Sunday, June 25, 2017

Tristan Donovan's "It's All a Game"

Tristan Donovan is a British author and journalist. His books include Replay: The History of Video Games and Fizz: How Soda Shook Up the World. His writing has appeared in BBC News Online, The Atlantic, The Times of London, Stuff, Wired, The Guardian, Eurogamer, and Kotaku, among other publications.

Donovan applied the “Page 99 Test” to his newest book, It's All a Game: The History of Board Games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, and reported the following:
So open page 99 of It’s All a Game and where do you find yourself? Slap bang in the middle of the chapter "From Kriegsspiel to Risk."

That chapter charts the history of war games — from their origins in Prussia as tabletop military planning tools to their influence on well-known games like Risk and Dungeons & Dragons.

And while page 99 is a strange place to start reading the book, it does capture the essence of that chapter and the way It’s All a Game looks at board game history.

The page opens part-way through a paragraph about how imperial-era Germany used tabletop war games to develop the Schlieffen Plan — a strategy for dealing with a simultaneous threat of invasion from Russia and France that aimed to neutralize the French as quickly as possible.

On paper the plan, developed through playing hundreds of war games, should have delivered a swift German victory when war broke out. Of course that didn’t happen, as the page explains:
But for all their planning, when Germany put the Schlieffen Plan into action at the start of the First World War, the real world refused to conform to the tabletop version of events…. On the tabletop the Schlieffen Plan promised victory in six weeks. In reality it delivered a stalemate and four horrific years of trench warfare.
So page 99 tells us of a time when tabletop war gaming backfired but elsewhere in the chapter I look at the times games provided insights that militaries used successfully. Not least how imperial Japan employed war games to plan the Pearl Harbor attack.

And despite page 99 failing to mention any board games most of us will ever play, it does show how It’s All a Game looks not only at the history of the games themselves but at how board games connect with history as a whole.

So on page 99 it’s military war games influencing actual wars. Elsewhere it’s Twister getting a boost from the sexual revolution of the 1960s, how air raids and the Golden Age of Detective Fiction spawned Clue, and the story of how contemporary board games are bucking the trend towards an all-digital lifestyle.
Visit Tristan Donovan's website.

Writers Read: Tristan Donovan.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Kenda Mutongi's "Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi"

Kenda Mutongi is professor of history at Williams College and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor at MIT. She is the author of Worries of the Heart: Widows, Family, and Community in Kenya.

Mutongi applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi, and reported the following:
From page 99:
While passengers may have been doing their best to adjust to the precipitous increase in the number of matatus, as well as the rowdy workers and dangerous travel conditions, the owners were not doing nearly as well. Many of the owners had become so unprincipled and antagonistic that they had managed to jeopardize their own chances of survival.

The current state of affairs was unsustainable, and it was becoming clear that some sort of backlash was looming, from the government if not from the passengers themselves. The more thoughtful owners were even reconsidering the need for government regulation in the industry. It made sense, given the explosion in the numbers of matatus and the unregulated competition, along with the antisocial behavior of their own workers. “Lack of regulation was not a good thing for business,” recalled Innocent Kamau, a matatu owner in the 1970s. “See, not all the people in the industry were good people and sometimes tried to cheat you, so you needed the government to help out, but they were not doing so; they left us just like that,” and he waved his fingers sideways, shook his head, and pressed his lips together in disgust.

Kamau was not alone. Many of the people who had bought matatus in the 1970s felt that the industry needed to be controlled— though, it must be granted that they were saying so in hindsight. By and large, matatu owners who had vehicles in good mechanical condition wanted defective vehicles off the roads (no doubt for safety reasons and also because they wanted to expand their business and increase their profits). They also wanted some controls placed upon the touts’ aggressive and rude conduct, and death- defying stunts of their drivers, so that passengers might become more trusting and less combative. It was gradually becoming apparent to the more responsible owners that good vehicles and good behavior were better for business.
What is the best way to regulate the matatu industry? This is the main question in Matutu. And one of the main contradictions in the government’s attempt at regulation occurs on page 99.

Until 1973, matatu business was considered illegal by the government. However in June of that year, Jomo Kenyatta, the then president of Kenya passed a decree legalizing the businesses. The ruling was a surprise. Even more surprising was the fact that Kenyatta had declined to prescribe any restrictions, or require any form of licensing, on the matatus. It may have been a simple oversight. But by foregoing the chance to regulate the industry he gave the matatu owners de facto permission to explore the limits
of laissez-faire capitalism. Suddenly everybody wanted in on the action. Unfit vehicles in all states of disrepair began roaming the streets; even more dangerous was the recklessness with which drivers began to operate their rickety rattletraps— bouncing through potholed streets, reeling around corners, the drivers raced through the streets as fast as they could to get first crack at passengers who they then packed in so tightly that arms, legs, and backsides were left hanging out of doors and windows.

The indifference to safety, along with the government’s regulatory neglect, led to a predictable increase in accidents. The passages on page 99 occur at this crucial moment in the book when matatu owners become extremely frustrated by Kenyatta’s decree.
Learn more about Matatu: A History of Popular Transportation in Nairobi at the University of Chicago Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Friday, June 23, 2017

Samuel C. Heilman's "Who Will Lead Us?"

Samuel C. Heilman is Proshansky Chair in Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center and Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Queens College CUNY. His many books include (with Menachem Friedman), The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, winner of the National Jewish Book Award.

Heilman applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, Who Will Lead Us?: The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America, and reported the following:
Page 99 discusses how the Bobover Rebbe managed to transform his followers or hasidim during the early twentieth century when he was becoming a larger than life figure. I think it's interesting but not necessarily representative of the whole book which, after all, details many leaders and the stories of their dynasties.
Learn more about Who Will Lead Us? at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Jean R. Freedman's "Peggy Seeger"

Jean R. Freedman is a folklorist and author whose work has appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Journal of American Folklore, and the Fast Folk Musical Magazine, among other publications. Her first book, Whistling in the Dark: Memory and Culture in Wartime London, analyzes popular culture and political ideology in London during World War II. She teaches at Montgomery College and George Washington University and lives in the Washington, DC area with her family.

Freedman applied the “Page 99 Test” to her recent biography, Peggy Seeger: A Life of Music, Love, and Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of my biography, Peggy Seeger: A Life of Music, Love, and Politics, finds Peggy in Moscow as part of the American delegation to the 1957 World Youth Festival. At the age of 22, she was in the early, stormy portion of her relationship with Ewan MacColl, then married to Jean Newlove, who had accompanied him to Moscow. Peggy was a musical success at the festival, where she and Guy Carawan led the American delegation in a concert of American folk music at the Bolshoi Theater. But her youthful naïveté ran afoul of Ewan’s Marxist politics when she and Guy gave a concert of gospel music to a group of left-wing writers who believed that religion is the opiate of the masses. Ewan was so angry that he threatened to break off the relationship – a threat he could not keep – and he and Jean returned to their home in London. Peggy and the other members of the American delegation were then invited to visit China. This was a momentous decision. On page 99, I write:
Traveling behind the Iron Curtain during the height of the Cold War was an unpopular choice for Americans; Life magazine reported that the festival participants “went despite State Department warning that the festival was a propaganda gimmick.” The State Department could not forbid them to go to the Soviet Union, but China was a different matter: the United States had no diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, and an American passport forbade travel there. According to Time magazine, a letter from Acting Secretary of State Christian Herter was delivered to the American delegates, advising them, “By traveling to Communist China at this time you will, in the considered view of your government, be acting as a willing tool of Communist propaganda intended, wherever possible, to subvert the foreign policy and the best interests of the U.S.”
The letter went on to warn of possible consequences that the Americans would face when they returned home from China: loss of passport, fines, even prison. Most of the Americans heeded the State Department’s warning and declined the invitation.

Peggy, on the other hand, chose to go to China. This decision was a turning point in her life, though she did not yet know it and the reader does not yet realize it on page 99. Afterward, she did not return home, fearing the loss of her passport, a consequence that would keep her in the United States and effectively end her relationship with Ewan MacColl. So she continued traveling and giving concerts of American music – in Russia, in Poland, in France, until finally, in 1959, she settled in London with Ewan, her musical and personal partner until his death in 1989. American folk music remained the backbone of her career, while her politics underwent a rigorous and willing transformation under Ewan’s tutelage; a gentle American progressive became a staunch British leftist. The decisions she made on page 99 altered, irrevocably, the course of her life. But she never returned to China.
Visit Jean R. Freedman’s website.

My Book, The Movie: Peggy Seeger.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Howard Jones's "My Lai"

Howard Jones is University Research Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Alabama.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his latest book, My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness, and reported the following:
From page 99:
[PFC Michael Bernhardt] from the 2nd Platoon had not entered My Lai 4 along with his company commander; [Captain Ernest] Medina ordered him to inspect a suspicious-looking wood box just outside the subhamlet to determine whether it was a booby trap. After finding it harmless, Bernhardt caught up with the command group inside My Lai 4 and was shocked to see the 3rd Platoon setting the huts afire and shooting their inhabitants as they ran outside, or breaking into them and shooting everyone inside. Other GIs assembled the villagers in small groups outside their homes and shot them on the spot. "The whole thing was so deliberate,” he told [reporter Seymour] Hersh. “It was point-blank murder and I was standing there watching it. It's kind of made me wonder if I could trust people anymore."

The 3rd Platoon, led by Lieutenant Jeffrey LaCross, began the final phase of the operation before the other two platoons had made it through the village, but its so-called “mop-up mission” quickly became a euphemism for killing anyone still alive. Photographer and Sergeant Ronald Haeberle took picture after picture of civilians scattered everywhere, some already dead and the others now slain by the 3rd Platoon. No doubt out of concern for his own safety, he decided against photographing soldiers shooting villagers, but his camera recorded a great number of bodies spread out or together, depending on where the victims had been when they were murdered. It also showed bunkers, sometimes filled with villagers, ripped apart by grenades; domestic structures damaged or destroyed by what he at first assumed was errant artillery fire; hooches burned to the ground by Zippo squads; pigs and water buffaloes killed; wells contaminated by animal remains.

“I knew it was something that shouldn’t be happening but yet I was part of it,” Haeberle recounted in an interview years later. “I think I was in a kind of daze from seeing all these shootings and not seeing any return fire. Yet the killing kept going on.” Several soldiers rounded up the civilians and shot them, while others killed them individually or in small groups on the spot. Everyone in Haeberle’s mind bore responsibility, including Major General [Samuel] Koster and Lieutenant Colonel [Frank] Barker for failing to monitor and control their troops. All refused to take prisoners. “It was completely different to my concept of what war is all about.”

Numerous soldiers’ accounts confirmed the continuing slaughter. In the CID Report, Sergeant [Charles] West admitted that they had killed women and children. PFC Richard Pendleton and his men shot a half dozen men and women running from the village, killing three of them. Fred Dustin watched his fellow grunts kill a group of Vietnamese that included children. Stephen Glimpse saw a soldier behind him shoot a wounded youth.
I was amazed that so many themes of my book ran through page 99.

Not everyone killed with impunity. Even in the absence of return fire, the GIs were at first convinced the enemy was there and more than a few of them sought to survive by following orders to kill everyone, whether man, woman, or child—or baby. Bernhardt refused to kill non-resisting villagers and was appalled and sickened by what he witnessed. Yet he felt powerless to stop the killing. His commander, Captain Medina, later warned him not to tell his congressman what he saw. And from his vantage point, Bernhardt saw a microcosm of the whole: Vietnamese villagers rounded up and shot in groups or one by one; grenades tossed into bunkers and homes with the survivors running outside only to be shot, while others remained inside, perhaps injured and also shot; wanton and illegal destruction of property, including homes, buildings, and contamination of wells, along with the slaughter of water buffaloes, pigs, and other animals.

The mass killings and widespread destruction were purposeful and could not be attributable to so-called inadvertent collateral damage. Despite U.S. intelligence warnings to the contrary, no Viet Cong forces were in My Lai 4, which meant that the infantry had gunned down unarmed civilians erroneously believed to be the enemy—including those killed after it was clear that there was no enemy in the village. No superiors were in charge after the first few moments of the operation. The Americal Division commander, Major General Koster, was not monitoring the situation; Lieutenant Colonel Barker was in a helicopter hovering over the village and lacked firsthand information on what was going on below; and Medina quickly lost control of his three platoons of about a hundred troops in Charlie Company, allowing 2nd Lieutenant William Calley and others to follow their orders as they perceived them to be.

In the meantime, army photographer Ronald Haeberle took pictures of the victims, providing evidence of a massacre that he at first kept hidden and thereby became part of a cover-up. And he was not alone. Most soldiers, whether or not they participated in the killings, maintained their silence about what had happened—doubtless for fear of death at the hands of the perpetrators. Some GIs told their story to members of the army’s Criminal Investigation Division; but as time passed, most of them either changed their accounts or asserted that they could no longer remember what happened in those four hours that day. Yet Haeberle and every other soldier in My Lai that morning realized they were part of this massacre and would carry the memory of these events with them for the rest of their lives.
Learn more about My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness at the Oxford University Press website.

My Book, The Movie: My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness.

--Marshal Zeringue

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Jack Ewing's "Faster, Higher, Farther"

Jack Ewing is European economics correspondent for The New York Times and author of Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal. He lives in Frankfurt.

Ewing applied the “Page 99 Test” to Faster, Higher, Farther and reported the following:
Bad luck! Page 99 in Faster, Higher, Farther: The Volkswagen Scandal is the end of a chapter and about one-third white space. Nevertheless, the page is not a bad place to judge the book. It marks a turning point in the story, which can be summed up as follows: how a company that began as a Nazi propaganda project became the largest car company in the world--only to be exposed as emissions cheaters by a handful of university researchers working with a $70,000 grant.

The chapter that ends on Page 99 describes the last days of Ferdinand Piëch’s reign as chief executive of Volkswagen. Piëch, grandson of legendary car designer Ferdinand Porsche, has just driven an experimental “one-liter auto”—so-called because it could travel 100 kilometers, or about 60 miles, on a single liter of diesel fuel—to the Volkswagen annual meeting in Hamburg. There Piëch received a standing ovation from shareholders grateful that he saved Volkswagen from near bankruptcy and made it the largest car company in Europe.

But, as I argue in the book, Piëch had already created a climate where the emissions scandal could breed. A brilliant engineer, he was also an authoritarian known for dismissing or exiling subordinates who failed to meet the ambitious goals he set for them. And Piëch was not really giving up power. He continued to dominate Volkswagen from his position as chairman of the company’s supervisory board. Piëch’s hand-picked successor, Bernd Pischetsrieder, quickly fell out of favor when he tried to remake Volkswagen’s corporate culture to be less dictatorial. Pischetsrieder was replaced by Martin Winterkorn, a long-term Piëch protégé known for his unwavering loyalty to his mentor.

Under Piëch and Winterkorn, failure was not an option. When Volkswagen engineers realized in 2006 that a new diesel engine could not meet pollution standards in the United States, they devised emissions-cloaking software to fool regulators. When the deception was discovered almost a decade later, Volkswagen was forced to pay more than $22 billion in fines and legal settlements in the United States.

Page 99 hints at the main themes of the book—how the ambition and ruthlessness of top managers can turn ordinary employees into criminals, and ultimately endanger the jobs of thousands of innocent employees.
Follow Jack Ewing on Twitter and Facebook, and read more about Faster, Higher, Farther at the W.W. Norton website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Monday, June 19, 2017

Llana Barber's "Latino City"

Llana Barber is assistant professor of American Studies at the State University of New York College at Old Westbury.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Latino City: Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945–2000, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Latino City explores how Latino Lawrencians “were blamed for the very obstacles they had to overcome in the city.” This does indeed capture a twinned emphasis of my book: Not only did urban crisis create hardship for the Dominicans and Puerto Ricans who settled in the city, but white residents also scapegoated the newcomers for the city’s economic troubles.

Latino City explores Lawrence’s transformation to New England’s first Latino-majority city in the late twentieth century. Lawrence today is nearly three-quarters Latino, mostly Dominican and Puerto Rican, yet this demographic shift was fraught with struggle. White flight, suburban competition, and deindustrialization devastated Lawrence’s economy in the postwar decades, and Latinos entered into a city in crisis. Many white residents correlated the city’s economic decline with the arrival of Dominicans and Puerto Ricans, and became convinced that if they could halt the Latino influx into Lawrence, they could restore the city’s prosperity.

Although this scapegoating took multiple forms, page 99 focuses on the street level contestations between white and Latino residents, as daily issues became racialized within the broader political processes operating in the city, culminating in two nights of rioting in 1984:
In the larger context of white hostility, ostensibly neutral issues could become sources of bitterly racialized tension. One Dominican Lawrencians who lived in the Lower Tower Hill neighborhood where the 1984 riots would take place recalled the tension leading up to the explosion. She described frequent arguments in the neighborhood, as white and Latino residents yelled and cursed at each other about seemingly superficial things that had become racialized only in the context of the larger changes in the city, such as “‘why are you parking here’ or ‘pick up your garbage.’” White and Latino Lawrencians even fought over whose music would fill the air... In 1984, one presumably white resident summed up how racial tension was reflected in cultural terms in his assertion that Lawrence needed “more Van Halen and less Michael Jackson.”
While this page captures well the quotidian struggles Latinos had to engage in to settle in the city, it is missing the book’s larger emphasis on the metropolitan political economy that generated urban crisis and the role of U.S. intervention in Latin America in generating Latino migration, as these points are addressed in other chapters.
Learn more about Latino City at the University of North Carolina Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue

Saturday, June 17, 2017

J.M. Opal's "Avenging the People"

J.M. Opal is Associate Professor of History at McGill University. He is the author of Beyond the Farm: National Ambitions in Rural New England and the editor of Common Sense and Other Writings by Thomas Paine.

Opal applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Avenging the People: Andrew Jackson, the Rule of Law, and the American Nation, and reported the following:
This passage from Avenging the People covers the mysterious ending of a mysterious war. From 1792 to 1794, Cherokee and Creek men attacked the far reaches of the Southwest Territory, which became the state of Tennessee. Andrew Jackson and one of his mentors, James Robertson, played key roles in the climactic “Nickajack” campaign, during which white militiamen torched that town, killed most of the inhabitants, and took some girls as captives.

From page 99:
Legend says that Andrew Jackson took part in this campaign as a humble private, not as judge advocate. There is no way to verify this claim…. Jackson buried much of what happened deep inside. Clearly he emerged from Tennessee’s two-year nightmare as one of its trusted avengers, a man who bore its scars and secrets. In 1795, Robertson took the fall for Nickajack…. Some years later, after Robertson again offered his services, Jackson paid his respects to the old warrior. The men who served under your command, Jackson told Robertson, were a “Corps of Invincibles.” They revealed a courage “to be found only in republicks”...[displaying] a “union of Sentiments and Action” in the face of demonic foes. “My God!” Jackson concluded. “How can I express my sensations!!!”
Much of Andrew Jackson’s military career is shrouded in myth. As such we rely on veiled references to the awful things that happened in the Tennessee woods, far away from any law. This points to one of the main themes of the book: the conflict between frontier elites like Jackson and Robertson, on one hand, and the national government on the other. Eastern politicians simply did not understand the terrifying bloodlands of North America, Jackson seethed. “How can I express my sensations!!!” The key to those “sensations” was Jackson’s deep feeling of prior innocence—and the resulting thirst for vengeance.

Where did those convictions and obsessions come from? For Jackson, the world had first turned on him during the American Revolution, when he lost his mother and two brothers. His sense of victimhood deepened when people whispered about his beloved wife, Rachel, in the early 1790s. It reached a fever pitch that decade as hundreds of settlers were killed by natives who were protected, to some extent, by the U.S. government. (Jackson made no mention of the more numerous native victims of this war, nor of the fact that speculators like him bore much of the blame for starting it.) His rage often made him unpopular, even in Tennessee. But during the War of 1812, his fury merged with the larger sense that the American people still suffered at the hands of the British and their native allies, forging a powerful “union of Sentiments and Action” between Jackson and his nation.

But look carefully: Jackson was not only a maverick warrior but also a “judge advocate” who brought the rule of law to the southern frontiers. In other words, he felt innocent because he served the law, even—or especially—when that law was unpopular. His life was thus an epic drama, a chronic struggle between his duty to inflict the law and his desire to transcend it. And that left a real mark on the United States.
My Book, The Movie: Avenging the People.

--Marshal Zeringue

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Robert E. Worden & Sarah McLean's "Mirage of Police Reform"

Robert E. Worden is Director of the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety and Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at the University at Albany, SUNY. Sarah J. McLean is Associate Director and Director of Research and Technical Assistance at the John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Mirage of Police Reform: Procedural Justice and Police Legitimacy, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Mirage of Police Reform begins a brief summary of the reasons for citizens’ dissatisfaction with their recent contacts with police. We surveyed rolling samples of people who called police for assistance, were stopped by police, or were arrested. The survey included items for which respondents selected one among several possible answers, and most citizens were satisfied with their contact. But those who were dissatisfied could tell us why, in their own words. Their explanations, and the numerical data from all of the interviews, were consistent with social psychological theory holding that people evaluate their experiences with authority figures not only in terms of the outcomes that they receive but also their perceptions of the process: whether they are treated respectfully and given an opportunity to explain their situations, and whether they believe that decisions were based on facts and taking into account the citizen’s welfare. This theory has informed a contemporary prescription for police reform: if police officers acted with greater procedural justice in their day-to-day interactions with the public, levels of public trust and police “legitimacy” would rise.

With this theoretical premise we worked with two police departments to form monthly survey-based measures of citizens’ judgments about procedural justice and make them available to police managers through the departments’ management accountability systems. We supposed that, as Peter Drucker observed, what gets measured gets managed – that procedural justice would be better managed and hence improve. We were mistaken, at least in part, on two counts.

First, police departments are institutionalized organizations whose structures are only “loosely-coupled” with street-level policing, notwithstanding their image as quasi-military bureaucracies, such that the administrative commitment of their chiefs to customer service was not readily translated into officers’ behavior. We found a continuum of management with respect to procedural justice, from actively supportive to passively supportive to indifferent to hostile. We also found a continuum of resistance among officers.

Second, we quantified officers’ actions in the police-citizen encounters by reviewing audio and video recordings, and we found that the procedural justice of police action was weakly related to citizens’ judgments. Police seldom acted with procedural injustice, but when they did, it detracted somewhat from citizens’ subjective experience. When police acted with greater procedural justice, it had little detectable effect on citizens’ judgments. Improving the procedural justice with which officers exercise their authority, then, would do little to improve public trust and legitimacy.
Learn more about Mirage of Police Reform the University of California Press.

--Marshal Zeringue

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Gregory P. Magarian's "Managed Speech"

Gregory P. Magarian is Professor of Law at Washington University in St. Louis. He teaches and writes about U.S. constitutional law, with a focus on the First Amendment freedom of expression. His work also explores law and religion, gun regulation, and the law of politics. He has published widely in leading law journals, and he has taught and lectured around the world. Professor Magarian received his B.A. summa cum laude from Yale and his J.D. magna cum laude, as well as a master's degree in public policy, from the University of Michigan. He served as a judicial clerk, first for Judge Louis Oberdorfer of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, then for Justice John Paul Stevens of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Magarian applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Managed Speech: The Roberts Court's First Amendment, and reported the following:
I’m a constitutional law professor, specializing in the First Amendment. My book talks about what the U.S. Supreme Court, during the decade John Roberts has been Chief Justice, has done with, or to, First Amendment free speech law. The book argues that the Roberts Court has used the First Amendment to protect respectable, nonthreatening speech, but the Court has let the government restrict strong dissent. I think the Roberts Court cares about free speech, within safe boundaries, but cares more deeply about preserving social and stability. Respectable speech sustains stability, while strong dissent threatens stability.

Page 99 falls in the middle of my account of a 2009 Supreme Court case called Summum. In that case, a small religious sect called Summum donated a monument inscribed with the sect’s “seven aphorisms” to a small city in Utah, for placement in a city park. (The park already had, among other things, a stone monument inscribed with the Ten Commandments.) The city refused to place the monument in the park. Summum, relying on an age-old chunk of First Amendment law called the public forum doctrine, claimed the city had violated the sect’s First Amendment rights. The public forum doctrine basically says that the government can’t pick and choose which speakers do and don’t get to speak on government property that’s open for public use, like parks.

The Supreme Court rejected Summum’s First Amendment claim and sided with the city. The Justices held that Summum wasn’t a public forum case at all. When the city accepts a donated monument, said the Court, the monument becomes the government’s own speech. The government doesn’t have to say anything it doesn’t want to say. The city therefore didn’t have to place the Summum monument in the park.

I think the Court in Summum reached the right result for an importantly wrong reason. The result is right because parks don’t have infinite space. People and groups can’t just plop down whatever giant slabs of granite they want to in whatever park they feel like. On the other hand, as page 99 stresses, the core of the public forum doctrine is that people – especially people without much money – need spaces where we can speak freely. The Court in Summum could have told the government to allocate finite space in parks through some kind of fair, inclusive process. By instead letting the government fill up parks’ expressive spaces with the government’s own giant slabs of granite, the Court diminished an important way for people to reach audiences.

Summum may not sound like an Earth-shaking case, but remember: Supreme Court decisions matter for the big principles they establish, and for how each individual case ties into broader ideas in the law. The public forum doctrine is far from perfect, but it’s one of the only pieces of First Amendment law that goes beyond protecting speakers of means against government regulation and actually tries to give people resources to help them speak out. The Roberts Court doesn’t appear to like that kind of positive constitutional commitment to free speech. In Summum and other cases, this Court has refused to let the First Amendment help social and political outliers like Summum, speakers who seek to challenge fundamental ideas in our social order. Summum hits dissenting speech especially hard, because it literally converts private speech into government speech and lets government substitute its own ideas for what dissenters want to say. Letting the government elbow dissenters toward the margins in public parks is a big example of how the Roberts Court cares more about social and political stability than about a broad-based principle of free speech.
Learn more about Managed Speech at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue