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The Passive-Aggressive Vices of John Roberts


The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals today lifted an injunction that had stopped Arkansas from enforcing regulations on abortion it passed in 2017. The reason? John Roberts’s concurrence in June Medical Services, which nominally upheld the outcome in Whole Woman’s Health while asserting that the standard applied by Breyer in the latter (which mandated consideration of both the purported health benefits of the legislation as well as its burdens) was wrong, and the Court should only consider the latter. 8CA treated it as controlling, and because the Arkansas law is different than the Texas and Louisiana ones, allowed it to go into effect while remanding the case:

Hence, a series of arbitrary obstacles will go into effect:

John Roberts is one of the few elite Republicans who actually seems to put a high priority on maximizing the chances that a Republican will be staffing the federal judiciary for the next four years, and in June Medical he did something really clever and insidious. By voting to strike down an abortion law, he gets media cred as a bipartisan moderate, criticism from conservatives that reinforces the message, keeps liberals feeling good about the Supreme Court during an election year despite issuing an endless series of anti-voting-rights opinions, while giving states much broader latitude to regulate abortion so long as they do not use the precise method Texas and Louisiana did. So states can continue to limit abortion access, and the Court remains free to overrule Roe (whether directly or sub silentio) in an election off-year. Don’t be fooled — Roberts hasn’t become a sudden supporter of woman’s reproductive rights, and this will become clear as Trumpified circuit courts use June Medical to vacate injunctions against abortion laws.

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The Adah B. Thoms House - 317 West 138th Street

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In the decades following the end of the Civil War Harlem, once open farmland and summer estates, began developing as a fashionable suburb of the crowded city to the south.  Early in 1889 builder George J. Hamilton joined the trend by purchasing a long stretch of the northern block front of West 138th Street between Edgecombe and Eighth Avenues (later Frederick Douglass Boulevard).  He hired E. R. Wile to design a row of eight upper-middle class homes on the property.

Hamilton was a competent and well-known builder, responsible for the construction of several of the upscale Murray Hill mansions like the Carow house.  It would be interesting to know how he and the architect joined forces, for essentially nothing is known about Wile and this project appears to be his sole work in New York City.  He filed plans on January 25, 1889 for the 17-foot wide houses, each to cost $8,500 (or about $244,000 today).

Obscurity aside, Wile produced a charming row of storybook-type houses.   While they were a blend of styles, Queen Anne took prominence.  The basement and parlor floors were faced in brownstone and the upper floors in red brick.  Dogleg stoops led to the entrances and a shallow projecting bay graced each of the second floors (other than the end house, which anchored the row as an angled tower).  A mountainscape of gables and dormers fronted the mansard roof.

Wiles produced a picturesque row of homes.
Nos. 317 and 319 shared a stoop which split off in different directions at the landing.  Colorful stained glass transoms with "jewels" decorated the parlor windows of No. 317 and its prominent gable was ornamented with a stylized heraldic shield and ribbon.

The houses were completed in the spring of 1890.  George Hamilton placed a price tag of $15,500 each on them, or just under half a million in today's dollars.  It may have been that he intended to move into No. 317, for on May 28 he transferred title to the property to his wife, Petrona.  If so, they changed their minds within a year and in 1891 Petrona Hamilton sold the house to John Glass, Jr., head of the John Glass Jr. Construction Co.

Glass sold the house in 1893 and in 1897 it was lost to foreclosure.  It became home to Jeremiah and Leticia M. Howard, whose country home was in Clinton, New York.  The couple would not enjoy the house for long.  Leticia died around 1901 and the following year, on June 8, The New York Times reported that Jeremiah had died while on a trip to Pino del Rio, Cuba.

The house saw a succession of owners.  The Henry Brick family was living here in 1917 when daughter Dorothy was married on October 9 in the St. Regis Hotel to Harry Negbaur.  Her sister, Marion, and brother, George, acted as attendant and usher.

When it sold in November 1920, No. 317 finally had a long-term owner.  Adah B. Thoms was a strong, self-reliant Black woman.  Born Adah Belle Samuels in Richmond, Virginia in 1870, she retained the surname Thoms from her short and unsuccessful marriage.  Having initially taught school in Richmond, she moved to New York in the 1890's to study elocution and speech at Cooper Union.  But she turned to the field of nursing instead.

She graduated as the only Black woman in the 1900 class of the Women's Infirmary and School of Therapeutic Massage.  She continued her training at the Lincoln Hospital and Home School of Nursing, graduating in 1905.  The following year she was made acting director of the school.

Thoms worked tirelessly, helping to organize the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908.  Its published goals were "to advance the standards and best interests of trained nurses, to break down discrimination in the nursing profession, and to develop leadership within the ranks of black nurses."  She hosted the first meeting in 1907 at the Lincoln Home and Hospital, became the association's first treasurer and then, in 1916, its president.

During World War I Adah Thoms lobbied vigorously in an attempt to enable Black nurses to enroll in the Red Cross.  The Surgeon General compromised by allowing a limited number to enroll; however that changed when the flu pandemic of 1918 created a desperate need for nurses and the restrictions were removed.  That year 18 Black nurses were appointed to the Army Nurse Corps.

Adah Thoms initially used a portion of her new home for the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses.  The group's Placement Bureau for Colored Graduate Nurses and its Bureau of Information operated from the house.

The New York Age, December 3, 1921 (copyright expired)
In 1921 Adah traveled to Washington D. C. to attend the national conference of the NACGN.  Her unflagging work had not gone unnoticed and she was invited to the White House by President and Mrs. Warren G. Harding.

In 1922 Adah married again.  But the independent, modern-thinking woman did not give up her name this time.  Instead she put a hyphen between Thoms and Smith.

Possibly because hotel accommodations for Black travelers were not desirable, Adah repeatedly hosted visitors to New York.  On August 19, 1922, for instance, The New York Age reported "Mrs. K. B. Taylor, R. N., public health nurse of Orlando Fla., has been taking a Summer course in public health at Columbia University.  While in the city she is the guest of Mrs. Adah. B. Thoms-Smith, 317 West 138th street."

The house was the scene of benefits and receptions over the years, as well.  On May 10, 1924 The New York Age reported "The New York City Health Unit of the Circle for Negro Relief, Inc., held a reception on Tuesday evening, April 29, at the home of Mrs. Adah Thoms Smith, 317 West 138th street, to welcome home from Liberia, West Africa, its president, Mrs. Helen Curtis."  The group heard about Mrs. Curtis's trip and the inauguration of President King of Liberia.  The article noted "The selections rendered by the Fisk Jubilee Singers were delightfully received."

Adah's party on February 26, 1927 was somewhat surprising in that it was purely social.  The New York Age reported the house "was the scene of a beautiful gathering of friends...Whist, bridge and dancing were enjoyed.  A collation of chicken and mushroom patties, punch and cake was served."  The article listed dozens of guests.

Adah B. Thoms.  American Journal of Nursing, 1929.
Following her husband's death, Adah dropped the Smith from her name.  She continued her work, offering her home to out-of-town visitors and for benefit causes.  An especially noteworthy event took place on February 3, 1929 when novelist and short-story writer Fannie Hurst was Adah's guest of honor.

The New York Age reported "One of the prettiest and most successful benefit teas of the season, was given at the home of Mrs. Adah B. Thoms, 317 West 138th street...for the benefit of the National Health Circle for Colored People."  The article said that more than 200 people were there to meet the author and "to hear of the work being done by the National Health Circle."

Among those present that afternoon were important figures in health and social circles, including Mrs. Charles Dana Gibson; Isabel Stewart, director of nursing education at Columbia University; a representative from Harper & Brothers Publishing; and a member of the National Training School in Washington.  (Fannie Hurst's popular 1933 Imitation of Life would highlight race problems in America.)

Little has changed to the house since this photo was taken around 1941, while Adah Thoms still lived here.  via the NYC Dept of Finance and Information Services.
Adah's commitment to nursing and, in particular, to eradicating the barriers encountered by Black nurses, was highly recognized.  Lillian Wald, the nurse who founded American community nursing and the Henry Street Settlement said of her in 1929, "Mrs. Thoms' leadership is significant not only for her own race but for those socially minded person of every race who cherish high purposes and unselfish accomplishments that bring promise of better relationships between people."

In 1936 Adah was selected as the first recipient of the annual Mary Mahoney Medal, presented by the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses.  The National News Bulletin explained "The medal commemorates the lift of Mary Mahoney who was the first Negro woman to be graduated from a nursing school.  Mr. Mahoney was a personal friend of Mrs. Thoms."  In presenting the medal, Dr. Louis T. Wright called Adah "an institution and a symbol."

Adah B. Thoms died on February 21, 1943 at the age of 80.  In reporting on her death Survey Midmonthly: A Journal of Social Work commented "Her major interest was education, and it was she who said 'No doors are closed to the colored nurse who bears the key of adequate preparation.'"

The architecturally charismatic and historically significant house remains a single-family home today.  And while the Harlem neighborhood has seen considerable change 1890; the Thoms house has not.

photographs by the author
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Is Eddard a good baby name?

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Look, I’m as big a nerd as the next guy, but saddling your kid with a fandom name that’s unusual enough that kids will notice and mock them over is a rather selfish parenting move.

My suggestion is to look for a name that’s close enough but which won’t raise the same issue. in this case, that’s rather easy. Eddard is just GRRM’s fantasying-up of Edward, so if you name your kid Edward and call him “Ned” no one’s going to give it a second glance and you still get to have your fun.

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24 days ago
earth dimension c-138

Why do some prominent people in the ASOIAF community hate Anons? If you get what you view as a dumb question, why not just ignore the question instead of responding with something condescending or abusive, and essentially leaning in to bullying culture?

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I’m glad you asked this question, because I think it highlights an important issue. 

As an reader/submitter/asker, you don’t know what the contents of someone’s inbox looks like and this can lead to a situation where your perception is wildly different from that of the person you are following. A question or a message that seems innocuous on its own might look very different in the context of the inbox as a whole.

Just to give a small example: I have seven thousand and three messages in my inbox at present. In addition to the vague guilt I feel about that, rather akin to how I feel about having lots of unread messages in my email or voicemails I haven’t responded to, this means that there are going to be lots of messages coming in on the same topic or the same question, all the time. 

Each individual correspondent might not intend to annoy or irritate; indeed, the fact that the people asking questions can’t see what other questions are being asked means that there’s going to completely unintentional pileups. However, the psychological impact of the poke-poke-poke still happens, regardless of intent. 


This effect is doubly strong when it comes to topics that (for various reasons) I or others might find annoying, distasteful, or worse. I do my best to tell people ahead of time not to send me questions about these topics - for example, when I went off the TV show, I really didn’t want to answer questions about it anymore; I got really tired of answering marriage questions because I was inundated with every conceivable permutation of “what if X married Y”; I don’t like the Dance of the Dragons and got burned out on Fire & Blood - but because of the nature of social media feeds, and the fact that Tumblr’s archive and search functions are abysmal, it’s very easy for people asking questions to not see the posts where I’ve tried to put a kibosh on those topics.

The asynchronicity is a key factor here. Almost inevitably given the way that follower counts accumulate over time, a lot of my audience won’t have been around for stuff I was writing near the beginning of my time on this platform, which means that there can easily be a situation where a question that seems both innocuous and novel to the asker, comes across as poking the bear (in old wounds, no less) to the answerer.


Finally, let’s address the topic of anons. It is a well-known phenomena that anonymous commenting leads people to say things that they would not say if their handle was in the comment, much less if they were in person. Tumblr unfortunately magnifies this problem by only allowing public responses to anons; this creates the perception that anons are, in a certain sense, asking me to take a public stand on a question or topic while still enjoying the comfort of anonymity for themselves. If you’re listening @staff, this not the best way to start off communication between strangers, and it’s one of the main reasons why a lot of people I know in the fandom turn off anonymous submissions.

This intersects really badly with what I was saying earlier about the impact of the broader universe of the inbox on someone’s mentality, because even if one individual anon wasn’t being particularly out of line, the odds are pretty good that there were other anon comments on the same issue that were less than polite, and it’s not surprising that the blogger responding might misdirect their temper in that situation.  

This comes up a lot when it comes to contentious topics in a fandom, like shipping wars or stans vs. antis. And just to really make sure no one misses the elephant in the room: all of these behaviors/phenomena get way worse when someone in a fandom is a woman, a person of color, LGBTQ+, etc. I’m a cishet white dude, which means I deal with so much less shit hurled my way compared to a lot of other “prominent people in the ASOIAF community“ who aren’t. In those 7,003 messages in my inbox, you don’t see many people flinging insults at me or wishing harm upon me. I know that’s not true for quite a few of my friends.

To repeat myself from the beginning: “you don’t know what the contents of someone’s inbox looks like.” The person you think is being condescending or abusive might be someone whose patience has run out; the person you think is bullying may be someone pushing back against their bullies. 

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Hell Was Full

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Hell Was Full:


Hello, beloved fans.

After years of toiling in the comics mines to bring you free webcomics that thrill and delight, I’ve managed to put together a collection of my choicest strips -both public and exclusive- in book form for your purchasing pleasure. The good people at Oni Press have my book available for pre-order right this very moment. That’s right, Hell Was Full is a full-color collection of my comics and you can buy it for yourself right this very instant. We’ve got the retail version, the Oni Exclusive edition (with a cover designed by yours truly,) and a SPECIAL EDITION that comes with a lovely pink case and hand-drawn art by me, Branson Reese. That special edition is also signed. You’d better believe it. Or maybe you don’t? You don’t have to take my word for it! You can just buy it and make that call for yourself!

Please buy this. Doing free webcomics for years pays shit, it turns out. 

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Writing, Reading, Writing

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I have to confess, after half a year of pandemic, quarantine, and social distancing, I am showing signs of cabin fever… half of which is quite literal in my case.  Yes, I am in an actual cabin in the mountains.   No, I have no fever.   Yay!   For the present at least, I am healthy… for an out-of-shape guy of 71, at least … and doing all I can to stay that way.

If nothing else, the enforced isolation has helped me write.   I am spending long hours every day on THE WINDS OF WINTER, and making steady progress.   I finished a new chapter yesterday, another one three days ago, another one the previous week.   But no, this does not mean that the book will be finished tomorrow or published next week.   It’s going to be a huge book, and I still have a long way to go.   Please do not give any credence to any of the click-bait websites that like to parse every word of my posts as if they were papal encyclicals to divine hidden meanings.

I was heartbroken when CoNZealand was forced to go virtual due to the pandemic and I had to cancel my plans (exciting plans) for a long trip down to Wellington with Parris and my minions… but there is definitely a silver lining in that cloud.   The last thing I need right now is a long interruption that might cost me all the momentum I have built up.   I can always visit Wellington next year, when I hope that both Covid-19 and THE WINDS OF WINTER will be done.

I still plan to host the Hugo Awards and fulfill all the rest of my toastmasterly duties for worldcon, and have started pre-recording some bits for the ceremony (a wise precaution, since I am hopeless with Zoom and Skype and like things), but that is a lot less time-consuming and distracting than flying to the other end of the world.   In between tapings, I return to Westeros.   Of late I have been visiting with Cersei, Asha, Tyrion, Ser Barristan, and Areo Hotah.   I will be dropping back into Braavos next week.    I have bad days, which get me down, and good days, which lift me up, but all in all I am pleased with the way things are doing.

I do wish they would go faster, of course.   Way way back in 1999, when I was deep in the writing of A STORM OF SWORDS, I was averaging about 150 pages of manuscript a month.   I fear I shall never recapture that pace again.   Looking back, I am not sure how I did it then.    A fever indeed.

Anyway… when I am not writing, or thinking about writing, I am watching television and reading.    Publishers send me huge piles of books, so my “to be read” pile is always growing, no many how many books I consume.   Of course, I also buy books as well.   Cannot help it, I am a book junkie.   The new Stephen King collection IF IT BLEEDS was one recent favorite.  I love these novella collections that King comes out with from time to time between his novels.   This one features a new Holly Gibney story, and it is always great to see that character again… but there’s also a story called “Rat” about a writer trying to finish a novel in an isolated cabin which… ah… resonated with me rather strongly for some reason.   One bit, where the writer gets derailed trying to figure out how many rocking chairs a sheriff could fit on his porch, was a dead-on depiction of the kind of stuff I go through all the time.   Steve’s protagonist gets some help when a dead rat turns up to be his muse.  So far, no rats at my cabin.    Sid did catch a couple of mice last year, but she made pets of them.  And Timmy and TomTom were no help whatsoever with WINDS.   (Please don’t send me long emails about the dangers of mice, we know all that stuff).

Another recent book that really knocked me out was THE GLASS HOTEL, the latest by Emily St. John Mandel.    A few years back, she wrote a (ahem) post-pandemic SF novel called STATION ELEVEN which I loved at the time and now devoutly hope is not going to prove prophetic.  It was my favorite novel of that year, and I thought it deserved to win the Hugo and the Nebula.   Which it didn’t, alas.   But I had Emily at my theatre for an author event, which was great, and snapped up her three earlier novels.  I really liked those too.   Now comes her latest, THE GLASS HOTEL.  No, this one is not science fiction or fantasy.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to say what it is except a damn fine novel.   It is about a hotel in a remote location, the people who work there, the people who stay there, it is about a Ponzi scheme, and art, and music, and a dysfunctional family, and… oh, well, I don’t know what it is about, but I do know that once I started reading, I could not stop.   When people describe a book as a “page turner,” usually they are talking about novels that have a lot of plot, which Mandel definitely does not, yet somehow she keeps me turning pages regardless.   And she writes just beautifully.   Her prose is not overblown or excessively ornate, as is the case with too many writers who are known as “stylists,” but… it is just lovely, haunting and evocative and immersive…   I guess you can say I am a big Emily St. John Mandel fanboy.   I look forward to whatever she writes next.

There are other things going on in my life as well.   I bought a railroad… well, I bought a third of a railroad.   See the post below.   Hollywood has slowed to a crawl thanks to the pandemic, but THE HOUSE OF THE DRAGON is still flying along wonderfully, thanks to Ryan Condal and his writers, and the tireless Ti Mikkel.   With my producer hat on, I am still involved in trying to bring Nnedi Okorafor’s brilliant WHO FEARS DEATH to the small screen, and relaunch the WILD CARDS tv project.   We have feature films in development adapted from my stories “Sandkings” and “The Ice Dragon” and “The Lost Lands,” television shows in development based on works by Roger Zelazny and Tony Hillerman, there are the secret shorts we’re doing that… well, no, if I spilled that, it wouldn’t be secret.

But up here on the mountain, all of that that seems very distant, and much of it has stuttered to a halt in any case, until Covid goes away.

Mostly, it’s just me in Westeros, with occasional side trips to other places in the pages of a great book.

Now you will have to excuse me.   Arya is calling.   I think she means to kill someone.

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