Crosshairs and Targets: Innocent Symbols or Incendiary Iconography? [Updated]

A map that placed crosshairs over Gabrielle Giffords's Congressional district raises issues about inflammatory political rhetoric.

On Saturday morning, Arizona Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot along with at least a dozen other people, six of whom were killed, during a neighborhood meet-and-greet at a Tucson supermarket, according to various still-developing reports. The suspect, 22-year-old Jared Lee Loughner, is in custody and while Loughner's YouTube videos are disturbing, his motive is not yet known. Nonetheless, political pundits are using the opportunity to call attention to this map created by Sarah Palin's political action committee called Take Back the 20.

When the site was launched to fight the health-care reform bill, Palin suffered criticism for choosing to use crosshairs to pinpoint the 20 districts she hoped would be won back by Republicans in the midterm elections. Giffords was one of the representatives running for re-election who was marked by Palin's map crosshairs, and Palin endorsed her challenger, Jesse Kelly. According to an interview on MSNBC, Giffords herself had expressed concern about the map and what she perceived to be a reference to violence.

Palin's map doesn't seem to be the only example of inferred gun violence directed at Giffords. A Daily Kos commenter reports another disturbing set of images from the campaign of Giffords's opponent in the last Congressional race. A rally for Kelly featured an event where supporters could shoot M16s with the candidate at a rifle range. It includes the words "get on target" and the unfortunate message "help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office."

Giffords had also been the victim of vandalism due to her support of health-care reform. According to The New York Times, the windows of Giffords's Tucson office were either broken or shot out immediately after the bill passed in the House.

Rebecca Mansour, who works on Palin's PAC team, appeared on a radio talk show Saturday and told the story behind the map's design. She said the graphic was contracted out to a "political graphics professional" and called the crosshairs a surveyor's symbol. "We never, ever, ever intended it to be gun sights," she said.

The crosshair, or reticle, is used in any telescopic device, from a microscope to a camera. In mapping iconography it can signify the view seen through surveyors' equipment. It is found in astronomy, and in interface design, like in graphics software like Photoshop and on older versions of the iPhone Google Maps application.

According to this diagram of reticles in a Wikipedia article, some of the same crosshair designs can be used for both surveying equipment and rifles, since they're both concerned with measuring distance, or rangefinding.

As a counterpoint to the debate, some bloggers are pointing to a map found on the Democrat Leadership Committee's site that used targets to signify states which Democrats should focus on winning after the 2004 election.

Targets and crosshairs are no strangers to political debate. Over at The Daily Beast, Howard Kurtz has posted a thoughtful piece noting that even if Palin saw her symbols as bullseyes, as she called them in a now-famous Tweet, military terminology and symbols like "targets" and "battlegrounds" have always been used in political campaigns. But should it be the norm? At The New York Times, Matt Bai explores that topic further, and what he thinks is increasingly-careless language and symbolism that surrounds political discourse.

With the heightened debate about the map came a call for both sides to curb inflammatory rhetoric, as noted by Slate's Jack Shafer. At a press conference on Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik specifically mentioned "the anger, the hatred" that pervades American politics: "When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government." Dupnik, who famously refused to enforce Arizona's immigration law, said that Arizona had "become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry."

And there may be some real legal repercussions for designers who create this imagery in the future. According to a post at The New York Times's The Caucus blog, Pennsylvania Representative Bob Brady said he wants to introduce a bill that would ban incendiary symbols like crosshairs from campaign graphics. "This is a major alarm going off," he said. "We need to tone down this rhetoric."

A popular Tweet from Brian Frank that was posted Sunday added some perspective: "I want to reiterate this: if politicians deny their negative rhetoric can cause harm, what are we to think of their positive rhetoric?"

This article was updated on Sunday, January 9 to incorporate developing news.


Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

RELATED: The World Health Organization declares war on the out of control price of insulin

Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

RELATED: Alarmingly high insulin prices are forcing Americans to flock to Canada to buy the drug

The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.