Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The first ever D&R caption contest!

A colleague of mine passed along the following photo to me, and I've been meaning to blog about it for awhile now. There's just one problem: I'm not particularly witty. So I leave it to you, dear readers, to come up with an appropriate caption for the photo--humorous or otherwise. The winner of the first ever D&R caption contest will garner the acclaim of dozens of blog readers from around the globe and will have conferred upon her/him by yours truly the euphonious title of...WINNER!!!!

You can enter by leaving a comment below. Have fun, keep it reasonably clean, and enjoy. The deadline for entries will be, well, whenever I decide....

"Bébé avec Deleuze" - 2000 © M/M (Paris)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Keep it cheap

Courtesy of the University of Illinois' Robert McChesney, here's important information about something really unsexy: postal rate hikes. Though we often hear about "big media" and their control of the instruments of production, what's less often talked about is the wellbeing of our instruments of media distribution--in this case, the mail. Please make sure to sign the petition below if you believe in helping to preseve relatively cheap access to small media in the United States.
There is a major crisis in our media taking place right now; it is getting almost no attention and unless we act very soon the consequences for our society could well be disastrous. And it will only take place because it is being done without any public awareness or participation; it goes directly against the very foundations of freedom of the press in the entirety of American history.

The U.S. Post Office is in the process of implementing a radical reformulation of its rates for magazines, such that smaller periodicals will be hit with a much much larger increase than the largest magazines.

Because the Post Office is a monopoly, and because magazines must use it, the postal rates always have been skewed to make it cheaper for smaller publications to get launched and to survive. The whole idea has been to use the postal rates to keep publishing as competitive and wide open as possible. This bedrock principle was put in place by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. They considered it mandatory to create the press system, the Fourth Estate necessary for self-government.

It was postal policy that converted the free press clause in the First Amendment from an abstract principle into a living breathing reality for Americans. And it has served that role throughout our history.

What the Post Office is now proposing goes directly against 215 years of postal policy. The Post Office is in the process of implementing a radical reformulation of its mailing rates for magazines. Under the plan, smaller periodicals will be hit with a much larger increase than the big magazines, as much as 30 percent. Some of the largest circulation magazines will face hikes of less than 10 percent.

The new rates, which go into effect on July 15, were developed with no public involvement or congressional oversight, and the increased costs could damage hundreds, even thousands, of smaller publications, possibly putting many out of business. This includes nearly every political journal in the nation. These are the magazines that often provide the most original journalism and analysis. These are the magazines that provide much of the content on Common Dreams. We desperately need them.

What the Post Office is planning to do now, in the dark of night, is implement a rate structure that gives the best prices to the biggest publishers, hence letting them lock in their market position and lessen the threat of any new competition. The new rates could make it almost impossible to launch a new magazine, unless it is spawned by a huge conglomerate.

Not surprisingly, the new scheme was drafted by Time Warner, the largest magazine publisher in the nation. All evidence available suggests the bureaucrats responsible have never considered the implications of their draconian reforms for small and independent publishers, or for citizens who depend upon a free press.

The corruption and sleaziness of this process is difficult to exaggerate. As one lawyer who works for a large magazine publisher admits, “It takes a publishing company several hundred thousand dollars to even participate in these rate cases. Some large corporations spend millions to influence these rates.” Little guys, and the general public who depend upon these magazines, are not at the table when the deal is being made.

The genius of the postal rate structure over the past 215 years was that it did not favor a particular viewpoint; it simply made it easier for smaller magazines to be launched and to survive. That is why the publications opposing the secretive Post Office rate hikes cross the political spectrum. This is not a left-wing issue or a right-wing issue, it is a democracy issue. And it is about having competitive media markets that benefit all Americans. This reform will have disastrous effects for all small and mid-sized publications, be they on politics, music, sports or gardening.

This process was conducted with such little publicity and pitched only at the dominant players that we only learned about it a few weeks ago and it is very late in the game. But there is something you can do. Please go to and sign the letter to the Postal Board protesting the new rate system and demanding a congressional hearing before any radical changes are made. The deadline for comments is April 23.

I know many of you are connected to publications that go through the mail, or libraries and bookstores that pay for subscriptions to magazines and periodicals. If you fall in these categories, it is imperative you get everyone connected to your magazine or operation to go to

We do not have a moment to lose. If everyone who reads this email responds at, and then sends it along to their friends urging them to do the same, we can win. If there is one thing we have learned at Free Press over the past few years, it is that if enough people raise hell, we can force politicians to do the right thing. This is a time for serious hell-raising.

From the bottom of my heart, thanks.


Wednesday, April 11, 2007


What a trip--and I mean that in two ways.

First, you've probably noticed that I haven't written in close to a month. Though I'm not the most frequent blogger by any means, I do try, when possible, to let no more than about two weeks elapse between posts. The last month has been--it would be an understatement to say--incredibly busy, so I've had to forego writing new material for D&R. I appreciate your patience as the semester winds way, way up for me before it starts to wind down.

But my "what a trip" comment also refers to something much more enjoyable--my recent visit to the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa. There I had the good fortune of presenting my paper, "Harry Potter and the Culture of the Copy (Warning: Not Endorsed by J. K. Rowling!)," which looks at the Potter phenomenon, authorized and unauthorized works "derived" from the series, and clashes over intellectual property resulting from the boy wizard's global popularity. (The piece I presented is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, The Late Age of Print.).

What made the trip to Iowa memorable, though, beyond the hospitality and engaging dialogue I had there with faculty and grad students, was my getting to see some of the creative media/cultural activism going on. And in that vein I got to screen a rough cut of Kembrew McLeod's forthcoming documentary, Freedom of Expression®, which is based on his outstanding book by the same name. Mark Andrejevic, meanwhile, sent me link to a great audiovisual mash-up he's put together on the perils of watching too much Fox News. And last but not least, Kembrew alerted me to a recent intervention by a graduate student with whom he's working, Peter Schaefer, who's concerned by how all the championing of the Apple iPod has tended to eclipse the company's sometimes problematic relationship to workers' rights. Check out Peter's iPod and what he's had to say about it:

I attached a photo of my iPod with the inscription of "Apple exploits workers in Longhua, China." It's pretty amazing that Apple was willing to accept a message that is critical of their own suspect iPod labor practices. Working conditions at several sites in China were exposed by the London-based newspaper the Daily Mail last year. Yet Apple rejects inscriptions that condemn the Recording Industry Association of America, refusing messages such as "Rip, Mix, & Burn Down RIAA Headquarters" and "Screwing The RIAA One Download At A Time."
Or, as Kembrew put it to me: "Once again, we are reminded that, for the culture industry, copyrights are more important than human rights."

Like I said, what a privilege to have been privy to such smart and punchy work and to have shared the company of an engaging group of people.