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



Here's the conversation that ensued during my Final Four party, somewhere after the fajitas and dessert:

PhSquared to Texas in Africa: You're only winning because you picked the top seeds.
23 (with disgust): Dude, she picked UNLV.


congo watch

No way will the UN allow the MONUC mandate to expire on April 15. No way.


off again to the rodeo

I can't believe Alberto Gonzales still has a job. Seems like he and Bush would want him to resign before things get really nasty. Which they will. If Steve Bickerstaff is publicly disavowing you, you're in trouble.

In what could be a very entertaining twist (although it's about as likely to happen as Texas electing a Democratic governor), a reader of ITPT points out that since Gonzales is licensed as an attorney, his public behavior is governed by the Texas Rules of Disciplinary Conduct. Attorneys, does this mean could theoretically be disbarred if it's proved that he lied?

Gonzales and Bush want this to be over, but it's just getting started. Hoo-boy!

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a brief gripe

Sometimes I get really tired of unreasonable demands on my time. Like those that require me to be sitting in my cubicle at work at 8:30 on a Saturday morning. That's all.



l'etat, c'est qui?

Thanks to Don Byrd at Blog from the Capitol and Carlos at Jesus Politics and Talk to Action for linking to my post on Tuesday's Scarborough-Lynn debate. Thanks also to those of you who commented here and elsewhere. I am getting ready to do an actual unit on church-state separation as a civil liberties issue for the first time and need all the food for thought I can get, especially considering that I have to present the issue in a non-biased fashion.

Any thoughts on what examples I should use?

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somalia watch

Things are really bad in Mogadishu.


how sweet

"And talk of poems and prayers and promises
And things that we believe in
How sweet it is to love someone
How right it is to care
How long it's been since yesterday
And what about tomorrow?
What about our dreams?
And all the memories we share?"
-John Denver

(Yes, I know. This song is cheesy and inexcusable. But it's a rainy day in Austin, and besides, I love it.)

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the widening gyre

We've been having crazy weather - super-bad storms and flooding in the Austin area. Yesterday I was waiting for the bus and watching the wind change directions and thought, "It just feels like tornado weather." So far we have been lucky. There were several tornadoes near my mom's hometown on Wednesday night. Scary.




My good friends know that I loooooooovvvvvvvve to play practical jokes. Especially if they escalate into prank wars. I'm not admitting to anything, but it's possible that I've participated in pranks as unique and varied as leaving 600 Dixie cups full of Dr. Pepper on a colleague's desk, sealing teenagers into their dorm room at youth camp with saran wrap and duct tape over the door (so they would walk right through it when they woke up), "kidnapping" and photographing a fish all over Texas and the world (and then mailing postcards of the fish's travels back to the owner), and hiding 100 copies of the tract-sized 2000 Baptist Faith and Message in a friend's home (one of which later showed up in Equatorial Guinea. It's a long story.).

The piece de resistance was the day a few years ago that the Librarian and I put a kayak on a friend's roof:

The funniest part about that was that he didn't actually see the kayak when he got home in the dark. His girlfriend saw the rope that was holding it up, and they had to follow the string to find the kayak. On the roof.

Anyway, April Fool's Day is coming, and while I don't have anything planned at the moment, I'm thoroughly enjoying reading about the top 100 April Fool's Day hoaxes of all time. Ideas, ideas!


dc: hollywood for ugly people

The CPP and I have this Karl Rove problem. We run into him everywhere. I'm serious. At the Willard, on airplanes, at my office. My best friends from college and I once inadvertently rented his summer house for our annual girls' weekend.

I have complained about this in the past. But I would like to take this opportunity to thank my lucky stars that I have never seen Karl Rove acting like this:

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congo watch

"Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink."

This is such a ridiculous problem. Congo is a tropical jungle, not a desert. There's water everywhere, and yet the country can't supply most of its citizens with clean drinking water. You have no idea how frustrating it is to sit on the edge of Lake Kivu and see all that water which can easily be purified, yet you have no water coming out of your tap. For me, this was only a temporary (albeit recurring) problem. For millions of Congolese, it's a daily frustration.


karl rove raps

Oh. My.

Explanation here.

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"It's Not You, It's Your Apartment" offers some pointers for single guys out there who are having a little trouble making relationships last (and not for the same reasons that SOIUTK can't make a relationship last.) Here's a hint: most women don't want to date a man who keeps a real stuffed baby seal in his living room. Piles of fingernails? Ewwwwwwwwwwww.


justice and lies

Alberto Gonzales has to resign. I'll be surprised if he makes it past tomorrow afternoon.


congo watch

This is essentially the same story I posted the other day, but the difference is that the NYT version is accompanied by a video about how inaccessible most parts of Congo are. Scroll down the page; it's on the left, and it's pretty cool.



do unto others

Last night I went to see a debate on church-state issues between the Reverend Rick Scarborough and the Reverend Barry Lynn. Scarborough, for those of you not familiar with his friendship with Tom DeLay and other prominent leaders on the religious right, is a pastor from the Houston suburbs who runs an organization called Vision America. Vision America is a conservative organization that encourages pastors and congregations to get actively involved in politics. Lynn is the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church & State. You can probably guess what his organization does. Lynn is also a board member for the ACLU. The debate was sponsored by the U.T. University Democrats, and was moderated by a professor who studies the sociology of religion.

The debate was well-organized and pretty straightforward. The reverends sit at opposite ends of the debate over the proper role of religion in society, and they debated a predictable series of issues, including whether the constitution mandates a wall of separation between church and state, the so-called "War on Christmas," whether theocracy is as much of a danger to democracy in a predominantly Christian country as it is perceived to be in some Islamic societies, and other hot button issues like prayer in schools and the appropriateness of military officials making statements about the morality of homosexuality.

Most of the time, it seemed as though they were talking past one another. Scarborough gave his personal testimony and said that he believes pastors should be allowed to endorse candidates from the pulpit and still maintain their church's tax-exempt status. Lynn debunked myths and argued that the fact that Christians are the majority in the U.S. is not sufficient reason to enact laws on the basis of a particular religion. These men both know and appear to respect one another, and they both understood that nothing they said would change the other's mind. But it was a stark reminder (which Lynn commented on) of just how far apart the two sides in this battle are. Scarborough and Lynn might as well have been speaking different languages to different audiences on different planets.

None of this was particularly surprising, and it wasn't terribly interesting either, other than for the experience of getting to see these men who are so often quoted in the press. Like most of the audience, I long ago made up my mind about the appropriate role of religion in government, and no dose of Scarborough's brand of political Christianity was going to incline me otherwise. My question wasn't picked as one to be answered; directed at Scarborough, it asked how church leaders can speak the truth to power when they are so close to those in power that they risk losing their prophetic voice.

What struck me most about the evening, though, was something Scarborough said towards the end of the debate. In answering one of the audience questions, he said that he thought the separation of church and state is, on a certain level, an impossibility. Noting that the American government is supposed to be of, by, and for the people, he pointed out the difficulty inherent in separating one part of a person's identity from another. "I am the state," Scarborough said, and although he didn't mean it in the Louis XIV sense, I immediately sat up in my seat and thought, "No, you aren't." "I am also the church," he said. And you can't separate me into two parts.

After the debate ended, after the applause subsided, after an angry athiest yelled his question to the crowd, after I waited to get out of the room and had walked halfway across campus back to my car, it hit me why this bothered so much. Scarborough, I think, has bought into the thoroughly American notion of individualism much more than I have. Not that I am not as individualistic and self-centered as the next American; I am. I want to protect my rights and liberties to do as I choose and to make decisions for myself just as much as anyone else in our society does. I am, for better or for worse, an individualistic American.

But I don't carry as much of that ideal into my patriotism or my faith as, apparently, people like Reverend Scarborough do. For I cannot view the church, the bride and body of Christ, as just me. The church is a body of believers who bear one anothers' burdens, laugh and weep together, and love one another as we love ourselves. I am not the church. We are the church.

(Kenyan theologian John Mbiti put this beautifully in his discussion of African societies and what their view of community and individualism brings to the church. He wrote, "I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am." Just as identity in many African cultures is so tied up in the group's identity that to speak of the individual as we do in America doesn't really make sense, so the church does not exist unless Christians are joined together, and Christians do not really exist as such outside the church.)

The same is true of the state. I teach my students that the beauty of the American democracy is that no one - no matter how rich or powerful or intelligent or beautiful he or she may be - is above the law. No one. Our democracy works because we treat everyone the same, because an individual doesn't get to determine policy and procedure on a whim. Our democracy works because we participate, because we hold our elected officials accountable to the law and to the voters, and because we do our best not to oppress those whose views are not shared by the majority. The state is not me, it is us. The state is not "I, the person." It is "we, the people."

Scarborough's comments last night helped me to better understand the divide our country faces over the church-state issue. In his view, he cannot separate his personal politics from his personal faith. In a sense, I cannot do that either. But I can treat others as I hope they would treat me, were the situation reversed, by not standing by while religious leaders try to recreate the government in their own image. I can insist that government be fair to persons of all religious persuasions (and of none at all), whether they agree with me or not. I can point to Europe, to the corrupting influence that the co-mingling of church and state has on each, to the nearly-dead state churches of so many countries. I can suggest that this is part of what Jesus meant when he taught us to render "unto Ceasar the things which are Ceasar's, and to God what is God's."

Most of all, I can recognize that "we the people" and "we the church" are not one and the same. May God grant us the grace to tread lightly, to listen carefully, and always, always to walk in humility with the Lord our God. Amen.

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congo watch

Bemba wants to go to Portugal for medical treatment. Some are apparently interpreting this as a graceful way for him to exit the stage.



157 days!

It's never too early to start talking football.

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"Congo struggles to emerge from free fall."


the jesus wilburys

Stephen Colbert on evangelicals, the environment, and dissent within the community:

This reminds me of a joke: Focus on the Family? I wish they would.

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the big guns

This should be vaguely entertaining:

Rich Scarborough of Vision America and Barry W. Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State will debate tonight on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, 7:30pm in Painter Hall room 2.48.

I might go. It depends on whether I finish this dissertation section or not. And whether I make it to the building committee meeting. And whether I feel like getting all riled up on a beautiful Tuesday evening.


home sweet home

While trying to find info about the main hospital in Goma this afternoon, I came across this super-cool interactive Google Earth map of Goma. If you zoom out, you can see the lava flows from the 2002 eruption, and you can see exactly where the border with Rwanda is. Very cool.

I already zoomed in on my old apartment (way to the west by the lake). It looks pretty much the same from the top as it did from the sides. :)


tell me what you want

I am pleased to announce that if you google "obsessed with the pipettes," Texas in Africa is the number one (of two) hits. The Attorney will be so proud.


congo watch: update

An update, for those who might be interested in what's happened in Kinshasa since the fighting abated:


a bride's gift, a baby's dream

This is the funniest set of amazon.com customer reviews ever. Some of the review titles: "Resurrection," "Tuscan Milk saved my computer," "a quick yet satisfying read," and "saved our butts in mordor." This is about milk. (Amazon.com sells milk?)

Here's a story about what they're up to.



librarians are hiding something!

These are the people who make our laws:

"What he learned, Swinford said, is that federal law pre-empts state law."

Apparently, if you don't take my or my colleagues' Introduction to American Government classes, you don't learn this fact until you become a state legislator.


you can just smell the prep

I am fairly confident in assuming that the CPP was not out on M Street with her compatriots last night:

Home ownership is such a drag.


somebody call john birch

In what is apparently an ongoing effort to convince the rest of the world that Austin is full of nothing but liberal pinko commie hippies, Mayor Will Wynn (I'm not making that up. That's really his name.) has selected Around the Bloc as this year's book for the Mayor's Book Club.

In other news, a group of UT students are trying to restart the university's chapter of Students for a Democratic Society.

Let the Mao nostalgia and the accusations of un-Americanism from the leg begin.


congo watch: i should've studied village governance in reggio-emilia

So about my trip to the Congo this summer...

I generally ignore travel warnings from the State Department, as they tend to be a bit, shall we say, over-cautious. On this one, there's no way I'd go to Kinshasa right now. In terms of stability, the east is like another country - it's so removed that people in Kinshasa and people in the east don't always know what's happening in the other place.

Instead, I ususally rely on the Australians, who have a much more sensible view of how safe it actually is to travel in a given location. And while their current travel warning is pretty harsh, it seems to be mainly concerned with the violence in Kinshasa.

That said, North Kivu is definitely having more problems. Sigh.


my exciting afternoon

I saw Matthew McConaughey at Whole Paycheck! In the parking garage. He really is that cute.

That's all.

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in the sweet arms of texas

There's not much I love more than Texas in the spring.
I missed it last year. This year, it's so beautiful that it almost hurts to drink it all in.


congo watch: le visage

It occurred to me that some of you might be curious to know exactly who Jean-Pierre Bemba (him whose private guard caused all the trouble in Kinshasa last week) is. Luckily, I have this lovely Bemba campaign t-shirt hanging in my closet. It's one of the anchors of my African dictators/war-criminals/presidential candidates t-shirt and fabric collection. I'll let you choose in which of those categories Monsieur Bemba belongs. The back of the shirt reads (in French), "With God, we will vanquish."
(And yes, his party's symbol is an ant. It's a metaphor. As in, working together, ants can accomplish much. When they're found inside a respetable home, on the other hand, they're crushed and killed with poison. I wonder how that fits in with the Geneva Conventions. Hmmm.)
Meanwhile, the V.A. reports that KUT played a bunch of Congolese music tonight. Being a good political scientist, I have been refusing to listen to the pledge drive this week, so there was no chance of me catching it. Oh, well. I've thought about the DRC enough for one week.


where's the mercy?

Here's an article about a situation so depressing I haven't had the heart to write about it. Why my government feels it's okay to lock up five-year-old children in what amounts to a prison near Austin is beyond me. They can call it whatever they want; if you're locking someone up in a facility against his or her will, it's incarceration.

Lots of people I know are working to help these families, but our country's messed-up immigration policies get in the way of finding a sane and sensible solution to the problem of people who have nowhere to go. An immigration specialist at the CLC is among those who toured the facility, brought attention to the problem, and are advocating for change. I've helped a friend at PAPA try to find a Somali translator. Our church has been able to help with improving the conditions at the detention facility, mostly by donating books and school supplies for the children.

It's not enough. This is a shameful situation. My tax dollars are paying for it. And I don't think that's okay.

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one shining moment

[Texas in Africa]'s bracket:
PTS: 1130
PCT: 99.9
RK: 2240


i saw that coming

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congo watch: the cost of chaos

The cost of the violence in Kinshasa this week was high. Reports from aid workers suggest that more than 150 people died, with the BBC's reporter saying that he's still seeing bodies in the streets. At least 80 people are "severely injured" and being treated in hospitals.

What's particularly sad about this is that it was apparently unnecessary. Negotiations between Bemba and Kabila were apparently going on - and progressing - at the time the violence started.


method and madness: continual awesomeness

I haven't updated the news on my bracket for awhile. I was 7/8 on the Elite Eight (Wouldn't you know the Aggies let me down by losing to Memphis?), and am so far 2 for 2 on the Final Four. My rank on ESPN is 6,204, which means I'm in the 99.8th percentile nationally. The boys are acting like petulant two-year-olds. We'll see if I get a perfect Final Four; my picks for tomorrow are Florida and Georgetown, which I'm not so sure was a good choice over UNC. I don't think there will be more than two one-seeds in the Final Four, though. We shall see.


she walked through springtime

"We tend our garden, we set the sun
This is the only place on earth bluebonnets grow
And once a year they come and go
At this old house here by the road.
"And when we die we say we'll catch some blackbird's wing
And we will fly away to heaven
Come some sweet bluebonnet spring."
-Nanci Griffith, James Hooker, & Daniel Flowers, "Gulf Coast Highway"

Photo taken yesterday along Highway 71, just east of La Grange. It seems too early, but our lovely wildflowers are already carpeting the edges of highways throughout central Texas.


last night in live music: emmylou harris

This weekend being my baby sister's birthday, we decided to celebrate by going to Houston to see Emmylou Harris in concert at Houston's beautiful downtown symphony hall (How many Texas concert halls did the Joneses pay for? Seriously.). Me being a poor graduate student, our seats were not exactly stellar (first row of the nosebleed balcony), but we could see Leigh on the second row of the orchestra, and we had a decent view of the stage. The acoustics in the hall are fantastic, and the bluegrass vibe of the set reminded me more of going to a show in Nashville than of a Texas auditorium.

The show itself was wonderful. Honestly, Emmylou's unique voice is so beautiful, I could listen to her sing the phone book. Backed by John Starling and Carolina Star's bluegrass (follow that link and listen to their cover of "In My Hour of Darkness." Lovely.), she gave a nice retrospective of her career to the adoring crowd, stretching all the way back to her duets with Gram Parsons, with major hits like "Blue Kentucky Girl," "Green Pastures," and her haunting version of "Wayfaring Stranger" off the Roses in the Snow album. Harris typically sings' others songs rather than her own. Last night her versions of Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho & Lefty" and Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams" were particularly lovely, as was her duet version (recorded on Duets) of Nanci Griffith's "Gulf Coast Highway" (which on the album she sings with Willie Nelson).

My favorite song of the night was, however, an Emmylou Harris original, the title track to her 2000 album, Red Dirt Girl. The lyrics to that song about lost ambition, insignificance, and anonymity coupled with the soaring melody in that beautiful setting echoed so many hopes and fears that it's hard to say where the music ended and the living began. That's my kind of show.


congo watch: final roundup on kinshasa

Finally some good news from Kinshasa. Things appear to be returning to normal. I read somewhere that Bemba has surrendered to MONUC, but I can't find independent confirmation that he's anywhere other than holed up in the South African embassy. Here's what will hopefully be my final roundup of news about this episode.
  • On a personal note, Thank goodness, I finally heard from some of my friends this morning. They are safe, although one was stuck at their children's school for two days. Unfortunately, there is unexploded ordnance in their yard, so they haven't been able to go home yet.
  • They also know most of my other Kinshasa friends, so I'm assuming that they're fine. I haven't heard from N yet, but she is from a pretty prominent family and I assume that no news is good news. Thanks for your prayers for my friends' safety.
  • Things really are getting back to normal in Kinshasa. We know this because there's once again traffic.
  • Kate has a good explanation of what apparently started all the trouble, as well as photos of some of the damage. You can look at the bullet holes in her apartment building and windows here. She also notes that Peloustore was not looted after all.
  • Surprise, surprise, Bemba wants asylum from the South Africans. Thanks, Fred, for the link.
  • The Nigerian Ambassador is in stable condition.
  • Casualty reports are still spotty, but Radio Okapi appears to be counting at least 25 dead, with no report on deaths from Mama Yemo, the main hospital. Presumbaly there are several other deaths that have not been counted.
  • The airport is open again. There is quite a line at the office of SN Brussels Airlines.

Thanks again to my regular readers for your patience with all these Congo stories. We now return to this blog's regularly scheduled topics, including the fact that the increasing instability in the east is largely caused by members of the army and police forces. Sigh.



congo watch: photos

Here are some really remarkable photos of Kinshasa today. The streets are unbelievably deserted. It's surreal.

By all accounts things are calming down, although the embassies are advising their nationals not to move until tomorrow. Glad to see that Kinshasa will be returning to normal soon. I'm headed out for the rest of the day and evening - more updates tomorrow. Best of luck to all those who are still stuck in your offices in Gombe!


congo watch: plus calme?

The Kinshasa bloggers can tell you more about what's going on there today than anything I can. The following information comes from reports from Congogirl, Fred, and Kate, as well as the newswires.

  • Evacuations continue. The children are still stuck at the Belgian school, but are apparently okay.

  • Authorities in Brazzaville are getting ready for an influx of evacuees and refugees.

  • People stuck in the Grand Hotel carpark were evacuated in a convoy (I hope that my favorite Kin taxi driver, John, is safe and sound. John has a brother in Dallas and is a wonderful guy. He tracked down all my election souvenirs and sent them stateside with N last summer. Please keep him and his family in your prayers!).

  • There's still serious fighting near the beach, which is unfortunate since that's the evacuation route to Brazzaville. (When you evacuate Kinshasa, so long as the airport is closed, there's nowhere else to go but Brazzaville.)

  • UNICEF's compound was hit. They have evacuated to the Utexafrica (a giant textile/fabric company). This is surreal. I am wearing a skirt made of material purchased at Utexafrica today.

  • Most of Bemba's soldiers have been disarmed, but some street kids got ahold of weapons.

  • BBC has excellent pictures, including the one above, here.

  • DRC's oil reserves were bombed overnight.

  • Lots of people report seeing bodies in the streets. (I can't tell you how disturbing this is. The first time I saw such a site in the east, I just about went into shock.)

  • Reuters South Africa gives us a handy-dandy guide to Jean-Pierre Bemba. He was, apparently, "born with a silver spoon in his mouth."

  • My colleagues laugh when I tell them about this because apparently "bemba" is a very derogatory, racist term in Peru. Go fig.

  • I love MONUC updates, because they tell you so much, and yet so little. The "situation remains tense in Kinshasa." Thanks for that clarification.

  • My students couldn't care less about this, except they know that I'm concerned about my friends. Which is sweet. I have good students.


congo watch: calme?

More Kinshasa news:


congo watch

So here I sit on my air conditioned, free wi-fi equipped express bus to downtown, loking at the new bluebonnets blooming in the median and getting ready to teach my morning classes. Today's topic is the two-party system in American politics, what an anomaly that is in the global scheme of things, and that the reason it has endured for so long is that we have single-member districts and winner-takes-all elections.

The irony that I am talking about these things and enjoying such luxury while others sit in office buildings in Kinshasa for another twenty-four hours of listening to shots and waiting does not escape me.

It shouldn't be surprising. It was pretty clear last week that the tension would overflow into violence soon. It's just that there was so much hope. So much hope that maybe, just maybe, Congo had found a way to solve problems through politics rather than violence. Hope that it might be possible to form a government that takes a wide variety of interests into account, rather than just looting every possible resource for its own benefit. That hope, it seems, is in serious doubt.

That said, here's an update on what happened while we on this side of the Atlantic were sleeping:

My bus is about to arrive at our destination. I'll try to post more in a bit.



congo watch

Things that have happened in Kinshasa/I've learned since leaving to go watch the games five hours ago:
  • The UN has been evacuating schools and moving important people to the MONUC HQ. I assume that includes the Belgian school, which is the one I'm worried about.
  • Bemba sought refuge in the South African embassy, but I've read that they won't grant him asylum.
  • Mortar rounds landed in Brazzaville, the capitol of the other Congo, which sits two miles directly across the Congo River from Kinshasa. (Read: whoever's firing these things has no aim. That's what makes this so much more dangerous than it inherently has to be.)
  • Either a grenade or a mortar round hit the Spanish embassy. Isn't it frightening that they don't know?
  • The ambassador from Nigeria is badly wounded.
  • Peloustore, a fancy grocery store where I got my lunches in Kinshasa, was looted.
  • It's 4 in the morning in Kinshasa and people are still awake because they're still blogging because there are still shots and mortars going off. What a miserable experience.
  • It occurred to me earlier to wonder whether they tried to stage a coup or not. I don't think they did. But Bemba's troops have been able to control far more of Gombe than anyone expected.

I know no one really cares about this, but these are my friends, this is a place I've been, and this is scary. It helps me to know as much about what's going on as possible. Thanks for your patience with all my Congo posts.


congo watch

An update on the gunfight in Kinshasa via Fred at Extra!Extra!:

"Bemba seems to have fared better than I predicted at 12.30. His soldiers reportedly took control of a good stretch of Gombe, from the port all the way to the Grand Hotel (a popular accommodation for visiting big-wigs), from which they have now been pushed back. The key to their success may be the mutiny of the 7th Brigade, which was in control of a number of strategic positions in the area around Bemba’s house. If true, it’s quite an amazing setback for the government."

Um, yeah, so I've been to the Grand Hotel. My good friends live just around the corner. If the 7th Brigade really did mutiny (and it wouldn't be surprising, given that most Kinois supported Bemba over the winner of the presidential election, Kabila), this is a mess. (And, I might add, yet another chapter in what will become a textbook example of how not to rebuild your national army after a civil war.) The government claims this was an attempt by Bemba's men to take over the government.

MONUC's news about the possible ceasefire would be funny if it weren't so dangerous: basically, both sides have agreed to a ceasefire, they just can't get their troops to stop shooting. The main trick to managing this crisis is to to confine it to Gombe and to be sure to get a ceasefire before popular uprisings start. If people take to the streets, it could be a real mess. Right now, things are calm in the cite. This is good. But they need to settle things quickly.



congo watch

Here are some reports from bloggers in Kinshasa. The heavy gunfire some are hearing apparently isn't just guns; it's also mortar rounds. There is, apparently, an overnight ceasefire, although people on the ground are still reporting hearing shots. Here's Reuters on the story.

I haven't heard anything from my Kinshasa friends yet. Their jobs are such that they are too busy to email on a day like this. If anyone there knows anything about whether kids got out of the Belgian school or not, I would appreciate an update. Reports are that six people have died on the streets.


congo watch: kin-la-poubelle

There is open fighting today in the Gombe neighborhood of Congo's capital, Kinshasa. Gombe is the downtown quarter where all the wealthy people (including most expatriates) live. It's where I stayed when I was in Kinshasa last March. Gombe is a very nice neighborhood. It's along the Congo River and is as close to lovely as you get in a dynsfunctional city of 10 million people. Imagine something like Austin's Westlake neighborhood if it were closer to downtown, Buckhead in Atlanta, or Highland Park in Dallas. Or Embassy Row in Washington. Now imagine those places full of soldiers who are firing bullets and mortar rounds and you'll get a sense of what it's like in Gombe today.

The fighting is over the refusal of Jean-Pierre Bemba (the former rebel leader and vice-president who was also the runner-up in the presidential election) to disarm his private militia and send the troops to be integrated into the national army. Bemba argues that without his private guard, his life would be in danger. Obviously you can't have more than one army in a country, but the pitiful thing is that Bemba is probably right that he wouldn't be safe without his troops. Bemba (and another former rebel leader) were supposed to disarm and send their troops for reintegration by March15. They didn't, and there's been a standoff up until today.

Several of my friends and my friends' families live in Gombe. The children who attend the French school (which is next door to Bemba's house) are trapped in their school's gym. So far the peacekeepers are standing by, but not intervening. They have stated their goal is to protect the civilian population.

I would appreciate your prayers for their safety, especially those families with children, and for all Congolese who have lived with this insecurity for far too long.


all nature sings

Check out these incredible, haunting photographs of Antarctica.


austin loves its music

Well, SXSW is over, which can only mean one thing: it's time to start speculating about the lineup for September's ACL Festival.

Confirmed acts thus far include Asleep at the Wheel, Blue Mother Tupelo, and the Reverend Horton Heat. It is also apparently almost certain that Bloc Party and Wilco will play!

I've also seen rumors that Wilco will tape another episode of ACL later this year. Woo-hoo!!!

Tickets for the festival always go on sale in April. Here's hoping they've figured out a way to avoid repeating last year's early ticket sales debacle, in which only parts of their email list got the notification.



on patriotism

The Onion on the absurdity of it all.


as if there was any doubt

Our man Kevin Durant, NABC Player of the Year. We eagerly await the Naismith award.

In other tourney news, we head into round 2 tomorrow with me still at the top of our pool's standings. I don't think it will last, but it sure has been a fun week.


the life i love

Last night's Colbert Report was so funny. He went after Al Mohler:

He went after Willie Nelson:

Willie went after Stephen, sortof:

And Richard Holbrooke (seriously) brokered the peace:


scandal of the week

You should care about this. The White House apparently decided sometime Monday night or Tuesday morning that it was worth fighting over to keep Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, despite the scandal over the political firings of 8 U.S. Attorneys that threatens to bring Gonzales and his deputy down.

As a political scientist who teaches about this stuff, I'm most interested in the potential confrontation over executive privilege, which you can read about here. Since a House panel just voted to authorize the issuance of subpoenas for White House and Justice Department aids (over the president's insistence that Congress should only be allowed to conduct limited, unrecorded interviews of those officials) and relevant documents, it appears we're headed for a confrontation. Bush said he would invoke executive privilege if his aides were required to testify in public under oath.

Why does this matter? It matters because this is a question about how transparent our government institutions should be. Presidents can claim executive privilege in matters of national security and other high-stakes issues. I think that presidential aides should be able to talk openly with their boss in order to help the president reach a decision. I also think that people like Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton tried to abuse their executive privileges in the Watergate and Lewinsky scandals, respectively.

This is different. This is a question about the possible politicization of part of our justice system. And the question for me when it comes to executive privilege on this manner is: What does the president have to hide from Congress and the American public? If it was really a straightforward personnel decision, it shouldn't be that big of a deal. I doubt the president would be willing to go to court over it if such were the case. Is it the job of Congress to keep presidents from taking such actions? If not, whose job is it? We don't have an emperor in the United States. Presidents and their aides can't just do whatever they want in the name of their personal political goals. Has this happened in the Bush administration?

The Senate panel responsible for this issue put off voting on the subpoena issue until tomorrow, and you can be sure that there are people working behind the scenes to cut a deal. I am interested to see democracy in action. Will our system of checks and balances prevail, or will someone decide that Gonzales should resign in exchange for avoiding a public trial over the issue? We'll see.



This is an interesting indictment of Al Mohler's arguments about the biological basis of homosexuality. I'm not sure it's fair, but it's interesting.



tonight in ivy league sports

Well, the Bad Historian is sad now, I'm sure, because Princeton basketball coach Joe Scott is leaving for Denver. What will happen if Princeton manages to snag a coach who can return the Tigers to their glory days? Will Penn's reign be over? Will Dartmouth manage to field a team next year? Does anyone actually care?


i should've written about the british parliament

Sometimes my research just makes me feel sick. Today is one of those days. I am writing background information for a chapter, and part of that involves the Rwandan refugee camps that were established in Goma in the summer of 1994. These camps housed between 800,000 and 1 million Rwandans who had fled the genocide, but the camps quickly fell under the control of those who were responsible for the genocide. They used the camps as a base for launching raids back into Rwanda to try to overthrow the new government.

The conditions in the camps were, by all accounts, beyond awful. They were set up on a volcanic plain, there was no clean water or sanitation, at first there was nowhere near enough food. People were dying by the hundreds, a cholera epidemic broke out, it was just awful. And people were in these camps for years.

How do we stand by and let these things happen to innocent people? Why don't we use our power and money to do something about it? There are situations like this all over the world today. Why aren't we making it better? What's wrong with us?


i hear it ticking but i don't know why

The only question about the Gonzales scandal in my mind is whether he'll make it to Friday afternoon before resigning. He is supposed to testify in Congress about the DOJ's budget request on Thursday. Seems to me that the Bush administration might want to go ahead and get this over with before Gonzales and the administration are publically embarassed then. Problem is, it looks like the Deputy AG will have to resign as well.

I forgot to mention last night that last fall we accidentally discovered that the Librarian and the Attorney's dog, L-l-l-l-Lola, jumps anytime anyone says the words, "Alberto Gonzales." L-l-l-l-Lola is a smart dog. She knows when her civil liberties are under threat.


bottoms up

I live in what has to be the only city in the world in which our residents produce multiple types of wacky bottled waters. I give you:
  • Richard's Rainwater , which is marketed as "fresh squeezed cloud juice." You can't make this stuff up. A student told me about it last semester, and I was SO excited to see it on the menu at Hoover's that I actually ordered a $2 bottle of water.
  • Willie Water. Yes, Austin's favorite hippie cowboy has his own bottled water. It's pure. It's clean. It's always on your mind. (N.B., if you click on the link while at work, you'd better turn your speaker volume down first.)

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congo watch

It's good (I guess) to know that I'm not the only one who thinks North Kivu become less stable over the last few months. I am supposed to return in late June or early July to stay for a couple of months. Goma is controlled by the peacekeepers and should be fine, but here's hoping things will get better in the rest of the province soon.

Also, 550 survivors of a horrible attack on Congolese refugees in Burundi are going to be relocated to the United States over the next few weeks. These families, having already had to run from their homes in Congo, were attacked at a refugee transit center in Burundi by rebel groups. The rebels set their shelters on fire, killing 156 people, most of whom were women and children. An additional 106 people were wounded.

They will be resettled in Denver, Louisville, San Francisco, and elsewhere. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to restart life in a totally new culture. If you or your church is in one of these cities, please consider what you could do to help these families- or other families who've fled other countries - get used to life in the United States. To get more information on where refugees are and who is helping them, you can contact:

Rest assured that whoever is helping these people will be glad to have the support of a church or group of community volunteers.



play my music in the sun

Ah, free speech.


not long for this administration

Tonight one of my students raised his hand and asked, "So what's up with this whole Alberto Gonzales thing?" It makes me so happy when they're paying attention to the news that I devoted twenty minutes to explain.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is going to have to resign. Maybe tomorrow or Friday afternoon. When your chief of staff resigns, you're in trouble. When even Republicans start seriously criticizing your actions, or calling for your ouster, you're doomed. When the White House is only saying it "hopes" you can hold on to your job, it's over.

If/when he steps down, I won't be sorry. In his capacity as Attorney General, and in his previous position as White House Counsel, Gonzales has advocated the expansion of presidential power beyond what I believe are its constitutional limits. As AG, if the allegations regarding his actions relating to the firing of eight U.S. attorneys are true, it appears he has far overstepped the bounds of the appropriate use of power. I want the Department of Justice to function as an agent of democracy, not as a place to play political games.


the friendly skies

You know. I travel quite a bit. And despite my best efforts (online seat selection, lucking out with free upgrades, pleading with the gate staff), I very often end up sitting in front of a kicking child, or behind the guy who insists on leaning his seat all the way back within 37 seconds of takeoff, or next to an airline executive who wants to talk, talk, talk when all I want to do is sleep, sleep, sleep. This is the story of my life.

One of the worst airline experiences I ever had involved a nine-hour LOT Polish Airlines flight from Warsaw to New York during which I had to sit in front of the lavatory, next to the galley, and smack in the middle of seven unaccompanied, Polish-American minors (the oldest of whom was maybe 9) who'd spend the summer with their grandparents on the Baltic coast and who switched between Polish and English with no warning in the middle of sentences. Did I mention the flight attendants, all of whom were middle-aged Polish women who didn't ask you to raise your seatback, but rather took matters into their own hands, meaning you'd wake up from a nap because someone had reached into your seat to raise your seatback for you?

I know bad flights. Twelve hours to Dubai in the row behind three screaming babies? Done it. Bumpy flights on Congolese jetliners that aren't allowed into Europe with no security checks and semi-drunk Russian pilots? Yep, although my mother doesn't want to know about it (sorry, mom). Flights over the Cameroonian jungle in a Cesna? No problem. Being sprayed with disinfectant and bug repellant by Air France every time they leave Africa? Yes (And you should always cover your mouth. Just because they say it's not harmful doesn't mean there's not a reason the flight attendants cover theirs.) Listening to thirty Northwestern MBA candidates who are apparently incapable of shutting up yap for all thirteen overnight hours of a flight to Tokyo? It was awful, but I survived.

In all my bad flying experiences, however, I have never had an experience as bad as this. Especially not in first class. On British? Oh. My. Oh, MY. Oh, my, my, my.



You should definitely read "An Open Letter to Al Mohler," written by a gay Southern Baptist in response to Mohler's blog post about the potential for preventing the biological development of homosexuality. The response is thought-provoking, mostly because the author gets to the heart of the question that's at the center of this debate: does God create people gay or not? Is a change in hormonal levels in the womb (which seems to have more to do with it than a "gay gene") evidence of a sinful, fallen world, or is it the work of a God who creates each of us in his image?



Today marks four years since the United States invaded Iraq.

I remember...

I remember my internship in 2001, where it seemed like every right-winger I met was obsessed with what they considered unfinished business in Iraq. I remember thinking about how influential some of them were by the time 9/11 rolled around. I remember the professor for whom I TA-ed telling the class that the filling of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves that fall meant that the Bush administration would invade Iraq.

I remember, a year later, being a first-year PhD student, overwhelmed with reading and writing and trying to understand complex theories about alliances and competition and democratization. I remember the discussions in my first International Relations course that spring, which moved from hypothetical war to real war in a manner of weeks. I remember wondering how the process of building a democracy from scratch would really work, whether Iraq would do any better at it than most African countries I had studied had done.

I remember sitting in the DFW airport, waiting for a flight to Berlin and watching Colin Powell present the case for invasion to the Security Council. I remember Berlin that week before the invasion, staying with my friend Margaret who, just weeks before, had been out on the streets in protest with millions of others in Europe. I remember Margaret's questions about the morality of pre-emptive war, about how such actions could be condoned by a Christian president. I remember visiting M and J's church plant in East Berlin and wondering the same things.

I remember the doctor coming home from Ghana and me coming back from Berlin and P's wedding and his match day and wondering when, not if, we would invade. I remember sitting on the bus that day and talking to my friend Laura. I remember her asking why I thought the war would be unjust, and how my explanation that we hadn't exhausted all diplomatic means seemed so terribly inadequate.

I remember watching "shock and awe" on television and being glad that it seemed that the war would go quickly, without much fighting. I remember the poet Kathleen Norris telling my sister that "awe" is a word to describe God, not a word to describe the work of men's weapons.

I remember the president declaring "Mission Accomplished" on my birthday, as I sat trying to write a take-home exam on war and peace for my IR class. I remember Italy with my family that summer and seeing rainbow "Pace" ("peace") flags everywhere, hanging from rooftops and balconies, used as curtains and wall decorations. I remember South Africa and trying to explain to a group of French political scientists that just because I was from Texas didn't mean I thought the war was a good idea.

I remember the fear that came with learning that A and N and J and so many others would be deployed to a place that seemed to be getting worse every day. I remember wondering how the American people could re-elect someone who got us into such an untenable situation, but also understanding that it's hard to change presidents in the middle of a war. I remember my incredulity at learning that a Baylor administrator was going to Baghdad to oversee part of the reconstruction, despite not speaking Arabic and knowing little about the region and its cultures. I remember worrying every day about Steve the Lawyer as he worked in the Green Zone.

I remember my surprise when public opinion began to turn against the president. I remember being so aware of how little I've sacrificed for this war, while others have given everything.

Most of all, I remember the sadness at learning that more soldiers have died. I remember the shock of learning that so many Iraqis have died because of my country's shortsightedness. I remember my total surprise in learning that 2 million Iraqis have fled their country as refugees, and that another 1.7 million are internally displaced, meaning they've had to leave their homes behind.

Today I will not protest. I will not call my senators in anger; I will not ask my students to debate the war's morality. I will not rant about bad decisions, arrogance, or the immorality of pre-emption.

Today, I will say a prayer of thanks for those who have given their all to bring peace. I will mourn those who have died, and pray for those who must live with this mess. I will pray for leaders to make sensible decisions that are driven by the best interest of the Iraqi people, and not by domestic politics. I will hope that things will improve soon, and pray that there will be faith, hope, love, and peace in all corners. And I will remember.


baptist news

Paul Powell will retire as dean of Truett Seminary, effective May 31. David Garland has been named his successor.

This is an excellent decision by Baylor's leadership. Dr. Garland is a wonderful scholar and mentor and he will do a great job leading Truett.



sxsw in review: y'all go home now

Overall, SXSW was okay this year. It wasn't great, but it was fine, I guess. It's always fun to enjoy live music with your friends, and the atmosphere surrounding SXSW is like nothing else. I saw five great films, the best of which were Audience of One and Fall from Grace. At least two of the films, Election Day and The Devil Came on Horseback, will be great to use in classes if and when they get distributors.

The music lineup was disappointing this year. Usually there are dozens of bands I'm dying to see. This year, not so much. I'm not sure why that was. The best show I saw was Steve Earle, no question. I also enjoyed seeing the Watson Twins, Charlie Louvin, and the Pipettes. The most bizarre was that Japanese experimental post-punk band Yolz in the Sky.

And then there are the things you hear about too late to get to and will thus regret not having seen. (Not that I regret this, but PhSquared saw a band called Electric Apricot last night. Apparently it's a project that mocks jam bands - they have a song called "Hey, Are You Going to Burning Man?" How funny is that?!?).

Beyond missing bands, which is my fault, the growth of SXSW leads to a series of inevitable logistical difficulties that arise when you try to cram 20,000 people into a 10 square block area. Here are my gripes about SXSW 2007:
  • Overcrowding. Every year, there are noticably more people trying to get into the showcases, and it's getting to be a bit of a mess. 20,000 participants seems to be beyond the point of critical mass.
  • Bad volunteer staff. Volunteers should have a minimum level of training, and should understand that it is not their job to inform patrons that they won't be getting in. The staff at the Parish on Thursday night did a terrible job on this count and many others. Please, SXSW, train your volunteers better!
  • Bad door management. People working the door should know what they're doing and be able to do it efficiently. Mohawk was the worst offender on this point, leaving a couple hundred fans outside on the street while the venue sat half empty.
  • My church's terrible new parking policy. I am really upset about something I learned about on Thursday night, when an incredibly rude parking attendant informed me that unless I was going into the church, I would have to pay $10 to park there for two hours. My church is downtown, and as such, we have a contract with a parking company to sell access to our lot during the day and at night. When you join the church, you get a permit to park there. I've always used this as a selling point to my friends - free parking downtown is a great reason to join. Apparently, while I was gone last year, someone decided that church members should have to pay for parking at night when there's not a church activity going on. I think this is a terrible policy and would be interested to know whose idea it was and whether there was a non-financial justification for it.
  • The impossibly cool people who think they're better than everyone else. Austin is such a laid-back city. You can go to some of the nicest restaurants in town in jeans and flip flops and no one will blink an eye. When all these outsiders show up and start acting like they should be treated differently because they're somebody, it throws off the live-and-let-live balance we love. Get out of here. And take your white three piece suit in the middle of the day and your four-inch platform heels with you.

Thus concludes Texas in Africa's coverage of SXSW 2007. Unless I can get my Steve Earle video to upload.

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victory is mine!

I am finally, currently, at least for another 30 minutes or so, at the top of the rankings in our March Madness pool. Hahahahahahahaha!!!!!!!

Sorry. Have to enjoy it before it all falls apart. I'll now return to being gracious.


the new sbc fight

Nathan Finn has written a helpful guide to his view of the underlying divides that are contributing to the current tension in the SBC. It's an intersting and pretty well-informed read. I think it's sad that, in the name of being "open-hearted and big-minded," Finn proceeds to name a list of all those whose agendas ought not be welcome in the SBC. (Who doesn't have an agenda?)

I've known for many years that there is not room for someone like me in the Southern Baptist Convention. It just makes me sad to see it in print.


zimbabwe watch

Things are getting even worse in Zimbabwe.

I gave a paper on the situation in Zimbabwe at a conference in South Africa in 2003. At the time, inflation was rampant, unnecessary famine was causing people to starve, and the country's president, Robert Mugabe, showed little respect for the rule of law by, among other actions, regularly harassing his political opposition and intimidating reporters who dared to expose the truth. This had all been going on for more than three years at that point, but similar, less extreme precedents stretch back a couple of decades.

Four years later, seven years after things started to really go downhill, little has changed. It breaks my heart that all of Zimbabwe's people have never really had a fair chance. They were subjected to the rule of a white minority regime which denied all black Zimbabweans political rights, then the liberation led by Mugabe, which seemed to hold so much promise, has evolved into a tyrranical mess. How does a country overcome a history of racism, hatred, and corruption?


sxsw day four

I forgot that it was St. Patrick's Day yesterday. In Austin, "major holidays" mean that all the city's 70,000-plus college students and a bunch of other people head down to Sixth Street to party. And I hate Sixth Street, especially when it's crowded. So trying to negotiate the last night of SXSW music was kindof a nightmare. Not to mention how hard it was to find parking. Ugh.

Anyway, since I'd missed most of their set the night before, I stopped at Cedar Street Courtyard to hear the Watson Twins. The Truly Obsessed was there, helping her friend M hand out, um, promotional materials, and the crowd wasn't too big. The Watson Twins themselves were great. It was their birthday, and their blend of bluesy roots rock almost drowned out the noise from Fado's St. Patrick's Day party out on 4th Street. I really like their sound - it hits somewhere between Beth Orton and Laura Nyro - and hope they get signed as a result of all their shows this week.

After that, I very much wanted to see Kings of Leon at Stubb's, but since the Stooges were playing there two hours later, there was no chance of getting in. I've never seen the line that long - the place was packed, the badge line stretched all the way down the block and up 9th street, and they didn't even allow a wristband line. So we decided to go around to 8th and stand behind the stage. The acoustics are surprisingly decent back there, so even though I didn't get to see Kings of Leon, I did get to hear them. An added amusement was that this is where all the acts go in and out of the venue, so I saw Britt Daniel of Spoon and a couple of the Stooges. No Iggy Pop, though.

After that, I went to Emo's for the 11:05 show (more on that below), but since it's always better to enter through the Emo's Jr. door, I stumbled upon this. Yolz in the Sky is a Japanese experimental punk band that must be seen to be believed. Oh. My. (Actually, when I said, "Oh. My." last night, the guy in front of me turned around and said, "I know, this is totally my favorite song of theirs." He was joking.) Everyone in the venue was pretty much in shock. It was So. Funny.

Not, however, as intentionally funny as what came after that. That's right, Emo's hosted Donnie Davies' inaugural show, and, wow, was it somethin'. Davies, for those not familiar with the story, is the perpetrator of an elaborate internet performance art hoax that mocks a pet cause of some fundamentalist Christians. The show itself was pure camp. Backed by his band Evening Service, Davies, dressed entirely in pink and lavender, sang several campy songs, preached his message of love through hate, and performed a healing on a "random" audience member. It was a hoot, until just at the end, when Davies sang his hit song, "The Bible Says." Towards the end of the last chorus, Davies started to cry, then stumbled off the stage, which abruptly ended the performance. It was poignant and sad, and such a strange way to end SXSW, thinking about love, hate, fear, and how we choose to exlude those we don't like.



not just republicans anymore

E.J. Dionne on the changing nature of Christian involvement in politics.


sxsw day three

We've reached the point in SXSW where it's all sortof a blur. Bands, friends, films, basketball - I'm exhausted and hardly know what day it is. Also, I'm pretty sure I saw a guy rapping with an accordion last night on Congress Avenue, but I didn't take a picture, so who knows?

Anyway, day 3 of SXSW dawned early as I had an early lunch with a friend. After that, I met the Attorney at Emo's for the Pipettes, who were playing the Pitchfork party. The Attorney is marginally obsessed with the Pipettes, and after seeing their set, it's easy to see why. Imagine a sixties girl group, polka-dot dresses and all, with a modern girl twist and you'll get an idea of their sound. They're sortof the anti-Dreamgirls; their songs feature tight harmonies, coreographed dancing, peppy beats, and sappy ballads, but the lyrics are all liberated women. Their song, "Because it's Not Love (But It's Still a Feeling)" should give you the idea. I thoroughly enjoyed it, so much that I popped over to Cheapo and bought their album, which is as funny as their live act.

After that I met PhSquared to go see a band he likes. On the way to Fado's 4th Street stage, we stopped in at the Gingerman to check the basketball scores. Wouldn't it be my luck that Michelle Shocked was playing inside? I cannot stand Shocked's music, and yet I manage to run into her act at every SXSW. It's like the universe is aligned against me. Anyway, her whining was over by the time Winthrop won. Thank goodness.

We went to the Fourth Street Stage, but they were running way behind, so we stepped into Cedar Street Courtyard and saw the end of Architecture in Helsinki's act. It was okay. Not as special as I've been led to believe, but not offensive either. By 4:10, Brooklyn's Antibalas finally took to the stage on 4th. Antibalas was interesting. Twelve-piece Afrobeat jam bands are Not Really My Thing, but they were pretty good. PhSquared was way into it.
After that, I went home to rest for an hour, baked cookies, and headed over to 23's to watch the Texas game. That ended later than I expected, which made me late to the Watson Twins' set at Central Presbyterian Church. CPC is running a venue this year, and while you'd think that their lack of a liquor license would make it an unpopular venue, they have something that most other venues lack: pews, aka, a place to sit down. The church was nearly full for the twins' excellent rootsy blues and the kind of tight harmonies that only sibilings can achieve. I loved it and may try to catch their full set tonight.
Next I headed to the Parish to get in line for Steve Earle. I mentioned last night that the volunteer staff there was terrible. It started with the wristband line attendant we all nicknamed Debbie Downer, who felt it her duty to inform everyone in the wristband line that there was no way we were getting into the Parish to see Steve Earle, despite the fact that it was more than an hour before showtime and the badge line wasn't all that long. Debbie informed me that I had "maybe a 10% chance" and the guys directly behind me that they had a 1% chance of getting in.

We waited less than ten minutes.

Inside, the place wasn't yet full, but as The Drams played an okay set, it got more and more crowded and the inside volunteers got more and more unreasonable. Steve Earle's set was amazing (see last night's review, below), except for the volunteer who felt it her duty to step in in the middle of "Comin' Around" to tell the guy next to me that he couldn't take pictures (He had a camera permit. And nowhere else in the festival does anyone enforce the no photos rule for people who don't have camera permits). On our way out of the club, Debbie was standing at the door, saying, "You don't want to see Rickie Lee Jones?" No, Debbie, no. We didn't.

After that, I wanted to catch Carrie Rodriguez, but by the time we got over there, Cedar Street was running about a set behind. Someone (apparently Emerson Hart) was singing a song you know from the radio, but by that point I was too tired to care. One more night to go.


somewhere in there

There's much more to say about day three of SXSW, which I'll get around to doing tomorrow. For now, it's after 1am, but I want to write about Steve Earle's performance at The Parish before I collapse.

I don't imagine I'll ever see a show this amazing again. It was fully acoustic, just Steve Earle, his guitars, and his harmonicas. The Parish was packed, probably beyond what the fire marshal would allow, and, I'm sorry, but the volunteer staff working the venue did a terrible job, picking on people for unimportant minor infractions. I managed to get up front, where it was so crowded you almost couldn't move.
But once Earle took the stage, it didn't matter. He played for a full hour. He played "Someday," "Copperhead Road," "Rich Man's War," and "Tom Ames' Prayer." He played "Rex's Blues/Fort Worth Blues" and told a wonderful story about Townes van Zandt. He played "Comin' Around" with his wife Alison Moorer and a great new song called something along the lines of "Lay This Hammer Down."
And he played "Goodbye," which is among my all-time favorite songs. It is so sad, so haunting, so true. To see him play it live, up-close, in a great venue with no distractions, and with an awed, silent crowd was...well..., this is why I love live music. It just doesn't get much better.


march madness day 2: i'm still awesome

My bracket for today was perfect. I am in the 99.7th percentile on ESPN and tied in winning my pool (we don't bet, it's purely for bragging rights). The guys are Not Pleased. I am, of course, the very picture of humility and grace. :)


get thee to a nunnery

Whatever. We did this in senior AP English in high school. I think I was one of the prosecuting attorneys (Those of you in the peanut gallery should just keep your comments to yourselves). As I recall, the defense came up with some crazy defense involving fictional "animals" in the Princess Bride. We may not have had a Supreme Court justice presiding, but we sure didn't end up with a hung jury.



sxsw day two

Sometimes my world is a little too small. Do you ever get the sense that everyone you know knows everyone else you know? This happens to me all the time, and it gets pretty bizarre. Case in point: last night in line at Mohawk, the guy in front of me and I were talking about SXSW and his work with a record label, and he mentions that he's from a small town in western Oklahoma. Long story short, it turns out he knows my college Model UN partner, because, well, how many people are there in most small towns in western Oklahoma?

It's a good thing we made friends, because he and I and the four guys from Seattle who were behind me were in line for awhile. Mohawk has, without question, the worst door management I've ever seen at SXSW. One guy was checking ID's and handing out wristbands, and then they were actually bothering to scan all the wristbands and badges (most venues don't even bother). Result: we didn't get inside until halfway through Besnard Lakes' set, which is what I had come to see. We were along the fence, which was pretty much destroyed by everyone pulling apart the pieces of plastic so we could see the act -- and the half-empty venue. It was incredibly frustrating. I hope that Mohawk gets its act together. Quickly.

Anyway, Besnard Lakes was cool. Ethereal indie rock, Canadian wunderkids, etc., I'm sure you'll be able to read about it on Pitchfork. I just wish I'd gotten to see the whole set up close.After that, the Bad Historian wanted to experience South-by for the first time, so I picked him up and we went down to La Zona Rosa, took one look at the line, and headed back downtown. We ended up at Buffalo Billiards, which has a really cool upstairs venue I'd never seen, to see Jesse Sykes. I ended up talking to a former music critic for the Dallas Observer (How he came to no longer be employed there was a pretty entertaining story; apparently, the corporate overlords didn't like it when he referred to some of Dallas' clubs as cesspools in a swamp, or something like that.) . He'd been to Africa and wanted to talk about my t-shirt (which reads "I'm famous in Congo Kinshasa.") All this goes to prove my theory that you meet the most interesting people at SXSW, so long as you're willing to talk to strangers.

Anyway, the Bad Historian and I weren't really familiar with Jesse Sykes and the Sweet Hereafter, but we mostly enjoyed the set. I generally avoid the girls-who-don't-shave-their-underarms-with-guitars kind of music, but Sykes knows how to rock. She's better when she's singing fast-paced songs; the slow, "pretty" stuff was mostly grating.

We stuck around to see what we would think of Seattle's Aqueduct. Their first two songs were awesome; they started with the Walker, Texas Ranger theme song (that's the horrible quality video, above), then moved into their hilarious band theme song. But it was all downhill from there, and I was exhausted, so we headed home. Things will really be intense today and I'm trying to pace myself.


i am awesome

Forgive my total lack of humility tonight. I am really good at bracketology, and, unlike the seven guys in our group who have created a total of 22 brackets between them, I am not afraid to commit and therefore pick pnly one bracket. The Doctor attributed my skill at tourney time to his belief that the NCAA tournament is the only time in life when women are capable of fully separating emotions from their decisions and men are not. I think he's right about that. I also think that paying attention to the numbers and specific skills of the teams gets you pretty far. Also, there are rules. A twelve-seed always beats a five-seed, although that may not happen this year since Old Dominion lost to Butler. Only two one-seeds make it to the Final Four. Sixteen-seeds and the Ivy League champion never win.

Anyway, my bracket did great today. Because I picked VCU to beat Duke and only got three games wrong (thanks a lot, Tech). I feel like dancing.



congo watch

Beware the ides of March. In Congo, today is the deadline for troops loyal to the loser of the presidential race to disarm. Things are, shall we say, a little tense.


save each one's pride

We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord
And we pray that all unity may one day be restored
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love
-Peter Scholtes

Last night I saw K. Ryan Jones' incredible documentary, Fall from Grace. Jones is a senior at the University of Kansas; the film was a project for his junior intermediate video production class. If this is what he can do as a student, he's in for a great film career.

Fall from Grace tells the story of Topeka's Westboro Baptist Church and its pastor Fred Phelps. I'm sure you've heard of them; they're the fundamentalist group that belives American soldiers are dying in Iraq becuase the U.S. is a pro-homosexual country. The film explains how the church (which consists entirely of Phelps' family; he and his wife have 13 children, more than 40 grandchildren, and a few great-grandchildren) came to this conclusion, and follows their obsession, protests, and history. Some of his children are lawyers; they speak about the group's mission and right to share their views.

The film also talks to those on the other side of the debate; a pastor, a theologian, Topeka's former police chief, and a civil rights attorney who opposes Phelps all offer their perspectives. One of the hardest scenes to watch in the film is an interview with Kelly Franz, an Iraq war widow who had to deal with Phelps' family protesting at her husband's funeral. "The color drained from the world," she says of her husband's death.

The film raises all kinds of questions about church and state, the place of homosexuals in our society, and, most significantly, free speech rights. I could definitely see using it in the classroom to provoke all kinds of discussions. Should people like Phelps have unlimited free speech rights to propagate such messages? Ordinances have been passed to limit Westboro's ability to protest at soldiers' funerals by requiring the family to maintain a certain distance from the cemetery. The ACLU came to Westboro's defense over this, arguing that this constitutes an unconstitutional breach of their free speech rights. Should the state step in to stop this church from protesting? If so, does that diminish our free speech rights elsewhere? It's hard to agree with the ordinances when you see the pain in Kelly Franz's eyes.

The film also explores Phelps' character, noting that he was an attorney who was disbarred for intimidating a witness and slandering judges. Four of the Phelps children have left the church and the family; the two interviewed for the film spoke of his anger, which they claim was expressed in physical abuse of his children and, one daughter thought, is now being channelled into his rage against homosexuals and the U.S. His daughter spoke of how terrified of God she was growing up, and how she always believed that she was going to hell based on what she was taught.

What's most disturbing about Phelps, of course, is that he genuinely believes he is doing God's work. Rev. Jeff Gannon, the pastor interviewed in the film, speaks of the corruption of the Christian faith that is presented in Phelps' message, and how his hate speech detracts from the gospel of the Jesus who taught that we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Phelps' family members wholeheartedly agrees with the interpretation of scripture he has taught them, and these people, who by all accounts are bright and friendly, are entirely committed to living their version of the truth.

The film is beautifully put together, using music from The Thin Blue Line and The Fog of War. It's well shot and it is hard to believe it was student-made. The concluding montage is one of the most moving and frightening things I've ever seen in a film. Rev. Gannon, musing on what motivates Phelps, says that he thinks Phelps is a very fearful man, and then points out that 1 John 4:18 says that fear, not hate, is the opposite of love. "The opposite of love is fear," he says, " and fear will always become an expression of hate, sooner or later." Fred Phelps, he says, "is an example of someone who needs love the most, and who deserves it least."

A few seconds later the dialogue starts, and the faces of the film's subjects stare into the camera - the preachers, the lawyers, the bystanders. Over this, and soon, over images of Westboro's hateful signs, plays Jars of Clay's version of "They'll Know We are Christians By our Love." It is unbelievably powerful, making you wonder just who is a Christian, whether there's room for someone like Phelps in God's abundant love, whether we will one day "work side by side," if I really believe that guarding Phelps' dignity and saving his pride is worth it.

I just don't know.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side
We will work with each other, we will work side by side
And we'll guard each one's dignity and save each one's pride
And they'll know we are Christians by our love, by our love
They will know we are Christians by our love
By our love, by our love