Riding A Hobby Horse

Hobby Lobby is suing to be exempted from certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act.  The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

Hobby Lobby is a privately-held company with 500 some stores in 41 states and over 13,000 employees.  The issue here is quite different than with small businesses (50 employees or less), which can opt out and urge their employees to get their own health insurance on the exchanges.  Companies of this size are required to cover their employees, so Hobby Lobby has less wiggle room than much smaller concerns.

The question at the heart of this is, should a company be forced to pay for things with which it has a moral objection?  Here’s Hobby Lobby’s argument.  Seems fairly straightforward, and as far as it goes, believe it or not, I have some sympathy.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone could opt out of paying for things we don’t like?  There are any number of government programs I would like to refuse to fund, most especially tax credits for large companies.  Back when I had cable, I would dearly loved to have opted out of paying for all the sports channels I never watched, but the deal was, it’s a package and, so I was told, everybody gets them, you have the remote, change the channel.

We could go down a very long list of things we are all overtly or covertly made to pay for that we’d rather not, some just because we don’t like them, others because we strenuously object.  There are times I would truly enjoy having a more direct input into how my money gets spent.

It would seem possible to accomplish something like that in the not-too-distant future, with things like crowdfunding.  A similar protocol might be established for tax-funded programs so people could have a more direct say.  I’d be all for it.  As I say, there are lots of things I pay for in the course of umbrella payments that I don’t like (like, for instance, the NSA).

On the other hand, I’m not so arrogant as to believe I have the right to determine what should be available for other people.

There are a couple of things about the Hobby Lobby suit that run a bit deeper than the surface complaint.  Okay, they don’t want to pay for birth control coverage for their employees—and to be clear, this is not, apparently, a blanket objection, they have very specific products in mind which would seem to conflict with their religious convictions—and they’re making a moral stand on the issue.  If this is, in fact, such an important thing for them, one wonders why they continue to buy products from China, where state-mandated abortions have been the norm for some time, but maybe this is just being overly-critical.  Business is business, after all, and should not be confused with morality.

What they’re threatening to do is close up shop if they lose this case.  Throwing 13,000 people out of work.  This looks for all the world like the Greens are saying to the government “If you make us do this, we’ll hurt 13,000 people to get even.”  Or make a statement.  The Greens will be fine, they’re worth about two billion, and I rather doubt they’ll just close everything down, they’ll sell it.

This won’t cost them a thing, materially.

But it will cost their employees.  Just the suggestion of this would seem antithetical to a christian view.  It’s not the employees fault, why punish them?  (Of course, the employees, many of them, may well blame Obama, which might be a consideration here.)

Here’s an idea:  trust your employees.  The coverage in question is a tiny part of an overall benefits package.  The company isn’t required to force their employees to make use of it.  Why not just trust the basic moral conviction of the employees that they won’t utilize it?

But that’s not the issue.  The issue is the tacit support of practices with which one disagrees.

(Hobby Lobby has offered health care to their employees for some time.  I have to wonder if they ever objected to insurance coverage of Viagra.  The Greens object to alcohol consumption as well, so would they be chary of medical coverage for cirrhosis of the liver?)

As I said, I have some sympathy for the Greens.  You go along, abiding by the law, doing the necessary things in order to make your way in the world and be part of your community, while maintaining your own identity and values.  Everyone compromises, but you like to think that either you will never have to face a truly unacceptable choice or that you will have the strength of character to refuse to go further.  The only thing that complicates the question in this case is simple: it’s not all about the Greens and Hobby Lobby.

Nor has it been since they opened their doors for business.  Because one of the sets of compromises a business makes is that the more successful it becomes the less it is about the founder’s priorities and the more it is about that fuzzy (but very broad) zone where your company becomes part of the larger community.

I have heard it argued by people of a more libertarian bent that if they own a company they have the right to say what goes on within it.  That no one has a right to come in and dictate to them how to run things.  Like just about everything else, this sounds plausible in principle but in practice it is wrong because it overlooks that interface.  Once you accept a relationship with a community, that level of determination ends and community priorities encroach.  Which is why you can dictate the color your company will paint its walls but not the standards of the paint you use.  OSHA gets to come in and determine worker safety because it’s not about you but about your employees—or, more simply, because you live in a community and it is their welfare that trumps your claims of owner rights.

It really ends the first time you take tax money to operate, in the form of credits or tax increment financing, because that makes the community part owner and definitely a shareholder, even though we tend not to talk about such things that way.  Because you have tacitly accepted a position within that larger community and they get a say.

On an even more basic level, a company that is for profit asks the indulgence of the community in which it exists in order to be allowed to make a profit from it.  Just as it’s a matter of customer relations that you the owner have less say in how you do business, you are also inviting members of that community in to help you make that profit.  Sure, you pay them, but it’s a much more complicated relationship than the one you have with the kid who shovels your sidewalk, because the community doesn’t depend in any crippling degree on whether or not you pay that kid, but the well being of the community becomes more and more dependent on your business as it grows and it bases everything from real estate values to street cleaning schedules to school funding on your presence.

So the question of an ability to opt out of certain things because you as a business find fault with them is not a question of one single moral principle, but of multiple moral principles, some of which can come into conflict with each other.

This is complicated further by the religious component.  Long ago this country determined to exempt religious institutions from certain requirements, even though the rationale was a bit slippery.  We viewed taxing churches as a tax on conscience, and as far as it goes I agree with the exemption.  But like any other large concern, churches are much more than simple places of worship.  Some of them are landlords, property owners, investors, publishers, even bankers.  Their tax exempt status is so much more problematic today than two hundred years ago, but we have maintained our tradition of exempting them from taxes and certain other requirements primarily because we do not wish to have a prolonged and divisive court war over the matter.

But Hobby Lobby is not a church.   The precedent here is tricky.  Just as one example, let’s assume a business of comparable size is owned by a Christian Scientist who wishes to provide no medical insurance for its employees whatsoever on religious grounds.   It’s not the business that suffers or its owner, but the employees.  Which is the community.  In which the business exists and operates

This is where single-issue politics runs into its own slippery slope of impracticality, because precedent doesn’t act in a vacuum.  The law of unintended consequences spreads like virus in these instances and suddenly you find that what you thought was a simple, one item complaint has blown up into a crippling confusion of attempts by people to isolate themselves from the community in which they live at the expense of everyone else.

Hobby Lobby’s owners say they don’t wish to pay for contraception (of certain kinds) for their employees.  It seems to me they’ve made an issue out of something which hasn’t been for them before in any other way.  They aren’t.  They’re paying for medical insurance.  For health care.  Which their employees may use as each chooses.  That this coverage is bundled into the coverage by law takes it pretty much out of their hands.  They can’t even turn around and change their minds and say they want to because they don’t have that say.  What their employees do with the coverage is, at the end of the day, none of their concern, at least insofar as direct responsibility is involved.  That’s why it’s lumped together in a single package.  If you could divide it up like that, it would very quickly become the same problem that brought us to where we needed healthcare reform in the first place.

But I repeat, I have sympathy for their view.  As I said, I have a laundry list of things I would dearly love to not fund.  But I recognize why it works the way it does.I would like to know, though, what difference there is between having the government tell us how we should live and letting the owners of corporations tell us.  Just what do you do if they’re both wrong?


Controversial Common Sense

So Virginia’s new attorney general, Mark Herring, has announced he will not defend his state’s ban on gay marriage.  He has made a personal journey and concluded that doing so would be inconsistent with constitutional guarantees and common decency.  He cited Loving v Virginia as precedent, saying basically that the Supreme Court did not  declare that blacks and whites had the freedom to marry, but that people do.  As far as Mr. Herring is concerned, gays are people.  First.

Good for him.  I suspect this is an issue that has arrived.  More and more states are reviewing the legality of such bans and finding that, ethically and morally, they do not stand up, personal prejudice notwithstanding.  You have to designate certain folks as Not People for the purposes of maintaining such restraints and the problem with that—philosophy 101—is the lack of any kind of nonsubjective criteria.  In other words, just ’cause you don’t like somethin’ don’t mean you get to outlaw it.

You would think this would just be common sense, not controversial, but the problem for some folks is that they can’t separate personal reaction from public policy.  They look at something that bothers them and never once question the fact that maybe the problem is theirs, not the thing they find objectionable.  It seems silly to have to point this out to supposedly grown people, but if I’ve come to any realization about so-called Adulthood it’s that it also has no basis in objective reality.  Many adults are just kids with a little power and “rights.”  Somewhere along the way, maturity eluded them.  They insist publicly that “those people” should take responsibility for their own lives (over whatever issue happens to be at hand) and then impose laws, if they can, to make it harder if not impossible for such an outcome.  What they really mean is that “those people” should conform to expectations—their expectations—and change to suit common sensibilities.

Which clearly, in this case, are not so common anymore.  I think it’s fair to say that public opinion has turned and those who are still acting under the assumption that the majority of their fellow citizens agree with them that homosexuality is a “sin” and gay marriage will damage the country are increasingly in the minority.  As their numbers shrink, though, they get louder.  Judging by the decibel level one might think they still represent the majority.

It fascinates me, though, how certain folks insist on freedom to live as they choose and then try to deny others the same right, as if freedom is a small pie that has to be sliced carefully.  Give too much to one, it leaves less for others.  This has always been a common belief, evidently, judging by the way people act and talk, and has always been a lie.  But then, they aren’t insisting on freedom—not really.  They’re insisting on preferred form.  (It has always puzzled me how someone in, say, a small country far away can look the camera in the eye and declare that he is fighting for freedom and then turn around and deny freedom to half the population of his  country—women.  Clearly this is not freedom being defended but a presumed right to observe lifestyle choices which include oppression.  Freedom is a much misused term.)  Such folks, when pressed, will deny reality like a mental contortionist in order to have their way.

Well, good for Mr. Herring, and good luck.  Virginia is the seat of paradox, the home of Jefferson and Madison and yet at one time the state with the largest number of slaves.  Few places represent such extremes so vividly, between ideals and practice.  It’s nice to see a move toward bringing the two closer in line.

Upgrading Myths

I saw Man of Steel this past weekend and while I enjoyed much of it, some of it was troubling, and I’ve been pondering ever since.  To be sure, taking up so much brain time with a cinematic version of a comic book seems absurd, but only until you realize how much this stuff means to us as a culture.

Superman is a 20th Century American Myth and it has, whether we like it or not, supplied a good deal of workaday philosophical grist for our collective mills.  We keep revisiting it (and revising it and rebooting it and returning to it) for reasons that have nothing to do with common sense and everything to do with how we see—or would like to see—the world.

Disclaimer:  I grew up watching George Reeves as Superman on tv.  I didn’t collect the comics so much.  Some, sure, but not like friends of mine who had stacks of them encompassing years, even decades.  As a kid, I was certainly enamored of the idea of being super strong.  (I was bullied, you bet I fantasized being able to fly, see through solid objects, and take a punch that might result in my attacker breaking his hand.)  But as I grew older I just couldn’t relate to the guy from Krypton as much as I could with Batman.  Superman was never top of the heap for me.  Just so you know.

I very much liked the Christopher Reeve film.  They hit that note perfect as far as I was concerned.  And should have left well enough alone as the subsequent films just got worse and worse.  (Superman Returns for me was an impressive-looking meh.)  I liked Lois & Clark a lot.  Not so much Superboy or Smallville.  The substance of the myth only goes so far, then it has a tendency to lend itself—badly—to soap opera (is Lois ever going to get this guy in the sack?  What about Lana? And Jimmy!), which even the estimable Lois & Clark fell into eventually.

But we’re talking about a 20th Century reboot of a Greek Myth—the god (or demigod) who comes to Earth, does amazing feats, and is wooed, sometimes seduced (or does the wooing, seducing, or, more commonly, just plain raping) by a mortal woman.  Resulting in…

Well, the thing about the Greek gods is, every time they came down from Olympus to meddle about with the mortals they left a mess behind.  They just didn’t know how to not break things.

I liked that Man of Steel went there.  When the film had been out for a time, I remember people complaining about how violent is was.  Well, yeah.  It would be, wouldn’t it?  Part of the implausibility of Superman is how tidily he fights crime.  Here, in this instance, he has to mix it up with his own kind, and to be true to its pretensions it was going to get ugly.

Where the film failed for me, thematically, was that it insisted that no new mythology could be concocted from these unlikely elements.  Christopher Nolan and company, who did a wonderful job with Batman, were clearly working toward dumping all the old stuff and coming up with a new approach, that is without changing the basic idea.  Kal-el is an alien.  He was sent here to avoid the fate of the rest of his people.  He grows up to become the ultimate Hero.  Obviously there are resonances to the Greeks and just about any other ancient pantheon you care to name.

Just as obviously, there’s no good reason to stick to the old template when trying to turn a fantasy construct into a piece of science fiction—which is what they tried to do.

Large doses of Factored Plausibility were injected into this film.  The scene of young Clark in grade school, suddenly having his X-Ray Vision come on line and c0mpletely freaking out was superb.  Yes, this would seem likely under these circumstances.  And the talk with Jonathan in the aftermath of his saving the bus of kids from the river.  This is not a Depression Era salt of the earth Jonathan Kent, but a man in the presence of something he can’t handle who is scared all the time.

And the whole backstory of Kryptonian exploration and outposts—it seems they were basing much of this on Imperial China, which was a civilization that at one time had a vast exploratory fleet and maybe even colonies and then decided not to bother with Outside and shut it all down. But of course, they left stuff all over the place.  This is good, solid extrapolitive retooling.  It made it all less Olympian and far more geopolitical.  Good, very good.

But then there is the Christ Imagery.

You know what I’m talking about.  Clark wandering the Earth, going out to the wildnerness, becoming Himself—for 33 years before coming out as an alien.  And if you didn’t get it with that, then the shot of him leaving the Kryptonian ship, arms extended, a human crucifix…

And Jor-el as the ephemeral father from heaven.

The battle with Zod and the others is obviously a war with demons—or perhaps only with those who would not give up an absolute adherence to tradition, the ultimate evangelists, that have to be tossed out of the temple.

The problem is, it was incomplete and mongrel.  They threw that stuff in there in order to play the audience, establish a mythic resonance with the familiar even as they were clearly trying to recast the myth into something more plausible in a science fiction context.  They didn’t actually do anything with those little bits.  And Jesus is really not the appropriate myth in the first place.  Moses was always the grounding myth of Superman, and they actually missed the boat on this one by severing his connection to “his people.”

It’s mix-and-match mythology, done slickly and cynically—the image will mean something, but we don’t actually have to have it inform the story with anything.  It’s just a hook.

And not a very satisfying one.

Part of the problem is that Superman is such an uncooperative idea with which to make good science fiction.  They tried mightily in this one, but they kept coming up against the parts that make no real sense other than as fantasy—or myth.  They tried for an upgrade but ended up with just a patch.  So it is neither the old familiar Superman (which Christopher Reeve portrayed so well) or a brand new, fully reimagined Superman that might suit the 21st Century.  This wouldn’t matter so much if not for the fact that Superman had been made and has always served to Mean Something.  We have long since realized he could never be A Savior, not in the sense perhaps implied by Nolan et al.  He’s one man, although incredibly gifted, and even he can’t be everywhere and do everything.  So overtly tying him to Christ is a cheat.  It’s also not what he was intended to represent.  Ever.

At best, Superman represented the idea that limits are intended to be superseded.

That’s my take, anyway.  What Man Of Steel was intended to mean, I’m not sure.  Maybe the makers weren’t, either.  But if they do another one, I would suggest trying to come up with new substance for new myths.  The old ones don’t work so good anymore.  If you’re going to upgrade something like this, leave the past behind.  At least that part of it that no longer answers any real needs.

Either that, or leave it as a comic book and don’t change anything.

Great special effects, though.  Cecil B. DeMille would be envious.

Favorite Posts of 2013

Because, it was a long year, and memory is sometimes a tenuous thing.  These are my favorite rambles from the past year.

Meaning, Cults, Freedom

Portrait of a Good Friend

Guns and Popes

Breakneck Mousetraps

Scouts’ Honor

Undeserved Entitlement

Original Intent

Right Is Wrong

Jack Vance

Colloquial For “Why, I Didn’t Mean Nothin’ By It!”

On The Extraction of Feet From Mouths

Boycotts and Bully Boys

My Friend Has A New Novel

About Hild

I did not include links here to last July and August because almost all of those months were about our trip, so just flip back to them in the archives and enjoy.

I included a couple of reviews from the Other Blog, The Proximal Eye.  I guess I did a bit in 2013.  I hope 2014 is just if not more productive.

Thanks for your indulgence.

Pet Peeve

I don’t watch a lot of television.  Possibly more than I should, given everything I have on my plate, but I grew up with tv and have loved a lot of what’s been on it and it is, or can be, a great source of pleasure.

One of the shows I’ve been devoted to the last few years has been Castle.  From the first episode, I’ve been hooked.  Firstly, how could I not like a show about a writer?  And especially the writer as many of us dream of becoming.  Secondly, Nathan Fillion.  I mean, Firefly?  I was so happy to see him get a new show.  (And the fact is, if one pays attention, there are Firefly references sprinkled throughout the show.)  Thirdly, Stana Katic.  (I am hopelessly enamored of women with strong personalities and great brains—did you know Ms. Katic speaks five languages and often does her own stunts?  We don’t even have to talk about her looks, do we?)

The show started off with a smart script, tremendous wit, and immediate chemistry.  No one was talking down to anyone here and the ongoing back story involving Detective Beckett’s (Katic) murdered mother was written in just enough and brought to a satisfying resolution, if not conclusion.

It was obvious from the get-go that these two would fall in love eventually, which worried me, because so many shows have been ruined by consummation.  (Just look at Bones if you don’t believe me.  How sad.)  They wrote and played it marvelously.

When they finally decided to get them together, much to my surprise they didn’t ruin it.  Usually what happens is one of the two becomes submissive and suddenly we have “traditional male-female roles” playing out and it’s just so been-there-let’s-not-anymore.  Not so here.  They are different enough characters that they can remain equals without the kind of imbalance that might blow them apart.  Which still may happen.  They’re on their way to getting married now and the quality remains high.

So I feel a bit churlish about complaining, but I can’t help it.

Rick Castle is getting stupid as the show progresses.

Oh, he always pulls himself out of it by an episode’s end, but over five seasons he has gone from a very savvy, knowledgeable, well-informed, somewhat reckless amateur sleuth to someone who believes in woo-woo and is overly-cautious to the point of cowardly at times.  And after 30 bestselling crime novels, the rich pool of knowledge he had at the start of the show has sort of leaked out along the way.

The last show I watched, from last season, has him advancing with a STRAIGHT FACE the theory of a serial killer striking from beyond the grave.  Really?  Really?  This is as bad as people assuming because I write science fiction I believe in alien abduction.  It’s reinforcing a weird stereotype.

Oh, I get it, he’s the writer, so he’s supposed to be the romantic as opposed to Beckett’s supreme rationalist.  But I liked it better when he was the one the wild (but credible) theories opposed to her thorough and dogged policeman.

It’s even borderline sappy now.

I still love the show, I still think it has some of the best writing on network television, but it would be nice if they’d push Rick back to where he started.  This hasn’t yet ruined the show for me, he is still mostly an asset in the police work, but from time to time he’s implausible.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for the Joss Whedon-scripted episode.  You know one is on the way, don’t you?  ABC take note.  Whedon, a Castle script.  Please?


Here’s my stack of to-be-read.  At least, partly.  These are the books I intend to read.  Some I won’t get to.  Many are books I have to read.  Research, etc.  And obviously this doesn’t include books I do not yet own…


Reading 2014 2


We’ll see how much I get through.  Clearly, I won’t be bored.

2014: Intentions

Good morning!

Now for a change in direction.  Slightly.  Much the same only with differences.

What I have planned for this year…

I long ago gave up on New Years’ Resolutions.  I recall keeping some of them, actually following through, but the fact is none of them transpired the way I’d intended and other things came along that proved both better and worse.  Like predictions of the future, they have a spotty record.

Which would seem strange, since resolutions are supposedly entirely yours to make and execute.  You have the power.  You control the horizontal, the vertical, the sharpness…

However, life is a sometimes perverse and uncooperative partner in the dance, so the best you can do is Intend.

So, my New Years’ Intentions.

I will have a short story collection coming out in May.  I already mentioned that a couple of posts back, so this isn’t news, I’m just putting it here to begin on a somewhat more reliable note.

I’ll be attending ConQuest 45 in Kansas City in May.  We used to attend every year, we have friends there.  But after 2005, when civilization collapsed, and money got tight, we stopped.  As I’ll have a book out by then (fingers and toes crossed) I’m going back.

Which hopefully will be the harbinger of more such trips and visits.  We’ve lost touch with some folks, we haven’t been where we’ve wanted to be, and I’m disinclined to waste much more time waiting for the situation to be Just Right.  So, a few more trips this year.

I intend to write two novels this year.  I’m working on the first (not right this precise moment, obviously, since I’m writing this to tell you about my writing something else) and starting to plot out the second.  They’re both going to be kick-ass novels, you just wait and see.

I intend to start writing and publishing short stories again.

This spring I will be participating in a reading group/art expo at the Pulitzer Foundation Gallery.  There’s a science fiction theme this year and it will be fun.  More on that later.

I’m also conducting my own reading group through Left Bank Books, which I’ve also posted about not too far back.  First meeting this Saturday, 7:30 PM at the central west end store.  The first half dozen titles are selected, which is giving me an opportunity to revisit some old friends (bookwise) and maybe put my two cents into the whole literary discussion about the field in general.

I intend to continue working out, staying healthy, defying old age.

(As a minor goal, I intend to have more than 300 followers on Twitter, if for no other reason than I seem stuck at 280. So if anyone would care to help out with that…)

I intend being more who I want to be.  It’s there, just a bit rusty from disuse.  The last several years haven’t been all that conducive to being spectacular.  Quite the opposite.  So I’m planning to change that.

I intend learning to play decent if not terrific electric guitar.  If possible, I’ll shoot for terrific.

I intend being in touch with my friends more.  It’s too easy to put things aside for later and then later turns out to be years and then you don’t know what the hell has happened and we’re all different.

I intend, finally, being around.  If that’s convenient and desirable to everyone, then we should all have a good time.

I intend to learn to cook some new things.  Microwaves are wonderful and take-out is delightful, but again, time passes, the fine cookware languishing in a cabinet continues to languish, and the taste buds atrophy.

Okay, have I covered everything?  Probably not, but I think that’s a good general statement of intentions.  No resolutions.  I haven’t resolved anything.  If I fulfill any or all these intentions, then I can say I’ve resolved them, but enough of that overcommitment-followed-by-disappointment-leading-to-self-loathing.  (I’m actually quite good at the self-loathing, regret, sense of failure schtick.  Enough.)

So.  To the horizon.  Welcome to 2014.  Onward.


Into The Horizon, July 2013