Friday, April 03, 2009

Boston Report

I don't often focus on local stuff, but a few things have come up so I think it's worth pulling it in and looking around at my own community here. Though the events certainly have national implications anyway.

File this one under the old Banned in Boston. I was beyond irritated with Boston College last week for canceling an event featuring Bill Ayers, the batted-around activist featured with such ridiculous prominence during the waning days of the presidential election. It was such a drawn-out affair, too. First making the students move it off-campus, then killing it completely. It was an odd conflict, as it seems BC was particularly annoyed that the Weather Underground, of which Ayers was a leader, may have been involved in the killing of Boston police officer Walter Schroeder in a 1970 bank robbery. Mind you, Ayers himself was not specifically accused. From the article linked above:
Patrick Rombalski, BC's vice president of student affairs, said in a statement yesterday that administrators would not allow the visit nor the teleconference "out of concern for the safety and well-being of our students and respect for the local community where the alleged actions of the Weather Underground continue to reverberate today."

Bizarre. Of course, Ayers was coming to speak about urban school issues, which is what he's been talking and writing about for years, but no matter. The Catholic university is responding to being inundated with calls after a local radio dj complained about the visit. Pathetic! This is a shot against free speech, of course, but it's also just another sign that this college is headed down an ugly path, perhaps due to influences from the Vatican. (We shan't forget the college having Condoleeza Rice as its commencement speaker in 2006, most notably and nobly protested by Steve Almond in this letter of resignation.)

This mess was followed by news today out of Illinois: Anderson's Bookshop in Naperville, IL, canceled an event featuring Ayers and his wife, fellow Weather Underground leader Bernadette Dorhn, who also has become a major leader in progressive education circles.
Anderson reported that “disturbing” phone calls condemning the store for hosting Ayers and Dohrn, whose book was released by Third World Press in February, started on March 26 and continued through April 1, with the bulk of the calls received Saturday, March 28, resulting in booksellers on duty fearing for their safety. As the store does not have caller ID, Anderson said he has no way of knowing whether the calls were local, or were part of some organized effort orchestrated from elsewhere.

So it remains to be seen whether this is some national group stoking local flames or what, but it's all an embarassment.

It's worth noting that many events are going on without a hitch, btw:
Catherine Compton, marketing director at Third World Press in Chicago, reports the company has not received “any kind of negativity at all” after releasing Ayers and Dohrn’s book with a 20,000-copy print run on February 19. The press is piggybacking on Ayers’s speaking engagements in scheduling author events across the country, in bookstores and at other venues. While several of Ayers’s recent speaking engagements have been canceled because of pressure put on event organizers, no other event scheduled by Third World Press to promote this book has been canceled. “We had 300 people at an event sponsored by 57th Street Books and held at International House on the University of Chicago campus,” Compton said.

So may he press on.

As Ayers gets censored, longtime lefty Howard Zinn gets published by his upteenth publisher, this one a new press coming out of a Boston area independent. Alex Green, owner of Back Pages Books in Waltham, Mass, has published his first book: The State of the Union 2009: Notes for a New Administration, by Howard Zinn. Green is seeing this as a kind of City Lights model. This first book is adapted from a speech and sounds, quite frankly, a bit unappealing. Green admits that he edited so that "We basically just pulled it apart and put it back together in bullet-point sections." Not promising. I suppose I'm excited about the model he's using, but less inspired by the editorial vision as expressed thus far. Let's hope it develops!

And lastly, I was pleased to see front page coverage of independent bookstore Brookline Booksmith in the Boston Globe recently, with a story about how well its doing in light of a B&N down the street closing. Hurrah!

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