3 important things to remember when talking about terrorism, guns, and free speech.

Yesterday marked the one-year anniversary of the shooting at the Charlie Hebdo office in Paris.

In 2015 two men walked into the offices of the French satirical magazine and opened fire, killing 12 people. The tragedy sparked an international period of mourning and an inundation of the slogan "Je suis Charlie" meaning "I am Charlie."


"Je suis Charlie" spray painted onto a Paris street. Photo by Joel Sagat/AFP/Getty Images.

The magazine was attacked for publishing several controversial depictions of the prophet Mohammad over the years, including one on the cover in 2011.

While it's been a year since the tragedy at Charlie Hebdo, it's only been two months since the terrorist attack that killed 130 people in the same city.

Here in America, it's been a little over three years since 27 people were killed at a school in Newtown, Connecticut, but it's only been six weeks since the Colorado Springs shooting that killed three, and less than 40 days since the shooting that killed 14 in San Bernardino, California.

The point I'm approaching here really isn't a new one. I'm not the first to point out that it often feels like we're living in a mad world where every week our phones light up with a news notification about gun violence or terrorism. They're becoming ubiquitous.

Don't worry, this isn't going to be just another, "Hey, we should do something about this" article. We should ... but there are enough of those.

Instead, let's look at how we think about these events.

Terrorism, gun violence, and the consequences of free speech aren't simple problems. We shouldn't talk about them as if they have simple solutions.

While politicians and media make it seem as though standing on one side of an issue means disparaging anyone who disagrees with you, most people fall somewhere more in the middle. And many people feel that they can't say how they feel without being attacked or having assumptions made about their character.

It happens on both sides of every issue.

President Obama addressed many of the complexities of gun violence at a town hall on Jan. 7, 2015. Photo by Aude Guerrucci-Pool/Getty Images

As we move forward, let's face the fact that simple, one-sided, un-evolved opinions don't really solve problems. We all have to apply a little more brain power to our world views and start recognizing some dualities and nuance.

It may not be easy, but here are three simple places to start:

1. You can hate terrorism without being Islamophobic.

Terrorism is undoubtedly terrifying. That's why it's called terror-ism.

And it's OK to be afraid of it. It's OK for you to want your country to do everything in its power prevent tragedies like 9/11 or San Bernardino from ever happening again. Lately though, being anti-terrorism has started to get confusing, as more and more people insist on equating terrorism with Muslims.

In America at least, a lot of people are scoring major points for simply equating the religion of Islam with terrorism. Not just presidential candidates with weird hair either.

Liberal champion Bill Maher has recently come under fire for his comments about Muslims. Saying things like,"For the last 30 years, it's been one culture that has been been blowing s--t up over and over again."

Comedian Bill Maher speaking in 2011. Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.

The fact is Islamophobia and terrorism aren't things we can properly address with talk show one-liners.

There are over 1 billion Muslims in the world. To suggest they all have a hand in terrorism is morally and mathematically ridiculous and to recommend that starving, desperate refugees be banned from the United States because of their religion is not only silly but dangerous.

Especially since (and I can't believe I have to say this) terrorism isn't inherently Muslim. If it was, you would think Indonesia — the most Muslim country in the world — would be a breeding ground for extremism. It isn't. Not to mention, studies have shown that white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists are responsible for a lot more terror in America than Islamic extremism.

Furthermore, treating Muslims as individuals who aren't terrorists by nature should not be seen as a sign of weakness or an inability to lead. It should be seen as the viewpoint of an adult who recognizes that people are individuals.

Everyone hates terrorism. It doesn't mean you have to hate 1.6 billion people.

2. You can be pro guns AND pro gun-control.

Chances are, if you're a gun owner, you already do support gun control. 85% of gun owners support universal background checks, which makes sense because responsible gun owners wouldn't be affected by them at all.

Once again, we have a problem that is complex and multifaceted but is only being publicly addressed through simplified rhetoric.

You're either "pro-guns," meaning you want guns in everyone's hands all the time every day, or you're "anti-guns," meaning you want to round up everyone's guns and throw them into a big fire along with the Constitution.

At least that's how the debate is broken down in the media. The issue of gun violence is, if you can believe it, (say it with me) not that simple.

Supporting tighter restrictions on guns doesn't mean you despise the Second Amendment, and being a gun owner doesn't mean you despise gun control. It also doesn't mean you're a redneck doomsday prepper or that you're not a responsible person.

New York Senator Charles Schumer with a delegation of gun owners who support common sense gun laws. Photo by Larry French/Getty Images for MoveOn.org

In France, where the attack on Charlie Hebdo and the attack at the Bataclan theater happened just last year, it's estimated that civilians hold 19 million guns — putting the country in fifth place globally for gun ownership. France also has restrictive gun control laws and about one-eighteenth of the gun homicides that we have in America. (Roughly 1,856 in 2012 versus America's 33,563 in the same year.)

People can own guns responsibly and accept restrictions on their ability to do so. France knows that. Essentially, the entire modern world knows that. Deep down, you probably know it too.

3. You can support free speech and also find things offensive.

The Charlie Hebdo attack was, at its core, an attack on free speech.

Whether or not the 2011 cover photo was offensive, funny, provocative, Islamophobic, satirical, or all of the above is certainly a debate worth having. In fact, it's probably the debate that the Charlie Hebdo staff was trying to have when they published it.

Instead, they were killed for it, and we never got that debate. An open door was slammed shut.

The Charlie Hebdo cover marking the first anniversary of the attack. Photo by Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images.

In America, where free speech is written into our constitution, the attack raised a lot of questions about what it means and spurned many discussions regarding what you "can" and "can't" say, do, joke about, write about, or draw a picture of. It also raised a lot of questions about what you "should" and "shouldn't" be offended by and what you "should" or "shouldn't" do if something you've done has offended someone.

The problem is, those are hard lines. As soon as you draw them, the ability to have an open discussion about the issue (aka the most important part of solving a problem) gets lost.

It's a big world out there. People are going to say things you disagree with. That's OK. You may find yourself offended by the words of another person. That's OK too.

Freedom of speech is not freedom from disagreement or consequence. That being said, we all want to live in a world where death is never one of those consequences.

In theory, freedom of speech should look like this: A person says something. Someone else says, "That offends me for the following reasons." They can then get together and discuss it. See how that works? Also, did you notice the part where no one killed anybody?

But we don't live in that America, do we? We live in the one where your ideas are right, the others are wrong, and you better set up your fortress quick because the other side is coming to tear down everything you believe in.

In politics, especially, rhetoric has become more and more extreme to the point where it actually can cost people their lives.

Take the attack at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, where three people were killed by a lone gunman who reportedly told police, "no more baby parts," after he was arrested.

Many have drawn a connection from the violence perpetrated against Planned Parenthood (and other women's health facilities) to the inflammatory rhetoric used by the anti-abortion movement, which has been adopted by many presidential candidates and politicians who want to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict abortion access.

Planned Parenthood, as well as other abortion providers, have seen a sharp increase in violence over the past year. Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images.

Vicki Cowart, president of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said in her statement following the attack: "We’ve seen an alarming increase in hateful rhetoric and smear campaigns against abortion providers and patients over the last few months. That environment breeds acts of violence."

See, it's not the ideas themselves that get people killed. It's the extremity with which they're presented and the inability or refusal to listen to or respect any other ideas.

When discourse goes away, beliefs get extreme, and when beliefs get extreme, they can become dangerous.

You can fundamentally disagree with someone without wanting to censor them. They can tell you not to be offended by it, but you can use your free speech to tell them why it's offensive. At the same time, you can also be offended by a cartoon without needing to kill the person who drew it.

These points shouldn't sound complicated. They're not.

You probably fall into one of these grey areas yourself. That's good. It's good when things aren't binary.

Progress happens when we recognize the fact that problems of this scale aren't simple and static, but they need to be changed through understanding and compromise.

From now on, instead of buying into the constant barrage of "this" versus "that" rhetoric, we should embrace the nuance. It's where the progress is hiding.

In the year since Charlie Hebdo, we've only gotten more divided.

Let's stop thinking of everything in terms of "sides." Pro-guns versus anti-guns, pro-refugees versus anti-Islam, Republican versus Democrat. Those boxes we put ourselves in aren't real. They're comfortable and they're easier, but they aren't always helpful.

Fewer people should die tragically. That's the only side worth taking, and it's the one we're all on.

That's a good place to start.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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