Saturday, September 27, 2014

Us and Them

Much is written about our current Democratic/Republican or Blue/Red duality. And while that's a convenient shorthand, you can split our national identity other ways as well. Coffee vs. tea drinkers, exercise buffs vs. couch potatoes, network viewers vs. Netflix binge watchers. However, all of these are a conscious choice: you look at the available options, and gravitate towards the one that best reflects your world view. That, plus some additional weighting if you missed an early season of "Breaking Bad."

Other ways of splitting the populace are based less on choice, more on the accident of birth. For sure, race tops the list: to be born black vs. white ensures very different life experiences. (Whether it should or not is not the question: the fact is that it does.) Likewise, gay vs. straight has moved like lightning over the past several years to the front of the national conversation. And geography plays a part as well: there's no doubting the differences between the coastal/urban zones as opposed to the great heartland of the country. Just watch a tourist from Oklahoma or Nebraska try and navigate a Starbucks in Boston or Miami. Less than 2000 miles separates the locations, but they are actually several light-years apart.

A recent piece of news has further divided our great land into us vs them based on the governmental boundaries that define us. If I asked you to pick a state that differs from the rest, a knee jerk reaction might be Texas with its frontier sensibilities. Some might have thought of Florida, our national home of wacky true-crime stories. And California has proven itself a quirky individual time and again, most recently being the first state in the nation to pass a law protecting people's rights to post negative reviews on Yelp. But odds are that of the 50 possibilities, Minnesota would have been far down on your list. And yet a recent legal settlement singles them out from us all.

If you have an ethingy of some type that lets you read ebooks, turns out you were ensnared in a price fixing scheme perpetrated by five of the leading publishers in the business and Apple. While you weren't looking, Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Penguin colluded with the tech darling to keep the costs of books artificially high in the face of a major competitive challenge from Amazon. Somebody figured it out, and brought a lawsuit, actually a bunch of them. As happens with these things, it turned in a class action affair, with Attorneys General across the country banding together to fight the evil Cupertino. All across the nation, that is, except for the AG from Minnesota.

Maybe there a particularly good Golden Gopher football game going on, or perhaps hockey season had just started when it was time to sign up. But whatever the reason, Minnesota opted not to be part of the big lawsuit. As such, they went it alone, and filed their own. Now, normally one might think that as the self-chosen orphan stepchild, when they started handing out the settlement monies that they would get the leavings. But in a somewhat surprising turn of events, turns out that those from the "Land of 10,000 Lakes" actually got 10,001.

In Amazon's email to all its customers impacted by the settlement, they set out the way they are divvying up the $400 million that Apple is providing to soothe the aggrieved souls ensnared in their scheme. If you live in Topeka or Texarkana, Shilo or Summerville, and bought an ebook of a New York Times bestseller, they will give you a credit of $3.17. But if you bought that same book and live in Badger or Gilman, Lake Benton or Zumbro Falls, all towns which all fall within the North Star State, you get $3.93. And the same goes for non-bestsellers. If you live in Schenectady, you get a 73 cent credit; hail from St. Clair, and you get 94 cents.

And so once again we see how our country breaks down along the boundary lines of haves and have-nots. However, the latest accidental millionaire turns out not be some twenty-something in Palo Alto who invented an app that lets you order custom candy bars with your name on it, but a forty something housewife in Duluth who ordered the "How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook."  Hmmmm. I read a lot; I wonder if I can become a Gopher retroactively.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is dependent on his eReader. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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