Contraception symposium misses the point

This past Friday, Georgetown Law hosted “Contraception and Conscience: a Symposium on Religious Liberty, Women’s Health and the HHS Rule on Provision of Birth Control Coverage for Employees.” The symposium consisted of three different panels dis- cussing the legal, theological, and health issues relating to HHS’s rule requiring employers to subsidize preventive health services for employees. The panels were stacked in opposition to the HHS rule, with a few women’s rights advocates to make the argument for women’s health through the screams for religious freedom.

The panelists presented some interesting arguments, and I’d like to take the time to respond to a few issues that were raised. During the second panel of the day―suggestively titled “What is the Burden on Religious Exercise?”―John Langan, a professor and Jesuit priest at Georgetown, argued that the HHS regulation requiring all employers to cover birth control for free neglects the church’s interests and right to exercise its religious beliefs freely. A principal development in western civilization, he asserted, has been the affirmation of the church as a separate entity from the government.

We’ve heard this argument before, of course. The HHS regulation was immediately met with vague, oppositional cries of free exercise and the separation of church and state. But why do we only hear religious organizations demanding such a separation when they feel the government is unduly encroaching on their beliefs? Where was this demand for separate church and government entities when Congress passed a tax code that publicly subsidizes reli- gious organizations? Georgetown itself benefits so much from public funding that the school allows military recruitment on campus despite its discriminatory policies so as not to “risk the termination of certain federal funds,” as Dean Treanor noted in a letter to the law center community last week. Perhaps the religious hierarchy is less concerned about mixing government and religion when the church directly benefits from the relationship. I guess it’s nice to have your cake and eat it, too.

Lost in Langan’s statements about the rights of the church was any discussion of the rights of indi- vidual women. The church is upset because it feels that the government is forcing its secular agenda on religiously-affiliated employers, but it seems to have no problem with an employer-based health care system in which it is permissible for a tax- subsidized religious organization to force its theological beliefs on all of its employees.

In this regard, panelist Lisa Cahill, a Catholic theologian and social ethicist from Boston College, hit the nail on the head. The individual and institutional consciences exist in a social context, she posited. Catholic moral and political posi- tions are not set in stone. Rather, the church can look to compromise and make accommodations. (For a good example of such compromise, look to the Obama Administration’s HHS Religious Accommodation — 54 C.F.R. § 147.130(a)(1)(iv); 77 Fed. Reg. 8725, 8726-27 (Feb. 15, 2010)). However, as Cornell University Law School Professor Eduardo Penalver pointed out, the church appears to be moving toward an oppositional position, looking to selectively opt out of the political process rather than embracing its identity as a pluralistic community.

In the end, I did appreciate the symposium for opening avenues of dialogue. However, I think the debate may fall on the side of futility as long as the opponents of the HHS regulation continue to foster a martyrdom complex. At one point, Professor Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame―the most high-profile school to have filed a lawsuit against the HHS regulation to date—stated that religiously-affiliated entities will continue to fight the regulation in court and, if they lose, they will refuse to obey the law. His statement seemed predicated on a rash interpretation of St. Peter’s call in the Book of Acts to obey God rather than men. Such hyperbolic statements add no value to discussions of important public policy, and only reinforce Chief Justice Waite’s opinion in Reynolds v. United States, which stated: “Can a man excuse his practices to the contrary because of his religious belief? To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.” 

The government is not waging a holy war against religion or the First Amendment. From the beginning, the HHS regulation has included an exemption for churches and houses of worship, balancing the needs of truly religious organizations with the needs of millions of women who work for religiously-affiliated employers, but do not want their healthcare dictated by those employers. The Obama administration did not have to provide any exemption, and the regulation would still have met the constitutional test established in Employment Division v. Smith, in which Justice Scalia declared that neutral laws of general applicability do not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

Moreover, the administration has proposed an accommodation for religiously-affiliated employers that, while still in the rulemaking process, will likely require insurance companies to pay for contraception claims directly, leaving the employer entirely out of the process. No matter what the end result looks like, we should remember this above all: the regula- tion was established to provide access to a basic component of women’s health to the greatest number of women who want to use it, including the 98 percent of Catholic women that use a form of birth control during their lifetimes.

That’s the issue that got lost in the symposium’s dialogue. Professor Robin West, moderating the final panel of the day, attempted to prompt a discussion of this missing conversation, of just how beneficial birth control and expanded access to it has been for women. Unfortunately , the voices at the symposium espousing the virtues of contraception were outnumbered by those espousing the virtue of religious freedom. We heard much about the interests of religiously-affiliated employers, but not enough about the rights and interests of the women they employ . 

Whistle-blower Bradley Manning: truth on trial

On Sept. 30 in Washington D.C., some of the most prominent whistle-blowers and civil liberties advocates of our time will gather to speak out for a fellow truth-teller that the military is trying to cage for life.

NSA whistle-blower Thomas Drake will recount his experience being prosecuted for exposing illegal wiretapping, and he’ll compare Manning’s case with his own. Jesselyn Radack, Department of Justice advocate and lawyer, will expound on just how vital whistle-blowers are and why we need to protect Bradley Manning.

Retired Colonel Ann Wright will recount her efforts in bringing awareness to Manning’s case and explain what needs to be done in the months to come. Finally, David House, co-founder of the Support Network and personal friend of Manning, will detail the financial struggles of the Support Network and the importance of standing up for Bradley now.

Bradley is approaching 900 days in prison without a court martial, and he shouldn’t be on trial in the first place. If he did what he’s accused of, then Bradley had the courage to potentially sacrifice his future for an informed citizenry. The hundreds of thousands of documents WikiLeaks released and attributed to Bradley Manning have helped ignite democratic revolts in Tunisia, Libya and across the Arab world. They sped up the end of the U.S. occupation in Iraq. As such, they’ve revolutionized citizen journalism, bringing source documents to the hands of the people, to understand how their government operates abroad.

They revealed high-level corruption, covert war crimes, corporate abuse and influence, backroom deal- ings, and the diplomatic process by which, in Manning’s words, “the first world exploits the third.” These documents have uncovered a previously secret casualty count in Iraq and Afghanistan, an official policy to ignore torture in Iraq, summary exe- cutions of unarmed civilians, Hillary Clinton’s secret order to spy on top U.N. officials, and scores of other abuses withheld from the American public.

But instead of prosecuting those exposed, and rewarding Manning for his alleged whistle-blowing efforts, the U.S. military is aggressively punishing the messenger. Charging Manning with “aiding the enemy,” the government seeks to associate whistle-blowing with terrorism. The military wants Bradley, and not the truth, on trial.

And they’ve mishandled or abused their prosecutorial rights along the way. First the Marines illegally , punitively kept Bradley in psychologically torturous solitary confinement in Quantico, V A. Then, as trial started, government lawyers withheld thousands of evidence documents from the defense, extensively delaying the trial to drain Manning’s legal team of resources and deprive Manning of his due process right to a speedy trial.

Finally, Commander-in-chief President Obama, and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Dempsey, have both unlawfully influenced the trial before it began by declaring Bradley Manning guilty. How can military Judge Denise Lind fairly adjudicate a trial that’s already been ruled on by her superiors?

This aggressive and reckless persecution sends a clear message to those who might find Manning’s alleged actions inspiring: commit war crimes or secret abuses and you’ll face no punishment, but leak covert crimes to a journalist and you’ll go to prison for life. It also stands in stark contrast with President Obama’s 2008 campaign promise to protect whistle-blowers and bring transparency and accountability to government.

As Julian Assange said when defending his right to publish documents and Manning’s right to blow the whistle on war crimes, “There is unity in the oppression. There must be absolute unity and determination in the response.” Fellow whistle-blowers Jesselyn Radack and Thomas Drake, along with Col. Ann Wright, and activist David House will stand up for Bradley on Sept. 30. They’ll explain the dire implications his potential prison sentence would mean for our civil liberties to come and for whistle-blowing in the digital age.

Join us at Georgetown University Law Center, from 5-7:30 p.m. For those outside the DC metropolitan area who cannot join us for the live event, we will provide a live video broadcast at 

Unpaid internships a labor market scourge

It’s time we ditched the term “internship.” The word’s greatest value to employers resides in its vagueness.

Take, for example, the production of the film Black Swan, for which I worked as an accounting clerk and a post-production assistant, but for which I was not paid wages. Why not? Because I, like scores of other workers on that film, was a relative newcomer to the industry. And being a newcomer to the film industry often means doing unpaid work, an illegal arrangement camouflaged behind the term “internship” — a term the movie industry embraces for its promise of alchemy, magically removing costs from budgets to the delight of producers and shareholders.

Unpaid internships originally evolved to provide a limited exemp- tion from minimum wage and over- time requirements when worksite trainees receive vocational instruc- tion. Such training must be truly and exclusively an educational experience that doesn’t replace the work of paid employees. Today, however, unpaid internships have metastasized into a labor market scourge.

Multiple factors have conspired to provide employers with this unprecedented pool of free labor: limited enforcement resources, a jobs crisis, inconsistent policies among cred- it-granting colleges, numerous com- pelling reasons for interns not to voice objections — plus the naïve faith that their universities and employers couldn’t be sanctioning a practice outside the law. Interns save employers an estimated $2 billion in annual unpaid wages according to Ross Perlin, author of the book Intern Nation.

This widespread, opportunis- tic misapplication of the term “internship” has irrevocably leeched it of any legitimate value.

I walked into my “internship” knowing I would be expected to do real work. My class action lawsuit against Fox Searchlight Pictures was- n’t driven by disappointment at being assigned less-than-glamorous tasks, but rather by my discovery that it simply isn’t legal for an employer to accept the benefit of an intern’s labor without paying for it, even when the intern agrees to work for no wage in hopes of getting a foothold in the industry.

To a college student or newly minted graduate, contributing behind the scenes in a beloved industry can undoubtedly be intriguing and exciting. But labor law isn’t selectively applicable relative to how exciting an opportunity is. Society maintains certain non-negotiable minimum requirements because otherwise employers will undermine the health of the overall labor market by pitting potential workers against each other in a competitive “race to the bottom” of the wage scale — a destination that has been reached when an unpaid intern’s only compensation is the promise of a job reference.

My work on Black Swan gave me an unexpectedly vivid view of how nakedly this practice is used to control production costs and of how thoroughly it has seeped into the industry’s DNA. It even entered the subtext in the film’s marketing, such as when director Darren Aronofsky explained to one interviewer that the film’s “really tough” $13-million budget meant that “lots of compromises” had to be made. What he doesn’t mention is that those compromises included violating labor laws with studio approval, following wide-spread industry practice.

It’s time for all parties to stop using a term that just obscures the truth. If your film production needs entry-level workers, identify them and pay them as such. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, an amount that shouldn’t break an honest budget. But if you want to keep believing in the magic alchemy of the word “internship,” let me give the last words to Nancy J. Leppink, the Labor Department’s Deputy Wage and Hour Administrator, as quoted in The New York Times: “If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with a for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law.”

Presidential Debate Drinking Game

The SBA, in conjunction with a number of campus groups (including the Law Weekly) is hosting a debate watch party on October 3rd. We here at the Humor Section have developed the official Presidential Debate Drinking Game. Recommended beverages: water, sparkling water, or vitamin water. Let’s get hydrated!


Take a small sip

Obama brags about killing bin Laden.

The answer does not correspond to the question.

Romney says “job creators.”

Obama mentions Bain Capital.

Either candidate says “middle class” or “national debt.”

Drink for a one-count

Either candidate mentions “Obamacare” or “Romneycare.” Drink double for “Obomneycare.”

Obama blames something on Bush.

Romney says “tax cuts” or “big government.”

Either candidate pretends we’ll be able to pay for Medicare or Social Security ten years from now.

Drink for a two-count

Someone says “47 percent,” “one percent,” “99 percent,” “Wall Street,” or “Main Street.”

Romney mentions the stimulus.

Obama takes credit for the success of GM.

Romney disparages teachers’ unions.

Obama praises teachers’ unions.

Drink for a three-count

Romney gets called out for releasing less years of tax returns than his dad.

Romney says “death panels.”

Obama says “dressage.”


Whenever the crowd boos or cheers, drink throughout the duration of the boo or cheer.

Finish the bottle

Anyone mentions climate change. Don’t worry, it won’t happen.


NSLS starts semester with visit from Rep. Adam Smith


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

by Alix Holtsclaw

On Thursday, Sept. 13, the National Security Law Society (NSLS) and the Georgetown Center on National Security and the Law co-hosted a lunch discussion with Congressman Adam Smith (D-WA).

Rep. Smith, the Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, spoke to more than 100 attendees about detention policy and national security legal issues. In his speech, Smith emphasized the importance of the rule of law, noting that policies that allow for indefinite detention harms U.S. relations with its international allies.

Rep. Smith said he would like to see the debate on detention policy shift in a more positive direction, inclusive of more options for handling alleged terrorists.

For example, Smith blamed a “Not In My Backyard”-like outcry for limiting legislators’ ability to have a thorough and thoughtful discussion around relocating Guantanamo Bay prisoners to prisons in the United States.

According to Smith, the backlash detracted from the fact that the U.S. has prosecuted over four hundred criminal terrorism cases in Article III courts and runs maximum-security prison facilities that already secure violent and dangerous criminals.

Students asked questions on a variety of legal and policy issues. Responding to a question about the recent renewal of the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) that authorizes surveillance and capture of foreign information, Rep. Smith said that he would support an amendment to improve transparency of the process by allowing public release of an unclassified version of the FISA Court’s periodic reviews.

The need for maximizing transparency was also part of his answers to questions about overclassification of documents by government officials and the decision-making process related to targeted killings.

Although he indicated that he has access to much of the relevant information on these sensitive topics and expressed confidence in the Obama Administration’s process, he conceded that a congressman telling the public to “trust me” is insufficient without independent review.

The lunch discussion with Congressman Smith is just the first in several national security law events NSLS is planning for the semester.

To find out more, attend the NSLS’s first general meeting on Sept. 28 at 1:30 p.m., or contact NSLS Executive Director Alix Holtsclaw at

Presidential debate viewing planned for Tower Green

Photos courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.Politics, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and pleasant company.

These three things will be the focus of the Student Bar Association’s outdoor presidential debate viewing party, co-sponsored by the Law Democrats, Law Republicans, and the Law Weekly, on Oct. 3.


Join the Facebook event for info and updates.


The idea for the event was conceived at an SBA retreat while executive board members brainstormed ways to capitalize on election year activities to facilitate camaraderie among the law student body.

“We have a particularly engaged constituency of students who are likely to watch the debate anyway,” said SBA Day Vice President Edward Williams. “So, we thought it would be great to bring everyone out to watch it together.”

As much as the viewing will also bring some festivities to campus, sponsors hope the event will also stimulate a dialogue amongst competing political views and bring elective issues to the fore.

“We’re lucky at Georgetown because we do have students who don’t agree ideologically. It’s not really a secret. Just as professors are very diverse, we have some very diverse students as well,” Williams said.

And to help give voice to that diversity of thought, Law Democrats and Law Republicans will tentatively host a panel discussion before the debates to give students a chance to hear of the issues being debated among party lines, but “without the rhetoric” that is likely to come with the debates, Williams told the Law Weekly.

Planning for the event has included extensive correspondence and coordination between student groups and campus administrators alike. From securing a large screen and projector from main campus, to purchasing snacks and refreshments, to confirming panelists and ensuring compliance with the Law Center’s alcoholic beverage policy, organizers have been in constant contact to ensure the event goes off without a hitch.

But event sponsors say the work is well worth the time to realize their vision of classmates convening on the Tower Green, blankets and wine or beer in tow sharing their different political beliefs and stimulating thoughtful discussions.

“We’re looking forward to making this a community event that includes students, professors, adjuncts, and staff. It would be really good to see the beauty of our community come out and share in this once-in-every-four-years experience with each other,” Williams concluded.

GULC hosts contraception & conscience symposium

Left to right: Lori Windham, Prof. Robert Vischer, Prof. Melissa Rodgers, Dean William Treanor, Louise Melling, and Prof. Martin Lederman. (Photo courtesy of Justin Waddell, 3L)On Friday, Sept. 21, Georgetown’s Berkely Center hosted a conference entitled “Contraception and Conscience: A Symposium on Religious Liberty, Women’s Health, and the HHS Rule on Provision of Birth Control Coverage for Employees” at the Law Center. Throughout the day, three panels addressed the legal concerns and issues of Catholic doctrine and dogma, as well as the broader context of the arguments for and against requiring all insurance plans to cover contraceptive medication costs. Illustrating the murky nature of the issues, panelists throughout the day often disagreed more about the sufficiency of the questions being asked than about their putative answers.

In opening remarks, Dean William Treanor reminded the audience that Georgetown Law is no stranger to the social conflict over contraception.

“As some of you may recall,” began Treanor, “last spring one of our third year students, Sandra Fluke, testified before Congress on these precise issues.” Fluke was thrust into the national spotlight when she was verbally assaulted by the persistently divisive Rush Limbaugh. The underlying controversy surrounding Georgetown’s Georgetown’s steadfast refusal to include contraception in the student health plan has continued to roil, popping up again just last week when the University discovered that it had been partially complying with the Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate by providing contraception without requiring a co-pay.

The first of the three panels discussed the legal challenges currently being mounted by religious litigants to the HHS regulation. Promulgated pursuant to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the regulation requires that all employer insurance plans include coverage for contraception unless the employer qualifies for a religious accommodation. The scope of accommodation is the subject of the suits. For an organization to qualify, the inculcation of religious values must be the “purpose of the organization,” it must “primarily” employ and serve coreligionists, and must be a non-profit organization.

The challenges assert a variety of claims, but as panelist and Georgetown Law Professor Martin Lederman asserted, “[The Religious Freedom Restoration Act or] RFRA is really where the action is.” Enacted during the Clinton administration, RFRA statutorily applies a Supreme Court test that the Court threw out in the 1990 case of Employment Division v. Smith as unwieldy and an intrusion into something best left to the political process.

The RFRA test has two parts. First, the plaintiff must show that the government’s action is a “substantial burden” on an “exercise of religion.” If the plaintiff makes this showing, the burden for the second part of the test shifts to the government, which must show that denying the requested exemption is the “least restrictive means” to further a “compelling governmental interest.”

There was too much detailed exposition for a short report, but one thing stood out: the panelists agree that this goes to the heart of why the Thomas Court threw out the test that RFRA reinstated. Courts are bad at deciding what is or is not religious. Robert Vischer, Professor at University of St. Thomas School of Law, strongly criticized the governmental attempt to define religion: “Why is it that the soup kitchen is further from religion than the pew?”

The theme of the problem of defining what is religious carried over into the second panel, which focused on what Catholic theology and doctrine has to say about the issue of coverage for contraception, and whether providing such coverage is permissible or not.

The panel started by discussing arcane doctrinal distinctions between types and levels of cooperation with evil. But Former Georgetown and current Notre Dame Professor Patrick Deneen soon shifted the course of the discussion back to the problem of defining religion.

“Both the administration … and … the Catholic Church have agreed that [the HHS rule] represents a burden and agreed that an exemption is warranted,” said Deneen. “What is not agreed upon is what constitutes a religion, what constitutes a religious organization, and who gets to decide. That is the real debate.”

Deneen then went on to argue – with the most emotion displayed by anyone at the conference – that allowing the government to make any of these determinations is approaching a slippery slope.

George Washington University Law Professor Robert Tuttle continued the refrain, though arguing that the state can define religion all that it wants for prudential and practical reasons, as long as it does not try to do so for religious adherents.

Perhaps the clearest statement on the question of defining religion came from an audience member, Georgetown’s own Father Ladislas Orsy, who answered yes to the question of whether the government can decide what is religious.

“They have no choice,” said Orsy, citing his participation in a group consulted by the IRS to help sift through the “great numbers” of requests for tax exemption. “The government is perfectly entitled to make a judgment on what is and is not a religion,” concluded Orsy.

The real issue, he continued, “is on what criteria?” On this, no one had even attempted an answer. Orsy didn’t claim to have one either, but suggested that “getting together, talking to one another, trying to understand the other, and then each side making compromises” would be a good start.

Such a simple and reasonable solution seems unlikely in an environment where parties insist on drawing unmovable lines. Perhaps unintentionally, Orsy’s last comment illustrated this state of affairs. “There is a hierarchy of evil,” said Orsy,” and contraception is not at the top of it.”

At this, those in the auditorium laughed―uncomfortably.  

Horoscopes (or maybe word association)

This is what everyone born between July 23 and August 22 looks like. Photo courtesy of the National Broadcasting Company’s promotional photographs.Aries - You may or may not experience an event which either will or won’t change your life.

Taurus - I feel like the fact that your sign is a bull may say something about your attitude toward intimate relations. But I could be wrong.

Gemini - You’re the forgotten NASA program, sandwiched between Mercury and Apollo, which allowed our space program to learn things like space walks and ship-to-ship docking.

Cancer - Now I’m just depressed.

Leo - Your last name is McGarry and you will be White House Chief of Staff to Fictional President Josiah Bartlett.

Virgo – You will have an amazing week. Because you’re amazing.

Libra - Something good will happen in the next few days, and you will be forced to make a decision. Those two might not be related.

Scorpio - Scorpion scorpion scorpion scorpion scorpion. It’s got a stinger for a tail.

Sagittarius - Relationship dynamics may change after an event occurs that neither of you expected. Well, he expected it. She, on the other hand….

Capricorn - To infinity, and beyond!

Aquarius - It’s the dawning of your age. Steve Carrell told me so. Although, now that I think about it, that might not be what the song was about.

Pisces - You and your friend Reese will get together for an excellently sweet business venture. Wait. Is that not how you say it? Really? Hmm.

There Will Be Blood Two: It Will Be Bloodier

Photo Courtesy of the Weinstein Company promotional photographs. Joaquin Phoenix in “The Master.”I hate it when people call movies “films.” It reeks of the worst kind of masturbatory pretension. “The Master,” however, is a film. Sometimes the pretension cannot be avoided. And sometimes it’s justified.

Paul Thomas Anderson is one of the most renowned directors working today, having directed “Boogie Nights,” “Magnolia,” and “Punch-Drunk Love.” His last film, “There Will Be Blood,” was another critical smash (and a bowling pin smash) spawning memes (“I. Drink. Your. Milkshake. I drink it up!”) and wrapping the entire period of industrialization up into the life of a single psychopath.

His new film is the story of an alcoholic Naval veteran in the years after he returns from World War II. It stars Joaquin Phoenix as Freddie Quell. Phoenix, although a somewhat odd choice at 10 years older than the character seemingly should be,  is fantastic in the role. He quite literally throws himself into it, embracing Quell’s animal instincts and managing to look confused without ever seeming to think. Quell spends his time chasing girls, getting fired, and cooking up beverages that straddle the fine line between alcohol and poison. Eventually, in perhaps the best shot of the movie, he finds his way onto a boat where Philip Seymour Hoffman, as the titular master, is leading a cult.

Before “The Master” came out, there was a lot of talk of it being about Scientology. While there may be some parallels between the cult in the film (the lacklusterly-titled “The Cause”) and Scientology, Anderson seems much more interested in the personalities involved and the power of belief to subjugate people.

After Hoffman and Phoenix bond over some of Phoenix’s hooch, the film follows, essentially, Hoffman’s attempts to civilize Phoenix, and, in the words of the Borg, assimilate him. Hoffman seems to envy Phoenix’s impulsiveness at the same time he tries to subdue it. It is unclear whether, even without Hoffman’s domination, Phoenix has any kind of freedom. And Hoffman himself may not be the top of the food chain.

To be honest, however, it’s somewhat hard to tell what the film’s about. It seems interested in personal relationships and the power dynamics inherent in them. It seems interested in the idea of free will and whether it’s possible to attain it. It also seems interested in farts and toweling off after angry handjobs. While there is an admirable completist strain there (after all, life is about both big questions and bits of uncouth minutiae), it sometimes makes the film feel unfocused.

The juxtaposition of the beautiful and the ugly manifests itself throughout the film. It’s in the cinematography; some shots are so warm and luxurious that you just want to wrap them around yourself and fall asleep, but there are times when what is being depicted is almost unbearable to watch (for you cinephiles, it was shot on 70mm film). Similarly, the women in the movie are universally gorgeous, while Phoenix is hunched and sullen, and you could find a picture of Hoffman’s character in the dictionary next to “ingratiating.”

There are concerns about the movie. It sometimes lacks focus. I did not emotionally invest in the characters. For a film concerned with freedom and personal power dynamics and set in 1950, it is interesting that there is no mention or discussion of race relations.

Ultimately, though, it is great to watch a movie so lovingly and particularly crafted that is willing to ask the biggest questions. See “The Master.” And let’s talk about it.

Bon Iver and Anaïs Mitchell at the Merriweather Pavillion

Photo courtesy of Bon Iver getting his supervillain on.

Lawn tickets to Bon Iver at the Merriweather Pavilion; one of those situations where there’s no one to blame but yourself when you’re shivering in the cold at 10 p.m. surrounded by teenagers smoking marijuana and asking to borrow your ID to buy beer.

I enjoyed the show, but as the night grew progressively colder, and the high schoolers behind me progressively drunker, I realized that it was impossible to consider Bon Iver without paying tribute to the tradition whence he came, like Aphrodite rising from the waves of a hipster off-brand vintage sea foam.

There’s more to being a hipster than just feeling superior about disliking things that make people happy. I like to think of hipsterdom as a gradient. On one end you have the mainly mainstream kid who sometimes dabbles in music that’s not Top-40. In the middle, you have your average hipster, in black frame glasses, listening to whatever Pitchfork recommends. On the other extreme, you get Meta Hipster, who is so over the hipster aesthetic that he or she reinvests in mainstream culture, but specifically in a non-ironic fashion. Meta Hipster genuinely likes Justin Bieber (it’s an acquired taste).

Bon Iver isn’t much of an acquired taste anymore. After the success of the band’s 2008 album “For Emma, Forever Ago” (which included pervasive hit single “Skinny Love”), Bon Iver quickly rose to the upper echelons of the indie-folk scene. 2011’s “Bon Iver, Bon Iver” cemented the band’s hold on indie-folk fans everywhere.

One’s enjoyment of Bon Iver depends heavily on one’s overall opinion in regard to indie-folk as a modern post-flower-power genre. Let’s be clear: Bon Iver is indie. Frontman Justin Vernon has a beard. He wears skinny jeans. He wrote the bulk of the band’s first album immediately after a breakup, suffering from mono, while living by himself in a cabin in the woods. Seriously.

For what it is, it’s great; that is to say, Bon Iver in concert, playing hits from both albums, is something to be enjoyed, regardless of where you happen to fall on the indie-hipster-mainstream spectrum. There’s something soothing about Vernon’s sincere gravelly crooning, accompanied by Vernon’s sincere wailing falsetto. Additional vocals, supporting instrumentals, and attentive eye contact are provided by founding band members Sean Carey, Michael Noyce, and Matthew McCaughan. Bon Iver now tours with a full ensemble, including brass and violin and a guy who beatboxes, just ‘cause.

There’s a lot happening on stage. The show was clearly designed to be enjoyed even by people with short attention spans who self-medicate with semi-legal substances. There were a lot of flashing lights that slowly changed color, and a wavy backdrop.  If you don’t enjoy folk or indie or bands where the lead singer sometimes sits on a chair and plays acoustic guitar while singing quietly about the cold, then you might not enjoy Bon Iver. However, even if you don’t enjoy Bon Iver, you might have enjoyed the show at the Merriweather Pavilion. The crowd was as friendly as you’d assume people attending an indie-folk show would be. The music, though rife with depressing lyrics, was played in an uplifting, life-affirming manner. Vernon took an adequate number of breaks to address the audience, with a quiet humor and charisma that belied his low-key roots.

Opening act and critical darling Anaïs Mitchell is a novice folk star in her own right, but with a much more niche appeal. Her lyrics are clever, her melodies are somewhat catchy, but she sings like a ten-year-old girl, with that sort of nasal, high-pitched, closed-mouth whine that too many folk women employ to sound emotive and “real.” Mitchell was discovered by Ani DiFranco, who, to her credit, generally sounds like an adult woman when she sings.

Some of Mitchell’s songs are better than others. The more orchestration, the more background noises, the more she actually opens her mouth to form words, the better the song for Anaïs Mitchell. For folk/indie, lo-fi loving hipsters, Mitchell is ace. But for everyone else, she’s an acquired taste.