Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Exactly what’s killing Americans in each of the 50 states, the “most distinctive” causes?

Death Map: What’s Really Killing Americans
Heart disease and cancer are the most common killers in the United States but a new map sheds more light on exactly what’s killing Americans in each of the 50 states.

Using statistics from 2001 to 2010, the map highlights the “most distinctive” causes of death, rather than what kills the most people. A ‘distinctive’ cause of death is when the rate is higher compared to the national average.

The map is “a somewhat of a colorful and provocative way of starting some conversations and highlighting some unusual things that are going on,” study co-author Francis Boscoe told LiveScience.

The flu was the most distinctive cause of death in Maine, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming. In mining states like Kentucky, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, lung diseases caused by inhaling certain dusts were the most distinctive causes of death.

Dying in a plane or boat accident was the most distinctive cause of death in Alaska and Idaho, while sepsis was the most distinctive cause of death in New Jersey. The most distinctive cause of death in New York and Connecticut was inflammatory diseases of pelvic organs.

Possibly the most surprising statistic comes from Nevada, New Mexico and Oregon, where deaths caused by law enforcement officers — not including legal executions — were the most distinctive cause of death in those states, meaning “death by police officer” occurred in those states at a higher rate compared to the national average.

The numbers of “distinctive” deaths vary greatly. For example, 15,000 people in Florida died of HIV, the most distinctive cause of death there. Meanwhile, there were 22 deaths from syphilis, the most distinctive cause of death in Louisiana.

The source of the map is here.

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Friday, May 08, 2015

Elon Musk makes the Future Happen

Has the future finally arrived? I hope so:

Tesla's Elon Musk Unveils Solar Batteries for Homes and Small Businesses
The system could easily take a home off the power grid, especially with the use of many solar panels, Musk said
From a man who made his name and charted his career with lofty goals and often unexpected financial decisions, the news came with little surprise: Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors Inc., unveiled a product line of electric batteries late last night in Los Angeles.

Musk introduced the Tesla Powerwall, a wall-mounted lithium-ion electric battery for homes and small businesses, and the Tesla Powerpack, a heftier version of the same core product designed for utility-scale use.

He also announced a new wing of the company, Tesla Energy, which will begin shipping the Powerwall systems to domestic customers in three to four months. Deliveries will trickle out slowly, he said, then accelerate next year when the company begins shipping orders out from its so-called Gigafactory in Nevada.

Yet Musk spoke first about rising emissions and climate change solutions, not cars. He used a slide show of power plants and smoggy skies to introduce the problems. “It sucks, exactly,” he said. “I think we, collectively, should do something about this,” he added, “for us and a lot of other creatures.”

The Powerwall battery charging system, which can be stacked up to nine batteries high and mounted on an inner garage wall or outside, costs $3,000 for a 7-kilowatt-hour system and $3,500 for the 10 kWh option. The entire Powerwall system is roughly 3 feet wide and 4 feet long, and would stick out about 7 inches once mounted. It could easily take a home off the power grid, especially with the use of many solar panels, Musk said.

“Tesla is not just an automotive company, it's an energy innovation company,” the firm said in a statement. “Tesla Energy is a critical step in this mission to enable zero emission power generation.”

The utility version comes in 100 kWh blocks that can be grouped together. Musk said one utility company is already interested in a 250-gigawatt installation of Powerpack systems alone.

Shifting cities to 'stored sunlight'
“This entire night has been powered by batteries,” he told the audience in the warehouse in Hawthorne, Calif., pointing to gray, blocky Powerpack systems standing on end and powering the facility. “Everything you're experiencing is stored sunlight.”

Musk's solution is as audacious as it is simple. By harnessing energy from the sun—“this handy fusion reactor in the sky,” he called it last night—getting enough renewable energy on the power grid and smoothing out energy generation and use between peak and off-peak hours, the nation and planet can shift away from fossil fuels' dominance as a power source, he told the crowd.

The new batteries, he said, will help speed that transition worldwide. “These is going to be a great solution for people in remote parts of the world,” he said, noting that it allows homeowners to leave the power grid and ditch electric cables.

“It can scale globally,” he added, likening the battery systems' potential in emerging economies to mobile phones that penetrated markets faster than old technology and leapfrogged landline sales.

Tesla, the first American car company to go public since Ford Motor Co., has been a darling stock to many in recent years, climbing from trading in the $30 range in 2012 to above $200 a share for most of the past year.

In a research note about yesterday's announcement from Deutsche Bank AG, which was reported by Bloomberg, the authors struck a bullish tone, writing: “Based on the preliminary work on the economics of stationary storage, we believe that this has the potential to be more significant” than Wall Street analysts expect. The battery system, they wrote, could add up to $100 a share.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said Tesla's new battery division could be even more successful than its car business. [...]
The German bankers recognize the potential. This is really exciting. I had posted previously about this new type of power grid that such batteries would create. Now it's actually starting to happen.


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I agree with President Obama...

...about this Nike thing:

As Obama Visits Portland, Trade Deal Divides Liberal Community
As President Barack Obama visited Nike's headquarters in Portland — a city known for lush greenery, constant drizzle and liberal politics — the left-leaning enclave has become ground zero Friday for the debate over the administration's push for a sweeping, multinational trade deal.

The president acknowledged that he's faced hurdles in his quest to garner support for an ambitious trade accord between the United States and 11 South American and Pacific Rim nations, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He told workers at the Nike campus that the people opposing this "typically they're my friends and coming from my own party. On this one, they're like, whooping on me."

Obama insisted the trade push is not political for him, since he's run his last election. He said the trade accord is the right thing to do for working families.

"The only reason I do something is because I think it's good for the economy," Obama said.

Still, in Portland, with its normally laid back vibe, the debate over the trade issue is splitting residents into two camps.

On the one side are companies like Nike, one of the city's largest employers. The company employs 8,500 people in Oregon and 26,000 nationwide. Nike says its economic impact on the state of Oregon is $2.5 billion.

And the company promises to add 10,000 jobs and an additional 40,000 indirect and supply chain service jobs if the trade deal is approved.

"We believe agreements that encourage free and fair trade allow Nike to do what we do best: innovate, expand our businesses and drive economic growth," said Mark Parker, Nike's president and CEO.

On the other side are labor unions that argue that the trade accord would repress worker wages and encourage companies — like Nike — to outsource jobs.

Those differences were on display Friday morning as Nike workers, most wearing Nike shoes, lined up to cheer the president. Meanwhile, about a hundred protesters crowded outside and chanted their outrage.

"Nike represents everything about corporate America that stinks," said Andrew Crosby, as he carried a protest sign.

The pact has even split Oregon's senators, both Democrats.

Sen. Ron Wyden is helping lead the charge to pass "fast-track" authority which would grant Obama and future presidents the right to ask for an up-or-down vote in Congress on trade agreements. Obama and supporters say the president needs this authority to better negotiate with other nations.

Opponents worry that such large trade deals deserve vetting by Congress. Sen. Jeff Merkley has said he is "dubious" about the impact of such broad trade accords. [...]
Wyden is a reasonable Democrat. Merkley is a Moron. Oregon desperately needs the jobs and revenue. The unions here are too powerful, and dragging our state down. I have to agree with president Obama on this one.

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Friday, May 01, 2015

Underwater volcano active off Oregon coast

A volcano may be erupting off the Oregon coast, scientists say

Three hundred miles off the Pacific Northwest coast, the seafloor has been rumbling.

Over the past five months, there were hundreds of small earthquakes on most days at Axial Seamount.

Then on April 24, there was a spike: nearly 8,000 earthquakes. The seafloor level dropped more than two meters. Temperatures rose.

Scientists believe an underwater volcano is erupting.

An eruption is not a threat to coastal residents, researchers say, because the earthquakes are small, mostly magnitude 1 or 2, and the seafloor movements are relatively gradual, so they won't cause a tsunami.

The volcanic activity has no relationship to the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which scientists watch closely for signs of a much larger and more destructive earthquake.

To Bill Chadwick, an Oregon State University geologist, the eruption at Axial Seamount was not a surprise.

He had predicted it would happen this year. He predicted the previous eruption, in 2011, too.

Chadwick hopes the lessons he and his collaborator, Scott Nooner at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, learn from Axial Seamount can eventually be applied to volcanoes on land.

Land volcanoes have thicker crusts and are influenced by large earthquakes and other nearby volcanoes, among other things, so predictions are more difficult, Chadwick said.

"Axial Seamount is a pure example, if you will," he said. "It has relatively simple plumbing."

Chadwick and other scientists watch the signals at Axial Seamount in real-time via a cable laid out on the seafloor. The cable is part of the Ocean Observatories Initiative funded by the National Science Foundation. [...]
I doubt that it has nothing to do with the Cascadia Subduction Zone, since it is practically right on top of it. I presume they mean to say, that the volcano isn't signaling an imminent earthquake. As far as they can tell.

Read the whole thing for embedded links, photos and more.


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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

"The Clintons are counting on America to digest their ethical lapses the way a python swallows a goat" Will we?

Hillary’s Cynical Song of Self
Recently I wrote a column about Hillary Clinton’s method of lying: bald deceit sold to liberals with a wink-and-nod as the price of advancing a progressive agenda in this bigoted country of ours. Several readers wrote me to object that the mendacity I ascribed to Mrs. Clinton applied equally to Republicans.

Maybe. But what was striking about these critics is that none of them bothered to rebut the point that Mrs. Clinton is a habitual liar who treats truthfulness in politics the way a calorie-counting diner might treat hollandaise sauce on steak: to be kept strictly on the side or dribbled on in measured doses. Her lying has become as much a given in the liberal mind as Bill Clinton’s womanizing: He does his thing, she does hers.

Get over it.

All of which means that Mrs. Clinton’s presidential bid is an exercise in—and a referendum on—cynicism, partly hers but mainly ours. Democrats who nominate Mrs. Clinton will transform their party into the party of cynics; an America that elects Mrs. Clinton as its president will do so as a nation of cynics. Is that how we see, or what we want for, ourselves?

This is what the 2016 election is about. You know already that if Mrs. Clinton runs for president as an Elizabeth Warren-style populist she won’t mean a word of it, any more than she would mean it if she ran as a ’90s-style New Democrat or a ’70s-style social reformer. The real Hillary, we are asked to believe, is large and contains multitudes.

In other words, she’s singing a Song of Herself. She will say, do, and be pretty much anything to get elected. And the rest of us are supposed to fall in line because we prefer our politics to be transactional not principled, our politicians to be opportunists not idealists, and our national creed to be “do what you gotta do” not “upon this rock.” This is what might be called the Clinton Bargain: You can always count on their self-interest trumping other considerations, so you never have to fear that they can’t be bought.

The only question is who is doing the buying.

In recent days we’ve begun to learn some of their names: [...]

Hillary doesn't have to appear perfect to win; she only has to appear to be less-bad than any Republican candidate she runs against. And with the media on her side, she just might pull it off.

The article goes on to postulate the reasons why. And one or two why-nots. The author thinks Hillary can be beat. Ida know. I won't hold my breath. Read the whole thing, and see what you think.

Also see: Clinton's email spin-control, and the questions that nobody is asking

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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Bird-flu in the USA

U.S. Bird Flu Outbreak Hits Millions of Iowa Egg-Laying Hens
Many of the 3.8 million egg-laying hens in an Iowa flock probably have bird flu as the biggest single outbreak of the virus reported in the U.S. added to concerns that turkey and egg supplies will be hampered by the disease.

“Despite best efforts, we now confirm many of our birds are testing positive” for avian influenza, closely held Sonstegard Foods Co. said in a statement dated April 20. The company said its Sunrise Farms unit close to Harris, Iowa, in Osceola County has 3.8 million hens.

The U.S. in February 1 had 362.1 million egg-laying hens, and Iowa with about 59.6 million is the state with the most, the latest government data on March 23 showed. Commercial turkey flocks with more than 2 million birds in eight states have been reported with the virus by the U.S. Department of Agriculture
“A lot of poultry meat and eggs won’t make it to market,” John Glisson, a vice president of research at the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association, said during a panel discussion Tuesday at a National Chicken Council conference in Cambridge, Maryland. The U.S. and Canada are “implementing plans that have been set up for years” to fight disease, he said.

Hormel Foods Corp., the owner of Jennie-O turkeys, said Monday that annual profit may be eroded because the virus is hampering production. The company’s shares headed for the biggest decline in six weeks.


Before Monday, avian flu was found primarily in commercial turkey flocks, particularly in Minnesota, the largest U.S. producer.
The virus was first confirmed in a commercial turkey flock in the central U.S. last month after an outbreak began in wild birds and backyard flocks in the western U.S. in late 2014.

The disease has been found in some states that fall along a Mississippi River migratory route for waterfowl. China has halted all U.S. poultry imports since January, and other nations have imposed bans. Birds in flocks detected with the virus don’t enter the food system, according to the USDA.

“It’s not a food safety issue, it’s not a human-health concern, but we certainly are worried for this particular flock owner” in Iowa, Randy Olson, the executive director of the state’s egg council and poultry association, said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “We’re worried about the spread of this disease, and we’re encouraging all flock owners whether they have hundreds of birds or just a few in their backyards to practice very strict biosecurity." [...]

Here is some info about backyard chicken biosecurity:

Avian influenza basics for urban and backyard poultry owners
[...] Biosecurity steps to protect your flock

In order to help flock owners to keep their birds healthy by preventing disease, biosecurity is a must! Introductions of HPAI come from waterfowl (ducks and geese) and gulls that come to Minnesota. Once poultry are infected, they can spread the disease to new flocks. Now is a great time to review your biosecurity. The USDA provides the following tips on preventing AI in your poultry:

Keep your distance (separating your poultry from disease introduction). Some examples are:

Restrict access from wildlife and wild birds to your birds by use of enclosed shelter and fencing of the outdoor areas. Use of smaller mesh hardware cloth which allows exclusion of wild birds while still allowing outdoor exposure.
Caretakers should not have contact with other poultry or birds prior to contact with their own birds. Restrict access to your poultry if your visitors have birds of their own.
Keep different species of poultry and age groups separated due to differences in susceptibility.
Look at your own setting, what can you do to prevent your birds from contact with other birds that could introduce HPAI?

Keep it clean (cleaning and disinfecting). Some examples are:

Keep feeders and waterers clean and out of reach of wild birds. Clean up feed spills.
Change feeding practices if wild birds continue to be present.
Use dedicated or clean clothing and foot wear when working with poultry
Clean and then disinfect equipment that comes in contact with your birds such as shovels and rakes.
Conduct frequent cleaning and disinfecting of housing areas and equipment to limit contact of birds with their waste.
Evaluate your practices. Is it clean or is there room for improvement?

Don't haul disease home. Some examples are:

Introduction of new birds or returning birds to the flock after exhibition. Keep them separated for at least 30 days.
Returning dirty crates or other equipment back to the property without cleaning and disinfecting. This includes the tires on the vehicles and trailers.
Take a look and be critical. Is that site where you have set up a quarantine really separated well enough to keep your flock safe? Where do you clean crates? Can the runoff get to your birds?

Don't borrow disease from your neighbors

Don't share equipment or reuse materials like egg cartons from neighbors and bird owners, you could be borrowing disease.
Do you have what you need to separate yourself from your friends and neighbors? Now is the time to get the equipment and supplies you need to make that possible. [...]
Basically, no free range chickens. And what is a back-yard chicken, if not free-range?

More Bird-Flu headlines HERE.

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Sunday, April 19, 2015

Do we live in the "Post-Truth Era?"

It's a good question. The first article explains why the shooting of Walter Scott was a crime, and the wealth of evidence that supports that assertion:

The North Charleston shooting is not another Ferguson
[...] When I was a cop in Baltimore and I heard of some situation that got ugly, my first reaction was usually, "Thank God I wasn't there." Because nobody knows how they'll react. For that reason, most police officers are quite reluctant to criticize others forced to make split-second life-and-death decisions. Yet every police officer I've spoken to says that Scott's death was horrible and that Slager committed a crime.

In 1985, the Supreme Court ruled that police may not shoot at unarmed fleeing suspects, even felons. In line with that decision, shooting without an immediate threat is against the law in every state, and it's against department policy in every jurisdiction. It's also a violation of the most basic human right: life. Any innocent death is a tragedy, but it's worse at the hands of police. It's not too much to ask our civil servants not to murder us.

During his attempt to catch Scott, Slager fired his Taser. When that failed, Slager could have chased Scott or let him run away. But instead, Slager drew his gun and shot. This is why cops see this case so differently: The criminal was the police officer. And Slager was arrested and charged with murder. That is the way the criminal justice system is supposed to work. [...]
The article explains in detail the differences in this case, to many of the others that have been in the headlines in recent months. Of course every case has it's own facts, which is why it's so important to acknowledge them.

Contrast the above case with this next one, about a decorated an honored Boston cop shot in the face by a career felon. The felon was then killed in a shootout with other police officers. So who was the victim? You decide:

A Boston Cop Shooting and Our Post-Truth Era
[...] According to several Boston cops at the crime scene, people began calling them pigs, shouting “Ferguson…Ferguson” and “hands up…don’t shoot.” This despite the fact—the fact!—that an outside camera from a store next to where the shootout occurred captured the image of West emerging from the driver’s side of his car to instantly shoot Moynihan, who had not even drawn his weapon.

“This is where we are now,” one of the cops said. “Everyone has their own reality. Their own facts. The truth of the situation doesn’t matter. People want to believe what they think happened. Not what really happened. That’s the recent history of almost every encounter we have lately on the street.”

Sadly, it seems as if there is no longer any real history. Just momentary reactions to events that disappear like sky-writing with items like Twitter, texts, Meerkat, Snapchat, and Instagram. And in this, our snap-of-a-finger, Chernobyl-like culture, with almost daily explosions occurring only to be eclipsed in a single news cycle, email and Facebook can resemble the National Archives.

A majority of Americans are more aware of what happened in Ferguson last summer than with what occurred on a city street in Boston on Friday night or on too many streets and neighborhoods nearly every day. Know more about the life of Robert Durst than that of a parent who is afraid to let a child play outdoors in places where guns are more accessible than text books.

We have more tools at hand, literally, to make life easier and more productive than ever. We have Google, Wikipedia, iPads, iPhones, iTunes, YouTube, Netflix, and 600 cable channels. We can shop, pay bills, order food, and get nearly everything delivered, all of it with the touch of a finger on a device in the palm of our hand.

Yet we have a criminal justice system that seems unable to deal with proven violent career criminals like Angelo West who threaten lives every day. Our jails are crowded with those doing extended time for possession of drugs while those arrested multiple times for possession of handguns are often free to walk streets like time bombs eager to explode.

We are at the point where the immediacy of the moment crowds out any thought of reflection. Everyone has a smart phone and everything is recorded. One event spills into another. Conclusions come quickly at the near total expense of consideration of what just actually happened. Reality is self defined as the mob, any mob, writes its own history, never to be contradicted by the quiet statement of truth. [...]
The facts DO matter. Instant gratification of social media be damned.

There has always been people who jump to conclusions and make shallow assessments without looking more deeply. That's nothing new. What is new is that such people have access to social media, where they can instantly amplify their misguided opinions to the world. Ironically, that same technology can also make the facts of the situation be known more quickly, for anyone who cares to bother about the facts. In our technological world of instant gratification, people are often too willing to be lazy and treat their opinions like facts. People who don't care about the facts muddy the water for everyone, and do more harm than good.

These are just excerpts, please follow the links and read the full articles for the details, the complete picture.

I'm sick of hearing people talk about their unsubstantiated opinions as if they were facts. Our Brave New World is going to have to do better than that. For all of our sakes.


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Thursday, April 02, 2015

Bee Keeping; not something to rush into

I know someone who said they could get honey bees for us. But I have to decide by tomorrow, and then the bees arrive 10 days later. So I had a quick look on-line, to see what we would be letting ourselves in for:

Bee in the know
With experts’ tips, it’s the right time to get ready to house your own hive
Longtime beekeeper Ken Ograin wasn’t always an expert on the subject.

When he first started the backyard hobby nearly two decades ago, Ograin’s hive died. The same thing happened the next year. And the one after that.

That changed when Ograin shifted away from relying primarily on books to learn about beekeeping and instead found a local source for education and mentoring.

Finding a mentor and continuing to learn as you go are two of the biggest keys to success for someone who wants to raise a thriving bee colony, says Ograin, who is a longtime member of the Lane County Beekeepers Association.

“They need to find a mentor,” Ograin advises. “Preferably somebody that’s a backyard beekeeper.”

It’s almost bee season, when packages of bees are available for those setting up or adding hives. With it comes a flurry of education opportunities to help novice and still-learning beekeepers.

“I’ve been doing it 19 years, and I learn new things all the time,” Ograin says. [...]
The rest of the article reveals more details. Clearly not something to rush into, uninformed. Even my friend who offered to pick up the bees for us, suggested we might benefit by planning for it for a year ahead, so we know what to do when the time comes. I think it could be enjoyable, if you are ready for it. It might be better to complete BeeKeeping 101 first.

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"The Alchemist" and "The Pilgrimage"; are they books for self-abosorbed Yuppies?

I recently read those two books, then came across this article in the New Yorker, about the author, Paulo Coelho. It's long, but an interesting read. There was one part, quoting one of his literary critics from his native Brazil, that I've excerpted below:

The Magus
The astonishing appeal of Paulo Coelho
[...] Mário Maestri, a history professor at the University of Passo Fundo and one of the few Brazilian critics who does not reflexively dismiss Coelho, has written, “In spite of belonging to different genres, Coelho’s narratives and self-help books have the same fundamental effect: of anesthetizing the alienated consciousness through the consoling reaffirmation of conventions and prevailing prejudices. Fascinated by his discoveries, the Coelhist reader explores the familiar, breaks down doors already open, and gets mired in sentimental, tranquilizing, self-centered, conformist, and spellbinding visions of the world that imprisons him. When he finishes a book, he wants another one that will be different but absolutely the same.” Maestri calls the work “yuppie esoteric narrative.” As if to prove the point, this winter Starbucks distributed five million Venti cups printed with a Coelho quote: “Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life. There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. Never forget your Personal Legend. Never forget your dreams. . . .” [...]
Ouch! Sharp criticism, yet one could argue that "He makes that sound like a bad thing". I think much of what Mário said is true. Yet the very things he cites have also made Coelho a best-selling author, winning the Guinness World Record for most translated book by a living author. Yuppies buy books, so Coelho can laugh all the way to the bank.

Despite his popularity with the demos (or, because of it?), he's a controversial and eccentric figure. I found the interview interesting. He claims, among other things, that his book "The Pilgrimage" is responsible for the revival of interest in the 500-plus mile Road of Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, a journey he himself has made. And looking at the statistics for travelers, what he says may well be true.

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Both conservatives and liberals aren’t being straight about the Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Everybody's Lost Their Goddamn Mind Over Religious Freedom
You want to know the weirdest thing about the fight over Indiana’s state-level version of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)? It’s totally at odds with the origins of that first federal law.

Indiana’s law is being championed by religious conservatives and opposed by secular liberals. In an intense press conference on Tuesday, embattled Republican Governor Mike Pence declared, “I believe religious liberty is our first freedom.” But the original RFRA was signed into law by Democrat Bill Clinton in 1993 after the state of Oregon refused to pay unemployment insurance to a couple of Native Americans who got canned as drug-rehab counselors for using peyote in religious ceremonies. RFRA was passed to remedy such an obvious injustice and its main sponsor in the House was liberal congressman Charles Schumer, who’s expected to become the next Senate Minority Leader and is most famous for trying to ban every goddamned good-time substance known to mankind, from Four Loko to powdered caffeine to “delicious-looking detergent.”

Weirder still: Arch-conservative Jesse Helms, a hardcore Christian who was an unapologetic homophobe, was one of just three senators who voted against the law. Writing for the majority in Employment Division v. Smith, the drug warrior Antonin Scalia thundered that letting religion provide a loophole in such an instance “would open the prospect of constitutionally required exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind.”


From a libertarian perspective, there’s an easy enough way to resolve the current conflict between demands for religious freedom and equality. It doesn’t fully satisfy either side but it has the virtue of preserving a pluralistic society and minimizing intervention into everyday life.

The starting point should be to focus on discrimination by the government, which was the impetus behind the original federal RFRA—Oregon refused to pay out unemployment based on religiously based drug use. Conservatives typically say they believe in limited government and individual rights and that the government shouldn’t play favorites or accord certain people or classes of people special treatment (this is their argument against affirmative action). If they mean what they say in other contexts, conservatives should be in the forefront of pushing for marriage equality, as the state has no case for treating individuals differently under the law.

For their part, liberals should recognize the limits to and wisdom of injecting state power into every possible relationship in the country. As wrong and stupid as I think it is for a particular individual or business to discriminate against a customer or neighbor based on sexual orientation (or race, gender, and class for that matter), that should be the business’s decision, especially if the business is only one service provider among many.

Nobody should be forced to do something they don’t want to do, whether it’s bake cakes for gay weddings or decorate cakes with anti-gay slurs. To me, whether a person’s or a business’s decision is based in religion is immaterial.

Whatever you may think of Jack Phillips’s refusal to bake a wedding cake for gay customers, there’s something as or more disturbing about the court ruling against the owner of Lakewood, Colorado’s Masterpiece Cakeshop. Not only was the baker forced to change his store policy, he and his staff were required to attend sensitivity training. That sounds like something out of China during the Cultural Revolution. It doesn’t help that Phillips offered to make the original complainants any sort of item but a wedding cake.

Most Americans don’t agree with Phillips’s beliefs in this case, but such disagreements are one of the prices we pay for living in a free society, in which we seriously recognize and respect that different people have different value systems. It’s worth noting that in the segregated South, very different rules applied. It was common, for instance, that local and state governments and laws actively prevented businesses from treating customers equally. When laws were not openly racist, “citizen’s councils” and terror groups such as the Ku Klux Klan enforced a de facto standard against businesses that treated all customers equally. This is not the case today with regards to gays and lesbians.

By the same token, any individuals or businesses that exclude certain sorts of business can’t exactly bitch and moan when people decide to publicize such policies and organize boycotts, as is happening to the entire state of Indiana now.

Supporters of state-level RFRAs should own the fact that, as Apple’s Cook says, such laws absolutely do allow discrimination (more precisely, they allow defendants to use religious beliefs as a defense in certain court proceedings). Indiana Governor Mike Pence now says he hopes to fix the law with more legislation. “The issue here is still is tolerance a two-way street,” he told ABC News over the weekend. Of course it is, and the same right that allows a business to opt out of serving some customers also allows others to respond by taking their business elsewhere. Last year, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer vetoed a RFRA-style bill precisely because of possible economic fallout. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links and more. I think the ideas presented in this article make a lot of sense, but I doubt many supporters on either side of the conflict will embrace them. And the history of this law... so much irony!


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