Arrested For Blogging

According to a report from World Information Access, an organization based at the University of Washington, that’s happened to 64 people since 2003.

Only 64? I would have expected the number to be much higher. And the researchers themselves admit that the exact statistics are hard to pin down.

It acknowledged that the true number of bloggers arrested could be far higher than the total it found as, in some cases, it proved hard to verify if an arrest had taken place and on what grounds.

For instance, it said the Committee to Protect Bloggers has published information about 344 people arrested in Burma – many of whom are thought to be be bloggers – but the WIA could not verify all the reports.

While you might expect to see people picked up for speaking out in places like Burma and Egypt, the study also reports that some of those 64 were jailed in the US, Canada, and Britain.

This issue would be a great one to discuss with students, especially with those who already have a web presence.

Is there any reason why a government should fear the blog posts of one of their citizens enough to put them in jail?

I can’t think of one but for some of our “leaders”, I suppose that’s a rhetorical question.

A Receipt for Your Crime

Since I’ll be visiting London for a week in July, this is just a little scary.

A member of the flickr Photography is not a crime group posts his story of being stopped by London police for taking pictures on a street in his neighborhood.

It just so happens that the street is near a electric substation, a site that someone had decided might possibly be a potential terrorist target.

But what really put this over the top is that the two plain clothes officers gave him a copy of the write up, which, of course, he duly photographed and posted on flickr.

Terrorism and Photography

It’s logical, right? Someone plotting a terrorist act would first take plenty of pictures in the process.

So, authorities are completely justified to be suspicious of photographers, right?

Except that it’s nonsense. The 9/11 terrorists didn’t photograph anything. Nor did the London transport bombers, the Madrid subway bombers, or the liquid bombers arrested in 2006. Timothy McVeigh didn’t photograph the Oklahoma City Federal Building. The Unabomber didn’t photograph anything; neither did shoe-bomber Richard Reid. Photographs aren’t being found amongst the papers of Palestinian suicide bombers. The IRA wasn’t known for its photography. Even those manufactured terrorist plots that the US government likes to talk about — the Ft. Dix terrorists, the JFK airport bombers, the Miami 7, the Lackawanna 6 — no photography.

The writer goes on to explain more about why harassing people taking pictures in public spaces is a waste of time and money.

As well as how and why we should push back when security people try to exceed their authority.

This is worth fighting. Search “photographer rights” on Google and download one of the several wallet documents that can help you if you get harassed; I found one for the UK, US, and Australia. Don’t cede your right to photograph in public. Don’t propagate the terrorist photographer story. Remind them that prohibiting photography was something we used to ridicule about the USSR. Eventually sanity will be restored, but it may take a while.

Sanity? Now that’s something we could use a lot more of in all these discussions about security.

Picturing The Photography Ban

I don’t watch a lot of local news but fortunately, this story is online so all can view the stupidity that seems to be a growing part of living in the DC area.

There’s been a lot of buzz in the past few years about people being harassed for taking pictures in public places around the District, the latest wave centered on Union Station.

Last week a reporter from the local Fox affiliate did a story on the topic which included filming segments inside the Station itself.

However, the true irony here is that while they were interviewing a representative from Amtrak (it is a train station, after all), a security guard tried to stop them saying that there was a “no photography” policy in the building.

Union Station

Of course, he couldn’t define the policy and the reporter wasn’t able to find it on the company web site or get an official copy from the company that manages the site.

They also showed video of several tourists snapping away without being harrassed, something I’ve observed every time I’ve been there.

The Fox story ended with a note about the District Congressional representative (give that lady a vote, already!) proposing some kind of legislation on the matter.

I’m not sure a new law is required but someone certainly needs to explain to all the paranoid security people in this area that photography does not equal terrorism.

If you’re interested in more on this issue, the very active DC Photo Rights group in flickr is a good place to start.

English 101

The Atlantic magazine has a wonderful essay by a part-time instructor discussing the challenges of teaching (and taking) English 101 and 102 at “colleges of last resort”.

While his campus may have some of the trappings of ivy league, the students sitting in his classes are a combination of middle of the pack recent high school graduates and those coming to higher education after a real-world break.

The goal of English 101 is to instruct students in the sort of expository writing that theoretically will be required across the curriculum. My students must venture the compare-and-contrast paper, the argument paper, the process-analysis paper (which explains how some action is performed–as a lab report might), and the dreaded research paper, complete with parenthetical citations and a listing of works cited, all in Modern Language Association format. In 102, we read short stories, poetry, and Hamlet, and we take several stabs at the only writing more dreaded than the research paper: the absolutely despised Writing About Literature.

The bursting of our collective bubble comes quickly. A few weeks into the semester, the students must start actually writing papers, and I must start grading them. Despite my enthusiasm, despite their thoughtful nods of agreement and what I have interpreted as moments of clarity, it turns out that in many cases it has all come to naught.

Remarkably few of my students can do well in these classes. Students routinely fail; some fail multiple times, and some will never pass, because they cannot write a coherent sentence.

Much of that doesn’t sound a whole lot different from what most of these students were probably doing in their high school English classes.

This particular teacher feels a genuine bond with his students in a way that the “full-time, tenured professors” don’t (or can’t).

But my students and I are of a piece. I could not be aloof, even if I wanted to be. Our presence together in these evening classes is evidence that we all have screwed up. I’m working a second job; they’re trying desperately to get to a place where they don’t have to. All any of us wants is a free evening. Many of my students are in the vicinity of my own age. Whatever our chronological ages, we are all adults, by which I mean thoroughly saddled with children and mortgages and sputtering careers.

At the same time he also wonders whether many of his students even belong in college, despite the expectation set by society that anyone who doesn’t hold a degree is somehow substandard.

So, is it his students who are failing?

Or is the problem that the structure and curriculum of a “normal” college education has been designed for a world other than the one in which they live and work?

Read the whole story. You may recognize future versions of some of the kids sitting in your class right now.

Even if you do teach here in Lake Wobegon where “91.6 percent of high school graduates continue on to some form of postsecondary education”.