Category : Economy

(FT) How business is capitalising on the millennial Instagram obsession

The tables at the Tsubaki Salon are slightly wobbly. No more than a couple of millimetres off kilter, but enough to be noticeable.

This is puzzling because, in all other respects, this highest of high-end pancake houses, nestling among the haute-couture flagships of Tokyo’s Ginza district and fitted out in bracingly minimalist decor, is perfection. The plates and cups are the definition of Japanese ceramic elegance. The spindly handled spoons and forks have been created by one of the country’s most famous designers to fit the pinnacle of pancake Epicureanism. When it comes to the edible stars of the show — made using a complex technique — they too, in the view of the pancake cognoscenti, are flawless.

But what about that wobble? “It’s deliberate,” says Yukari Mori, nudging the table a little to demonstrate that even this imperfection is perfection. “They were designed this way to show off what makes these pancakes so good.”

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Corporations/Corporate Life, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, Economy, Japan, Photos/Photography, Science & Technology, Young Adults

(PewR) Income Inequality in the U.S. Is Rising Most Rapidly Among Asians

Income inequality, a measure of the economic gap between the rich and poor, has risen steadily in the United States since the 1970s. More recently, the issue burst into public consciousness with the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011 and subsequent calls for a $15 minimum wage. An important part of the story of rising income inequality is that experiences within America’s racial and ethnic communities vary strikingly from one group to the other.

Today, income inequality in the U.S. is greatest among Asians. From 1970 to 2016, the gap in the standard of living between Asians near the top and the bottom of the income ladder nearly doubled, and the distribution of income among Asians transformed from being one of the most equal to being the most unequal among America’s major racial and ethnic groups.

In this process, Asians displaced blacks as the most economically divided racial or ethnic group in the U.S., according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of government data. While Asians overall rank as the highest earning racial and ethnic group in the U.S., it is not a status shared by all Asians: From 1970 to 2016, the gains in income for lower-income Asians trailed well behind the gains for their counterparts in other groups.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Economy, Personal Finance, Sociology

(NA) Adam White–Amid growing calls to break up Google, are we missing a quiet alignment between “smart” government and the universal information engine?

Google exists to answer our small questions. But how will we answer larger questions about Google itself? Is it a monopoly? Does it exert too much power over our lives? Should the government regulate it as a public utility — or even break it up?

In recent months, public concerns about Google have become more pronounced. This February, the New York Times Magazine published “The Case Against Google,” a blistering account of how “the search giant is squelching competition before it begins.” The Wall Street Journal published a similar article in January on the “antitrust case” against Google, along with Facebook and Amazon, whose market shares it compared to Standard Oil and AT&T at their peaks. Here and elsewhere, a wide array of reporters and commentators have reflected on Google’s immense power — not only over its competitors, but over each of us and the information we access — and suggested that the traditional antitrust remedies of regulation or breakup may be necessary to rein Google in.

Dreams of war between Google and government, however, obscure a much different relationship that may emerge between them — particularly between Google and progressive government. For eight years, Google and the Obama administration forged a uniquely close relationship. Their special bond is best ascribed not to the revolving door, although hundreds of meetings were held between the two; nor to crony capitalism, although hundreds of people have switched jobs from Google to the Obama administration or vice versa; nor to lobbying prowess, although Google is one of the top corporate lobbyists.

Rather, the ultimate source of the special bond between Google and the Obama White House — and modern progressive government more broadly — has been their common ethos. Both view society’s challenges today as social-engineering problems, whose resolutions depend mainly on facts and objective reasoning. Both view information as being at once ruthlessly value-free and yet, when properly grasped, a powerful force for ideological and social reform. And so both aspire to reshape Americans’ informational context, ensuring that we make choices based only upon what they consider the right kinds of facts — while denying that there would be any values or politics embedded in the effort.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, The U.S. Government

AS Haley on the Ongoing South Carolina Episcopal Church litigation mess–“O, What a Tangled Web We Weave . . .”

Thus two of the Justices viewed this case as one in which the civil courts should “defer” to the “ecclesiastical authorities” — even though South Carolina is a “neutral principles” State, in which “deference” has no role! — while the third reaches his result based “strictly applying neutral principles of law.” Two of them simply “reverse” the decision below (and one only in part), while only Justice Hearn declares the whole kit and caboodle to belong to her own denomination.

The first two Justices would thus have overruled the leading South Carolina neutral principles case, All Saints Parish Waccamaw v. Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of South Carolina, but two votes do not suffice for that. They would have required a third vote to overrule that decision, and they never obtained that third vote. So the neutral principles doctrine of All Saints Waccamaw stands unchanged.

Nor did Justice Hearn get any other Justice to buy into her “constructive trust” rationale (unless Justice Pleicones may be said to have done so by “joining” in her opinion). But that was not a ground urged on appeal by ECUSA or its rump diocese — so Justice Hearn gratuitously inserted her views on an issue that was not properly before the Court.

Finally, only two of the Justices (Hearn and Beatty) mentioned Camp Christopher — the retreat property that belongs not to any one parish, but to the Diocese itself. The Dennis Canon does not apply to the property of a diocese, and so it cannot be used to transfer ownership. For Justice Hearn, “deference” requires that result, while for Chief Justice Beatty, the result follows from the fact that he cannot see how Bishop Lawrence’s Diocese is the “successor” to the diocese that owned the property before the lawsuit began. (But the Diocese did not go anywhere — it is still the same South Carolina religious corporation it always was. So how can there be any question of whether a Diocese can “succeed” itself? The Chief Justice went out on a limb, and no one joined him.)

An even bigger problem for Judge Goodstein on remand, however, is how she should regard the opinion of Justice Hearn, who belatedly recused herself due to a (presumed) perception of a conflict of interest. (You think?) Which is to say, she never should have participated in the case to begin with.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * South Carolina, Church History, Corporations/Corporate Life, Episcopal Church (TEC), Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, State Government

(Local Paper front page) A SC funeral home left a body to rot for years in ‘corrupt’ system that protects homes

The funeral board, which oversees discipline, is dominated by people who work in the funeral business. By law, nine of its 11 members must be licensed funeral directors and embalmers. The remaining two slots are reserved for public representatives, but those seats often sit vacant. On at least one occasion, a part-time funeral worker served as the public’s voice on the panel.

This guild of peers includes members and former leaders of South Carolina’s funeral industry associations. It rarely revokes or suspends a license, preferring to levy reprimands and light fines that keep problem operators in business. Even when licenses are pulled, no one checks to make sure those disciplined are abiding by the rules unless someone files a formal complaint.

What’s more, nearly 40 percent of the 600 complaints filed against funeral homes and their operators were dismissed between 2006 and 2017 with no action taken, according to labor department records.

That doesn’t surprise Joshua Slocum, who leads the national Funeral Consumer Alliance, a Vermont-based nonprofit that fights for transparency and funeral affordability. He said most states have models similar to South Carolina’s, with funeral boards dominated by funeral professionals. It’s an opaque system rigged to benefit the death industry, concealing misdeeds and leaving consumers in the dark, he said.

“It’s an outrage against public policy and a clear, no-gray-area conflict of interest,” he said. “The system may be legal, but it’s inherently corrupt.”

South Carolina’s funeral board is ensconced in the state’s labor and licensing agency, one of some 40 professional boards that oversee more than 400,000 licenses for everything from architects and accountants to foot doctors. Most of these boards also are dominated by insiders from their respective industries.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Consumer/consumer spending, Death / Burial / Funerals

(Marketplace) The CEO of Reddit: “We are not the thought police … but we do care about how you behave”

Steve Huffman: So Reddit is a network of communities. We have communities that cover pretty much any topic imaginable. Stuff you would recognize, you know, news, sports, politics, internet culture, memes, you know, what’s going on and things you might not find elsewhere online. And we also have a pretty deep network and support community, so places you might go when you’re having difficult times in life — whether you’re going through a divorce or maybe struggling with addiction. Reddit, globally, is a place where you can find community and belonging.

David Brancaccio: So some profound things, a lot of profound things, a lot of sort of silly little things.

Huffman: Yes. And people come to Reddit for a variety of different reasons, right? You might come to get your daily dose and see what’s going on today. You might come because you have five minutes and you need a few laughs, or you might come because, hey, you need support and help and camaraderie, and we deal in that, too.

Brancaccio: It is actually how some of my own offspring get their news. They get it from Reddit. You know, “I saw on Reddit,” and it’s actual news — a link to a news story, and there it is.

Huffman: Quite a bit of people get their news from Reddit.

Brancaccio: All right, but there’s a lot of speech because of all these topics, and some of it is stuff that none of us wants to see. Sometimes it’s racist. You have a sense that people should say pretty much what they want on Reddit, just they can’t do anything. It’s the behavior that you’re focused on.

Huffman: Exactly. So Reddit is a very broad place and we see pretty much — we think of ourselves in many respects as a reflection of humanity. But just like in humanity, there is a darker side in this, people who say things that might be offensive or fringe. And the way we think about that is trying to draw a line between behavior and beliefs. We are not the thought police. We don’t want to control what you believe, but we do care about how you behave. So for example: Our content policies prohibit spam inciting violence, harassing and bullying. Those things are, I think, objective behaviors that we don’t want to see on the site.

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Posted in Anthropology, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology

(Bloomberg) Google Is Training Machines to Predict When a Patient Will Die

A woman with late-stage breast cancer came to a city hospital, fluids already flooding her lungs. She saw two doctors and got a radiology scan. The hospital’s computers read her vital signs and estimated a 9.3 percent chance she would die during her stay.

Then came Google’s turn. An new type of algorithm created by the company read up on the woman — 175,639 data points — and rendered its assessment of her death risk: 19.9 percent. She passed away in a matter of days.

The harrowing account of the unidentified woman’s death was published by Google in May in research highlighting the health-care potential of neural networks, a form of artificial intelligence software that’s particularly good at using data to automatically learn and improve. Google had created a tool that could forecast a host of patient outcomes, including how long people may stay in hospitals, their odds of re-admission and chances they will soon die.

What impressed medical experts most was Google’s ability to sift through data previously out of reach: notes buried in PDFs or scribbled on old charts. The neural net gobbled up all this unruly information then spat out predictions. And it did it far faster and more accurately than existing techniques. Google’s system even showed which records led it to conclusions.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Corporations/Corporate Life, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology

(Local paper front Page) Dorchester County, South Carolina, on road to prosperity

For years, Dorchester County has stood by while its neighboring counties have garnered all the attention.

New businesses and developers have chosen Berkeley and Charleston, leaving the smaller Dorchester behind as a sort-of Cinderella waiting for an invitation to the ball.

“Dorchester has struggled for decades to attract economic development and that’s mainly been geographical in nature because Interstate 26 is on the wrong side of the county line,” said County Council Chairman Jay Byars. Much of the fast-growing industrial corridor along the highway is in Berkeley County.

But now, things are changing. New manufacturers and industrial parks are moving in on U.S. Highway 78 and along the Interstate 26 corridor.

New neighborhoods are springing up throughout with the county.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Economy

(WSJ) Jack Philips on the Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision–The Supreme Court Let Me Live My Faith Again

Religion isn’t something I pick up on Sunday mornings only to put away during the rest of the week. My entire life belongs to Jesus, and I believe that everything I do should honor him. As the Bible says, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17).

This means that when I operate my business, I am always mindful of whether God is pleased with what I create. That’s why even though I serve all people, I can’t design cakes that celebrate events or express messages that conflict with my faith. It’s also why I’ve declined requests to create cakes that celebrate Halloween or memorialize a divorce.

My beliefs about marriage come from my reading of the Bible. Describing marriage, Jesus said, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Mark 10:7-8). This shows clearly that God intends marriage to be a union between a husband and a wife.

On the day I declined to create a wedding cake celebrating a same-sex marriage, I was simply living out the truth that I—along with millions of other Christians—have found in the Bible. The men who sued me say I discriminated against them. That’s not true. Declining to design something because of what it celebrates isn’t the same as refusing to serve people because of who they are. Those men are welcome in my shop today, just as they were in 2012. But I can’t create a cake that celebrates a view of marriage at odds with my Christian beliefs.

Read it all.

Posted in Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court

(1st Things) Hadles Arkes on the Supreme Court Masterpiece Cakeshop Decision–Conservative Jurisprudence Resorts To Relativism

For Kennedy, this diatribe against the religious was reprehensible in the same measure: “To describe a man’s faith as ‘one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use’ is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical—something insubstantial and even insincere.”

Yes, but so what? Kennedy did not challenge the law itself as a violation of Phillips’s religious freedom. Why should it matter that commissioners, enforcing the law, allowed their conviction of its rightness to express itself in some gratuitous sneering at a man Justice Kennedy and the Court were still willing to treat as a wrongdoer? What this situation seemed to violate, for Kennedy, was the “State’s duty under the First Amendment not to base laws or regulations on hostility to a religion or religious viewpoint.” For years it was understood that the law need not be at all “neutral” between religion and irreligion, that there were compelling reasons, for the public good, to encourage the religious life. But now the claim is reduced simply to an obligation not to be indecorously nasty while the law refuses to respect religious convictions.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, State Government, Supreme Court

Masterpiece Cakeshop Analysis (II): Douglas Laycock and Thomas Berg–Scotus Decision not as narrow as may first appear

The Supreme Court has announced a powerful ideal. Even when a law has no explicit exceptions, hostile enforcement is unconstitutional. Single-issue agencies that enforce state civil-rights laws must approach claims to religious exemptions with tolerance and respect. And this is apparently an absolute rule; the court does not consider whether hostility might be justified by some state interest, compelling or otherwise.

But a requirement of tolerance and respect, or even the avoidance of hostility, is difficult to enforce. The opponents of religious exemptions will now start doing the sorts of things done by many other government officials resisting constitutional mandates. They will seek doctrinal and rhetorical manipulations to cloak their hostility to the constitutional right, and their unequal treatment of objectors they agree with and objectors they don’t.

Those manipulations began in the state’s briefs and in the concurring and dissenting opinions. Kagan and Breyer said that the state’s discrimination could easily have been justified with a different explanation: The protected bakers would not have sold an anti-gay cake to anybody, but Phillips would sell wedding cakes to opposite-sex couples.

As Justice Neil Gorsuch explained, this reaches the preordained result by manipulating the level of generality. An “anti-gay” cake is distinguished only by what it displays on the outer surface. So the category is not cakes, or wedding cakes, but cakes with particular messages. If a same-sex couple wants a cake with two grooms, two brides, a rainbow, or any other indication of approval of same-sex marriage, that is a cake that Phillips would not sell to anybody. If they want a cake that could just as appropriately be used for an opposite-sex wedding, then at the surface, Kagan’s rationalization holds — but it is still a rationalization. Everyone would still know what is really going on: The commission agrees with the protected bakers and disagrees with Jack Phillips.

Masterpiece states an important ideal. But the Supreme Court has not been good over the years at identifying government bias or hostility that is the least bit shrouded. In a case without smoking-gun expressions of hostility, objectors will need evidence of inconsistent treatment of tester cases.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court, Theology

Masterpiece Cakeshop Analysis (I): Amy Howe–Opinion analysis: Court rules (narrowly) for baker in same-sex-wedding-cake case [Updated]

…the critical question of when and how Phillips’ right to exercise his religion can be limited had to be determined, Kennedy emphasized, in a proceeding that was not tainted by hostility to religion. Here, Kennedy observed, the “neutral and respectful consideration to which Phillips was entitled was compromised” by comments by members of the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. At one hearing, Kennedy stressed, commissioners repeatedly “endorsed the view that religious beliefs cannot legitimately be carried into the public sphere or commercial domain, implying that religious beliefs and persons are less than fully welcome in Colorado’s business community.” And at a later meeting, Kennedy pointed out, one commissioner “even went so far as to compare Phillips’ invocation of his sincerely held religious beliefs to defenses of slavery and the Holocaust.” “This sentiment,” Kennedy admonished, “is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law—a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.” Moreover, Kennedy added, the commission’s treatment of Phillips’ religious objections was at odds with its rulings in the cases of bakers who refused to create cakes “with images that conveyed disapproval of same-sex marriage.”

Here, Kennedy wrote, Phillips “was entitled to a neutral decisionmaker who would give full and fair consideration to his religious objection as he sought to assert it in all of the circumstances in which this case was presented, considered, and decided.” Because he did not have such a proceeding, the court concluded, the commission’s order – which, among other things, required Phillips to sell same-sex couples wedding cakes or anything else that he would sell to opposite-sex couples and mandated remedial training and compliance reports – “must be set aside.”

But the majority left open the possibility that a future case could come out differently, particularly if the decisionmaker in the case considered religious objections neutrally and fairly. Other cases, the majority emphasized, “must await further elaboration in the courts, all in the context of recognizing that these disputes must be resolved with tolerance, without undue disrespect to sincere religious beliefs, and without subjecting gay persons to indignities when they seek goods and services in an open market.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court

Ryan Anderson–Supreme Court Upholds Baker’s Right to Disagree With Same-Sex Marriage in Marketplace

…as Justice Neil Gorsuch notes (in a concurring opinion joined by Justice Samuel Alito), either all four bakers violated the Colorado anti-discrimination law, or none did. Gorsuch writes:

[T]here’s no indication the bakers actually intended to refuse service because of a customer’s protected characteristic. We know this because all of the bakers explained without contradiction that they would not sell the requested cakes to anyone, while they would sell other cakes to members of the protected class (as well as to anyone else).

As I argue in the Georgetown Journal of Law and Public Policy, “Disagreement is not always discrimination.” And this is true when it comes to disagreements about same-sex marriage.

Phillips didn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation when he refused to design and bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. He didn’t take his customer’s sexual orientation into consideration at all. He declined to use his artistic abili­ties to create a custom cake to celebrate a same-sex wedding because he objected to same-sex marriage, based on the common Christian belief that such partnerships (along with many other relationships—sexual and not, dyadic and larger, same-sex and opposite-sex) aren’t marital.

Nowhere need Phillips’ reasoning have even referred to the partners’ sexual orientation, much less any ideas or attitudes about gay people as a class (good or bad, explicit or not).

It wasn’t his customer’s identity that motivated Phillips at all. It is even clearer that Phillips’ reason for refusing to bake the wedding cake was not the invidious discrimination of avoiding contact with others on equal terms. As Phillips said to the same-sex couple, “I’ll make you birthday cakes, shower cakes, sell you cookies and brownies, I just don’t make cakes for same-sex weddings.” He sought only to avoid complicity in what he considered one distortion of marriage among oth­ers—as shown by his refusal to create divorce cakes as well.

Read it all.

Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Supreme Court

Christianity Today Asks Several Religious Liberty Experts to Weigh in on the Implications of Yesterdays Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court Decision

Eric Rassbach, vice president and senior counsel at religious liberty firm Becket:

Becket urged the court to decide the case on the basis of the free exercise clause, and that is what the court did. And because of that, this case has broad implications for other religious liberty conflicts, involving not just wedding vendors, but many other religious people too.

The decision breaks new doctrinal ground in a couple of places … For example, Justice Kennedy adopts the two-Justice part of Lukumi and turns it into newly binding precedent in this passage: “Factors relevant to the assessment of governmental neutrality include ‘the historical background of the decision under challenge, the specific series of events leading to the enactment or official policy in question, and the legislative or administrative history, including contemporaneous statements made by members of the decisionmaking body.”

What this means as a practical matter is that in a variety of situations it will matter much more what the legislators, adjudicators, and government officials say about the religious beliefs and practices in question, and much less what those same officials think about whether those religious beliefs and practices offend someone. The court used a fairly broad definition of what constitutes hostility toward religion, so referring to “hateful beliefs” could get an anti-discrimination law invalidated. And saying that someone was offended will be no justification for a law.

Read it all.

Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court

(NR) David French–In Masterpiece Cakeshop, Justice Kennedy Strikes a Blow for the Dignity of the Faithful

The Court essentially punted on the question, noting that it raised complex and difficult issues. To the extent that the dicta provides any guidance going forward, it seems that the greater the obvious expressive content, the greater the constitutional protection. In other words, a cake that contains words or symbols might enjoy greater protection than a cake with no obvious expressive meaning. But that’s speculation. The case wasn’t decided on that basis.

Instead, the Court focused on Phillips’s second claim, holding (by a 7–2 margin) that Colorado violated his right to free exercise of religion when it held him in violation of state public-accommodation law. Justice Kennedy focused on two critical aspects of the case to support his ruling. He first condemned anti-religious comments made by state commissioners during the hearings before the Colorado Civil Rights Commission. He especially singled out a commissioner’s claim that “freedom of religion” has been used to “justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history,” including slavery and the Holocaust. The commissioner called Phillips’s religious-freedom claim “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use.”

Kennedy’s response was devastating:

To describe a man’s faith as “one of the most despicable pieces of rhetoric that people can use” is to disparage his religion in at least two distinct ways: by describing it as despicable, and also by characterizing it as merely rhetorical — something insubstantial and even insincere. . . . This sentiment is inappropriate for a Commission charged with the solemn responsibility of fair and neutral enforcement of Colorado’s antidiscrimination law — a law that protects discrimination on the basis of religion as well as sexual orientation.

Kennedy could have stopped his opinion right there. As he notes, there was no objection to those comments from other commissioners, and they weren’t disavowed at any time during the proceedings. One of the actual adjudicators of the case was expressing outright hostility to Phillips’s religious expression, a situation different from and more egregious than lawmakers’ expressing hostility to religious faith when passing legislation.

Had Kennedy stopped his opinion at that point, Phillips’s victory would have been important, but profoundly limited. The obvious response would be for the commissioners to reconsider the case, cleanse their rhetoric of outright hostility, deliver the same result on a cleaner record, and put the more difficult free-speech claim right back in the Court’s lap. But Kennedy didn’t stop. He found a separate ground for concluding that Colorado was motivated by anti-religious animus, and that separate ground will make it difficult for states to take aim at “offensive” religious exercise, even when it occurs in a commercial context….

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court