Coming around again

Matt Yglesias asks “What are Today’s Protests Missing?” Turns out he asked much the same question a few years ago, and I had some thoughts at the time about what seems to be a common feature of both the left and right: When compared to the protest of ye old days, contemporary mass mobilization is greeted by public intellectuals with a sigh and either one of a) regret that it isn’t ye old days anymore when protests were coherent and organized, or b) dismissive sneering about how the hippies have never been good for anything and still aren’t good for anything.

This time around, Matt makes a really important point, that coherence of movements often is really only sensible in hindsight:

Both Gandhi and King led movements that were committed to vaguely defined and quite sweeping visions of social change that, among other things, included opposition to capitalism and all forms of war. Their goals look well-defined in retrospect because they achieved a great deal so, in retrospect, MLK’s leadership resulted in the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and Gandhi’s leadership led to independence for India. But all mass-movements are prone to ill-defined goals.

That’s a part of one of the key observations I made in response to this same thread a few years ago:

The single largest event of the period was a Washington, D.C., antiwar rally of November 15, 1969, attended by an estimated 250,000 people. A quick read of the coverage of that weekend—like yesterday’s march, it really was a series of events, not a single event—demonstrates that participants were there to take part for many reasons, although they all ended up under the anti-war banner: Students protested the draft; religious activists ranging from Catholic to Quaker participated; radical leftists were there, as were elderly women and parents with their children, as were small groups seeking violent confrontations; also present were African American organizers and advocates for the poor, protesting the war’s diversion of funds from domestic programs. This is still an oversimplified list of participants; it’s clear that while the war was the most tangible target of the protests, many grievances actually brought protesters out. Like this weekend’s march, officially organized by United for Peace and Justice, that series of events had a nominal set of organizers, but plenty of other groups also participated. In a sister protest across the country, where another 100,000 people demonstrated, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Gay Liberation Front were among notable organizations represented.

This is not to say that the context for contemporary protest hasn’t changed: Political opportunity structure is different, modes and tools of mobilization are transforming, and movement organizations are functioning in some very different ways. But we need to be aware of the reality of the good old days of American protest in order to make sense of what has changed and what hasn’t changed.


Update: Brayden King, one of my old office-mates, has more thoughts on this topic. Typically for him, it’s good, smart, well-researched stuff.


Jim Macdonald at Making Light responds to the President’s plan to make insurance premiums tax deductible:

Making yachts 100% tax-deductible won’t give everyone a yacht.

Iraq Vista just in time for November release?

An interesting way for CNN to phrase the latest round of non-political political speeches:



Update: Somebody must have made some calls and got the talking points back into place. The headline now reads:


Safe assumptions about tactics and privacy

Allowing that there may be some aspiring but hapless terrorists who could, in the words of Alberto Gonzales, “forget” that they are working under a cloud of secrecy, let’s nonetheless stipulate a few things that the rest of the terrorists probably understand:

  • their phones are probably bugged.
  • their bank accounts are probably monitored.
  • somebody probably knows about their airline tickets
  • their purchase of boots, guns, and uniforms probably won’t go unnoticed.
  • their friends might be suspected terrorists, too.

And to be really, really thorough, let’s just make the assumption that terrorists are paranoid enough to be cautious about going to the bathroom, calling mom, ordering pizza, texting girlfriends, picking up fertilizer, changing their oil, getting carded at the brewpub, driving with insurance and registration, and picking inconspicuous AIM screennames. Okay?

Now that that’s out of the way, can we dispense with further claims that making those assumptions is “despicable” and “makes it harder to win the war on terror?”


For some time I’ve shied away from explicitly political content around here. Others do it better than I do, I have some need (rightly or wrongly) to minimize negative impressions, and so on.

But I’m listening to the news roundup this morning, and the dominant subject of the discussion is the newly-unearthed phone monitoring program conducted by the NSA. I have to ask: Has Tony Blankley always been such a tremendously belligerent bully? What a colossal ass.

PS: Jon Kyle, too:

This is nuts. We are in a war, and we’ve got to collect intelligence on the enemy. And you can’t tell the enemy in advance how you’re going to do it.

If he’s one of America’s ten best senators, we’re all well and truly doomed.

On the side of life

I’m sick at reading of the political maneuvers to keep in place Terry Schiavo’s feeding tube today. Now that the U.S. Congress and Senate have weighed in, gone are all claims to respect either the legal process or the tremendous difficulty with which we make end-of-life decisions for ourselves and our loved ones. Instead, it’s now all about politics. First Tom Delay and Dennis Hastert scolded Democrats for not supporting a bill that would require federal review of cases in which patients leave no advance directive. They said in a joint statment that with Schiavo “helpless in Florida, one day away from the unthinkable and unforgivable, the Senate Democrats refused to join Republicans to act on her behalf.” Obviously, Schiavo’s best interests are at their heart.

Delay and Hastert would have us believe that it is “unthinkable and unforgivable” to allow Michael Schiavo to make the kind of decision that is made over and over, thousands of times per year, by people who are legally empowered to make decisions on behalf of their loved ones. It strikes me as far more unforgivable to act as if a court ruling had not, in fact, established that that Michael Schiavo’s decision to remove Terri Schiavo’s life support was consonant with her own wishes, and to pretend that there remains any medical uncertainty about Terri Schiavo’s prognosis. Far more unforgivable to pretend that Delay and Hastert are not looking to score points with pro-life conservatives.

Next, Bill Frist forgets entirely that he is in fact a physician and suggests that what we really need is to hear from Terri Schiavo herself:

Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee and the Senate majority leader, issued a statement saying that the woman, Terri Schiavo, and her husband, Michael, were being invited to testify in a Congressional inquiry into the matter later this month.

The statement pointed out that Federal law protects witnesses called before Congress “from anyone who may obstruct or impede a witness’s attendance or testimony.”

The maneuver is the latest step by lawmakers determined to keep Ms. Schiavo alive to prevent her feeding tube from being disconnected, scheduled for 1 p.m. today.

“The Senate and House remain dedicated to saving Terry Schiavo’s life,” Mr. Frist said in the statement. He said they were requesting the Schiavos’ presence at a hearing on March 28. “The purpose of the hearing is to review health care policies and practices relevant to the care of nonambulatory persons such as Mrs. Schiavo.”

He should be embarrassed. Testimony from Terri Schiavo? “Nonambulatory persons?” That must be one of the most disingenuous statements I’ve ever read. Schiavo is nonambulatory because her cerebral cortex is gone, and with it far more than her ability to move around. As Ampersand writes in a very good post (with an excellent thread of comments, too):

The conclusion the court came to is that, based on medical testimony and Terri’s CAT scan, her cerebral cortex has basically turned to liquid. The cerebral cortex is the seat of all our higher brain functions. Without a cerebral cortex, it is impossible for a human being to experience thought, emotions, consciousness, pain, pleasure, or anything at all; nor, barring a miracle, is it possible for a patient lacking a cerebral cortex to recover.

Any claim Frist might make to be a medical authority, or even a thoughtful arbiter of medical science, should be dismissed on the spot. After all, despite being The Senate Doctor, Frist couldn’t say with any certainty that AIDS isn’t transmissible through sweat.

[ Update: I’ve written more about this issue. ]

Quick poli-bloggy link

Via Tim Dunlop comes a link to a lovely (powered by LaTeX) paper on political blogging [pdf]. The paper includes some neat network images of inter-blog linking.

Fortress of solitude

Can this possibly be for real?

Some of the money might be designated for a new embassy in Baghdad, which has been projected to cost as much as $1.5 billion, the AP reported.

I’m trying to imagine how to spend that much money: Operating costs over some period of time? Untold amounts of high-tech gear? Stealth technology?

About, the short version

I’m a sociologist-errant. This site is powered by Textpattern, Pair Networks and the sociological imagination. For more about me and this site, see the long version.

RSS feed