"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)

12.31.2006

auld acquaintance

Happy New Year, y'all!

a rose by any other name

Fascinating. If you're a political scientist, anyway.

12.29.2006

rejoicing in plano

Saddam Hussein is dead.

This picture of Kurdish families in Plano is on the front page of the Dallas Morning News at the moment. They're happy. They're celebrating his execution.

If I were them, I'd probably be celebrating, too. Kurdish Iraqis endured horrible atrocities at Hussein's hands. Hussein's death is a vindication of their claims, a promise that they won't be subject to such horrors at his hands again. It's freeing.

Except. I wonder if it really is. Freeing, I mean.

On the day Timothy McVeigh was executed by the United States government (and, therefore, by my tax dollars at work), I was an intern in the United States Senate. I worked on the Republican side of a committee office, which was an interesting life experience given that I'm not a Republican. That's another story. But suffice it to say that I was surrounded that day by people who believed strongly in the value of the death penalty, in its effectiveness as a deterrent, in its righteousness as punishment for heinous crime.

One of my fellow interns had done a research project on the death penalty's efficacy as a deterrent for violent crime. She found that it isn't a deterrent, that it makes little or no difference to those who commit violent crimes whether or not they will be subject to execution as punishment for their crimes.

This didn't make her believe that the death penalty was a bad thing, though. "I want it to be there for revenge," she said. "They deserve to die."

It's hard to argue with that. But on the day of the McVeigh execution, those of us in the intern room were glued to the television set in our tiny, shared office behind the mailroom. Of course they didn't show it, but the news cameras were ready to interview the victims' family members who witnessed the death of the man who killed their family members.

Their answers were surprising. Many survivors expressed relief that justice had been served. But many others seemed shocked at what they had witnessed, and, worse, surprised that the closure they expected from the experience hadn't come. "It didn't make me feel better," said survivor after survivor.

It didn't make anyone in the intern room feel better either, except for the revenge-minded one. "I expected to feel different," said the football player from North Carolina.

I'm not going to comment on whether Hussein should have been executed or not. There are many reasons Hussein deserved to die, not the least being that death is the only way to guarantee he won't ever engineer a return to power. There are many reasons not to execute Hussein, not the least being the question of the morality of deciding who should live and who should die, and of the state making a judgment that an individual is beyond redemption. If you want to read about that, the Vatican issued a statement saying that his execution was wrong, because it's wrong for humans to take human life.

Regardless of which side of this debate you and I fall on, we need to be cautious in thinking that state executions will solve our problems. We need to understand that killing a murderer won't necessarily make us feel better, or give us closure, or end a nightmare. And as with everything else where we attempt to play God, to make decisions about who gets to live and who gets to die and who gets access to medication and clean water and who doesn't, we need to act with great humility, with a sense of justice, and with gratefulness for the mercy we've received in our own lives.

"Does he repent him, or is there only room for his fear? Is there nothing that can be done now, is there not an angel that comes there and cries, This is for God, not for man, come child, come with me?"
-Alan Paton, Cry, the Beloved Country

12.23.2006

hope peace joy love

"It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold:
"Peace on the earth, goodwill to men,
From heav'n's all gracious King!"
The world in solemn stillness lay
To hear the angels sing.

Still through the cloven skies they come,
With peaceful wings unfurled,
And still their heavenly music floats
O'er all the weary world;
Above its sad and lowly plains
They bend on hovering wing;
And ever o'er its Babel sounds
The bless├ęd angels sing.

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song that they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And ye, beneath life's crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow,
Take heart, for comfort, love, and hope
come swiftly on the wing;
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing.

For lo, the days are hastening on,
By prophets bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold;
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendors fling,
And the whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing."

-Edmund Sears
Texas in Africa is on hiatus this week. Best wishes for a merry Christmas and a happy New Year!

12.21.2006

year in review: africa, etc.

Jesus was a refugee.

That's all I can think about this Christmas.

Last Sunday at church was the Christmas extravaganza, shepherds and angels and wise men and Mary and Joseph and a baby who didn't cry (which is, in itself, a small miracle). Carols have been on the radio for a month, lights and wacky displays are up all over Austin, and my parents' house is as beautiful as ever with garland and wreaths hanging on the porch railings. Daddy and I will watch an unreasonable number of football games, my sister won't allow me to enter the kitchen while she's baking, and mom will prepare a beautiful dinner, and we'll all go to the movies. Sunday night we will venture out in the cold and go to church, where someone will read Luke 2 and we'll sing "Silent Night." And it will be Christmas.

But I keep thinking about refugees. A refugee is someone who has to leave their home and cross a border for political reasons. Either there is a war, or a rebel group keeps invading your village, or you or your family have done something to upset the powers that be. And so you have to run, carrying whatever you can, and praying that the house and field and possessions you left behind will still be there whenever, if ever, you get to return.

There's a different term for people who don't cross a border, but who still have to leave their homes due to violence. "Internally-displaced persons" they're called, with a name that sounds so clinical that it can cause you to forget that they are in just as desparate circumstances as those who cross borders. Maybe worse. It's often more difficult to get aid to IDP's, as has been the case in Sake in the DR Congo for the past few weeks.

Tucked away in the Christmas stories is a passage about Jesus as a refugee. I can't remember the last time I heard a sermon on it. It's certainly not a pretty story for Christmas Eve Sunday. It wouldn't make for a very good holiday pageant, nor is it an inspirational subject for a carol. Here's what happens: Herod decides to kill all the infant boys in the territory under his control, because he's worried that a future challenger to his political power has been born. If he kills all those little boys, he won't have anything to worry about. Joesph learns about this nasty little plan in a dream, wakes up his wife and baby, and runs. Across the desert, far away from home, into Egypt.

Egypt. The place from which his ancestors had escaped. The place his people had been enslaved. The place from which the great narrative of Israel's deliverance began.

Things have to be pretty bad if you're going to run to a place like that. Joseph was, of course, following the angel's orders, which made it possible to fulfill a prophecy. But still. What would it take to make you pick up in the middle of the night, take only the people you love and the few things you can carry, and hightail it to a place that holds nothing but bad memories for you and your family?

Political persecution, that's what. If the state threatened to kill your child, your innocent, harmless baby, you'd run, too. And when you cross a border for political reasons, you're a refugee.

This year has been unusual for me, to say the least. The experience of living in the eastern Congo and seeing what its people endure shook me to the depths of my being. I had seen povery before, even extreme poverty, but I had never seen direct evidence of atrocity. I had never seen thousands of people who are starving to death. I had never seen eight-year-old rape vicitims who have emotionally shut down in order to survive. I had never seen three-year-old children abandoned on the streets, living alone without parents or brothers or sisters to protect them. I had never considered the possibility that some people might just be evil to the core. I had never seen what a society looks like after the death of 4 million of its members.

But I have lived in Africa before, and so I have learned how to handle the contradictions and tensions that arise from the contrast between my own privilege and the dire poverty around me there. I know that it's impossible to "save Africa" and that the best thing to do is to find some small way to help, and to tell the story so others can know how to help, too. And even though I was so ready to leave when the time came, I knew it would be hard to come home. And it was. Is.

Congo. Sometimes it feels like a dream. Its people and places come to mind at the strangest times. At a football game, the offense is about to score and I'm suddenly thinking about the moneychangers in the market in Goma. Watching a movie with friends, all I can think about is the underequipped health clinic in Sake. At a show in Charlottesville, my mind is half there and half at Coco Jambo, dancing until all hours of the night. Out to dinner last week with the D.A. and a Camp CLC-er, I looked out the door at the trees and the patio and I'd've sworn we were in Kigali, having lunch at La Baguette, expecting to run into my friend Suzy.

I don't know what to do about this. I think about Congo everyday. Sometimes I dream in Kiswahili, about starving children and weeping mothers, about soliders and checkpoints and guns for sale in the market. I think about the beauty and the joy, too, about a baby dedication at church in Goma and the Baptists who run the public schools and teaching Irish aid workers to two-step. And that's why I don't know if it's possible, or if it's wise, to try to "get over" Congo. When you do dissertation research, you are supposed to remain detached, be an objective observer, and walk away when the project is done.

It is not in my nature to walk away from this.

My pastor preached about joy the other day. He talked about this question of how we can be joyful when we know that the world is full of so much that's bad. The best reformers, he said, are always great rejoicers.

Is there joy in Congo's suffering? There's certainly dancing and singing and a sense of hope that God will redeem. And the people who do the best work to help are the ones who don't despair, but who choose to be joyful at setbacks and successes.

I'm not sure I'm there yet. But I keep thinking about Sam's point, that Jesus didn't always have a plan to make things better, but that he was always present in suffering. Sometimes all you can do is embrace suffering, because there's something to learn in that space between understanding and deep despair.

And that's the funny thing. I'm not optimistic about Congo, but I don't despair. The people are too good. I don't understand it, but I can't give up on it. These memories, these images, these people won't let me. And the wonder of having lived in such a beautiful place with stories and languages to learn under a million equatorial stars - that won't let me give up either.

Jesus was a refugee. He and his family knew, intimately, what it means to have your life uprooted overnight, to live in a terrifying land where your security is anything but sure, to lose your sense of place. Congo's people need to know that truth. So do I.

man at war with man hears not

Somalia is at war with Ethiopia.

christmas tradition

This is neat.

12.20.2006

year in review: Baptists

You know, I was going to do a post on the year in Baptist life, and talk about how neat it is that there's now a strong and growing contingent of moderate Baptist bloggers, and how some people in the SBC finally seem to realize that power has always been as important as theology in the struggle between conservatives and moderates. But I think I'm just going to let this speak for the year instead:

Hat-tip to Aaron.

year in review: football

Well, as expected, the year in football was less-than-ideal for the Texas Longhorns. Freshman quarterback pretty much sums it up. Colt McCoy actually exceeded my expectations (we beat OU), and the loss to Ohio State had to be expected, but the end-0f-season injury-induced meltdown was, well, it was. Meanwhile, back in the land of could-have-been-so-beautiful-could-have-been-so-right, our boy Vince is making us proud in Tennessee.

Baylor didn't live up to my expectations at all (They should've been in a bowl. There's just no excuse for most of their non-conference losses.), and next year's going to be much more difficult for the Bears since they're losing so many seniors.

But, hey, Yale won a share of the Ivy League title. In a year when Texas is headed to the Alamo Bowl, that'll do.

sigh

As much as I want to believe that this is isolated violence that won't spread, it seems more accurate to say that war is beginning in Somalia.

year in review: politics

So 2006 was an amusing year in politics. There were the usual suspects, victims of their own hubris, greed, and prejuidices. Abramoff plea bargained and spent the rest of the year giving investigators information about his scandalous dealings. Tom DeLay ran for re-election, won his primary, and withdrew from the race, setting off a very entertaining chain of events with the result that his heavily Republican district will now be represented by a Democrat. George Allen called someone "macaca" and was, mercifully, not re-elected.

There was the expected: George W. Bush waited until after the elections to realize that a new direction in Iraq (and in the Department of Defense) is necessary, and continued almost to the very end of the year to maintain that the U.S. is winning in Iraq. Hillary Clinton started running for president. Leininger spent ridiculous amounts of money on campaigns in Texas. Rick Perry was re-elected as governor.

There was the unexpected, too. In an electoral victory no one would've predicted a year ago, Democrats took control of the House and the Senate. Lloyd Bentsen and Ann Richards died, reminding us that the era of Texas politics over which they presided is gone for good.

Congo held its first democratic elections since the independence period, meaning that most Congolese adults cast the first meaningful vote of their lives. The loser challenged the results in court, and, so far, has not resorted to violence. Small miracles in a place that needs all the help it can get.

And I had the adventure of teaching about all this stuff for the first time this fall. What I learned from my first American government class since high school is that although American government is messy, but its genius is the fact that it's so messy. It's very difficult for an individual to impose his will, and more difficult still to get it financed. Sometimes the system fails or breaks down, but it works more often than not, and for that we can be grateful.

tis the season

The Intrepid Lobbyist has joined the blogosphere. I highly recommend that you check her musings out.

12.19.2006

winners and losers

Reality strikes. Finally.

go elf yourself

Elf Yourself is one of the most amusing ways ever to waste time on a late afternoon during the last workweek of the year.

the texas in africa year in review: music

Today begins the annual Texas in Africa year in review, based on this blog's topics. Today's topic: music.

As was the case in many other areas of life, spending nearly half the year overseas (and another 3 months away from Austin) left me a little out-of-the-loop when it came to music this year. Although I could download music in the Congo, it took up to a week to get an entire album, and that was if the internet connection and the electricity stayed on for three consecutive hours (read: didn't happen). It took just as long to download free MP3's off the music blogs. Add to that the fact that I missed a lot of tours (and saw no shows in Congo), and it's pretty clear that the following isn't nearly as conclusive as it would be in another year. That said, I did my best to make up for lost time this summer and fall. Without further ado:

Best Albums 0f 2006
  • Dixie Chicks, Taking the Long Way
  • Jenny Lews, Rabbit Fur Coat
  • Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
  • Calexico, Garden Ruin
  • Centro-matic, Fort Recovery
  • Rocky Votolato, Makers
  • Golden Smog, Another Fine Day
  • French Kicks, Two Thousand
  • Loose Fur, Born Again the U.S.A.
Best Songs that are Huge Hits in Central Africa discovered in 2006
Worst Musical Crimes Against Humanity perpetrated by Nashville/CMT in 2006 (n.b., I blame the CPP's unhealthy love of CMT radio for the fact that I'm even aware of these)
  • "Tim McGraw," by Taylor Swift. This song is so awful I don't know where to start. Her lack of vocal talent? Tacky sentimentality? The fact that she actually wants to be remembered by the strains of a Tim McGraw song? Ugh.
  • "A Good Man," by Danielle Peck. Although the CPP and I agree that it's remarkable that the chorus of one song could describe one individual so perfectly.

Worst Mainstream Country Songs I Couldn't Help but Like (and download):

  • "Leave the Pieces," The Wreckers
  • "Every Time I Hear Your Name," Keith Anderson
Best Shows Seen
Best Fesitval Sets
Worst Show Seen
  • Tapes 'n Tapes at The Basement (Nashville), June - I was so excited to get to see Tapes 'n Tapes, a Minneapolis-based indie rock band that got a lot of hype in the first half of the year for their album, The Loon. The show was a total disappointment, little more than derviative post-punk and drunk Vanderbilt frat boys.

12.18.2006

since 1983!

Sorry for the non-posting day. Here's a question I pondered for quite awhile during today's thirteen-hour drive to Franklin: how is it possible that part or all of Interstate 40 in West Memphis, Arkansas has been under construction for 24 consecutive Decembers?

Your thoughts/answers/updates on when/if it will ever end would be appreciated.

what a mess

The Post has an interesting piece this morning on the failed U.S. policy towards Somalia. It's an understatement to call the policy a failure; the resolution the U.S. backed at the United Nations may have a disastrous unintended consequence: all-out war.

12.17.2006

another one bites the dust

And DC's best Mexican restaurant is closing. So much for affordable, non-food court options around the Willard.

schism in the blood

The overwhelming vote by two of Northern Virginia's largest Episcopalian congregations to leave the Episcopal Church in favor of joining an Anglican convocation led by a Nigerian bishop is sad, and will lead to lots of fighting over property, history, and theology. The theology fight has been going on for a long time; I'm sorry that the churches felt they couldn't resolve the issue without leaving. That said, a friend is on staff at the Falls Church and I know he doesn't take decisions like this lightly. It's all just really sad.

keepin' it classy

Here's an article about Leslie's magnet sales. Seems it's making his life better. Oh, and those were his own clothes.

new music sunday

My high school classmate/very talented songwriter Jason Howes has a new CD out. It got a very nice review in last week's Nashville Scene. I'm looking forward to picking up his album in Nashvegas this week. In the meantime, you can listen to a sample of Jason's music on his myspace page.

time's person of the year

Lame, lame, lame.

12.16.2006

airing of grievances

So faculty and administratiors at SMU's School of Theology are leading an effort to oppose the university's effort to have the George W. Bush presidential library housed at the school. This seems more than a bit quixotic, but whatever. They have a point. They also teach theology at a school that is a bastion of Dallas wealth and Republicanism, so it probably doesn't matter.

Meanwhile, 100 miles south on I-35, Baylor, as far as I know, hasn't given up its efforts to snag the Bush library and to create a George W. Bush school of public policy. Their campaign makes me angry, because one of its main selling points is that Baylor's Christian mission fits well with Bush's faith and practice.

I'm sorry, but I don't buy it. If they could name me one, just one, of George W. Bush's major public policy decisions that reflected a Christian ethic, I might be okay with this. But as far as I can see, from tax cuts for the wealthy to the prosecution of a war that doesn't meet just war criteria, his administration is far from representative of the Christian faith.

Anyway, it likely doesn't matter. The library is probably going to SMU, which makes sense. Does anyone actually believe the Bushes will stay in Crawford for more than 5-10 years after he leaves office? They have no roots in central Texas (that ranch was purchased in 1999), and I can't see them spending most of their time there. We'll see.

12.15.2006

wwjd?

A Baptist pastor's excellent thoughts on the question: "Would Jesus shop at Wal-Mart?"

this from cal thomas

"Declaring America as special, or uniquely Christian, or more favored by God than, say, Canada, or Mexico, or even Iran, is a form of idolatry.

"It also reflects an unbiblical view that God's Kingdom and the United States have a kind of 'special relationship,' the theological equivalent of the 'special relationship' that has existed between the U.S. and Britain. A lot of Scripture has to be twisted to reach such a conclusion."

Cal Thomas!

hahahahahahahaha

where would jesus shop?

Aaron has a great post on Wal-Mart's labor practices and the response and challenge of Baptist pastors to Wal-Mart to become a "Golden Rule" company. Does where you shop matter? I wish I had more time to blog on this today, but grades are due this afternoon, so it will have to wait.

balancing act

And, once again, Richard Land proves that he knows better.

12.14.2006

the limits of forgiveness, part 2

In my post from the other day on the limits of forgiveness, I mentioned Xanana Gusmao, who serves as the first president of East Timor. My pastor (at least, I'm assuming it's my pastor as I don't know anyone else with those initials who can quote Reinhold Niebuhr at will) asked for more information about Gusmao in a comment. Since Gusmao is a fascinating figure who has a lot to teach us about forgiveness and the right use of political power, I thought I'd do that here.

I met Xanana Gusmao in the spring of 2001, six months before 9/11, eight months before deciding to pursue a PhD instead of working for the government, and two months before going to intern at the Senate. Forgive me for the details, but the context matters in this story.

Gusmao came to speak to our seminar, because he knew the professor and one of my colleagues, who had worked and researched in East Timor during its transition from Indonesian rule to independence, and because at Yale, if you read a book about a nasty, forgotten civil war and its leaders, naturally you have the future president of that country (along with the author of the book you've just read) visit your class. You get used to it after awhile.

The course was about genocide - what it looks like, how to identify it, why it happens, what to do afterwards - and it was awful. My friends and I would walk out of the class depressed, angry, and feeling hopeless about what could be done to prevent and stop future genocides. We read books and wrote papers about the Turks in Armenia, Cambodia, the Holocaust, and so many other awful incidents. Our weekly meetings consisted mostly of visits from outsiders; the authors of our books, friends of the professor. Most of the speakers were forgettable, except for the Belgian economist who spent 2 hours showing us his regression analyses of the liklihood of execution by a gun as opposed to a machete in Rwanda's Kibuye prefecture. (That is the only time at Yale I ever saw a presentation end and no one ask any questions - our jaws had all hit the floor in disbelief.)

Gusmao was different. But to understand Gusmao, you have to understand what happened in East Timor. Timor is an island that was colonized by the Portuguese, who were as reluctant to give up their Asian colonies as they were their African colonies, and only gave up control of Timor in 1974-75, when wars in Angola and Mozambique were causing Portugal too many headaches to keep it bothered with an Asian backwater. East Timor (which is, obviously, the eastern half of the island) declared independence, but was not recognized as independent by any other state, and was invaded a few days later by Indonesia.

The Indonesians treatment of East Timor is the reason we studied the case in a course on genocide. Over the years, according to Amnesty International's estimate, the Indonesian army killed up to 200,000 people, out of a population of 600,000. Proportionally, the East Timor genocide stands as one of the worst population massacres in proportional terms in history. 1/3 of East Timorese were murdered. With American weapons. (The topic of American arms sales to Suharto's regime in Indonesia is best left to someone who knows more about these things than I.)

In 1999, after much violence and a liberation struggle that lasted 24 years, East Timor held a referrendum on independence. Its citizens chose independence, and a peackeeeping mission moved into the country to keep the peace between independent East Timor and Indonesian West Timor.

It's more complicated than that (for one thing, turns out there's oil underneath the ocean in territory that was then in dispute - was it East Timorese or Australian?). But the long story short is that East Timor officially became independent in 2002. And Xanana Gusmao became its first president.

Gusmao was a leader in the liberation struggle. He served at times as a public spokesman for the struggle, telling the world about a particularly awful massacre in the early 1990's. The Indonesian government arrested and tried Gusmao and gave him a life sentence. He was in prison for nearly 6 years, but continued to be a leader in the resistance.

Gusmao came to see us less than two years after his release from prison. At the time, he was part of the UN's transitional authority in East Timor, the body that effectively governed the territory until elections were held.

Here was the man who stood before us: a man who had lived through the murder of 1/3 of his fellow citizens. A man who had fought for thirty years for Timorese independence (he was also involved in the opposition to colonial rule). A man who had been imprisoned by his oppressors for life, without a fair trial. And a man who had an incredible, electric personality, and a sense of deep peace about him.

When I think back on it, I think the man who stood before us was a living testimony to the power of forgiveness. Because he wasn't bitter. He didn't demonize the Indonesians, and he didn't complain about the past. His focus was on building a future for Timor, and on creating opportunities for development for the future.

A reporter from the Village Voice or some other fancy outlet in New York was there. "What does your country need most?" he asked, and we all expected to hear the standard answer we get from every Third World leader who traipses through those hallowed Ivy halls: money.

"Credit," replied Gusmao. My people need access to credit, so they can create businesses, so we can develop in a sustainable way.

We were floored. "That's the right answer," I thought, because then I was still young and naive and accepted the conventional wisdom about development we learned in our classes. Later I learned that he didn't want to be president, and would only become president a year later because, well, there kindof wasn't anyone else to do it.

How did this man become humble enough to not seek the office for which his countrymen selected him? How did Gusmao forgive his captors? How did he decide to move beyond what would have been an entirely justified desire for revenge? How could he not seek revenge against the country that killed 200,000 of his people?

Gusmao is not perfect, and things in East Timor are far from perfect. And I don't remember everything that happened that day in 2001. I remember that Jess and I cried as he told his story, so much so that we had to leave the room. I remember that sense of peace and joy in this man who'd chosen to forgive. I remember six months later, on an awful day when we could see the smoke from the Twin Towers, wondering about forgiveness and horror.

I don't know how he did it, and I certainly don't have a spirit of deep forgiveness like that in my heart. It's one thing to say, "I'm a sinner who's been forgiven, therefore I should forgive." That works for lies and meanness and bad drivers. It's another thing entirely to forgive those who are responsible for 200,000 deaths. Gusmao's example is one that those who struggle against injustice should remember. Forgiveness may have its limits. But those who chose to forgive seem to have the answer.

wal-mart is not a topic of this blog

Some good news in north Austin this week: Wal-Mart has put its plans to build a supercenter at Northcross Mall on hold for sixty days. While it looks to me like that's not much more than a delay of the inevitable, Responsible Growth for Northcross had a big turnout for a rally at City Hall today as the City Council held a hearing on the measure.

The more I read about the process as to how Wal-Mart and the Northcross developers got the go-ahead to build on the site, the more concerned I am. Put it this way: it all seems a little shady. There should have been a public meeting, and the city council should have thought about things like the impact of traffic at an already-busy intersection and the fact that Wal-Mart's business model basically depends on killing local businesses.

Honestly, I don't know if Wal-Mart can be stopped, although the fact that the surrounding neighborhood associations are well-organized helps. Why would Wal-Mart build in a neighborhood that doesn't want them (any neighborhood that can collect 3,500 signatures against Wal-Mart in one weekend is a neighborhood that doesn't want Wal-Mart)? Wal-Mart Supercenters, awful as I think they are, belong in suburbs, on large tracts of land next to major interstates. They do not belong in a cool neighborhood in the middle of town.

In other Wal-Mart related news, a group of Baptist pastors have signed a letter urging Wal-Mart to operate under the standards of the Golden Rule by doing things like paying a living wage and providing employees with decent health and retirement benefits. Here's an ad related to that letter, which poses a very interesting question:

cheney is the bum steer of the year

Texas Monthly just made my year.

the ethics of foreign affairs

Is America a Christian nation in its actions? This is a great question. It deserves a deeper, more thoughtful answer than Eck gives it.

12.13.2006

can't believe it

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, I actually agree with Al Mohler on the premise of this article (that America is not a Christian nation). I do not agree with him that the founders established the United States on the basis of Christian tradition. It had a lot more to do with English common law than the Ten Commandments. But still, there's more common ground here than not. And for that I am thankful.

barak's big announcement

12.12.2006

forever ever?

I can't decide whether to see Blood Diamond.

On the one hand, some Sierra Leonians apparently think it's a realistic depiction of what happened in their country, and what happens in other countries. And Mr. Florida's fiance's brother is in the film. It would be cool to see him.

On the other hand, I tend to get upset in movies about Africa. They mess with languages and history. Black Hawk Down, for example, drove my friends and I crazy because the supposed Somalis in the film were all quite obviously Nigerian. Even The Lion King, wonderful as the musical is, drove me crazy because characters switched between South African and east African languages in ways that no real person would do. (I realize this is a personal problem.)

Then there's the whole "white-people-making-movies-about-Africa-and-thinking-they're-being-sensitive" thing. East African film reviewers hated The Constant Gardner because it depicted a white woman coming to save them, and because it was unrealistic. My hopes are slim that Leonardo DiCaprio won't use this to make himself look like a good American celebrity saving the dark continent.

Then there's the real issue, which is that if I see this movie, I probably won't be able to sleep at night. In the course of my research on Congo, I've learned a lot about conflict diamonds. None of it is pretty. There are lots of shady people trying to buy and sell diamonds in the DRC. And the ways they get them, and the ways those diamonds get out of the country and into the international markets in Dubai, Hong Kong, and Brussels are even more shady. Worse than that are the warlords, rebels, and government troops who use the money they make off of their control of the diamond mines to terrorize the countryside. It's shady and wrong and you don't want to ask too many questions because doing so would get you in trouble and that's not my topic anyway.

The diamonds that come out of Congo are generally used for industrial purposes. That means that, unlike conflict diamonds from elsewhere, they aren't pretty enough for jewlery, so they get used as precise cutting instruments for machines that make high-tech devices. That means those diamonds connect to me. And I'm just not sure I want to think about it any more.

yet another reason the ex-roommate should be a game warden

Oh, my gosh, I love this state.

don't forget

Here is a devastating story about what rape victims in the eastern Congo must endure, and a hospital in South Kivu that gives them hope. The story is inaccurate in saying it is the only hospital in the country that specializes in helping rape victims; DOCS/Heal Africa does the same thing. Panzi Hospital only handles rape cases, however, while Heal Africa also provides other services.

threatdown!

Finally, a scientific explanation!

(n.b. I don't actually mean that this should be taken seriously. No evidence (all the "evidence" he presents without citation is, as far as I can tell, conjecture) to support a dubious argument makes for one funny rant. But, hey, I'm in agreement with the author that processed foods are bad for you. Thanks to Carlos for the link.)

tweedy comes to austin

!!!!!!!!!

superstar!

The Attorney and I are on Pitchfork. Look for us in the upper left-hand corner of the crowd shots at the beginning and end of the song. This is the coolest day ever.

12.11.2006

the limits of forgiveness

A and I were chatting on the phone yesterday when the news popped up on my laptop. I relayed it to A, who is an expert on Latin America. "Pinochet died," I said. "Good," she replied without missing a beat. "We believe in redemption and forgiveness," I said." "Yeah," said A, who is a new mother. "Good riddance," I replied.

What do you say about the death of a dictator? What eulogy do you deliver for a man who is responsible for thousands of murders, thousands of funerals, who caused thousands of mothers to outlive their children?

I am reading the most fascinating book about South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Country of My Skull, by Antjie Krog. Krog is a radio broadcaster with SABC, South Africa's state broadcasting service. She led the team that covered radio news on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's hearings in the mid-1990's.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was a body set up to address human rights abuses that were committed in the apartheid era. Headed by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Commission heard testimony from thosuands of victims and surviving family members of those who were killed. A separate committee heard amnesty applications from perpatrators of violence, and from the politicians who led South Africa and the resistance before the end of apartheid.

What makes Krog's account of the Commission's activities so remarkable is her personal involvement in the story. Krog, you see, is an Afrikaaner. She was not a supporter of the apartheid regime, but her writing is infused with the deep pain of one who knows she benefitted from the system, and who questions whether she should have done more to end it.

Krog's book is compelling because much of it consists of simple stories - verbatim testimony from victims and their families. Like the woman who watches her son and husband be executed by secret forces acting on behalf of the apartheid state. Or the victims of "necklacing," a particularly cruel form of torture perpetrated by black South Africans on other black South Africans who were deemed to be traitors or informants. "'How could we have lost our humanity like that?'" Krog asks a friend.

Krog talks about the difficulty of telling these stories in all of South Africa's eleven official languages. In only the way that an insider could, Krog relates the fears of Afrikaaner that a new South Africa would mean an end of their language and lifestyle. But she cannot relate herself to these people who are of her tribe. "I am not one of them," she says.

Forgiveness is an impossible thing. Krog addresses the tension between presenting the truth and the lack of justice that amnesty implies. Telling the truth to the Commission quite literally set perpetrators free. How is that just for the victims' families? If there was no amnesty, however, how would South Africa ever move on? How does one deal with the fact that memories can be repressed, can change as a result of great trauma, on the part of both the perpetrators and the victims?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's activities is the role if Archbishop Tutu. While the Commission was a legal body, bound by the terms of the legislation that created it, as time passed, Tutu served in many ways as a priest. He prayed for victims who gave their testimony, and served as a healing presence to the reporters and staff who were emotionally exhausted by months and years of testimony about horrors.

One of the great privileges of my life was meeting Archbishop Tutu in 1999. I do not know how to describe him, other than to say that he is a man of deep humility. His sense of peace with the world is so strong that it draws you in and makes you want to learn more. The only person to whom I can compare his charisma and personal presence is Xanana Gusmao, who served as the first president of East Timor and whom I was fortunate enough to meet in 2001. Both men have seen the worst that human beings can do to one another. Both men led liberation struggles against oppressive regimes. And both men, after winning the struggle, and when given the opportunity to lead, did not take revenge on their enemies. Both men chose to forgive. And both men have a sense of peace that passeth understanding.

I don't know how they do it. Augusto Pinochet was a horrible person who did horrible things. He deserves to rot in hell. As do the South Africans who killed small children over politics, and the Congolese men who rape little girls simply because they can.

What Tutu and Gusmao and, I hope, many Chileans understand, however, is that choosing to forgive, even if it means foregoing justice, is the only way to start over. Everyone, perpetrators, victims, and bystanders alike, has to be part of building something new. Otherwise, old wounds will fester, and no one will regain his humanity.

release the crocodiles

"But Vaught, an Army veteran whose service included a tense stint as the de facto mayor of Fallujah, Iraq, said, 'If I can work with bickering tribal leaders when people are shooting at me, I can probably go to Austin and work with Republicans and Democrats and get things done.'"

I don't mean to be disrespectful concerning incoming State Representative Allen Vaught's military service, but the above quote makes it clear that Vaught doesn't have any idea what he's in for when the legislature goes into session in January. Bickering tribal leaders are probably reasonable adults who keep their word from time to time. And there are not, presumbably, any lawyers for the gambling industry in Fallujah, hiding in all the nooks and crannies of the capitol, just waiting to attack.

there is no war on christmas

"Only America's Religious Right is able to find controversy where it does not exist. There is nothing more anti-Christmas than forcing American businesses and employees to say Merry Christmas. And only in consumerism-run-amok America is it important to force retail workers who make minimum wage to wish every shopper, 'Merry Christmas.'"

the audacity of hope

Michelle Obama is apparently on-board should her husband decide to run for president. That's the strongest indicator I know. He'll run.

at least it's entertaining

Whoosh (that's sound of all oxygen in my home being sucked in in an attempt to keep breathing).

Tom DeLay is blogging.

happy day!!!

"Dear Doctoral Student:

"Congratulations on being admitted to candidacy for the doctoral degree."

(Due to some technical difficulties, this didn't happen a year ago like it should've. Better late than never. Today is a good day.)

12.10.2006

but it sure is funny

This ain't right.

12.09.2006

love, straight love

This is just sweet.

all the children of the world

Here's my question for the people who are having a fit about Congressman-elect Keith Ellison's decision to take his oath of office with his hand on the Qu'ran rather than the Bible: why would you want someone who doesn't hold the Bible as a sacred text to make a promise on it? For all the nonsense rhetoric about tradition and public officials needing to uphold Judeo-Christian values (nevermind that those things aren't in the Constitution, and that swearing the oath on a text is a photo opportunity and not the official ceremony), why is this getting lost?

I for one would find it deeply disturbing if Ellison were to swear his oath on the Bible. He is Muslim. The Qu'ran is his most sacred text. I don't want him promising to govern the country in a legal and ethical way on something he doesn't believe in, especially when that text is the one that I hold as sacred. It would be deeply offensive to me for someone to make a promise while feigning respect for God's word. It is deeply offensive to me that some Americans apparently believe there should be an unconstitutional religious test to hold public office.

It seems to me that this is just one more item on the list of things that right-wing conservatives are using to keep their base upset. It's hard to feel persecuted if you don't have an enemy. Problem is, you have to keep creating and demonizing enemies to keep it up.

12.08.2006

truthy is as truthy does

Stephen Colbert wins.

holiday "fun"

Well, it's Christmastime and that can mean only one thing: it's time for us to watch the Bush family dogs chase ornaments around the White House again. Things we learn from this year's installment:
  • Margaret Spellings can't dance, but Karl Rove can? Tangoing with Karl Rove is something that only occurs in my nightmares.
  • Secretary of the Treasury Paulson is correct: we're out of money. But don't worry, the Chinese will finance it.
  • The White House press corps wouldn't like it if the dogs were allowed to put on a show in the Press Room. I thought that was under construction.

always with us

The World Bank finds that its programs are not helping to really end extreme poverty overseas.

Sigh. What the World Bank and many other well-intentioned groups and individuals are learning is that helping to end extreme poverty (defined as living on less than $1 per day, adjusted for purchasing power parity) is just really difficult. We learned in the 1980's that strategies that only focus on one aspect of development don't really work, and we learned that development needs to be sustainable by local communities if it's going to work.

What's amazing about the history of development is how trends come and go and none of them really make a difference in the long-haul. Microcredit has been the hot trend for the last decade or so, and is likely to remain popular in the west, with its emphasis on self-improvement and hard work.

In college, I interned at a microcredit agency in Nairobi. Their microcredit system was patterend on the Grameen Bank model, which won the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this year. It was amazing to see how little money could make a difference to a family's small business.

But microcredit isn't perfect, and it doesn't solve all the problems of the poor. I read an interesting critique of microcredit programs a couple of weeks ago. I can't remember where the exact article was, but it had to do with this analysis by Thomas Dichter. The point of the article is that microcredit programs are at best an imperfect solution to the problem of grinding poverty. The tragic thing about microcredit, Dichter argues, is that it doesn't improve people's lives in such a way as to give them a chance at getting out of grinding poverty. In other words, it may make their economic situation slightly better, but microcredit alone won't get a family out of poverty and away from the risk of food insecurity.

Moreover, the article pointed out, there's a disturbing trend of the development of for-profit microcredit agencies. There may be some upsides to this trend, but I find the notion of outsiders making money through a poverty alleviation scheme to be inherently disturbing. As my friend Travis pointed out, there's also a question of the morality of encouraging people to pursue market capitalism. This can occur at the expense of longstanding village insurance systems that provide for community members' emergencies.

How do we help the poor? Certainly the poor have to help themselves to create wealth. Certainly wealthy countries need to provide financial support and debt relief to countries that won't escape from poverty without outside assistance. Certainly it would be helpful if the Senate would renew the AGOA act that makes it easier for African countries to trade with the United States today.

Certainly it isn't a bad thing to sponsor a child overseas, or to donate money to a charity that feeds the hungry, or to build a bridge over a raging stream that prevents children from getting to school. Certainly it's not a bad thing for the ONE campaign to raise public awareness. And I guess there's nothing inherently wrong about buying a (red) shirt at the Gap to help the poor, although I do have some issues with the tactic of spending money to donate money.

But none of these things alone will work. Comprehensive poverty reduction requires a full-scale assault on all of the problems - disease, food insecurity, corruption, land tenure disputes, environmental degradation, conflict, and so much more - that cause poverty in the first place. It requires money, and lots of it. More importantly, it requires patience and a sustained commitment that lasts longer than a news cycle or the popularity of a trend.

rains down in africa

How the end of the rains and a bad UN Security Council resolution could send Somalia into full-scale war.

12.07.2006

view from a window in Baghdad

Wow.

(Update: oops. The link is now fixed.)

memory, all alone in the moonlight

Top Ten funniest political moments of 2006.

holiday gift guide, part deux

A couple of late entries for the Holiday Gift Guide:
  • The Leslie, Queen of Austin magnet set. Only Leslie. Only BookPeople. If you're not from Austin, this won't make any sense. If you're from Austin, you've already placed an order for a magnetic representation of Austin's most recognized name. (Also available at Oat Willie's. Surprise, surprise.)
  • Armor of God pajamas. $40 pj's and the girls' model comes with a veil of salvation, 'cause apparently the helmet of salvation is for boys only. Sadly only available in children's sizes; otherwise, you'd all be getting a pair for Christmas. (Thanks to the Blog Stalker for the tip!)

"there are worse things to believe"

Jon Meacham has a beautiful column about faith as the ordinary in today's Post. It's part of a fascinating series called "On Faith." Meacham, the editor of Newsweek, writes about religon better than any other American journalist. This one is worth your time.

holiday gift guide

It's Christmastime, and here at Texas in Africa hq, we couldn't be happier. I love the holidays, and I love giving presents. There's just something about finding exactly the right gift for friends and loved ones, and seeing their reactions. And, wow, is there a world of perfect gifts out there for everyone on your list. Thus, I give you the official 2006 Texas in Africa Holiday Gift Guide. Enjoy:

  • Having given this to Melissa the Missionary as a hostess gift this summer, I can vouch for the Lord's Prayer Alarm Clock. Alarm features the Lord's Prayer sung by a choir of semi-angelic voices? Check. Clock lights up to show not only the time, but also a plastic shrine to Jesus, even in the darkest night? Check. Alarm rings for 45 minutes without stopping if you don't hit snooze? Check. This is holiday gift gold.
  • I don't even know what to say about the Cold War Unicorns, except that if I don't find a set in my stocking on Christmas morning, I'm going to be one sad little girl. This is better than a pony!
  • We all need to keep up with the days of our lives that are passing us by, never to return. The 2007 official RNC calendar is a real winner.
  • As is the Claire Booth Luce Institute 2007 Great American Conservative Women calendar. Someone gave me this a year or two ago. All I have to say about that is that Phyllis Schafly was Miss July. Someone on your list needs this. And if you're a student, it's free!
  • Not only can you own a rubber duckie that looks like Jesus, it's also featured as the Jesus of the Week for the first week of Advent. If that isn't a selling point, I don't know what is.
  • If your friends are music lovers, anything by 2Face Idibia, a discovery from my half-year in Congo. 2Face is a Nigerian pop star who set hearts aflutter all over the continent with his song, "African Queen," which features romantic lyrics like "You make my heart go ding-a-ling-a-ling." DJ's regularly played this song when we went dancing in Goma. I'm sure the rest of his album, Face 2 Face, is just as musically brilliant as the single.
  • Also in the music category, who could forget the Apologetix? They're on my gift list this Christmas season, and they should be on yours.
  • Did 15 of your friends have babies this year like 15 of my friends did? Maybe they need a cake made of diapers. Or maybe not.

12.06.2006

what will tomorrow bring?

It's bizarro day in many ways in Austin today (car in shop, Bevo on lawn, witness to a wreck, Santa Rampage, etc.). So why wouldn't two really unusual blogs be lead-ins to my blog today? Someone in Omaha who reads a blog that accuses others of being Nazis and/or is a Communist in Spanish? Russian discussions of Bible verses via Dubai? Why not? I got home from work tonight and someone was twirling a flag to a color guard routine in the parking lot.

the meaning of freedom

Bill Moyers' speech to West Point cadets. Here are the lessons he teaches: No death in Iraq is minute. Our leaders have not listened to the founders. The lessons of Vietnam have been forgotten. "Blind faith in bad leadership is not patriotism." "The meaning of freedom begins with the still, small voice of conscience, when each of us decides what we will live, or die, for."

How I wish we had leaders in our country who understand history, faith, and poetry like Mr. Moyers does.

ho ho ho

So Steve Not the Lawyer called tonight to invite me to the Austin Santa Rampage. Apparently, it involves a large group of people dressing up as Santa Claus and going out on the town to sing carols and whatnot. The conversation about this was surreal in a way that only conversations with Steve Not the Lawyer are (me: "um, no, this doesn't sound appropriate for your five-year-old niece"), but I am curious about the Santa Rampage. Un(?)fortunately, I'll be teaching during the Rampage. But if you happen to be out on SoCo tomorrow night, let me know whatcha see.

if it's just coffee and he pays, is it a date?

Oh. My. Um.

mixed messages

More fighting in the eastern DRC, and 12,000 refugees have crossed the border into Uganda. 15,000 who fled Sake last week have returned, but have no humanitarian assistance, and their homes have been plundered.

But Kabila has been inaugurated and things are calm in Kinshasa.

meanwhile on iraq

The Iraq Study Group report is out now. Here is the Executive Summary of the report, which tells you what you need to know. Lee Hamilton's speech thus far is realistic and harsh. And Sandra Day O'Connor wore pink to the press conference, because she can. The report calls for an increased number of troops to support Iraqi forces, for major troop pullouts to be possibly completed by early 2008, and to involve regional powers in an attempt to find the solution.

The group's recommendations are unlikely to be followed by the president. As my boss points out, there are no good options for the U.S. in Iraq, and involving the Iranians (who have a vested interest in a stable Iraq) would likely mean allowing them to develop their nuclear capacity. Which would mean that Bush would have to reverse policy. Which won't happen.

That said, the president has to do something. The Democrats could cut the purse strings if he doesn't. The Gates hearing yesterday was reassuring - here is a grown-up who isn't driven by ideology. God help us. And God help the Iraqis, who will be left to deal with this mess for generations to come.

you'll shoot your eye out!

Okay, so daddy showed me an article about this at Thanksgiving. I loooovve the film A Christmas Story. My daddy hates the film (or so he says), but he always ends up laughing when I'm watching the 24-hour marathon that TBS shows every Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

The article daddy found gave the exciting news that the house from the movie is now open for tours! However, that article didn't mention the fact that you can now also visit the Chinese restaurant, where they will chop off the head of a duck for you! I think a Cleveland roadtrip is somewhere in my future.

corporate evil

Larry Wilson has a nice piece on "The Reduction of Christmas by Christians" in Ethics Daily today. He raises some issues I've thought a lot about in all this nonsense over the "war on Christmas." If your faith is dependent on whether Wal-Mart employees say, "Merry Christmas" instead of "Happy Holidays," then you've got significantly more serious problems than a shopping dilemma. Wal-Mart is a business. It is not a church, it is not a public relations firm, it is not an arbiter of public morality. It is a business. It exists to make money for its shareholders. Period.

I haven't shopped at Wal-Mart in more than two years. My decision to not shop there had absolutely nothing to do with their past or present position on "Merry Christmas" and everything to do with the way they treat their employees and suppliers. In short, I decided that the benefit I gained from low, low prices wasn't worth the cost to the sweatshop workers who produce many of the goods sold at Wal-Mart. Nor was it worth the cost of knowing that the employees scanning my stuff at the check-out aren't allowed to unionize, are paid low wages, and are subject to a number of other questionable labor practices.

Wilson does a nice job of integrating these questions with the larger one of what happens when the church lets other entites define its mission. Give it a read.

12.05.2006

madre dio!

This is a fascinating piece on the different meanings of words that are sacred in one place and profane in another. Those crazy Quebecois!

smoke on the water, joy to the world

Here is Barak Obama's speech for World AIDS Day, and here is E.J. Dionne's commentary on it, and on the whole "controversy" stirred up by far right-wing Christians who said that Obama shouldn't have been invited to speak at Rick Warren's Saddleback Church conference on HIV/AIDS due to Obama's pro-choice position.

This is unsurprising, given the nature of some of the right-wing's people. They apparently don't believe that you can work with another individual on anything unless you both agree on everything. It's a nonsensical, narrow, and ultimately self-defeating strategy for getting things done.

Obama, however, says more and more that makes sense to me. Here's the quote that sets him (and Warren) apart from the far-right:

"I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like if Leo's family was my own. If I had to answer those phone calls - if I had to attend those funerals. All I know is that no matter how or why my family became sick, I would be called to care for them and comfort them and do what I could to help find a cure. I know every one of you would do the same if it were your family.

Here's the thing - my faith tells me that Leo's family is my family."

That attitude - that sense that being a Christian means you see others as your neighbor who is sick and dying on the side of the road - that's the thing that makes Obama different from the right-wing that demonizes immigrants and foreigners in the name of patriotism, and who promote policies that cause people to die (and do not make a mistake of understanding this: people have died as a result of the Bush administration's policies on funding for family planning programs overseas - those clinics were the only health clinics in many areas in Africa.). That's the thing that makes me associate far-right-wing evangelicals with the Pharisees and priests who can't be troubled to stop, bind up a sinner's wounds, and provide for their recovery.

Perhaps I'm not being fair to the ultra-conservatives. But this attitude - the attitude (which some have appropriately entitled "Virginity or Death") about AIDS, sexuality, and problems on the other side of the world that we can't even begin to comprehend that says that abstinence is the only answer and those who don't abstain get what they deserve - it seems to me is directly contradictory to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn't tell us to leave people to suffer as a result of who they are, what they'd done, or where they lived. He told us to love everyone, regardless, and to care for the poor. Period.

Maybe I'm not being fair. But they're not being fair to Obama, either. They don't believe that Christians like Warren should work with Obama. They don't believe that someone who says things like this should be welcomed into a church building:

"Having said that, I also believe that we cannot ignore that abstinence and fidelity may too often be the ideal and not the reality - that we are dealing with flesh and blood men and women and not abstractions - and that if condoms and potentially microbicides can prevent millions of deaths, they should be made more widely available. I know that there are those who, out of sincere religious conviction, oppose such measures. And with these folks, I must respectfully but unequivocally disagree. I do not accept the notion that those who make mistakes in their lives should be given an effective death sentence."

And this:

"I don't think that's a satisfactory response. My faith reminds me that we all are sinners. My faith also tells me that - as Pastor Rick has said - it is not a sin to be sick. My Bible tells me that when God sent his only Son to Earth, it was to heal the sick and comfort the weary; to feed the hungry and clothe the naked; to befriend the outcast and redeem those who strayed from righteousness.

"...We can turn away from these Americans, and blame their problems on themselves, and embrace a politics that's punitive and petty, divisive and small.

"Or we can embrace another tradition of politics - a tradition that has stretched from the days of our founding to the glory of the civil rights movement, a tradition based on the simple idea that we have a stake in one another - and that what binds us together is greater than what drives us apart, and that if enough people believe in the truth of that proposition and act on it, then we might not solve every problem, but we can get something meaningful done for the people with whom we share this Earth."

Amen and amen. Let's hope Obama hangs around long enough to get something meaningful done for the people with whom we share this Earth. I'd like to vote for someone like that.

baby you're bad news

More fighting in the eastern DR Congo, one day before Joseph Kabila will be inaugurated as president.

12.04.2006

citizenship

I pulled up this picture from the BBC archives today while preparing my last lecture for the American government class. This is the first time I've taught American government. I haven't TA-ed for it, or even had a class in it since high school. So this semester has been a learning experience. I had forgotten so much (SO much) about how a bill becomes a law, the specific powers and responsibilities of the different branches and agencies of the federal government, and what specific criteria must be met for a case to be heard before the Supreme Court. Then there's all the stuff I never knew about, like theories about voting behavior, turnout, and redistricting. For the last class, we have to talk about public policy and the welfare state. And I am thinking about having the students take the citizenship test that immigrants take when they hope to become citizens.

American government isn't what I do. Of course I'm interested in it, and of course I think and write about politics a lot, but it isn't what I study. But there's a commonality to all of it. And that's why I was looking for this picture to use in my lecture on the last day of the course.

This picture is from the 1994 elections in South Africa, when millions of South Africans stood in line for hours and hours to cast votes for the first time in their lives. The lines were miles long, and polls had to be kept open for a third day in some places to allow everyone the opportunity to vote. It was a monumental day, to put it mildly. Listen to this BBC broadcast from that day - you can hear the emotion in the reporters' voices.

I cry every time I look at this picture. It's important to me because it symbolizes the hope and freedom of millions of people who had known little of either up until that day. It's important because there are so many others, in Africa and elsewhere, who don't have the freedom to voice their opinons, to choose their government, to improve their lives.

And that's why I want to use it to close my American government class. Voting and citizenship are rights we take for granted here in this comfortable little corner of Texas. Only 36% of registered voting Texans even bothered to vote in November. What I want my students to take away from this class isn't knowledge about the Anti-Federalists or the number of seats on the Supreme Court. They can google those things, in the unlikely event that their lives or future careers depend on that knowledge.

No, what I want my students to carry into the rest of their lives is that there are people in this world who do not take citizenship for granted. That there are people for whom the rights and responsibilities of citizenship are worth everything - worth risking death to cross a border in the desert, worth studying hard for a difficult exam. And worth standing in line for hours, just to vote.

shameful

This is shameful. This is what the government of the United States of America is doing to one of its own citizens, having held him for four years without charges. Let me repeat: he is an American citizen. And he has not been charged with committing a crime.

For those of you who think there' s a reason to circumvent the rule of law in the name of national security, here's my question: what if it were you?

a rose by any other name...

Yet another interesting profile on Illinois Senator Barak Obama.

I was thinking about this earlier. Here are people who have run for president as major-party nominees since I've been old enough to vote: George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Al Gore, and John Kerry.

I haven't wanted to vote for any of them. Every vote I've cast for president has been more of a vote against the other guy than it's been a vote for a candidate I believed could actually do some good.

It will be interesting to see what an Obama candidacy will look like, if there's an Obama candidacy. He might be able to take the level of discourse in our country up a notch. He might be able to bridge the nasty gaps in the arena of faith and politics that divide our country so profoundly. And I might even get to cast a vote for a politician. For once.

ummm

Well, this is sufficiently bizarre enough to get you over a case of the Mondays:

i'm tired of the same old scene

Recess appointment U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton has finally resigned. While Bolton's tenure at Turtle Bay was better than I expected, let's hope the President will appoint as Bolton's replacement someone who actually believes the United Nations should exist. He'll certainly have to appoint someone less inflamatory in order to get a confirmation through the newly Democratic Senate early next year. (Hint: that person is probably NOT Rick Santorum.)

12.03.2006

love will keep us together

The Post has a series of pieces on the topic: "George W. Bush: What Will History Say?" Here are my thoughts on those pieces, based mostly on my opinion of the pieces' authors:
  • I like Douglas Brinkley. I've heard him speak. He's a great historian and an engaging writer. And he's right that Bush won't go down as the worst American president ever.
  • I don't like Michael Lind. His book was so bad I couldn't finish it. As for his assessment that W. is the 5th-worst president, he's not being fair to Madison, because he's looking at 1812 America, a place where security was relatively scarce, through the lens of later history. And I don't like Michael Lind.
  • Eric Foner is a good historian. I think he's overdoing it a bit, but what else would you expect from someone who teaches at Columbia?
  • I've never heard of Vincent J. Cannato. He has a cool name. And he's right to argue that it's way too soon to decide about W's legacy.

As for me, I agree with Cannato and Brinkley that it's too early to really decide. I also think you have to clarify what you mean by "worst president ever." If you measure it in terms of general ineffectiveness, W won't be anywhere near, say, William Henry Harrison. If, however, you measure on the basis of realtive policy successes and failures, he's in trouble.

qotd: hope

"O come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,
And be Thyself our King of Peace."
-Traditional

The quote of the day returns, with an emphasis on Christmas-related thoughts and lyrics for the season. Today's qotd marks the first Sunday of Advent: Hope. My pastor's sermon today was about hope, somber joy, and expectation. In getting there, he talked about fundamentalist revival meetings, Wallace Stegner's Crossing to Safety, and the feeling of being in a deer blind at 5 a.m. on a winter morning. There are many reasons I love my church; that our pastor preaches sermons that are literate, honest, and evocative of another place is just one of the resasons why.

12.02.2006

hahahahahahahahahahahahahaha

I spent the evening enjoying USC's loss to UCLA way too much, among other things. But I don't feel guilty. After the way those USC fans treated us in Pasadena last year, and the arrogant statements from their pretty-boy, dancing q.b. after his team lost the national championship game, they finally got what was coming to them. So there.

mcchurch in arlen

This is so funny. They go to Java-Lulah!

congo watch

"DR Congo - Is it a Miracle?"

I am somewhat less optimistic than Mark Doyle. If Bemba does continue to accept the election results, it's likely because Kabila has offered him a job as a government minister or some other position that will give Bemba access to state resources he can use to maintain his patron-client network. How sad that the positive option here involves continued corruption. It's better than all-out war, but Congo won't develop until the massive culture of corruption ends. The only way that will happen is for a system of taxation to develop and work, and for other economic development to take place such that there are actually jobs for the millions of unemployed and underemployed Congolese.

12.01.2006

$25

Today is World AIDS Day. Celebrities will wear red ribbons and there will be a brief segment on the evening news tonight and that will be pretty much the extent of it for most of us. After all, it's the holiday season. There's shopping to be done, decorations to be hung, and elaborate desserts to cook.

My perspective is a little bit different this year. I spent half of the year in central Africa, where HIV prevalance rates are high and where hope is small. There are only 200 courses of Anti-Retroviral drugs for all of North Kivu province. The donors say it's too difficult to provide them in a war zone. Those 200 doses are paid for by the Clinton Foundation. 60 go to children.

There are 200 HIV-positive diagnosed children in Goma. Meeting the pediatric AIDS doctor at Heal Africa, and hearing her explain how she chooses which children get the drugs and which ones don't was an experience that defies explanation.

It is hard to explain the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Third World when you live in a place where HIV is now just another chronic disease - inconvenient, yes, and you don't want to catch it, right, but it's basically something you can deal with. You have insurance, the insurance helps pay for your ARV's, and it's okay.

In Congo, and in many other parts of Africa, HIV is a death sentence. It kills working professionals - soldiers, teachers, businesspeople, and others whose vocations make society work. It leaves grandparents to care for a dozen grandchildren, or, worse, it leaves ten-year-old children as heads of their households, trying to provide for their younger sibilings.

It doesn't have to be this way. It costs so little to save a life. $25 prevents mother-to-infant transmission of HIV for 15 mothers and their infants, it provides 3 HIV tests to identify which mothers need the treatment to prevent mother-to-infant transmission, and it provides a one-year supply of cotrimoxazole, a drug that extends a mother's life for two to three years so she can provide for her children and help them to grow before she dies.

All that for $25.

How strange it is that World AIDS day comes around each year at just the time we Americans are gearing up for our annual season of conspicuous consumption. I am planning to start my Christmas shopping this weekend. I love giving Christmas gifts, wrapping them up just so, and seeing someone enjoy the right gift. I love buying presents for the child whose name I got from the Angel Tree at church - this year I have an eight-year-old girl who wants dress-up clothes. I can't wait to search out fun things that she and her sisters will enjoy playing with all year long. My Christmas list isn't finished, but finding unexpected treasures is part of the fun.

But I can't help thinking about $25. $25, 15 babies' lives, 3 mothers who need to know they have HIV so they won't pass it to their children, 1 mother who could live a year more. $25. What's on your list this World's AIDS Day?

your vote counts

This is hands-down one of the funniest things I've read in awhile. Scroll down to the Shelley Sekula-Gibbs section to see what permutations of her name counted as write-in votes.

Thanks to a certain soon-to-be-distinguished-Texas-Tech-professor for the tip! (And congrats on the job!)