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.

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On Young Voters And The GOP

Republicans - GOP - Young Voters

At least some people in the Republican Party seem to have woken up to the demographic timebomb ticking away under their feet, and have started to lament, if not yet analyse, the fact that the vast majority of young people in America today would sooner give up their loud music and Pac-Man video games (or whatever it is that young people do for fun these days) than vote for a GOP candidate in a presidential election.

There is an article worth reading on this topic by Jeff Jacoby in today’s Boston Globe, entitled “As Dems rack up debt, youth should flock to GOP”.

Mitt Romney is apparently the latest Republican to develop a sense of outrage that no one outside of the grey haired brigade would be seen dead voting for him:

‘I don’t mean to be flip with this,’’ said Mitt Romney during a Q&A with students at the University of Chicago last week. “But I don’t see how a young American can vote for a Democrat.’’ He cheerfully apologized to anyone who might find such a comment “offensive,’’ but went on to explain why he was in earnest.

The Democratic Party “is focused on providing more and more benefits to my generation, mounting trillion-dollar annual deficits my generation will never pay for,’’ Romney said. While Democrats are perpetrating “the greatest inter-generational transfer of wealth in the history of humankind,’’ Republicans are “consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down and creating economic growth and opportunity so we can balance our budget and stop putting these debts on you.’’

At which point the needle on my “Are You For Real?” machine jolted as far toward the “You Must Be Kidding” end of the spectrum as it could go before the whole machine exploded in a shower of sparks.

The author himself does a good job of pouring cold water on any Republican claims to the mantle of fiscal restraint:

But that debt wasn’t piled up without plenty of Republican help. During George W. Bush’s presidency, annual federal spending skyrocketed from $1.8 trillion to $3.4 trillion, and $4.9 trillion was added to the national debt. Bush left the White House, in fact, as the biggest spender since LBJ . Granted, the profligacy of Barack Obama has outstripped even Bush’s bacchanal: CBS reports that Obama has added more to the national debt in just three years and two months than Bush did in his entire eight years. Still, younger voters can hardly be blamed if they haven’t noticed that Republicans are “consumed with the idea of getting federal spending down.’’

Therefore I do not intend to say anything more about the glaring, shameless hypocrisy of the Republicans – the party that gifted America two unfunded wars, large tax breaks not balanced by spending cuts and the joke that is Medicare Part D – laying any claim whatsoever to competency in handling the nation’s finances. Except that I will say that much of the “profligacy of Barack Obama” mentioned by the author was the result of a fiscal stimulus implemented (despite its imperfections) at a time when the US economy was in freefall, and without which the tepid recovery currently being experienced would likely be nothing but a sweet dream.

Mitt Romney and those others in the Republican Party who scratch their heads wondering why young people don’t like them miss the point entirely when they sulk that young people should embrace their economic policies. Though their fiscal policies may perhaps benefit young people in certain ways (and even this is arguable), there is no evidence based on past behaviour that they will actually have the political courage to implement them if voted into office. Old people (the beneficiaries of the “wealth transfers” that Romney claims to lament) actually vote in large numbers. Younger people don’t. The policy priorities of our political candidates duly reflect this fact.

Besides, it is not the GOP’s economic policies that are the main problem. The problem is the fact that in a bad economy, the opposition party is spending more time talking about abortion, contraception, mass deportations of illegal immigrants, repealing ObamaCare, questioning the president’s eligibility to hold office, and reinstating “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and a host of other socially regressive policy positions which are anathema to a majority of young people today than they are about how to reduce unemployment and help a population ill-equipped to perform the more highly-skilled, non-manufacturing jobs of tomorrow.

Rick Santorum in particular often complains that the media focuses on his socially conservative policy positions and not his economic plan, but he can hardly expect young voters to thrust him into office on the back of his inspired ideas on the economy (spoiler – they are not that great) when they are more worried that he will cut off their unemployment insurance, or close down the Planned Parenthood centre where they go for medical care, or start a war with Iran.

It is no coincidence that the one Republican presidential candidate who actually walks the fiscal conservatism walk and who doesn’t continually bleat on about social issues and the culture wars – Ron Paul – vastly outperforms his rivals with young voters, in primary after primary.

Newsflash to Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich:

Even if you had a cogent economic policy (which, by the way, none of you do) you will never appeal to young people by just tweaking your fiscal message a little bit. You had a choice when you started your presidential campaigns, and in your desperation to secure the party base you chose to fearmonger and rant about “taking back America”, and fret about turning into a socialist state, and speak about the importance of individal freedom in one breath while promising to impose your religious values on the whole country in the next.

Many young people would like an alternative to President Barack Obama, but you offer them nothing by way of a contrasting, conservative vision for the country that they could ever find acceptable. You offer them nothing. You offer racial minorities nothing. You offer women nothing. You offer the working poor and the unemployed nothing. And all of these constituencies will dutifully line up to vote for Barack Obama, and you will lose the presidential election on November 6th.

It could be otherwise, if only you offered the American people a genuine acceptable choice when they cast their votes.

Norman Tebbit on Gay Marriage

With a heavy heart and a deep sigh I noticed that Norman Tebbit has written a piece for the Telegraph on the issue of gay marriage. I was, of course, compelled to read it at once:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/normantebbit/100144912/gay-marriage-wont-win-cameron-the-next-election/

Let’s dispense with the foolishness of the title – “Gay Marriage Won’t Win Cameron The Next Election” – right away. Just as basic civil rights (and no, living in a country where everyone else is forced to abide by select teachings from your particular holy book is not a civil right) should never be granted or taken away by popular vote, neither should they be used to try to win or lose elections, often though that may happen.

This article really is the very worst of old-school conservatism fighting a rear-guard retreat against inevitable and welcome change, but the sheer patheticness of the new arguments that Lord Tebbit raises to slow the march toward marriage equality are so ludicrous that I felt I must deconstruct them one by one.

“Was anyone asked to check in how many pieces of legislation the words “husband” or “wife” appear? Are they to be replaced by some suitable non-discriminatory new word or words? Then what about the grounds for divorce? How will adultery be redefined? Exactly what kind of sexual acts outside marriage will constitute grounds for divorce? What will amount to the consummation of a marriage?”

The word you are groping for is “spouse”, Lord Tebbit. I know, it was a tricky one. Do we need to replace the words “husband” and “wife” in every bit of legislation ever written? I’m not a student of law, but I would hope that this is not necessary and that judges up and down the land would not be so pedantic as to fight their own personal mini-wars against gay marriage by issuing contrary rulings until the letter of the law was changed. But even if this were the case, is that a good enough reason to deny a civil right to someone?

How will adultery be defined? Having sexual relations with someone other than your spouse, same as it is now. No need to worry there either, Lord Tebbit. Simples.

Exactly what kind of sexual acts outside marriage will constitute grounds for divorce? What will amount to the consummation of a marriage? Ah yes, the old-school conservative hangup with exactly what goes on in the bedrooms of the same-sex couple. Well, first of all, Lord Tebbit, it is stupid to have a list of certain sexual acts that constitute grounds for divorce and ones that don’t. If we have such a list now in this country, it too is stupid, and we should get rid of it. Secondly, such a “list” would include all of those ghastly goings-on, the thoughts of which keep you awake at night in a cold sweat. Intercourse, oral sex, all kinds of naughty things that should only ever take place missionary-style, for five minutes, between a married man and wife, for the express purpose of having a baby. With the lights off. Sorry, old chap.

“What fun will be had amongst our legislators as they grapple with the question of the appropriate titles for the “partners” of those who receive the honour of knighthoods, or are made Dames, Barons or Baronesses. At present we live happily with the inequity of husbands receiving no title when their wives are honoured, but surely that cannot continues under the politically correct new order.”

Norman Tebbit proposing this argument against gay marriage is like me being tied to the rail tracks as an express train hurtles towards me, and me throwing a feather in its path hoping to stop its progress. Nonetheless, let’s engage. Firstly, I would say that the existing honours and title system in this country is stupid, vastly outdated, not understood by the majority of the population, and should be replaced by a single honour, the “Order of the United Kingdom” or something like that. But if we must keep the existing system then I’m sure we can pay a panel of retired, betitled judges to form an official enquiry into the new name that should be given to the husband of a man who has himself been titled. We like enquiries like that in this country. Maybe you could draw the new official coat of arms to be used by the gay spouses of honourees, Lord Tebbit, wouldn’t that be fun? We’ll get you a sheet of paper and some crayons.

“Within the can of worms that Mr Cameron is determined to open there are several nests of snakes. Why should a marriage be confined to just two persons? What is the barrier to the marriage of sisters, brothers or even parents and children?”

Well, one thing at a time, Lord Tebbit, eh? While the objective of those who push for marriage equality is obviously to use it as a mere stepping stone on the path toward their long-cherished dream of marrying their horse, we understand that progress comes slowly in this world.

Oh. And a nest of snakes in a can of worms? How does that work?

“Perhaps it is another contagion from his Lib Dem partners.  Surely it cannot be to gain votes. Not only would that be unworthy, but he must know that the pink vote is substantially less than the UKIP vote. Indeed most of the homosexuals that I know cast their votes on very much the same issues as the rest of us. They are not a separate species. They pay taxes, have mortgages, battle with EU laws which destroy jobs, have concerns about the price of petrol, crime, immigration, the cruel delusion of multi culturalism and  the dangers of instability in the Middle East, just like heterosexuals.”

Ah yes, there is always a line in these articles affirming that the author actually knows many homosexuals him or herself, and gets on very well with them and considers them great chums, and that to a person they all quite agree that they don’t need all this equality nonsense. Check.

And again – seriously, Lord Tebbit, are you saying that because there are more people who vote for a eurosceptic party than vote for marriage equality, the Conservative party should ignore the “pink vote” and chase the eurosceptic one? Firstly, I’m not so sure as you seem to be that the two are mutually exclusive, and secondly, yes of course gay people are concerned about all of the same issues as the rest of us, it’s just that they have that one additional cause to worry about – that of not currently being equal under the law with a married heterosexual couple.

In all seriousness now. It doesn’t please me at all to belittle Norman Tebbit, who has served this country admirably both in the armed forces, the private sector and in government. I believe that he has done many great things to help this country, especially during his tenure in PM Thatcher’s cabinet. But the fact that such a distinguished man can make such petty rhetorical arguments – “we can’t allow gay marriage because then we would have to decide what to call the husband of a Duke” – in the path of progress is beneath him as a man of intellect, and is only further evidence that the argument against gay marriage has been comprehensively lost by the old guard. If this is the best that they’ve got, marriage equality in Britain may be even closer than we think.

On Freedom Of Religion

I have only one further comment to make on the topic of gay marriage and religious freedom for now, this time prompted by another article in the Daily Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9145759/Church-powerless-to-stop-same-sex-marriage-even-if-hundreds-of-thousands-object.html

The article discusses the publication of the British government’s “national consultation document” (no, I don’t know what one is and have never heard of one either, but I’m sure that its publication kept an army of civil servants and several retired, titled former judges well-occupied and remunerated for some considerable period of time, as all lengthy British enquiries seem to do).

The gist of the article that even if hundreds of thousands of people object to the legalisation of gay marriage, it may still go ahead (and it is implied, of course that this would be a terrible thing, because apparently we like the tyranny of the majority – or enthused minority, in this case – in this country, as long as it is working in our favour).

However, one sentence in the article struck me as particularly important and much overlooked:

“The document repeatedly underlines that the change would only affect civil marriage and that there would be an outright ban on same-sex marriages [in] religious premises even if some denominations wanted them.”

Do you understand this, stalwart defenders of “traditional values” and “religious freedom”? Even in the government’s new proposed law, it would be illegal for your church, synagogue or mosque to perform a same-sex marriage even if it wanted to some day. The government is dictating what you can and cannot do within the confines of your own church.

In this case, your view and that of the government are broadly in alignment, believe it or not – neither of you want same-sex marriages to take place in religious spaces. The only argument concerns whether you should be allowed to continue to impose your definition of marriage on the general, non-religious population through the institution of civil marriage. But some day in the future your interests may diverge, and the government may choose to legislate something directly impacting what goes on in your holy place that you profoundly disagree with.

They have the power to do it now, and as this “national consultation document” shows, they are doing it now, but you say nothing because your interests are aligned. But I don’t want to hear a word of complaint if ever a government law is proposed that actually makes your church do something that it doesn’t want to do.

That would be a violation of freedom of religion. Not the legalisation of civil same-sex marriages.

Married Couple Or Just “Profound Friends”?

I didn’t go to Mass last weekend because I knew that all of the Catholic churches in Britain were going to read to their congregations a pastoral letter from the Bishops, exhorting us to fight against the government’s plans to legalise gay marriage in the UK. I don’t have time for that nonsense, and I don’t much care if this puts me at odds with official church teaching, because in 100 years’ time the church will agree with me. People that accept gay marriage and contraception will be looked back upon as latter-day Copernicuses, and those who frown upon it will be looked upon much like the Antebellum South. That’s just how it is, huff and puff about traditional values all you like.

I’m used to seeing cringeworthingly anti-intellectual arguments against gay marriage from my church, but this latest one from the Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, really takes the cake:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9147559/Gay-couples-are-just-lifelong-friends-says-Catholic-leader.html

Gay couples are, apparently, just lifelong friends who somehow got confused or duped into incorporating a romantic element into said friendship. Says the Bishop:

“I would want to say to them that I understand their desires, that I understand their experience of love is vitally important in their lives, but I would want to say to them that they are called in my view, in the Church’s view, to a very profound friendship in life … I would want them to be respected, but I would want them to have a vision in themselves that what they are called to is not marriage but a very profound and lifelong friendship.”

Good, well that’s sorted then! No need to continue this argument about marriage equality because gay and lesbian people are just good pals who got a bit confused after a few drinks.

Sigh.

The Daily Telegraph has a poll on the subject, which, as is so often the case, misses the point entirely:

It is not for Daily Telegraph readers to decide whether gay marriage in churches should be allowed. That is a matter that does, and should always, remain with the various religions and denominations. No one is suggesting that Vincent Nichols be frog-marched to the altar of Westminster Cathedral and made to bestow the Catholic sacrament of marriage on a gay couple. As long as the official church position is that homosexual unions are a sin, clergymen should and must not be required to violate their churches teaching in such a way.

However, neither does any one religion, church or denomination have the right to impose their particular standards for marriage – or dietary customs or anything else – on the population as a whole. The Catholic church can object to gay marriage and ensure that no such unions are sanctioned within the church, but beyond that it has no authority, spiritual, moral or otherwise, to lecture other people. And any claims to the moral high ground are roundly rebuffed by their tolerance of civil heterosexual unions, and their deafening silence on the topic of extra-marital affairs and the astonishingly high divorce rate.

I’ll leave it to Nick Herbert, the UK government Home Office minister to have the last word in this case:

“I don’t seek to dictate to the Archbishop what happens inside his Church, what standards he sets and what he seeks to do. It would be quite wrong for me or the state to do so. But equally I wonder why he should seek to dictate the institution of civil marriage outside of his Church which is not a matter for the Church.”

Amen.