Category Archives: methodology

Packing light for the conference: losing the laptop

I normally pack a laptop for conference-going, but for this year’s Congress I’m planning to take the tablet. This plan has required some thought and strategy. It will also require packing some peripherals, but I still expect  my luggage to incur a significant net weight loss. Here’s a “Before & After” pic of conference tech luggage: what I used to lug at left, what I plan to at right.

Yes, my other laptop is in fact a Stanton.

The portability and versatility of the tablet (yes, that one, but I don’t need to do the fruitfully named firm’s own advertising for it) mean that it can take on the following functions and make the following gear replacements:

  • travel reading – tablet replaces print book with digital library
  • movie viewing – tablet provides more personalized in-flight entertainment than what the back of the seat in front of you is pushing (just hope the passenger next to you doesn’t mind the occasional eyeful of that ultraviolent horror film you’re enjoying);
  • music playback – tablet replaces Walkman mp3 player
  • communication device (not as just-in-time as a phone, but people seem to check their e-mail and Twitter pretty fast these days)
  • notepad – tablet replaces paper notepad
  • presentation station – the main reason for you used to lug the laptop
  • camera and camcorder – tablet replaces both (granted, the pics aren’t as high-quality)
  • turntables and tunes (hey, you’d be surprised how dance-friendly some learned associations are) – tablet replaces two turntables and a milk crate of vinyl records

On that account, the tablet totally makes me feel like I’m living in the future. And its tolerable substitutability for (if not exact interchangeability with) all the other gear listed above stands to cut a lot of luggage weight. Okay, that last item on the list isn’t exactly standard conference luggage – it’s not like I pack DJ gear for every research travel trip. I have done so on occasion, though.

Some peripherals are constant: headphones and the power cord. Other items I have normally packed for conferences, and don’t plan to drop, include:

  • a thumb drive with critical document backups (yes, I know about Dropbox – but I still believe in offline storage);
  • audio cord: an 1/8″ jack-to-male-RCA cord connected to a female-RCA-to-1/8″ adapter – this way your device can patch to either a headphone jack or an RCA jack;
  • a paper notepad (it’s for good reason this ancient tech remains robust – for one thing, no batteries required)

There are three things I’ll be packing that are new, and two are specific to the tablet. One is non-negotiable: the adapter cable for VGA projectors. The second is not strictly necessary, but a great convenience: a bluetooth keyboard. (If I get some downtime for catching up on work, having an actual keyboard, not a touchpad, will seriously boost productivity.) The third is a new addition I’ve been meaning to add for a while – it has nothing to do with laptop versus tablet functions, and everything to do instead with the weirdly visual-centric culture of research in general: a portable loudspeaker. My conference talks tend to be heavy on audio samples, but often I show up at go-time to find the room not equipped for sound…leaving me to play painstakingly optimized sound from invariably shitty laptop speakers at a volume they’re not designed to support. Not this time: if the PA system is AWOL, my Plan B is a wireless boom box. (I wasn’t expecting to buy this brand, but the sound is unexpectedly full and rich, and the price is right for a Plan B purchase.)

The institutional inattention to sound in presentations extends to the tablet’s own presentation app. I spent the better part of Saturday evening trying to figure out how to get Keynote to embed and play back audio samples. I did finally get it to work, thanks to Post #5 in this forum. (The irony is that this solution requires the use of an additional audio-visual app, and the ironic bonus is that this specific solution also adds a modest visual interest to the presentation.)

Otherwise I don’t think much need be said about the constellation of apps both generalist and specialized that make the tablet such a digital Swiss Army Knife. I will be following up this discussion of the plan with posts from the field to report back on how it plays out in practice. In the meantime, of course, all the planning and strategy around minimizing the luggage and tech requirements for conference-going broach a couple of bigger questions.

First, the tech for which the tablet can substitute is not, itself, really all that old at all. There’s an important question here about not just the pace of technological change but its calculated disposability – its planned obsolescence.

Second, there’s the big question about the conference itself as a face-to-face event: how long before that technology is rendered obsolete by the ascendance of webinars and other virtual events? It’s hard to argue with how their carbon footprints compare (although let’s not fool ourselves that computing is anything close to carbon neutral).

Lastly, I shouldn’t forget about all the other obligatory gear I have to pack for a successful conference trip. Conveniently, there’s an easy-to-remember list:

Advertisements

One small step towards the 5kmph office

Solvitur ambulando.

A couple of years ago, I saw a news item on a sports-health expert who had turned an office (it was probably in California) into a workout workstation, by replacing the workers’ chairs with treadmills. “I spend my workday at 5 kilometres an hour,” the expert said. Since then, the 5kmph office has become a science fiction dream of Yours Truly, as someone who works at home.

Happily, the dream is gradually becoming a reality (thanks to some overextended credit). I’ve seen a few different adaptations of this general idea; the prototype I’m working on is, so far, relatively simple (although admittedly resource-intensive).

20111226-151225.jpg

This prototype suspends an iPad in a portfolio case over the treadmill console, on which sits the wireless keyboard.

20111226-151324.jpg

I’m actually writing this post while walking right now, as an experiment. Two details will need fine-tuning. First, the keyboard is not in an ergonomically correct position: I need to bend my wrists up as I type, and that’s a recipe for RSI; I also have to lean slightly forward, a recipe for back and posture problems. Second, because the iPad is suspended, it sways whenever I use the touchscreen controls. Fine-tuning this prototype, then, might begin by determining what kind of work can sustainably be done while walking. Maybe reading an e-book or scanning e-mail will better suit the walk-stationary workstation.

Creative versus critical: a disorder of discourse

The current University Affairs has a thought-provoking article about the adoption of creative writing modes in Humanities scholarship, the possibilities they afford research, and the different perceptions and receptions of this practice.

A piece of lyric scholarship might juxtapose excerpts from other scholarly works without accompanying exhaustive analysis. It might borrow elements of poetry, such as rhythm, image and metaphor – the very elements scholarship usually studies rather than employs.

I’m all for experimenting with methodology, and I think this development of “lyric scholarship” is intriguing and has productive potential. But I also take issue with the notion that is implied in the article, which is that traditional scholarship is not, itself, a mode of creative writing.

I’m not suggesting that research publications necessarily deserve attention for prose style – tropes, rhythm, rhyme, allusions, etc. – although there are certainly stellar stylists doing scholarly work (as the article showcases; and an earlier precedent would be Marshall McLuhan’s work, representative of “lyric scholarship” in its reliance on aphorism and allusion). Then again, there are as many if not more examples of the contrary, too: the irremediably dull, sloppily written, and barely proofread pieces, like those criticized in Orwell’s “Politics and the English language” – the kind of stuff that feeds popular anti-intellectualism. What I’m suggesting is that well-written scholarship embodies attentive use of language, extensive research, and thoughtful argument, and that this intellectual labour is worth considering in terms of creativity.

To suggest this is also to deliberately try to blur the distinctions institutionalized between creative work, traditionally conceived as a “primary” literature, and critical work as as a “secondary” literature. Michael Foucault identifies this hierarchical distinction as one important “order of discourse” in the organization of modern western knowledge and culture.

Writing instruments

There are worthwhile reasons for challenging this distinction. Left unproblematized, the distinction denies creative work any critical agency, which it wields in force, of course. Consider the credit given Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin for catalyzing the Civil War. Or – on the topic of this very post – consider this passage from Ronald Wright’s novel A Scientific Romance – it’s one of the finest (and funniest) critical assessments of Theory that I’ve yet read:

The French themselves realize that Parisian theory is an art form; the Americans, poor lambs, take it seriously. (9)

Conversely, the distinction denies criticism is creative labour and positions it as a kind of parasite discourse, thus perpetuating the illusion that “creative” work is generated ex nihilo, an illusion that mostly serves the increasingly oppressive copyright regime that relies on ideologies of originality and creativity to protect its interests.

And there are other reasons to critique this order of discourse that relate to copyright. While it is more standard for literary journals to leave copyright with creative authors, it is fairly standard for academic journals to request scholarly authors to surrender copyright. Admittedly, there are very different labour economies in which these different standards are involved. Creative writers who aren’t also teachers or scholars depend more materially on copyright revenues. Copyright-brokering intermediaries like Access Copyright have not hesitated to exploit these ideological and economic differences, pitting “creators” against “educators” to advance their own bottom-line interests.

Another copyright-related question concerns the extent to which secondary literature can or should quote from primary works under fair dealing “purposes of criticism or research,” or without otherwise infringing copyright. The norms and standards for quoting from other works in scholarship can vary, but tend on the whole to be very conservative, with guidelines for word limits and reliably outrageous fees for licensing poem lines or song lyrics. An interesting development on this front, this week, arose amidst the Supreme Court’s deliberations over five copyright cases now before it. On the question of whether derivative or remix works – not critical works specifically, but secondary works composed of other extant works – can be considered creative in their own right, Michael Geist reports:

One of the most interesting exchanges occurred late in the day, as Chief Justice McLachlin discussed the creative process and noted that works often involve bringing together several other works into a new whole. When counsel responded that this was a compilation, the Chief Justice replied that it might actually be an entirely new work, bringing the issue of remix and transformative works to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The decisions that could come of such discussion may well have substantial implications for how we conceive of the creative, the critical, and the powers served by their hierarchical division.

Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. “The Order of Discourse” (1970). Rpt. in Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader. Ed. Robert Young. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1981. 48-78.

Geist, Michael. “The Supreme Court copyright hearings, day two: The fight to rollback fair dealing.” MichaelGeist blog, 8 Dec. 2011.

Lahey, Anita. “Academic Papers Get Poetic.” University Affairs 5 Dec. 2011.

Wright, Ronald. A Scientific Romance. Toronto: Vintage, 1998.

(I’d also like to acknowledge the mentorship of several professors at the University of Guelph for informing my thinking on the critical-creative distinction during my doctoral studies.)

A short review of Scrivener

I test-drove Scrivener during last year’s National Novel Writing Month; discovering this app was the best thing about NaNoWriMo 2010 (which I otherwise torpedoed). Anyway, I liked enough of what I saw in that test drive (on an XP PC) to have forked out since for the total experience (on Mac).

Scrivener is an app for writing long documents, like books. It works like a virtual binder where you keep all the different parts, like chapters, in different folders. But you can also park research documents and media here, and leave notes and tags on anything and everything. You can compare different versions of a draft, take periodic snapshots of the whole thing to revisit prior versions after drastic edits, and keep the big picture always in view. This big-picture background feature of the app’s design is helpful for organizing and re-organizing a big writing project. I sometimes treat essay composition like Lego, moving pieces of analysis around to fit in different places for an argument, and the Scrivener interface has helped me scale up that approach for longer work.

The other functions I find especially useful are screen splitting and quick-reference boxes (which I didn’t discover during the test drive). This screenshot shows the editing screen split horizontally, with two quick-reference boxes that I’ve set to “float” – to stay on top of the editing window.

In the top editing window, I’m compiling the master bibliography from references as I proofread the draft in the bottom window, chapter by chapter. The quick-reference box at left shows a previous Word draft of the bibliography, for copying any existing reference entries from it. The quick-reference box at bottom right is a PDF of the specific “Harvard” citation style guide I’m using; since this format is new to me, I keep it here for consulting as needed. Scrivener has reference and notation affordances if I want them, but just being able to keep all these text windows open and active simultaneously made for pretty light work of the biblio as it was. (I’m also partial to handcrafted bibliography.)

So as far as I’m concerned, Scrivener is already proving itself a good investment. My main reservation is that the actual word-processing functions of the text editor – line spacing, margins, and so on – are weirdly both rudimentary and not entirely intuitive. Scrivener is quite up-front about not being a full-featured word processor like Word, but more of a composition engine. (Like every writing app these days, it has a “distraction-free” mode.) So it relegates a lot of the formatting distractions business to the Export function, which turns all or part of a project into a document an actual word processor can read. But the text editing interface looks and feels enough like Word that I’m maybe having trouble getting past the bias that years of sustained exposure to Microsoft has installed in my head.

I’m not normally about product reviews, but this is an app worth trying out if you’re writing a long document, like a thesis, a novel, a script, or a monograph. Be advised, though, it won’t write the thing for you.

Format-shifting and fidelity: on reading and adaptation

Recent work on adaptation studies (the study of novels turned into movies, and so on) suggests that the ideas the field was founded on – like how “faithful” a movie is to its source – have been superseded, left behind as passé or outmoded. That’s the state of the field according to Linda Hutcheon’s 2006 book A Theory of Adaptation, for instance.

So reading Jamie Lee Wallace’s blog post about how “audio books are not cheating” – to gether with its comments – is a useful reminder that ideas about fidelity to source texts and authenticity in original versions are alive and well in everyday language and popular culture. Wallace is responding to criticisms that reading audio rather than print editions of books is a kind of “cheating.” She makes solid, practical arguments: that the text is the same; that audiobooks make reading possible for otherwise busy schedules; and, most interestingly, that the speaking voice adds presence (what Walter Benjamin calls “aura”) and, sometimes, additional interpretive layers.

My main criticism of the post was going to be that she doesn’t name those who think audiobooks are cheating: who are the “bibliophile purists” she’s responding to?

Then I started reading the comments. The overwhelming majority agree with the blogger (not surprising, since the blog medium itself would filter out a lot of print purists). But the dissenting comments are revealing. (I admit I’m taking some of these out of context.)

“I don’t listen to books — I read them.”
“I’m still just purist enough to be annoyed by eBooks. I still think nothing beats the feeling of actually holding the book and turning the pages.”
“I am totally one of those people who wouldn’t be caught dead with a kindle or any fandangled technology device that’s trying to replace books.”
“I felt dirty for listening to it. I was cheating myself of the experience of cradling a book in my hands and being curled up on the couch with it, but it freed my hands up to do other things..granted there was a few sound effects added into the story, which helped enhance the experience but I don’t think I can really say I’ve “read” that book because I didn’t physically hold it in my hands.”
“I still insist that books are meant to be read. However, I do not consider audio-books or kindle versions to be cheating, with one condition: That the book is intact. That is all summaries, short versions and most obviously movie adaptations are cheating. Mostly because they give everything in bite size, easily digested pieces. The point about a book is to let your imagination go wild and enjoy the imagery the author so carefully created.”

As you can see, the discussion ends up encompassing not just audiobooks but e-books as formats seen to compete with print as more people shift to them. But the shift isn’t one-way, just as adaptation isn’t one-way. (Hutcheon discusses how novels changed over the 20th century to adopt more “cinematic” techniques.) In this light, the last quoted comment’s point about abridgments is well taken – I read unabridged audio editions – but to call a film adaptation “cheating” is to misconstrue what films do (unless you’re talking about films that cheat estates out of their royalties), and yet it’s a widely held opinion. I myself confess to having felt vaguely like I was taking a shortcut by reading Ulysses (unabridged) as an audiobook; but that feeling was easily trumped by a rewarding feeling of accomplishment: I’ve read Ulysses!

Ulysses, by James Joyce

What this blog post suggests for adaptation studies is that it needs to engage critically with the popular romance of fidelity: the fetishes of authenticity and aura that we have inherited from Romantic tradition and that clearly continue to inform popular receptions and understandings of popular culture. (There’s also, among this post’s comments, a recurring sense that new media simply replace old – as I discussed last week.)

But by the same token, “purists” need to ask themselves what purity they are defending, and what that defence serves. Discourses of purity, for instance, are historically bound up in pernicious practices and institutions of race and nation. And defences of purity are one of the main ideological weapons still deployed by multinational media conglomerates to sell the public on increasingly restrictive, censorious, and invasive copyright regulation. In addition, media today are so diverse and multi-directional in their mutual appropriations and cross-pollinations that more pertinent and productive questions beg to be asked than whether audio editions are more real or more readable than paper, or whether Clueless is “faithful” to Austen.

Take Canadian poet Christian Bok’s Xenotext Experiment, for instance: a poem transcribed into a bacterium’s genome, for it to replicate and mutate – literally re-writing Bok’s poem – ad infinitum. What might readers attached to print make of this writing? How does one read the “original” text of a bacterial genome?

New media to old (and vice versa): Om nom nom

The “content” of a medium is like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the watchdog of the mind. The effect of the medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another medium as “content.” The content of a movie is a novel or a play or an opera. The effect of the movie form is not related to its program content. The “content” of writing or print is speech, but the reader is almost entirely unaware either of print or of speech. (31)

This passage occurs towards the end of the first chapter of McLuhan’s Understanding Media (1964) – the chapter that details his most famous statement: “The medium is the message.” In the context of explicating that statement (explication that, for McLuhan, entails both explanation and further encryption), he makes the above comment about content – or message – as both a distraction from the real issue, form – or medium – and, at the same time, a kind of palimpsest or accretion of legacy media.

McLuhan’s statement that “the medium is the message” became famous as a well-worded, soundbite-friendly wake-up call to pay attention not to the “content” of cultural production but to its “form.” In addition, the way it’s worded suggests that form and content, medium and message, can’t be easily distinguished from each other – they are mutually entangled, mutually constitutive of each other. Treating form and content as separate and opposed tends to oversimplify how cultural production works.

Other scholars and artists have made this point too. As Slavoj Žižek puts it: “form is not the neutral frame of particular contents, but the very principle of concretion” (190). “We need to do more than explain what our texts are saying,” says Romantic literary scholar Jerome McGann; “we need to understand what they are doing in saying what they say” (viii). Henry James, in a personal letter from 1912, anticipates McLuhan’s own statement: “Form is substance,” he writes. “Form alone takes, and holds and preserves, substance” (235).

Understanding this admittedly complicated statement of McLuhan’s is a priority for the student who would succeed in literary, cultural, or media studies. Rutgers U English professor Jack Lynch translates the idea into practical terms: “in an English paper, don’t talk about the ‘real world.’ Talk about writing.”

Don’t assume literature is a transparent window that shows us the real world – it’s not something we can reliably look through. Often it’s more like a painting than a window, and instead of looking through it we should learn to look at it.

Or as I’ve put it, in my own discussions with students, the focus in literary study shouldn’t be on what the text says, but rather on how it says it. Write about the literary work not as though it’s a “window” you can ignore while you watch the scene through it, but instead as though it’s a tapestry: a dense network of textual threads that have as much interest – or more – for their intricate interweaving and connections, as for the scene they show.

So one way McLuhan suggests the mutual constitution of medium and message, as well as the socially determining power of the former, is by giving examples of how new media interact with old. To call old media the content of new media is, first, to describe cultural production as more of a practice of adaptation. While we are accustomed to thinking of art-making as “creation” (according to traditions inherited from Romanticism and the reproduced in the rhetoric of the entertainment industry) – as, instead, more accurately understood as a practice of appropriating and transformatively re-working existing texts, genres, and discourses. As McLuhan’s colleague at the U of Toronto also observed, “Poetry can only be made out of other poems; novels out of other novels” (97). Hence, Linda Hutcheon appropriates this very passage from McLuhan as a fitting epigraph for A Theory of Adaptation (2006).

“The content of a movie is a novel or a play or an opera.” Any text you can think of – and by “text” I mean any kind of cultural production (movie, novel, play, opera, etc.) – is to a greater or lesser extent an adaptation of other existing texts and conventions; nothing gets created out of nothing. Even William Wordsworth, exemplar of Romantic originality, wrote his celebrated poetry by responding to and reworking an extensive repertoire of earlier literature (Hayden 215).

Here’s an example from one of Western culture’s most adapted – and adaptive – playwrights, Shakespeare. His play King Lear – itself an adaptation of a story from medieval Anglo-Celtic folklore – provides source material adapted by Japanese director Akiro Kurasawa, for the feudal epic Ran; or by Margaret Atwood, for the novel Cat’s Eye, whose beleaguered protagonist is named after Lear’s dutiful but persecuted daughter Cordelia. And every production of a dramatic script is is own adaptation. The 1993 staging of Lear by London’s Royal Shakespeare Company presented a postmodern historical pastiche, with characters starting out in period costume but then appearing in progressively more modern garb. By the ultraviolent finale, characters looked like they had arrived onstage from the killing fields of Serbia and Croatia. The production’s ironic costuming and prop strategies thus turned Shakespeare’s play into a critique of ethnic nationalism, and even of modernity’s master narrative, progress.

Now, McLuhan, for his part, isn’t interested so much in adaptations of texts and genres but in adaptations of media, as institutions, to one another. The point of observing that the content of a movie is a play is to illustrate how new media adapt, interact with, and – as he tends to see it – integrate and assimilate older media. The content of commercial radio in its early days was a compbination of drama adapted from stage, journalism adapted from print, performed music, and recorded music. The tiny iPod has eaten the giant jukebox. The tablet screen I’m typing these words on is also the typewriter. The desktop computer is often cited as the apotheosis of media convergence (I’ll get back to the example pictured here).

20111117-144930.jpg

From left: tube amp, iMac, scanner, printer on speaker

McLuhan, deeply engaged with issues of modernity, tended to see media change and development in terms of epochs and revolutions, as though they succeed one another and make each other obsolete: video killed the radio star. He was surrounded by kids who took to television in a way that books seemed unable to compete with. McLuhan’s comment aout old media as the content of new implies something of this sense of turnover and perennila obsolescence: if a play is the content of a movie, then plays are on the way out. This is patently false, of course, and more recent scholarship has both critiqued this premise of McLuhan’s work (among others) and extended McLuhan’s investigatons of how new and old media interact, suggesting instead that emergent media negotiate and make accommodations with existing media. Bolter and Grusin suggest the term “remediation” to describe how new media both incorporate old media and strive to seem “immediate,” or transparent. Henry Jenkins’ term for the interaction of new and old media, and the consequent blurring of distinctions between producers and consumers, is convergence culture.

To give a few examples: The novel’s conventions changed after the advent of film, plays as easily incorporate video as video adapts drama, and video games and movies are constantly turning into each other. A decade’s worth of file-sharing has also been a decade of growing and sometimes record profits for big entertainment industries. The popularization of computing has entailed not the paperless office or ubiquitous telecommuting, but more paperwork (literally) and new laws to regulate computing while commuting. My family computer functions as a radio, a CD player, a DVD player, a TV, a game console, a photo album, and a film studio. It also, sometimes, serves as a computer. But this is a two-way street: as far as my big old vacuum-tube amplifier is concerned, the computer is just one input channel, no different than the cassette deck also hooked up to it. serves as just one input for my big old vacuum-tube amplifier and vegetable-crate sized speakers.

McLuhan himself later “discovered a better way of saying the medium is the message,” as follows: “Each technology creates a new environment” (qtd. in Gordon 175). He thought this wording better addresses how media strive for “immediacy,” how they become taken for granted, invisible, and natural in their social implementation – and thus how they effect their most profound transformations on subjectivity and society, time and space.

Works Cited

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT P, 1999.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1957.

Gordon, W. Terrence. Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding. Toronto: Stoddart, 1997.

Hayden, John O. “The Road to Tintern Abbey.” Wordsworth Circle 12.4 (1981): 211-16.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006.

James, Henry. Letter to Hugh Walpole (19 May 1912). Rpt. in Novelists on the Novel. Ed. Miriam Allott. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, ca. 1959. 235.

Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York: New York UP, 2006.

Lynch, Jack. “Writing about the Real World.” Getting an A on an English Paper. Rutgers U, n.d.

McGann, Jerome. Social Values and Poetic Acts: The Historical Judgment of Literary Work. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1988.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964). Corte Madera: Gingko P, 2003.

Žižek, Slavoj. “Afterword,” in Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich. Revolution at the Gates: A Selection of Writings from February to October 1917. Ed. Slavoj Žižek. London: Verso, 2002.

Time of the sign; or, détournement as nuclear criticism

Photograph by takomabibelot, from http://www.thewip.net

Once upon a summertime in a certain southwestern Ontario town, an unknown group of youths encountered, on the town’s outskirts, a sign that welcomed visitors with assurances that this town was a “nuclear weapons free zone.” This pacifistic allure the town shares with other towns around the world, towns that — without such helpful signs — would otherwise surely be presumed to possess silo-sunk stockpiles of ICBMs. Towns like Vancouver, for example. The sign that boasted this town’s lack of an atomic arsenal depicted a dove in flight, as do many such signs, like this one at right, from somewhere in the United States of America.

An architectural peculiarity of the town’s central square had inspired the designer of the sign in question to frame the dove, an olive branch in its beak, winging its way out of an octagon, and over watery waves. Some of these details may be observed in the photograph at left.

Possibly inspired by mind-altering influences like French literary theory, or perhaps by the penchant of engineering students for situationist mischief, the youths relieved it from its post. However, clearly not content to leave their vandalism of the cliché, kleptomanic kind, the youths decided — upon making certain discoveries about the physical properties of the sign, and in particular its paint — to put the sign back.
Edited.

Evidently, the town liked the edited version so much, it stayed up well into the winter. The youths’ motive in producing this gentle guerrilla art installation remains as profoundly unknown as do their present whereabouts. This critic’s best guess — beyond chalking it up to young people’s natural fondness for pushing the public’s buttons — is that the installation implies no place on Earth can yet claim freedom from nuclear weapons, while their buttons still exist to be pushed.