together with your neighbors to build it. Education is another example where in a lot of rural areas and ethnic minority areas the schools that exist have been built by community members, who have contributed money to pay for the teachers salaries, they have themselves built the structures, and they are the ones who are doing this. It has been necessary for people to survive, really."

It’s an example of solidarity in crisis — and in giving.

November 29, 2015

Caught in the Act: ‘Black hole Swallows Star'


An illustration shows a star torn up by a black hole’s strong gravity. The black hole is launching a powerful jet of matter into space. (NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Swift

Astronomers have caught black holes in the act of murdering stars before. But a study published Thursday in Science claims to have caught a step in the crime that has remained elusive until now.

In addition to catching evidence of the star's destruction -- an inevitable death caused by the massive, inescapable gravitational pull of a dense supermassive black hole -- the scientists saw a hot flare of matter escape from the scene of the crime.
You can basically think of it as a hot plasma burp.

 This artist’s rendering illustrates new findings about a star shredded by a black hole. When a star wanders too close to a black hole, intense tidal forces rip the star apart. In these events, called “tidal disruptions,” some of the stellar debris is flung outward at high speed while the rest falls toward the black hole. This causes a distinct X-ray flare that can last for a few years. NASA’s Chandra X-ray Observatory, Swift Gamma-ray Burst Explorer, and ESA/NASA’s XMM-Newton collected different pieces of this astronomical puzzle in a tidal disruption event called ASASSN-14li, which was found in an optical search by the All-Sky Automated Survey for Supernovae (ASAS-SN) in November 2014. The event occurred near a supermassive black hole estimated to weigh a few million times the mass of the sun in the center of PGC 043234, a galaxy that lies about 290 million light-years away. Astronomers hope to find more events like ASASSN-14li to test theoretical models about how black holes affect their environments.During the tidal disruption event, filaments containing much of the star's mass fall toward the black hole. Eventually these gaseous filaments merge into a smooth, hot disk glowing brightly in X-rays. As the disk forms, its central region heats up tremendously, which drives a flow of material, called a wind, away from the disk.  
The researchers say this is the first time anyone has successfully picked up the radio signal produced by this jet of escaping matter. These black hole jets have been seen before, but they’ve never been directly linked to a star being torn apart — and the phenomenon remains pretty mysterious.  
"These events are extremely rare," study author Sjoert van Velzen, a Hubble fellow at Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement. “It’s the first time we see everything from the stellar destruction followed by the launch of a conical outflow, also called a jet, and we watched it unfold over several months."
The deceased star was quite similar to our own, but sat a staggering 300 million light years away. It was done in by the type of supermassive black hole thought to sit in the center of most galaxies -- including our own.
Ohio State University scientists were the first to catch the murder in progress using an optical telescope, which they announced online in 2014. Along with researchers from the University of Oxford, van Velzen used different telescopes to gather optical, radio, and X-ray signals from the event as it unfolded. The researchers hope that they'll be able to catch more black hole burps in progress, so they can figure out the exact mechanism behind the purge.
We still have a lot to learn about black holes. Luckily, NASA has dubbed Nov. 27 “Black Hole Friday" -- so you can read up on all the latest black hole findings with just a few clicks.

November 28, 2015

Gays are still being Street Harass Today



Conversations about street harassment and consent often focus exclusively on the experiences of women – and most of its victims do identify that way – but it’s also a broader issue. Many gay men silently cope with harassment and consent within male-dominated social spaces designated for LGBT people, spaces most heterosexual people never enter. Spaces created for people like me.

The most toxic forms of masculinity pervade gayborhood mainstays such as nightclubs, bars and even the occasional cruise down the sidewalk. Yet these uncomfortable, if not traumatizing, experiences get swept under the rug – or worse, internalized as something that “just happens” and shouldn’t be taken seriously. 

It’s a pernicious double standard. As a 2014 report from Stop Street Harassment notes, gay, bisexual and transgender men experience rates of street harassment between 17 and 20% higher than their male counterparts who aren’t LGBT.

I should know. A few summers ago, I walked home as I normally would from a gym in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, which has a high concentration of LGBT residents and business owners. With headphones in, I enjoyed a breezy afternoon stroll down Broadway Street, the wind drying my sweaty brow, soaked shirt and gym shorts. Approaching the last few blocks of my journey home, I heard loud jeers and laughs from three men walking behind me.

“Man, look at that ass,” one man said to the others, as if I wasn’t present and listening to his remarks. “Wonder if he’ll let me get a bite of that.”

I thought if I ignored them and just listened to my music, they’d eventually stop. But they kept walking behind me, they kept discussing what they’d like to do with my hindquarters with or without my consent, my whole way home. As I arrived on my block, I suddenly realized that hardly anyone else was in an earshot, and started to wonder if they really wouldn’t stop. So I quickly shuffled to my buzzer gate, slammed it behind me, and unlocked my building’s double doors in haste, rushing inside for a buffer between myself and the men on the outside. They laughed at my trepidation as they continued down the street.

Moments after, I shared my story with friends on Facebook, and I got the expected comments in return from women who experience similar situations all the time. But I didn’t expect to see several messages from gay male friends of mine noting that I wasn’t alone in what I’d experienced. Many of my friends, ashamed, had kept their stories to themselves out of fear of being stigmatized, labeled buzzkills or because their masculinity put them in conflict with being victimized.
Whether it’s rooted in homophobia and transphobia, or whether it’s someone from the community who has little-to-no respect for others’ boundaries, harassment in public spaces threatens the safety and well-being of many gay, bisexual, transgender and queer men.

It’s time to have more of a conversation about how the misogyny and patriarchy imbued in rape culture – including street harassment and unwelcome sexual advances – targets those deemed vulnerable, whether it’s heterosexual women or queer and gender non-conforming men.

But it’s not the responsibility of feminist women to generate that dialogue, because they’re plenty busy with the task of their own collective liberation. Gay, bisexual, transgender and queer men need to elevate their own narratives and use the examples provided by feminism to stage sustainable interventions and engage in consciousness raising about eradicating toxic masculinity from the community once and for all.

The community has long prided itself on celebrating and enjoying an array of sexual proclivities, but not every unsolicited advance, or act of sexual aggression, is fun for every man. The only reason that’s hard to recognize is that we’re still being held back by the heterosexual masculinity that so much of queer culture has worked to reject. We must foster community that celebrates a healthy, pleasurable sexuality – one that respects bodies and boundaries.

Sham Marriages in China Helps Gay Grooms Match to other Gay Grooms

Qiang is sitting next to his wife, Jing, in a Shanghai shopping mall. Also at the table is Jie, Qiang’s boyfriend. The trio are attempting to explain their relationship. “It’s complicated,” says Qiang, laughing.

When Qiang married Jing in 2013, his boyfriend Jie was his best man. That same week Jie married Jing’s girlfriend. Then Jing split up with her girlfriend, who subsequently divorced Jie. The tangled situation represents two examples of a recent surge in China in the amount of sham unions between gays and lesbians.

There are around 16 million gay Chinese men married to women who are unaware of their husbands’ sexuality, say researchers at Qingdao University. The unions are fraught with emotional dangers. So increasing numbers of gay men and lesbians are now turning to each other for what they see as an option with less potential for disaster. “I didn’t feel jealous seeing Qiang marry a woman in front of me,” says Jie, 32. “As long as our families felt happy, we were happy. We solved a problem.”

Like millions of other Chinese of their generation, the trio faced pressure from their parents to have a traditional family, complete with grandchildren. “I couldn’t force my parents to accept that I’m gay,” says Qiang. “Beliefs are different between generations. You can’t change it.”
There is no bitterness or anguish in his voice when he talks about this deception. He and Jing have planned their marriage to cause minimum disruption to their real lives. They meet for family dinners a few times a month but do not live together – Qiang lives with Jie. “We have parents round but we don’t let them stay overnight,” says Jing. “My wife lives very close to me,” says Qiang. “It’s easy when parents visit at short notice.”

Qiang and Jie met their wives after trawling lesbian websites, exchanging messages then meeting and forging friendships. Jie unfolds a hand-written contract he and his ex-wife signed prior to their wedding and reads through the terms they agreed on. Such contracts are common in sham marriages and usually outline terms of financial independence. Jie’s also states that he would be responsible for 70 per cent of the costs of raising a child born in his marriage.

“We argued a little about the about the surname of the child,” Jie says. “Then we finally agreed that it would be the same as mine.” Qiang, a lawyer, has a similar contract with his wife. “They are legally binding,” he says.

Homosexuality is still described as a mental disorder in some Chinese textbooks
Homosexuality is still described as a mental disorder in some Chinese textbooks
The process for organising such marriages got easier last January with the launch of the app Queers. It works like a dating site, matching gay men with lesbians. Users upload photos and vital statistics such as weight, height and income. They explain whether they want a baby from the marriage.

Women who look typically straight “are desirable as it makes it easier to cheat parents”, says Liao Zhuoying, the founder of Queers. 

Queers has over 400,000 users, around half of whom are aged 25-35: the age when pressure to marry is most heavy. “Activists have accused us of setting up barriers, helping people shy away from their problems,” says Liao. “But we are solution providers. It’s impossible for all gays and lesbians to come out in Chinese society.”

People take part in the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) parade in Hong Kong on November 6, 2015.
Homosexuality was illegal in China until 1997 and was listed as a mental disorder until 2001. Last month media reports showed that gay conversion therapy is still widespread in China.

It’s unsurprising that so many people keep their homosexuality a secret. Although most users of Queers use it to set up a marriage to fool their parents, Liao says that some do so with the co-operation of their families to keep their sexuality a secret from wider society. “In China, keeping a family’s face is important,” he says.

The website serves the same purpose as Queers. Launched in 2005, it has around the same number of users as the app, and founder Lin Hai claims that it has facilitated around 50,000 sham marriages so far. “Before the site there was no real concept of sham marriages in China,” he says. “Gay men would just marry a straight woman.” Lin says that, like Liao, he sometimes hears from parents of homosexuals. “They are trying to find a way to respect their children while still conforming to society.”

People take part in the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) parade in Hong Kong on November 6, 2015.
Gay man writes letter after his parents refused to come to his wedding
Rules stopping gay men from giving blood to be reviewed
Gay men give straight men their best life tips
For most users the ultimate goal of such marriages is to have a baby. After two years as husband and wife, Qiang and Jing are planning for a pregnancy. They will soon buy a syringe and attempt to use it to inseminate Jing with Qiang’s sperm at home, but will consult medical experts if that proves unsuccessful. “We want to do this for ourselves as well as our parents,” says Jing. “But we will probably let our child spend most of its time with our parents then take over when it reaches the age of three.”

For Jie, the issue of a child led to the breakdown of his sham marriage. His wife had agreed to have a baby but changed her mind after the wedding, prompting their divorce. Jie then took the uncommon decision last August to come out to his parents.

“My mother cried uncontrollably and asked, ‘How could you be that way?’” he says. “She said she blamed herself for allowing me to live somewhere like Shanghai, where ‘weird people’ live. When I told my father he said, ‘I feel like there’s a fly in my mouth. Disgusting’.”

Despite a period of estrangement from his parents, Jie is now back in contact with them. They are being educated with the help of support groups set up to help parents understand homosexuality, and Jie says he feels happier now he doesn’t have to lie to them.

A recently married couple take wedding photos in front of Shaghai's business district
A recently married couple take wedding photos in front of Shaghai's business district
There are glimpses of progress in Chinese society’s views on homosexuality. Government leaders have recently made public shows of meeting gay tech industry leaders in bridge-building exercises and the influence of China’s young, liberal social media users is rising.

“The wheel of history is moving forward,” says Liao. “But not everyone is courageous enough to stand at the forefront. We are solving problems for these people. Maybe the demand for sham marriages will shrink in the future, our app will die and society will progress.”

But for now the deceit continues. “I’ve wanted to come out many times,” says Jing. “But if I do that, the pressure will be transferred to my parents. It’s selfish. I’m doing this to make my parents comfortable.”

Jamie Fullerton Shanghai

Additional reporting by Cissy Young. The names of some interviewees have been changed.

November 26, 2015

Charlie Sheen’s Tapes Are coming Out and He loves to blow guys


After his brave reveal, series of sex tapes that involved the 50-year-old actor have come into the hands of bribers, in addition to his recently reported sex tape, which features him orally pleasing another man.

As per Radar Online, the new sex videos -- a total of five -- were reportedly paid for by Sheen just so it won't show for public viewing. When he said that he used to shell out millions of cash just to hide his HIV status, these millions actually also included the actor’s effort to shut off those who bribe him of releasing his shocking sex videos.

Apart from the first reported sex tape, which was reported a few days ago, there were also tapes of him doing lewd acts involving more men, women, a transsexual and even movie stars, which included threesomes that are beyond nasty and disturbing.
The report also said that the "Two and a Half Men" actor allegedly cashed out $10 million based on multiple sources that the publication failed to provide.
The shocking report further revealed that the actor had a sexual relationship with an unnamed Hollywood transgender who remains to possess one sex tape with Sheen. The transgender has reportedly recorded his sexual encounters with him discreetly and used it to blackmail the HIV-positive actor.

In one of his sex tapes, Sheen was also captured doing ménage à trois with his ex-wife Brooke Mueller and another male lover.
The former couple also had another tape of threesome, this time, involving one of Sheen's pals as they were on a vacation in Aspen during Christmas 2009. In the tape, it can be seen that Mueller was grabbed by the actor to her throat as he pinned her in the bed while holding a four-inch knife. The actor even threatened his former wife that he would kill her.

Last week, the "Anger Management" actor admitted on "Today" Show that he has HIV for four years already, in hopes of taking down all his bribers.
As per Mirror, since his admittance, Sheen's lawyer has already been contacted by 75 people he had bed in fear for their health. It is estimated that over 700 people will sue Sheen for having sex without disclosing his disease.
Call girls, strippers, porn stars and bunch of men and transponders have filed for charges against the actor, most of them citing emotional distress and negligent transmission of a sex disease as grounds for the charges.

[Latin Post]

Israel’s Supme Court Sides with LGBT Activist Wishes After Suicide Against the Anti Gay Orthodoxy

 May Peleg Killed herself Nov 2015 (photo Ofrit Asaf ) 

The body of an Israeli transgender woman who committed suicide will be cremated despite her ultra-Orthodox family's wishes, Israel's Supreme Court ruled in documents obtained Wednesday.

Before she killed herself earlier this month, May Peleg wrote in her will that she wanted to be cremated, a practice that Jewish law forbids. Her religious family took the request to court, which sided with Peleg's representatives.

The court balanced Peleg's wishes against her family's desire for a Jewish burial, pitting religious law against individual rights and highlighting the contrasts between the country's Jewish character and its often liberal orientation. Rabbinical authorities oversee the country's Jewish burial practices, though a single crematorium is allowed to operate quietly.

Peleg, 31, was raised in the deeply conservative ultra-Orthodox community, which shuns gay and transgender people, and was estranged from her family. She was a prominent LGBT activist in Israel and her suicide elicited an outpouring of grief.

Peleg said she did not want a Jewish burial because the religion would not recognize her as a woman. "This constitutes a lack of respect and an erasure of my identity," according to a statement released by her supporters.

Her will stipulated that she wanted some of her ashes to be buried under a tree, where her two children could come to mourn.

Lawyers representing Peleg's mother, who brought the appeal to the Supreme Court, argued that Peleg was mentally unstable. Lawyer Yitzhak Dahan said the family wanted a Jewish burial so that they could have a grave to visit.

The court sided with Peleg's lawyers, who had argued that her individual rights outweighed her family's desire.

"May's will and wishes prevailed. Human dignity prevailed. The LGBT community prevailed," a campaign for Peleg wrote on its Facebook page following Tuesday's decision.

Jeb Wants to Unleash the Military but George Birthed ISIS by Unleashing the Military in Iraq


 Jeb Bush assailed the Obama administration's efforts to take out the Islamic State on Wednesday, calling for the United States to “unleash the military” in concert with partners in Europe and the Middle East.
Appearing on CNN's “New Day,” the Republican presidential candidate was asked whether he would advocate sending more grounds troops to the region to call in the airstrikes. Bush remarked that 50 special operators authorized to advise in Syria “is better than what existed before, but it’s not a strategy.” 

“A strategy would be how do we mobilize support for the remnants of the Syrian Free Army, and it might require combat troops to inspire an international effort. I would let the military commanders give the commander in chief options rather than tell them what you want to hear,” Bush said in a remote interview from Charlotte, North Carolina. “And so having — not having gotten those options, I can't tell you if we are going to have boots on the ground but certainly, a more expanded role for the special operators would be essential. And being more effective in strikes as it is relates to the air.”
In recounting a recent episode in which the White House was reported to have dropped fliers to tell civilians in the area of a planned drone strike to leave the area nearly an hour in advance, Bush slammed that approach in general but not in that specific scenario.
“Just last week, there was a convoy of stolen refined oil and diesel going to Turkey to be sold. And they sent out fliers to the — dropped fliers before they started striking to the truck drivers to tell them to abandon, ’cause they may not have been ISIS supporters,” Bush recounted, referring to the incident in which the military dropped leaflets telling truck drivers to leave their vehicles and run.
“My gosh, that's not how you fight a war,” he exclaimed. “You need to destroy their abilities to garner money.”
In that particular instance, he said, doing so “was the appropriate action, but tying the hands of the war fighters the way that this administration has done shows that this is a law enforcement exercise, not a fight — not a military fight.”
“And so, we need to unleash the military in unison with our partners in Europe and the Middle East to be effective in this regard,” he said.  [Politico]

 Isis Drives into Syria from Iraq

Did the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 lead to our current crisis over the Islamic State?

The question has been posed baldly in this campaign season, as when a young woman at a campaign rally said to GOP candidate Jeb Bush (using an alternate name for the militant group), “Your brother created ISIL.” It was not so much the invasion itself, however, as the policies implemented afterward that are mainly to blame for Iraq and Syria lying in pieces. What President George W. Bush’s administration did was to foster sectarian divisions and create a long-lasting insurgency.

At every point along the way, the Bush administration made choices that exacerbated sectarian tensions in Iraq and set the country on the path to break-up. The assertion by some observers that the country is riven by age-old hatreds, is ahistorical and incorrect. In previous decades, political passions centered on anti-colonialism or big landlordism and socialism. The vacuum of power created by the U.S. dissolution of the secular Baath Party encouraged Iraqi politicians to play on sectarian passions in unprecedented ways. Provoking a violent insurgency was likewise fateful. Once an insurgency comes into being, it typically does not subside for 10 to 15 years.

But Americans have difficulty recognizing their own culpability in the rise of the Islamic State for two reasons. First, the public (and the press) seldom understood or credited Iraqi social forces with the ability to act independently, focusing instead on the U.S. military’s campaigns. Second, Iraq became a football in partisan bickering, with dispassionate analysis abandoned for unsubstantiated blame games. 

The Washington Post gives an insider's look at the Islamic State's propaganda machine and its influence throughout the world. (Jason Aldag/The Washington Post)
[The Islamic State’s foreign policy may be as terrifying as its domestic policy]

After the 2003 invasion, Bush administration officials deliberately pushed aside Iraq’s Sunni Arabs, who had dominated Saddam Hussein’s regime, and favored a clique of Shiite operatives. The main vehicle of politics in Iraq, the secular-minded but sanguinary Baath Party, which ruled 1968 to 2003, was dissolved. Shiite Bush allies like the late Ahmad Chalabi and Nouri al-Maliki (who would serve as prime minister from 2006 until 2014) formed a “Debaathification Commission” that fired close to 100,000 Sunni Arabs from government jobs, even from teaching school. This was at a time when there were no private-sector jobs. Shiite Baathists went largely untouched.

Bush’s viceroy, Paul Bremer, a militant free-marketeer, at the same time dissolved most state-owned factories and threw the economy into a tailspin. Then Bremer dissolved the vaunted Iraqi million-man army, sending officers and troops away with no pensions and no prospects. Unemployment swept the Sunni Arab provinces the way bubonic plague swept medieval Europe.  Idleness reached levels of 70 percent in Sunni Arab areas where insurgencies grew up. In contrast, the Shiite cliques the Americans brought to power made sure to get jobs for their coreligionists in the new government. The Bush administration and its Iraqi allies did everything the opposite of the way Nelson Mandela handled national reconciliation in post-apartheid South Africa. They also got the opposite outcome.

The administration’s vindictive targeting of Fallujah after four security contractors were killed in spring of 2004 reduced a proud city to rubble by the following late autumn and alienated Sunni Arabs in other cities, who refused to vote in the January 2005 elections. The resulting parliament was Shiite-dominated, and charged with crafting the constitution, a constitution all the Sunni-majority provinces rejected.

The mistreatment of the Iraqi Sunni Arabs drove many of them into guerrilla war against the United States. Some 50 major cells emerged in the Sunni-majority provinces. One of these, al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, was led by Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian former car thief. It attracted not only the religious-minded Sunnis who perceived a growing joint U.S.-Iran domination of Iraq, but also former Baath officers who knew where Saddam Hussein’s hidden arms depots were located.

After al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006 by an American airstrike, Iraqis took over the leadership of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia. They created the so-called Islamic State in Iraq, which began holding swaths of territory. Many of the leaders of this group were former Baathist military officers, and some met and networked in Camp Bucca, where the United States warehoused 25,000 suspected insurgents. It is unlikely that these Baathists sincerely embraced Muslim fundamentalism, and many are likely using the Islamic State group in a cynical way to garner public support (an al-Qaeda emissary, after meeting with them, called them “phony snakes” betraying the real jihad).
When, in 2011, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad attacked the youth revolution against him militarily and turned it into a violent insurgency, Islamic State fighters went off to Syria to fight the remaining Baath regime.  The militant group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, authorized a Syrian branch in 2012, the Support Front (Jabhat al-Nusra). It was manned in part by veteran holy warriors of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, including Syrians who had fought alongside al-Zarqawi. But over time, the Islamic State itself engaged in major operations over in Syria. It soon became apparent that the group is opportunistic: It would let other rebels do the hard fighting against the Syrian army and take territory. The Islamic State, however, would then sweep in and steal that territory away from its putative allies. In 2013, when the organization sought to absorb the Support Front into itself, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of the planners of the 9/11 attacks, ordered Syrian al-Qaeda to break with the Islamic State, which he kicked out of his organization.
The Shiite religious parties that had come to power in Baghdad under American rule were continuing to exclude Sunnis. The Iraqi military came to be dominated by ex-members of Shiite militias, such as the Badr Corps originally founded among expatriates in Iran.  In 2011 when youth protests broke out in Mosul and Fallujah, al-Maliki ordered them brutally repressed, ending any hope Sunnis had for political reform and inclusion. Having taken rural al-Raqqa province in Syria in 2013 and 2014, Daesh began intriguing with Sunni urban elites back in Iraq, in cities such as Mosul.


In June 2014, the world was startled when Sunni Mosul rose up against the largely Shiite Iraqi army. Crowds attacked police and troops and paved the way for Islamic State fighters to come into the city from Syria.  Local Sunni Arab elites, sick of being marginalized and humiliated by Shiite Baghdad, decided they would risk an alliance with the Islamic State. The corrupt Iraqi Army could have held Mosul by simply standing firm. Both officers and their men ran away and delivered it into the hands of the militant group, which later extended its sway to 40 percent of Iraqi territory (but only perhaps 10 percent of its population).

Had the United States put its full effort into rolling up al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, instead of slighting that theater in favor of concentrating on Iraq, the organization might have been effectively destroyed in 2001 and 2002. Instead, by occupying Iraq the Bush administration gave a whole new generation of angry young men a cause to fight in and bestowed on al-Qaeda a new lease on life. Had the Bush administration not destroyed the Iraqi state and its army, these local institutions could have forestalled the rise of an al-Qaeda insurgency. That insurgency would never have learned tactics from the Marines it fought in Iraq, nor developed networks for munitions acquisition.

Without an organized, well-funded and experienced insurgency in Iraq that could be exported across the border into Syria, money and arms would not have flowed so easily to the hard line of the hard line among rebels in that country. The Free Syrian Army might have been able to hold together as a loose alliance of secular-minded Sunni Arabs with moderate Muslim Brotherhood fighters. Instead, the extremists, hardened al-Qaeda and other hard line veterans of the Iraq War, outflanked the FSA in Syria. The Bush administration’s patent favoritism toward Shiite religious parties and marginalization of the Sunni Arabs had created a powerful constituency for the Islamic State in Iraq.

Why Bush chose sectarian favoritism over South Africa-style reconciliation remains mysterious. The odd conviction among some politicians that a longer or more brutal American occupation of Iraq could have forestalled the rise of the Islamic State betrays a profound misunderstanding of the actual dynamics. The U.S. occupation created the conditions under which the group flourished.
[Washington Post]  Juan Cole

November 25, 2015

ISIS is as Crazy as the Cat that ate the Bird and Putin Finds Out No Meant No

 If you switch that billion dollar fighter with any small bomber in WWII there would be no difference below

In killing 130 civilians in Paris—the worst such attack in France since World War II—ISIS has forced us to contend, once again, with the question of the “rationality” of self-professed ideologues. Since it wrested the world’s attention with its capture of Iraq’s second-largest city in June 2014, the extremist group has prioritized state-building over fighting far enemies abroad. This is what distinguished ISIS: It wasn’t just, or even primarily, a terrorist organization. It had an unusually pronounced interest in governance. As Yale University’s Andrew March and Mara Revkin lay out in considerable detail, the group focused its energy on developing fairly elaborate institutional structures in the territory it controlled within Iraq and Syria. ISIS wasn’t simply making things up as it went along. It may have been mad, but there was a method to the madness.

Shadi Hamid is a fellow at the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center, and the author of Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East. Hamid's research focuses on democratization and the role of Islamist movements ... Full Bio
But why, then, attack France—one of the more militarily aggressive Western powers—and potentially provoke a massive retaliatory response that would threaten the very “caliphate” it had spent so much time building? Care is needed in drawing conclusions from this apparent shift in targeting. ISIS has always had international ambitions; it was more a question of when, not if. Part of the challenge is in divining why exactly ISIS chose to stage these attacks at this particular time. And this raises a difficult set of questions: To what extent, in the wake of the Paris attacks, should ISIS be thought of as rational, and how, in turn, should that inform efforts to understand the group and develop a strategy to counter it?

The attack on France may very well prove to be ISIS’s first obvious, huge mistake, at least from a caliphate-building perspective. That said, while many outside observers might think ISIS made a major miscalculation, the group—or whatever part of it directed the attack—probably doesn’t agree. Otherwise, why would they have done it?

* * *

For a remarkably brutal, absolutist, and apocalyptic organization, ISIS had pursued a strategy that was deliberate, insistent, and ultimately successful. It was able to carry out, as Charles Lister writes, “a very methodical and multi-staged strategy of recovery, growth, expansion, and consolidation.” Yet, it was also fond of its apocalyptic fantasies, which featured prominently in the group’s propaganda and even seemed to affect specific battlefield decisions. ISIS’s state-building and messianism coexisted in uneasy tension. There was little to suggest this was sustainable in the long run (although, as ever, that raises the question of how long the long run is). As Will McCants, author of The ISIS Apocalypse, put it to me recently: “The caliphate may require caution but the apocalypse requires abandon.” Can an individual—or, for that matter, an entire organization—be, at once, both cautious and in the throes of reckless abandon?

The question of why ISIS would want to goad the West is a challenging one for precisely this reason. We don’t know exactly how rational ISIS is, particularly in the absence of real insight into the group’s internal deliberations. And, in any case, “rationality” may take on a different meaning for those who believe not just in the imminence of the end times (which is fairly common in the Middle East), but also that the day of reckoning can be hastened.

These caveats notwithstanding, let’s try to imagine ourselves in the position of the terrorists. Oddly enough—in what was perhaps a first for a U.S. president—this is exactly what Barack Obama did just a month after the beheading of the American journalist James Foley.

Can an individual—or, for that matter, an entire organization—be, at once, both cautious and in the throes of reckless abandon? 

Obama hypothesized that if he were “an advisor to ISIS,” he would have released rather than killed hostages like Foley, with notes pinned to their chests no less, saying “stay out of here.” It is a self-evident banality that very few American politicians take seriously: Understand your enemy in order to defeat him. Obama should be lauded for being both able and willing to imagine himself in diverse political contexts, but the statement was remarkably naive, suggesting a readiness to apply a straightforward “rational actor” lens that doesn’t necessarily apply in the fog of jihadist war. This role as analyst in chief is one the president has warmed to. He regularly insists, for example, that world leaders are acting against their own rational self-interests, whether it be Vladimir Putin, with his “reckless” interventions in Ukraine and Syria, or the Israelis, for failing to support an Iranian nuclear deal that Obama thinks will make them safer. As for the Iranians, once the nuclear deal was struck, the hope, sometimes explicit but always somewhere underneath the surface, was that Iran would “moderate” and be induced to become a constructive partner in the resolution of regional conflict. Being “constructive” was in their interest, after all, just as it was in America’s, and just as it was in Russia’s.

Any assessment of “instrumental rationality”—the idea that individuals carefully weigh costs and benefits in seeking maximum political utility—is about means rather than ends. In other words, once we know what the actors’ goals are, we can then work backwards and see to what extent they’re “rationally” acting in the service of those goals. So even if we assume ISIS is reasonably rational, it still leaves open the question of what they’re trying to achieve in the first place. In his ISIS-advisor mode of 2014, Obama assumed that ISIS wanted America out; it’s also possible that the group wanted America in. This was al-Qaeda’s wager after the September 11 attacks: that any large-scale Western invasion of Arab lands would redound to its benefit. The United States, so the logic went, would be drawn into a war it couldn’t hope to win—one that would drain U.S. resources, rally Muslims against foreign intruders, and puncture the perception of American military superiority; ultimately, the United States—with its supposedly low tolerance for casualties—would grow exhausted and withdraw. Which raises an interesting counterfactual: If Americans had known this about al-Qaeda’s designs—much of which only became clearer well after 9/11—would that have altered the thinking of at least some policymakers in the march to war in Iraq in 2003?

In some tension with this “bog them down” theory of jihadist warfare is the notion of “paying the price,” which features prominently in jihadist political theory, including in Abu Bakr Naji’s influential Bush-era treatise The Management of Savagery. The idea here is to punish countries to deter them from future military action. Perhaps this is what ISIS hoped to do in Paris. Such an approach, however, would suggest a major flaw in the group’s ability to anticipate how targets will respond to their provocations. After all, a mass-casualty attack on France would presumably make the French more, not less, likely to support greater military action against ISIS. At the same time, there is at least one prominent recent case—the 2004 terrorist attacks in Madrid—where “punishment,” just three days before a hotly contested election, may have contributed to the victory of socialist Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero, who soon pulled Spain’s forces from Iraq, making good on a pre-election promise.

What all this resembles is a kind of two-player game where each side acts either in response to or in anticipation of the other’s moves—the catch being that neither side has full information about or insight into the decision-making process or even the operating assumptions of its adversary. It’s a situation ripe for miscalculation. While many jihadist theoreticians are “astute observers” of U.S. counterterrorism policy, this doesn’t necessarily lead to the correct conclusions. After all, even Americans who obsessively follow the twists and turns of U.S. policy have repeatedly either overestimated or underestimated Obama’s willingness to intervene in various Middle Eastern theaters.

Another possibility is that Western military responses to ISIS are “inelastic,” meaning that regardless of what ISIS does or doesn’t do, U.S.-led international efforts will not change significantly, considering the profound reluctance, at least under the Obama administration, to do much more than the United States is already doing. The scholar of jihadist movements Cole Bunzel has colorfully referred to this as ISIS’s “Donald Trump-like immunity to the consequences of the awful things it does.”

If this debate has a dreamlike quality to it, that’s because we’ve had it before. After ISIS beheaded Foley and another American journalist, Steven Sotloff, in August and September 2014, many of us wondered why the group would risk provoking a superpower, which up until then had done little to prioritize the fight against ISIS. Months later, ISIS burned a Jordanian pilot to death, prompting the Jordanian government to vow an “earth-shaking” response and “blood vengeance.” “The gloves have come off,” said King Abdullah. Yet, after an initial surge of military force, including air strikes, Jordan receded to its previous levels of engagement in the struggle with ISIS. General John Allen, Obama’s special envoy for the counter-ISIS coalition, declared that the murder of the pilot would “be one of these moments that created a unity of purpose and a unity of effort among the nations [of the world].” It wasn’t. None of these incidents were.

Cole Bunzel has colorfully referred to ISIS’s “Donald Trump-like immunity to the consequences of the awful things it does.”

Presumably there is some “red line” that would trigger a massive retaliatory response on the part of the United States and its allies, but it may very well be the case that such a line doesn’t, for better or worse, exist. In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, it appears that the U.S. will simply double down on its current strategy with an intensification of air strikes and perhaps a marginal increase in special-operations forces and advisors in Syria and Iraq. As for ground forces, Obama ruled them out just three days after ISIS struck France. The president had rather quickly made up his mind. “We have the right strategy and we’re going to see it through,” he said. “There will be an intensification of the strategy we have put forward, but the strategy we have put forward is the strategy that will ultimately work.” This, to use the jihadists’ own terminology, indicates that ISIS may not pay that much of a price for its crimes.

* * *

In the months leading up to the Paris attacks, ISIS may have reached its peak as a proto-state, having already captured and held as much territory as it could ever hope to in its base of Syria and Iraq. In fact, ISIS was beginning to lose significant swathes of territory, including key border towns, and found itself encircled around the Sunni city of Ramadi in Iraq, its most important territorial acquisition of 2015. Recruitment of foreign fighters was slowing. As Mara Revkin writes, even governance—one of ISIS’s stronger suits (at least compared to the competition)—had increasingly become a liability. Various accounts paint a picture of mismanagement, declining morale, turf wars, and infighting within the ranks. Even if these claims are overstated, all was evidently not well in the caliphate. At best, ISIS could hope to regain some of its recently lost territory. At worst, they would suffer more battlefield losses, including in Ramadi. For a group whose slogan was “remaining and expanding,” these scenarios weren’t particularly promising.

Just as it was losing momentum in its Iraqi and Syrian strongholds in the second half of 2015, ISIS was making gains elsewhere, with an increasingly sophisticated insurgency in the Sinai, a pledge of allegiance from Africa’s most feared terrorist group, Boko Haram, and a growing presence in Afghanistan and Yemen. On October 31, it scored a major propaganda victory with the downing of a Russian airliner—one of the worst mass-casualty terrorist attacks of the past decade. ISIS was announcing its arrival as not just a proto-state with tax collection and a budget, but also as the world’s most effective terrorist organization, outflanking its rivals in al-Qaeda. ISIS’s shift in targeting served any number of other purposes: distracting from battlefield losses, boosting morale among its foot soldiers, and, of course, capturing the headlines. These, though hard to measure, are real and relevant “momentum” gains. Perhaps, then, from ISIS’s standpoint, the price of somewhat more intensified Western military intervention was a price worth paying.

If and when ISIS loses territory, it may decide to compensate. Its apocalyptic fantasies might become more lurid, not less. 

In this next phase of conflict, ISIS will likely lose more territory. The costs of endless war abroad will compromise the quality of governance at home, further undercutting local Sunni support. This may be grounds for optimism, but it’s not quite that simple. As the terrorism expert Clint Watts reminds us: “If an extremist group that has seized territory starts to lose it, it will be highly incentivized to turn to terrorist operations that allow for maximizing effects at a lower cost.” Advances for the international coalition may actually heighten the risk of more terrorism in the short run. The relationship between loss of territory and launching attacks abroad is non-linear—it may actually look more like a bell curve—and therefore hard to predict. It is fair to assume, though, that if and when ISIS loses significant territory, it may decide to compensate in an effort to underscore its relevance and create the illusion of momentum, if not the substance. Its apocalyptic fantasies might become more lurid, not less.

* * *

Why people—and organizations—do what they do is one of the most fascinating (and sometimes frightening) questions considered by political scientists. There are elaborate, formal models of rational-choice theory, in which human behavior is consistent, predictable, and straightforward, yet we know, from our own lives, that we constantly act against our own interests. Oftentimes, we know we’re acting against our own interests but plod along anyway, oblivious to the costs or perhaps taking pleasure in that feeling of weightlessness and abandon that often accompanies irrational decisions.

Considering all of the variables discussed here, the United States and its allies run the risk of gaming the scenarios and adjusting their response to fit the opposite of whatever they think ISIS wants them to do. There’s a hint of this in the rhetoric of Barack Obama and French officials—that ISIS wants the West to go all in because that would feed the group’s narrative, and that Western powers obviously can’t give ISIS what it wants. But ISIS isn’t al-Qaeda. Holding fixed territory inevitably changes the calculations of even hardened ideologues, particularly when territorial control is a core element of the ideology itself.

A claim to a caliphate—even one with diminished territory—is central to the group’s claims of Islamic-ness. The caliphate, ISIS leaders argue, is an obligation upon the Muslim community. It is the foundation upon which everything else is built, and, without it, Islamic law cannot be properly or legitimately implemented. If the U.S. deployed ground troops, it could clear ISIS from its strongholds of Raqqa and Mosul at least temporarily, as even Obama admits. This would be a severe blow to ISIS—undermining its entire raison d’être–in a way that it never was with al-Qaeda. This doesn’t mean that the United States should deploy ground troops, but it does mean that officials should be careful about presuming to know what ISIS wants.

Perhaps their apocalypticism emboldens them to take risks. Even if their gambit backfires, they still believe they have heaven to hope for.

Regardless of what the U.S. and its allies do, ISIS will prove an unusually challenging foe. And this is where religion and particularly apocalyptic religion matter. Take, for example, the ISIS leader Abu Muhammad al-Adnani’s September 2014 statement, in which he addresses the West directly, saying, “being killed … is a victory. This is where the secret lies. You fight a people who can never be defeated. They either gain victory or are killed. And O crusaders, you are losers in both outcomes.” These two goals—gaining victory (in a temporal sense) and getting killed in the process of seeking that victory—are mutually exclusive objectives. Yet it is altogether possible that Adnani and other ISIS true believers are more than comfortable with either outcome, if it comes to that. They would of course prefer to hold territory and entrench their caliphate. They may have judged (seemingly correctly) that the Paris attacks would not lead to a shift in U.S. strategy, and that they could withstand something short of a full ground offensive. Either way, though, brazenly targeting the West is a very risky endeavor. Perhaps their apocalypticism emboldens them to take such risks. Even if their gambit backfires, after all, they still believe they have heaven to hope for. They may welcome the prospect of dying while triggering a regional conflagration with the United States at its center.

Still, it is clear that ISIS has preferences, all other things being equal, even if we don’t quite know how those preferences play out in practice. It can be tempting to use ISIS’s apocalyptic fervor as a kind of analytical deus ex machina—something that I gravitated toward immediately after the attacks. This was the only way I could make sense of the decision to attack Paris. It seemed so, well, irrational. I assumed that such horrifying attacks in the heart of Europe would provoke a shift in U.S. strategy. I was wrong. They haven’t. Perhaps there wasn’t a red line. Perhaps the tolerance for Middle Eastern chaos, which is increasingly our chaos in the West, was greater than I thought. It dawned on me that maybe I had made a different kind of mistake: Instead of misjudging ISIS’s rationality, I had misjudged our own.

Chinese Student Sues Govt for Calling Homosexuality in Textbooks a Curable Mental Disorder

Image: Qiu Bai and Wang Zheny
Qiu Bai (center) speaks to the media with her lawyer Wang Zhenyu (left) outside a court in Beijing on Tuesday. GREG BAKER / AFP - Getty Images

 A court heard opening arguments Tuesday in a case calling for textbooks published by China's Ministry of Education to alter or remove sections calling homosexuality a disease that can be cured.

A student who goes by the pseudonym Qiu Bai discovered the issue two years ago when as a curious freshman she looked through medical textbooks seeking answers about her own sexual orientation.

The 20-year-old showed NBC News one of the textbooks — "University Students Mental Health" — which states that gay people can change their sexual orientation through therapy.

"I thought textbooks should be trustworthy but when I saw these lines, I felt horrible. I was so worried about other people being afraid of gay people, like me," the student at Sun Yat-sen University in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou said. "This is discrimination against homosexuality."

The Chinese Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 2001. But a 2014 survey conducted by China's Tong Cheng Gay and Lesbian Campus Association found that 40 percent of textbooks published in the country after 2001 still classified homosexuality as a psychological disorder.

Qiu Bai earlier this year wrote an open letter to the Ministry of Education pointing out the errors and requesting corrections. When she got no response, she filed the lawsuit in August. The No. 1 Municipal Intermediate People's Court in Beijing heard the case on Tuesday and decided to hold a second hearing.

"I want related departments to admit these errors and I want to have an equal and open discussion with them about these errors," Qiu Bai said. "This case is not even close to ending. Unless the Ministry of Education take some real actions to change this, I won't give it up." 
The New York Times reports two-dozen supporters waved signs and a rainbow flag outside a Chinese courthouse during a discussion between Qui and education officials Tuesday. While nothing was settled, Qui and her lawyer say it was a minor victory to even have the discussion while China continues to crack down on activists and human-rights lawyers. Discrimination against homosexuals is prevalent in China, and experts say with little in the way of sex education, medically accurate textbooks are essential, according to the Post. "Because textbooks are seen as having authority, everyone—including the students, the teachers, and the parents—believes them," one activist tells the Post. NBC reports 40% of textbooks still classified homosexuality as a disease as of 2014. "This case is not even close to ending,"Qui says. “I won't give it up."

Growing Acceptance on LGBT From China and Japan to Korea

 Celebrating pride in Taiwan

When it come to homosexuality, the Confucian cultures of East Asia can be quite conservative, though they don't share the religious or moral objections of Judeo-Christian-Islamic countries. 

But across a region becoming steadily more urban and cosmopolitan, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT) communities are experiencing a changes in attitudes and a greater legal recognition that echoes the trend in the West towards much greater acceptance of equality. 

Last weekend some 80,000 people from around East Asia converged on Taipei for the Oct. 31 Taiwan Pride parade, the biggest such event in the region. It was followed by a record 10,000 marchers in the Hong Kong Pride Parade. In Japan, that same November evening saw the broadcast of “Transit Girls,” the first TV drama here about a lesbian couple.

Recommended: Think you know Asia? Take our geography quiz.

To be sure, for many LGBTs in a region imbued with the Confucian ideals of filial respect and saving face, the toughest battles remain within families. Still, the overall shift seems clear across this diverse region, and is partly due to the influence of the West, including the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US and Ireland. Local media portrayed these changes as a progressive trend that the rest of the world will inevitably follow.


Earlier this year, two districts of Tokyo announced they would issue same-sex marriage certificates; the first couple had their union recognized in Shibuya on Nov. 5. The certificates are not legally binding, but rather recommending a set of greater rights, such as visitation rights to same-sex partners in hospitals and nondiscriminatory treatment by realtors. 

South Korea is something of an outlier in the region: Conservative evangelicals groups succeeded this summer in halting a gay pride parade in Seoul, even though the rest of the Korean Queer Culture Festival went ahead.

Still, among youth in Korea, 71 percent of those between 18 and 29 said "homosexuality should be accepted," according to a Pew Research Center poll this year. That figure is just ahead of the equivalent among US youth, and fewer than the 83 percent of young Japanese who agreed. 

The absence of overt gay-bashing or other strident opposition in most of East Asia may actually have slowed down the equality battle, some activists say.

"There's no violent discrimination against us here; nobody throwing stones or trying to kill us,” said Yuki, a gay Tokyoite who nevertheless asked to be identified only by his first name. “There's never been a law against gays in Japan."

"A lot of gay men in Japan would rather lead a double life,” Yuki added. “Many Japanese gay men went to Taipei to walk in the parade, but would be afraid to do so here.”

Yuki practices a form of “don't ask, don't tell” in his family. His mother has met his boyfriend numerous times, but he has never discussed his sexuality with her.

Masahiro Kikuchi (not his real name) has come out to his parents. But he has not yet confided to his older sister, whose reaction he worries about because she has two sons. Mr. Kikuchi works at a Japanese finance company, where he says it would be impossible to be openly gay. 

"They showed a video earlier this year at my office to educate staff about gay issues. It told people to be aware there might be someone gay sitting next to you at work,” said Kikuchi. “I was sweating and just hoping nobody was looking at me.” 

Societal and familial acceptance is a recurring theme for LGBT people. It's also the subject of "Mama Rainbow," a 2012 documentary by Chinese filmmaker Fan Popo, focused on six mothers learning to love their gay children. The film was taken down from streaming sites in China last year, and Mr. Popo is suing the censors over its removal. 

Attitudes in China are similar to the rest of the region, according to Popo, with no violent discrimination. But many people refuse to believe there are LGBT members in their family.

"But on LGBT issues, we are influenced more by the US than other East Asian countries. When same-sex marriage was legalized [in the US] it was big news in China, a lot of people changed their social media profiles to rainbows," said Popo.

Nevertheless, Popo believes that an anti-discrimination law would be more powerful in China than legalization of same-sex marriage.

Across the sea in Taiwan, Jay Lin decided it was time to come out to his parents last year when he launched the Taiwan International Queer Film Festival. He had already lived for two decades as a gay man. Mr. Lin believes that changes in attitudes are more important than legal reform since without an accompanying change in social views it could bring a backlash. 

"You need to allow people in families, in which it is so important to avoid shame in Chinese-Taiwanese culture, to come to terms with it,” Lin says. “If a lot of people are not out to parents … gay marriage is not going to work," said Lin.  

He added that having begun to think about starting a family, the idea of doing so in Taiwan without the acceptance and involvement of parents and grandparents “is farcical.”

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