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.