Politico The Prude

Politico reports that John Stewart has been criticising the Democratic legislators and mayors who have been bullying and threatening Chick-fil-A over the position on gay marriage taken by that company’s CEO, mocking them on The Daily Show:

Comedian Jon Stewart ripped Mayors Rahm Emanuel and Tom Menino on Thursday night for pledging to block Chick-fil-A from opening new restaurants in their cities, siding with those on the right who say such a move would be unconstitutional.

“Pretty sure you can’t outlaw a company with perfectly legal business practices because you find their CEO’s views repellant. Not sure which amendment covers that, but it’s probably in the top one,” Stewart said. “I think maybe the mayors hadn’t thought this thing through.”

Very true. I have already written about the hypocrisy and illiberalism of those people who, like Rahm Emanuel and Tom Menino, want to punish individuals or groups not for their actions but their beliefs.

Unfortunately, we then get this:

Stewart mocked the chicken chain’s supporters, too, using sexual innuendo in a joke about “the million mouth march.”

“And what better way to stand up and say, ‘I oppose gay people’s rights to get married,’ than to head down to a Chick-fil-A, grab a hold of two buttery buns, split down and gobble down some of that hot, greasy…” Stewart said before saying a certain synonym for chicken that also refers to the male anatomy.

I think the word they are grasping for is “cock”. That’s C-O-C-K.

Could you find a more tortured way of not to say “cock” than to write “a certain synonym for chicken that also refers to the male anatomy”?

And “the male anatomy”? Is even the word “penis” out of bounds these days?

It irritates me when news organisations refuse to use certain words when they are central to the story or quote under discussion. Sometimes this is due to tortured political correctness or oversensitivity – if there is a story about racism, for example, we will hear lots about the offender uttering “the N-word”, for example. Sometimes it is due to squeamishness or prudishness, such as talking about someone who lets “the F-word” slip. And sometimes it is due to willful ignorance, such as when the New York Times refers to waterboarding as “torture” when it is carried out by a foreign country, but “enhanced interrogation” when committed by the United States.

In this case, it doesn’t really matter. The article is a light-hearted piece about a parody news show. At other times and with other stories it does matter though, and failing to report a quote accurately, or use the correct term, can have damaging or insidious consequences.

The only time that offensive words have the power to harm is when they are put on a pedestal and only referred to in roundabout, opaque ways. News organisations and journalists make themselves look silly when they falsely ascribe such power to a harmless arrangement of letters.

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SEMI PARTISAN SUMMARY

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CULTURE

Free speech continues to be squashed in Britain as a teenage Twitter user is arrested for sending mean-spirited and hurtful tweets to British driver Tom Daley. In a wonderful piece of journalism, the BBC neglect to tell us the precise wording of the tweets in question, saying only that “the 18-year-old received a message telling him he had let down his father”. Unhelpful, BBC. They go on to report: “A 17-year-old boy was arrested at a guest house in the Weymouth area on suspicion of malicious communications”. Apparently this is a crime in Britain, now. It goes without saying that mocking an Olympic athlete and making insulting reference to his late father is reprehensible and in very bad taste; equally it should go without saying that it should not lead to arrest, criminal charges or incarceration

Email may be king for most of us these days, but in Japan the humble fax machine is still alive and well, and in frequent use, both in the workplace and at home. This is partly attributable to the aging population – with one in five Japanese being over 65 years of age, many of these older citizens are more comfortable with the familiar fax technology. Also a factor is the perceived impersonality of the email as a medium for communicating with valued clients, or sending time-critical messages.

An extremely valuable Stradivarius violin was left on a train in Switzerland by an absent-minded musician. This makes me feel slightly better about losing my bank card last month.

At the conclusion of his Beethoven symphony cycle with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra at the BBC Proms, Daniel Barenboim gave a moving impromptu speech thanking the audience and the organisers for the opportunity. In his remarks, he said: “Our gratitude to the BBC who gave us this wonderful, unique opportunity to be here and play all the Beethoven symphonies – and in every concert one, and sometimes two, works by Pierre Boulez – and have all that televised. Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you, we travel a lot, there is no country in the world that would do that for music and for culture”. Barenboim is not my favourite musician in the world, but the work that he is doing here is priceless.

Following the sad death of author Gore Vidal at age 86, The Guardian has assembled a selection of 26 of his most memorable quotes. My personal favourite: “I never miss a chance to have sex or appear on television”. Or perhaps: “There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise”.

 

BRITISH POLITICS

The BBC reports that many disabled people feel that media coverage about benefit cheats has worsened attitudes toward them. The article states: “When asked what could be contributing to such hostility, 87% singled out people claiming disability benefits to which they are not entitled. And 84% highlighted negative media coverage about benefit cheats”. Based on these numbers, you might be forgiven for thinking that the thing that would make the most improvement for genuine claimants would then be to crack down harder on illegitimate claimants. But apparently 84% trumps 87%, and what we actually have to do is have the government tone down its rhetoric about fraudulent claims, and have the media stop reporting about it. Who knew?

The Labour Party was forced to apologise and disassociate itself from comments made by supporters, eagerly anticipating the death of the former Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. The Telegraph reports: “Last night, Louise Mensch, the backbench Conservative MP, called on Labour to respond after being sent a message by a follower who claimed to have worked for the Party inviting her to a party following Lady Thatcher’s death”. Labour responded, saying “Language like this has no place on politics or civilised society. No one should be wanting to celebrate the death of anyone.”

 

AMERICAN POLITICS

We have it all wrong, according to Rush Limbaugh. Mitt Romney’s overseas trip to the United Kingdom, Israel and Poland was actually not a complete disaster. We just think that it was because the US press pool travelling with Romney are deliberately harassing him (by this, I think he means asking him questions at press conferences) and trying to trick him into making mistakes. Like Sarah Palin’s famous “gotcha questions”. Says Limbaugh: “They’re trying to create gaffes. They’re working on behalf of Barack Obama. They are attempting to carry forth the meme that Romney’s foreign trip is a disaster, that it’s one gaffe after another. They’re trying to do this in the mainstream. And the fact of the matter is Romney is having a home run of a trip”. Well, that’s good, then. Insulting your best ally on day 1, fawning to appease the views of one particular Israeli party (despite promising not to create new foreign policy as a candidate travelling abroad) and being rebuffed by the Polish Solidarity movement are all good things, in Limbaugh’s world view. Of course, if you want to make the argument that these things don’t matter because the only important thing is the perception of the trip back home, as Romney’s aides are trying to do, it might help if the candidate actually spoke with the US press pool that are travelling with him.

Tim Stanley, writing in his Daily Telegraph column, comes late to the Chick-fil-A party but essentially agrees with the view taken by Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Greenwald, many others and myself, that attempts by local politicians to bully Chick-fil-A by withholding permits to open new outlets as punishment for the views of their executives is unseemly, unwise and unconstitutional. He does close with a good point though, aimed at Rahm Emanuel: “Someone should explain to Rahm Emanuel that gay rights was supposed to be about guaranteeing privacy, abolishing legal discrimination and defending the dignity of the individual against the prejudice of the mob. It wasn’t supposed to be about creating a new standard of acceptable opinion and enforcing it with the muscle of the state. Liberalism without a profound respect for difference is just fascism by another name.”

Mark Oppenheimer, writing in The Nation, has an interesting profile of Canadian/American conservative thinker and former Bush Administration aide, David Frum. I’m quite an admirer of Frum’s (though we would disagree strongly on some issues), particularly since he penned the famous “Waterloo” piece criticising the Republican tactics opposing US healthcare reform, which got him fired from one of the jobs that he held at the time. This long-form piece looks in some depth at the evolution in Frum’s thinking, showing the areas where he has moved (gay marriage, tax policy) and those where he has definitely not moved (foreign policy). In an interesting aside, the author characterises David Frum’s new position thus: “Frum has found a new synthesis, according to which a moderate welfare state stabilizes the United States so that it can remain internationally strong. A little liberalism at home helps keep us neoconservative abroad.”

 

MISCELLANEOUS

What happens when an electricity grid failure knocks out power for half the population of one of the most populous nations in the world? Well, apparently, the story gets buried deep down at the bottom of the BBC News homepage. I did not know that it was possible for a technical fault or excessive consumption to cause such a widespread failure, but given that it is, I hope that the British and American governments are taking suitable precautions to guard against a similar failure, perhaps caused by malicious intent rather than technical fault.

In another bold signal of intent, China has announced plans to land an unmanned probe on the surface of the moon next year, as part of their wider project to land a man on the moon at an unspecified time. China has already achieved significant milestones in terms of human spaceflight, recently including their first spacewalks, first manual docking manoeuvre and first female astronaut.

The Last Word On Chick-Fil-A

Glenn Greenwald says it best:

Obviously, it’s perfectly legitimate for private citizens to decide not to patronize a business with executives who have such views (I’d likely refrain from doing so). Beyond that, if a business is engaging in discriminatory hiring or service practices in violation of the law — refusing to hire gay employees or serve gay patrons in cities which have made sexual orientation discrimination illegal — then it is perfectly legitimate to take action against them.

But that is not the case here; the actions are purely in retribution against the views of the business’ principal owner on the desirability of same-sex marriage.

Yes. This is why it is so disconcerting to see supposedly “enlightened” liberal politicians in the US calling for more severe sanctions against Chick-Fil-A, including the refusal by cities and municipalities to grant the fast food chain permission to open more outlets. Such bullying tactics have no place in a democracy, least of all one that claims to place such a premium on the right to free speech.

Greenwald goes on to say:

It’s always easy to get people to condemn threats to free speech when the speech being threatened is speech that they like. It’s much more difficult to induce support for free speech rights when the speech being punished is speech they find repellent. But having Mayors and other officials punish businesses for the political and social views of their executives — regardless of what those views are — is as pure a violation of the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech as it gets, and beyond that, is genuinely dangerous.

It is a real shame and surprise to see so many politicians taking the opposing view. It certainly doesn’t do much for the image of “Chicago politicians” to see both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Alderman Joe Moreno attempting to punish Chick-fil-A for the opinions of their executives by vowing to deny permission for the company to expand in their city.

Finally:

If you support what Emanuel is doing here, then you should be equally supportive of a Mayor in Texas or a Governor in Idaho who blocks businesses from opening if they are run by those who support same-sex marriage — or who oppose American wars, or who support reproductive rights, or who favor single-payer health care, or which donates to LGBT groups and Planned Parenthood, on the ground that such views are offensive to Christian or conservative residents. You can’t cheer when political officials punish the expression of views you dislike and then expect to be taken seriously when you wrap yourself in the banner of free speech in order to protest state punishment of views you like and share. [My emphasis.]

Amen.

This is one of those times where someone else gets there first and says it better. But I wanted to put on the record of this blog that I agree totally with Glenn Greenwald on this issue. While the cultural and civil rights positions expressed by the Chick-fil-A CEO are to my mind socially regressive and (more importantly) completely irrelevant to Chick-fil-A’s success as a corporation, he should be allowed to say what he says, and the public have the right to vote with their feet and choose not to patronise the restaurant chain if they feel strongly about the matter. Beyond that, no more needs to be said. Elected politicians certainly have no right – moral, constitutional or otherwise – to use their powers to bully or discriminate against individuals or companies with whom they happen to disagree.

A Side Of Moralising With My Chicken, Please

I love Chick-fil-A.

Their fried chicken is great, perfectly seasoned and cooked just right. The waffle fries are out of this world. So is the sweet tea. The dips are actually tasty, and worthy of having such awesome chicken dunked in them (the barbecue and honey mustard are particularly good). The staff are consistently the friendliest, most courteous, helpful staff you will ever encounter at a fast food restaurant. They employ someone to greet you with a warm welcome when you walk through the door, and they walk the restaurant topping up your soft drinks for free if they notice your cup is getting low (did you hear that, British restaurants? Free refills! Try offering them!).

In short, they are pretty much everything you could want in a fast food restaurant.

Which is why this story, reported by Politico, is so irritating. The article reads, in part:

The fervor over the restaurant’s politics began when Chick Fil A president Dan Cathy said earlier this week that Chick Fil A is “guilty as charged” in support of “the biblical definition of the family unit.”

It really annoys me when companies stumble into the news cycle in this way. Whether it is Target donating to a group that benefitted an anti-gay marriage candidate (even though it is fairly certain that they donated for reasons other than this), the CEO of Whole Foods penning an Op-Ed critical of President Obama’s health reforms, or now Chick-fil-A being dragged into the gay marriage debate, it is all quite unnecessary and seems to bring out the worst (and, incidentally, un-American) aspects of supporters and detractors alike.

Now the three examples above are not identical. In the case of Whole Foods, the CEO wrote his “ObamaCare alternative” op-ed in a personal guise, though coming out and writing a political op-ed piece contrary to the likely views of the vast majority of your customers is certainly not very wise. In the case of Target, they made a donation to a group that supported candidates who promoted pro-business policies that they agreed with, but failed to do their due diligence to ensure that none of the beneficiaries espoused any other, more controversial policies, which unfortunately one of them did.

But in the case of Chick-fil-A, the company president Dan Cathy specifically supported an anti-gay marriage policy, and deliberately included his company in his recent statements, rather than making a statement in a personal capacity. Firstly:

“…we’re inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage. And I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude that thinks we have the audacity to redefine what marriage is all about.”

And then:

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that … We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that.”
Without getting into the extent to which corporations really are and are not people, this is just not smart business. Some aspects of the Chick-fil-A corporate culture are very commendable – the fact thay they choose not to open their restaurants on Sundays so that staff have time to spend with their families and attend church if they are religious, for example, is refreshing in this day and age, and harms no one (except people with fried chicken cravings after sunday services).
Announcing that your company does not support marriage equality, on the other hand, while not actively harming anyone (because there is no discrimination at work, the company serves and treats all customers alike), is just plain irrelevant. Chick-fil-A, as a corporate “person”, is not harmed by any attempts to legalise marriage between two people of the same sex. Nor, for that matter, are any private heterosexual individuals, no matter what ludicrous claims they may make.
If a corporation exercises its supposed first amendment right to speak out against a policy that directly impacts its bottom line (such as tax policy or employee healthcare, a la Target or Whole Foods) this is perhaps understandable. But gay marriage? I would be very interested to hear an argument explaining how the legalisation of gay marriage would result in lower profits for Chick-fil-A. And until I hear a convincing one, I will be of the opinion that matters such as these are none of their business, and that they, and their CEO, would do well to keep quiet on the topic.
Why pick an unnecessary fight, alienate potential customers and generate bad headlines? It’s just bad business.