Wednesday, 3/26/14

    1. Vindication
    2. The Thing Books that Used to be Conservativesm
    3. Back in the USA
    4. Why didn’t we intervene in …?
    5. Implying consent
    6. The No Win Hobby Lobby Situation



No, not the scientist who anticipated last week’s big cosmology announcement. Me. On a cultural issue.

The Human Rights Campaign, a leader in gay rights, claims to promote marriage equality. If you’re one of the small minority of gays and lesbians in America who wants to get married, I suppose that makes sense. But viewed with any degree of objectivity, it’s an absurd claim, because it ignores the increasingly profound marriage inequality in society at large.

The Human Rights Campaign and supporters of gay marriage from Andrew Cuomo to Alan Simpson also ignore an inconvenient fact: the striking correspondence of the increasingly elite support for sexual freedom and the accelerating growth of marriage inequality. As the Human Rights Campaign succeeds in achieving its goals of normalizing homosexuality and securing same-sex marriage, poor America gets hit with declining economic prospects and a zippy, new, postmodern marriage culture that works for the rich but not for them. Elton John gets a husband and baby while the ordinary Jims and Janes in America get—nothing.

Culture is not a machine. You can’t directly trace alterations to this movement or that change in the law to broad social changes of the sort we’re seeing in the growing marriage inequality. But is it really so difficult to see that gay marriage is today’s luxury good for the rich that’s being paid for by the poor? Apparently so.

(R.R. Reno) Apparently so. I’ve been noting for decades – at least since Madonna deliberately selected one of her male dancers, like breeding stock, to inseminated her out of wedlock – that such brazen sluttiness might not fail publicly and spectacularly for show biz millionaires, but it was going to be bad news for the poor adolescent girls who emulated her.

But I didn’t invent the argument, so my claim of vindication is attenuated. I just caught the wave earlier than most.


I’m not sure when it happened, and I didn’t even realize it had happened until I read Coppins’s piece, but at some point I just assumed that “conservative book” meant “talk radio in print,” and therefore not worth paying attention to. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point where if a book is marketed as “conservative,” I assume it’s an ideological screed that can be safely ignored.

Is it just me? The sales figures indicate that it’s not. What was the turning point, do you think? I’m guessing the end of the Bush administration, but I might be wrong. Anybody know?

(Rod Dreher on the decline of conservative book publishing)


We’re relearning an old lesson: History, culture, geography, religion and pride often trump economics.

(Robert Samuelson in the Washington Post, on the crisis in Ukraine)

We would never let anything so trivial trump economics here in the good ole U.S. A.


[I]f one wants to try to encourage foreign intervention, as my colleague Jide Nzelibe has shown, it helps to die a lot first.

(Eugene Kontorovich on the bloodless conquest of Crimea)


Michael A. Helfand, associate professor at Pepperdine University School, makes a plausible suggestion on how to avoid courts answering how many angels can dance on the head of a corporate pin: 

[The two perspectives I have just painted broadly] both begin from the wrong premise. They both think that we can figure out which institutions are truly religious and which ones aren’t. And so the only question is whether for-profit institutions are “truly” religious. This type of governmental weighing of religious content is deeply problematic. Can the government really determine how religious a company is? Do you need a statement of religion in your corporate charter? Prayer services at work a certain number of times a week? How much is enough?

At bottom, instead of asking what the institution, so to speak, “is,” we should be asking what the employees knew. Did the employees know they were signing up to work an institution that had core religious objectives? This focus on employees—and not employers—tracks the Supreme Court’s original explanation for why we give religious institutions special constitutional protections …

What that means is that institutions receive religious liberty protection when their members or employees have implicitly granted them those protections. And that means that members or employees have to know what the institution is all about. Churches are obvious candidates for these religious protections—and this is why the law often refers to a “church autonomy” doctrine.

But some for-profit corporations might also qualify. In the current cases before the Supreme Court, one of the plaintiffs—Mardel—is an affiliated chain of thirty-five Christian bookstores which exclusively sells Christian books and material. Another plaintiff, the arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby, buys hundreds of full-page newspaper advertisements inviting people to “Jesus as Lord and Savior.” By contrast, Conestoga Wood Specialties—the third plaintiff currently before the Supreme Court—does not appear to have engaged in any public manifestations of religion that would have alerted employees to its religious objectives. This distinction makes all the difference if you take the perspective of potential employees—and not employers—when deciding what institution should receive religious liberty protections.

But on second thought, I’m not sure this idea really is ready for prime time. Are we ready (assuming it is ready) for Hobby Lobby to hold on-site Bible studies, either mandatory or encouraged? I thought that sort of thing was part of what made for a religiously “hostile work environment.” Is there a sweet spot where consent is implied, but religion isn’t too “forward” for our other laws?

It would at least seem to require a pretty major remapping of employment law, not just minor adjustment.


Meanwhile, Patrick Deneen notes some absurdity in the whole controversy, which is the kind of insight that makes him indispensible:

Largely ignored is the fact Hobby Lobby is a significant player in a global economy that has separated markets from morality. Even as it is a Christian-themed brand, it operates in a decisively “secular” economic world. It is almost wholly disembedded from any particular community; its model, like that of all major box stores, is to benefit from economies of scale through standardization and aggressive price-cutting, relying on cheap overseas producers and retail settings that are devoid of any particular cultural or local distinction. The Hobby Lobby near us—on Grape Road in nearby Mishawaka—is about as profane imaginable a place on earth, accessible by six lanes of concrete roads where there is a heavy concentration of large chain retailers, where it anchors a sensory-deadening row of retail store fronts that border acres of cracked and barren pavement, awash in discarded plastic bags and crumpled fast food wrappers. On the rare occasion that I enter the store, even amid the Chinese mass-produced crosses and the piped in Christian music, under the endless florescent lighting and displays carefully-managed to optimize impulse buying, I am hardly moved to a state of piety, prayer, and thanksgiving. I am, like everyone else, looking for the least chintzy item at the cheapest price.

Hobby Lobby—like every chain store of its kind—participates in an economy that is no longer “religious” or even “moral.” That is, it participates in an economy that arose based on the rejection of the subordination of markets embedded within, and subject to, social and moral structures….

This economy—like the one it displaced—is not neutral; it is based on certain assumptions about human nature and implicitly teaches its participants to model their own behavior on those assumptions. The anthropology at the base of our modern economy is that of rationally calculating, utility maximizing individuals who have learned to understand both human labor and resources as commodities, who seek always to calculate economic activity in terms of price (hence, are always called “consumers”) in ways that obscure any connections between what is purchased and its implications for our communities.

(Even If Hobby Lobby Wins, We Lose, emphasis added) Still, there’s at least a glimmer of Christian conscience in closing stores on Sunday and voluntarily beating the mandatory minimum wage by 93%.

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“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.