Tuesday, September 30, 2008

U of I failed to do its homework

Courtesy of Gil Rodman, here's a link to the landmark United States Supreme Court case, Tinker v. Des Moines (1969). It demonstrates quite clearly that the University of Illinois' decision to bar faculty and staff from engaging in campaign speech on campus--including displaying buttons on their shirts and bumper stickers on their cars--is a violation of Constitutional principles. I've excerpted one of the more relevant passages below for those of you who'd prefer the Cliff's Notes version.

TINKER v. DES MOINES SCHOOL DIST., 393 U.S. 503 (1969)

...As we have discussed, the record does not demonstrate any facts which might reasonably have led school authorities to forecast substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities, and no disturbances or disorders on the school premises in fact occurred. These petitioners merely went about their ordained rounds in school. Their deviation consisted only in wearing on their sleeve a band of black cloth, not more than two inches wide. They wore it to exhibit their disapproval of the Vietnam hostilities and their advocacy of a truce, to make their views known, and, by their example, to influence others to adopt them. They neither interrupted school activities nor sought to intrude in the school affairs or the lives of others. They caused discussion outside of the classrooms, but no interference with work and no disorder. In the circumstances, our Constitution does not permit officials of the State to deny their form of expression.

Monday, September 29, 2008

NCA on the U of I

It's always a pleasure to begin the week on a positive note. Case in point: I learned today that the National Communication Association (NCA), the United States' largest professional organization representing communication researchers and teachers, issued the following statement condemning the University of Illinois' policy against campaign speech.

I'm very proud of and impressed by NCA for taking this stand. As a professional organization, it's rarely a trend-setter in the vein of, say, the Modern Language Association.

Here is a link to the statement on the NCA website, which contains additional links to the organization's stance on free expression, as well as to information about the U of I controversy. I've also appended the statement below for those of you who are more scroll-inclined.

For now, well done, NCA. Well done.

NCA Statement Regarding Campus Speech Codes

The National Communication Association believes that freedom of speech and assembly must hold a central position among American’s Constitutional principles, and we express our determined support for the right of peaceful expression.

As such, NCA opposes the University of Illinois’s decision to ban staff members from vocalizing their political affiliation or support for particular political candidates. By not allowing faculty and staff to display buttons, pins, or bumper stickers or attend political rallies of any kind, the University of Illinois is sending the message that faculty should not engage in discussions of a political and/or controversial nature. Not only does this suggestion limit their right to free expression, it seeks to suppress their ability to think and act critically in response to significant contemporary concerns. College campuses are places for faculty and staff to actively express their views and opinions on a variety of topics, including politics.

There is a risk to a free society when responsible advocacy is treated as a danger to be suppressed. Much good and little harm can ensue if we err on the side of freedom, whereas much harm and little good may follow if we err on the side of suppression.

By restricting individual forms of political expression, the University of Illinois system is depriving its faculty of an open and honest academic environment, one wherein learning occurs both inside and outside of the classroom.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

What's up with the University of Illinois?

From yesterday's Inside Higher Ed:
Sporting an Obama or McCain button? Driving a car with one of the campaigns’ bumper stickers? You might need to be careful on University of Illinois campuses.

The university system’s ethics office sent a notice to all employees, including faculty members, telling them that they could not wear political buttons on campus or feature bumper stickers on cars parked in campus lots unless the messages on those buttons and stickers were strictly nonpartisan. In addition, professors were told that they could not attend political rallies on campuses if those rallies express support for a candidate or political party.
Whoa. Talk about chilling--and, as far as I can tell, a pretty poorly conceived policy. Evidently it's not a problem if a U of I employee wears apparel to work emblazoned with a "Nike" logo, despite the company's well-documented exploitation of laborers in developing countries. How is that not a political endorsement, albeit of a somewhat indirect kind? And were I a professor not at Indiana but at Illinois, what if I wanted to teach students about rhetorics of political expression and propaganda using campaign stickers and bumper stickers? Would that be an acceptable use of these materials? And would I need to bring them onto campus appropriately shrouded so as not to suggest any partisanship?

Sigh. You get the point. The complete story is available here.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Among the many reasons why I dislike Comcast

From yesterday's Wired Magazine Blog:
[Digital services provider] Comcast came clean with the Federal Communications Commission late Friday, detailing how it throttled and targeted peer-to-peer traffic -- maneuvers it has repeatedly denied....

By a 3-2 vote, the FCC concluded that Comcast monitored the content of its customers' internet connections and selectively blocked peer-to-peer connections in violation of network neutrality rules. The selective blocking of file sharing traffic interfered with users' rights to access the internet and to use applications of their choice, the commission said.
Beyond Comcast's aggressive anti-net neutrality shenanigans, the straw that broke the camel's back for me was the company's unilateral decision to remove Soap Net from my cable lineup. (Yes, I follow General Hospital....) One day it was there, the next, it was gone. Oh--and have I mentioned what I pay for cable and internet services in Indiana?

You can read the full story from Wired here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Goodbye, Sivacracy

Not sure if you're aware of this, but one of the best blogs out there (and not only because I contribute to it) is shutting down as of today. A bunch of us have been posting our goodbyes over at Sivacracy, and Siva Vaidhyanathan, our fearless leader, should be posting his farewell there sometime this evening. So check it out, leave some parting comments, and help give the site the send-off it deserves.

Even though Sivacracy's shutting down, rest assured that I'll still be here on Differences & Repetitions. We're three years strong now, and I can't see any reason to call it quits.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Tech support...old school

Sorry it's been awhile. I spent early September preparing feverishly for last week's Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP) regional conference in Copenhagen, Denmark and for two talks that followed shortly thereafter at Uppsala University, Sweden. Life's been a blast, needless to say, albeit rather hectic. Hence the relative quiet here on D&R.

Anyway, until I can muster a proper blog post, I thought I'd share this fun YouTube video that my friend and colleague Isaac West recently sent my way. I realize it's been doing the rounds for awhile now, but I'm sure there are plenty of you out there who haven't yet seen it. Enjoy--and remember your Carolyn Marvin: all old technologies were once new technologies.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Fallout and follow-up from the RNC

Here's some information about the fallout from the recent Republican National Convention, sent to me by Ron Greene....

National Call for Action to Stop Police Brutality at the Republian
National Convention!

Support 300 people arrested in Saint Paul! Demand an end to illegal detention and brutality in Ramsey County Jail!

9/3/08, St. Paul - Approximately 300 people have been arrested for participating in demonstrations since the beginning of the Republican National Convention. The majority of arrestees remain in custody and are being held in inhumane conditions. Of the 300 arrested, approximately 120 have been accused of trumped-up felony charges by police; many of them are being held illegally beyond Minnesota’s 36-hour limit on detentions without formal charges.

All people who value democracy and fear for the erosion of our constitution, regardless of political affiliation, are called upon to demand an end to this egregious denial of constitutional and human rights. Prisoners have reported being denied medical treatment and essential medications, and many are engaged in a hunger strike to pressure the sheriffs to give them critical care. Many are being held in 23 hours/day lockdown and/or have not been allowed to meet with lawyers or make phone calls – especially trans prisoners. Several prisoners have been able to reach legal support to report brutal physical assaults by multiple corrections officers. The constitutional and legal rights of all prisoners are being denied across the board, with no apparent end to this outrageous treatment.

Please call the following offices and continue calling until all arrestees have been released:
  • St. Paul Mayor – Chris Coleman (651.266.8510)
  • Head of Ramsey County Jail – Capt. Ryan O’Neil (651.266-9350 ext 1)
  • Ramsey County Sheriff – Bob Fletcher (651.266.9333)
  • County Chief Judge Gearin (651.266.8266)
Demand the following:
  • Immediate medical attention as needed for ALL arrestees;
  • That the prisoners who haven’t given their names (Jane & John Does and Jesse Sparkles) have access to group meetings with a lawyer in jail;
  • Dismissal of all charges;
  • Release of all minors; and
  • Ensure trans prisoners have access to phone and attorneys, and are held in gender group of their choice.
  • Money is needed to help cover legal costs and get people out of jail. Any amount you can give is greatly appreciated. To donate by Pay Pal visit and click on the donate button.
For more details and up-to-date information about jail conditions and prisoner status, please see:

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Palin and book banning

Today I ran across an intriguing story from the New York Times. Mostly it's about the political strategy presumptive Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin used when she ran for mayor of Wasilla, Alaska back in 1996. She turned the tables in the election by sidestepping more run-of-the-mill local fare such as sewers and snow removal. Instead, she campaigned on so-called "wedge issues" including abortion, religion, and gun rights. With these she unseated a three-term mayor and became a polarizing political figure in the process.

Even more compelling to me than all this, however, is the interest she expressed as mayor of Wasilla in banning some books at the local library. The Times has this to say:
Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

In 1996, Ms. Palin suggested to the local paper, The Frontiersman, that the conversations about banning books were “rhetorical.”
I wish the Times had provided some indication as to which "morally or socially objectionable" books Pain expressed an interest in banning. For my part, I consider book banning to be undesirable, even in cases where the books in question constitute unpopular speech. I suppose that makes me a good liberal--not in the sense of someone who endorses a left-wing politics per se, but rather in the sense of someone who holds fast to at least some of the tents of liberalism.

What truly fascinates me about the issue of Palin's interest in book banning, though, is the synergy it seems to share with right-leaning religious groups who in recent years have attempted to get books such as Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code and J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter (of course there are many others) off of public library shelves. There are plenty of people who say books don't matter much anymore--that they're a medium in decline, that they've been edged out by television and the internet, etc. If that's true, then why all this interest on the part not only of the Christian right, but indeed of other groups, to ban them? Or, why all the outcry over Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison's 2006 swearing-in ceremony, in which he used not the Christian Bible but instead the Koran to consecrate his oath of office?

I don't have concrete answers to these questions as yet; they do open up some interesting future directions for my research. For now, though, I will say this: the Palin book-banning controversy, coupled with the other examples I mention above, suggest that print (and printed books in particular) is far from dead. If anything, print remains a lightning-rod for the some of the most important social controversies of our time.