Stealing lawn signs: an act of civil disobedience or amazing stupidity?

In an Oct. 30 article in the Huffington Post titled, Confessions of a Lawn Sign Stealer, St. Olaf visiting professor Phil Busse (theatre dept) wrote:

phil-busse If I need to justify my actions, I could argue that I was trying to achieve some great public service for rural voters. In his 2004 book, What’s The Matter With Kansas, Frank Rich explains that working class and family farmers, like these in Minnesota, increasingly vote conservative and against their own interests. By pulling out the McCain signs, I was hoping to curb the impression for passing motorists that family farmers in Minnesota supported McCain. Or, at least that’s the most high-minded explanation that I can offer.

Busse is also Executive Director of the Northwest Institute for Social Change (more bio info on that page).

See today’s Nfld News article titled St. Olaf prof confesses to sign theft in blog.

Writing the essay was an opportunity to explore and talk about political speech and the desire that most of us have to express our politics — both in mature and immature ways, and sometimes a mix of the two,” Busse said in the e-mail. “I’m disappointed that most readers seem to have focused on the thefts, and not on the larger thoughts.”

Here’s an immature thought: I’m now voting for McCain/Palin. That’ll show ’em!


  1. Mike Bull said:

    That’ll show who, Griff? We had our Obama/Biden sign stolen from our yard the day after I put it up!

    November 1, 2008
  2. Ray Cox said:

    What is really sad about this is that it was a college professor. Think about this folks….an adult teaching at our local college slinking around in the dark of night stealing lawn signs—-in an effort to promote his candidate by harming an opponent. Unfortunately, this exemplifies the precise actions that are being promoted in campaign after campaign across Minnesota. Campaigns today are much less about who you are and what you hope to accomplish than they are about what a bad person you are running against. It has reached the point now when one candiate refuses to participate in the negative campaign rhetoric the opponents don’t stop…they just pour on more of the negative tactics.

    We are truly headed for some very tough times ahead if this kind of person is teaching our children.

    November 1, 2008
  3. Griff Wigley said:

    Mike, we had our Obama/Biden sign stolen from our yard last week…. the day after I put it up, too.

    I was being facetious about “show ’em.” I just meant that it’s dumb stuff like sign-stealing (and some negative ads) that often motivates people to change their votes.

    Ray, I remember your race against David Bly in 2002 or maybe it was 2004 when a nasty flyer was mailed to Northfielders attacking your record as a school board member. (It wasn’t sent by David.) I think the net effect of it was to motivate many who were on the fence at the time to vote for you.

    November 1, 2008
  4. Patrick Enders said:

    As I mentioned elsewhere, several Obama signs have gone missing in our neighborhood. Including ours.

    It’s all pretty childish, and unless this professor’s writing is some kind of fiction intended to spur discussion, he’s pretty darned misguided.

    Besides, yards signs don’t look to be all that effective. Based on the number of yard signs I saw for Ray Cox last fall, I would’ve expected him to win the special election handily. Similarly, I would’ve expected Lee Lansing to be one of the two top vote getters in this fall’s primary.

    Felicity’s current favorite statistician, Nate Silver, had a great piece on yard signs on his blog recently:

    BREAKING: Obama Campaign Organizers Trying To Win Election Instead of Get You Yard Signs

    In a controversial move sure to upset millions of people, Barack Obama’s campaign has decided to forgo the traditional time-wasting distribution of chum (yard signs, bumper stickers, etc.) to try and win the election.


    Organizers – the people out there killing themselves to win this election – hate yard signs with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.

    Barack Obama’s organizers hate them. John McCain’s organizers hate them. It’s because yard signs don’t vote – but they do generate a ridiculous amount of complaining that must be patiently listened to. Until yard signs sprout little legs and go to the polls on Election Day, in a presidential election with universal name recognition they are just a nice little decoration.

    The whole post is well worth a read.

    November 1, 2008
  5. David Henson said:

    Can you be sure those Obama signs were just never pounded down far enough – maybe you were waiting for someone else to do some of the work for you ? Or could you have used 420 just before the signs disappeared ? Or maybe someone felt your neighborhood had too many Obama signs and took them to other neighborhoods to spread the sign wealth around. 🙂

    November 1, 2008
  6. Ray Cox said:

    Yes Griff….I remember it well. It’s pretty hard to forget some of the muck that gets thrown at you. And the real damage occurs from such actions when good people refuse to run for office.
    This past year I was involved in candidate recruitment. I cannot tell you how many people I talked to who said “I’d love to serve and I believe I have a lot to offer, but I won’t subject my family and my business to the attacks that are certain to come.” So, are we to get second and third rate candidates as our leaders from now on?
    My point on this is that when is the voting public going to say enough is enough? When are they going to stop rewarding candiates that resort to this type of action?
    In the recent sign stealing by the college professor, at least he is opening himself up to legal charges and can deal with the results that may come knocking on his door. I would certainly hope the city or county attorney would press charges against him in an effort to let people know there actually are consequenses to such actions.

    November 1, 2008
  7. Mike Bull said:

    Sorry, Griff, I missed the facetious-nicity… hadn’t made it through my first cup of coffee yet. 🙂

    And I’m with you, Ray — I can’t imagine how hard it is to put yourself through what you candidates (and your families, and friends) go through for the opportunity to serve.

    Patrick — Nate’s site is one of my daily reads, an absolute favorite. But it strikes me that lawn signs have more meaning than their arguable impact on how people vote — not to get overly dramatic about the theft of a lawn sign, but having a sign in my yard says “this is someone I believe in”, and having that opportunity taken away is just wrong. Not a huge deal by itself, but, like Ray points out, it’s part of a larger set of problems in our election process.

    November 1, 2008
  8. Patrick Enders said:

    I agree with you: putting a lawn sign out is a declaration of beliefs. Also, I agree that stealing lawn signs is a bad, uncivil thing to do – it’s much like smashing pumpkins, but with the added insult that it is also an attack on your stated beliefs.

    My suggestion that lawn signs may not actually influence the outcome of an election was really just a tangential thought to the rest of the thread.

    November 1, 2008
  9. Jane Moline said:

    I had 2 Sarvi and 2 Obama signs stomped down in my field. I was offended that someone would come on my property and that they would stomp down my signs. I cannot imagine that this professor wants us to look at the “bigger picture” when he is committing such petty acts. There are much better ways to protest. Busse could have written a thoughful essay without stealing any signs–it really detracts from trying to get meaning from his essay. Maybe rural Minn family farmers do support McCain/Palin disproportionately to the rest of Minnesota. They are still a minority in Minnesota.

    At the same time, I know this area is going for Obama in a big way, but I see more McCain/Coleman/Rud signs and they are big and were out earlier.

    I do think there is a pride–and sometimes great anxiety–in putting out signs that say how you feel–I know that in the mayoral race, I have heard of one homeowner telling a candidate–“Just because I have a sign in my yard doesn’t mean that is how I will be voting,” which seems the oddest kind of hypocrisy.

    I would much rather see both signs up in a yard of a “mixed marriage.” It gives me hope that we could figure a way to get along. I am tired of Republicans calling me names and claimnig that my candidate is dangerous.

    I have heard of more Obama signs going missing than McCain/Palin.

    Also, if you drive through Apple Valley you see a real mess of signs in many areas. The Northfield area seems more civilized.

    Patrick, I don’t know how much they influence the election, but for undecided, I would like them to see that there are other choices than the McCain/Coleman/Rud signs that they see–I think if they saw a balance of signs, there would be no influence–but if they only see one sign, they might think that they are the only ones thinking of voting for the other guy.

    On the other hand, it is nearly impossible for anyone to have not heard of Obama by now.

    November 1, 2008
  10. Doug Bond said:

    H’rrm. Cough. Maybe after taking the proverbial “zer foots out of zee mouth” they could be replaced with “the tongue in cheek”.
    1. Busse is in the THEATER Dept.
    2. “But, when teaching, I try not to share my political beliefs.” “Earlier this term, I marked down a student’s grade for wearing an Obama T-shirt when he gave a presentation about talk radio’s impact on the current election. I told him that the T-shirt made his presentation look biased and detracted from his otherwise sincere analysis of Rush Limbaugh.”
    3. “If I need to justify my actions, I could argue that I was trying to achieve some great public service for rural voters… By pulling out the McCain signs, I was hoping to curb the impression for passing motorists that family farmers in Minnesota supported McCain. Or, at least that’s the most high-minded explanation that I can offer.”

    November 1, 2008
  11. Busse engaged in civil disobedience when he took the signs down and later made it into a political statement. Civil disobedience is by its nature illegal, but it’s wrong to classify it as being dangerous like other crimes.

    The way I look at it, I would never be afraid of people committing civil disobedience misdemeanors, but some other misdemeanors do frighten me, like driving under the influence. I am not afraid that college students would be corrupted because a teacher, theater or otherwise, commits civil disobedience. Let Busse be arrested and prosecuted if that’s what justice demands, but let’s not classify him as just another criminal.

    November 1, 2008
  12. Doug,
    Unfortunately, it really is the Theatre department. They even slapped a big black sign in front of the Speech-Theater Building earlier this fall proclaiming their rather obnoxious preference.

    I like Busse’s article. He treats sign-stealing like a guilty pleasure; he’s not saying everybody should go out and do it. And, Ray, your claim (#2) that he is unqualified to be a professor because he happens to like go out and steal yard signs is judgmental and unreasonable. He made perfectly clear that his politics do not affecting his teaching.

    November 1, 2008
  13. Curt Benson said:

    The St. Olaf student referred to in post #10 whose grade was marked down by Busse has responded to him in the comments following the Huffington Post article Griff linked to above. He wrote:

    “Imagine my surprise when I woke up this morning to find out that my mass media professor, Phil Busse, was courteous enough to include me in his article:
    “Earlier this term, I marked down a student’s grade for wearing an Obama T-shirt when he gave a presentation about talk radio’s impact on the current election. I told him that the T-shirt made his presentation look biased and detracted from his otherwise sincere analysis of Rush Limbaugh.”

    How could I forget, Phil? You made quite an impression on me with your flagrant disregard for free speech, especially coming from journalist, one whose livelihood is wholly and totally dependent on the protections of the first amendment. I don’t mean to be bitter, but this irritates me as much as anyone. Displaying a McCain / Palin sign on one’s own property and wearing a shirt supporting Barack Obama are both form of free expression that harm nobody. What is harmful is this sort of childish and whimsical caprice exhibited by Mr. Busse as a representative of St. Olaf College. Grading thoughtlessly based on my t-shirt rather than the informational content of the presentation and openly admitting to trespassing and thievery are not qualities to be associated with any fine academic institution, public or private.

    Maybe I’ll follow Phil’s lead. Maybe instead of just talking, I’ll take action – like sending a copy of this article to the Dean of Students.

    Steven J Benton
    St. Olaf ’12

    Kudos to Steven J Benton, who is much wiser than the dorky, thieving Professor Busse. If Olaf holds their employees to any standards at all, Busse’s office should be emptied, first thing Monday am.

    November 1, 2008
  14. Curt,
    Interesting to see that thing from the student. Thanks for pointing that out.

    But I think it’s comparing apples and oranges to put the professor’s out-of-class actions next to this student’s in-class actions.

    November 1, 2008
  15. Ray Cox said:

    Sean….if you really believe professors like Busse don’t let their politics influence their teaching, then you need to get out in the world a bit more.

    I remember in my 2002 election I got a call from a student at the UofM. He said he wanted to volunteer to help my campaign. I didn’t know him well (he was from Northfield), but asked him to come down and chat with me. It turns out he was doing it because he was in a political science class where the professor ‘told’ the class they needed to take the week off and go work on the Wellstone campaign, as that is what he was going to do. This student, a good conservative, said he couldn’t work for Wellstone but wanted to work for another candiate. The professor asked which one. When he said he wanted to work for a candidate in his home town. At first the professor said ‘great….good to get involved in local politics.’ Then when he found out he was helping a conservative, the professor at first said he couldn’t get any class credit. The student wisely pushed back, suggesting that this needed to be discussed with upper level managment, and the professor relented and gave the student the same credit as those working for the Wellstone campaign.

    In reality, I don’t think any credit should be given for working on a campaign in exchange for going to class. There is plenty of time to assist a campaign during out of class hours. And I think it was totally over the top for a professor to direct students to a particular campaign.

    I could go on with many examples of outrageous behavior by professors, but enough is enough. Don’t think teaching isn’t linked to politics.

    November 1, 2008
  16. Ray,
    I didn’t say that professors didn’t get political — in and out of class. I don’t object to professors expressing their political views. Though I agree that what you described is going too far, this professor was clearly not allowing his personal convictions to affect his classroom behavior: that’s why he mentioned docking a student for an Obama shirt.

    My issue with your post was not your claim that this professor was being political (I agree with that). I object to the statement that “[w]e are truly headed for some very tough times ahead if this kind of person is teaching our children.” Accusing him of being the wrong “kind of person” to teach because of something relatively minor that he does on his own time isn’t fair.

    November 1, 2008
  17. Nick Waterman said:

    I’m with Sean. And I think that for every outrageous professor stealing lawn signs or signing kids up for a campaign against their will, thre are 1,000 actually trying extra hard to keep their politics out of the classroom. Professors, contrary to political fear-mongering, are not (in the main) in the business of brainwashing students. they want them to develop their own thoughts. If the supposed inculcation by professors were nearly as widespread as Fox types think it is, the country would long ago have turned into a vegetarian commune with no guns and no cars.

    November 1, 2008
  18. David Ludescher said:

    Sean: Professor Busse was STEALING. He was stealing private property – apparently without remorse. Griff: It is not civil disobedience nor stupidity – it is criminal and wrong.

    I agree with Ray. Unrepentant thieves shouldn’t be teaching.

    November 1, 2008
  19. Felicity Enders said:

    No one should steal lawn signs. Not only are they private property, from a campaign perspective you’ll never win votes that way. How incredibly stupid that a professor chose to do this.

    Curt, thanks for reposting the student’s comment. He certainly has a point. The double standard makes the sign stealing and subsequent crowing (excuse me, “justification”) seem even worse to me.

    November 2, 2008
  20. Bright Spencer said:

    It is woefully wrong for anyone to steal or damage property, just as it is wrong to try to humiliate anyone privately or on a public forum for their political or religious beliefs.
    This kind of activity has driven my voice to more friendly and tolerant venues.
    As for professors, they are not above the law and shouldn’t claim that their activities don’t have anything to do with their teachings.
    Walk your walk, Busse, and don’t just talk it,
    because you have no credibility with me if you do otherwise.

    November 2, 2008
  21. If a professor runs a stop sign when nobody’s around, is he unqualified to teach? What if he grabs some music unlicensed off the internet? I suppose that, too, could make him an “unrepentant thief.”

    But I don’t think any of you would agree that those things would make somebody an inappropriate teacher, because those are both crimes that just don’t matter that much. Likewise, the action of stealing signs that are worth maybe a dollar just doesn’t really matter. In and out of the classroom are completely different. If he commits a tiny little offense on his own time, that’s his business. It’s not a double-standard to expect students to not intentionally bias a report that’s supposed to be neutral; it would be a double-standard if he were criticizing a student for wearing a shirt out of class.

    And David: “It is not civil disobedience nor stupidity — it is criminal.” I rather think the point of civil disobedience is that it’s, well, disobedient. Civil disobedience almost always involves doing something criminal.

    November 2, 2008
  22. David Henson said:

    3 Signs – what won’t they investigate in Rice County ?

    November 2, 2008
  23. David H: If your signs were stolen, and the thief confessed publicly, what would you want law enforcement to do?

    November 2, 2008
  24. David Henson said:

    Call in the federal authorities and ATF Jerold. If they grab a button off my lapel then I would like Saudi justice of a hand being cut off.

    In truth, I would ask that the authorities get right on top of the matter after all the local Jaywalkers have been rousted.

    November 2, 2008
  25. Doug Bond said:

    Well, while I won’t totally agree with Sean as to the private vs. academic pursuits of the professor, I will admit to my ‘deliberate’ americanization of Theater (or Theatre? Since I am Brit afterall…).
    I find it amusing, I think, that both here and in other media that such forceful belief and condemnation is attributed to these story. My earlier post was a simple “yeah, right…”. I mean, were these thefts even reported/an issue?
    I happen to be here, locally, at the moment and just quizzically heard a mention of the huffington posting on the radio (in fact while myself was blogging). Anything on national feed with “St Olaf” would capture my attention.
    When I read the post the aforementioned student had left a reply, and I’m sure “The Dean of Students” certainly would not require his volition to ‘hear’ about this. And that may be part of the point? n’est-ce pas?
    Without this being a local/reported issue why would Busse ‘admit’ inter/nationally to it? He hadn’t been apprehended nor accused of anything. In fact, less his pressing none would be any the wiser.
    So, the medium-is-the-message.
    I would even go so far as to suggest that the ‘stealing’ many never have even occurred, even with the evocative “… it was speckled with McCain signs, their cobalt blue squarely set against the gold and red of fall foliage.”
    (What, there was an included image of trashed mccain posters in a green trash bin!!! heavens to Betsy!! I just included a picture of UK Prime minister Margaret Thatcher sporting an Obama sign on my blog AND I KNOW SHE NEVER SUPPORTED HIM!!!!! Cunning Photoshop…)
    While Busse is probably not going to gain as much coverage as Joe the Plumber, nor be asked on-stage, he sure has got a lot of Diggs and coverage.

    November 2, 2008
  26. David H: Do you equate larceny (the theft of personal property), a misdemeanor, with jaywalking, an infraction? Keep in mind that normally there is no victim in jaywalking.

    I agree that prosecutions should be prioritized: normally violent crimes first, victimless crimes last, and everything else in between. I don’t agree that larceny is anything kin to jaywalking.

    That said, I agree that the context of civil disobedience means that Busse is not a simple thief nor a menace to society. Nonetheless, someone had their property stolen. Even the civil disobedient sympathists must acknowledge that part of being disobedient, i.e., unlawful, is consciously risking arrest.

    Further, police are responsible for investigating crimes. The prosecutor is responsible for deciding which investigations merit prosecution. In Busse’s case, the sheriff ought to investigate, and the prosecutor can decide what to do with the results.

    November 3, 2008
  27. David Henson said:

    Jerold just because Busse lost his perspective on the world does not mean everyone in Rice County has to lose their perspective also. Part of leadership is helping people keep perspective.

    November 3, 2008
  28. David: I agree with your sentiment if I look only at Busse, but I also must consider the victim who had property taken.

    Some civil disobedients don’t leave victims. When Susan B. Anthony attempted to vote in Vermont, there was no victim (other than the abstract “victim” of society). But when Suffragettes threw bricks through windows, at a minimum there were victims of the businesses with smashed windows.

    Civil disobedience has an honorable past but that does not mean that we should ignore crimes, particularly when there are victims. (And it’s very hard for me to equate activists trying to grant women the vote with a partisan doing something not much more than “exhilarating.”) Busse’s theft was not honorable.

    I can’t say that Anthony or the Suffragettes lost their perspective when they committed crimes. I can’t say that Busse lost his. I don’t know how any leadership can help him regain perspective if he hasn’t lost it, or if he doesn’t think he’s lost it. What kind of leadership would it require for him to regain it? State-mandated therapy might help, but for that to happen, the crime has to be investigated and charges brought.

    The sign owners can sue Busse for conversion (conversion means “theft” in this context), if they want to. Busse might regain his perspective by a civil action rather than criminal. Busse would be financially liable for the value of the sign, plus a lot more for punitive damages, and punitive damages have a way of giving perspective. However, I believe that Busse would not regain perspective if he was criminally charged or civilly sued; rather he’d be less likely to confess about future politically motivated thefts.

    November 3, 2008
  29. Bright Spencer said:

    Busse might better use his time writing a new book instead of trying to hawk that old one.
    It IS good to have this discussion, and if that was an intended or unintended consequence, then that could have been brought up in a less invasive way.

    Something I find very offensive however, is Busse thinking HE knows what is best for farmers. The farmers I have met across the country know exactly what works for them and who doesn’t.

    November 3, 2008
  30. David Ludescher said:

    I not sure which is worse – the arrogance of Busse or the confusion of the civil disobedience claim.

    Busse pulled out the signs because he thought that the farmers were voting against their own interests, and that others would get the impression that family farmers supported McCain. In other words, Busse thinks that he knows better than the farmers themselves, to the point of suppressing their free speech on their own property.

    What Busse was doing wasn’t even close to civil disobedience. Civil disobedience is the refusal to obey a law which is unjust, generally because it discriminates against a class of people.

    The most high-mindness explanation that Mr. Busse could think of was that he was stealing the signs for a good reason. Mr. Busse: You might be a good teacher, but I hope that you aren’t teaching this bull to your students.

    November 3, 2008
  31. David Henson said:

    Jerold – it was 3 signs , they’ll get over it.

    November 3, 2008
  32. David L: I agree with your assertion that civil disobedience targets unjust laws. However, I take a slightly broader definition of civil disobedience. Civil disobedience may also target unjust politics (more specifically, rules, policies or practices) where laws are incidental to the injustice.

    For example, students conducting a sit-in at the president’s office of a prejudicial university are not breaking trespassing laws because the law is unjust… the university’s policy is unjust. By your definition, the only way for students to be disobedient to that law is to conspire to have a minority apply at the school. Engaging in the sit-in makes them simple trespassers. That’s too narrow a definition of civil disobedience.

    Similarly, the Suffragettes did not break windows because vandalism laws were unjust… prejudicial voting laws were unjust. Indeed, that’s a distinction between Susan B. Anthony violating the unjust voting law and the Suffragettes being vandals. They were both disobedient, breaking laws to protest an unjust law, but they chose different laws to break.

    Fundamentally, Busse believes that the McCain administration is unjust. He could have destroyed the signs without removing them, vandalism, and therefore he’d be like the Suffragettes. Instead, he stole the signs, larceny. Like the Suffragettes, the law was incidental to the politics he believes are unjust.

    I’ll happily exclude myself from the people whom you think are confused about the meaning of civil disobedience.

    November 3, 2008
  33. Anne Bretts said:

    Civil disobedience requires that you make your intentions known and perform the act in a way that you are held accountable for your actions.
    You march in a public place, you sit in public space or the offices of the powerful. You make a public statement, take a public stand. You risk arrest, you confront authority, you let them take your picture and target you and put you on a watch list.
    You don’t snatch lawn signs from a stranger without explanation and then brag on a blog about the adrenaline rush.
    This was not the thoughtful action of a person making a political statement, this was an overage adolescent pulling a pointless prank. He violated the free speech of the sign owner with no real effect, other than to make a fool of himself.
    If he stopped at the homes of all the sign owners and asked the about their views and tried to understand them and then wrote about what they were thinking and his reaction to them, now that would have been interesting.
    He should return the signs or pay for them, apologize, and maybe take up skateboarding or get a tattoo or find some other method of making up for the other childhood adventures he missed.
    Since he is a visiting professor, he should continue his class for the last few weeks and the campus should use his experience to allow students to discuss and debate his actions, the national reaction, the consequences for him and the school.
    The faculty and administration could use the incident to discuss policies about the rights of employees outside their jobs.
    Those who would banish him to protect students would force the school to lose what is an amazing teaching opportunity for them — and an opportunity for Mr. Busse to receive real justice by staying on campus and facing the consequences of his misguided adventure. Explaining it and listening to the feedback should give him a minor in common sense to add to his academic credentials.

    November 3, 2008
  34. David Ludescher said:

    Jerold: What Busse did was NOT civil disobendience by any definition.

    November 3, 2008
  35. David L:

    I’m trying to explore your definition.

    Do you consider the brick-throwing Suffragettes civil disobedients?

    Do you consider students refusing to leave a university principal’s office civil disobedients?

    Do you consider union workers who sabotage machinery in protest of unfair working conditions civil disobedients?

    Here’s one definition: “civil disobedience
    n. Refusal to obey civil laws in an effort to induce change in governmental policy or legislation, characterized by the use of passive resistance or other nonviolent means.” -The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

    November 3, 2008
  36. Anne: I am much more in agreement with your posted criteria for civil disobedience than DavidL’s narrower definition.

    As you’ll see in my first post (#11), I don’t consider the theft itself as civil disobedience, but because he also publicly confessed to it.

    You said:

    You march in a public place, you sit in public space or the offices of the powerful. You make a public statement, take a public stand. You risk arrest, you confront authority, you let them take your picture and target you and put you on a watch list.

    I offer that the “public place” used was confessing on the web.

    If I concede to a narrower definition, it would come from Busse’s intentions at the time of the theft. When he stole the political signs as protest to an unjust political party, if he intended to make it a public statement later, it’s definitely civil disobedience in my book. If he decided to make it public only after the theft, I am not as sure.

    November 3, 2008
  37. Patrick Enders said:

    It is beyond my abilities to fathom why anyone would post, essentially, an unprompted confession of their own crimes on the internet.

    November 3, 2008
  38. Curt Benson said:

    Patrick, one word: Narcissism.

    (Isn’t locallygrown great? I can play “arm chair prosecutor” on one thread, and “arm chair psychiatrist” on another.)

    November 3, 2008
  39. Curt Benson said:

    Patrick: Narcissism.

    November 3, 2008
  40. will oney said:

    Jerold:It really doesn’t matter if he had every intention of making it public. The fact is, he infringed on another citizens right to free speech, and that is not what civil disobedience is about. Furthermore, it seems obvious that he did not plan on making this public until he got caught, at which point he felt the need to justify his actions as more than just childish mischief. His “high minded” explanation reveals his arrogance and elitism that make him think he is above the law.

    November 3, 2008
  41. Will: I have viewed the theft as being against McCain/Palin, not against the sign owner. If it was solely against the sign owner, I agree that it is not civil disobedience. This is exactly how these things unfold in court, with adverse sides presenting the controversy in their client’s best light. Was it really the owner whom he was trying to silence, or was it really McCain/Palin? I think the latter.

    I am still undecided on whether it is still civil disobedience if one decides to make it a public statement after the crime.

    I agree that Busse is “high minded” in a bad way, arrogant, childish, and everything else you said.

    November 3, 2008
  42. David Ludescher said:

    Jerold: In regard to #36: No, no, and no. An unjust political party – C’mon, you can’t be serious.

    November 3, 2008
  43. will oney said:

    The way I see it, civil disobedience is when you decide to disobey laws that you feel are unjust. Laws that impose unfair restrictions on a certain class of people. What law is it that he has taken issue with? Does he feel that it should be lawful to steal as long as it means suppressing ideas that Phil Busse doesn’t agree with? His actions were not civil disobedience by any stretch of the imagination. He stole from a private citizen who never did him harm, and when caught, he was to high and mighty to admit he was in the wrong.

    November 3, 2008
  44. Bright Spencer said:

    When we moved into our home there were several real estate signs left in our garage.
    I called the police and Gary Smith told me
    that if I didn’t return them to the real estate
    it would be considered theft.

    Although it appears as a self serving prank,
    what Busse did is theft and way beyond vandalism. His actions are reprehensible, from stealing the signs to announcing it publicly because it acts to warn many people that their freedom of expression will be stifled if they choose to oppose Busse’s dictates.

    November 3, 2008
  45. This is just so ridiculous. I can’t think of another word. Ridiculous. Though nobody says it out loud, the Gonnerman quote gives me the sense that this wasn’t entirely the professor’s choice.

    It also seems impractical for the college. This guy’s contract was only until the end of the term — they’ll half to find a replacement who will teach for a whopping six weeks.

    November 3, 2008
  46. Anne Bretts said:

    Wow, if we could have had the good folks at St. Olaf use their powers of persuasion with the bad actors at City Hall several months ago, we really could have saved ourselves a lot of political drama.:-)

    November 3, 2008
  47. Curt Benson said:

    Googling Phil Busse did provide some free entertainment tonight. Did you know that Professor Busse ran for Mayor of Portland in 2004 and campaigned using the phrase “please, please, make me your bitch”?–the-peoples-bitch/Content?oid=29555

    His campaign vision included “increasing doggy poop bag distribution at parks”.

    Also, he had other ethical problems prior to teaching at Olaf. ie writing and publishing a restaurant review prior to the opening of the restaurant and plagiarism:

    November 3, 2008
  48. Interesting finds, Curt. I can’t explain my desire to continue to defend this guy I’ve never met, but I would point out that that Mercury is really quite substantive, even if it’s framed racily.

    November 3, 2008
  49. Curt Benson said:

    Sean, I don’t get why you defend this guy. Usually, you’re so rational.

    I’m amused by the idea that Busse engaged in civil disobedience, like Mandela, Martin Luther King or Ghandi–people who risked their lives for grand causes.

    Somehow I can’t place Busse, whose big gesture was tiptoeing through farm yards stealing signs in their company. My favorite line from his Huffington piece was:

    “Even so, yanking out the signs and running like a scared rabbit back to my idling car was one of the single-most exhilarating and empowering political acts that I have ever done.”

    Honestly, calling this a guy a dork is unfair to all the other dorks out there.

    November 3, 2008
  50. The line you quote is exactly what I liked about the essay. He knows it’s stupid, he knows it’s wrong, but there’s still a satisfaction to it. I admire that self-awareness.

    And, Curt, surely even you’ll agree that it’s not “rational” that anybody should lose their job, be attacked in a statewide paper, and potentially have to spend 90 days in prison just for stealing three little signs and writing about it.

    November 3, 2008
  51. Will: Civil disobedience can be used to silence another individual’s free speech. I recall in the movie, “Freedom Song”, when some parts of Mississippi were dominated by the KKK, terribly racist signs were posted on the roads into KKK territory. Stealing those signs would be committing civil disobedience (by my definition, not David L.’s). Civil disobedience is pretty rare, and sign-stealing as a type of it is even more rare, but in my opinion, it still qualifies.

    David L.: #1 I consider the brick-throwing Suffragettes as civil disobedients, and I believe so do the history books. The same for students squatting in a school president’s office, if they’re protesting racist or similarly heinous school policies. At least we agree that the union workers’ act of sabotage is not civil disobedience.

    #2 An unjust political party? If the theft was to draw attention to the injustices of McCain/Palin, even prospective injustice if they become president/vice president, then it fits in my understanding of civil disobedience.

    Anne: I didn’t have the courage to say that.

    Curt and Sean: I love free speakers. Depending on specifics, I love civil disobedients. It’s part of the job of being disobedient to risk one’s career, one’s reputation, one’s freedom. In that regard, I don’t have sympathy for Busse. He knew what he was doing, he knew what he was posting online. He knew the consequences.

    I remember the words of my favorite lawyer, “Most of my clients convict themselves [when they testify].” He convicted himself. Que sera, sera.

    November 3, 2008
  52. will oney said:

    Jerold: you need to seriously re-examine your definition of civil disobedience. I think most people would agree with me that civil disobedience means refusing to obey a law or policy that you disagree with. In this case, neither John Mcain, Sarah Palin, or the sign owners, were in any position to enforce laws of any kind on Busse.

    November 4, 2008
  53. Anne Bretts said:

    Way back in this thread (I got distracted by real life for a while) one of Busse’s students complained that Bussed reduced his grade on a presentation about talk radio because he wore an Obama shirt, saying that Busse didn’t respect his right to free speech.
    The grade reduction wasn’t a criticism of his right to free speech but a fair recognition of the fact the shirt diminished the effectiveness of his presentation. Since he was being graded on the effectiveness of his presentation and not on a paper being turned in, his grade suffered. The student missed the point completely, which means the reduced grade probably was well-deserved.
    Free speech gives you the right to wear what you want, it doesn’t make you immune to people’s reactions to your choices.
    Back to the sign issue, removing KKK signs in the middle of the night probably was justified because the protesters could not do so publicly for fear of being lynched by the authorities themselves.
    Busse could have reported his thefts, returned the signs and voluntarily paid a fine and apologized to the sign owners, writing about the whole experience. My problem is that stealing a few random signs from strangers as an act of civil disobedience makes no sense on its face. The act has to have an understandable purpose. It can be a small act, like refusing to move from your seat on the bus, or a huge one, like standing in front of a tank in Tianneman Square. It can be an anonymous act, like working the underground railroad or stealing KKK signs from the side of the road, but it needs to be about making change in society, not getting a personal adrenaline rush.
    In the same way that the shirt rendered the student’s presentation ineffective, the sheer pointlessness of the anonymous random theft rendered Busse’s greater argument ineffective. In fact, by choosing an act that focused attention on the theft, his greater argument was ignored and his venue to teach and discuss it was eliminated. Whether he was right or wrong, he failed to make his point effectively.
    In short, he flunked.
    When you think about it, with that kind of political strategy, he seems more in line with McCain’s campaign than he ever imagined.

    November 4, 2008
  54. Will: I am not a great fan of Wikipedia for controversial issues but it’s where Google first suggested and its first paragraph is on point for my position. If you would rather either of us do more research, I would be delighted to do my share. Just say the word.

    From Wikipedia:

    Civil disobedience is the active refusal to obey certain laws, demands and commands of a government, or of an occupying power, without resorting to physical violence.

    The relevant term is “or of an occupying power”, which I would further expand to include “a prospective occupying power”.

    I understand your and others’ narrower definition. I don’t agree with it. When someone is oppressed or threatened, people who break laws *nonviolently* to resist the oppressor are engaging in civil disobedience. Normally, I agree it’s against a state oppressor often through an unjust law.

    I’ll be more explicit in my reason for using a broader definition. If someone in the 1960s stole a “KKK Territory” sign and made a public statement about it, because the KKK was an oppressive if not occupying power, I’d consider it civil disobedience. If David Duke or similar presidential candidate had his signs stolen, I would use the same analysis, again if it was made public. This series of examples extends to McCain or Obama signs, if laws are broken and a public statement is made against their oppressive policies. I don’t distinguish between an actual occupying power or a power capable of occupying.

    I don’t know that it matters, but I’ll note that because of the election irregularities of 2000 and 2004, some would classify Bush’s administration as an occupying power. If Bush was running for a third term and his signs were stolen, would that not be civil disobedience? Why change the analysis for McCain/Obama?

    I don’t see the importance of using a narrower definition, such as what you or David L. proposed. If you can explain why the definition should be more narrow, you may convince me. Rather than being conclusive about what you consider the definition to be, rather than being patronizing, explain why you think this term needs a narrow definition.

    November 4, 2008
  55. Bright Spencer said:

    Jerold, I won’t try to say whether or not the Busse sign theft was civil disobedience or not. That will depend on how the courts define it at the time of the hearing.

    The bullet is not the damage, it’s the hole…the bullet being the sign theft and the hole being the damage done to the sign owner’s freedom of speech and expression, sense of peace and well being in their own home base that has been damaged.

    November 4, 2008
  56. kiffi summa said:

    I have to agree, virtually 100% with Sean on this one… Sean is 19 (?); I am 72 … but I know a critical thinker when I see one.
    Congratulations, Sean, it’s hard to be a critical thinker in these days of “teaching to the test”.

    I agree that although it is literally wrong, and against the law, I like it that Busse wanted to do something outside the box, that made him feel good, regardless of all the strictly framed issues.
    There’s a nuance to what he did, a somewhat mitigating factor, albeit maybe tiny.

    What I dislike most is what Don McGee put a name to in the LWV forum last week … politics as a “blood sport”. There are so many punitive people out there, just hang the guy, who cares why he did it, who cares if he is sorry and feels foolish, Black and White … no Gray.

    Just like the ‘three strikes you’re out’ laws… who cares if the guy who stole bread and milk from the convenience store has hungry kids and no job…. just put him in prison for the rest of his life, warehouse him, and forget all about dealing with the underlying problem.

    Keep it up, Sean … I like the way you speak to the issue, not just to the personality. Maybe you should be a judge; you seem to have a great depth for exploring the nuances. There’s enough computer ‘people’; be a Judge!

    November 4, 2008
  57. Bright: It’s not up to the courts to define civil disobedience. Courts administer justice, not definitions.

    If you read my several posts, you’ll see that we agree. The sign-owners had their property stolen. Busse is responsible. The sign-owners can seek redress in court as can the state.

    November 4, 2008
  58. Bright Spencer said:

    Jerold, you are right, I meant interpret, not define.

    Kiffi, I hope you don’t put me in the hang em high category. I did however need to state that there are victims, no matter how little the imposition, and even though no blood was spilled, an idea and freedom to express them are pretty important and should not be forgotten during the admiration of the provocateur.

    November 4, 2008
  59. Bright Spencer said:

    Jerold, see post 60. It came up before yours did. Weird. But that’s my response to 61.

    November 4, 2008
  60. Jane Moline said:

    I think this guy’s 15 minutes are up.

    November 4, 2008
  61. john george said:

    Kiffi- You said, “…I like it that Busse wanted to do something outside the box, that made him feel good…” I don’t call this critical thinking. I think “narssistic” would be a better term. You say this is illegal, and it cost Mr. Busse quite a bit because of it, but your inference is that it is justified. I just don’t agree with that. When we have to break the laws to express our opposition to a person’s opinion (stealing their yard signs), we are not addressing some questionable law. We are infringing upon that person’s freedom of speech, andI just don’t believe we have a “right” to do that. I think it would be better to have a dialogue with that person. At least those two people can come to some understanding, even though they might not agree.

    November 5, 2008
  62. Bright Spencer said:

    Hi, John! I am not answering for Kiffi, cuz she’s pretty good at answering for herself, but allow me to jump in and say that I think the amount of justice Busse has had heaped on him is a bit much, even though I believe like you do that what he did is real bad, it’s not like he took away their right to speak at all ever again, and for this reason, the punishment seems too harsh for the crime, imho.

    November 5, 2008
  63. Josh Hinnenkamp said:

    I don’t think it was smart of Busse to steal the lawn signs, but to leave his position because of it is preposterous. I don’t agree with what he did and agree it was fairly juvenile, but what’s the issue here? The cost of the signs? Decreased advertising/marketing for a candidate? Free speech? Is this really a big deal? We had people arrested at the RNC (and DNC) for giving their free speech and were denied (and arrested) because of it. And we’re going to focus on someone who stole lawn signs? That is a “sign” of how people really need to look at some real issues revolving democracy and our voice.

    November 5, 2008
  64. john george said:

    Bright & Josh- I agree that the punishment was a little steep. If I read the report correctly, he didn’t just leave. He was asked to leave. I get concerned with this type of arrogance against our laws, though. Again, I have a hard time justifying the action. Perhaps the punishments/judgements need to be adjusted? I agree that there seems to be, what I call, an extremism in certain areas of our society. It is like we cannot tolerate being offended. I heard a great story along those lines, but I’ll not take up blog space to share it here.

    November 5, 2008
  65. Peter Millin said:

    From what I heard he was only here for one semester and to teach one class only. So he wasn’t a permanent staff member.
    I support his decision to leave.

    November 5, 2008
  66. Peter,
    You’re right, he was only temporary. While that makes the punishment less severe (than giving up a permanent position), it makes it seem even more striking that he had to leave when he would have left anyway in six weeks.

    John, I haven’t heard that there was any pressure on him to resign, though it wouldn’t surprise me.

    November 5, 2008
  67. john george said:

    Sean- Well, you know the old saying- don’t believe anything you hear and only half of what you see.

    November 5, 2008
  68. David Ludescher said:

    A couple of points: Being asked to leave St. Olaf is not punishment; it is a consequence. Having a position at St. Olaf is not a right; it is a privilege. It is a privilege he shouldn’t have.

    Second: I applaud St. Olaf for taking a principled stance. St. Olaf is, and hopefully will remain, a “college of the Church” which promotes virtue above knowledge.

    November 5, 2008
  69. David said:

    “[…] which promoted virtue above knowledge.”

    David, as a current student, I don’t think they promote virtue above knowledge. I think they go alongside each other.

    And if Busse were forced out, I agree that it wouldn’t have been a “punishment,” but I’m still comfortable saying that it would have been a low thing to do. And whether as a logical consequence or an intentional punishment, we can still hit a point where we say, “Wow this guy really got screwed for something that wasn’t that big a deal.” I think we hit that point a while ago.

    November 5, 2008
  70. David Ludescher said:

    Sean: Sullying the good name of St. Olaf is a big deal, especially if you are a parent paying $45,000 per year to have your child go to the school.

    November 5, 2008
  71. Jerold Friedman said:

    David: Your last post confused me. Did St. Olaf make a principled/virtuous or an economic decision? Not that they’re mutually exclusive. Not that you know why they pushed him out. I’m just trying to understand which you think it was.

    November 5, 2008
  72. Paul Zorn said:

    As a counterpoint to the main thread of this discussion, here’s an interesting comment on the degree to which professors’ political views — on either side — actually influence their students:

    Note that the live question in the referenced article is not whether professors should or shouldn’t express their own views — it’s about whether such expression, good or bad, has much effect.

    November 5, 2008
  73. john george said:

    Paul Z.- That’s an interesting article. I remember the experience of I and my wife in college. Because of a couple professors, we completely abandoned our moral roots of our families. It took a few years and an intervention of God to get our heads back on (No, it wasn’t acid or any drug use- just philosophies). I still know a few people from that period that never changed back, and I would say they are still adrift. I also have some Olaf students through our home each year. I think what happens to them depends on their individual experiences and the particular professors they are exposed to. I know of a couple families we had contact with who had concerns about what was happening to their children, and there were other young people who were grounded enough to withstand the onslaught. From these simple observastions, I’m not sure I could make a general judgement. I do believe the statistics of the report as far as liberal philosophies in general dominating the college scene. This, in itself, is no more problem than if, for some reason, higher education was rife with conservatives. I does come back to the specific person involved, IMHO.

    November 5, 2008
  74. David,
    I don’t think Busse “sullyed” St. Olaf. I think it’s really unfortunate that he mentioned his position at St. Olaf in his piece, but I just can’t imagine anyone finding the writings of one visiting professor and assuming that the whole faculty is like that. If a faculty or staff member is convicted of a serious crime (i.e., more than stealing three political signs), then I don’t object to them being removed, but generally, the college does not and should not have any control over what faculty do with their own time.

    November 5, 2008
  75. John,
    Your post #76 there has me intrigued, but what exactly do you mean when you say “there were other young people who were grounded enough to withstand the onslaught.” The onslaught of what, exactly? Surely liberal political views alone don’t cause someone to become “adrift”?

    November 5, 2008
  76. Sounds like someone should teach the powers that be at my alma mater how to use google on new hires….

    November 5, 2008
  77. john george said:

    Sean- My use of the term “onslaught” wasn’t meant to be derogatory. I was using it more to describe the intensity that a college campus normally has. The young people I had in mind had never really been in an atmosphere where they really had to come up with answers to defend their beliefs. Others had more experience with that out of their pasts. That is why I said, “… From these simple observations, I’m not sure I could make a general judgement…” I believe each situation is specific to the individual involved. Does that make sense?

    November 5, 2008
  78. John, I see that you’re not trying to make a point about every student, but when you say, “because of a couple professors, we completely abandoned our moral roots of our families,” it seems to suggest some really strong changes. Even if they don’t affect everyone, what are these sort of profound moral degradations that professors would cause?

    I’m finding the City Pages article rather delightful — and it confirms the suspicion that he was forced out. I can’t believe the student they quoted is the same one who has a grudge against Busse for the Obama shirt incident, though!

    November 5, 2008
  79. john george said:

    Sean- I can only speak knowlegeably from our own experiences. Deception is a very subtle thing. We can easily recognize a harsh or bold affront, but the subtle ones, where a person gains our trust and eases us away from what we believe, are the most damaging. They are usually intertwined with some truth, some half truthes and some untruth. It is like we are lulled away from really investigating what is being told to us. When we did question something, we were then given this logic, if a person is right about some things, then they must be right about all things. Also, when we were confronted with the qualifications of the professors, we assumed they must be correct. This is where the value of critical thinking enters in. We just did not stick with it. The changes were dramatic, but they did not come about overnight. As I said, I can only speak out of our own experience, here, but as I have talked to other people about their experiences, there seems to be a common thread between them.

    November 6, 2008
  80. David Ludescher said:

    Sean: St. Olaf isn’t controlling what Mr. Busse does with his time away from St. Olaf; it is controlling what he does with his time at St. Olaf, namely, he ain’t goin’ have none.

    November 6, 2008
  81. Paul Zorn said:

    John G,

    IN #83 you seem to describe cynical manipulation of innocent minds by clever but devious professors. As you know, a lot of us here in the 55057 zip code ply the professorial trade. As one of them, I’m sensitive to any implication that such behavior is widespread among or characteristic of my professional colleagues (or of me, of course).

    I don’t know that you’re actually leveling such a charge. But perhaps, for clarity, you could explain whether you see your unhappy experience (you used the word “onslaught”) as typical, atypical, anomalous, or what? Are many “professors” really devoted to corrupting young minds? Or did you just run into an outlier?

    November 6, 2008
  82. john george said:

    Paul Z.- First off, my personal experience dates back 40+ years. Those were different times with different challenges from today, yet I believe there are similarities in the level of formative developement in the same age groups, comparing then and now. I don’t think there is any conspiracy in higher education to turn out a bunch of clones of the professors, nor do I believe there is a conscious “manipulation of minds” going on.

    My use of the term “onslaught” seems to be a real kicker for many, and I’m not sure I understand why. Here are a bunch of young people experiencing their first taste of freedom from the daily oversight of their parents, thrust into a cloistered environment with completely new peers. They are trying to figure out how to live with a couple other people who probably have different expectations, habits, preferences, etc. They suddenly do not have the social safety net they were used to for in four years of high school. They are being challenged on every front to evaluate everything they have ever believed in their short life. Then, besides all this, they are being expected to learn a whole lot more information at a deeper level and in a shorter period of time than they have ever experienced. If this is not an “onslaught”, then I don’t know what is. It is little wonder to me that some of them “fall away” from the beliefs they grew up under, jump off the deep end with substance abuse, or even suicide. This is a very high pressure time in their lives. Some come out strengthened by it, others do not. Does that make sense?

    There is a great value in academic circles placed upon “peer revue,” or seemingly so. I personally question how this is any kind of safeguard or basis for credibility. If your thought processes, opinions, research or conclusions are only exposed to those people who believe like you do, then how is this objective? This blog has been great for me, because I have been able to discuss my beliefs with people who believe differently than I. I would not have this opportunity in any other part of my life. I’m not sure this is necessarily a common practice in academia, since, as I have heard expressed in other threads here, there are certain litmus tests a person must have before their ideas will even be considered. This type of ingrowness is, I believe, a weakness in any group where it is practiced. Just because a person is a college professor, I do not believe this elevates them to some level of objectivity that is above being questioned, either in their professional or their personal lives. But this is all just my opinion.

    November 6, 2008
  83. Bright Spencer said:

    John, I would like to echo your comments, especially the last paragraph. We should all remember that many “uneducated” non-degree holding people all around the world have made major contributions to the whole world and have accomplished great things without even going noticed. I could list dozens, but I am sure that they would be picked apart for all the times they fell a little short.
    On the other hand, many academians, by the very nature of trying to master one particular area of study, can be lost in the details of their discipline and never accomplish a single major thing. Not saying this is true of every one, mind you. And I am not saying there is no value in holding a doctorate, masters, and so on.
    My point is, to be clear, that anyone with any amount of education can do great things and make great things happen. Rosa Parks is one example I feel I can safely put forth.

    November 7, 2008
  84. john george said:

    Paul Z.: So? As I read this, “…an especially fierce attack ; also : something resembling such an attack …” I do not see any moral implications. It discribes a stream of events that are difficult to stand up to, or at least process. Unless I’m completely missing something here, I think I used the word correctly.

    November 7, 2008
  85. David Ludescher said:

    Paul: I would interested to hear your analysis of Griff’s original question: Civil disobedience or amazing stupidity?

    Obviously Mr. Busse is a very educated person with a “liberal” bias. What causes someone that educated to do something that even a 1st grader knows is wrong? And, what causes him to suggest that people should see the “bigger” picture?

    One characteristic that I have noticed in my children from their post-secondary education is that they come back more liberal, but less critical. I attribute it to their tendency to confuse critical thought and compassionate action.

    I think that is what happened to Mr. Busse. Liberal is good; conservative is bad. Farmers are too dumb to know this. Passing motorists are too dumb to recognize that farmers are dumb. Therefore, destroying signs is actually protecting people.

    He displayed what my friend, Ross Currier, calls sophisicated intelligence. Unfortunately, he just needed more common sense.

    November 7, 2008
  86. john george said:

    David L.- You know the problem with common sense? It just isn’t too common anymore.

    November 7, 2008
  87. Paul Zorn said:

    John G.,

    Thanks for your thoughts in #86. The word “onslaught” still feels pretty strong to me, as it’s cognate with “strike”, “slay”, and others like it. But you seem not to have meant in this sense, and that’s fine with me.

    I doubt that anyone disagrees with you that college life can be challenging and stressful for students. And I’m glad to hear that you don’t see college faculty en masse preying on defenseless young minds, at least not “consciously”. (Do we do it unconsciously?)

    Your last paragraph, on peer revue [sic … sorry, but the phrase made me think of a dance line of British aristocrats … not a pretty sight] lost me. I wonder whether you and I have the same notion of peer review in mind. In mathematics and science, at least, peer review is a system of submitting one’s professional work to the scrutiny of professionals with similar training — i.e., peers.

    Far from inviting knee-jerk approval from like-minded ideologues, the peer review system aims explicitly to elicit skeptical reading and reaction. And it succeeds — big time: Academics are professional skeptics, and they love their work.

    You referred, too, to “certain litmus tests a person must have before their ideas will even be considered.” If you’re dissing thoughtlesss orthodoxy of any kind then I’m with you. But could you be more specific about how you think this applies to academia? Are professors more prone to rigid orthodoxy than others?

    Then you wrote:

    Just because a person is a college professor, I do not believe this elevates them to some level of objectivity that is above being questioned, either in their professional or their personal lives. But this is all just my opinion.

    It’s my opinion, too. Could anyone disagree?

    November 7, 2008
  88. Paul Zorn said:

    David H,

    In #90 you asked: Paul: I would interested to hear your analysis of Griff’s original question: Civil disobedience or amazing stupidity?

    Assuming I’m the Paul you mean (there are several of us out here), here’s my view: Sign-stealing from private property is not civil disobedience as I understand it. As others have said, civil disobedience is normally directed at public or governmental entities, not at other private citizens. There may be some borderline cases, but this one doesn’t come close for me.

    I agree (as does Mr Busse, by the way) that the theft was stupid. Whether the stupidity was “amazing” depends, I guess, on one’s amazement threshold.

    Never having met Mr Busse, I have no opinion about your view of him as “a very educated person with a liberal bias” and a “tendency to confuse critical thought and compassionate action”, or about whether these characteristics, if indeed they apply to Mr Busse, actually made him do the deed.

    November 7, 2008
  89. john george said:

    Paul Z.- As far as professors”unconsciously” preying on young minds, I don’t think that is possible.In my simple definition of preying, it presupposes a deliberate plan to entrap. I don’t think that can be done “unconsciously”.

    Thanks for the diplomatic correction on “revue.” As I have said before, my mind will completely run ahead of my typing and editing skills. I get into trouble when I try to insert comments between other daily tasks. As far as peer review, I have had this argument be used against my evaluations of data just because I was considered “outside” the field of study. I think your perspective on peer review is different than I have heard before, and I agree with your method.

    As far as thoughtless orthodoxy, I think anyone can get trapped into a rut in their thinking as long as they do not open themselves up to objective evaluation. Objective evaluation can occur within any discipline as long as there is transparency among those involved. Where I get concerned is when certain foundational tenets of a perspective are not alowed to be questioned even though there is not emperical evidence that they are actually laws that can produce the same results in every instance. Jerold F. and I had a very good discussion (or at least I thought so) regarding evolution and the difference between using it to support the source of all life or just the origin of specific species. I was actually admonished on another thread here that unless I embraced the theory of evolution as foundational truth, my evaluations of certain observations could not be scientific. That is what I refer to as a litmus test. I call this orthodoxy, just as I would label religious zealots who would claim that evolution does not occur. But I really don’t want to go further in discussing evolution on this thread as I don’t believe it has any bearing on the original subject. I only use it as an example to respond to your questions in paragraph 5 of your post #93.

    November 7, 2008
  90. David Henson said:

    Paul Zorn – in 94, I think you meant to address David L , not David H

    November 8, 2008
  91. Paul Zorn said:

    David H. is quite right in #96 — I did indeed mean to address #94 to David L., not David H. (Too many Pauls and Davids around here … our parents should have been more creative.)

    November 8, 2008
  92. kiffi summa said:

    I think there are some big issues imbedded in this subject. but come on, the guy is gone, and I don’t know if it was rightly or wrongly (the exact circumstances under which he left) but I do know this…
    I live on St. Olaf avenue, Every election year, if I want to make sure my lawn sign collection remains intact over Friday and Saturday nights, I have to remove them up to the porch. I have spoken to my friend and neighbor Greg Kneser about this many times, as the signs usually disappear after one is awakened by a group of young people giggling (yes, often a bit drunkenly) in the front yard/sidewalk.

    I have always had trouble keeping any Democrat candidate lawn signs in my front yard, as did many people this year with their Obama signs.

    Frankly, we shouldn’t even be using all these plastic lawn signs; they are very environmentally unsound. Maybe, by the next election time, we can figure out some better way to support/advertise our choices.

    November 9, 2008
  93. Bright Spencer said:

    Kiffi-brilliant idea! What about cloth flags that just say Republican,Democrat or New Party we have needed for so long? 🙂 They could be cleaned and re-used every year, and hung from out of reach positions, or set into some sort of permanent frames.

    November 9, 2008
  94. Jerry Friedman said:

    Kiffi: During the campaign for Ward 2, twice I’ve suggested a law for Northfield requiring that single-use signs, like election yard signs, be made from recyclable material. I noticed that the Obama/Biden signs had the recycle logo but I didn’t see the logo on any other signs.

    There are a lot of seemingly little things that Northfield can do to stay on the cutting edge of environmentalism, not for the sake of being better than other cities, but for the sake of slowing the harm done to our ecosystem.

    I’d like plastic bags, such as those used for packaging groceries, to be required to be 100% biodegradable. It’s progress that they’re recyclable, but some are still thrown away.

    Each of these small steps will probably encounter some resistance. Perhaps Northfield as a whole won’t choose more eco-friendly laws. At least I’d like to see them presented to the public to get discourse started.

    November 9, 2008
  95. Curt Benson said:

    Here’s an article from the St. Olaf student newspaper that answers the question “what the hell is Phil “Kamakazi” Busse doing wearing a speedo, holding a pneumatic nail gun?” — as pictured in the City Pages article.

    It seems Busse was a model for a softcore pornographic website called, which features men wearing women’s underwear.

    November 9, 2008
  96. kiffi summa said:

    Bright and Jerold … Yeah, had some great ideas for this time but didn’t do any of them because decided it was going to be a no-cost-except-time answering-questions ‘campaign’.
    and Jerold … what’s the matter with NF doing something “for the sake of being better than other cities” ? Cities need role models and leaders, too; I’d like NF to be a role model for other cities… not for the sake of bragging, just for the sake of setting an example of thoughtful innovation.

    November 9, 2008
  97. Jerry Friedman said:

    Kiffi: That’s kind’a, sort’a what I meant. I would love for Northfield to be the envy of other cities for our excellence and innovation, not for the sake of bragging. I wouldn’t think it’s dignifying to be the city with the best drunken bowlers…

    November 9, 2008

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