Monday, 3/24/14

    1. Every word a lie?
    2. An astonishing recording rediscovered
    3. Fred Phelps Fun Phacts
    4. Sympathy with the Devil


Tomorrow, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Products employer “contraceptive” mandate cases. Yesterday, the New York Times Editorial Board fires a shot across the Supreme Court’s bow. The opener (emphasis added):

This week, the owners of two secular, for-profit corporations will ask the Supreme Court to take a radical turn and allow them to impose their religious views on their employees — by refusing to permit them contraceptive coverage as required under the Affordable Care Act.

I can recall when “imposing your religious views” meant asking applicants whether and when they “got saved,” or herding employees into mandatory Bible studies. Times change, I guess. (In other words, I call “Bullshit!”)

Also, as an amicus brief filed by corporate law scholars persuasively argues, granting the religious exemption to the owners would mean allowing shareholders to pass their religious values to the corporation. The fundamental principle of corporate law is a corporation’s existence as a legal entity with rights and obligations separate from those of its shareholders.

Oh, really? Is it really that simple? Then how can a corporation have its owner’s racial identity …:

We agree with the Ninth Circuit that a minority-owned corporation may establish an “imputed racial identity” for purposes of demonstrating standing to bring a claim of race discrimination under federal law.

… but not establish an imputed religious identity for purposes of claiming exemption from a law that’s riddled with exemptions already? (Chirp, chirp, chirp.) Do you suppose there are legal arguments in favor of Hobby Lobby, arising out of the idea of corporate social responsibility?

And could the Times kindly point me to the angry editorial it published when Hobby Lobby, because of the Christian convictions of its owners, trampled the corporate entity underfoot, and imposed their religion on employees, by voluntarily increasing its minimum wage to $14.00 per hour, nearly double the legal requirement (and way higher than the paltry voluntary raise that got the Gap stores a shout out from the President)? Hyperlink, please? (Chirp, chirp, chirp.)

Would the Times like to undertake the arduous calculation of how many hours per month it takes for a Hobby Lobby employee to buy her own birth control pills from that wage differential between her and her sister at the Gap?

The closer:

If there is a Supreme Court decision in favor of these businesses, the ripple effect could be enormous. One immediate result would be to encourage other companies to seek exemptions from other health care needs, like blood transfusions, psychiatric care, vaccinations or anesthesia. It could also encourage toxic measures like the one vetoed last month by Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona that would have given businesses and individuals a broad right to deny services to same-sex couples in the name of religion. The Supreme Court cannot go there.

Got that? Religious people are evil, with weird ideas that they just can’t wait to “impose” on everyone else. (I guess they heard about my under-the-radar lobbying to ban sale or consumption of meat during Lent as observed in the Orthodox Church.)

What I say isn’t a legal brief. I know that some clever person or ideologue could replace both “Chirp, chirp, chirp” occurrences with something. The case wouldn’t be in the Supreme Court if it were open and shut – though Hobby Lobby won in the court below and it’s the religiously tone deaf if not hostile Obama Administration that’s appealing.

What I say isn’t even a point-by-point challenge to every shading of the truth or outright lie in the editorial. Don’t even get me started, for instance, on the faddish novelties that become “compelling interests” from the persistent ipse dixit of people who buy their ink by the barrel. They bring to mind Mary McCarthy’s comment on Lillian Hellman: “every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.'”

I’m not dropping the Times in protest, but I’d already decided to drop it. If I want people to insult me and my brothers and sisters, I can find someone for less than $20 per month (digital only, no less). I’ll miss David Brooks and Ross Douthat, but not $20 per month worth when insults are part of the package.

I’m keeping the Wall Street Journal for national news (don’t get me started on the inadequacies of the local paper or its affiliated USA Today). Coincidentally, Robert P. George and Hamza Yusuf today have an “op ed” that’s far better rooted legally than the Times’ screed, and it tacitly points out how close the NYT Editorial is to the Freedom from Religion Foundation’s extreme argument that the free exercise clause violates the establishment clause (well, that’s not quite how they put it, but close enough for polemics).

UPDATE (Warning: Contains slight exaggerations in the interests of satire)


On an infinitely more pleasant topic, I rediscovered what may the most astonishing recording I own.

One of the worst LPs I bought in the 60s was Alfred Drake and Roberta Peters singing Broadway tunes on Command Records or London Phase 4, the LP equivalents of Telarc for exquisite recordings. Yes, you could hear every nuance of people who, through years of practice and habit of mind, were utterly incapable of singing so as to please the ear what somebody had inveigled them into singing anyway.

Which is why it so astonishes me that opera phenomenon Renee Fleming produces an album like Haunted Heart.

Fleming calls this album a “look back at the road not taken” — she played a weekly gig in a jazz club while in school. Nonetheless, her feel for the material here is undeniable. Interestingly, she drops her voice a full octave from her usual tessitura, and the change reveals a robust gospel-oriented approach filled with dramatic breaths and moans. The lyrical Fred Hersch (piano) and the idiosyncratic Bill Frisell (guitar) provide support, and both are adventurous jazz players who create subtle and uniquely haunting backdrops. It adds up to an interesting cross-section of ideas well carried off by the generous talents of all involved.

I think “interesting” way understates it. Fred Hersch and Bill Frisell are just great, too.


Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick shares some surprising facts about the late Fred Phelps, and then applies the coup de grace: “God loves Fred Phelps. Because He loves everyone, no exceptions.”

What a quandary for Phelps: reject God’s love or accept it in the company of the “fags” he heretically claimed God hates? God’s wishy-washy love must be so disappointing to His humble servant, Fred.


Terry Mattingly asks (and offers suggestions on) how can the popular press possibly report a story like “evidence of the universe’s nearly instantaneous expansion from a mere dot into a dense ball containing more than 1090 particles” (a) at the middle school level but (b) without displeasing scientists?

He also notes that it’s impossible to report a story so fraught with cosmological implications without infuriating a lot of readers.

Journalists: You can’t live with ’em, but you can’t kill ’em, either. And sometimes, you can’t help but feel a little sympathy.

* * * * *

“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.