‘They Ask for Equal Dignity in the Eyes of the Law. The Constitution Grants Them that Right’

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The nature of injustice is that we may not always see it in our own times. The generations that wrote and ratified the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment did not presume to know the extent of freedom in all of its dimensions, and so they entrusted to future generations a charter protecting the right of all persons to enjoy liberty as we learn its meaning. When new insight reveals discord between the Constitution’s central protections and a received legal stricture, a claim to liberty must be addressed. …

The States have contributed to the fundamental character of the marriage right by placing that institution at the center of so many facets of the legal and social order.

There is no difference between same- and opposite-sex couples with respect to this principle. Yet by virtue of their exclusion from that institution, same-sex couples are denied the constellation of benefits that the States have linked to marriage. This harm results in more than just material burdens. Same-sex couples are consigned to an instability many opposite-sex couples would deem intolerable in their own lives. As the State itself makes marriage all the more precious by the significance it attaches to it, exclusion from that status has the effect of teaching that gays and lesbians are unequal in important respects. It demeans gays and lesbians for the State to lock them out of a central institution of the Nation’s society. Same-sex couples, too, may aspire to the transcendent purposes of marriage and seek fulfillment in its highest meaning. …

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.

It is so ordered.

—From Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion in in Obergefell v. Hodges, a 5-4 ruling that now makes gay marriage legal across the United States.

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What Happens When We Run Out of Jobs?

Photo by  Pete Markham, Flickr

After 300 years of breathtaking innovation, people aren’t massively unemployed or indentured by machines. But to suggest how this could change, some economists have pointed to the defunct career of the second-most-important species in U.S. economic history: the horse.

For many centuries, people created technologies that made the horse more productive and more valuable—like plows for agriculture and swords for battle. One might have assumed that the continuing advance of complementary technologies would make the animal ever more essential to farming and fighting, historically perhaps the two most consequential human activities. Instead came inventions that made the horse obsolete—the tractor, the car, and the tank. After tractors rolled onto American farms in the early 20th century, the population of horses and mules began to decline steeply, falling nearly 50 percent by the 1930s and 90 percent by the 1950s.

Humans can do much more than trot, carry, and pull. But the skills required in most offices hardly elicit our full range of intelligence. Most jobs are still boring, repetitive, and easily learned. The most-common occupations in the United States are retail salesperson, cashier, food and beverage server, and office clerk. Together, these four jobs employ 15.4 million people—nearly 10 percent of the labor force, or more workers than there are in Texas and Massachusetts combined. Each is highly susceptible to automation, according to the Oxford study.

Technology creates some jobs too, but the creative half of creative destruction is easily overstated. Nine out of 10 workers today are in occupations that existed 100 years ago, and just 5 percent of the jobs generated between 1993 and 2013 came from “high tech” sectors like computing, software, and telecommunications. Our newest industries tend to be the most labor-efficient: they just don’t require many people. It is for precisely this reason that the economic historian Robert Skidelsky, comparing the exponential growth in computing power with the less-than-exponential growth in job complexity, has said, “Sooner or later, we will run out of jobs.”

—In “A World Without Work,” Atlantic senior editor Derek Thompson argues it’s time to plan for a future in which machines, from driverless cars to operating room robots, do most of our current jobs.

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The Rise of Embalming

Embalming supplies. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
Embalming supplies. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Ironically, it was this desire to be close to the dead that ultimately helped usher bodies out of the home. Embalming—which advanced as a science around the same time as the Civil War—allowed for the corpses of men who had died on far-off battlefields to return home for some semblance of the Good Death. “Families sought to see their lost loved ones in as lifelike a state as possible,” Faust writes, “not just to be certain of their identity but also to bid them farewell.” And when it came to preserving some false spark of life, none of the available alternatives (the Staunton Transportation Case “portable refrigerator,” for example) could match embalming. In 1861, the preserved body of a Union colonel killed in Virginia was honored at the White House to great fanfare. (His embalmer went on to preserve more than 4,000 bodies and became a rich man.) And at the close of the war, the embalmed body of Abraham Lincoln traveled 1,700 miles from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Illinois, with many stops along the way for Americans to pay their respects. Around the turn of the century, undertakers would often bring their scalpels, tubes, needles, forceps, eye caps, and other supplies to the house of the deceased and perform the embalming there, sometimes with relatives watching.

But eventually embalming moved out of the home and into places of business—death, in general, was increasingly processed outside of any residence. Advances in science lowered the death rate and made hospitals the primary places of dying. An increasing number of people lived in urban areas and in small apartments, where large home funerals were difficult to host. And as the Victorian era passed, and cultural practices changed, the formal parlor was replaced with the more informal and aptly named living room.

Libby Copeland writing for The New Republic about how Americans have distanced themselves from death over the last century, and the current rise of “death doulas.”

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Literary Fiction’s Open Secret

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With the publication of my second book, ‘Little Known Facts,’ lightning seemed to strike. This novel was reviewed on the cover of the New York Times Book Review and went on to receive other good reviews. Not long after ‘Little Known Fact’s’ publication date, Bloomsbury acquired a second novel and a story collection. The advance for these two manuscripts was $10,000 more than what they paid for ‘Little Known Facts.’

The open secret is that literary fiction does not pay big dividends. At least not to most of its writers and publishers. Even with excellent reviews, there’s no guarantee that your book will sell. ‘Little Known Facts’ had a mid-five-figure advance and it has earned about three-fifths of it back so far. It was reviewed in several major-market newspapers and won a couple of awards. I did readings in cities all over the country to promote it, wrote many guest blog posts, and all told, it has probably sold about 23,000 copies. That figure includes paperback, hardcover, and e-books. Not bad, but by the publishing world’s yardstick, not a standout, not at all.

— Author Christine Sneed, writing in the Billfold about the difficulty of earning a living as a writer of literary fiction—even with multiple book deals.

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The Rolling Stones’ Dark Masterpiece

The Rolling Stones posing in an ad with the artwork from Sticky Fingers. Photo by Wikimedia Commons
The Rolling Stones posing in an ad with the artwork from Sticky Fingers. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Many people say the 1960s ended at Altamont, when the Hell’s Angels fatally stabbed an eighteen year-old black man named Meredith Hunter during a huge, Woodstock-like music festival. The Rolling Stones were playing “Under My Thumb” during the murder, just feet away. In Slate, Jack Hamilton writes about the album the Rolling Stones recorded after Altamont, Sticky Fingers, and why many people consider it one of rock’s greatest:

Sticky Fingers was a misdirection, in hindsight the only livable option for a band outrunning its own Mephistophelean hype. The album’s cover—a close-up of a tight-jeaned crotch with a working zipper, designed by Andy Warhol—appeared to offer entry into a world of leering male sexual prowess, but instead offered entry into a world of something more honest and more interesting: male vulnerability. Written and recorded in the long wake of Jagger’s breakup with Marianne Faithfull and the early years of Richards’ torrid relationship with Anita Pallenberg, Sticky Fingers was a relationship record, an album about affection, pain, desire, loss, about loving people you’ve hurt and people who’ve hurt you.

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What Makes a Job a Calling?

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In a 2009 paper for Administrative Science Quarterly, J. Stuart Bunderson and Jeffery A. Thompson studied zookeepers and found that the profession was about the closest anyone in the modern, secular world comes to having a calling—the sort of intensely meaningful career that Martin Luther said could turn work into a divine offering. Zookeeping is dirty, repetitive, and poorly paid. And yet people volunteer for years, move across the country, and accept major sacrifices in their personal lives to be able to do it.

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In interviews with zookeepers, Bunderson and Thompson found that their feelings about their work ran much deeper than a standard survey metric like job satisfaction could capture. Again and again, they used phrases like “I knew this is what I was meant to do” and described a pull toward work with animals starting in early childhood. The sense of calling also came with a feeling of moral obligation. Zookeepers described an intense dedication to the animals they worked with, and to the zoos’ mission of promoting conservation and breeding endangered species.
Nemes takes pride in the breeding programs that Capron Park, and most US zoos, are part of. She tells me about the black-footed ferret, which was saved from extinction thorough captive breeding and has been reintroduced in the wild. “That’s amazing,” she says. “Extinct is forever.”

Livia Gershon writing for JSTOR Daily about zookeepers, and the broader question of what makes work meaningful.

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Guns ‘R (Still) Us

Photo by Becky Stern  (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Out-of-state residents can purchase firearms in Arizona read the sign behind the counter at Sprague’s Sports in Yuma. ASK US HOW. I asked a clerk named Ron for details. He was short, packed solid as a ham, with a crew cut and a genial demeanor. He pointed to the cavalcade of hunting rifles lined up on the long wall behind him. “Any of these you can get today—or these over here,” he said, leading me to a corner of the store where two young men in ball caps and a woman with a sparkly purse were admiring a selection of AK-47’s.

I didn’t really want to buy an assault rifle, or even a handgun, but I was curious to know what buying one felt like, how the purchase worked, what-all was involved. Nobody in my circle back east had guns, nobody wanted them, and if anybody talked about them, it was in cartoon terms: Guns are bad things owned by bad people who want to do bad things. About the only time the people where I come from thought about guns was when something terrible happened. A lunatic sprays into a crowd and we have the same conversation we always have: those damn guns and those damn people who insist on having them.

In this 2012 GQ piece, Jeanne Marie Laskas spends a few shifts behind the counter at Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Arizona, to learn about guns and gun culture in the most gun-friendly state in America.

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Science, Chance, and Emotion with Real Cosima

Clone dance party. Photo via BBC America
Clone dance party. Photo via BBC America

Maud Newton | Longreads | June 2015 | 24 minutes (5,889 words)

 

BBC America’s Orphan Black seems so immediate, so plausible, so unfuturistic, that Cosima Herter, the show’s science consultant, is used to being asked whether human reproductive cloning could be happening in a lab somewhere right now. If so, we wouldn’t know, she says. It’s illegal in so many countries, no one would want to talk about it. But one thing is clear, she told me, when we met to talk about her work on the show: in our era of synthetic biology — of Craig Venter’s biological printer and George Church’s standardized biological parts, of three-parent babies and of treatment for cancer that involves reengineered viruses— genetics as we have conceived of it is already dead. We don’t have the language for what is emerging. Read more…