People You Prefer

It’s amazing how infrequently the news cites or links to original source material. The hardest part of posting today was finding the dang statutory language.

In relevant part the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) stipulates that

a governmental entity may not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion . . .[unless it] (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

Guess what? This is literally already the law.

Indiana didn’t make these words up. And they aren’t words without meaning. “Substantially burden” and “compelling governmental interest” and “least restrictive means” are legal terms of art.

It’s called strict scrutiny. Strict scrutiny is the test courts must apply to any governmental action (law) that attempts to regulate the free exercise of religion. It’s literally already what is required by the United States Supreme Court. See Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972); Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520, 546 (1993).

That’s why the federal RFRA analog to the Indiana bill has been deemed constitutional. It’s just not applicable to the states and that is why twenty some states have passed their own version, including Indiana.

But, in the wake of protest over it, the Indiana legislature has agreed to compromise language, which specifies that the new religious freedom law cannot be used as a legal defense to discriminate against patrons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Well what about race or national origin? Or pregnancy or sex? Can Indiana’s RFRA justify disparate treatment on account of those characteristics? Well those immutable qualities are already protected from discrimination either by constitutional interpretation or specific federal statute. It’s not necessary to accuse Indiana’s RFRA of enabling discrimination on those grounds because it is understood already that it can’t. But, no such comparable protection yet exists for sexual orientation and gender identity, thus the necessary specificity.

So, here’s the amazing result. The public pressure on Indiana’s RFRA has transformed a law that was simply an echo of the legal status quo into literally an affirmative protection for sexual orientation and gender identity that did not previously exist (at least expressly).

I think in wrestling that’s called a reversal. And pin.

Regardless of the legal merits and effects, the cultural ones continue to be sort of ridiculous. On both sides. The controversy over RFRA sure involves a whole lot of can’t. You can’t eat here. You can’t tell me I can’t eat here.

I know there is some mutually-exclusiveness between the positions, but I sure would just prefer that both can. The religiously orthodox or shortsighted bigots can exercise discretion over their business interests and the LGBTQIA community can take their business and prodigious wealth just about anywhere else. I don’t believe this is going to result in significant exclusion.

When the equal access battle was fought for racial minorities in this country 50 years ago, there was no cultural capital on that side. To have waited on a cultural tide or the greed of capitalism to erode the segregation wall would have been a long, tortured wait.

It’s not the same cultural or economic ecosystem that the LGBTQIA community faces. First, our economy is so pluralistic, for every one fundamentalist burrito spot that denies you, there is an organic burrito, gay burrito, sports burrito, actually mexican burrito, or anti-burrito burrito restaurant to direct your appetite and dollars. Second, the momentum is now all on the LGBTQIA community’s side. The people who would deny service on these grounds are officially outliers. That’s not a value judgment; it’s just true. As a business person you’re somewhere along the following spectrum: (1) wildly, enthusiastically Andy Dick pro-gay; (2) gay friendly; (3) neutral; (4) personally uncomfortable but professionally ambivalent; (5) personally and professionally intrepid; or (6) passionately, comfortably Chik-Fil-A against-gay. (That’s not fully fair to CFA; I don’t even know a public enough name for this camp; which is the whole point.) I just don’t think the number and quality of the businesses desiring to publicly be (6) can be that significant. It’s just generally not very cool anymore or good for business. That’s not to say there isn’t financial opportunity in bigotry; there is. There’s just a whole lot more in non-bigotry.

And, speaking of the hipness of the relative positions, it has officially flipped. It wasn’t sexy to be an abolitionist or a non-segregationist. It definitely wasn’t cool to stand beside AIDS victims in the Eighties. But, as soon as it’s cool to be for a particular civil right, you’re on the wrong side of the issue. That’s the whole point. The community being denied the right is, by definition, marginalized not popularized. If you actually gain cultural cache among the masses by being so outspoken on a topic, you’re not a hero or martyr; you’re bandwagon. So no one should be patting themselves on the back for the most obvious possible observation that deep proponents of the RFRA are probably and mostly bigots on this topic. But, if you really count yourself a civil libertarian, the fight is now officially on the other side. People are entitled to be wrong. And, live wrong lives in furtherance. Let’s please not forget that.

I wanted to rank my favorite Easter candy just because I like ranking things. Growing up, I spent most of my Easter mornings trying to brandish various candies to my father but blinded by the Damascus Road movie camera flash. It looks like interrogation footage. Seriously.

5. Jelly beans. And, not just Jelly Belly snobbery.
4. Giant bunnies. Anything oversized at seven years old gets top 5 billing.
3. Whoppers Robin Eggs. Because someone still has to stand up for malt.
2. Mini Cadbury Cream Eggs. Am I the only one who gags trying to eat the original?


1. Grayson Allen. A delicious Easter candy too??! What can’t this kid do?

What are the chances that the vintage Paas image I chose for today would advertise “Gay Calicos”? 98. 100%?? Seriously. Total happenstance.


Written and performed by sintax.the.terrific. Music produced by Dalama Jones.

Today’s blong here:



Light Speed

Charles Hard Townes died, Thursday, at 99 years of age.

charles townes 2

You know the light saber? The “Luke, I am your father” light saber?

Only the most transcendent, gnarly piece of weaponized technology in the galaxy, light saber?

The “zzzuun zzzeen” light saber?

Our only hope?

Yeah. That one.

Townes invented it.

You know laser tag? Only the most futuristic, radical development in the history of photon war toys? The Red Ryder BB Gun of every boy’s ’80s Christmases? Yeah, that laser tag. Invented it.

You know laser pointers. The feline waterboard equivalent? Invented it.

You know laser eye surgery? The of-biblical-proportions, miracle surgery that gives sight to the blind? Like Jesus? Invented it.

Laser cutting, laser welding, laser engraving, laser mice, laser drilling, laser marking, laser peening (uh . . . yeah, that laser peening), optical tweezers, barcode readers, spectroscopy, raves, the laser discs, the band Electric Light Orchestra, and, yeah, you heard me, laser harps aka the infinite beam.

laser harp

Invented, invented, aaaaaaaaand invented.

Maybe not directly all of the above, but the man invented the dang laser. Did I also mention he went to my alma mater, Furman University, here in Greenville, SC? And, the namesake of my kids’ primary school? (Other Furman related song content here.)

fu me and j

Oh I hadn’t? Sorry. Yeah so, as it turns out, I went to the same school as the guy who invented the, um wait, what was it? . . . pet rock? electric toothbrush? Sham Wow? ohhhhhhhhhhhh that’s right THE LASER.

Some guy from Greenville, South Carolina doesn’t just bother to invent the laser one day. I mean Einstein. Or Blade Runner. Cobra Commander. Almost anyone but a Greenville boy. It’s like saying, “Oh yeah, Kenny, from second grade invented crude oil.”

You should discover or harness or wield a laser. You don’t invent it. A laser has to spring forth from the clandestine experiments of a mad scientist or a murderous villain in pursuit of world domination.

cobra commander

I mean forget the practical implications, like the aforementioned laser mice. No Star Trek??

And, Dr. Who? Forget it. No that-guy-from-X-men-that-shoots-lasers-out-his-eyes.

Did I mention he first invented the maser? A concentration of the microwave? What in the world is a maser? It sounds like something you say when you’re trying to one-up a friend.

Friend: “Hey I invented the rubber band loom!”

One-upper you: “Oh yeah? Well I invented the, um, the, uh . . . maser! That’s right. You know Maser Tag? Well. That’s me.”

But, here’s the weird part. You miss Townes if you focus on the laser (see what I did there?) or the maser or their numerous useful progeny. Remarkably, Townes real contribution was even greater than the now literally ubiquitous laser (and the not nearly as ubiquitous shameful maser).

He is the winner of both the Nobel Prize for Physics and the prestigious Templeton Award for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. The list of people who have received both?

The 14th Dalai Lama.

Mother Theresa of Calcutta

And Charles Hard Townes.

That’s the list. (Actually may be one or two more but who would want to confuse a good story?) I’ve seen longer lists of people who can recite pi to 50 decimals.

Townes’ real legacy is one of rigorous intellectualism in science and faith. A witness to both. An apostle of academics and a doctor of doctrine. His theology would offend some. And, so would his science. Which probably made him just about on the nose.

“Science and religion are both universal, and basically very similar,” he wrote. “The essential role of faith in religion is so well known that taking things on faith rather than proving them is usually taken as characteristic of religion, and as distinguishing religion from science. . . . It is just this faith in an orderly universe, understandable to man, which allowed the basic change from an age of superstition to an age of science.”

It’s interesting that the God of the Bible is depicted as light.

The light of the world.

A light unto our path.

Lamp unto our feet.

A Flaming Sword

A Burning Bush.

A Pillar of Fire

Tongues of Fire

A Fiery Furnace

The Transfiguration

Paul to Damascus.

A Chariot of Fire.

But, it is not said that God is like “the light of the world.” It is claimed that He is the light of the world. What if it’s not so metaphorical?

Pardon my crude physics.

At the speed of light mass is infinite. Infinite. And, to reach that outer speed limit — which you can’t coincidentally – requires infinite amount of energy. All that there is. And, if you miraculously arrived there, alive, traveling with your infinite self, propelled by all the energy in the universe, you would be surprised to find that time had simply stopped. Timeless. Sound familiar?

I like to think of light, and lasers, as translation points between two languages. God’s and ours. That would make Townes a kind of lamp interpreter. A luminary.

Townes was seated on a park bench in DC when he scribbled the conceptual maser on the back of an envelope. Going so far as to even describe it as a kind of “revelation.” I like to think in the great tradition of biblical prophets, and appropriate to his life’s work, that he went home on a Chariot of very concentrated Fire.

Performed by theipoetlaureate. Music produced by Dalama Jones.


Today’s blong here:

Chariot of Fire


And To The Ends of the Earth

My friend Noah G was out in front of the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) story before most. He does things like “watch the news” and “occasionally reads” and even “thinks critically.” Sort of a show off.

Here’s a picture of him snidely pondering the mysteries of the universe over my shoulder. Revolting.


He started law school last week so now he’s going to be insufferable. I’d wish him luck and offer some advice, but I hate him.

But, on a late-night, not unpleasantly romantic stroll with Noah across the Chelsea High Line, he asked why Western people of religious faith don’t mobilize on behalf of foreign born Christians in the same way muslims do. I told him, easy. We have Bravo. Million Dollar Listing New York?

There has been an outpouring, sentimentally and actually, for the persecution of all sects at the hands of ISIS in recent weeks. But, Noah’s prescience hit home for me when I reacted disproportionately to James Foley’s death. The image of crucified arab Christians was gruesome and harrowing. But Foley’s death did that thing where you sort of feel real horror in your stomach. And, I knew immediately it was because the beheading of an American seemed more tragic somehow than the murder of arabs already culturally conditioned to it. Which is all nonsense, of course.

So I’m glad to be reminded that the commission to protect and love and care doesn’t end in Judea and Samaria.

Regardless of the nationality or religion of the victims, the whole circumstance is mayhem. A complete nightmare of moral and wartime and policy proportion.

And, as if we needed any more bad PR, it looks like the beheading suspect is a British rapper. Of course he is.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by djclutch. Lyrics here.

Today’s blong here:

Something to Choose


Appall Bearer

Fred Phelps Sr., founder and pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, died this week. The members of Westboro Baptist Church, over a 20 year period of time, have used military funerals as a vehicle to protest and prophesy the judgment of God over the alleged sexual sins of America, principally homosexuality and child abuse in the Catholic church.  Their protests have infamously employed signage that expressed among other and equally horrible things, “America is Doomed”; “Pope in Hell”; “Semper Fi Fags”; and “God Hates You.”

Regardless of your worldview, there is judgment in death, either for its brutal clarity or its terrible meaninglessness. Phelps knows now for certain which.

fred phelps

Performed by theipoetlaureate.  Music produced by dj clutch.

Today’s retread blong here:

god Hates You


The Best Pope Ever

I know something about lifetime appointments. Nearly all my “bosses” have one.

Life tenure is necessary to insulate certain kinds of authority from external and political pressures. An island of objectivity.

But, pardon me for stating the obvious but a “lifetime” is a really long time. Through age and illness and general decomposition, we all become less capable in time. There’s no universal expiration date, of course. I’m only in my thirties and I can’t even remember the members of New Edition. Bobby, Johnny, . . . err . . . For some, an S&S Cafeteria cottage cheese & pear salad palate, however, develops not until their sixties or seventies. And, yet for others, they continue sharp and spry well into their nineties. But, at some point our faculties fail us. And, when they do, a lifetime appointment can become a quite less virtuous thing, especially for those who may be subject to this frozen but decliningly capable authority.

Self awareness is uncommon. Especially, when the nature of the position held disallows or strongly discourages any critique. Judges and Popes come to mind.

When Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement for health concerns, I privately called shenanigans. I felt certain there was an underlying scandal or political motive. Especially considering the longstanding allegations that Pope Benedict may have been party to covering up various sexual abuse prior to his papacy.

But, then I asked myself, “Why so cynical?” That’s the sort of dignity and self-examination I would like to end with. Instead of carrying on, where he can’t or allowing a kind of puppet regime to continue, he abdicates. It’s a rare thing. He’s the Pope. Of God. Until his last breath to be venerated. And, yet he recognized his own frailties and had more respect for the high calling of his authority maybe than any before him — to let it go.

The whole thing reminds me of this classic Jim Gaffigan bit where he imagines just a regular boy dreaming of one day being Pope, as though he were dreaming to be just some regular demagogue, say Joe DiMaggio.

Pantamiming to the roar of a feigned crowd, with the play-by-play announcer, “The Best. Pope. Evvvver!”

Maybe, in his resignation, Benedict was.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by Dave Santos.

Today’s blong here:

Have to Fail


The Truth About Te’o

People have suggested that Manti Te’o must either be the perpetrator of a disgusting hoax or supremely dumb.

Numerous pundits, including the likes of Stephen A. Smith and Colin Cowherd, have said that it’s inconceivable that a red-blooded, alpha male, Division I athlete could ever carry on a serious relationship almost exclusively online or by telephone. That you would never profess “love” for a woman you never did, or could have, touched.

But, there is a third possibility.

It hit me while watching the same interview, from early last fall, that the networks run to expose him. And, I understand how it might have been easy to miss because he’s tough and has a tattoo of a Mayan hockey rink on his bicep and plays like a wild barbarian. But, I recognized it immediately in the innocent way he described his affection for her.

See, Te’o is Mormon. And, it’s already been suggested in delicate ways that he might have been less than socially or relationally sophisticated. But, children of devout Mormon and extreme evangelical families can develop a deep psychological inhibition to sexual activity even as they’re subject to the same natural impulses as their peers. It’s not necessarily naivete but a kind of personal reticence. I recognize it in Te’o, as unlikely as his popularity and image might suggest.

Importantly, this is different than being gullible or just dumb. Such inhibition would allow a kid like Te’o to be comfortable with a long distance relationship over a period of time where others would demand more. It would actually relieve that angst for him. At the same time, it would make him more susceptible to catfishing because he would not insist, as quickly, on the same physical evidence, so to speak, that in-person interaction would provide and that essentially every person with a chin-strap and testicles would require.

And precisely for this awkwardness, he certainly might have been unduly energized by any media attention that took this otherwise stunted relationship seriously. So, you get what appears to be an exaggerated expression of love when in truth it’s probably about as serious as he’s had.

I, obviously, don’t know — about his personal religious conviction or virginity or dating history. For all I know, he might be a Don Juan.

But, I see and suspect something I personally recognize. It’s a real phenomenon whether Te’o fits the diagnosis or not.

I guess you could say that I know the feeling.

UPDATE: TheRapUp.net has picked up on my song today.

Manti Te'o, Jeremy Schaap

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by juiceboxjackson.

Today’s blong here:

Catfisher of Men


Righteous Indignation

We all do it. It’s not just muslims.

But, it’s the weakest sort of faith practice to take offense at offenses against your faith.

First, don’t be so sure of yourself.

Second, if what you believe is true, then things like critique of, or jokes about or irreverence for, it, won’t make any substantive difference.

It’s called Gamaliel’s Advice. Look it up.

It is my normal practice to try and appreciate the many factors that might contribute to the protestors’ inability to understand this basic point. In fact, it’s not uncommon at all for people of faith to play lawyer for God. Defend the divine honor. Demand the reverence of others. Albeit mostly for the insecurity over our own convictions.

But, this is insane. Region wide protests and the assassination of a diplomat over what, by all accounts, appears to be a half-baked movie that may or may not have even been made by an American, much less endorsed by, or made aware to, more than 5 or 6 people across the country somehow now responsible for it?

It would be like protesting the sun for the invention of tanning salons. The indignation is false. Contrived.

My deepest, deepest condolences to the victims and their families.

I don’t mean to be so hawkish. But we need to declare martial law in Benghazi and greater Libya. Avoid as much collateral damage as is reasonable and run down the assailants. It’s just unacceptable. In the same way this movie doesn’t speak for all Americans, these acts of violence do not speak for all Libyans. But, I don’t have a lot of reservation about them now having to bear the weight of an invasive military action until we find those for whom the attacks most certainly do speak. I know that’s inviting another Black Hawk Down. But, we cannot continue to allow insurgents, without state, to hide behind state. We should have been in Pakistan years ago to find Bin Laden. We don’t raze the country to the ground, we just politely help ourselves. I probably don’t really mean that.

Just remember. The devil might need an advocate. But God doesn’t.

Written and performed by theipoetlaureate.  Music produced by the one Dave Santos.

Today’s song blog here:

Devil's Advocate


Principled Non-Principle

Congressman Todd Akin, a candidate for one of the two US Senatorial seats in Missouri, implied fairly directly this week that the female body physiologically rejects any zygote conceived in a forcible rape situation such that the question of whether or not an abortion should be legal for instances of rape is effectively rendered moot. In other words, such children essentially never come to term. He’s getting destroyed as an ignoramus.

Apparently, the media misses the pre-chewed cud of an around the clock Olympics, to be covering this thing in such volume. I can’t imagine a more overdone story.

Two things.

First, Akin’s view, not isolated by any means, is plain evidence of principal taken to an illogical extreme. There is this contemporary view of courage and principledness that says they are to be exercised without regard to circumstance or condition. I just am unaware of any great teaching on moral wisdom that would ever suffer such a position — roteness. Wisdom is precisely the moral and just application of truth to nuance. Wisdom is not one size fits all. Like a snapback.

So you don’t prove yourself to be the most pro-life by being so to the exclusion of all other life considerations than the fairly prospective one of the baby’s.

Second, WHO CARES??! Everybody is in a race to demand that he set aside his candidacy. Just don’t vote for the man. Ignore him.

Actually, I really don’t believe this second point. It won’t write. It does matter. Maybe not everyone shares his radical biology theories, but there are many, many like him who stretch to find reason to vilify abortion in every single instance, unnecessarily.

I know because I did. Paul Ryan might.

Whatever the issue, we have to be unafraid to speak with reasonableness. The pro-life movement should not see the core case for the unborn jeopardized if ever it were to make even a thoughtful allowance for that other life involved. You know. You might have heard of her.


Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by Sundance.

Today’s song blog here:

Snapback Doctrine


No Spin

So the science community is again threatening us with finding the Higgs-Boson. Notwithstanding the admitted and sheer improbability of ever finding the “G-dd@amn Particle” in the avalanche of data compiled by the various particle accelerators around the world, every six months or so the physics community, the mainstream media, or some conspiracy of the two warn us that they’re about to. Watch out. Oh you thought it was called the “God Particle”? Sorry. No. That’s the sanitized-for-public-consumption version. It’s called the “G-dd@amn Particle” because they can’t find the dang thing. Honest.

Theoretical physics is awesome. This idea that men and women scratching lonely numbers on a sheet of paper could make, not simply educated guesses, but Battleship direct hits on some of the greatest and deepest mysteries of the cosmos, without the aid of clinical experiment, is pretty special. And, to those on political philosophy only, books about it are my favorite.

But, there is some irony in it all. Richard Dawkins and others are ruthless in condemning a kind of “god of the gaps” mentality among the religious. I don’t know the answer, so it must have been “god.” I can’t explain creation, so it must have been “god.” Tebow can’t throw, so it must have been “god.”

But, that’s sort of precisely what theoretical physics is, right? There is a hole in the data. A paradox in the theory. A gap in the explanation. And, these brilliant individuals make a guess, albeit educated and well measured, but a guess nonetheless about the “god” necessary to bridge the gap. String theory. Multiple universes. Higgs-Boson. These are all a type of “god of the gaps” — the only explanation we can come up that makes the rest of what we do see and experience make sense. To be sure, many a scientist has been rocked by an unexpected empirical turn. Expanding universe. The attributes of light. But, regularly we are looking for those things as we’ve imagined them to exist.

And with Higgs-Boson, specifically, scientists have all types of expectations about its character. It has no spin. It’s massive. Other particles are generated out of its decay. It’s actually part of an enormous and ubiquitous background Higgs field, that gives reality it’s physical structure.

The famous theoretical physicist Lawerence Krauss said, “That’s the difference between science and religion. We don’t require the universe to be what we want — we force our beliefs to conform to the evidence of reality.”

But, isn’t that precisely what the search for Higgs-Boson is? Expecting the universe to be exactly as we believe it must be?

For a change, though, it would be nice to “discover” something we didn’t expect.

Performed by ipoetlaureate. Music produced by pumpkinFoot.

Today’s song blog here:

All Spin