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.
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.
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:
[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.”
The 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.
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.
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 TalkingPointsMemo.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.