Saturday, 8/2/14

  1. Stealth favors, writ small
  2. Divided America
  3. Shale Oil’s surprising major product
  4. Reciprocal altruism and other bars to “success”
  5. What about women that are male?


According to Douglas Laycock, a reliable source, certified smart person and long-time serious participant in religious freedom fights, President Obama has been very quietly (so as not to offend his base?) foregoing harms he could have inflicted, and even sliding a backhanded favor to religious freedom from time to time.

That is, he has a less dismal record on religious freedom than I have been wont to suggest:

Reading the text of the [Executive] Order [barring sexual orientation discrimination by federal contractors] is much easier than predicting what will happen in practice. With millions of government contracts, and some 200,000 government contractors, under-enforcement is inevitable. This is partly a matter of inertia and resources, partly a matter of priorities and what fights to pick. With respect to religious organizations, it is therefore partly a matter of religious liberty. It is politically much easier for this Administration to quietly under-enforce than to write an explicit religious exception into the canonical text of an Executive Order that has been central to the civil-rights movement for half a century.

Enforcement policy going forward remains to be seen, and conservatives should not be deceived by their own rhetoric about a war on religion. This Administration has been great on some religious-liberty issues (most publicly, enforcing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act), and bad on some others (most obviously, Hosanna-Tabor and Hobby Lobby). And it has quietly left in place some important protections for religious liberty.

First, both the old and new Executive Orders apply only to federal contracts, not to federal grants…

Second, the July 21 Order explicitly provides that it does not authorize any person to sue the United States or any other person. This means that religious contractors must deal with their contracting agency, and with the Department of Labor’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), but not with gay-rights groups filing lawsuits…

Third, Executive Order 13279, issued in 2002, explicitly exempts religious organizations with government contracts from the ban on religious discrimination…

Fourth, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) protects individuals and organizations from federally imposed burdens on their exercise of religion….

Laycock is not a liberal or conservative hack. His comments deserve attention.

But don’t miss what’s between the lines. The new Democrat base of irreligious libertines would be up in arms if they noticed a favor done or a harm undone, so it’s all whispered at best. I’m not inclined to view the Emperor as a Corrie ten BoomWilm Hosenfeld or Oskar Schindler.

Meanwhile, religious folks, it seems to me, mostly go on getting and spending, maybe (if they’re Religious Right) uttering talking points against Obama and in favor of religious liberty, but not really thinking about it, pushing back, or even asking whether they contributed in some way to the contempt in which religious freedom increasingly is held.

It kind of gives a different spin to Rod Dreher’s Law of Merited Impossibility: “It’s a complete absurdity to believe that Christians will suffer a single thing from the expansion of gay rights, and boy, do they deserve what they’re going to get.

“Deserve” because they failed to exercise eternal vigilance, that is.


My concern the past few decades has been … that divisions are sharper and deeper now in part because many of the issues that separate us … speak of our essence as human beings.

Peggy Noonan used to be one of my favorites, but I haven’t quoted her in a while. Her August 1 weekly, of which this is a very selected clip, probes how the divisions in the country now seem especially ominous.

There’s much more, but the clip, for me, is the division that worries me most.


The major product of the shale oil industry isn’t shale oil. It’s commercial paper, like bundled shale leases and volumetric production agreements – just as the major product of homebuilders leading up to 2008 wasn’t homes but bundled NINJA mortgages and sundry similar crap. (H/T James Howard Kunstler and John Michael Greer)


Does reciprocal altruism get in the way of capital formation and real success?

Megan McArdle, who has been on a phenomenally productive run (or maybe I just discovered a rising star), reflects how investments in social capital (“reciprocal altruism” is a core concept) keep the poor from acquiring a critical mass of financial capital, and Rod Dreher riffs off that. She also suggests some ways forward, to raise people out of poverty.

For what it’s worth, I’m somewhat depressed by the thought that there’s a trade-off between the two kinds of capital, but McArdle makes a strong case.

I’m also experiencing some anticipatory schadenfreude that the poor, with their stores of social capital, may suffer a whole lot less, psychologically in particular, than the atomistic individualist rich after bundled shale leases and volumetric production agreements, mirabile dictu, prove to be smoke and mirrors just like bundled NINJA mortgages and other get rich quickly and reliably schemes.


Self-styled “right-wing smirktard” Rod Dreher has the audacity to suggest that “’What about women who are male?’ is a question that can only be seriously posed in a decadent society.”

He obviously has gone over to the TERF side. Kill! Kill! Kill!

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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.