Pamela Geller’s book “Fatwa” published by Milo

Most trade publishers declined to offer Pamela Geller’s brazen book, “Fatwa: Hunted in America”, and I rather agree, there may have been an element of fear in their declinations. So Milo Yiannopoulos made his little publishing company called “Dangerous Books” (founded after his own fallout with Simon and Schuster over the bad “rumors” about his own supposed advocacies last February) a multiple author one, and took up the project himself, publishing (Miami) her 251-page epistle, which includes endnotes but no index.

The book is not particularly polished and tends to be a bit repetitious, sometimes screed-like; Milo’s own writing skills seem superior to Pamela’s.  But she hits hard the point of drowning free speech with tribalism and intimidation, and the book needs attention.  The book includes a foreword by Geert Wilders, “the Dutch Donald Trump”, who, like Geller, was banned (in his case temporarily) from entering the UK purely out of fear that his presence would agitate violence.  Wilders writes quite succinctly that the Left has turned its head on its traditional causes (especially gay rights) to defend Muslims as a minority.

Pamela Geller is probably best known for her May 2015 “draw the prophet” contest, which was attempted at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas.  Having lived in Dallas myself from 1979-1988, I am familiar with the area, on the northeast side of the city, just north of I-635, to the east of the wealthier Richardson and Plano suburbs along 175.  Two extremists attempted to attack the gathering and were shot by security and police, and later killed by a swat team.  Geller only briefly mentions the 2010 “Everybody draw Muhammad Day” organized by Molly Norris, which resulted in her disappearance into hiding in something like a witness-protection program (CNN).  The Norris narrative really would justify the title of the book (as well as reminding me of the 2006 Lifetime movie “Family in Hiding”).  Of course, Norris followed on the Jyllands-Posten Cartoon Controversy in Denmark .  That would culminate in the terror attack and assassinations at Charlie Heebdo in January 2015 in Paris (and generate the documentary film “Je Suis Charlie”).   The book includes an inset of colored photos, including a copyrighted image of Bosch Fawstin’s winning cartoon in the “AFDI Muhammed Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest”.  The Danish controversy has inspired other books, such as Flemming Rose (now at Cato), “The Tyranny of Silence“, which examine the problem of religious combativeness to silence speech. Let us also remember Bruce Bawer’s earlier “While Europe Slept“, which had covered the assassination in Amsterdam of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh for the short film “Submission“.

Geller does cover in detail the radical Islamist idea that non-Muslims cannot be allowed to draw the Prophet (as Muslims cannot) and points out that no other major religion enforces this kind of idea.  The Mormon church did not react violently to the popular Broadway musical “The Book of Mormon”.  Judeo-Chrisitianity has never embraced such demands even though the Old Testament is filled with concerns over “idol worship” which seemed quite important to me as a child.  Geller sometimes tries to have it both ways, seeming to imply that she sees all Islam as a political entity (seeking political control “for its own sake” of the world, like fascism and communism) rather than just a religious movement. In other places she faults moderate Muslims who simply practice a “personal” faith as not calling out the extremists in the faith (and evangelical Christianity has its own share of violent extremists – in the US sometimes connected to White supremacists, as we all learned from Charlottesville).

But it is the free speech idea toward the end of the book that hits the hardest.  Her writing comes to a head at the top of p. 126 when she (in a section about the cartoon ads), writes, “We cannot submit to the assassin’s veto”.  Indeed. If a person gives in to that, he is nothing (other than someone else’s pawn or prole) and becomes personally dishonored.  But then what about his family?  This is “alternative morality”, like “alternative facts”?  A lot of people don’t get the fracture in our culture over individualism v. tribal loyalty.

Later she will describe the DDOS attack on her own original blog (“Atlas Shrugs”) so severe that her hosting provider dropped her. She reinvented her web presence with the “Pam Geller Report” (link in table below).  Geller accuses big tech companies of colluding to protect themselves from radical vetoes by taking down hate speech – and indeed we saw this with the way Daily Stormer (however extreme in the white supremacy area) got knocked off the web by private companies, as did some Airbnb accounts, after the Charlottesville riots – but this had little or nothing to do with Islam.  She then presents her lawsuit attacking Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act (the so-called “Communications Decency Act”, the censorship portions of which were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1997). She complains that Section 230 allows big private tech companies to censor (anti-Islamist) content out of fear and intimidation. But in a broader view, Section 230 is part of the legal landscape that allows user generated content on the Internet to flourish because by and large, hosting companies and service providers are protected from most downstream liability for what users do. (The Backpage (sex trafficking) controversy and proposed legislation could present a serious challenge to 230’s effectiveness, but the whole idea of “knowingly”, as with child pornography, would seem to be a critical concept).   Section 230 does allow service providers some discretion in monitoring content to comply with their own terms of service.

Geller is right, however, that the Left as a whole is becoming strident in shutting down speech that the Left believes “legitimizes” certain groups, like neo-Nazis, on the theory that even “meta-speech” from those not directly affected becomes viewed as a kind of incitement (related to what I have called “The Privilege of Being Listened to” elsewhere).  I am concerned myself about this idea.  Could “community engagement” be required to accompany the speech?

Geller covers a lot of other issues, including the banning of “all political ads” by transit systems supposedly because of protests of hers.  That’s true:  I can’t buy an ad for “Do Ask Do Tell” on the DC Metro because it would be viewed as “political advocacy”.  She covers her battles in San Francisco and New York.  San Francisco is particularly in a bind as a “ gay” city.  She points out that in Iran, homosexuals are required to go trans and have sexual reassignment surgery (I had never heard that before).  She is critical of some well-known organizations (CAIR, Council on American-Islamic Relations, not to be confused with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition) and the Southern Poverty Law Center. . She describes her opposition to the Park51 Islamic Center near the World Trade Center site in New York.  She claims that stores enforce Halal standards for meat against non-Muslims.

She also promotes her American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI)   At the end of the book, she makes a plea to join her cause collectively. She ends with “I am one person. So are you. Together we are an army”.

Wiki picture of Chris Culwell Center in Garland, Texas.

Author: Pamela Geller
Title, Subtitle: “Fatwa: Hunted in America”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-1947979000
Publication: Dangerous Books (Miami), 251 pages, endnotes, hardcover, 11 Chapters, color photos, Foreword by Geert Wilders
Link: Author

(Posted: Wednesday, December 6 at 2 PM EST)

“Kill All Normies”: a meta-pamphlet about Milo’s world and even Pepe the Frog

Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right”, a booklet (120 pages) by Angela Nagle, seems to attribute the rise of nationalist populism as a kind of sum-effect of the chaos on the Internet in the past ten years or so.  As the author says in her last chapter title, it isn’t funny when the culture wars go offline.

I’m rather shocked at the meanness and bullying that happens on line, and the revenge and stalking;  Melania Trump has said she wants to do something about it, even if it helped her husband get elected. The behavior reflects a certain cynicism and even nihilism, that the “system” is leaving a lot of “us” out, so we might as well rebel against civilized living.

Nagle’s presentation is non-sequential and rather random, so it is hard to follow an argument.  But gradually she gets into the same territory covered by Milo Yiannopoulos in his book “Dangerous” (July 13).  She gradually develops a comparison to Milo’s style of conservatism, which I would call hyper-meritocracy (a preoccupation with other people’s virtue and its visual evidence, and a cult of personal competitiveness) but not libertarianism and definitely not alt-right or fascism, and the older Par Buchanan type of conservatism evident in the 1980s with the “Moral Majority” crowd.  She almost manages to make cis gay men as likely to prefer conservatism to the particularly constricting identity politics of the extreme Left.  The alt-right has its own identity politics, with a different crowd.  In the end, communism (or hyper socialism, Venezuelan style), fascism, and extreme nationalism (as Putin is verging on), and even theocracy (Islamo-fascism) all start to seem alike. They are all authoritarian, and easily morph out of excessive political concern over personal “right-sizing” and deservedness.

She manages to convey some interesting narratives, such as about the life of mass shooter Eliot Rodger and his manifesto “My Twisted World” (this 2014 Isla Vista case definitely made “manifesto” a bad word, but so did the luddite Unabomber Ted Kaczynski in the 1990s with his “Industrial Society and its Future” where he ranted about the imposition of socialization).  She also gives a perspective on the hit film “Fight Club” (1999, Fox, directed David Fincher, with Ed Norton and Brad Pitt).

She also conveys pretty well just how far some people go into group identity belonging, especially on the radical Left.  People have amputated their own limbs to “belong” to “people with disabilities”. She has the same horror at the staged anarchical violence at Milo’s events. She discusses “manosphere” as something sometimes disfigured by tattoos and wounds, something far removed from the cleaner fantasies of the 1960s when James Bond told us “what it means to be a man”, or when a perfected (except around red kryptonite) Clark Kent conveyed that on “Smallville” in the 00’s.  (Tom Welling has gone downhill since then, sad to say.)

In the end, it seems like “populists” dislike “elites” who watch and criticize but don’t step up and swing and take the risks of getting beaned.

Vox interview with author.

Salon discussion of the book.

Author: Angela Nagle
Title, Subtitle: “Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt-Right
publication date: 2017
ISBN: 978-1-78535-543-1
Publication: Zero Books, 120 pages, paper (ebook), 7 chapters and conclusion
Link: publisher

(Posted: Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017 at 11:15 AM EDT)

“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”: AFIDocs shows film about secret efforts to silence the established press; what about amateurs?

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”, by Brian Knappenberger, confronts us with the problem that the wealthiest classes may try to silence the established press by secretly bankrolling litigation, and by secret hostile takeovers of media outlets.

The film does focus on the Fourth Estate, the credentialed press, as such.  The viability of the Fifth (the amateur base) would make a subject for another documentary, I think, one that could focus on open access, for example.

The film focuses on two big events.

The first of these is the lawsuit Bollea vs. Gawker, by “Hulk Hogan” against Gawker media, and personally against several employees, for posting some of a private sex tape online.  Some employees were bankrupted personally and had assets frozen by judgment.  There is a scene where one younger male employee testifies (in Florida) flippantly about the idea of fictitious sex involving minors, an idea that helped bring down Milo Yiannopoulos this year, and affected a serious incident in 2005 when I worked as a substitute teacher, the details of which I have written about elsewhere.  It also had an indirect effect on the 2016 elections, which the film gets into in its second half.  A visit to today’s Gawker shell is well worth a visit and rather sobering.  I do wonder about situations where individual speakers could be effectively silenced by aggressive litigation and bargaining, but that is another topic.

An important concept in the suit was whether Bollea’s conduct, as a WWE public figure, was newsworthy and generated a higher standard of proof from the plaintiff.  This was technically a privacy case;  similar ideas occur with defamation.

About 40 minutes into the film, the documentary introduces the clandestine role of gay Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel in bankrolling the suit, as revenge for his being outed in 2007 by Gawker. In one humorous scene Thiel stumbles as he calls Gawker “sociopathic”.  Thiel’s speech in Cleveland at the RNC is quoted, but I recall Thiel’s saying that the country (including LGBTQ people) has more pressing problems than bathroom bills. Indeed, Thiel has offered scholarships to young inventors to start businesses instead of finishing college.  One of these went to nuclear fusion power inventor Taylor Wilson, now 23, very much in the clean energy business (which Trump has sidestepped) but also new levels of port security.  (Sorry, some “inventors” do need to finish college:  Jack Andraka will have to finish medical school to become a cancer researcher;  both Wilson and Andraka would deserve their own documentary feature films, as Andraka especially fits into the open access debate). The film shows Thiel with a chessboard, and indeed he is an accomplished tournament competitor, preferring direct attacking openings starting with 1 e4 (as did Bobby Fischer); he could probably be a real challenge for Magnus Carlsen to beat.

But the film focuses on the fact that Thiel’s backing of the litigation occurred in secret for a while.  So we have powerful business people (even in the LGBTQ community) silencing forces that oppose them.  Trump is not the only one.  This happens on the Left as well as the Right.

For its last third, the film shifts its narrative to Las Vegas, and the clandestine purchase of the Las Vegas Review Journal by the family of self-made billionaire Sheldon Adelson who then reportedly influenced what would be published about high-roller developers.

The film covers Donald Trump’s particular vilification of the established media as an enemy.  His speech about opening up libel laws (to resemble those in England where the defendant has to prove truth) is quoted. Presumably Trump sees journalists as “watchers” or “spectators” who don’t put their own skin in the game;  but curiously, despite his reported disdain for computers, he loves Twitters and doesn’t seem to show the same disdain for journalists from smaller companies (like OAN) or independent bloggers.

The Journal Review I believe is the same paper that was involved with “copyright troll” Righhaven starting in 2010.  The law firm bought rights to articles from various smaller client newspapers (“champerty”) and then sued even low-level bloggers who allegedly violated copyright in various trivial ways.  At the time, there was a theory that bloggers were destroying small newspapers.  I’ve covered the development with a Blogger label here.  Note the coverage in the Journal Review and in Arstechnica.

Director QA (some technical problems with feedback):

Fact Sheet:

Name:  “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”
Director, writer:  Brian Knappenberger
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2017 AFI-Docs, Landmark E St, Washington, 2017/6/16, sold out
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13 (?)
Companies:  Luminant, Submarine, Netflix
Link:  Luminant

(Picture: Mine, 2012 trip in Las Vegas;  2015, Tampa Bay, near the litigation site; 2016, NYC midtown)

“Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower”: A teen takes on Beijing’s erosion of Hong Kong’s separate democracy

Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower”, a documentary by Joe Piscatella, gives us a detailed history of the Hong Kong “umbrella protests” in 2014, as Hong Kong’s “One Country, Two Systems” promise (made by China in 1997 when it took over from Britain) began to unravel as Xi Jingping began to consolidate power in Beijing. The film is also a docudrama about one slender and very determined teenager, Joshua Wong, to take on the system. There are a lot of moral lessons to ponder.

In 2011, at the age of 14. Josh organized a movement called Scholarism, in resistance to Beijing’s insistence on national educational standards based on the Communist Party, as implemented by Cy Leung. Josh posed the basic libertarian moral system was to why young adults could not grow up to be themselves, rather than meet specific pseudo-competitive standards set up by a Communist government needing order and conformity (to add to meaning). In time, China actually backed down a in the standards.

But in 2014 a new resistance, growing out of Scholarism and amplified by Benny Tai, over China’s restrictions on the ability of Hong Kong to elect its own people. Joshua says that Benny didn’t first understand that protest movements need to grow and take reaction to be effective, rather than just be a vehicle or intellectual public argumentation. The “Occupy Central” movement grew and set up protest sites all over Hong Kong, sometimes using umbrellas (“rain shields” as linguist Paul calls them).  Police became energetic and then backed off, hoping the protests would run out of steam.  But when businesses complained they were losing sales, the police reiterated. Josh was arrested (in a scene actually shot in real time) and went on a five day hunger strike. Eventually the strike broke and China maintained control. But Josh recovered and, with his friends, began to run for office in a system where Beijing picks most of the potential candidates.

The film mentions the abduction of at least five booksellers in Hong Kong, thought to sell books critical of Beijing. Ai Weiwei (the subject of at least two documentaries) is mentioned. The film also shows a retrospect of Tianamen Square in Beijing in 1989.

The optics of the film are quite striking, with drone shots of the occupy camps and of the protestors among the skyscrapers with sparklers and then umbrellas.

Edward Snowden had stayed in Hong Kong about one year before these protests.

Panorama of Hong Kong (Wiki).

Name: Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower
Director, writer:  Joe Piscatella
Released: 2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix instant play
Length:  78
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Netflix
Link:  Official (needs paid subscription)

(Posted: Saturday, May 27, 2017 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“The Great War” airs on PBS American Experience in 6 hour film


PBS American Experience is airing a three-night six hour film “The Great War”, giving a chronicle of the history of World War I. It is directed by Stephen Ives, Amanda Pollak and Rob Rapley. It is produced by Mark Samuels. Oliver Platt narrates.  It should not be confused with Ken Burns’s “The War” about World War II.   Writer Alan Axelrod often speaks. The series airs April 10-12, 2017 on PBS stations.

The documentary opens with a portrayal of Woodrow Wilson, as a somewhat frail and pious man who would be devastated by the loss of his wife. But sometimes his judgment, even early, seemed dated by today’s standards, as he reimplemented segregation among federal employees.  He was the only Democrat born in a Confederate state (in Staunton, VA) and knew what it was like to “lose a war”.

In the early days of WWI, American companies made money selling ammunition and supplies to Britain.  It would gradually become more difficult for America to remain neutral.

The war quickly became horrible, with the destruction in Belgium and France, leading to civilian refugees.

Some young men in upper classes felt obligated to volunteer to fight for France, to prove they could become ballsy and prove themselves by taking risks for the causes of others.  Eventually, there were summer military camps.

The documentary covers the sinking of the Lusitania. In early 1917, more American ships were sunk, and intelligence showed possible German plots to get Mexico and Japan to go to war with the US, and a German “terrorist” tried a home invasion at the estate of J.P. Morgan.

Wilson entered the War on the basis of an ideology, to “make the world safe for democracy”.

People got their news from songs composed in a Chelsea mill of composers, whose songs giving ews from Europe got published the same day.  “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.” There was irony that classical music was based on German composers, and it gradually became shunned.

The draft would be sold as a kind of volunteerism, “Selective Service”, from which the government would cull who would actually serve.  (Technically I “volunteered” for the draft in 1968.)   The Army remained segregated by race.  Native Americans were regarded as “white”.  But the authorities feared that blacks with weapons could turn on them.

There were conscientious objectors and “slackers”.  But 680,000 men were finally drafted on the first day of official conscription in July 1917.

To sell the war, “Chief of Public Information” (propaganda) George Creel recruited the “four minute men” and “gave them the words” to sell patriotic messages at projectionist breaks in movie theaters, at circuses and other public venues.

Basic training in those days comprised 14 hour days of training.

Wilson wanted the men to fight in separate forces from the French, who were waiting for the Americans to rescue them.  The Germans transferred more men to the West after Russia pulled out, as Bolshevism and Lenin gained attention for a new socialist world order.

Alice Paul led the American “Suffragettes” and eventually Wilson agreed surreptitiously to support female suffrage.

J. Edgar Hoover led the effort to mobilize the food effort, and Americans started watching each other on the home front, over loyalty, even the informal rationing of food, and the quasi-compulsory purchase of war bonds.  Conformity was enforced by groups like “The American Protective League”.  The vigilantism sounds shocking. But it helps explain the authoritarian attitudes of the generation I grew up in.

In a major incident, an African American soldier achieved great valor sacrificing himself on the battlefield.

The earlier Espionage Act was followed by Sedition Act in 1918, which wounds today like a shocking and unbelievable encroachment of the First Amendment, as people could be jailed for the most innocuous complaints against personal hardships, let alone the draft.

The last part continued to show the enormous carnage and sacrifice of American “doughboys” who overcame the Germans in the fall of 1918.  The Germans agreed to Armistice because they feared more Americans and believed Wilson.

The film only briefly covers the catastrophic Spanish flu pandemic in 1918; but young soldiers found that their robust immune systems did them in, as their lungs filled up quickly and could die within hours.

The documentary continued to portray the aggressive attempts to find civilian “slackers” (draft dodgers). After the Armistice, conscientious objectors could be brutally treated at Leavenworth.  A labor leader, Eugene Debs, stayed in jail over sedition. The government appeared determined to punish those who had refused to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. My own view is to see sacrifice as just that, not always honorable.

Wilson (who crafted “The 14 Points”) once noted that statesmen would have to start thinking about people as people rather than as components of countries or nation-states. Yet Wilson was willing to compel a whole generation of young men to sacrifice themselves for what seemed like an ideological and abstract goal set by others, for the future.  He would not tolerate others criticizing his zeal, even after his sudden change to get into the War. Wilson’s story probably helps us understand authoritarian intolerance of free speech today.

Returning black soldiers were feared and treated badly, and Wilson would do little about it.

The best PBS link is here.

Another descriptive link is here.

(First posted on April 11 at 11 PM EDT)