Feats of Greatness, Feet of Clay: Authors, Flaws, and the People Behind the Stories

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(Orson Scott Card poses at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, in 2008. Wikimedia Commons/ Nihonjoe)

“Just because someone’s a member of an ethnic minority doesn’t mean they’re not a nasty small-minded little jerk.” ~ Terry Pratchett, from Feet of Clay 

There is a reason I frequently shy away from reading biographies:  people suck.  Even the best people suck.  If you want to go on admiring someone, don’t know them personally.  The art, of course, speaks for itself.  It need not be burdened by the shortcomings of its creator.  But (at least for me) it is difficult to separate the two once you know.  You cannot, as the saying goes, unsee something.

Today, a lot of people, including myself, were surprised to learn that beloved science fiction writer Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Gameis an anti-gay activist, and has been for a very long time.  In 2008, he wrote that “marriage has only one definition, and any government that attempts to change it is my mortal enemy. I will act to destroy that government and bring it down.”   Responding to the Supreme Court decision on the topic of gay marriage, Card told Entertainment Weekly  “it will be interesting to see whether the victorious proponents of gay marriage will show tolerance toward those who disagreed with them when the issue was still in dispute.”

Hmmmm…. interesting that someone who is against tolerance wants to see how people with tolerance respond….

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Ten Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About the Fourth of July

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There are lots of things we expect on the Fourth:  fireworks, friends, family. There are things we love (sparklers, Roman candles, cold beer) and things we despise (sauerkraut, ambrosia, Lee Greenwood… all right, haters… this was from a friend. Direct all your spittle-filled anger elsewhere).

Here are a few unexpected things about the Fourth you can share tomorrow, if only to divert mom’s attention away from Uncle Collin while he takes the youngest  kids ’round back to set off three packs of taped-together Blackcat firecrackers…

10.  No Rush to Get “God Bless America” to the People

Famed American composer Irving Berlin gave his adopted nation one of its greatest and most iconic songs but it didn’t see the light of day because its author didn’t deem it worthy of being sung. Berlin was drafted into the military in the early 1900s and helped to draft a musical comedy for his fellow troops in which he composed the song for its final number — a tune inspired by a phrase his Russian mother would often utter after escaping to America from underneath the iron fist of the bloody Russian empire. However, the composer didn’t think it would fit in the show and kept it in his file for 20 years until singer Kate Smith wanted a patriotic song to sing on the radio as war broke out across Europe. The song became one of the most requested patriotic ditties almost overnight and a staple in American songbooks.  (Source)

White House Book

9.  Ehhhh… We’ll Get To It. We’re… Busy.

July 4th was not declared a federal holiday until 1941.  Most federal holidays are observed on a Monday but despite the temptation of a Guaranteed Long Weekend,  that pesky date made lawmakers leave it be.  (Source)

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After the Dash: Last Words of the Politically and Historically Infamous

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The thing that is so fascinating about a person’s final words is, of course, that the person rarely knows those  utterances will be his or her last.

One of my favorite poems is W.S. Merwin‘s “For the Anniversary of My Death”:

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what.

Here are ten of those now-famous, or at least, interesting, last words:

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1.  Marie Antoinette
Pardon me, sir. I did not do it on purpose.” - after she accidentally stepped on the foot of her executioner as she went to the guillotine.
Dominique_Bouhours
2.  Dominique Bouhours (French grammarian) 

“I am about to — or I am going to — die: either expression is correct.”

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3.  King George V

“Bugger Bognor.”” - to his physician, who had suggested that he relax at his seaside palace in Bognor Regis.

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What are Prop 8 and DOMA and Why Do They Matter?

This week, as the Supreme Court released its rulings on a variety of different issues, supporters of same-sex marriage were particularly anxious to hear an important piece of news: the Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8.

What is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?

The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law that restricts federal marriage rights to opposite-sex couples. It was enacted on September 21, 1996 under the Clinton administration, though Clinton, among others who were involved in the law’s enactment, has since changed his position and advocated for its repeal.

Supreme Court deems DOMA unconstitutional

Supreme Court deems DOMA unconstitutional

The law’s exact wording on the issue of marriage is as follows:
“In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any  ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative  bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word `marriage’ means  only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,  and the word `spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is  a husband or a wife.” (Defense of Marriage Act)

Among others, these are the benefits that have been denied to same-sex marriages under the Defense of Marriage Act:

  • Insurance benefits for government employees
  • Social Security survivors’ benefits
  • Immigration benefits
  • Joint tax return benefits

What is Prop. 8?

Prop. 8, or California Proposition 8, is a ballot proposition passed in California’s November 2008 elections. Much like DOMA, it declares that only opposite-sex marriages may be recognized by the state of California. The proposition effectively overturns a California Supreme Court ruling released in May of 2008 that found marriage to be a fundamental constitutional right that should be granted to all couples. The timeline of same-sex marriage history in California is shown below:

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Happy Birthday to the National Archives

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The National Archives houses our nation’s most important records  including “[a]ll archives or records” of the U.S. Government, legislative, executive, or judicial” documents as well as “motion-picture films and sound recordings illustrative of historical activities of the United States.”

If you had to guess how old such an important administration would be, what would you say? 200 years? More?

Nope.  On June 19th of this year, the institution turned just seventy-nine years old.

Proving that government has long moved at the speed of a handicapped slug, it took until the early twentieth century for legislators to think, “Hmmmm…. perhaps we need an official location for our treasured, important documents,” and establish the National Archives.

A historian named J. Franklin Jameson took up the cause of promoting such a facility in 1908. Eighteen years later, in 1926, he finally raised enough money to fund construction of the National Archives.  And then it took another eight years for legislation to come to Capitol Hill (by which time the building was already under construction). President Herbert Hoover laid the cornerstone in 1933, just a couple weeks before  Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office.

And then things stalled again.

FDR was perhaps understandably distracted by the enormous problems of the Great Depression. He waited another three months to enact legislation naming an archivist. The job finally went to a professor of history from North Carolina, R.D.W. Connor, at a salary of $10,000 per year.

What sort of historically important documents are housed at the National Archives?

Just to name a few. You can few the entire list and see image of the documents at the National Archives Home Page here.

(Source)


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