Is dairy overrated?

None oth­er than the NYTimes’s Mark Bittman sounds like a veg­an polemi­cist:

Most humans nev­er tast­ed fresh milk from any source oth­er than their moth­er for almost all of human his­to­ry, and fresh cow’s milk could not be rou­tine­ly avail­able to urban­ites with­out indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment not only sup­ports the milk indus­try by spend­ing more mon­ey on dairy than any oth­er item in the school lunch pro­gram, but by con­tribut­ing free pro­pa­gan­da as well as sub­si­dies amount­ing to well over $4 bil­lion in the last 10 years.

The­se aren’t new argu­ments, but Bittman presents them well, cit­ing his own expe­ri­ences. And of course it makes a dif­fer­ence that he’s a charm­ing, high pro­file Times colum­nist.

Lessons in Social Media from Egyptian Protesters

A few days ago the NYTimes ran a fas­ci­nat­ing ear­ly look-back at the rela­tion­ship between social media and the largely-nonviolent rev­o­lu­tion in Egypt writ­ten by David D Kirk­patrick and David E Sanger. I doubt we’ve seen the last twist and turn of this tumul­tuous time but as I write this, the world sighs relief that long­time auto­crat Hos­ni Mubarak is final­ly out. Most of the quotes and inside knowl­ege came via Ahmed Maher, a 30-year-old civil engi­neer and a lead­ing orga­niz­er of the April 6 Youth Move­ment, who became an activist in 2005.

Lesson One: Years in the Mak­ing

The Times starts off by point­ing out that the “blog­gers lead the way” and that the “Egyp­tian revolt was years in the mak­ing.” It’s impor­tant to remem­ber that the­se things don’t come out of nowhere. Blog­gers have been active for years: lead­ing, learn­ing, mak­ing mis­takes and col­lect­ing knowl­edge. Many of the first round of blog­gers were ignored and repressed. Some of them were effec­tive­ly neu­tral­ized when they were co-opted into what the Times calls “the timid, legal­ly rec­og­nized oppo­si­tion par­ties.” “What destroyed the move­ment was the old par­ties,” said one blog­ger. A lesson we might draw for that is that blog­ging isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a step­ping stone to “real activism” but is instead it’s own kind of activism. The cul­ture of blogs and main­stream move­ments are not always com­pat­i­ble.

Lesson Two: Share Your Expe­ri­ences

The Egyp­tian protests began after ones in Tunisia. The con­text was not the same: “The Tunisians faced a more per­va­sive police state than the Egyp­tians, with less lat­i­tude for blog­ging or press free­dom, but their trade unions were stronger and more inde­pen­dent.” Still, it was impor­tant to share tips: “We shared our expe­ri­ence with strikes and blog­ging,” a blog­ger recalled. Some of the tips were exceed­ing­ly prac­ti­cal (how to avert tear gas – brought lemons, onions and vine­gar, appar­ent­ly) and oth­ers more social (shar­ing tor­ture expe­ri­ences). Lesson: we all have many things to learn. It’s best to be ready for counter-tactics.

One of the inter­est­ing side­lights was how the teach­ings of Amer­i­can non­vi­o­lence strate­gist Gene Sharp made it to Cairo. A Ser­bian youth move­ment had based their rebel­lion on his tac­tics and the Egyp­tians fol­lowed their lead, with exiled orga­niz­ers set­ting up a web­site (warn­ing: annoy­ing sound) com­pil­ing Sharp’s strate­gies:

For their part, Mr. Maher and his col­leagues began read­ing about non­vi­o­lent strug­gles. They were espe­cial­ly drawn to a Ser­bian youth move­ment called Otpor, which had helped top­ple the dic­ta­tor Slo­bo­dan Milo­se­vic by draw­ing on the ideas of an Amer­i­can polit­i­cal thinker, Gene Sharp. The hall­mark of Mr. Sharp’s work is well-tailored to Mr. Mubark’s Egypt: He argues that non­vi­o­lence is a sin­gu­lar­ly effec­tive way to under­mine police states that might cite vio­lent resis­tance to jus­ti­fy repres­sion in the name of sta­bil­i­ty.

As an aside, I have to say that as a longterm peace activist, it tick­les me no end to see Gene Sharp’s ideas at the heart of the Egyp­tian protests. Amer­i­ca real­ly can export democ­ra­cy some­times!

Lesson Three: Be Relent­less in Con­fronting Lies

The Times reports that Maher “took spe­cial aim at the dis­tor­tions of the offi­cial media.” He told them that when peo­ple “dis­trust the media then you know you are not going to lose them. When the press is full of lies, social media takes on the fact check­ing role. Peo­ple turn to inde­pen­dent sources when they sense a pro­pa­gan­da machine. The cre­ator of a Face­book site was a Google mar­ket­ing exec­u­tive work­ing on his own. He filled the site We Are all Khaled Said “with video clips and news­pa­per arti­cles [and] repeat­ed­ly ham­mered home a sim­ple mes­sage.”

Lesson Four: Don’t Wait for Those Sup­posed To Do This Work

Most of this social media was cre­at­ed by stu­dents for good­ness sake and it all relied on essentially-free ser­vices. Everyone’s always thought that if Egypt were to explode it would be the dreaded-but-popular Mus­lim Broth­er­hood that would lead the charge. But they didn’t. They scram­bled not know­ing what to do as protests erupt­ed in the major cities. Even­tu­al­ly the Brotherhood’s youth wing joined the protests and the full orga­ni­za­tion fol­lowed suit but it was not the lead­ers in any of this.

When we’re talk­ing about pop­u­lar orga­ni­zat­ing, mon­ey and estab­lished cre­den­tials aren’t always an advan­tage. What’s inter­est­ing to learn with the Egypt protests is that the gen­er­a­tion lead­ing it doesn’t seem to have as strict a reli­gious world­view as its par­ents. This came out most dra­mat­i­cal­ly in the images of Chris­tian Egyp­tians pro­tect­ing their Mus­lim broth­ers in Tahir Square dur­ing times of prayer. This is hav­ing ram­i­fi­ca­tion in copy­cat protests in Tehran. Ira­ni­an lead­ers tried to paint the Egyp­tian stu­dents as heirs to their own Islam­ic rev­o­lu­tion but it seems prac­ti­cal con­sid­er­a­tions are more impor­tant than set­ting up an Islamist state (stay tuned on this one – protests have begun in Tehran on one hand and the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood might well take over from Egypt pro­test­ers now that Mubarak is out).

On a per­son­al note…

It’s inter­est­ing to watch how the three-year old Save St Mary’s cam­paign has mim­ic­ked some of the fea­tures of the Egyp­tian protests. Their blog has been pret­ty relent­less in expos­ing the lies. It’s attract­ed far more media atten­tion than the professionally-staffed Dioce­san press office has been able to muster. There’s been a lot of behind-the-scenes talk­ing with church­es in oth­er regions to com­pare tac­tics and antic­i­pate counter-moves. As far as I know it’s one of sev­en church­es nation­wide with round-the-clock vig­ils but it’s the only one with a strong social media com­po­nent. It’s aver­age age is prob­a­bly a gen­er­a­tion or two younger than the oth­er vig­ils which gives it a cer­tain frank style that’s not found else­where. The Philadel­phia Arch­dio­ce­se is explod­ing now with arrests of recent Dioce­san offi­cials and rev­e­la­tions from the Dis­trict Attoreny that dozens of priests with “cred­i­ble accu­sa­tions” of pedophil­ia are still min­is­ter­ing around kids and while church clos­ings and the pedophil­ia scan­dals are not offi­cial­ly con­nect­ed, as a non-Catholic I’m fine admit­ting that they arise from a shared Dioce­san cul­ture of mon­ey and cover-ups. Again, “repeat­ing­ly ham­mer­ing home a sim­ple mes­sage” is a good strat­e­gy.

Two Theories of Change and Liberal Friends

Over in the NYTimes colum­nist David Brooks talks about Two The­o­ries of Change. He’s talk­ing about mod­ern Amer­i­can pol­i­tics but it seems rel­e­vant to Friends. Here’s his sum­ma­ry of a new paper by Yuval Lev­in of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chicago:

paineburke

[Thomas] Paine believed that soci­eties exist in an “eter­nal now.” That some­thing has exist­ed for ages tells us noth­ing about its val­ue. The past is dead and the liv­ing should use their pow­ers of analy­sis to sweep away exist­ing arrange­ments when nec­es­sary, and begin the world anew. He even sug­gest­ed that laws should expire after 30 years so each new gen­er­a­tion could begin again

[Edmund] Burke, a par­tic­i­pant in the British Enlight­en­ment, had a dif­fer­ent vision of change. He believed that each gen­er­a­tion is a small part of a long chain of his­to­ry. We serve as trustees for the wis­dom of the ages and are oblig­ed to pass it down, a lit­tle improved, to our descen­dents. That wis­dom fills the gaps in our own rea­son, as age-old insti­tu­tions implic­it­ly con­tain more wis­dom than any indi­vid­u­al could have.

For Brooks, the Paine fol­l­low­ers are Tea Par­ty activists who think it’s fine to “sweep away 100 years of his­to­ry and return gov­ern­ment to its prein­dus­tri­al role.” 

But for Friends, espe­cial­ly Lib­er­al Friends, this touch­es on the nature of “Con­tin­u­al Rev­e­la­tion” that has been at the cen­ter of much of our delib­er­a­tions for about a hun­dred years now. Are we in an “eter­nal now,” ready to rein­vent lib­er­al Quak­erism every thir­ty years and only will­ing to read old Friends to pull quotes out of con­text? Or are we tin­ker­ers of tra­di­tion, trustees keep­ing the parts oiled for the next gen­er­a­tion? 
I can think of par­tic­u­lar Friends who fol­low Paine’s con­tin­u­al rev­o­lu­tion mod­el and oth­ers who fol­low Burke’s long chain mod­el. Some­how both feel lim­it­ed. To sub­scribe strong­ly to either is a kind of fun­da­men­tal­ism. We are in an eter­nal now (Christ has come to teach the peo­ple him­self) but we have 350 of expe­ri­ences and tech­niques that have taught us how to be ready to act in that now. Insist­ing on both seems impor­tant.

Lead-painted toys? Aye-Yeash!

Trains & MessesThe Times has a fas­ci­nat­ing arti­cle on the rise of recalls on Chinese-made toys over the last few years. Two of our kid’s “Thomas and Friends” wood­en trains are part of the lat­est recall because of lead paint. We’ve long pre­ferred the met­al Thomas trains since 21-month old Fran­cis chews on the wood­en ones and gnaws their paint off.

We learned about the lead paint­ed Thomas’s on the same day that our fam­i­ly doc­tor told us that it was offi­cial­ly time to become con­cerned with Francis’s slow speech devel­op­ment. When Theo was just a lit­tle old­er than Fran­cis is now we put togeth­er a dic­tio­nary of his vocab­u­lary. Fran­cis makes cute sounds and seems bright and curi­ous but he’s not even got­ten out a con­sis­tent mama or papa and we haven’t been able to fig­ure out a mean­ing for his most com­mon word (Aye – YEASH). He’s got an appoint­ment six months from now with spe­cial­ists at Wilmington’s Nemours (that’s how backed up they are!).

We’re not blam­ing the trains — the lead ones we had were rel­a­tive­ly unpop­u­lar and have few signs of wear. And we’re not pan­ick­ing. My moth­er brush­es off all con­cern with the assured dec­la­ra­tion that kids learn to talk at lots of dif­fer­ent ages. She could cer­tain­ly be right of course: our doc­tor sent us to Nemours for Theo with the wor­ry that he had a big head. If Fran­cis does turn out to be a lit­tle “slow,” well then we’ll just take that as anoth­er lesson plan God has for us.

Webb on SOTU: We owe them loyalty, we owe them sound judgment

I must be hon­est and admit that I’ve always found Pres­i­dent Bush’s State of the Union speech­es unbear­able. The dis­tor­tions and half-truths are infu­ri­at­ing and the unearned con­fi­dence of a draft-dodging rich kid turned failed mil­i­tary adven­tur­er just sends my blood pres­sure through the roof. I wish I could be detached enough to lis­ten at least to the art of fine speech-writing but the mes­sage gets in the way.

Bet­ter then to lis­ten to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic respon­se, given by Sen­a­tor James Web. The tran­script is over on the NYTimes and the video is over on YouTube. Here’s a taste.

Like so many oth­er Amer­i­cans, today and through­out our his­to­ry, we serve and have served, not for polit­i­cal rea­sons, but because we love our coun­try. On the polit­i­cal issues ­ those mat­ters of war and peace, and in some cas­es of life and death ­ we trust­ed the judg­ment of our nation­al lead­ers. We hoped that they would be right, that they would mea­sure with accu­ra­cy the val­ue of our lives again­st the enor­mi­ty of the nation­al inter­est that might call upon us to go into harm’s way. We owed them our loy­al­ty, as Amer­i­cans, and we gave it. But they owed us ­ sound judg­ment, clear think­ing, con­cern for our wel­fare, a guar­an­tee that the threat to our coun­try was equal to the price we might be called upon to pay in defend­ing it.

Worth a look: Josh Mar­shall over at Talk​ing​PointsMemo​.com had the neat idea to set up a YouTube group for peo­ple to give their own video respons­es to the State of the Union. 

Stepping up the violence in Somalia again

United States air strikes in Somalia were meant to kill specific al Qaeda leaders. Whether the bombs achieved this effect is still uncertain but we know one thing: that it will be much easier for al Qaeda to recruit the next generation of Somali terrorists. From the NY Times, "Airstrike Rekindles Somalis' Anger at the U.S.":http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/10/world/africa/10somalia.html?_r=2&ref=world&oref=slogin&oref=slogin. Sigh.

Forsaking Diplomacy

In the New York Times, a “glimpse behind the sce­nes of the Bush Administration’s sup­port for war in Lebanon”:www.nytimes.com/2006/08/10/washington/10rice.html:
bq.. Washington’s resis­tance to an imme­di­ate cease-fire and its staunch sup­port of Israel have made it more dif­fi­cult for [US “Sec­re­tary of State”:www.nonviolence.org/tag/secretary%20of%20state] Rice to work with oth­er nations, includ­ing some Amer­i­can allies, as they search for a for­mu­la that will end the vio­lence and pro­duce a durable cease-fire.…
Sev­er­al State Depart­ment offi­cials have pri­vate­ly object­ed to the administration’s empha­sis on Israel and have said that Wash­ing­ton is not talk­ing to Syr­ia to try to resolve the cri­sis. Dam­as­cus has long been a sup­port­er of “Hezbollah”:www.nonviolence.org/tag/hezbollah, and pre­vi­ous con­flicts between the group and Israel have been resolved through shut­tle diplo­ma­cy with Syr­ia.
p. The wars in “Lebanon”:www.nonviolence.org/tag/lebanon and “Iraq”:www.nonviolence.org/tag/iraq are caus­ing irrepara­ble harm to the U.S. image in the Mid­dle East. High-sounding words about democ­ra­cy ring hol­low when we for­sake diplo­ma­cy.