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The Community Blackboard 90

The Boston Globe has a column by Ellen Goodman about a community blackboard, a monument put up not for a dead president or war hero but to free expression. Read more about the project.
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The Community Blackboard

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  • by Anonymous Coward
    then a movie studio employee or a scientologist can just erase it.

    that's the difference between a web page and a don't need a court order to remove offending material from a blackboard.

    now, what happens when someone starts erasing while someone else is writing? i can't wait to see the police reports from that one.

    "man arrested for putting a stick of chalk up another man's ..."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 18, 2001 @06:04PM (#212524)
    It's good to see our little monument here on Slashdot. Here's the story behind this uniquely Charlottesvillian [] creation.

    Sometime around 1995 or 1996, the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Speech [] had the idea that we should have a monument to free speech. They created a board, and asked for submissions from the public sometime in '98ish, IIRC. They got a lot of submissions, some quite creative, but the best one (and thus the winner) was the idea of having a chalkboard. Well, the board selected that one, though surely they knew full well that they were opening a can of worms.

    City Council, as you can imagine, was not thrilled with this. The location of this monument was to be directly in front of city hall. It hadn't occurred to them that they were setting themselves up for a 60' wall; they were thinking maybe a small sculpture or something. So the topic was debated before council, and the general consensus was "what if somebody says something bad?"

    Council finally voted on it a few weeks ago, and it, fortunately, passed. It very nearly didn't. The tricky thing about a proposal like this is that there's no turning it down. Once the genie is out of the bottle (to use the GPL comparison), anybody voting against it can be derided as being anti-free speech. Perhaps not fairly; one could be opposed to it for asthetic reasons, as Councilman Toscano was. (I think he actually voted against it for those very reasons.)

    My mother (a commentator for NPR []) had a reading at the TJ Center just last week, coincidentally. I spoke with the director of the center about this very topic, as it's a hot one in town. We talked about some of the practical problems.

    What if somebody erases somebody else's writing?
    Tough. We can't very well pass a long against erasing other people's ideas. In fact, that would accomplish the very opposite of what is intended by this monument. (BTW, I call it a "memorial," because of Charlottesville's serious First Amendment violations, like the youth curfew []. So everybody has to accept that whatever they write could be erased immediately afterwards.

    What if it's used for commercial purposes?
    That's speech, too. Let it happen. It would be great if it were so popular and oft-visited (people don't tend to congregate by City Hall, save for during Fridays After Five []) that, say, Trax [] started writing their weekly line-up on that wall. That would be OK.

    What if people write hate-speech? What if the KKK writes nasty things?
    They get to do that. Other people also get to erase it.

    People will inevitably spray-paint it. Won't it be ruined quickly?
    Perhaps, but there's an easy solution. This chalkboard will have a surface that is spray-painted on. If it gets defaced, it's easy to cover over the defaced area so that people can keep writing.

    Will it ever be fully erased? By whom?
    It hasn't been fully decided how often to erase it, whose job that will be, etc. Mostly because nobody knows how popular it will be. Could be daily, could be weekly, could be monthly.

    What if somebody says something defamatory?
    What if somebody puts up posters that are defamatory? There are laws in place to handle this. No problem.

    The timeline for this is that it should be in by the end of 2002. The City is in the process of changing the whole layout of that area of downtown, so I think that they want to roll this work into that. Waiting until 2002 gives the TJ Center time to raise money, too, which is important. If anybody is interested in donating to this project, you can find contact info on their site []. BTW, this is all recreated from memory, so I apologize for factual errors and such.

  • It has been replaced by:

    "Make random acts of beauty and senseless violence."

    Kind of a "make Love AND War".
  • Sorry, /. didn't log me in when I posted. It was I. :)

  • I think I am the local 2600 group. :) And, yes, I fully intend to write DeCSS (the short, 4-line one) on there 1st thing. :)

  • You're right, of course. I must admit that I don't know the origins of Beta Bridge, but I've enjoyed the ever-changing messages on there in the past decade or so that I've been paying attention. I think that the only thing that makes the City chalkboard different is that it's intended for less-intensive messages. That is, it takes a lot less work, for better or for worse, to write something on a chalkboard.

    Anyhow, yes, UVa definitely gets the prize for doing this far, far ahead of C'ville. I feel foolish for not thinking of that.

  • At Michigan State University we have "The Rock" which is a very large boulder with a flat face, sitting next to a road in a busy part of campus. Every night the rock is spray painted with a different message, sometimes several times in a night. I thought it was a wonderful thing, and if I still lived in E. Lansing Michigan I'd have a website going with photos of the rock updated daily.

  • Oh wow. Imagine the first post opportunities...
  • Wow, Scott McNealy was right - we really don't have anonymity any more (I know, he said privacy, but it's close enough). This boggles the mind - the Klansmen out burning crosses at midnight or bank robbers with ski masks aren't going to obey the law anyway, so all this does is clamp down on anonymous political speech in the public arena. Even the founding fathers used pseudonyms; what do you think they'd feel about these dumb laws?

    We could get rid of the KKK by performing random house-to-house searches for white supremacist literature too, but you don't see any states adopting that policy, do you? Wait, I better stop before I give people ideas :)

    Caution: contents may be quarrelsome and meticulous!

  • Heck, you're not allowed to put DeCSS on your web page either, but I don't imagine that was your point :)

    Caution: contents may be quarrelsome and meticulous!

  • I was constantly tempted to paint over frat party advertisements with "THIS IS NOT A BILLBOARD" in huge letters. But I thought there was a pretty good amount of legitimate artistic expression overall.

    (Pomona class of '98)

  • This is a forum in which most if not all messages will be anonymous. It seems to be very hard to keep signal above noise in this kind of forum.

    Of course, there's plenty of censorship built in, in that unpopular / socially unacceptable statements will be more likely to be erased.

    I wonder if they've considered the fact that 'good' people will use the chalk and 'bad' people will use paint...
  • by Tolchz ( 19162 ) on Friday May 18, 2001 @04:50PM (#212535) Homepage
    So what happens when someone writes the source to DeCSS or "slanders" a Scientoligist...
  • There was (is?) a high tech version of this in Gothenburg. Basically, just a huge cube whose sides were some sort of backlit screens. One could send a SMS to a certain number and have the message appear shortly on the cube.

    Quite a fascinating thing to watch. The cube quickly became a popular meeting place though, so many messages were along the lines of "I'm 10 minutes late" or "Meet me at the other place instead".

  • It's just like a technologist to take a simple, uncluttered interface and attempt to complicate it with "improved" technology. Adding a webcam, webserver, internet access and administration costs could kill the project. Keep it simple.

    Also, by just allowing the world to view the board will affect what is written.

    If you want to see what the board says, then just visit it. If instead, you want to publish opinions on the web, well there are plenty of ways to do that.
  • Wild.

    I was just discussing the idea of a public writing slate over on today. Specifically, I've been mulling over locating a large piece of white paper and pasting it up along one of the construction barriers in downtown Toronto, with some markers and an invitation to express oneself. I figure with the loads of ads for CDs, movies, dance parties, restaurants and future fucked dot.coms, why not give the people who walk by them a chance to say something of their own?

    NOW magazine [] once tried a similar concept for an ad campaign [] (third item down). Large blank ads with the slogan "Speak your mind" and pens were put up in subway stations throughout Toronto, the idea being people could express themselves. The transit authority ordered the ads removed, but it was worth a shot.

    We need more community forums in the community, not just on a server in some far-off state where only those "in-the-know" are aware of them.
  • It just crossed my mind that I have the printed source to DeCSS somewhere in this disaster of a room.

    Picture it. Among the posters for music, movies and dance parties, there's a section of nothing but sheets of 8x11 paper with source code on page after page, with a single word above it in huge Impact-font letters...


    Wonder how long it would last...
  • > @#( ?%& #$(*(& jews! @#(&%@# &%* nigga sh#@( ?*^

    If that happens, which it probably will, I think it will be a good reflection of american culture in 2001.

    Just think, in 2100 kids can look at pictures of it in history books and see how _good_ things used to be. :)
  • In this day and age of eroding rights and Protecting the Children(tm) and fear of stepping on the other guy's toes, this monument is indescribably brilliant. I'm amazed the city council had the stones to approve it. Every community should be so bold.

    They mention raising "private funds" to build the thing, but unfortunately aren't real clear about how one goes about making a contribution.

  • Not sure about DeCSS, but scientology will have a way to "protect" themselves against free expression on this place: they'll just assign a "handler" to it, who watches the board day and night, and videotapes/harasses anybody who sets out to write anything anti-clam on it.
  • Thanks! The net is a wonderful source of information, some of it true. :)

    - - - - -
  • The quote is,

    ?Those who would trade their liberties for a little safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.?

    Another good one:

    If a nation values anything more than freedom, it will lose its freedom; and the irony of it is that if it is comfort or money it values more, it will lose that, too.
    -- W. Somerset Maugham

    - - - - -
  • good point, but the word you're thinking of (I think) is 'memorial'

    Monument []:
    1. A structure, such as a building or sculpture, erected as a memorial.
    2. An inscribed marker placed at a grave; a tombstone.
    3. Something venerated for its enduring historic significance or association with a notable past person or thing: traditions that are monuments to an earlier era.
      1. An outstanding, enduring achievement: a translation that is a monument of scholarship.
      2. An exceptional example: "Thousands of them wrote texts, some of them monuments of dullness" (Robert L. Heilbroner).
    4. An object, such as a post or stone, fixed in the ground so as to mark a boundary or position.
    5. A written document, especially a legal one.

    - - - - -
  • by 1010011010 ( 53039 ) on Friday May 18, 2001 @04:47PM (#212546) Homepage
    Aren't monuments erected to celebrate things that have passed? Shouldn't a culture that embraces free expression and the curious study of new ideas be enough of a "monument"?

    Oh, wait...

    - - - - -
  • "It was two young architects, Peter O'Shea and Robert Winstead, who came up with the simple and dramatic idea of a chalkboard. ''We started with the idea that for the project to be successful it had to be confrontational,'' says O'Shea. It wasn't to be a static place where people would bow to free speech, but a fluid, dynamic, controversial space where they would exercise it."

    When did a slate become confrontational???
    SERIOUSLY, after a hit on the bong, and a bit of converstation, my friends and I will come up with several ideas that are simple but clever. But we are not allowed to excersize them freely on public land. But because these two are officially licensed architects, they can come up with "fulid, dynamic, controversial space" for the public to excersize their opinion. Thousands have alread put up graffiti walls or comment boards on their web sites. How does this differ?

  • I personally believe things like this serve no true purpose. The number of meaningful comments you recieve are small compared to the amount of abuse.

    In my opinion, it just shows the truly cowardly nature of students who are unable to face their problems head on in a constructive and thoughtful manner. Instead, you get anonymous posts bashing other human beings for no reason except that there is a personal dislike for them. Well, I'm sorry, but take your problems to the problem itself and discuss it... Work it out... Find a solution. Don't go and act in childish ways. Deal with the matter with maturity and respect.

    The education system in this country is not the fault of the parents, the government, the schools, the administrations or the teachers. These people are just trying to educate a bunch of kids who have no respect at all for educating themselves, who are the real center of the issue. I feel sorry for the teachers of our country, who are hit from both sides every day, ridiculed by students for just trying to do their job and then lambasted by the parents for not educating their children. It's just a sad state of affairs.

    The students cry to be treated like they have important thoughts to say, but websites like the ones you pointed out just go to show the real nature of their minds.

    This, of course, brings us back to the "community blackboard," which I foretell will become a breeding ground for hate messages, incoherent scribblings, marketing drivel and writings. That's the nature of the beast and just goes to show the truth about who we are as human beings. Once you remove the responsibility from people of standing behind their thoughts and ideas in a face to face medium, they turn into a bunch of raving lunatics.


  • At $250,000 for a 7 by 50 foot chalkboard, I'm surprised our government didn't come up with the idea for this project. :)

    As hard as it is to get serious after hearing the price tag, I must say that this is an interesting endevour. This is more a work of modern art than it is truly a monument. Isn't it ironic that the people behind this project have decided to create something that is not much more than a low tech bulletin board? I find it a striking call to what the "old days" could have been like, had we envisioned Internet concepts in a pre-Internet age.

    God... I think I sound like JonKatz.

    But really, who doesn't think that within a few days after this is put up, we'll start seeing earth shattering messages such as "Lose 20 pounds OVERNIGHT," and "Find information about ANYBODY through this book!"

  • Isn't that what this is?

    "In spite of everything, I still believe that people
    are really good at heart." - Anne Frank
  • by panck ( 69848 ) on Friday May 18, 2001 @04:52PM (#212551)
    At my school (Pomona College) There is a long wall, approx, 5x150 ft called Walker Wall (it's outside Walker Dorm, and borders the Walke Beach) where people are supposedly allowed to paint whatever they want on it.

    This has, of course, garnered some controversy. E.G when someone painted a quote from some Adam Sandler stand up skit mentioning lesbians or something. Most of the things painted on it are pretty inane, and mostly stupid. Sometimes taggers get creative and put up some interesting tags. It's used as kind of an advertisement a lot.
    Sometimes there are protests/real causes that get featured. Most people ignored the wall. A lot of the painting involved frat related party advertisements.

    I liked that it was supposed to represent freedom of speech, but at least in our closed, college community, it was a big billboard for advertisements most of the time. Also it was pretty stagnant. Sometimes at night some group would whitewash it and paint the whole thing with some slogan, which would be noticed by everyone the next day.

    Guess this post isn't saying much, but as you can tell if you don't filter the responses to a /. post, most of what is going to get put up on such billboards is inane crap.

    "What thou shalt not, I shalt did!" -Bart Simpson
  • Actually, according to Bartleby [], the quote is "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

    Mark Duell
  • ... and the goatsex guy will have that board covered. After a few days, the people in that town will be so right-wing they'll want to abolish talking in public.
  • If we don't ALL stnd up for our rights to free expression RIGHT FUCKING NOW this may as well be a monument to something that we have had, and lost... -- True defenders of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

  • This is a FREE SPEECH monument, not an ANONYMOUS SPEECH monument.

    If someone wants to spend the day filling this board with '' grafitti, that's fine. But they gotta show up and spend the time right there in front of onlookers to do it. And the onlookers can smile at them while erasing the junk.

    Not to say ANONYMOUS SPEECH has its values, but I like this just the way it is.

  • Carnegie Mellon has a fence [] which gets painted almost every day, it seems. Nearly anything goes, and while a lot of times it's used for frat party announcements, it also enjoys some other uses [] from time [] to time []. They claim on campus that it is "the world's most painted object". I wouldn't be surprised at all if it were.
  • A few have made strong points on the issue of copyright as it obviously refers to our favourite decryption software. While that's publishing the code of a readily available yet technically illegal product, don't we have more to worry about from legal campaigns? Anyone remember the 'Buried Angel' episode of the Simpsons, where it turned out to be an ad for a mall? And what about SuperGreg?

    As clueless as the people who designed the opening credits and the title for Anti Trust were, some advertisers are getting pretty smart.

    So is there anything in the wording of those that commissioned this to suggest what they'd do about it being used for commercial gain?

  • Freedom of speech is like any other freedom. The general population doesn't notice or appreciate it until it's gone. Then there's resistance, violence, a pendulum swinging back and forth. When will this pendulum halt?

    (Sorry if this is unintelligent, I'm tired and going off to bed now. I promise.)

    - Steeltoe
  • rtfa. that issue was raised, considered, and ignored.

    Linus has,in fact,grown,and explosively-JonKatz
  • good point, but the word you're thinking of (I think) is 'memorial'

    Linus has,in fact,grown,and explosively-JonKatz
  • touché

    Linus has,in fact,grown,and explosively-JonKatz
  • that they were able to get this past the city government. As the article states, it is a brave move approving this. The mere fact that people are afraid of what will end up on the blackboard makes the monument a living testament to the idea it represents.

    BTW, read the article. Well written.
  • Yeah, I usually vote the LP candidate, although I'm not a card-carrying party member.
  • -- True defenders of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

    I think you mean "True defenders of part of our Constitution and some [] of the Bill of Rights."

    If I were to join the ACLU, I'd have to join the NRA, too, just to avoid being seen as an anti-Second Amendment advocate. (And I'm not about to do that, because the NRA's leadership is preoccupied with the notion that the industry I work in [] is devoted to corrupting America's youth [].)

    Here's some homework for those of you who belong to the ACLU: ask your leaders why they don't have the balls to post a link to [] on the otherwise-exhaustive "Issues" list on their front page.
  • I agree with every other issue that they have a view on...

    I do, too, and I'd like to sign up and help them fight the good fight. But I can't deal with that kind of hypocrisy. :(

    but you can't please all of the people all of the time

    I agree. It's more my problem than theirs, I suppose.
  • The blackboard is being constructed in Charlottesville Virginia. The writer of the article, Ellen Goodman, is a columnist for the Boston Globe.
  • Too low tech!
    Better idea is huge LCD screen with from
    somewhere on the net, through which anybody
    can post comments.

  • This is a pretty good idea. Sure, some people will probably write things on the board that others will find offensive, but that's part of free speech. Besides, in my city, people *graffiti* offensive speech all over the place.

    The speech will be there. Might as well let people use chalk and a board, and encourage it!

    I found the quote interesting as well. "After all, if the first amendment were up for a vote today, it might not pass". Scary, but true.
    ------------------------------------------- -------
  • A simple policy for public surfaces, be they chalkboards or bulletin boards: just clear them on a fixed schedule. Divide them in half. Mark one half with something like "Cleared during the first week of each month". Mark the other half "Cleared during the third week of each month". This is a big win for bulletin boards, especially on college campuses. Removes all controversy about content-based censorship, gives everybody a known minimum amount of visible time, and makes it easy on the maintenance staff.
  • It would be good to be able to participate (even as a reader) in Boston's "Community Blackboard" project...

    Now, which true-believer is willing to install / operate a web cam for our edification...?

    Seriously, I've been campaigning for a SlashDot clone in a number of areas of political & organisational life...

    In this connection, I heard a well-positioned UK unionist (speaking to an Adelaide audience of Adult educators & students at one of its TAFE campuses) say that:

    • He's familiar with SlashDot, but
    • Big Labor doesn't want its members' voices to be heard/available on such a forum
      • BTW, it's not like union members don't have access to computers and the Internet...

        He also told the audience that British Telecom employees get one day off (in 5) for Internet-based training - from memory - in their own homes!

        Can someone confirm this "rumor"...?

        (Maybe DEC was right -not- to have unions... e.g. in Sweden)

  • In San Francisco earlier this year, someone tried a freelance approach [] to the same problem - he altered a billboard with chalkboard-spray-paint so as to include a viewer-participation window.

    Check it out! You could do it too, and on the cheap!

  • While I admire the idea of this monument, in today's litigious society, it's a lawsuit waiting to happen. What happens when someone writes something that is not protected speech? Who would be responsible for a libelous comment, or say, the posting of the source code for DeCSS?
  • Actaully instead of a webcam, how about creating vector images from the board? Somewhere out there someone makes a whiteboard that has an attachment that monitors where the pen is located on the board and then creates an image based on it's location that is then sent to a computer. If this was implemented on the chalk board, a live vector image could be streamed to anyone who wants to see it. I suggest this approach due to the fact that unless the webcam is really good quality, it may be difficult to see what is really on the board.

    Maybe they even could attach a robotic arm so people on the net could add to the board. Or maybe that's just going too far...
  • People will inevitably spray-paint it. Won't it be ruined quickly?

    The University of Virginia, in the very same town, already has something similar to the free speech monument.

    I'm referring to Beta Bridge []. No chalk here--just paint. Beta Bridge works because it takes *effort* to post there. You have to paint a fairly large surface, and you have to guard your work all night to make sure nobody paints over it. IIRC, it's an unwritten rule that you don't paint after Sun-up. The bridge is nominally controlled by the adjacent Delta Upsilon fraternity house, and you also need to put "Thx DU" somewhere in your work.

    I won't go into the history of why people are allowed to paint this bridge, or why DU controls Beta's bridge, but it's quite a colorful story and it ought to be available online somwhere.

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Friday May 18, 2001 @07:48PM (#212575) Journal

    Here [] is what happens when people decide to get controversial with it.

    OK, enough of this. Just do what I did. Use Google. []

  • by eviljason ( 133015 ) on Friday May 18, 2001 @09:25PM (#212576) Homepage
    I think this will just be the largest toilet stall in North America. Soon the blackboard will just be full of:

    @#( %& #$(*(& jews! @#(&%@# &%* nigga sh#@( *^

    I don't see why people would be offended at the sight of Sendmail rewrite rules.


  • I heard the report on this a few weeks back on NPR. At first blush, it sounds like a great idea. But I remember thinking this at the time, and now I see the word "chiseled" in their report.

    I worry about NOTHING people write with chalk, or erase, etc.

    I worry about what they PAINT, and what they CHISEL.

    That makes the statement that we Americans just can't handle free speech anymore, and perhaps we just plain don't deserve it, either. Sad day when the first permanent mark goes up on the monument.
  • Any bets on how long before the local 2600 group writes a complete DeCSS implementation on it?
  • The real question is: "When will some congressman use kids as an excuse to ban this?"

  • I just can't seem to be able thwart amusing images of potential future headlines in reference to the above:

    Computer Hacker Hospitalized with Severe RSI After Several Failed Attempts to Scrawl Complete DeCCS Code on Community Blackboard

    I mean, it'll just have to happen, right?

  • you've got a point....but hey nobody's perfect...I'm against gun control myself, but you can't please all of the people all of the time, and I agree with every other issue that they have a view on...

  • go through an anonymous proxy...i.e. a ski mask (I know that wearing a mask in public is probably illegal in the US)


  • (Offtopic)
    Maybe you would be more interested in the Libertarian Party..they are NOT the same as the ACLU, even though a lot of their views are the same. Here are their views on gun control I think it might fall right in line with yours

  • See how restrictions in one area can come back around and bite you in the ass sometimes (OK maybe not a great example). Maybe they can have a "mask clause" for the web-cam & chalk-board.

  • by Jaysyn ( 203771 ) on Friday May 18, 2001 @06:18PM (#212585) Homepage Journal
    Point a webcam at it, and have it take a picture every 5 minutes....then it would be free speech to the entire world...

  • So they can write "FP! BEYOTCH"
  • by aussersterne ( 212916 ) on Friday May 18, 2001 @04:45PM (#212587) Homepage
    I think this will just be the largest toilet stall in North America. Soon the blackboard will just be full of:

    @#( &#%& #$(*(& jews! @#(&%@# &%* nigga sh#@( &#*^

    And it will gradually fill up with spray paint and permanent marker and pretty soon sane people will just walk by without responding in any way. Eventually, it will be declared an eyesore cesspit of racial slurs and four-letter words and will be torn down.

    Let's face it: we all have free speech, but when do Americans ever speak publicly? Usually only when they're upset about something. Moving free speech to the street like this will just give people on the street who aren't in a hurry (i.e. those that basically live there) a place to vent all of their anger at institutional capitalism and perceived systemic wrongs.

    Not that I'm against free speech. I just don't think this'll last, because people don't like to help ugly free speech along if they can avoid it.
  • We have one at my school (Roanoke College) too...affectionately known as "the Rock," it's a pillar that mysteriously appreared one night after the school (temporarily) banned alcohol on campus...a lot of enterprising students showed up, dug a hole, put a keg in it, filled it with concrete, and put a huge slab of stone upright on top, decreeing that there would ALWAYS be alcohol on the Roanoke campus.

    Over the years, the Rock has had quite a lot painted onto it, and now every few years people scrape off the accumulated paint to make way for new generations, and while it's usually nothing more than a big stone bulletin board, you occasionally see something interesting painted up there (like the paraphernalia for Duck Day, where a group of fun-loving students go out every year and stick rubber ducks on every tree, bush, and building in sight...can't imagine who would do such a thing...). Overall, it's a pretty nice thing. But this is a liberal arts college campus...doing it in the middle of a town is gutsy and I'm surprised it got approved.

  • So, are we allowed to Transcribe the source code for DeCSS on the chalkboard?

    For those who want other places to put DeCSS, check out the popular 42 ways to distribute DeCSS [].

  • Hehe, methinks of geeks made up a 'community', it'd either be unlivable or so cool that the 'normals' would invade and such...
  • by ConsumedByTV ( 243497 ) on Friday May 18, 2001 @04:36PM (#212591) Homepage
    Some kids parents say "Little kids will be harmed by this!"

    I go with Ben franklyn on this one: "Those that exchange comfort for saftey deserve neither"

    The Lottery:
  • Don't get me wrong, I support free speech, but this wall isn't free speech so much as it is a place to leave a temporary message. According to the FAQ []:

    There are two ways in which a private citizen may respond to something they don't like on the chalkboard. They may either write a response stating why they don't like what they see or, they may clean all or part of the slate. In addition, regardless of what is on it, the slate will be cleaned by maintenance staff on a regularly scheduled basis. Thus, everything placed on the monument is temporary.

    The whole thing seems more like an art exhibit than a public place for free speech. And frankly, it isn't all that exciting.

  • Instead of this, we should install kiosks at random places that only let you access slashdot. And make a giant flat screen of some sort that automatically went to the latest Slashdot article and read the comments out loud through a building. I could just hear it now...
    "FP FP FP FP FP FP !!!!"
  • When will the Community Chalkboard be built? If the project is approved by City Council, it is estimated that it will take two years to raise the funds for the monument's construction

    In the meantime, feel free to draw little penguins on the sidewalk in indelible ink. Barring that, note that large concrete structures passable as a venue for artistic expression is currently available at every office building in the downtown area. Do not think yourself limited to only concrete, metropolitan glass and flora are right at your fingertips.

    Dancin Santa
  • What happens when someone writes something defamatory? Will the 'defamed' sue the community? What would happen if someone decided to scrawl death threats on the thing? It's a great idea, but it's bound to annoy some wank in some way.
  • I couldn't agree more. Call me sappy, but reading a story like this is a really uplifting thing for me. Everyday it seems that I wake up to a new injustice. A CIPA, a UCITA, a CPRM, a new report [] on money in politics ignored [] by M$NBC because they helped put the money there, lives ruined in a drug war, lives taken [] in a legalized cartel []. The frustration builds until it seems hopeless -- and then it's all erased by one day in a story like this one.

    Anyway, enough with the mushy stuff, I just hope I'll be first in line.
  • by Sarcasmooo! ( 267601 ) on Friday May 18, 2001 @06:51PM (#212597)
    Ahhhhhh, that is an interesting idea, and one I'd be interested to see. BUT, consider this -- will a webcam restrict peoples' freedom just as surveilance cameras on the streets do? Wouldn't someone be afraid to express themselves with a camera watching?
  • The politically effective affectation of free speech tends to obviate the real thing. Thus, a giant, repulsive chalkboard will be more than a mockery. It will be, as its proponents claim, a true monument.

    I look forward to the time when the city of Frankenmuth, Mich., erects a giant stein in the middle of town, as a monument to free beer.


  • by mbessey ( 304651 ) on Friday May 18, 2001 @05:52PM (#212599) Homepage Journal
    It's pretty sad that everybody seems to be concentrating on how this monument will "inevitably" end up covered in graffiti and swear words.

    To a certain extent I believe them. On the other hand, maybe it won't be so bad, at least at first. When some kid finds out that he can write "my teacher is a weenie" and nobody will punish him for it, he'll have learned what "free speech" is all about.

    And some mornings, there will be 4-letter words written accross the wall in 6 foot tall letters. And maybe somebody will stop by on their way to work and erase them and write a poem up in their place.

    All in all, it'll be a fascinating experiment. And even if it "fails", due to vandalism, it still will have encouraged people to think about freedom of speech in everyday terms, which has to be a good thing overall.

  • ...maybe somebody will stop by on their way to work and erase them and write a poem up in their place.

    Someone will write a swear-word on the wall, with paint, so
    The poet won't be able to use the eraser on this, so
    Buckets of turpentine must also be provided, so
    We can therefore expect some really wacky poetry.

    I do think that this is a really creative and wholly worthwhile endeavor. It will be like an analog version of Slashdot.
  • We passed the anti-mask law to get rid of the KKK.
    I'm serious. []
    Really. []
  • Nice thought. Reminds of that saying that was going around a few years ago:

    Commit random acts of kindness and senseless beauty.

    Pity it never caught on....

  • Of course. In Europe, where gun control is the usual situation, crime rates are way lower than in the U.S.A.
  • A student from my school posted a website (the website is up, but the contiversial message board is gone. if you are interested, the site is here []) that was in no way sponsered by the school, but created a forum that allowed students to post problems with the school, and discuss them on a message board. For some reason the faculty hated it, and students caught accessing it in class got in more trouble then if they were, say, accessing e-mail. There were, of course, many questions brought up regarding the "freedom of speech" in this page. The message board was not moderated, and there were some things posted about teachers that were not true, and somewhat degrading. However, I was a heavy advocate to keep the page going, because I thought that it was a good way for the students to say (anonymously) what they wanted to about the school. I would like to hear some input on this.
  • by zoombah ( 447772 )
    Individuals expressing themselves on the chalkboard are subject to the same legal restrictions that they would be if expressing themselves verbally in a public space.

    Damn, guess that means no illegal mp3 trading...
  • Ways for corporations/big bad government/microsoft to defeat blackboard:

    1) hire lackees to scribble all over blackboard, rendering the writings of others unintelligible.
    2) hire "janitors" to "clean" the blackboard (from site: "regardless of what is on it, the slate will be cleaned by maintenance staff on a regularly scheduled basis. Thus, everything placed on the monument is temporary.")
    3) do nothing. why the hell would i want to walk all the way to a towns square to scribble something in chalk when I can post something on the internet?
  • the racists find out about it. Then it's all over. We can't afford to give some people too much latitude,
    Surely the whole point of free spech, and this project, is that you can afford to give "people too much latitude". In fact you have to do so. If it is a right it can not be taken away.
  • And it will gradually fill up with spray paint and permanent marker and pretty soon sane people will just walk by without responding in any way. Eventually, it will be declared an eyesore cesspit of racial slurs and four-letter words and will be torn down. Most likely your predictions will preveal, but there is one thing that may work to the blackboards advantage. It _invites_ people to write there. And if there is anything these brave "rebels" shuns, is conforming to doing legal stuff. It's no fun anymore. People tend to want to do the opposite of what they're asked.

    An example; there's this weblog called, where people are encouraged to enter topics that cause controversy, and the more controversial a topic is, the higher it is scored. You will be amazed by the lack of controversy on that site. They could not produce a flame-war to save their lives. Pretty much every comment is as balanced and politically correct as you can get it.

    But I am still pretty sure your prediction will prevail, there's just too many clueless kids out there. Time, random, and big numbers will prove that you're right.

  • Just before it's removed because someone chalked up a link to a DeCSS site.

    You can't trust code that you did not totally create yourself.
  • What we have here is nothing other than a physical usenet alt tree. Think about it: a space where anyone can say anything they want, about anything they want, completely anonymously.

    There are a bunch of advantages to the physical version though. First is that net forums can be ignored more easily than 6 foot high letters in the middle of the city. Also, there is no need to worry about a 'digital divide', because it is free, lo-tech, and easy to use.

    Perhaps some copycat projects are in order, so let's see how this one turns out. And heck, there are very occasionally intelligent things written in bathroom stalls.
  • >> It will be like an analog version of Slashdot.

    It'd be more like a physical version of Wiki [].

    Personally, I'd just use the blackboard to do math problems.
  • rant(){

    The real beauty of this blackboard might not be the representation of free speech, but rather what kind of statements can be formulated and agreed upon by an entire town. At first everyone will want to write what they want on the blackboard. However, once the blackboard is filled people will start looking at what they have written, trying to combine similar statements to save space. Erasing words you don't like will actually improve the message of the board, making it more closely match the entire town's opinions. Eventually the board will reach a state of stability, with few people changing it, because everyone will have had their turn at free expression and refined their message.

    This board will create a polarization of the town. Maybe the entire town, if the citizens are generally like-minded, will agree on a certain set of statements or philosophy to depict on the board. On the other hand, the writings might divide themselves into distinct groups, each of which will battle for its own voice. However, I don't think these groups will erase their ennemy's writings and replace them with their own. They will find it more effective to write their opposing viewpoints next to their ennemies' writings. Counter-arguments are always most effective when contrasted with their opposing statements. If they stood alone, having erased the opposition, they would be subject to their own criticism.

    Anyway, back to free speech. I only partly see how this board encourages free speech. Obviously, everyone can add thier own opinion or attitude to the board--at least, everyone who gets to the board before it fills. However, the ability of other people to erase the work of free speakers does not seem to go with free speech. The right to burn books opposed to your viewpoint is not included in your right to free speech. The erasure of messages on the board, whether to attempt to "wipe out" that argument or simply to free some space, seems to indicate that it is all right to burn your opponents books.

    In the end, I think this board will be more of a collaborative tool for the town than a free speech community board. However, the blackboard will still be able to act as a monument to free speech because it does have the basic qualities of an open democracy.


Houston, Tranquillity Base here. The Eagle has landed. -- Neil Armstrong