Thursday, February 28, 2008

On the death of William F. Buckley, Jr.

I don't usually make a habit of devoting blog space to conservative figures, much less to one the New York Times recently called "the architect of modern conservatism." I believe conservative policies on the whole have been extremely detrimental for the nation and the world. As such, I tend to reject them, along with their underlying philosophies.

I didn't always, though, and I owe my political turn around in part to William F. Buckley, Jr., who passed away late Tuesday night.

I grew up in a Republican household--a very Republican household. My father was quite active in the New York Republican party at both the local and state levels. I recall accompanying him to a smoky Republican party headquarters one cold November night in the early 1980s, where we cheered the victories of "our" candidates. The community in which I was raised also was staunchly Republican. It was something of an enclave in this regard, since New York State on the whole tended to be more Democratic, at least, at the time.

Most of my friends' parents were Republicans, and most of my friends knew nothing else but. Consequently, we considered ourselves to be junior members of the Republican party, the inheritors of the GOP. We campaigned for aid to the Central American Contra insurgency during our mock-government conventions. We thought Ollie North, with his perfect posture, crisp uniform, and sad eyes, had been wronged by the liberal establishment. We celebrated the Reagan-Bush landslide of 1984, and in 1988, some championed the cause of the next Republican administration by affixing Bush-Quayle signs to their lockers at school.

We all knew a few, simple things. Democrats or, worse yet, Progressives, obviously were Communist loving softies who wanted to tax the nation into bankruptcy. They also wanted give all sorts of breaks to groups who clearly didn't deserve them. At least, that's what we all believed, swept up as we were in the rising tide of the Reagan Revolution.

My father passed away in 1986, and thereafter, my maternal grandfather became more of a presence in my everyday life. He, too, was an arch conservative. (His father had been a federal court judge, however, whom Franklin Roosevelt had appointed to the bench.) When I headed off to college, in 1991, my grandfather worried. He was a prodigious reader of conservative publications and was well aware of the culture wars taking place around that time on college campuses. He also knew U.S. colleges were "bastions of liberalism," and so he wanted to do what he could to shield me from almost certain ideological indoctrination by the left-wing thought police.

His solution was to subscribe me to the conservative news magazine William F. Buckley had founded in 1955, the National Review. Every two weeks a new issue arrived at my dorm room. I recall thumbing through most of them, more or less interested. Some I read quite intently. One contained a fascinating book excerpt that asked what would have happened had the U.S. not entered the Second World War. Another issue contained a story in which the author argued that the South African anti-Apartheid movement really was a Communist front, and that it should be resisted by the United States at all cost.

It was with the latter article that I began to recognize something was wrong. Why in the world would anyone advocate sustaining Apartheid? This was racism--bald, state-sanctioned racism. How could "godlessness" or "collectivism" be worse than that type of injustice? And how could someone associated with the "party of Lincoln" maintain such a position? Despite my questions, I continued to hold fast to my Republican ideals and passed off the article as one bad apple amid an otherwise okay bunch.

I proceeded to take a political science class during the second semester of my first year at college. The professor was an avowed conservative who had been educated at Georgetown. We read What I Saw at the Revolution, a political memoir penned by Peggy Noonan, Reagan's most famous speech writer. The Professor liked my work and even told me that it reminded her of the kind of thinking she used to encounter at Georgetown. I was proud of that compliment, and even prouder when I earned an A in her class. At the end of the school year, I happily reported to my grandfather that colleges--at least, the one I was attending--maybe weren't great bastions of liberalism after all.

And then it happened. In 1991, Rodney King, an African American man, had been beaten by a group of police officers in Los Angeles, following a traffic stop. The acquittal of all but one of the policemen by a mostly white jury, in April 1992, prompted a wave of riots in L.A. All, clearly, was not well with race relations in this country. I'd seen the infamous videotape of the beating many times. Though I knew there was some room for interpretation--the NR had told me so--it was crystal clear to me that the officers had well exceeded the amount of force necessary to subdue Mr. King. And they were all white.

What horrified me beyond the verdict and the violence, though, was a mailing I received during the summer of 1992: a solicitation of support for the Sargeant Stacey Koon legal defense fund. Koon was one of the ringleaders of the beating, and here I was being asked to help him out. I wondered for a moment why I had received this mailing, when it dawned on me: Koon and his buddies must have gotten my name and address from the National Review.

That was the turning point. I knew then conservatism wasn't for me. There was no going back. And I have William F. Buckley, Jr. to thank for this, my political awakening. Surely it wasn't the one he would have endorsed, much less have expected, but for this reason, he'll never be the "architect of modern conservatism" for me. If anything, he and his magazine helped demolish my conservatism and pave the way for my progressive education.

So thank you, Mr. Buckley, and godspeed.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Trademark troubles on the campaign trail

From today's Inside Higher Ed:
Hillary Clinton’s campaign has of late been pushing charges that Barack Obama plagiarized some phrases in his campaign speeches.

But what about one of Clinton’s favorite phrases: “Solutions for America"? It’s the name for many of her campaign events. Today will feature “Solutions for America” rallies by the campaign in Ohio, and the phrase has appeared as backdrop for many campaign rallies. It turns out, however, that an organization other than the Clinton campaign has the rights to the phrase.

“Solutions for America” is the registered trademark of a University of Richmond program with the Pew Charitable Trusts to help local communities work on a series of social problems. The emphases of the program — promoting child health, reviving neighborhoods, creating jobs — have considerable overlap with Clinton campaign themes.

This one's a bit vexing, honestly, as I can see the potential for overlap and, hence, for "confusion in the marketplace"--a primary rubric by which trademark infringement is supposed to be assessed. Here's the rub, though: aren't we talking about two categorically different things here? Isn't Clinton's use of "Solutions for America" a slogan for a political campaign--something that shouldn't, in theory, exist in the marketplace per se? Now, I understand there's a tremendous marketing dimension to Presidential campaigns, but isn't the end of all that supposed to be about elected leadership and public service, not buying and selling? Or has politics become so commercial that we cannot but conflate the two anymore?

Anyway, you can read the complete article here.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Obsessed with Wikipedia

You may not know this, but I'm obsessed with Wikipedia. Truly, I am. A confession: I love to read it. Another confession: I've even done some editing. I still don't let my students refer to it in their papers, though I may be coming around on that. It's a remarkable resource, at least, for what it is.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who's rapt with Wikipedia. I just discovered Jim Brown's excellent blog, Clinamen, which I've added to my blog roll. I don't know Jim personally, but what I do know is that he's a graduate student in Rhetoric and New Media Studies at the University of Texas - Austin. Clinamen is his attempt to work publicly through issues he's addressing in his dissertation, which focuses on Wikipedia. I haven't been following his blog long enough to know exactly what he's up to, but as far as I can tell, it's all about history, agency, collective writing practices, and the politics of knowledge production. Now that sounds like a dissertation to me.

Anyway, be sure to check out Clinamen. It's really interesting stuff.

P.S. For all you Deleuzians out there who are trying to put a finger on the word "clinamen," GD mentions it in his writings on Lucretius in Difference and Repetition, The Logic of Sense, and elsewhere. In a nutshell, it refers to the swerving of atomic particles--an apt metaphor for Wikipedia indeed!

Friday, February 22, 2008

Lessig for Congress?

Lawrence Lessig is thinking about running for the United States Congressional seat left open after the passing of Representative Tom Lantos. Please do what you can to encourage him to run. He's one of the smartest and most principled people around, and he's clearly a natural leader. We'd miss him in academe, but Congress may need him even more than we do.

draft lessig

You can read a full story about Lessig's possible Congressional bid here, via the New York Times.

P.S. Feb. 26, 2008: He's not running, unfortunately. More here....

Monday, February 18, 2008

Call for papers: The politics of journal publishing

...with gratitude to Amy Pason at the University of Minnesota for sharing this with me. Thanks, Amy!

The Political Economy of Academic Journal Publishing

Call for Papers & Proposal for a Special Issue of Ephemera: Theory & Politics in Organization, to be edited by Craig Prichard & Steffen Böhm.

'Publish or perish', that famous diktat, is without doubt the central, pervasive and unassailable logic governing most academic work in the current period. The central figure, the one around which this decree currently revolves, is, of course, the academic journal article. While the book and perhaps the lecture remain important in some locations, the journal article has become the core currency and the very measure by which academic jobs, careers, reputations and identities are made and traded.

Yet despite all the hours congealed into 'the article', and the years spent perfecting the craft of writing for journal publications, many of us know very little about the industry that surrounds our work and to which we contribute so much. Of course, we may recall certain events: Some will have noted the sale, for nearly US$1 billion, of Blackwell's 875-strong journal collection to US company Wiley in late 2006. Others will be aware that they can now, if they so wish, purchase their already published papers as individual downloads on There will be some for whom internet-based open access journals (such as ephemera) or online repositories are now the natural home of their written academic work. There may be others whom have confronted the crisis that surrounds journal subscription pricing and are seeing the demise of library journal collections in their university libraries. And there may be a few among us who recognize those journals and publishers that feature in Ted Bergstrom's hall of shame for the most expensive journals currently published ( ). But for all those that recognize such events and processes there are many more for whom such events have 'taken a while to get our attention', as Ron Kirby, the University of California mathematician who led the editorial revolt against Reed Elsevier's pricing strategy at the journal Topography, said recently.

This special issue is an invitation to begin to change that. It is a call for contributions that directly and critically explore the dynamics, problems, tensions, and issues that surround the political economy of academic journal publishing. Part of this is an invitation to explore alternative ways of organizing the production of academic work, particularly the theory, politics and organization of open access publishing, which is, perhaps, the most promising initiative to challenge corporate forms of journal publishing today. This exploration of alternatives is an acknowledgment that the writer and academic author could be regarded, at various moments, as agent, challenger and also victim of hegemonic regimes. We invite inter-disciplinary contributions from around the world and particularly welcome submissions from countries of the Global South, which have seen particular growth of open access publishing initiatives.

Possible topics include (this is not an exhaustive list):
  • Political economy of open access publishing
  • Academic publishing and the knowledge society
  • How to organize an open access journal?
  • Political economy of corporate and university press publishing
  • The place of journal publishing in the overall apparatus of academic publishing
  • Historical perspectives of academic journal publishing
  • The hegemony of UK/US publishing & referencing and its global economy
  • Issues of censorship in the process of publishing
  • Issues of inclusion/exclusion in journal publishing
  • Academic publishing in the Global South
  • Desires and identities connected to journal publishing
  • The public sphere and journal publishing: Who do we really reach?
  • The role of journal publishing in the setup and maintenance of professions and disciplines
  • Cases of open access publishing
  • The organisation of open access repositories
  • Case histories of open access repositories
  • Copyright vs Copyleft
  • Publishing and language: the hegemony of English
  • Intellectual property and the impact on academic publishing
  • What is a journal's 'impact' and how to measure it?
  • The specific role of ephemera: theory & politics in organization in the world of journal publishing and potential 'alternative impact factor measurements'
  • Academic evaluation and performance measurement systems (such as the RAE in the UK)
  • Publishing outside academia

Full papers should be submitted to the special issue editors via email by 1 November 2008. Papers should be between 5000 and 9000 words; multimedia work is welcome. All submissions should follow Ephemera's submission guidelines:

All relevant submissions will undergo a double blind review process. The special issue is scheduled to be published in late 2009.

Special issue editors:

Craig Prichard
Tari Whakahaere Kaipakihi,
Te Kunenga Ki Purehuroa
Pouaka Motuhake 11-222
Papaioea, Aotearoa
Department of Management 214
Massey University, Private Bag 11-222
Palmerston North, New Zealand
Phone: +64 (0) 6 356-9099 ext. 2244

Steffen Böhm
School of Accounting, Finance and Management
University of Essex
Wivenhoe Park
Colchester CO4 3SQ UK
Phone: +44 (0) 1206 87 3843

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Update on Harvard's open-access decision

From today's Inside Higher Ed:
Harvard University’s arts and sciences faculty approved a plan on Tuesday that will post finished academic papers online free, unless scholars specifically decide to opt out of the open-access program. While other institutions have similar repositories for their faculty’s work, Harvard’s is unique for making online publication the default option.
You can read the full story here. Way to go, Harvard faculty!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I'm waiting on pins and needles

It seems as though talk about open-access journal publishing is all the rage these days, and with good reason. Preserving the integrity of scholarly communication and its ability to circulate are both pressing issues--the latter, especially, given the emergence of digitally rights managed academic journal content and other types of strictures.  These are changing times indeed.

Apropos, I was heartened to discover this article in today's New York Times.  Apparently, the faculty of Harvard University is voting today to decide whether or not to move toward a system that more fully embraces open-access.  Here's an excerpt:
Publish or perish has long been the burden of every aspiring university professor. But the question the Harvard faculty will decide on Tuesday is whether to publish — on the Web, at least — free.

Faculty members are scheduled to vote on a measure that would permit Harvard to distribute their scholarship online, instead of signing exclusive agreements with scholarly journals that often have tiny readerships and high subscription costs.


“In place of a closed, privileged and costly system, it will help open up the world of learning to everyone who wants to learn,” said Robert Darnton, director of the university library. “It will be a first step toward freeing scholarship from the stranglehold of commercial publishers by making it freely available on our own university repository.”

Under the proposal Harvard would deposit finished papers in an open-access repository run by the library that would instantly make them available on the Internet. Authors would still retain their copyright and could publish anywhere they pleased — including at a high-priced journal, if the journal would have them.

What's exciting (or maybe nerve-wracking) to me is the degree to which Harvard is such a trend-setter.  How the faculty there goes, others are likely to follow.  So, for those of you at Harvard who may be voting today, please support the cause of open-access.  And for those of you who may know folks at Harvard, please tell them to lend their support.

If you need convincing about the merits of open-access, or if you want to learn all there is to learn about the issue, be sure to check out Peter Suber's excellent website.  He also has some extended commentary there about today's vote at Harvard and its implications.  And if you want to read the complete story from the Times, you can access it here.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Lessig for Obama on Super Tuesday (and me, too)

Today, one of my students asked me where he could vote in Indiana's Super Tuesday primary. He was despondent when I told him that Indiana doesn't vote until May--about a week before Guam, and long after the Presidential nominations probably will be sewn up. So for those of you whose votes actually count (and, heck, for those of you who are just interested in the U.S. Presidential elections), check out the Lawrence Lessig video I've embedded here. He makes a clear, reasoned case for why Democrats should support Barack Obama. What I like most is the language of "moral courage" Lessig introduces, as well as how Lessig connects his endorsement to his recent work on ending corruption in politics.

Consider yourself fortunate if you're able to vote today; please make sure to do so. I wish I were in your shoes.

P.S. On the day after Super Tuesday, nobody seems to know exactly how many convention delegates belong to either Clinton or Obama. The consensus seems to be that each has around 800. Maybe the Indiana contest will end up mattering after all!