Then-acting Chief Justice Brent Benjamin, listening in 2008 to arguments in a rehearing of a $76 million judgment awarded to Harman Mining against Massey Energy (AP Photo/Bob Bird, File)
Most of us will never be indicted for a crime or involved in a lawsuit, but imagine that you were. What sort of person would you want the judge to be? Impartial, of course. Wise, learned, and open-minded would help, too. The judicial system's trappings send the message that judges are, in fact, all these things: Judges sit higher than everyone else in the courtroom, demand we stand at their entrance and exit, and wear priestly robes to denote their special status and mastery of sacred legal texts. They are supposed to be beyond the pettiness of momentary emotion or partisan political concerns, a class imbued with intellectual and moral superiority.
Last week's news that AOL is buying The Huffington Post for a cool $315 million made me feel a bit wistful, since I too once created an online news enterprise, albeit one worth somewhat less than nine figures. It was called the Gadflyer (it's no longer live on the Web; if you want to read it today, you'll have to visit the Internet Archive). Looking back, The Huffington Post's success sheds some light on why the Gadflyer proved unsustainable while some similar sites survived and flourished.
Manoa Public Library in Hawaii (Flickr/Dave Wertheimer's photostream)
In 1731, members of a "society of mutual improvement," led by 25-year-old Benjamin Franklin, decided that if they and other men they knew pooled their modest resources to purchase books, each would have access to a larger body of volumes than they could ordinarily afford. Fifty men were quickly recruited to pay 40 shillings each, and America's first lending library, the Library Company of Philadelphia (which still exists today) was born. Soon, similar "subscription libraries" were sprouting up all over the country.
Republicans in the Iowa Legislature are currently attempting to undo gay marriage in the state, which was mandated by a decision of the state's Supreme Court in 2009. The measure has passed the Republican-controlled state House, but faces a tougher time in the Democrat-controlled Senate. During a hearing in the House, legislators heard from this college student (via BoingBoing):
The discussion about health care we're currently having is essentially campaign-style, in that it is utterly divorced from the practical effects of the various outcomes. We talk about what the Supreme Court will do, whether Republicans can force a repeal vote in the Senate, how the issue will play out in the 2012 election, and so on, but not so much about the fact that lives are literally at stake. The real question isn't whether one side of the political divide will benefit, but whether millions of people will manage to get coverage, whether people will continue to get sicker and die earlier than they otherwise would because they lack access to care, whether people will continue to be bankrupted by their medical bills.