Weekend Edition: 1-24

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Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

Blog Headline of the Week

Bookish Linkage

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We are always the same age inside.

Gertrude Stein

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Popularity causes welcome problem for Historical Society Press

wilderAround 1930, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote an autobiography about her and her family’s pioneer experience. No one would publish it. Wilder ended up using it as a source for her wildly successful Little House series. Turn the clock ahead 80 some years and things have changed dramatically. The autobiography was finally published late last year by the South Dakota State Historical Society Press in an annotated edition — and SDSHSP can’t keep up with the demand.

Both Slate and Mental Floss reported this week that widespread pre-publication publicity for Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography, essentially an academic book, generated mass interest in it. The initial print run of 15,000 copies, which SDSHSP received at the beginning of November, was exhausted before Thanksgiving. Reportedly, there are 15,000 other orders being filled with a second print run and there’s some 30,000 orders at Amazon. The SDSHSP says individual orders placed after January 9 won’t be shipped until March, once it’s received a third printing.

SDSHSP actually felt the first print run was “a huge risk,” its director, Nancy Tystad Koupal, told Slate. After all, its best seller so far was a children’s book that sold about 15,000 copies. Perhaps because of the demand, it appears the suggested retail price of the book has gone from $39.95 to $44.95. But if you want a copy of the book now rather than waiting until March, it will be more than a tad expensive. As of this posting, prices for new copies on Amazon ranged from $342 to $350 while used copies were $120 to $399. EBay today had a listing for one copy of the book, with “Buy Now” price of $149.99.

Now Pioneer Girl certainly won’t come close to the success of the Little House series, which sold more than 60 million copies by 2006. But SDSHSP must be thrilled about how many people want a book that was initially unsaleable.

As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that things truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then.

Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Weekend Edition: 1-17

Bulletin Board

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

  • My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward (“There’s no handbook on how to survive your young wife’s psychiatric crisis. The person you love is no longer there, replaced by a stranger who’s shocking and exotic. Every day I tasted the bittersweet saliva that signals you’re about to puke.”)

State Embarrassment of the Week

Best Reason to Skip Work of the Week

Inimitable Question of the Week

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage

The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy

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No good reasons offered to stop Adam and Steve

I anticipated some uproar following this week’s decision saying South Dakota’s ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. Either I’m not familiar with the places it’s showing up (which may be a good thing) or the response to date has been quite muted.

What struck me about the decision wasn’t the result or the legal framework Judge Karen Schreier applied. I haven’t been following these kinds of cases but I was struck by how meager the State’s arguments seem. It offered essentially four reasons why gay marriage shouldn’t be a protected right and two to justify the ban even if Judge Schreier ruled it was protected.

As to the former, the State asserted that claimed rights need to be narrowly defined, meaning that what was at issue was same-sex marriage, not marriage. Like other judges, Judge Schreier said the right at issue is the right to marriage itself. It isn’t carved up into categories, such as whether disabled persons or people of different races have a right to marry.

Next the State said the ban should stand because recognizing a right to marriage in these circumstances would remove the issue from public debate. Yet this argument would render any voter-approved measure, even one banning non-Christian religious services, virtually unassailable. Appropriately, Judge Schreier quoted the Supreme Court: “One’s right to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.” (Emphasis added by Judge Schreier.)

Somewhat related is a claim that the ban simply reflects longstanding tradition of not recognizing same-sex marriages. But traditions, like elections, don’t determine constitutional rights. After all, through the first half of the 20th Century, state law said any marriage between a white person and “any person belonging to the African, Korean, Malayan or Mongolian race” was void. Just because plenty of states had anti-miscegenation laws didn’t make them constitutional.

Finally, the State claimed that recognizing a protected right here was a step toward allowing polygamy and incest. Even non-lawyers can recognize the “slippery slope” argument and its logic. After all, if you allow gay marriage the next thing you know Jews will marry goys or shiksas, humans will wed the livestock, fowl or fish of their dreams and dogs will be marrying cats.

What justifies the ban if the marriage right is recognized? Well, South Dakota wants to encourage “heterosexual couples—the couples most likely to have children—to accept the obligations and liabilities associated with a state marriage laws [sic] so that children, and particularly unplanned children, are not abandoned” and don’t end up on the public dole. Judge Schreier astutely observed, among other things, that if the goal is “channeling accidental reproduction,” it’s hard to explain why “infertile or otherwise non-procreative heterosexual couples are allowed to marry[.]”

The other justification was that gay marriage “fundamentally alter[s]” our societal structure and will affect the public purse by “extending state marriage benefits to a new group of couples.” Given that, the State argued, society should proceed with caution. This didn’t survive analysis for long. If proceeding with caution can justify restrictions on fundamental rights, virtually any discriminatory law would pass muster.

The State’s arguments aren’t unique; they’ve been used to support other gay marriage bans when challenged. They’ve also met with fairly uniform rejection. In fact, in one of the more thorough analyses, which invalidated bans in Indiana and Wisconsin, Judge Richard Posner said these grounds weren’t just conjectural, “they are totally implausible.” In October, the Supreme Court declined to review the case.

The rulings here and in other states reinforce that there’s very little, if any, policy or law to support or justify these bans. They essentially seek to impose religious views. But if same sex couples are allowed to marry, that doesn’t mean that you have to marry someone of the same sex if you don’t want to.

UPDATE: Within hours of posting this, the Supreme Court decided to address the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans.

Plaintiffs have a fundamental right to marry. South Dakota law deprives them of that right solely because they are same-sex couples and without sufficient justification.

Rosenbrahn v. Daugaard (Jan. 12, 2015)

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A comic reflection of society

Although I knew they existed, I recently rediscovered sites like The Digital Comic Museum that make available, for free, public domain Golden Age comics. In the last few weeks I’ve spent far more hours than I should have downloading and reading various comics. One thing that’s clear, they do reflect the society of the day.

atom age combatFor example, there was just a bit of racism around. This doesn’t mean comics such as Negro Romance. We’re talking racial slurs, which seem to appear most with foreign enemies. Thus, comics set in the Korean War have “gook” or “gooks” on more pages than not. The Japanese of World War II aren’t just “Japs,” they’re occasionally “slits.” Enemies with Caucasian backgrounds fare better. About the worst German soldiers get is “heines” while Russian and Eastern European Communists get off with “Reds” or “Commies,” occasionally with “dirty” as an adjective.

The 1950s also seemed to have some naivete about nuclear arms. Several comics were issued with names like Atom Age Combat, Atomic War! or Atomic Attack. The Commies, of course, are the cause of our need to use atomic weaponry. But the comics seem aimed at allaying fears of what nuclear weapons mean. We fire atomic artillery shells into cities held by the Commies but the city really looks no worse than cities damaged by bombardments in World War II. Of course, as long as we wear protective gear, we can enter those cities almost immediately and carry a hydrogen bomb that can be ignited with a timed fuse to destroy the enemy’s “atomic pile.” Our soldiers use atomic rifles to take out enemy tanks, fire atomic machine guns and throw atomic grenades, which are called “Black Death” for some reason.

That isn’t the only type of warfare the comics suggest we need not worry about. The dirty Reds, of course, also use germ warfare. “We didn’t worry much about that,” says one soldier in a letter home. After all, the soldiers only had to wear “germ masks” and later go to field “germ sterilization” units and take “immunization pills.”

We might ask what happened to the flying cars the comics promised. I’ll gladly forgive them for being wrong about that in exchange for them also being wrong about the ease and acceptability of atomic battles.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the comic book world took fear of communism to the extreme. Nuking the Russian capital, it seemed, increased sales.

The Red Menace: Anti-Communist Propaganda of the Cold War,”
Kuriositas, October 26, 2013

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Weekend Edition: 1-10

Interesting Reading in the Interweb Tubes

Legal Question of the Week

Bookish Linkage

Nonbookish Linkage

The evil that is in the world comes out of ignorance[.]

Albert Camus, The Plague

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