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


one year

One year. One year ago tonight I met my DC friends for one last Tex-Mexish (this is DC we're talking about) dinner, woke up the next morning, took a walk, repacked my backpack for the tenth time so it all fit in and weighed less than 42 pounds, took a shuttle to the airport, flew overnight to London, had lunch with Camilla in the shadow of St. Paul's, flew overnight to Kampala, caught a ten-hour bus to Kigali, took a three-hour taxi to Gisenyi, and crossed the border into Goma on a sunny, unstable Saturday morning on Lake Kivu. And thus the adventure began.

One year later, I am deep into dissertation writing. It is slow going, sometimes only two pages a day. I agonize over sentences, making sure every word is precise. It's just a dissertation, but it's also the first original thing I'll ever put out for the world to judge. So it needs to say exactly what I mean for it to say. Two pages a day isn't really that bad, it comes to 30 or 40 pages a month and more than 700 in a year, which is about 300 pages more than I need. But sometimes I look at the pages and feel like I've done so little. And yet. It's been a year.

Right now I am working on an historical overview of health care provision in Congo-Zaire. So I'm looking back over several histories of the colonial and post-colonial era. It's not very exciting. Lots of crusty old books that no one has checked out in ten years. Long treatises by racist Belgian colonial administrators. That sort of thing. Snooze.

But yesterday I came across a passage that stopped me cold. It was about one of Mobutu's government ministers. Mobutu, you see, was the president of Zaire, and while he wasn't busy stealing between $4-15 billion from the country, he had a habit of moving friends and enemies in and out of political offices. This particular government minister was a friend, then an enemy, then an exile, and then a friend again. It sounds bizarre, but this sort of thing happened to lots of people.

When he was an enemy, Mobutu's security forces tortured him. The book contained a rather graphic explanation of exactly what they did to him. It's horribly unpleasant, and not anything I can put on this blog. It's a wonder they didn't execute him. He came back later and died a free man long after Mobutu was gone.

Here's the thing: this man's daughter is my friend. I knew this, I knew who her dad was, and that he'd been a significant player in Congolese politics.

But I didn't know he'd been tortured. I didn't know her family had endured exile. I didn't know. And I still don't know what that must have done to her, what it made her think about God and the world and how cruel humans can be to one another. My gosh. Torture is something that happens to nameless terror suspects, or to African politicians in obscure books. Not to someone whose child is my friend.

Sometimes I wonder if I should just finish my dissertation, get a job, and start researching politics in some nice, safe place. Australia. Sweden. Vermont. Congo is just too hard sometimes. I'm in the middle of writing an important paragraph and I start crying because my friend had to live with the knowledge that her daddy was tortured in a dark room in a horrible, filthy prison. I'm looking for more recent data on numbers of doctors and nurses in Goma, and I come across a film trailer about rape victims, and I have to stop.

They don't teach you how to deal with this in research methods. Academics are supposed to be impartial observers, unaffected by their subjects and their circumstances. You are Not Supposed to Get Emotionally Involved. Even in the midst of horror.

Clearly I'm not going to make a very good academic. The poet Derek Walcott asked the question that is always, ever on my mind: "How can I face such slaughter and be cool? / How can I turn from Africa and live?"

Academics in my field also aren't supposed to quote poetry, unless you are the eccentric, retired professor in our department who used Yeats' "The Second Coming" last week to explain what he thinks is happening to American politics ("The falcon cannot hear the falconer;/ Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / ...The best lack all conviction while the worst / Are filled with pasionate intensity. ."). I'm a good fifty years from being able to get away with that.

But Walcott's question is The Question. I don't have categories for the horrors I saw this year. I don't know how to let go of that and write as a cold, impartial scientific observer. How do you do it? How do I do it? I can't process it, but I can't turn my back on it. What do you do about that?

One year. It's so much time, and sometimes it feels like yesterday. I know a lot more than I knew on that freezing cold night in DC a year ago. I have stacks of data and books and dissertation pages to prove it.

But I also have more questions than I did a year ago, and even fewer answers. How long will it take to figure this out? One year hasn't been anywhere near enough.

grace and peace

Molly Ivins died today, after a long battle with breast cancer. Here is her obituary, in the Texas Observer, the only journal of record that is worthy of printing it. Here is her last column. It is about Iraq. It is not funny. It is deadly serious, because these are serious times, and people are dying because of politics.

Molly Ivins was one of my heroes. She used humor and honesty to tell the truth about how laws get made in our state and in our land. She cared deeply about the oppressed, and used her abilities as a writer to point out injustices & to fight for those who had the most to lose. And she was hilarious. Who else could get away with saying, "The beauty of the 'Lege' is that it always commits its disservices to the public interest with great style" or "I have never understood why any Christian would choose the Old Testament over the New," or "I know vegetarians don't like to hear this, but God made an awful lot of land that's good for nothing but grazing"?

We won't see another one like her. This blog will be dark tomorrow (Thursday) in her honor. Rest in peace, Molly.

saving the world

Great news from the ONE campaign: the House voted 286-140 to pass increased funding for malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, and programs to assist refugees. Don't forget to call your Senator's office by Monday and ask him or her to support the increase when the bill reaches them.

My representative, Michael McCaul, proved yet again that I have no reason whatsoever to support him. He voted against the continuing resolution and therefore against the increased funding for these vital programs. Sigh.

don't be calling me at 8 tonight

A true dilemma: Watch PBS's Supreme Court series, or listen to Jeff Tweedy live from C-ville?

congo watch

Violence and progress in the east.

or you could watch american idol

The PBS series The Supreme Court begins tonight at 8 central/9 eastern. Here's a review; it sounds like it's worth your time if you're interested in American history and public affairs.


the land of cotton

This is who governs our state.

Last fall after hearing Barack Obama speak at the capitol, I found myself face to face with this: It's on the ground floor, behind a staircase, and you wouldn't be likely to notice it. I've been in the capitol many, many times and have never noticed it before. I was pleasantly surprised to read about it at the end of Paul Burka's essay on the capitol in the new Texas Monthly. One of the things he points out is that the Children of the Confederacy didn't place this plaque until 1959. It's not like it's a historical artifact of Texas' days as a Confederate state. Just in case you can't read it, here's one particularly appalling phrase: "...the truths of history (one of the most important of which is that the War Between the States was not a rebellion nor was its underlying cause to sustain slavery..."

I saw this plaque, read it, and stared. A state trooper walked by. He didn't even blink.

Now, look, I don't understand it, but I don't have a problem with people who feel a need to join the Daughters of the Confederacy or to reenact Civil War battles or whatever. Some of them are crazy (read this to learn much, much more). I do have a problem with people who revere the Confederacy and use their, um, patriotism as a cover-up for very real racism. But as long as you're not doing that, hey, whatever. My ancestors were Confederates. (145 years ago. It's history.) But if you want to fly the Stars & Bars off the gun rack of your import mini-truck, by all means, go ahead.

What's appalling about both the stance of our Land Commissioner, Jerry Patterson, and the COC display in the capitol is that both involve public affairs. The COC plaque is disturbing because it's historically inaccurate; while the Civil War may have been about states' rights, the reason states' rights was such a concern in the first place was slavery. And if it wasn't a rebellion, why were the soldiers (and countless athletic teams thereafter) known as Rebels? The war may be part of Texas' history. A monument that remembers that is fine. One that distorts history, and is therefore quite offensive to a huge number of Texans, is not.

I have two problems with the Land Commissoner's: one, his stance in the op-ed piece promotes a gross distortion of history. Again, every direct and proximate cause of the Civil War was related to the issue of slavery in one way or another. The South's obsessive concern with states' rights was always (from the Revolutionary War forward) rooted in their concern to preserve the Southern economy, which required slave labor.

(The fact that the Land Commissioner roots his argument in bad logic and faulty reasoning is also offensive, but perhaps that's a personal problem.)

My other problem with the Land Commissioner's actions is that he seems not to even question whether accepting a token donation from a controversial group to fund a public program is appropriate. It doesn't bother me that a few more documents will be preserved; history is history. But promoting bad history isn't what the Land Commissioner was elected to do. He wasn't elected to represent the views of a minority of white Texans, or East Texans, or the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He was elected to serve every Texan, black or white, rich or poor, sixth-generation or newly arrived immigrant. Is it right to accept money from a group that many Texans consider offensive? Did he at least think about it first?

save a life

Call your Congressman and Senators today and encourage them to support increased funding for AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis funding. This has the potential to increase American funding in the fight against these preventable diseases to $4.5 billion dollars. Given the relative inexpense of preventing people from contracting these diseases, this amount could save millions of lives. More details from the ONE campaign are here.

The House votes tomorrow (Wednesday) and the Senate votes on February 5. Information about how to contact your Representative is here; contact information for the Senate is here.

slip 'n' slide

And the slide down the slippery slope continues. Next thing you know, they'll be selling cigars in the Baylor Bookstore.

This article is interesting because it touches on something I've been thinking about a lot lately: how American evangelical culture sets up all kinds of standards, rules, and moral codes that aren't based in anything Biblical, but rather in the culture. Hopefully I'll have time to write something about that soon.

your tax dollars at work

You only thought we had freedom of the press here in the U.S.A.

christmas is coming

Finally! An appropriate gift for The Attorney!

let's do some living after we die

Oh, my. The Post is currently running five (FIVE) stories, essays, and appreciations of Barbaro on its front page. It's a horse. A horse! A dead horse.

I guess there's nothing more important going on in the world today.


the chords are just the same

Here are two interesting pieces from the Christian Life Commission on Governor Goodhair's attempt to build dirty coal-burning power plants with minimal public review. I am opposed to polluting Texas' air (which is already in pretty bad shape); check out these resources to get the facts:

poor in spirit

I just learned that the Congolese French way to speak of a survivor is "blesse'." Blessed. Unlike the "morts" whose identifying moniker tells us that they're "dead," you have been blessed. You made it out of the bus crash, or the cholera epidemic, or the militia attack, or a gang rape, or the lava flow that ran through your front yard, or any one of the other thousands of things that can go wrong when you live in the midst of the world's worst humanitarian crisis. You are alive, you are a survivor. And thus you are blessed.

My pastor has been preaching about Joseph lately. We've learned some interesting things (The coat of many colors wasn't; it was long-sleeved, indicating that the wearer wouldn't be working, which was very much a sign of Isaac's favor of Joseph over the rest of the brothers. Don't get me wrong; I'm all for proper translations, but this has ruined the Dolly Parton-based interpretation of my theology forever.).

One of the most interesting aspects in this series is the continuing theme of the intertwined nature of blessing and curse. Throughout the Joseph narrative, bad things happen, but good comes out of them. Joseph's brothers fake his death, sell him into slavery, and lie to their father, but Joseph ends up in the Egyptian court, and it's not so bad. Joseph ends up in prison after Potipher's wife falsely accuses him of trying to seduce her, but he gets out when someone randomly remembers that he can interpret dreams, and it just so happens that Pharoah is having some dream issues. Joseph's family suffers terribly because of a long regional famine, but they just happen, unknowingly, to go beg Joseph himself to help them. Curse and blessing, misery and redemption, despair and hope. If you survived horror, you're blesse'. If not, you're dead, and you don't have to worry about it anymore. Something to ponder.




save a life

Austin volunteers counted 1,700 people who are both homeless and not living in shelters this week. That's in addition to those who are staying in shelters, and those whom nobody found. 1,700 men, women, and children, all of whom have names, all of whom have stories, all of whom are created in the image of Almighty God.

It's cold in Austin right now. By this time next weekend, it will be even colder. Really cold. If you live in Austin, I encourage you to pick up a sleeping bag or some blankets the next time you're at Target, or to clean out your linen closet by washing and giving away those blankets you never use, and take something downtown to the ARCH. Our city's most vulnerable residents need many things: a warm sleeping bag on a bitterly cold night is a way you can help.

If you live elsewhere, there are certainly other groups who could use your help in this weather. Please do what you can.


guess who

You should read the essay, too.

i got the e!

This video of the botched (?) implosion of New Haven's coliseum is even funnier than the other one. It gives you an idea of just how little there is to do in the 'Have.


At least someone has fond memories of the New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum:

this pretty much sums it up

New Haven, Connecticut: full of smart people, not so big on common sense:
My favorite part of this video is the New Haven police scrambling into their car like terrified schoolgirls. If the terrorists come after the 'Have, is this what we can expect? (Maybe the Societies will airlift everyone out 30 seconds before the bomb drops. I wouldn't count on it.)

An aside, thank goodness they imploded the eyesore that was New Haven's coliseum.


craddick watch

Well, after saying that House committee assignments wouldn't come out until next week, Craddick up and released them after COB on Friday. And you know what they say about Friday afternoon announcements: it means bad news, or something they're trying to hide. I'm sure there's some dirt to find in there, but I'm fixin' to go out and have neither the time nor the wherewithall to sift through it.

Here are the assignments, courtesy of Quorum Report. For a very quick overview: Dianne Delisi is chairing Public Health. (God help the uninsured children of Texas. I do not mean that in jest.) Jim Keffer is chairing Ways & Means. Newly-elected Valinda Bolton made Rules & Resolutions. Let the games begin!

on a lake of fire

The debate over the Bush Presidential Library is heating up at SMU. Here's an interesting piece on the ways religion is framing the debate about whether the library should be located at a Methodist university. The contrast to Baylor's attitude is striking. From the beginning, one of Baylor's arguments about hosting the Bush Library was that Baylor's Christian character aligned well with Bush's policies. That's the primary reason I've had serious reservations about the library being located at Baylor. Tax policies that benefit the rich and hurt the poor, the doctrine of pre-emptive war, and the lack of transparency in the administration strike me as anything but "Christian" in nature.

It seems very unlikely that the library will be at Baylor, so that's now a moot point. Here's another take:

let's go out together, broad daylight in the street

This is not the least bit surprising, but it should worry you.

still wonderin' if i know who you are

Long ago, back in the days when I was still young and naive and believed that what happens in Washington could actually make life better for a majority of Americans, I interned at the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. It was a fascinating, frustrating experience of learning how laws in our country actually get made (hint: it's nothing like what they taught you in high school civics), how important money is in the process, and how even people who profess a belief in family values and high morals will use unethical means to attain desired ends. That summer was useful for several reasons, the most important being this: it became clear that politics was not the career for me, because I am incapable of working for causes in which I don't believe.

It was also an interesting summer because I got to observe many politicians and other policy practicioners who have since gone on to bigger and better things. Since that summer was the year when Senator Jim Jeffords of Vermont left the Republican party to become an independent who caucused with the Democrats, my intern class is the only one in history to be in both the majorty and the minority. The committee was chaired first by Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina and then by Senator Joe Biden of Delaware. Foreign Relations is a powerful committee. It's a committee on which Senators who want to be president often to aspire to serve, because it gives them experience in the conduct of foreign affairs (current members include Joe Biden, Barack Obama, John Kerry, Christopher Dodd, all of whom are running or have run for president).

Many of the committee's members at that time seemed to be preparing for presidential runs (members at the time included Senators Bill Frist, Sam Brownback, George Allen, John Kerry, Christopher Dodd, Russell Feingold, and Senator Joe Biden, all of whom have been or are presidential hopefuls. Add to them the fact that Senators Barbara Boxer and Joe Torrecelli were on the committee and you'll see that it was a recipe for good times.) This meant that hearings were often less an opportunity to get real information and more an opportunity for the members to give long rants on positions they'd decided on long ago that were designed to set themselves up to be considered for the presidency. It was, in short, disillusioning: many, many times, it seemed that most members cared more about getting their soundbites on the air than about figuring out what was best for our country.

There were two exceptions to this behavior. One was Senator Paul Wellstone, Democrat from Minnesota, who was killed along with his wife and daughter in a plane crash in 2002. The other was Senator Chuck Hagel, Republican from Nebraska, who is the second-ranking member of the committee. I left that summer with an enormous amount of respect for both of these men, because they seemed to genuinely care about the issues. In hearings, they asked thoughtful, probing questions that got to the heart of the matters at hand, and both seemed genuinely concerned with furthering the best interest of the United States rather than their own best interests (Wellstone was a former political science professor; I'm sure that had something to do with his attitude.). Their perspectives left me with some sense of hope that politics didn't all have to be politically motivated.

The Post reports this morning that Hagel is considering a run for the presidency. I don't think his chances are great (he's too liberal for the Republican base and too conservative for many Democrats), but if he brings that same sense of perspective to the campaign trail that he does to the Committee on Foreign Relations, we could be in for a much more interesting and civil election season. I won't be banking on it, though.

down by the old mainstream

Someone in the U.S. Senate Office of the Sergeant at Arms is a Wilco fan. I find this terribly amusing.


congo watch

More fighting in North Kivu. This article describes the province as "lawless." Pretty much.

last night in live music: jeff tweedy, night 2

Last night was Jeff Tweedy's second sold-out show at Hogg Auditorium. While it was a great show, it definitely had a different vibe from the first night. I think more of the die-hard fans were there the first night; they tend to be less obnoxious about yelling song names. Wednesday's crowd was a little out-of-control on that count. Then again, Tweedy kindof asked for it when he told us about the, um, game they play on the bus. Let's just say it made for a very, very entertaining and disturbing version of "Heavy Metal Drummer." (It isn't fit for polite company. That said, if I were the sort of person who yelled suggestions at a show, my band would have been Explosions in the Sky.) Anyway, the crowd was rowdy between songs but reverent while Tweedy was playing, which was a-okay with me. My seat for tonight's show was excellent, row F, dead center, three rows behind Texas Monthly editor Evan Smith. The difference in sound quality and perspective was noticible. One particularly funny moment came near the beginning of the set, when Jeff told us he was going to pose for pictures in the pose that always accompanies his reviews. Here's that pose:

On to the show. The setlist was very different from Tuesday's show, which was great, except that most of the crowd hadn't been there the night before, so they kept yelling for songs and Jeff kept telling them he played that the night before. I was glad he mixed it up, but I could understand that some of Wednesday night's attendees might have been upset at not getting to hear "Gun," "Mountain Bed," or "New Madrid." The D.A. and I talked afterwards and agreed that Tuesday's setlist was probably better if you just saw one show, but that the two nights together were pretty incredible. Those of us who came both nights got a thorough retrospective of Tweedy's career with songs from every Wilco album (even "Box Full of Letters") including the forthcoming Sky Blue Sky, and a good variety of stuff from Uncle Tupelo, Golden Smog, and the Loose Fur. There were 41 songs altogether, and only 6 were played twice.

Highlights of the Wednesday show included "Radio King," a great version of "ELT," "Bob Dylan's Beard," a better-than-Tuesday sing-a-long of "Jesus, Etc.," and "Sunken Treasure," which sounded as good as if not better than it does on the DVD. He also, unbelievably, played "Wait Up," which hardly ever gets played anymore. That pretty much made my night.

The second encore was exactly the same as Tuesday's; no-p.a. versions of "Dreamer in My Dreams" and "Acuff Rose." I managed to get parts of each on tape; here's "Dreamer," which was even better last night:

And here's "Acuff Rose" before my camera ran out of memory. Sorry about that.

All in all, Tweedy's Austin shows made for two great evenings of live music. Up next: possibly the Autumn Defense show on February 12 at the Parish.

UPDATE: Okay, so something happened with the audio and video syncing in the compression on the video. Sorry!

UPDATE 2: Thanks again to WilcoBase for linking to this post!

server issues

My apologies to regular readers who are having trouble getting through this morning. Texas in Africa is getting a ton of hits today since WilcoBase linked to my post on the Jeff Tweedy show. This is fantastic and fun, but I'm sorry it's causing the site to get stuck now and then. This is because there are normally only about 100 hits per day, so I don't bother to upgrade from Blogger.

What is fascinating about this is seeing where there are fans logging in all over the world - the Texas Legislative Council, law firms in Seattle, a company in The Gambia, the City of Fort Worth, the Texas State Comptroller's office, in Australia and London, the children's hospital in New Orleans, and all over the world. Wilco fans are such a community. Thanks to everyone who's stopped by. My post on last night's show will be up in a bit.

I also have a reader at the Centers for Disease Control, but that's not about Wilco. Hmmm.

when you lay their salary on the line

As usual, E.J. Dionne gets it. And Jim Webb does, too - he understands why so many Democrats have been unelectable for so many years. His response pretty much sums up one of the major reasons I don't want Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic nominee for president: if anyone is going to do things the way the out-of-touch strategists in Washington want them done, it's her. It's a recipe for another loss.

The other reasons I don't want Hillary to be the nominee? I'm convinced that she's unelectable in a national race (What you can do in New York does not count. Upstate New York Republicans would be Democrats anywhere else. When I lived in Connecticut, I could not believe how out-of-touch people were with the basic understanding of the visceral hatred of the Clintons that exists in the South.) and a lot of average citizens genuinely hate her. But the main reason is that I'm really tired of Bushes and Clintons running our country. I'm really tired of every political fight we have being about what the involved parties thought about Vietnam and birth control 40 years ago. It's time to give the next generation a shot.

people laugh and love and dream they fight they hate to die

So Jeff Tweedy complained about this review of his Tuesday night show at tonight's show. I don't blame him. Michael Hoinski, whoever he is, is a Grumpy Gus who clearly doesn't get Wilco. Hello? "I assassin down the avenue" is brilliant, not Mad Libs set to a melody. And the crowd enjoyed the banter because that's part of the schtick.

Then again, it's the Statesman. This is the paper that endorsed George W. Bush for a second term despite the fact that the vast majority of its subscribers wouldn't have voted for him if their lives depended on it. So a negative review from the Statesman is probably a positive.


somalia watch

The U.S. is again launching airstrikes in Somalia.

by the stars and clouds above we could spend our lives in love

Thank. Goodness.

last night in live music: jeff tweedy

Last night's sold-out Jeff Tweedy solo show at Hogg Auditorium was excellent. Tweedy opened wtih a new song ("Be Patient With Me"?) which I enjoyed, although "Impossible Germany" is still the best new song I've heard. He moved through a great variety of songs from throughout his career, including "China Apple"(!) and three Uncle Tupelo songs, one of which was "Gun"! I'd never heard it live before so that was a treat. Other highlights included a beautiful take on "One by One" and a really long, really funny audience sing-a-long of "Jesus, Etc." (Let's just say that the audience appears to have proved Tweedy right: Austin has no rhythm. Everyone's a guitar player.), and seeing two cast members of Friday Night Lights in the lobby after the show.

The audience was just the right mix of respectful and obnoxious, and Tweedy's banter was hi-larious. The very exciting part of that was that I got to talk to Jeff Tweedy! Now. I never, ever, ever yell things at the stage, because I think it's obnoxious to tell the performer what he should play. But. Tweedy asked the audience a very specific question about a website that lists bands that could theoretically make your children become gay. It just so happens that I'd seen that list yesterday (It's part of an elaborate hoax that I wasn't planning to blog about, because it's totally inappropriate and ridiculous.). Wilco is on that list. "What's the site called?" he asked, and when no one answered, my sister said, "you should answer." So I did. And Tweedy said, "You're texting this back to them now, aren't you?" It was funny and exciting at the same time.

I didn't take many pictures, but my seat for tonight's show is much better than where we were last night, so I should get some good ones this evening. Tweedy's second encore was sans the p.a., totally unplugged, and it was awesome. He played "Dreamer in My Dreams" and then "Acuff Rose." The auditorium was so quiet you could've heard a pin drop. I can't wait for tonight's show!

UPDATE: Thanks to WilcoBase for linking to this post!

God bless John McCain

I think this pretty much sums up how most normal people feel about the State of the Union address:
Seriously. I didn't watch the speech because I was at the Jeff Tweedy show. There's good analysis in the Post, or you could log on to just about any political blog in America to find out what he said. After waking up entirely too early, standing in the cold rain for 25 minutes this morning waiting for a late bus that wouldn't come, and having to sprint across campus (did I mention the rain? the freezing cold abnormal I do not live in Texas to have to deal with these temperatures weather?) to make it to my 10am class at 9:59, I'm just not in the mood to discuss an out-of-touch president this morning.


vicious bears

This isn't the only reason I'm cheering for the Colts. But, um...

whither coachella?

As the SXSW people continue to be overly stingy with their confirmed acts list, Austinist has an updated list of 340 more-or-less confirmed acts. We really don't have time for your prima donna act, South-by. Get with the program.

godless killing machines

somalia watch

Ethiopian troops reportedly began pulling out of Somalia today, four weeks after invading the country. Here are questions I'm pondering: Will Ethiopia pull out all of its forces? If so, when will chaos begin? Will the African Union get a peacekeeping force on the ground before the Ethiopians are gone? Will it be effective? How long will it take for the militias who back the Union of Islamic Courts to regroup? Are the American Special Forces who entered Somalia with the Ethiopian army still in Somalia? If so, will they stay?

If I were guessing answers to these questions, they would be yes, in about 12 hours after the last Ethiopians leave, maybe, somewhat in Mogadishu, they're already well on the way to regrouping, yes, and yes.

But that's pure conjecture. Here's hoping an effective African Union peacekeeping force can be deployed before domestic political pressures force Ethiopia's government to bring all its troops home. They're going to need more countries to volunteer troops if that's going to happen, though.


And Scooter Libby's lawyer begins to point the finger of blame at Karl Rove.

state of the union time!

Bush's problem, in a nutshell. And he has serious problems, not least with his plan for Iraq, which appears to be gaining increasing opposition from members of his own party. The president is expected to spend about 40 minutes speaking on Iraq. It will certainly be interesting to see whether anyone interupts that portion of the speech with applause. It may sound silly, but a huge number of Republican members of Congress probably don't want to be seen as supporting the president in their districts back home - and that includes being caught applauding on camera.

I will not be watching this year's State of the Union (not live, at least) because Jeff Tweedy's first Austin show is tonight, and I have priorities. So if I blog on the speech, it'll be late Wednesday before Tweedy's second Austin show. Like I said, priorities.

Last year's SOTU was my last night in America. I remember this because one friend couldn't come to my farewell dinner because he had to be in the press gallery at the speech. Excuses, excuses.

I also remember that because after the party I made it back to the CPP's place in time to watch Tim Kaine's eyebrow give the Democratic response. Betcha newly-elected Virginia Senator Jim Webb's response won't be nearly as entertaining:


why bother?

Hey, if Rep. Sylvestre Reyes can't be bothered to learn the details, why should we?

baptists & women

The SBC argument over the firing (technically, "tenure review denial") of a female seminary professor continues. Aaron has an excellent post on the natural extension of the arguments Wade Burleson is making: why can't women be pastors?

If God can call and equip a woman to teach theology, and even to preach (as Burleson and many other SBC-ers would apparently readily agree God does), why can't God call women to pastor? I've said it before and I'll say it again: "Because the 2000 BFM says so" is not a valid answer. Even if I accepted the 2000 BFM as doctrine (which, to be clear, I don't), it's still remarkably unclear just why it is that the SBC is so set on this idea that women can't be pastors, or that God has somehow limited his call to only men. What's the logic behind it? Why is it such a make-or-break issue? Why can God call women to preach but not to pastor? What's the distinction?

I know that for many, many reasons, Wade Burleson probably can't touch the issue of female pastors with a ten-foot pole. If any of of this blog's readers can explain the logic, I'd love to hear it. I can't promise not to disagree, but I can promise to be respectful of your views.

let not the annual commemoration be missed

It's the worst day of the year!

je deteste l'hiver, parte trois

The sun actually came out again this afternoon. It's 40-something degrees and the bus drove off while I was running up to the stop, but, you know, whatever. The point of this post isn't to complain about the weather again, but rather to point out that bad weather hurts our society's vulnerable the most. Here are a couple of agencies in need. If you live in Austin, do what you can to help. If you live elsewhere, there are certainly similar agencies that could use your help during this cold weather:
  • The ARCH, Austin's Resource Center for the Homeless, is completely out of blankets and warm clothes. They most need blankets, sleeping bags, gloves, coats, and scarves. A blanket could be the difference between life and death for one of our city's 4,000 homeless citizens on these bitter cold nights. So spend $15 and drop off a blanket, or write a check.
  • The blood banks are seriously short on blood due to the 3 straight days of no donors at all during the inclement weather last week. The Blood and Tissue Center of Austin is open every day. When you give blood, you save up to three lives. And you never know if you might save your own life, or that of someone you love.

blue days, all of them gone

Parcells is out.


back to reality

A few random things:
  • How diamonds make their way from war zones and/or child labor to your local jewlery store - in pictures.
  • Your political views have at least as much to do with your personality as they do with rationality. Fascinating. Thanks to Jess for the link.
  • One thought on why most world religions have historically subjugated women.
  • A film I would like to see.
  • The Colts are going to the Super Bowl. Happy day!
  • Race, refugees, soccer, and the unknown in a Southern suburb. Thanks to the Journalist for the tip.

#1 threat to America

Who rains on New Orleans' parade in this of all years? Did Chicago really need a Super Bowl to up its city's morale in the wake of an unbelievable natural disaster, an inept governmental response, the displacement of half its population, and a country that largely doesn't realize how bad things still are in their city? No, I don't really remember reading about that. Maybe it happened while I was in the Congo. Or maybe it's just further proof that Bears have no sense of decency.
(Our Man Cedric Benson exempted.)

smilin' at me

Blue skies. After nine straight days of gloomy clouds, eight days of on-and-off rain and ice and general yuck, this morning we woke up to the great dome of a big blue Texas sky, not a cloud in sight.

The sky does not do this everywhere. In Connecticut, when we would go weeks and weeks without sun, the sky would break into blue every now and then, but it wasn't usually this brilliant, this big, this blue. In the Congo, we were so close to the equator that something about the sun's intensity makes the sky seem less brilliant on many days. There's nothing like the blue of a Texas sky.

I couldn't sleep last night, and so I'd planned to take a nap after church. But it's too pretty to sleep. I also had an NFC championship to work, but the sky's too blue to watch tv all day. I skipped the first quarter to go for a run at Town Lake, which was packed with everyone else in Austin who's been stuck inside for too long. It's still chilly outside, but the sky's too blue not to enjoy it, so I put the top down and drove home with my hair in the wind.

Tomorrow it will be gloomy and cold again. But today, the sky is blue.

baptist watch

The Washington Post has a piece about the New Baptist Covenant today. It's interesting, but if you've been following the story, it doesn't really tell you anything you didn't already know.


congo watch

Here is a beautiful, haunting photo essay on the eastern Congo from Time. Thanks to my mom for the tip.


And you thought you didn't like Paige Patterson...

baptist watch

Given the Sheri Klouda controversy that's brewing on the SBC blogs, the role of women in Baptist life is very much up for debate. Yet again. BDW has a great post on the role of women preachers in Baptist life.

I firmly believe that God calls women to preach and pastor just as God calls men to do so. This is not what I was raised to believe, but the experience of hearing Barbara Brown Taylor preach at Baylor chapel my freshman year started changing my mind. "This isn't nearly as bad as they said it would be," I remember thinking.

Actually, it was pretty remarkable. Taylor is an incredibly gifted preacher, and hearing her sermon opened my heart to thinking about the possibility that women could be called by God to pastor churches as she did. Over the years, I've had the privilege of listening to gifted women like Julie Pennington-Russell and Dorisanne Cooper preach. I would consider it a privilege to live in a community where there was a moderate Baptist church pastored by a woman.

In my teacher preparation class last year, we learned that you can present a student with all kinds of evidence to support a fact (we weren't even talking matters of opinion, but there's no doubt that experience changes opinions as well), but that the student will vehemently disagree if he or she is convinced that the opposite is true. I've seen this to be true in a classroom. If a student is absolutely sure that he knows something, it doesn't matter what you show him to prove him wrong.

I've seen this in classrooms and often think about it when reading about passionate disputes between individuals on matters of theology, doctrine, and truth. Not to mention opinion.

In such a situation, the only way to change a student's mind is for him or her to experience the truth of a matter. They have to internally change their modes of thinking. It's incredibly difficult to do, especially in a classroom setting. Presenting basic facts just isn't enough. Experience is the key to learning.

I doubt most clergy or members of Southern Baptist churches have ever heard a woman preach or seen women pastor churches. That's a shame, because once you hear someone who has been so gifted by God, it's hard to deny that pastoring should be her vocation. Experience changes hearts and minds. Is it a fact that women should be pastors? I'm neither educated enough nor prepared to defend that position. But my experience suggests that God calls women just as God calls men. Before being so quick to dismiss women as seminary professors, preachers, and pastors, I wish that more Southern Baptists would avail themselves of the opportunity to see what God can do.


everywhere, everywhere


(n.b., not for the easily offended.)

need a fair trial?

Your attorney general does not believe that you have an assured right of habeas corpus, but rather that it just can't be taken away. Many reasons this is troubling here. Best quote:

"That Attorney General Gonzales would express such an extraordinary opinion, doubting the constitutional protection of habeas corpus, suggests either a sophomoric mind or an unwillingness to respect this well-established right, one that the Founders considered so important that they embedded it in the original text of the Constitution."

craddick playing nice?

I'll believe it when I see it.

too retro?

I am thinking about showing this to my students this afternoon. These were so funny at the time and I think they'd like it, even if it's a bit dated. It's the course introduction and I need a fun way to talk about being respectful and cordial when discussing controversial issues.

UPDATE: I used it. They loooovvveed it. If I had known that 3 minutes of the Daily Show would have them eating out of my hand on the first day, I'd've started doing this years ago.

on education and poor schools

"While no one believes that hospitals are really like 'ER' or that doctors are anything like 'House,' no one blames doctors for the failure of the health care system. From No Child Left Behind to City Hall, teachers are accused of being incompetent and underqualified, while their appeals for better and safer workplaces are systematically ignored.

"Every day teachers are blamed for what the system they’re just a part of doesn’t provide: safe, adequately staffed schools with the highest expectations for all students. But that’s not something one maverick teacher, no matter how idealistic, perky or self-sacrificing, can accomplish."

congo watch

Some reports say that dissident rebel Laurent Nkunda has apparently agreed to go into exile, although he denies it. Contingent upon getting paid and being supplied with uniforms, his troops will be integrated into the national army, despite the fact that they are known for raping and looting and causing all sorts of trouble. It is a mixed blessing, I guess. If Nkunda really leaves (and is exiled somewhere far enough away that he won't be able to cause trouble - my guess is France or Switzerland), there will be more stability in the region, at least for now. If his troops don't fully integrate into the army, someone else will rise to leadership and they'll continue to cause problems.

Reports of whether Nkunda will face justice vary. The MONUC (the UN peacekeeping mission) account of the asylum deal says that war crimes charges against Nkunda will be dropped in exchange for his departure from the DRC. (Then again, it also says that Sake is 60 kilometers north of Goma. It's more like 27km.) This is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for the thousands of displaced persons who lost their homes and everything they owned to Nkunda's militia. And for the thousands of women and girls who have been raped by Nkunda's forces. Knowing that the price of peace is that Nkunda will never face justice must be a terrible burden to bear.

Another UN agency, IRIN, says that according to a representative of the DRC government, the amnesty issue is still under discussion. It's not a good sign when the terms of the deal are unclear.

Kate has a good post on the general mood in Kinshasa right now.

baptist watch

Wade Burleson is arguing that women can teach men the Bible. He is not saying that women can be pastors, but he clearly suggests that it's neither Biblically nor historically accurate to say that women can't be in positions of teaching authority in the church.

Burleson doesn't address the question that naturally follows from his analysis: if women can have teaching authority and preach, and they are called and gifted to do so by God, why can't God also call women to be pastors? "Because the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message says so" is not an acceptable answer. I have seen all kinds of scriptural and exegetical gymnastics trying to answer that question over the years, and I've yet to see a persuasive answer.

This is bound to cause trouble in the SBC. I wonder if it occurs to any of these young Baptist pastors (who are challenging the leadership's doctrinal interpretations) that they might be treated the same way the SBC treated moderates 20 years ago? Some of them already are being treated that way. Here's hoping this won't lead to such a mess.

payin' by the hour

Well, Governor Goodhair has effectively ruined his chances at getting the 2008 Republican vice-presidential nomination. Seems his performance at the governor's inaugural ball involved Nugent wearing a Confederate flag shirt and making, um, unflattering comments about non-English speakers.

While this is not quite as bad as George Allen's macaca problem, it won't play well in places the Republicans need to do well next year (eg, everywhere but the deepest backwoods). Add that to the fact that he'd be running as "Texas governor" and I'd say it's a bad idea. If the R's want to nominate a southerner with credibility who can bring in the far right, they should go with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. A McCain-Huckabee ticket might be able to win in a year when the R's will have to fight for every vote.

Oh, and we know Ted Nugent can't hate all foreigners because my sister sat next to him at the Thai place in Waco one time. Yeah. That's all I have to say about that.

africa watch

Here's a sentence you don't read every day:

"Only a government whose members have not been chosen by President Conté's wives, or cronies looking to the sick president's succession, will have the necessary legitimacy to negotiate a resolution with the unions." - Gilles Yabi, International Crisis Group


the big bird scare is over

Well, if you're willing to take the Aggies' word for it, the mass deaths of 63 birds in downtown Austin last week is apparently nothing to worry about. (For the record, I'm willing to take their word for it: if there's one thing the Aggies understand, it's wild animals.) A combination of parasites and cold weather killed off a bunch of grackles. No terrorists, poison, or disgruntled frat boys were involved.

(Thanks to my pastor for the picture. Only in Austin.)

name me a song that everybody knows


The only question about this is: extra stock, or reissue? I'm cynical and will therefore bet on the latter.

stupid abc making me cry

So you wanted to know the title of the song that was playing while George's dad died on Grey's Anatomy? That would be "Falling Awake" by Gary Jules off his excellent self-titled 2006 album. You've heard Jules sing on the Donnie Darko soundtrack.

You're welcome.

foto fun

This is a bumper sticker I saw while my computer was out of commission (eg, the whole month of December):

music update

Pitchfork's done corrected the title of the new Wilco album. It's Sky Blue Sky, not the other way around. Which makes sense since there's a new Wilco song called "Sky Blue Sky." Honestly. How hard is it? Could I be a Pitchfork reporter? Because I'm always sure to cross-check.

While we wait for next week, how cool was the poster from last night's Nashville show? Using the Batman building was genius. Maybe the Austin poster will be just as cool.


According to the kids who got to go to last night's Jeff Tweedy show in Nashvegas, Wilco's new album, which is either titled Sky Blue Sky or Blue Sky Blue will be out May 15. Maybe we'll get the name for sure at next week's Austin shows.

also, boys are gross

Roommate antics are funny, no matter the circumstances.

something to learn

Well, some of Kenya's Pentecostals are apparently up in arms over an exhibit at the National Museum of Kenya in Nairobi. The museum, which is being renovated, has an exhibit of homid bones. You can imagine where the fight goes from there.

Having visited both the National Museum of Kenya and Nairobi Pentecostal Church (where, in a feat that's impressive not least in terms of logistics, two pastors baptized 102 people in thirty minutes on the day of my visit. In a not-quite-equally impressive feat, the church member next to whom I was sitting took less than 5 minutes after introducing himself to invite me upcountry to meet his family as a prerequisite to proposing marriage.), it's not suprising that this controversy has arisen. Ties between the breed of American evangelicals who spend their time stirring up controversy over anything related to evolution and evangelicals in Kenya are evident in the language used by Bishop Adoyo. And the collections at the NMK are impressive; it's hard to look at those skulls and not see the logic. (The rest of the collections are, quite simply, amazing. If you ever find yourself in Nairobi, the bird collection alone is worth the visit.)

What's interesting to me is that there is a strong diversity of opinion reflected among the Christian leaders interviewed for this story. I've found this to often be the case in conflicts between religion and society in Africa; just as there are a wide variety of opinions among American Christians on just about every issue, so there are in Kenya and elsewhere. The difference seems to be that the east African press is better at covering that angle.


who are you to judge

And...the fight over whether Barack Obama is really a Christian has begun.

baptist watch

There's a big scandal brewing at Southwestern Seminary. Seems a female professor was denied tenure simply because she's a woman. You can read Wade Burleson's account of it here.

I don't know why this is so surprising to many of the commenters on Burleson's site. It has been quite clear for a number of years that the SBC is moving in the direction of having no place for women in any form of leadership. (Except maybe the WMU, and the men even tried to get the women to let them oversee that a few years back. It didn't work.) It can't be more clear: based on an narrow, out-of-context reading of self-selected Biblical texts, the leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention does not believe that God calls women to lead. And if a woman, her church, her seminary, or whatever believes she is so called, she's in the wrong, not them.

just and unjust wars

A piece on just war and Iraq in Commonweal, a Catholic journal.

sic 'em! woof, woof, woof!

Not that I approve of the Georgia Bulldogs, but ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!

boo on the sxsw people for keeping secrets

Austinist's confirmed SXSW acts list now includes 240 bands. Woo-hoo!


i hate winter, ctd.

Things that are not cool:
  • The news just said that we are entering our 30th consecutive hour of freezing precipitation.
  • It's not stopping until tomorrow afternoon.
  • Both of my employers have cancelled classes for tomorrow. Thus extending my Christmas vacation to day 36.
  • They're predicting up to 7 inches of snow in San Angelo.
  • It appears to be snowing in Del Rio. For those of you not familiar with Texas geography, Del Rio is on the border. With Mexico.
  • I haven't left home in 60 hours.
  • Last night I was so bored, I watched a tv program about a family that has 16 children. On purpose. Their old website is called (I am not making this up) jimbob.info.
  • The windchill is 24.
  • We might have ice again this weekend.

take a moment

Today is National Religious Freedom Day, the day our country marks the 1786 passage of the Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom, which was written by Thomas Jefferson.

In a time when we hear so much about God being kicked out of the public schools, about people whose faith is somehow damaged if the clerk at Wal-Mart doesn't wish them a merry Christmas, about those who insist that their religion should be everyone else's religion, too, I am thankful for the religious freedom that was established by our forefathers. I am thankful that churches are free to worship God as they choose, not under the compulsion or rule of government authorities. I am thankful that my tax dollars aren't supposed to pay for religious indoctrination. I am thankful that the church, not a corporation, is charged with the task of spreading the gospel.

I am thankful that there are not government-sponsored prayers in our schools, and that students and teachers are free to pray their own prayers, start after-school Bible clubs, and pray at See You at the Pole. I am thankful that religious education of children is where it should be, in the hands of parents and churches. I am thankful that my faith isn't reliant upon the presence of granite statues on the grounds of the state capitol, and that my sense of justice isn't dependent on whether the Ten Commandments are hanging on a courtroom wall.

I am thankful that the government doesn't make me worship in a particular church, pay a mandatory tithe to a state church, or bow down to deities in whom I don't believe. I am thankful that I can worship as I choose, as I feel God has called me to do, without fear of persecution. Religious liberty is not something to be taken lightly. Let's all remember that, and be thankful on this and every day.

seriously, it's snowing

flippin' sweet

Barack Obama will run for president. Official announcement to be made February 10. Here's a link to the video announcement about his exploratory committee.

view from my window

It's snowing. In Austin. My neighbors and I stood out on the porches earlier: "Is that snow?" "Yes." "What's that other stuff?" "It's raining ice." Hmm.


i hate winter

This weather is getting ridiculous. They keep saying it's icy outside. I have yet to see anything frozen falling outside my window, but whatever. We are in the middle of a predicted nine straight days of precipitation, much of it frozen. Both of my employers have cancelled classes for tomorrow, which extends the duration of my Christmas break to 35 days and counting.

If I had wanted seasons, I would've stayed in Connecticut.

I'm serious. Yeah, yeah, it's nice to see fall leaves and to watch everything come back to life in the spring. But the winter weather in the frigidarticcoldallthetimehowisitstillcoldinMarchwillthatsnowevermelt north made me miserable. If I want fall, I can go to DC for a weekend in October, and the bluebonnets give an indication that spring has sprung, even if they bloom in February. Austin works for me. It's generally warm here. We don't have to deal with ice and snow and other nastiness. We get pleasant winters, for which there is a trade-off, but it's not as though you have to go outdoors in August. But the key is that living in Austin means never having to wear six layers of clothes, block sweaters, or dig my car out of snow. And I am perfectly content to live sans real seasons, especially winter.

Austin windchill is 9 right now. NINE.

I did not sign up for this.

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

"So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime---the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists." - Letter from Birmingham Jail

icy disaster watch 2007!

We still have no ice storm. No, wait, check that, there's a tiny bit of frost on the roof of the next building over. My mistake.

At any rate, they keep predicting it, so maybe it will show up later today. Governor Goodhair's inaugural parade (scheduled for tomorrow) has been cancelled. Maybe it's a sign that the 61% of Texans who voted against him aren't the only ones who think he shouldn't be governor...


pretty much how it goes

(via Piled Higher and Deeper)

actual news!

Yessssss! Bill Moyers is coming back to PBS!

wars of choice

Iraq is not Vietnam. When commentators say that Iraq is another Vietnam, I think they mean that the Bush administration's regarding Iraq is similar to the Johnson administration attitude regarding Vietnam. On that count, I couldn't agree more; the parallels between Bush and Johnson are striking, although LBJ was actually at least born on a Texas ranch, whereas Bush has faked the country out on that point.

This piece in today's Post makes those parallels in attitude clear. As does Bush's new policy announced this week: put in more troops just until things calm down like LBJ did, and pursue a policy that is strikingly similar to Nixon's Vietnamization by trying to get the Iraqis to assume responsibility for their own security.

It didn't work in Vietnam. I'm not sure why, or whether, Bush believes it will work in Iraq.

coming home

I pulled out a file of data the other day. It's a big, boring stack of paper that I haven't looked at since I was in Goma, but I've reached the point in dissertating that I need it. I was in the middle of working on the health care chapter, and my mind was racing with figures and theories and obscure references and I reached for it quickly, just to see if something useful might be inside. But pulling out that file stopped me in my tracks.

It smells like Congo.

I don't know how to explain the smell of Goma. As the youth minister pointed out when we drove into a colonia in Juarez several years ago, poverty smells the same the world over. It's a combination of wood cooking fires, open sewers, burning trash, sweaty bodies, and other nasty things. The smell of Goma is all that and more - the breeze off the lake, the smoke from the volcano, the sense that something isn't quite right. And just like that, by opening a file, it all came back.

How could something as simple as paper carry the scent of a place, and with it the memories of all I saw and heard there? I'm sure there's a scientific explanation: a ream of paper sat in storage at the office of the place where my interview subject copied documents she shouldn't have given me but did. Someone kept a wood-burning fire not far from her window. There's a garbage heap in the backyard of her office. I took the papers, stuck them in my backpack, and went to the market, where it picked up more scents and smells, especially after I stuffed my tomatoes and peppers and rice inside. I took the papers home and slipped them into the pink plastic folder I bought in Kampala, where it's stayed until now. Add to that the fact that I have a super-sensitive sense of smell, and, voila. A memory.

It has been almost a year since I left for the Congo, which means I've been back longer than I was even there. It doesn't feel that way.

Not that I haven't gotten used to real life again. Those first few hours and days and weeks back, I was pretty fragile. I couldn't process it all. I cried in the grocery store because there were too many choices. But gradually, things got back to normal. I felt less and less guilt about spending money and writing a dissertation that won't change the world. I stopped boring my friends by talking about Congo all the time. Spending the summer in DC helped, because it was a kind of buffer from my normal life. I was back in the culture, but I wasn't home, and that made it easier to return to teaching and living in Austin. And here I am, very much back to normalcy.

Except. Something as simple as a scent stops me dead in my tracks. Two weeks ago, I watched the trailer for a film someone made about Heal Africa, and I couldn't work anymore. I know some of those women. I walked down those streets every day. I saw this picture from the Lusis' living room and all I can think about is Easter Sunday on their deck. Congo is on my mind all the time.

The overwhelming suffering in the eastern Congo can be paralyzing. In this beautiful peace on "Life after Congo," short-term visitor Unjin Lee reflects on the difficulty of knowing what to do when you come back. You know you can't fix it. All you can do when the place comes back to haunt you is tell the story, pray for redemption, and hope that there's a reason for it all.

winter blast 2007

You'd think we were about to experience a hurricane or something. 1/4 - 1/2 inch of ice predicted for tonight, and the city is apparently in full-scale crisis-response mode. What will be really funny is if nothing happens at all, but I guess it's better to be prepared. They've already cancelled the MLK Day parade. And if my power goes out, I'm going to be really glad they were prepared.

Lucky us, my neighborhood HEB decided to close today and tomorrow for inventory. So everyone's panicking and going to the Randall's across the street, where it costs 30% more to panic. Sigh. I wonder what my friends in Goma would say if they saw this?

I am glad to see that there's overflow space at the South Austin Recreation center for our city's homeless men, women, and children. I saw two men on the street on the way home earlier and was worried about where they would spend tonight.

child soldiers

Be sure to read this personal story of a former child soldier. If you've seen Blood Diamond, then you know the connections between international markets and the abduction of child soldiers. Like it or not, most of us have some kind of economic connection to children like Ishmael.

My friend M was a child soldier. Somali by birth, he and his family became refugees when fighting started there. He was eventually separated from his mother and brothers, and became a child soldier in one of the wars in the Horn of Africa. M doesn't know where his family is. He doesn't even know how old he is. Eventually, M made it to Eritrea, where he got an education, enrolled in a university, and gave a paper at a conference that was attended by an American professor, who encouraged M to apply to graduate school. Which he did.

To see M that first year in Connecticut was to see someone whose life had been redeemed, and whose knowledge about the world grew exponentially with every passing day. You should've seen M's face the first time he saw snow. Friends helped him to get a good winter coat, learn not to leave a space heater on when you're not at home, and so many other things that just seem second nature to us sheltered Americans. He didn't like to talk about being a child soldier. My friend A studied child soldiers; M may have told her more than he told the rest of us. But it was enough that we all understood the experience to have been horrific.

Sometimes at our parties, someone would get M to sing haunting Somali poetry. None of us knew a word of of the language, but there was something about the melody and the tone that made you understand just what he meant. M came from the desert, and he will most likely never be able to return to his home. He may never find his family. But against all the odds, redemption found M. Amen.

yale too?

Satire defined.


who do i cheer for if it's peyton vs. drew?

Yeah, Saints!

what's in a name?

Too much free time at SWBTS.


Baptist Blogger has a post on "keys to winning a football game or a denominational tug-of-war." Fun-ny.

vive la difference

Details on the Iran thing.

cleanliness is next to ... God?

Jesus showed up in someone's laundry room in Wild Peach, Texas. Who'd've thunk?

what dat?

Here's a picture of the deck side of Shoal Creek Saloon from the Statesman that gives you an idea of just how much rain fell in Austin overnight and today. Shoal Creek isn't normally so, um, enthusiastic. Lamar is closed at Shoal Creek (around 8th/9th Street) due to the flooding.

Shoal Creek Saloon is where Austin's Saints fans go to watch the games - here's hoping they won't be flooded out tonight.

winter storm warning

We are in the middle of a freak weather situation in scenic Austin, Texas. Yesterday when I left work, it was humid and well over 70, which is semi-normal for this time of year. They've been predicting that we'll have ice or something ice-ish on Sunday night for several days now, but apparently the temperatures dropped significantly faster than predicted last night. Case in point: it was supposed to be 60 right now, but it's 36. Add to that that it rained really hard (about 6 inches with another three expected this afternoon) all night (someone has died in the flooding), and that the temperatures will drop tonight even more, and we're in for a mess.

Now. When I lived in Connecticut, much to my shock, everyone didn't panic and go to the grocery store before major winter storms. It could snow two feet and schools would still be in session the next day, businesses were open, and you'd better be on time to TA your 7pm discussion sections on the Old Campus (me: "You've got to be kidding. I'm not going outside in this." newscast: no reply.). So I learned to drive on ice. It's a useful skill, but not one that I enjoy practicing. Especially in Austin, where people seem to think that ice on the highway means you should drive faster. I've learned that just because I can handle driving on ice doesn't mean that the people around me have learned the same thing.

Anyway, the winter storm warning kicks in at midnight tonight. I'm going to Target while I still can, then coming home to spend the weekend at home. Y'all be careful out there.



Um, why would we want a mission that apparently failed to catch its targets to be a blueprint for the future?

Note that the article also tells us that U.S. troops DID enter Somalia with the Ethiopian invasion a couple of weeks ago.

corporate evil

Here's a great article about the fight for net neutrality, which, if you like the fact that you can access websites for free, you should care about. Be sure to write your congressperson and tell him or her that you support the Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2007. Unless you want to pay your internet service provider even more for things you now get for free.

the cost of war

Do not allow yourself to forget the cost of this terrible war.

Dunham was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor on Wednesday.

somalia watch

Here is an excellent article that explains what is going on in Somalia in very clear terms.


baptists in conversation

Kevin Bussey, who is an SBC pastor in North Carolina, is posing some very interesting questions to moderate Baptists on his blog this week, and is providing a space for a calm, rational, respectful discussion of the differences between conservatives and moderates. If you consider yourself a moderate or liberal Baptist, I encourage you to visit his blog and join in the conversation in a way that acknowledges the respectfulness of the discussion.

Much of this discussion was provoked by a meeting of a wide variety of Baptists (which notably did not involve any SBC representatives) in Atlanta earlier this week. Baptist Standard coverage of the event is here. I haven't had time to thoughtfully blog about the group's efforts, but you can read informative commentary from Robert Parham, Marv Knox via Melissa Rogers, and Aaron.

iran, iraq, what's the difference?

This is a report from a liberal blog, so take that as you will, but it raises questions about just whether President Bush has authorized a "secret" war against Iran and Syria in the last few days. If it's speculation, that's one thing. If it's reality, that's appalling because it would mean that the president has circumvented the constitution.

I would just dismiss this as speculation, but Senator Joseph Biden mentioned the issue during a hearing at which Secretary of State Rice testified today. He wouldn't have raised the issue unless there were a political reason to suggest or believe that something is going on. And there's definitely a lot of commentary about it in the blogosphere.

Something to keep an eye on.

just not angry about it

I was impressed by former Arkansas governor/soon to be presidential candidate Mike Huckabee's performance on the Daily Show last night. My impression of Huckabee has been that he is way too politically conservative for my tastes, but he came off as pretty reasonable last night. He understands that Americans aren't nearly as ideological as their politicians make them out to be. And he believes that government can do good, and talks about the fact that if life begins at conception, it doesn't end at birth.

Time will tell.

Part one:

Part two

somalia watch

This week's U.S. airstrikes in Somalia failed to kill their three targets, individuals believed to be responsible for the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

how old are you?

Happy birthday to my daddy! I'm lucky enough to have the hippest, coolest dad in town. I love you, daddy!


Without a doubt, the single most bizarre place I have ever visited is Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates. It's a bizarre mix of oil wealth, shopping malls, Iraqi war profiteers, and who knows what else.

Slate has a correspondant checking out the city this week; today's story on the ski slope in one of the malls will give you an idea of just how ridiculous the desert city is. (N.B. the last part of the story is not worth reading.)

why i don't shop there

Wal-Mart is apparently proud of the fact that more than half of its employees don't get coverage from Wal-Mart. Instead, 43% rely on coverage from family or the government, and 10% have no insurance at all. Um, that's something to be proud of why?


walk humbly

If you haven't been following the Washington Post's "On Faith" series for the last month or so, you've been missing out. Serious questions about faith issues are answered by a people as diverse as hard-core atheists and Dr. Richard Land. It's fascinating.

Right now, the series is addressing the question of whether Iraq was a just war. It's funny; at the time of the invasion, I heard lots of justifications from conservative Christians explaining how there was just cause for going to war. I don't see nearly as much of that kind of rhetoric now that the war is so unpopular. In the Post series, most of the panelists view it as unjust. Conservative commentator Cal Thomas sidesteps the question. Madeline Albright argues that there are many violations of the just war tradition in the way in which the war has been prosecuted.

For my part, I did not believe the war was just prior to the invasion. In just war theory, there's a distinction between just cause and just conduct of a war. In other words, you can go to war for just reasons (eg, to stop a genocide), but the way in which you prosecute it can be unjust (eg, you torture innocents). I don't believe that our country had just cause to enter the war, primarily because we had not exhausted all other possible solutions to the conflict.

I have serious problems with the conduct of the war. Something called "shock and awe" doesn't even sound as though it involves proportionality of violence to injury (as the poet Kathleen Norris told my sister, "Awe is a word for God."). And I don't think that in every instance there has been sufficient distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants. Too many civilians have died. They are not just collateral damage; they are men and women and children with names, with families that aren't all that different from my own. It hurts my heart to know that we have asked our soldiers to fight a questionably just war.

In addition, the doctrine of pre-emption is very problematic to me as a Christian. When you start killing people or attacking countries for things they might do, it borders on attempting to play God. You assume that you have enough knowledge to make a judgment about whether other human beings should live or die.

How do you balance this against the need to protect innocents? That I don't know. Oh, what a mess.

blessed are the starbuckless

Well, here's one unique approach to dealing with your neighborhood Wal-Mart invasion problem. It's performance art. It's for real. They will bring a parade to your neighborhood. They sing a song called "Remove Starbucks and Disney." They have staged an intervention at Victoria's Secret to protest the 1 million catalogs they send out every day (you should watch the video just to see the exorcism). And Reverend Billy has sanctified hair.

what are we going to do?

Ending the military's "Don't Ask; Don't Tell" policy towards gays serving in the armed forces seems to me to be about as likely as Texas legislators passing a public health policy that acknowledges that most Texas teenagers don't wait until they're married to have sex. The civilian leadership at the Pentagon can't openly support such a policy because Bush can't afford to alienate the 30% of Americans who still think he's doing a good job. A legal change seems even less likely. It would be politically problematic for the Democrats in 2008 (especially in the districts that elected conservative D's) and of course any Republican Senator running for president has to appeal to the religious right members of the party's base.

Then again, an awful lot of the military's limited number of Arabic linguists turn out to be gay. And that's not helping the war on terror. Whatever Bush says tonight, it's clear that a lot of the old parochialisms need to be rethought. It is unconscionable to have allowed a bad strategy to continue -- and to thus have allowed American soldiers and Iraqi civilians to die -- in the name of waiting until after the elections to deal with a sticky issue. Something has to be done.

let your fingers do the walking

From Melissa the Missionary. And I quote: "Look! God has Yellow Pages!"

obsessed with louis kahn

This almost makes me wish I were back up north. Almost.


this is the end

I still haven't figured out what happened to Ohio State last night. All season long, they were like we were last season: they had a sense of mission, that this was their year. And while their #10 quarterback wasn't quite as exciting as ours, he's incredibly talented and did a great job leading his team this season. So what happened? It wasn't Ted Ginn, Jr. being gone, although his absence probably cost OSU a TD. When the OSU team entered the field, I noticed that they all looked scared to death rather than pumped up. That couldn't have been it, though. This is the national championship. You can't show up not ready to play, even if it has been 51 days.

Anyway, SMQ has good analysis of just how off last night was. I'm going back to mourning the end of the season.

trust me on this one

Here's a piece on just how hard it will continue to be for the working poor in this country to make it even if Congress does raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour.

It also touches on just how complicated this issue is. Will people lose their jobs because wages are higher? Many will lose their access to public assistance without the pay raise being enough to cover the difference in their expenses.

One thing is clear from the article: our wage-labor market is a mess, and people who get left behind by the system don't have many ways to get out of poverty. It's nearly impossible to live decently and progress to something better on $15,000 a year.