Volume 3.3 (January 13-19, 2014)

Pick of the Week– Has Support for Gay Rights Confused Our Understanding of Morality? (Nathaniel Frank, Slate)– “What courts really mean—or should mean—in barring “moral disapproval” as the basis for laws is that arbitrary moral disapproval is improper, not all moral disapproval. The taboo against homosexuality is an arbitrary moral disapproval. Homosexuality harms no one. It’s not, it turns out, a morally bad thing at all. It’s just that lots of people and lots of big religions have subscribed to this taboo for so long that it became acceptable to simply deem gayness immoral. What people really mean when they call homosexuality immoral, for the most part, is either that they find it icky or that their religion forbids it—and for no discernable reason, or at least not one that has any capacity to help make life better or worse for people in today’s world, the true basis of morality.”

Reproductive Rights

The Next Frontier in Fertility Treatment (Sarah Elizabeth Richards, NYT)– On the use of ART for transgender parents

Where Free Speech Collides with Abortion Rights (Adam Liptak, NYT)

Exemptions from the ‘contraception mandate’ threaten religious liberty (Fredrick Mark Gedicks, WaPo)– “These cases indeed pose a grave threat to religious liberty, but not to that of the owners of these businesses. Exempting ordinary, nonreligious, profit-seeking businesses from a general law because of the religious beliefs of their owners would be extraordinary, especially when doing so would shift the costs of observing those beliefs to those of other faiths or no faith. The threat to religious liberty, then, comes from the prospect that the court might permit a for-profit business to impose the costs of its owners’ anti-contraception beliefs on employees who do not share them — by forcing employees to pay hundreds of dollars or more out of pocket each year for what should be covered under the law.”

The Big Picture

How Government Wages War on the Poor (Alan Blinder, WSJ)

A simple test for conservative poverty proposals (Ezra Klein, Wonkblog)– “Follow the trail in the party’s recent budgets and what you find, hidden between appendix tables, are deep cuts to programs for the poor. That’s the inevitable consequence of Republican commitments to favored constituencies.”

Politics

David Brooks’ “Conservatism of Skeptical Reform” is a Daydream (Richard Yeselson, New Republic)– A riposte to Brooks’ column that I linked to in last week’s edition of The Nightstand.

Democracy needs dogged local journalism (Rachel Maddow, WaPo)– “A free press isn’t that kind of “free.” An accountable democracy doesn’t work without real information, gathered from the ground up, about people in power, everywhere. Be inspired by the beleaguered but unintimidated reporters of Chris Christie’s New Jersey: Whatever your partisan affiliation, or lack thereof, subscribe to your local paper today. It’s an act of civic virtue.”

A Smaller, Meaner Scandal (Francine Prose, NYRB)– “What also seems dangerous is how strongly it confirms the growing skepticism and cynicism with which Americans view their government, our conviction that our leaders are out of touch with, and don’t care about, the well being and the lives of ordinary people, and our belief that politicians see voters merely as pawns to be manipulated in the nasty chess game that Republicans and Democrats are playing against each other.”

Surveillance and Privacy

Obama’s NSA ‘reforms’ are little more than a PR attempt to mollify the public (Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian)– “In other words, the goal isn’t to truly reform the agency; it is deceive people into believing it has been so that they no longer fear it or are angry about it.”

Calm down. The courts didn’t just end the open Internet (Ezra Klein, Wonkblog)

Ford “Knows Everyone Who Breaks the Law with Cars They Made”– Why Aren’t They Doing Something About It? (Eugene Volokh, Volokh Conspiracy)– Excellent previous of Volokh’s upcoming law review article on the tradeoffs between tort law and privacy.

Want to Predict the Future of Surveillance? Ask Poor Communities (Virginia Eubanks, The American Prospect)– “Groups of “like” subjects are then targeted for different, and often unequal, forms of supervision, discipline and surveillance, with marginalized communities singled out for more aggressive scrutiny. Welfare recipients like Dorothy are more vulnerable to surveillance because they are members of a group that is seen as an appropriate target for intrusive programs. Persistent stereotypes of poor women, especially women of color, as inherently suspicious, fraudulent, and wasteful provide ideological support for invasive welfare programs that track their financial and social behavior.”

We need a new jurisprudence of anonymity (Jed Rubenfeld, WaPo)– “Privacy was key when the question was whether, or how much of, our private lives could be monitored or recorded. That train has left the station. Today, most of us allow a great deal of our lives to be monitored and recorded — whenever we use a search engine, for example, or buy something online. Even the content of our private communications, such as e-mails and chats, is now routinely exposed to and stored by people at Facebook or Google. The key question isn’t how to keep information about us from getting out into the world; it’s how that information can be used.  The word “privacy” doesn’t appear in the Constitution. Privacy jurisprudence was a creation of the 20th century. Today, we need a new jurisprudence of anonymity. We need laws and technologies that can break through anonymity when people commit crimes or torts online. But we also need laws and technologies that will protect anonymity when government engages in 21st-century data-mining.”

Culture

Why Armond White got kicked out of the New York Film Critics Circle (Owen Gleiberman, EW)– “He’s not just a mindless crank tossing dumb insults from the back of the room. He’s a mindful crank who has turned the trumpeting of his opinions about movies into a form of (un)civil disobedience. He believes he’s justified because he thinks he’s the only truth-teller in the room. But that suggests that he’s a critic who’s now getting high on hate, and bringing that impulse out into the open. A lot of the people in the room last Monday night could hear Armond White, but in another sense he has stopped being a critic who anyone can hear. His writing and his heckling have merged into the sound of one hand clapping for itself.”

Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet (Amanda Hess, Pacific Standard)

Healthcare

What liberals get wrong about single-payer (Ezra Klein, Wonkblog)– “The dirty truth about American health care is that it costs more not because insurers are so powerful, but because they’re so weak.”

Is the U.S. too corrupt for single-payer health care? (Ezra Klein, Wonkblog)– “The key to a single-payer system is that the government sets prices. Usually, it empowers boards of independent experts who set those prices low. Reinhardt’s argument is that in the United States, health industry interests have so much sway over Congress that the prices would end up being set by health-care interests.”

Patients’ Cost Skyrocket, Specialists’ Incomes Soar (Elisabeth Rosenthal, NYT)

Technology

Shooting for the Moon, Google Hopes to Own the Future (Nick Bilton, NYT)– “Look at the technology landscape today and what do you see? A few companies — Facebook, Yahoo, Apple, Twitter and Google — competing for the same sorts of revenue: advertising, search, location and some mobile hardware.  Now look into the future of the technology landscape and what do you see? I’ll answer that for you: Google, Google and Google.”

Same-sex Marriage

The Right Backs Affirmative Action! (Andrew Sullivan, The Dish)– “But that’s an argument from natural law, and doesn’t actually hold up in the many studies of how well children do in same-sex and opposite-sex households. The idea of diversity like a university is somewhat different. But it begs a further question. If gender diversity is important, why not religious diversity? Or racial diversity? If the state has an interest in providing “diversity” in parenting, should it not privilege inter-racial marriage or religiously mixed ones? That’s an interesting argument in social engineering, but not one, I suspect, that can hold much water in front of a court.”

There Will Be No House Divided: Defining Marriage and the Art of Being a Country (Michael Austin, IVN)– “We cannot have 50 definitions of marriage and remain a coherent political unit. We are not a country if a married couple traveling from one state to another stops being married when they go through a third. We do not grant full faith and credit when a widow has no claim to property held in common for half a decade because the state she now lives in says she was never married. We all agree that marriage is a fundamental institution, and we do not have a society if we do not have a common definition of our fundamental institutions.”

Mormonism

The Mormon Modesty Police Go to the Golden Globes (Jana Riess, Flunking Sainthood)– “Moreover, the magazine does absolutely nothing to challenge the culture of objectifying women, their bodies, and their clothes. Articles like “15 Modest Golden Globe Dresses” don’t explore what women do, say, or contribute to society. In fact, this article (unlike even the snide Telegraph gallery) does not so much as tell us who was nominated last night, or who won the awards.  The women pictured in LDS Living are not directors, professional actors, singers, writers, or producers; they are bodies. And the one life-and-death choice those bodies are permitted to make is how they will clothe themselves.”

Toward a More Productive, Fulfilling and Successful Missionary Program (John f., By Common Consent)– “In contemplating this problem — of having significantly larger numbers of missionaries in otherwise unaltered missionary circumstances, including in missions with the same mission boundaries and rules, etc. — it has occurred to me that a shift in our perspective about these missionaries’ day-to-day work activities could drastically change the success of their missions, both in terms of the number of people they are able to influence (and convert) through the Gospel and their own personal fulfillment serving as representatives of the Lord.”

Women and the Priesthood: What’s the Conservative Position? (Nathaniel Givens, Times and Seasons)– “Now, if the things which God has yet to reveal are “many” and “great” and “important,” then there is no reasonable basis for a conservative to engage in knee-jerk defense of the status quo. The LDS Canon, which Mormon conservatives emphasize at least as much as Mormon liberals, rules out the possibility of safe accommodation to the status quo. Importantly, this tenet is merely an explicit distillation of a recurrent theme in the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants. Political reform, theological innovation, and organizational restructuring are endemic in every single one of the standard works. The only constant, to indulge in a cliché, is change.”

If Your Sexual Thoughts Were Like My Asthma (Emily Belanger, Peculiar People)– “But I’m still affected by their actions, just as many faithful members feel impacted by how others dress. So I take responsibility for my own body and do what I need to in order to minimize the way others’ smoky attire impacts me: I take my allergy medication; I bring gum to church, which helps minimize mild allergy symptoms; I keep my inhaler on hand so that I can use it if I need to. And no, I don’t generally sit right next to someone who smells strongly of smoke. And if I really, truly need to, I leave the building for a bit to get some fresh air. But I do all of this without criticizing others, either to their face or behind their back.”

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