Secular Right | Reality & Reason

Dec/14

24

Christmas

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ChristmastruceCaptain A. D. Chater, 2nd Batallion, Gordon Highlanders, Dec 25, 1914:

I think I have seen today one of the most extraordinary sights that anyone has ever seen. About 10 o’clock this morning I was peeping over the parapet when I saw a German, waving his arms, and presently two of them got out of their trench and came towards ours.

We were just going to fire on them when we saw they had no rifles, so one of our men went to meet them and in about two minutes the ground between the two lines of trenches was swarming with men and officers of both sides, shaking hands and wishing each other a happy Christmas…

We exchanged cigarettes and autographs, and some more people took photos…I don’t know how long it will go on for – I believe it was supposed to stop yesterday, but we can hear no firing going on along the front today except a little distant shelling.

Sergeant A. Lovell, 3rd Rifle Brigade.

Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently make-shift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burnt steadily in the frosty air!

First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started up O Come, All Ye Faithful, the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is a most extraordinary thing — two nations singing the same carol in the middle of a war.

And these were by no means isolated incidents.

When the high commands (on both sides) heard about these ‘Christmas truces’, they did everything they could to bring them to an end and avoid their repetition, but just for a moment…

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ChaplinTake some superstition, throw in a hint of xenophobia and add a savvy PR touch…

USA Today:

MOSCOW — Russian fans of the writer J.R.R. Tolkien were disappointed Wednesday after a local art group abandoned plans to install a flaming eye from his book series The Lord of the Rings atop a Moscow skyscraper. The group, Svechenie, said it would not recreate the evil Eye of Sauron after the Russian Orthodox Church complained the installation would invite mysterious dangers on the capital….

The planned project — for a 3-foot-tall orb perched atop a 21-story building in Moscow’s business district — “does not have any religious or political subtext,” the statement added.

It was slated to be unveiled Thursday to mark the Russian premiere of the film The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, based on another Tolkien novel in which the eye appears.

But Vsevolod Chaplin, the controversial spokesman for the powerful Russian Orthodox Church, felt otherwise. He told a Moscow radio station Tuesday that the installation would be a “symbol of the triumph of evil … rising up over the city.”
“Is that good or bad? I’m afraid it’s more likely bad,” he said. “You shouldn’t be surprised later if something goes wrong with the city.”

It’s not the first time the church, a key pillar of President Vladimir Putin’s drive to promote conservative values, has waded into the world of art and culture. Religious officials and Orthodox activists have rebuked and even disrupted a range of exhibitions and performances they believe betray church values and destroy Russia’s moral fiber….

Chaplin is always on the look out for perils that could menace his flock.

Here he is back in April:

MOSCOW, April 9 (RIA Novosti) – Angels and demons do really exist, but are often mistaken for “so-called aliens” by those who encounter them, a senior Russian Orthodox Church clergyman said.

“They are real creatures, humans come into contact with them as they sometimes reveal themselves,” Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, who oversees the Church’s public relations, told RIA Novosti in an interview when asked about Christianity’s attitude to ufology.

And then there was the mini-skirt menace, identified by Chaplin as a potential source of “madness” as long ago as 2011.

The Christian Science Monitor explained:

A top official of the increasingly powerful Russian Orthodox Church has triggered a storm of outrage by calling for a “national dress code” that would force women to dress modestly in public and require businesses to throw out “indecently” clad customers. Women, said Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, can’t be trusted to clothe themselves properly.

“It is wrong to think that women should decide themselves what they can wear in public places or at work,” he said Tuesday. “If a woman dresses like a prostitute, her colleagues must have the right to tell her that.”

“Moreover,” Archpriest Chaplin added, “if a woman dresses and acts indecently, this is a direct route to unhappiness, one-night stands, brief marriages followed by rat-like divorces, ruined lives of children, and madness.”

…Chaplin’s proposed dress code has received applause from some conservative quarters. Russia’s Association of Islamic Heritage this week expressed its support for Chaplin’s call for “creation of a national dress code,” which might involve compelling women to wear headscarves, a rule already in force in Orthodox churches and church-run orphanages. Muslims make up about 20 percent of Russia’s population.

Orthodoxy! Nationality! Autocracy!

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Dec/14

11

Feeding the Seven Billion

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collectivizationLate last month there was a conference in Rome organized by the UN food agency (FAO) and World Health Organization (WHO).

One of the attendees was the pope.
The Daily Mail reports:

The 77-year old said the world had ‘paid too little heed to those who are hungry.’
While the number of undernourished people dropped by over half in the past two decades, 805 million people were still affected in 2014.

‘It is also painful to see the struggle against hunger and malnutrition hindered by ‘market priorities’, the ‘primacy of profit’, which reduce foodstuffs to a commodity like any other, subject to speculation and financial speculation in particular,’ Francis said.

Writing for Forbes, Tim Worstall explains (again):

[J]just to lay it out in very simple terms in one place. Regarding that first point, about profit. Profit is the incentive for people to do things. If people don’t profit from their actions then they won’t do them. Of course, we can take a wide view of what “profit” is: we could, for example, say that the warm feeling a farmer gets from watching a starving child eating the food he has grown is a profit. And it would be as well. But as we’ve found out over the past century or so (looking at those various attempts at the collectivisation of agriculture is really most instructive) that that good feeling of having produced what others need is not actually enough. Any and every society that has relied upon such public feelings has had extensive malnutrition if not out and out famine.

So, we want the producers of food to profit from their having produced it. Otherwise we just don’t get enough food.

Then on to speculation and financial speculation. These move the prices of things through time. This is also highly desirable (as Adam Smith pointed out 238 years ago) as by moving prices through time we also move supplies of food through time (see the linked pieces for this in more detail). We move food from, as Smith said, a time of plenty to a time of dearth: thus reducing malnutrition and starvation. And yes, again, the incentive for people to do this highly desirable thing is to make a profit.

So we actually want both profit and speculation in food. For the end results are desirable. We get both the production of food in the first place and the movement of it, in both geographic and temporal, terms, to where it is needed….

That’s not (of course) to deny that there are people who are malnourished, but, as Worstall explains:

[E]conomist, Amartya Sen… has pointed out that, for the past century at least, starvation and famine have not been caused by an absence of food. They’re no longer supply side phenomena and they’ll not be solved by looking at that supply side.

No, instead, famine now is an absence of purchasing power among those who simply cannot buy the food that is available. This is such a well-known matter that even George Bush, when President, tried to get the rules about US famine relief changed (Obama is trying again now, too, according to reports). Instead of shipping US grain to starving people ship US money to starving people so they can buy the food that is already there. Or if not exactly there, then nearby. And we can rely upon the existence of that effective demand to incentivise people through that profit motive, through speculation, to ship the food from where it is to where the hungry people are.

That is, modern hunger is a demand side phenomenon and will be solved by demand side measures. Like, as above, giving poor people money to buy food with.

This is what actually works, this is how most NGOs now see hunger, many governments too. The problem is not that there’s no food for the poor to buy. It’s that the poor have no money to buy food. The answer is thus not to fiddle around with the supply side, that’s working just fine. For there are supplies of food available. What’s going wrong is the demand side so that’s where the solution must lie. We must turn actual demand (empty bellies) into effective demand (people with empty bellies with money to buy the food that exists)…

What the pope is suggesting is (essentially) to mess with the supply side, something that could very easily make matters worse.

And yet that’s what he suggests.

And he still seems unwilling to acknowledge the remarkable contribution that the free market has made to reducing malnourishment on a planet where the population has now swollen to seven billion.

It’s almost as if the pope is putting ideology (in this case his distaste for the free market) before the facts, facts he must know. It’s almost as if his ideology matters more to him than truly helping the hungry.

Those would, shall we say, be very revealing priorities.

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Nov/14

30

The Pope Goes To Strasbourg

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Francis SchulzPope Francis gave a speech at the EU parliament last week. There were the usual leftist themes that we have come to expect from this pope (“we encounter certain rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable”, “uncontrolled consumerism” and so on) complete with the hints of dark conspiracies that remind us that Francis’ thinking remains heavily influenced by the Peronist Argentina of his youth:

The true strength of our democracies – understood as expressions of the political will of the people – must not be allowed to collapse under the pressure of multinational interests which are not universal, which weaken them and turn them into uniform systems of economic power at the service of unseen empires.

Unseen empires?

And there was the jibe directed at Europe’s failure to live up to the Vatican’s natalist expectations:

In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a “grandmother”, no longer fertile and vibrant.

Over at the XX Committee, John Schindler picks up on that, correctly noting that low fertility is not only a European “problem” (his word, not mine), but then goes on to argue this:

Francis’s analysis of Europe’s population problem, which is really a deep crisis of civilizational pride, identity and meaning, manifesting in a lack of will to even reproduce, is difficult to refute…

On the contrary, it couldn’t be easier. Declining birth rates can be a response to economic pressure, certainly (as was evident, say, during the Great Depression or in Eastern Europe during and after the Soviet collapse), but it’s a stretch to see it as evidence of Europe’s civilizational decline. British birth rates, for example, began to drop in the later Victorian era, a time when its national self-confidence stood at a zenith that was, broadly, to endure until 1914:

The decline in birth rates, identified as stage three of the demographic transition, took place in England from around 1870 to 1920. In 1871 the average woman was having 5.5 children but by 1921 this had fallen to 2.4 children.
(Office of National Statistics)

Smaller families is what people want when science and the likely survival of their existing children give them the chance to make that choice. And as we enter an age where, thanks to automation, the demand for labor—as we are already seeing—is ebbing, that’s not such a bad thing.

That’s not to say that the transition to a lower birth rate is without its problems. It isn’t (who pays for the old?), but they will not be solved by more people: the unemployed will not be able to pay for the retired. Mass immigration is not the answer.

On that topic, Francis had quite a bit to say, using the hideous tragedy of the drownings at sea of would-be immigrants (“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.”) as (in essence) an argument for Europe to adopt an even more open immigration policy than it already has, something he has done before, perhaps most notoriously in his speech on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a performance that ‘Theodore Dalrymple’ (Anthony Daniels) quite right rightly described as a display of “moral exhibitionism”.

Meanwhile, Schindler notes:

“Why aren’t hundreds of asylum seekers drowning trying to get to Japan?” asked one analyst, pointedly, a year ago. After all, Japan is a very nice country with a most advanced economy and a desperate shortage of people. But refugees don’t try to reach the coast of Japan. For the simple reason they know they will be turned away. Preferring to preserve its native population, Japan turns away virtually all refugee claimants, while Australia lets many of them in, with generous benefits to boot. South Korea, like Japan, is not open to more than few refugees despite a serious birth dearth, so few come. In 2014, any developed country that pursues a permissive policy towards refugees is going to get more of them, perhaps many more.

And finally, when it came to the pope’s comments on the current unhappy state of the EU, many euroskeptics seemed to enjoy the thought that the pope was one of them. They were wrong.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph (link via EUReferendum), Christopher Booker explains:

The Pope’s address to the European Parliament seemed devastatingly critical. He spoke of how “the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions”.

He described it as looking “elderly and haggard” in “a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion”. He observed how it had lost the trust of its citizens, who see it too often as “downright harmful”.

Reading the Pope’s speech in full, however, he doesn’t seem to have grasped the EU’s real nature at all: in particular, why the core principles on which it was set up were inevitably destined to bring it to its present dismal pass.

Quite.

Somehow the pope seems to have missed the fact that the EU was a profoundly post-democratic project. How it was sold (peace, reconciliation and so on) bore little relation to what it really was.

Oh well.

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Nov/14

22

Not Quite So Focused on the Constitution Now

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pope-obamaCross-posted on the Corner (under a different title).

The US Conference of Catholic Bishops:

WASHINGTON—Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, M.Sp.S., auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) Committee on Migration, welcomed the news today that the Obama administration will defer deportations for many undocumented immigrants and their families.

Perhaps I’m being unfair, but it seems to me that the bishops now seem rather less focused on the constitution than they were at the time they were objecting to various aspects of Obamacare coverage.

Meanwhile the National Catholic Reporter reports:

Catholic groups across the country have been quick to applaud President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration, but they are equally quick to remind that more work remains to be done before finding a “humane” fix to our country’s immigration system.

The executive order, which the president delivered Thursday in a primetime speech, expands the government’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and provides temporary relief from deportation for more than 4 million undocumented immigrant parents who have lived in the country for more than five years.

“Generally, we are celebrating this announcement,” said Michelle Sardone, legalization program director for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, or CLINIC. “It’s going to help close to 5 million people. But we’re definitely still working toward finding a permanent solution.”

“This a temporary fix,” she said. “There’s still more fighting to be done, to make sure that everyone is included.”

Press releases from various Catholic organizations echoed the sentiment….

Ah yes, there’s always “more fighting to be done”.

The ratchet turns.

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Nov/14

20

Bishops for ‘Executive Action’

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pope-obamaWith the US waiting to hear what type of ‘executive action’ Obama will announce with respect to illegal immigrants tomorrow, this item from the National Catholic Reporter is worth noting:

In a little noted letter, two bishops chairing committees of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have put the Catholic bishops on record supporting executive action on immigration. The letter places the bishops on President Barack Obama’s side in his dispute with congressional Republicans, who are opposed to any executive action on immigration.

The letter, sent on Sept. 9 with little fanfare, was addressed to Jeh Johnson, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, with copies of the letter going to Dennis McDonough, chief of staff to the president, and Cecilia Munoz, director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. The letter was signed by Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chair of the Committee on Migration, and Bishop Kevin Vann, chair of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. The conference issued no press release to publicize the letter and I cannot find it on the USCCB website.

The letter asked for executive action “to protect undocumented individuals and families as soon as possible, within the limits of your executive authority.” “With immigration reform legislation stalled in Congress,” the letter said, “our nation can no longer wait to end the suffering of family separation caused by our broken immigration system.”

The Republican leadership in Congress has said any executive action by the president on immigration would poison future cooperation on any topic.

The bishops urge that some major problems on immigration be dealt with through by executive action. These would not be considered minor items by either the administration or Congress…

Meanwhile the Washington Post reports:

BALTIMORE — The nation’s Catholic bishops are jumping into the increasingly contentious battle over immigration reform by backing President Obama’s pledge to act on his own to fix what one bishop called “this broken and immoral system” before Republicans assume control of Capitol Hill in January.

In an unscheduled address Tuesday (Nov. 11) at the hierarchy’s annual meeting, Seattle Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo, chairman of the migration committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the USCCB would continue to work with both parties to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

But, Elizondo said, given the urgency of the immigration crisis and the electoral gains by Republicans who have thwarted earlier reform efforts, “it would be derelict not to support administrative actions … which would provide immigrants and their families legal protection.”

This, of course, is the same church that has been so keen to press for what it sees as its constitutional rights under the guise of what it describes as ‘religious freedom’.

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The Washington Post’s reporter, Arelis Hernández, doesn’t seem quite to realize just how outrageous this story is about churches angling for exemptions from a state-mandated stormwater fee in Prince George’s County, Maryland:

Thomas and other pastors also have agreed to start “green” ministries to maintain the improvements at their churches, and to preach environmentally focused sermons to educate their congregations.

In exchange for the commitments both as to physical upgrades to church property and the right sorts of exhortation addressed to their congregations, the churches are getting very tangible benefits, some coming directly out of the pockets of Prince George’s County taxpayers (emphasis added):

So far, about 30 churches have applied. Forestville Redeemer was the first. They are planning to install rain barrels, build rain gardens, plant trees and, perhaps, replace their blacktop with permeable pavement. The government will cover most of the cost. In return, a fee that was estimated at $744 a year will be reduced to “virtually nothing,” Ortiz said.

Organized churches play a central role in P.G. County politics, so it is not especially surprising to see a special deal cut for them. What we might not have expected was how openly pastors were willing to trade the content of sermons for government cash on the (rain) barrel. More coverage: WBAL, Derek Hunter/Daily Caller, and Ira Stoll, who writes:

But the bigger point is a problem with big government and taxes in general. The more burdensome the taxes are, the greater is the temptation of those crushed by them to trade their freedom and independence for a discount on them, and the more power the government has to dictate behavior. The tax becomes not a way to raise revenue for the government, but a method for exerting control.

Let’s hope religion-in-public-life pundits don’t pull their punches on exactly how bad this sort of deal is. They should be at least as upset as those of us on the secular side.

Nov/14

9

For Remembrance Sunday

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Eilean Donan, July 1997 (AS)

When the Welsh poet Edward Thomas (1898-1917), who had signed up for the British Army in 1915, was asked what he would be fighting for, he stopped, picked up a pinch of earth and crumbled it between finger and thumb before letting it fall. He then replied, “Literally, for this”.

In ‘Adlestrop’ he describes an unscheduled stop that he had made at a small train station in Gloucestershire in the course of a train journey on June 24, 1914, a little more than a month before the war began.

Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop—only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

Thomas was killed at Arras in April 1917.

RIP.

Nov/14

8

Brittany Maynard’s Choice

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brittany-maynardBrittany Maynard died tragically young, but with dignity and in as much control as an unkind fate had allowed her, taking advantage of the law in Oregon that allowed her to obtain a prescription for the barbiturates that would end her life before cancer did its terrible worst.

Writing in the Dallas News, Marcia Angell, the widow of a physician denied similar relief thanks to the cruelty of Massachusetts law, makes a powerful case for other states to follow Oregon’s example.

Here’s an extract:

Whereas hastening an inevitable death was once regarded almost exclusively as a medical issue, we are beginning to focus on what patients want, on their right to self-determination. And people are increasingly asking why anyone — the state, the medical profession, religious leaders — would presume to tell someone else that they must continue to die by inches, against their will….

The Supreme Court has twice maintained that that’s a medical question and as such should be left to the states, which regulate medical practice. The medical profession, meanwhile, has been among the main obstacles to more laws like Oregon’s. The American Medical Association’s official policy is that physician-assisted suicide is “fundamentally incompatible with the physician’s role as healer.” One possible explanation for this opposition, particularly among palliative care specialists, is that assisted dying underscores their limitations in dealing with suffering at the end of life.

But that stance puts the focus in the wrong place. This is not primarily about physicians or their self-image; it’s about patients — specifically patients for whom healing is no longer possible. We give patients the right to hasten their deaths by refusing dialysis, mechanical ventilation, antibiotics or any other life-sustaining treatment. Why deny them what is essentially the same choice, especially since it is limited to terminally ill patients?

In 2012, I was among the lead petitioners to put a Death With Dignity law on the ballot in Massachusetts, and I campaigned hard for its passage. Until a month before the election, polls showed overwhelming support. But in the final weeks, the Catholic Church, both nationally and within the state, began pouring money into TV ads implying that people would be coerced into killing themselves, and physicians and pharmacists would be required to help them. After opponents outspent proponents by about 5 to 1, the referendum lost.

This, of course, is the same Roman Catholic Church that has spent so much of the last year or so talking about ‘religious freedom’. It’s important to understand that’s a concept where both words matter. When the church makes that argument, it is not arguing for the cause of liberty in any generalized sense. Rather it is insisting on the right, under certain circumstances, of churches and their followers to assert their beliefs over the general law.

There is something very appropriate in the way that Thomas More was often cited as an inspiration for the church’s campaign. Contrary to what his modern apologists, papal and otherwise, have liked to claim, More was no supporter of freedom of conscience. What he wanted was his conscience to prevail over the consciences of others, consciences for which he had little regard. Dissent was not an option.

It’s not too difficult to draw a line between More and the way that the Catholic Church (aided by other religious groups) did so much in Massachusetts to insist that its views on ‘assisted suicide’ should be imposed on others. Of course, that imposition was the result of a democratic vote. That matters. Nevertheless the fact that the church did so much to suport that imposition on all the people of Massachusetts, regardless of religious affiliation or their own views on this matter, is a useful reminder of its distinctly narrow notion of freedom.

Meanwhile the National Catholic Reporter writes:

The Vatican’s top ethicist condemned Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life, saying there was no dignity in her physician-assisted death…

“Assisted suicide is an absurdity,” Carrasco de Paula told the Italian news agency ANSA. “Dignity is something different than putting an end to your own life….”

“Killing yourself is not a good thing; it’s a bad thing because it says no to life and to all that means in relation to our duty in the world and to those close to us,” Carrasco de Paula said.

The fact that life was effectively saying no to Ms. Maynard seems to have passed de Paula by, as does the fact that Ms. Maynard’s decision appears to have been supported by her loved ones. As to his remark about duty, it says a lot that de Paula doesn’t say to whom this “duty” is owed.

And of course the slippery slope makes its inevitable appearance in an argument that ignores the fact that the terminally ill have already slid down it:

Carrasco de Paula said assisted suicide was also dangerous because it offered a potential “solution” for a society that sought to abandon the sick and quit paying the costs of their illnesses.

De Paula, who is head of the Pontifical Academy for Life, an institution described by the NCR as being responsible “for ethical issues in the Catholic church” is, of course, entitled to his views. They are what they are, and they are unlikely to change. Roman Catholic teaching is what it is. But so is its refusal to respect the freedoms of those with which it disagrees. Its behavior in Massachusetts was a disgrace.

Maynard’s closing statement included this:

“Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness.”

And so she did. RIP.

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Nov/14

3

Halloweaster

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Halloween Peeps, Nov 14 (AS)Halloween is even more splendidly syncretic than I thought: Yes, Halloween Peeps made an appearance at a supermarket near me.

Adweek explains:

More sweet. Less scary. That’s the promotional campaign, not the ingredient list.

The perennial Easter favorite Peeps continue to try to become a year-round candy with these “peepified” illustrations for Halloween. The simple, colorful drawings are part of an ongoing campaign dubbed “Every Day Is a Holiday,” launched earlier this year to introduce Peeps Minis, diminutive flavored versions of the original chicks. (They’re less than half the size of the flagship product, and come in bags, not the traditional cellophane-front flat boxes).

The airy sugar dumplings, made by confectioner Just Born, haul in an estimated 70 percent of their business at Easter and only a fraction on other holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day. There are ghost and pumpkin Peeps on shelves now, but they’ve never moved as briskly as springtime’s puffy chicks and bunnies.

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