Thursday, February 27, 2014

Let businesses ban gays if they want

Wednesday Republican Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer earned high praise from Democrats across the country for vetoing a bill put forth by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.

The bill, had it passed, would have made it legal for businesses in the Grand Canyon state to refuse service to patrons based on their sexual orientation. It was allegedly inspired by episodes in other states in which florists, photographers and bakers were sued for refusing to cater to same-sex couples. The Arizona bill would have allowed much broader religious exemptions by business owners.

You may recall that I am a proponent of gay rights. I championed New York State’s coming of age in 2011 to allow for gay marriage. I believe that sexuality should be a non-issue when it comes to the government’s dealing with people.

But businesses aren’t government. And business owners should be allowed to discriminate — for any reason they choose.

Yeah. You read that right. I believe that private business owners should be allowed to discriminate against people on the basis of sex, sexuality, religion, color, height, or anything else they so choose.

Many businesses already have signs informing their customers that they may refuse service to any patron for any reason. It’s pretty standard. It’s primarily designed as a catch-all for when they have to kick out an unruly customer - or prohibit a customer who had previously been unruly from entering their establishment again.

So if they can refuse service to anyone for any reason, why can’t they do it for reasons which we find distasteful? Being a prejudiced bigot isn’t against the law. It’s just poor form. Unless you use that prejudice and bigotry as an excuse to break another law.

To those of you who are appalled, let me explain: I’m not saying businesses should ban gays. I’m just saying they should be allowed to. Just like homosexuals may choose to get their flowers or cake or whatever for their weddings from people they agree with politically. Just like there are certain businesses that I won’t spend money at because I don’t like the owners.

Capitalism should be a two-way street. And if I have the right to shop where I want, shop owners should have the right to accept my money or not. Allowing them to be openly discriminatory makes it easier for me to decide where to spend my money.

If I were to go to a florist, grocery store, barber or bubble gum shop, only to be greeted by a sign that says “we reserve the right to discriminate against gays, Asians, and people with red hair,” I know not to spend my money there. Why would I want to assist someone so un-American in fulfilling the American dream? I wouldn’t.

If we not only allow, but force prejudiced bigots to hide their hatred, we run the risk of giving money to people who could, in turn, take that money and use it to promote their agenda of hatred, through campaign contributions to like-minded bigots or some other nefarious means. I’d rather know that the person I was giving my hard-earned money to was using it for good.

So let the bigots be open with their hatred. It will only make it easier for those of us who live in the 21st century to promote our common ideals at the exclusion of those who prefer to live in the dark ages.

Scott Leffler is an open-minded capitalist living in a world full of diminishing closed-minded people. He invites — but would never force — you to follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Prison perks sound like a great idea

As much as I love my job as a writer and editor, sometimes I think I may have missed my calling.

I’ve often considered going back to school for psychology. I’ve always considered myself insightful and empathetic, two characteristics which seem to me to be perfect for a career as a counselor. Also, as bad as I am at heeding advice, I’m really good at giving it. I feel like I can see issues clearly and come up with peaceful resolutions — as long as they don’t involve me.

The biggest problem with my dream of saving the world as a psychologist, though, is that nearly 20 years out of university, I’m still not done paying for the degrees I have. So paying for additional schooling right now is out of the question.

But behold, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has swooped in with a plan that would help me get free college from one of 10 accredited universities in the state. All I have to do is go to prison.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not built for prison life. I’m much too pretty. But … free college? Maybe it’s worth looking into.

Like any middle-class underachieving male, I’ve occasionally thought about robbing a bank and running away to some tropical paradise — like Amherst, for example. But the downside of getting caught meant going to jail. Now, it would appear, Gov. Cuomo has sweetened the pot.

See, if I rob a bank and run away to Amherst, I’ll be set for life, living the posh lifestyle with my private tennis court and allowing my children to go to Williamsville East High School, which will allow them to get jobs in law firms and whatnot.

And if I get caught, I’ll get free room and board for a while and can continue my education all on the taxpayers' dime. Plus I’m sure that many of my “dorm mates” will be kind of messed in the head, so I’ll get all sorts of practice psychology while in the joint and can immediately open my own office when I leave in 3-5 years — with good behavior.

What a sucker I’ve been working all these years in hopes of paying off my college loans. If I had the prison-to-practice option when I was looking at colleges, I may have given serious consideration to the whole bank-robbing thing in 1992. To think, I could have been living in Amherst all along. Or at the very least, I’d be there by now.

Some people oppose the governor’s plan, saying that it’s unfair for law-abiding citizens to have to pay for school while convicts get it for free. They’re missing the point, though. They choose to be law abiding citizens. They could be convicts too if they tried hard enough. Just because they don’t have the work ethic to try to rob a bank doesn’t mean they should hold that against those who do.

Scott Leffler is a writer and editor who has actually dreamed of a career in psychology. The rest of this column may be facetious. Follow his new bank-robbing career on Twitter @scottleffler.

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Olympics highlight everything that is right with the world

Tonight’s the night. The 2014 Olympic Games kick off in Sochi, Russia. Technically, the games started on Thursday with women’s snowboarding. But tonight is what I’ve been looking forward to.

The opening ceremonies of the Olympics showcase the host country’s past, future and present in grand style. There will be music, dance and art. Athletes will, of course, be on hand, but for a few hours of the games, they are not the focus. Russia is.

There’s been controversy heading into the Russian Olympics. Gay rights activists held protests in 19 cities across the world seeking to persuade sponsors of the event to speak out over Russia's controversial laws on homosexuality. Counterterrorism experts spoke loudly about concerns in Sochi’s security. A recent poll by CNN said 57 percent of Americans think terrorists will strike the games. There’s even been blatant mockery of some of Russia’s less-than-first-world accommodations.

Despite the controversy, despite the security concerns and despite some people’s lack of understanding of other countries, there are 88 nations sending athletes to the games. The United States is sending 230 athletes, more than even the host country has playing.

In other words, the concerns haven’t prevented participation. Nor should they.

The Olympics provides humanity with a rare opportunity to come together in celebration of the things we have in common rather than argue over the things that separate us. For the next 16 days, the world will be focused on mere human beings doing superhuman things. It will give us a break from the constant rattle of the bad that happens in the world.

That’s not to say that bad things won’t continue to happen — surely they will. But for a little over two weeks, we’ll have good to balance out the bad. We’ll hear stories of downtrodden kids who get scholarships to go to prep school to learn their sport. We’ll hear stories of defeat turned into later victory.

We’ll root for and celebrate people whose names we have not yet heard. Many of those names will belong to Americans, but some belong to those of other nationalities. For the next 16 days we’ll mix patriotism with humanity. We’ll be prouder of human capability than the colors on our flag.

The Olympic games are what the world could be if it weren’t for all the chaos we focus on the rest of the time. Some may think them to be a distraction, or that we set aside reality for a couple weeks. But there’s no reason it can’t be like this all the time.

It’s a matter of priorities. As I said earlier, the chaos of the world still exists today, as it will tomorrow and next week. But we choose to focus on something else. We choose to focus on the good. We choose to be the people we can be … the people we should be.

Scott Leffler is an average human being who marvels at the exceptionalism of others. He’ll be tweeting about the Olympic games @scottleffler