Journalists Overlook Ideological Diversity of Occupy Protest Movement

--Guest post by Patrick Riley, AoE Culture Correspondent and Filmmaker.


Nothing changes on New Year's Day? U2's Bono had it right – at least when it comes to media coverage of the ongoing, if flagging, Occupy movement. 

"They gotta be for something," political analyst Jimmy Williams said earlier this week on MSNBC's NOW with Alex Wagner, bringing back, perhaps for old time's sake, the media reaction that prevailed soon after New York’s Zuccotti Park was taken over by protesters in late September and similar actions sprung up around the country.

Wagner commented that the movement is "a little bit schizophrenic at best" – though she did say the protesters' recent focus on the foreclosure crisis was "really interesting stuff" and "got very little discussion in the national dialogue."

Another contributor to the segment, Joy-Ann Reid, managing editor of theGrio.com, said the protesters “did a really great service by bringing the issues of inequality back.” But she added, "Somewhere in the ocean a shark is being jumped. [...] They refuse to organize themselves into a coherent narrative." [Watch the clip]

We've heard this line of reasoning before.

As Dahlia Lithwick of Slate wrote back in October: "I confess to being driven insane this past month by the spectacle of television pundits professing to be baffled by the meaning of Occupy Wall Street. Good grief. Isn’t the ability to read still a job requirement for a career in journalism?"

Even the normally astute staff of The New Yorker doesn't seem to get it, based on this recent insight about Ron Paul supporters: "The fact is that many of the young activists backing (Ron) Paul have more in common with Occupy Wall Street demonstrators than they do with Texan anti-Semites and Wyoming militia men."

It's incredible that the media has yet to uncover the fact that many of participants in the Occupy movement demonstrations are in fact young Ron Paul activists. 

On my two visits to Occupy Los Angeles, I was struck by the broad political spectrum: from left-wingers to libertarians. I would venture to say that at times the Paul-supporting right-wingers outnumbered the lefties. But even more noticeable was the presence of a solid group of moderates – many of them weekend warriors, but so what - who were able to explain the movement in a way that Middle America could surely appreciate.

Why couldn't the news networks find them, giving voice to their concerns, instead of running endless video loops of violence, police stand-offs, and speculative commentary dismissing the movement as hopelessly far left-wing? And if they did find them, why can't they remember what they said?

It took my fellow documentarian Xavier Vanegas and I just a couple of hours one afternoon to uncover a coherent explanation for the movement, which we compiled into a short doc you can watch online and embedded below.

Those we talked to ran the gamut from a man who walked across the country to promote peace, to a member of Oathkeepers, a Constitutional watchdog group founded by a former Paul staffer.

All of them, including our main interviewee, consultant and writer David Jette, made it quite clear that the movement is for something. Sorry, Jimmy Williams.

--An MFA graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts, Patrick Riley has worked as a journalist, a screenwriter, and a TV editor. This year for AoE he is keeping his eye on developments in the movie industry and tracking the cultural dimensions of political activism, health and nutrition. Read other posts by Riley at AoE.

See Also:

We Are the 99%: Models of Public Opinion that Explain the Occupy Wall Street Movement

Journalists Reflect on the Challenge of Covering Occupy Protests

iProtest: Social Media and the Evolving Nature of Political Activism

Understanding the Public Sphere in a Network Society

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  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.