Wednesday, November 14, 2007

To be filed under "Free Speech, Quick Tricks, and Small Slams"

(Updated below.)

(Updated again below.)

Purists claim that, in contract bridge play, only fifteen words are permissible: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, clubs, diamonds, hearts, spades, notrump, double, redouble and pass.

And, apparently, the six words "We did not vote for Bush" are not going to be joining that list any time soon.

From the Arts (not Sports?) section of the NYTimes comes this item:
[A] team of women who represented the United States at the world bridge championships in Shanghai last month is facing sanctions, including a yearlong ban from competition, for a spur-of-the-moment protest.

At issue is a crudely lettered sign, scribbled on the back of a menu, that was held up at an awards dinner and read, “We did not vote for Bush.”

By e-mail, angry bridge players have accused the women of “treason” and “sedition.”

“This isn’t a free-speech issue,” said Jan Martel, president of the United States Bridge Federation, the nonprofit group that selects teams for international tournaments. “There isn’t any question that private organizations can control the speech of people who represent them.”

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. “If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition,” he said by e-mail.

Of course, the real source of the problem may have came out:
Ms. Martel said the action by the team, which had won the Venice Cup, the women’s title, at the Shanghai event, could cost the federation corporate sponsors.

Yes, perhaps now we are down to it, although the statement from the USBL concerning "The Shanghai Incident" doesn't provide any evidence that sponsors have threatened to withdraw their support:
Certain members of VCW [the Venice Cup winners, whose actions spurred the controversy] have complained that the USBF apology to the WBF and the Chinese Contract Bridge Association for the VCW’s conduct was unwarranted. This reflects a complete disregard for the fact that the Chinese government, which does not exactly have a history of sympathetic views toward political dissent, provided the bulk of financial support for both the 2007 World Championship and the 2008 World Bridge Olympiad. Certainly, other sponsors such as Generali Group and Microsoft will not view as a positive development the hijacking of events which they supported financially as forums for political expression. Again, the VCW seem to view the interests of all other parties as entirely subordinate to their own, if they take them into account at all.

I can't help thinking that the Chinese have bigger fish to fry, in the area of suppressing political dissent, than worrying about a makeshift sign about Bush held up at a bridge tournament in Shanghai, although I'm sure they appreciate the US Bridge Federation's sympathetic efforts to quell embarrassing instances of political speech.

No word on whether Microsoft and Italian financial giant Generali Group are taking action as a result of the "hijacking."

When, in Orwell's 1984, the Party created the Newspeak Dictionary, the only dictionary to get shorter with each successive edition as the language necessary to express dissident thought was systematically eliminated, even they probably never imagined they could get the politically approved lexicon pared down to a mere fifteen words.

(Image via NYTimes.)

Update: USBL president (and corporate/state censorship enthusiast) Martel is getting her 15 minutes of fame, and then some. As of noon-ish three-ish Pacific time, her name produced 4 5 7 pages of hits on Technorati, and 7 8 Google News hits. (Ironically, every one of those Google hits begins by quoting her claim, "This isn't a free-speech issue.") We can leave it to the USBL--and their sponsors! don't forget the sponsors!--to decide who's cast their organization in a poorer light, Martel or the Venice Cup winners. I've often said that the best remedy for free speech you don't like is more free speech; this is a nice reminder that it's also a pretty good remedy for attacks on free speech.

Second Update: I expected this story to die out a little sooner than it's apparently going to. Not sure which offends me more--the lack of proportion from the crowd shouting "treason," or their total failure to understand the difference between living in America and living in China.

(Follow-up post here.)


Steph said...

I hope that the big corporate sponsors withdraw their support because of the bridge leagues censorship action. Sorry for the bridge players, but your governing body needs to elect a less fascist board.

Steve said...

Thanks for posting on something so important. Governments and constitutions are one thing. Money is another, and China has the money. This case points out clearly how some American organizations will suppress freedom on Beijing's behalf if they are paid to do so. It's so ironic that anyone accused the players (as opposed to the USBF) of treason and sedition.