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


the story of hurricane

Well, they're determined to avoid another Katrina, that's for sure. W is skipping the RNC and instead will be gracing our fair city with his presence tomorrow, where I'm sure there will be some nice photo ops with the evacuees down at the convention center. I'm guessing he won't make it to the Delco site, where there are no beds (and they don't want us to bring any!).

I don't consider what happened in 2005 to be just a failure of the Bush administration. It was a failure of government at every level - national, state, and local, and politicians from both parties screwed up. Big time. (Not that it wouldn't have helped if, say, the head of FEMA had been, I don't know, qualified for his job.) So I'm seeing this response as a good thing and a sign of lessons learned, even if Ray Nagin is overstating the threat, saying that FEMA trailers will be projectiles, and threatening to deprive looters of due process.

While I certainly hope New Orleans doesn't take another direct hit, if it's bad again there, there's going to have to be a serious discussion about the city's future. We've spent about $3.3 billion taxpayer dollars reconstructing and restoring homes for those whose insurance didn't cover their Katrina damage. Are we willing to turn around and do it again for the exact same houses?

At some point, someone's going to have to point out that, as lovely as New Orleans is, there shouldn't be a major city there. Anytime you have to fight nature, be it on a muddy cliffside in California or behind a levee on the bayou, nature's inevitably going to win.

For now, our thoughts and prayers are with all of those on the Gulf Coast. And we hope for the best.

well, it is the acc




God bless those fightin' Texas Aggies. Suddenly I'm feeling a lot better about this season. But not about the Texas secondary. Lawsee, that's going to be a problem, especially come October 11.

weekend this & that

  • KBH ain't so sure about the Palin pick, either. It's not sour grapes. She definintely didn't want the job, and the next Texas Republican gubernatorial primary is going to be one spectcular exercise in implosion.
  • Richard Land, however, is giddy as a schoolgirl.
  • Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Texas AG takes the middle road on the implementation of the Bible class bill. I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not, but it was probably a smart political move.
  • The newest plague on the Congo? Cattle rustling.
  • This is a fascinating map of the body parts most frequently mentioned in different genres of music. Gospel? Hands. Country? Eyes. Hip-hop? You can probably guess. (Warning, this isn't appropriate for children.)
  • For those of us who spend our days writing theses, dissertations, books, etc., here's an amusing diversion. HT to the Attorney.
  • And, finally, Monday is Labor Day, which means that Monday is Austin's free day of yoga, where you can go to classes at most of the city's yoga studios for free. A couple of years ago when the Librarian and the Attorney kept me from being homeless after I returned from Congo, we discovered that there's something called Austin Naked Yoga. I won't link to their site here, but I'll just say that the Librarian and I laughed for hours over the FAQ. Bless their hearts, they're once again having free yoga on Monday. If only the Austin Body Choir were part of the free open house as well...
  • Enjoy the weekend, y'all, and please watch a bunch of football for me. I'm still locked in the conference hotel with the political scientists. More on that later.

it's been nine long months...

Football is here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


before its time

Elaine, I think we got scooped.

the veepstakes, part deux

Mitt Romney seems to be the favorite for McCain's vp pick today, but there are rumors swirling that it may be Alaska governor Sarah Palin. If that's true, it's a very, very smart pick. Palin is young, capable, and very pro-life. And she has a compelling personal story that will pit her and Biden against each other in a contest to see who can make the most soccer moms cry. She's also not an old, white man, which is something McCain needs to make the Republican party seem less homogeneous. (Make no mistake, the Republican party is very homogeneous, particularly in its leadership.)

If McCain picks Romney, he's driving nails in the coffin of his campaign. There's no way evangelical Christians will vote for a Mormon, and when middle America learns that Romney believes that when he dies, he'll become god of his own planet and he and his wife will populate it with spirit children, well, that ain't gonna fly with most of the electorate.

We shall see, we shall see. And I'm sure there will be a shout in the conference rooms today when the word gets out. Somebody text it to me, okay?


congo watch

And, like clockwork, violence returns to the eastern Congo. It is late August, after all. Say a prayer for the people of Rutshuru, who've endured more violence than most of us can imagine.

getting over a loss

it's the most wonderful time of the year

It's Christmas!!!

Okay, not really, but today does mark the start of my absolute favorite time of year: college football season!!!

The other day at the gym I lucked out and got the treadmill in front of the ESPN tv during College Football Live. I've been so stressed with my dissertation and job market stuff that I haven't even had time to read Dave Campbell's this year, but watching that show got me really excited about this season. So, as is our annual tradition around here, I give you the abbreviated Texas in Africa preseason preview:
  1. Despite our Awesome New North Endzone and our Awesome Seats that Are Exactly the Same Place They Were Last Year, it's going to be a rough year for Texas. And that rough year can be summed up in four words: freshmen in the secondary.
  2. There's no point in pretending it won't be.
  3. Also, the depth chart is a mess. That's never a good sign, especially the week of the opener.
  4. Due to the fact that we have to go to a political science convention, we will miss this Saturday's season opener. Luckily, the Boston Texas Exes show the game, so PhSquared, our former colleagues, and I all have a place to watch.
  5. At least Texas isn't in Baylor's shoes. Poor Baylor. Getting stomped by Wake Forest on regional television won't be a good start to what's already a rough year. Those of you not stuck in the northeast can tune in tonight at 7pm on FSN Southwest.
  6. There's lots of buzz about Tech this year. I won't buy it until I see it. Possibly in Lubbock on November 1.
  7. My Aunt Becki (who is a nice person with an unfortunate affinity for the Oklahoma Sooners) already has tickets for the Big XII championship. That seems a bit presumptuous for a team that can't seem to win BCS bowls anymore. Then again, OU's powder-puff non-conference schedule will help them. As usual, this one will be settled in Dallas.
  8. I continue to believe that there are only three conferences in this country that actually play football: the SEC, the Big XII, and the Big 10. Drop those pretty-boy USC-ers into the SEC and see how long they'd last, ESPN.

Oh, happy, happy day! What are your thoughts on this season?


"fun," "fun," "fun"

Sure signs you are in nerd central:

1. There's a totebag. And that totebag is brought to you by CSPAN:
2. The debate over only holding the conference in states that recognize equal rights for gay couples continues. Apparently we should only confer in Massachusetts, Vermont, and California. I swear, if one more email about this non-issue lands in my inbox...

3. Walking down Boylston Street means that one can't help but overhear heated conversations about the collective action dilemma and fragmentation.

At least there are friends to help us through...

rock on!

I think we can all agree that this is a gift straight from heaven. And it's going to rock our Sunday School class Christmas party even more than last year's karaoke machine episode did (Those memories of "Butterfly Kisses" just won't go away, no matter how hard I try to forget.). I call dibs on Petra!

(Thanks to David for the tip!)

a century

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Lyndon Baines Johnson. He was quite a politician, who wielded power in the Senate like few others have. And he probably won an election or two under, shall we say, somewhat questionable circumstances. (My favorite is what happened in LBJ's 1948 Senate race against then-Governor Coke Stevenson, in which 200 dead people conveniently voted in alphabetical order, giving LBJ an 87-vote margin that won him the statewide race.) He kept the Vietnam War going when it was already evident that the mission there was a disaster, and his Great Society programs largely failed.

But despite his shortcomings, LBJ's singular most important achievement is one that will stand forever. Using the Kennedy assasination as an argument for creating a legacy for the late president, LBJ channeled the passions of the Civil Rights movement into legislation that finally gave African-Americans and other racial minorities equal political and citizenship rights in our country. It cost the Democratic party the support of the South, and the effects of that rift still affect our politics today. His civil rights achievements are worth honoring.

year 26

Today is officially the first day of school. It's kindof irrelevant for me since I'm teaching Tuesday/Thursday classes this semester, and since I'm missing the first day of that due to a professional conference.

But today is still significant because, Lord willing and the creek don't rise, this is my last first day of school. (As a student, anyway.) For those who are counting, this makes my 26th consecutive year of being educated, what with 13 years of public education, 4 of college, 2 of a master's degree, and 7 of PhD work. No wonder I'm so tired. :)

let the madness begin

Today is a day I've been anticipating/dreading for quite some time now: the unofficial kick-off of my field's academic job market. I fly to Boston for our big professional conference, at which there will be much schmoozing, some interviewing, and lots of nonsense presented in the form of academic discourse.

Since most Texas in Africa readers are lucky enough not to work in this field, and since this thing we call The Market is about to take over my life, I figured I should probably explain a little about what you'll be reading about for the next three to nine months. (If you keep reading, that is, which I completely wouldn't blame you if you stopped...)

Here's the main thing to remember: academia does not work like the real world. We use an archaic, unfair, semi-rigged system to place people. It's ridiculous and inefficient, but that's the way it works and there's no point in fighting it.

What do I mean by this? Take, for example, the well-meaning question I get asked almost every day by friends and family: "Where are you thinking about going?"

That's a great question, and one that would be valid if I were, say, a lawyer or a doctor or in business or doing any other job. But in academics, you have almost no say whatsoever over where you go, especially for a first job.

That's right. It's basically a roll of the dice. You apply for every job for which you might qualify (in my case, probably 40-50 jobs), cross your fingers, and hope to be chosen as one of three of the 300 applications they'll receive for one spot to be brought in for a campus interview. If you get the campus interview, you have two days to prove yourself (or to make yourself look like a complete idiot). That's an exercise in torture that involves meeting all of the faculty, the dean, giving a job talk (which is basically a summary of your dissertation), and possibly teaching a class.

(Being as I'm in a top tier program, I've seen plenty of job talks in the last six years. And let me tell you, when they go wrong, it is not pretty.)

If you somehow manage to impress the department where you've interviewed, or if they're so divided over the other two candidates that they pick you as a compromise candidate, you get an offer. You usually have about two weeks to make a decision, which is often a challenge when you don't know whether you'll have any other offers. Should you take the job in less-than-perfects-ville for a mediocre salary, or hold out to see if something better comes along? Problem is, it's a super-competitive market, and you might not get another offer. But what if you do?

Now, of course, you don't have to apply for every job. Some of my colleagues refuse to apply for anything that isn't on the east coast. Some are constrained by their spouse's employment needs, or a desire to be in a place with culture, or a feeling that they deserve to be placed somewhere better.

These are the people who usually don't get jobs until March. And then they land a one-year visitng position in rural Minnesota.

Then there's the whole problem of academic hierarchy. I'm of the opinion that most top-tier PhD programs in any given field are pretty much the same, but, again, that's not how it works. I am lucky enough to be enrolled in a top 25 program in my field. But that doesn't mean I can get a job just anywhere. In fact, I can't get a job at any institution whose graduate program in my field ranked higher than is my program. There's no good reason for this; it's just the way it is.

(One thing that can help or hurt in the hierarchy is who writes your references. If you have a big, famous scholar writing a letter on your behalf (and that letter is positive), that ups your stock a little. Guess where most of the famous scholars teach?)

What this means practically is that, in the fall, most of the jobs in the field are offered to the same 6 people who go to Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, and Yale (the top ranked programs in our field). They make their decisions, and the rejected institutions then move into a second round of offering jobs.

Our job market lasts for more than 6 months. The job listings come out in July and August, applications are due in September and October, interviews happen October - April, in some cases. In general there are three rounds. What that means is that I could have a job by Thanksgiving, or Easter, or not at all.

I try not to think about the latter option.

Applying for an academic job means submitting massive amounts of paperwork, all of which have to be customized for the institution to which you're applying. An application packet generally includes a cover letter, a cv (which is a really long resume), a statement of teaching philosophy,
"evidence of teaching effectiveness" (which means something different at each place), three reference letters, and transcripts. It can also require a statement of research agenda and sample course syllabi.

Mailing all that ain't cheap.

The good news is, my ambitions are very limited. I've been a graduate student at two tier one research universities (the holy grail of academia), and if there's one thing I'm sure of, it's that a career at one of those is not for me. I want to know my students' names, and am therefore aiming for a job at a place that values good teaching as much as skilled research. By not focusing on the super-competitive jobs at the top, my odds will be marginally better. I would also be very, very happy to take a job in the south, which helps as well in a crowd that's mostly interested in the New York metropolitan area. But again, it's not up to me.

As you can see, The Market is a fairly nerve-wracking process. You have to come off as competent, but not arrogant, and as a person who will be successful, yet still pleasant to be around. This weekend, I'll spend three days locked in a hotel with several thousand political scientists, beginning that process. Aren't you jealous?


take a stand

The petition linked to below is from Texans Against Gambling. The gambling lobby and their supporters in the state legislature have scheduled a sneaky hearing for Wednesday in hopes that they can get away with pushing through privatization of the lottery while no one is paying attention. They can't take a vote right now, but the decisions made tomorrow will affect what happens in January.

If you're a Texan and you believe that our communities are better off without gambling programs that take advantage of the poor and that are directly linked to higher crime and addiction rates, please take a second to sign the petition.



Ah, the DNC. A few thoughts on night one:
  1. Who on earth thought it was a good idea for Nancy Pelosi to talk about faith?
  2. Watching the Kennedys galavant on their sailboat is not the way to reach middle America.
  3. Michelle Obama can give a speech.
  4. Political conventions are so awful.
  5. The video feed Barack Obama thing is creepy.
  6. Who gave the 7-year-old the mike?
  7. If I'm the RNC, I'm very worried about the fact that over 35% of the room at the DNC are racial minorities. I have a feeling Minneapolis will be a lot whiter, and McCain won't get many minority votes.

last night, week, etc. in live music

Well, there's been a lot of live music here in the world of Texas in Africa of late, and what with all the dissertating and preparing for a new school year, we haven't had time to review any of it. All I can say is that My Morning Jacket last night at Stubb's was unbelievable. They played for almost three hours solid, with only a three or four minute break before the encore. Highlights are too many to name, but I especially enjoyed hearing "Evelyn is Not Real," my favorite song of their 1999 debut The Tennessee Fire. They covered most of their new release, Evil Urges, and a good chunk of It Still Moves and Z. It was epic.

Thursday night the Attorney got a group together to see the Heartless Bastards at the Continental Club. I'd never heard them live before, but wow, oh, wow. Their sound is something akin to what you'd get if Janis Joplin fronted the Drive-By Truckers. Lead singer Erica Wennerstrom has a voice. They've been playing a series of midnight Thursday shows at the Continental, and if you're in Austin, you should try to catch them while you can. They're also playing the ACL Festival in late September.Finally, Favorite Kid #2's rock band made their Sixth Street debut at the 311 Club last weekend. Being as FK #1 decided to abandon us for the Big City (something about college, finding her place in the world, whatever), I had charge of FK #2 and FK #3 and so got the privilege of going out on a Saturday night on 6th with the boys. The band, which shall remain nameless here because I won't print its actual name, did a great job and I'm pretty sure you'll be seeing their lead singer on American Idol one of these days.

71 days

Next time you're discouraged by the quality of American political discourse, just remember: we could be Somalia:

The best part of this is that I'm 98% sure that ballroom isn't even in Somalia. The parliament usually has to meet in Nairobi, Kenya to ensure its members safety.


wanjiru does it

It is 4:39 in the morning in Nairobi, Kenya. But I can guarantee you they're dancing in the streets in Kibera. Kenya needed this.

no child left behind

The best part of this is the answers.

I think my favorite is the one about a breakaway province in South Carolina.

on biden

Re: Biden

I'm starting a Biden use of the word "literally" count. So far he's at 3, and he's only been talking for five minutes.

Here's James Fallows' take on Biden in the Senate. That is exactly how he would "ask questions" - talk for twenty minutes, then say, "can you comment on that?" Fallows thinks that Biden's ego could be a plus.

I will give that Biden is a heck of a politician and won't take anything sitting down, which is perhaps what Obama needs right now. But that doesn't mean I have to like him. And I still don't think it was a great decision on Obama's part.

the least complicated

Sigh. I'm still trying to figure out the rationale for announcing your v-p pick at 3am on a Saturday morning during the Olympics via text message, when all the top journalists are asleep. Maybe it was a bit of a retort to Hillary's 3am ad that was so successful in the primaries. Whatever. Delaware Senator Joe Biden is Obama's running mate.

My distaste for Joe Biden knows no bounds. He is, in the words of one Democratic activist, "a ridiculous, overbearing blowhard." And his Yankee accent and northeastern liberalism aren't going to bring many disaffected conservative Southerners over to Obama's side. He knows his stuff, but he also can't shut up. Many, many years ago, when I was a Senate Committee on Foreign Relations intern and Jim Jeffords defected from the Republican party, Biden became committee chair. I swear the hearings doubled in length.

Obama's making a gamble with this. Delaware was already on his side, and this veep pick has no chance of bringing in an extra state, though he might help with Pennsylvania. Picking another northeastern liberal rather than a Southerner with some conservative credentials is a risky, risky move. And McCain's already got a doozy of an ad up, pointing out that Biden was pretty critical of Obama during the primaries.

I tell my students that this year should be a perfect storm for the D's. The economy's tanked, the war is unpopular, and everyone's just waiting for W to go back to Dallas (What, you think that ranch will stay in the family after its political purposes are spent?). But I also teach them to never underestimate the Democratic party's capacity to screw things up. If Obama loses this election, it will likely be because Biden says something so noxious and offensive on the campaign trail that the voters think twice. I know this choice has made me do so.

weekend this & that



Is it Evan Bayh? The sticker does have the telltale union stamp that's on every single piece of campaign material Democrats put out. One wonders, however, why there's not an echo of Obama's horizon O logo on the sticker...

Update: NBC says Bayh and Tim Kaine are out. Richardson has too many skeletons in the closet, Sebelius is too pro-choice, and Hillary has another event tomorrow. Which leaves Edwards and Biden. It'll be Biden. More on why I think that's bad if it actually happens.

ah, the academic life

In preparation for the job market, I'm readying summaries of just about everything I've ever done, including my teaching. So this afternoon I'm going through a three-inch thick stack of old teaching evaluations, some of which are ego-boosting and others of which are, well, take a look for yourself:

"Well, I didn't dread going, so it was ok."

more on edwards

Here's a profile on why Chet Edwards will be helped by all the VP buzz - and on what an excellent choice he would be for the office. I still don't believe it will happen, partly because John Edwards' peccadillos could hurt a politician of the same name before an electorate that's often confused.

But we can hope that Obama had the sense to pick a truly good person over an east coaster who likes to hear himself talk, no?

the veepstakes

Well, kids, by this time tomorrow we'll know who Obama's running mate will be, and in a week or so, we'll know the same for McCain. I think Obama's probably picked Biden, but it's interesting to note that Congressman Chet Edwards is on the finalist list. Edwards is our favorite member of Congress here at Texas in Africa, and we would love to see his national profile grow. We also think it would be a shame if the American people no longer had a champion for religious liberty in the House of Representatives.

Again, I think Obama has chosen Biden (which will, by the way, be a disaster) because he needs someone with foreign policy experience. But it's nice to know that Chet got the full consideration.


they're all elitists

John McCain doesn't know how many homes he owns, but here's a tour:

They're all elitists, no matter how they try to frame it.

they all look alike

oh, for goodness sakes'

Well, the first of what I'm sure will be many emails full of misinformation for this election season arrived from one of my relatives today. It was a forward of this little gem, which mistakenly says that Obama put money into the Kenyan elections, which ended in a nasty bout of violence, as well as perpetuating the myth that Obama is Muslim and out for jihad. Just because a message purports to be from a missionary doesn't mean it's factual, and this is a particularly egregious example of people whom I'm sure are well-intentioned passing along falsehoods because they think it came from someone trustworthy.

Sigh. There are clear differences between the candidates this year, and I think it's good to debate openly and honestly how they are different in character, on the issues, and in their general take on the way our politics should work. I don't have patience for anyone who attempts to divert our attention from what really matters, or for spreading incorrect information and lies that are designed to smear people's character. If you get an email of this nature about either candidate, I encourage you to look it up on Snopes, then hit "reply to all" and politely explain that you'd rather see debate on the facts and the issues that affect us all than have your inbox clogged with lies.

congo watch

If you hadn't been paid in six months, or six years, or sixteen years, would you go on strike? What if your going on strike meant that others would suffer even more than they already do?

Doctors at public hospitals in the Democratic Republic of Congo have gone on strike in the last two weeks. Their demands are fairly simple: they want the months of back pay they're owed by the state, and they want their salaries raised, from $215 a month to $580 a month.

I know doctors in the east who are owed years, not months, of back pay.

One of the things I've learned in my research on the Congo is that social service professionals throughout the country are in an impossible position. Doctors, nurses, and teachers all want to help people, just like their counterparts in the rest of the world. But they have to work in what are often intolerable conditions, with minimal supplies. And they can't support their families on non-existent salaries. The fees they charge patients for services are nowhere near sufficient to cover their staffing costs. And those fees are often prohibitive for most Congolese families.

It costs about 10 cents U.S. for a child to see a doctor in the east.

That's cost prohibitive.

This is a country where people die of malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia, and dozens of other completely preventable causes.

Because 10 cents is too expensive.

The doctors who don't go on strike tend to be those who get salary "bonuses" from partnerships with international organizations and churches. These groups try to fill the gap between what the state pays (or doesn't pay) and what can be considered a reasonable salary for an educated professional who works long hours. If you'd like to support the work of a hospital that pays its doctors well, and that provides services to those who suffer the most, Heal Africa is a great place to start.


olympic whining

Someone needs to teach the woman who commentates on diving correct usage of the word "tremendously." Here's a hint: it's not a descriptor for how the judges will or will not deduct points.

I just want to watch synchronized swimming.

for my sister

This is the funniest blog I've seen in a long time.

meanwhile, back at the ranch

There's a random report out there that David Garland, dean of Truett Seminary, will be named interim president of Baylor in a news conference later this morning. Garland denies that he's been interviewed for the position. As of now, there's not a story in the DMN, but here's the overview of the rumors from the Waco Trib.

If it's true, that would be great news for Baylor. It would also be very surprising. I guess we'll see.

UPDATE: It's official. This is great news for Baylor, and a hopeful sign that the regents will be sensible in their choice of a new president. David Garland is a trustworthy, outstanding individual, and he will do a great job at managing yet another messy period in Baylor's history.


calvinist rap

I have now officially heard it all.


music monday

"God is a river, not just a stone
God is a wild, raging rapids
And a slow, meandering flow
God is a deep and narrow passage
And a peaceful, sandy shoal
God is a river, swimmer
So let go"


sunday this & that: reality vs. perception edition

  • What happens to 80% of the clothes you donate to Goodwill, the Salvation Army, etc.? They get baled, shipped to the third world, and sold to vendors, who put a markup on the clothes and sell them to the public in markets and on the street. Here's a video that explains why I've seen Sigma Chi shirts on the streets of Nairobi.
  • Amani ya Juu sells gorgeous quilts made of fabric from clothing found in those markets - which are known as mitumba markets in Kiswahili. They consider it a way of ministering to the vendors by purchasing their goods.
  • Some people are taking their photoshopping a little bit too far.
  • Here is a very thoughtful article on the phenomenon of video-casting churches, that is, megachurches that start satellite campuses and broadcast in the sermon from one central campus. (I'll tell you up front that I think this is a very bad thing, not least because it's impossible for a pastor to preach to the local church and its condition if the church has 100,000 members, and, also, because I don't think there's any morally upright justification for spending $250,000 on a hologram-projecting high definition video system when people are starving. I'll get off my soapbox now.) One of the most interesting points in the article is that such an approach to church growth and evangelism actually interferes with theology. You really should read this one.
  • Come hell or high water, we will have at least one vice-presidential nominee named by this time next week. My money's on Tim Kaine for Obama and another old white man for McCain. We'll see. If Obama picks Joe Biden, I'm not sure I can vote for that ticket.
  • Jon Stewart: the most trusted man in America.
  • Your Olympic coverage could be worse.
  • Go on over to the Librarian's blog and watch Mr. Rogers learn to break-dance.



I had a cross-cultural experience this morning. It involved a trip to Archery World. I was the only woman in the building. I'm pretty sure I was also the only one there who doesn't own at least one piece of camoflague-printed clothing. Or a deer blind.

Also, I may have to add "go on a bear hunt in Saskatchewan" to my list of things to do before I die.

you are not alone

Everybody else hates Tim Daggett and Elfi Schlegel and Al whoever's gymnastics commentary, too. The good news: the interesting parts are over. The bad news: individual events are still to come.

That ex-football player doing the human interest stories in prime time is driving me up the wall as well. I'm just sorry Outside didn't put its up-close-and-personal-omatic from the August issue online so you could do your own - it's a kindof mad libs for inspiring athletic stories.

What Olympic coverage is making you hit mute?


vacation in review

Things here in the world of Texas in Africa are unbelievably busy (we go on the job market two, count 'em TWO weeks from today), so it's taken awhile to get back to the vacation quiz. Sadly, nobody won.

On vacation, Texas in Africa:

  1. spent a miserable night flying to Lima due to food poisoning from the yogurt she ate for dinner from the Au Bon Pain in Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport - TRUE. And it was just as awful as you'd imagine.
  2. got knocked out by the combination of food poisoning and the 11,000-plus foot altitude upon arrival in Cusco, thus precluding any actual "hiking" or "getting out of bed" - Also TRUE. Ugh.
  3. saw a folk festival that involved a man having to carry a table on his head for no apparent reason - TRUE.
  4. recovered by spending three days rafting a river that is the source of the Amazon through a canyon that is 5,000 feet deep at several points - TRUE. And I have no picutres. It was the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen.
  5. acquired approximately 153 bites from DEET-resistant sandflies that the rafting guides called mosquitoes - TRUE.
  6. "got" to try the local special of roasted guinea pig prepared by the rafting guides -Are you kidding? There's NO WAY I would eat something that looks this:
  7. pondered with disbelief the fact that there are no fish to catch for dinner in said river because river otters swam up from the Amazon ten years ago and ate them all.
    went cliff diving on the same river - TRUE.
  8. spent most of the day at Machu Picchu speaking French and wondering what would possess anyone to build a city there - TRUE.
  9. have a new Parisian friend for life due to a mutual inability to not giggle when the Machu Picchu guide told us to absorb the energy from a "special rock" on the site and the Japanese tourists obliged - TRUE. Sadly, I didn't get my camera out in time to get pictures of the Japanese tourists at this particular place.
  10. heard several disturbing Andean panflute renditions of "The Sound of Silence" and various Beatles classics - TRUE. Yep.
  11. found the guidebook's description of Puno as "somewhat less than appealing" to be a bit of an understatement - TRUE. What a miserable place.
  12. ate dinner at Machu Pizza - TRUE. This was Puno's only redeeming feature.
  13. visited not one, but two human zoos on Lake Titicaca - TRUE. I hate "authentic cultural experiences," but it was the only way to get out on the lake that day. I do have to admit that the floating islands of Uros were pretty amazing. These peoples' entire lives, diet, and habitat revolves around lake reeds.
  14. was forced by the Titicaca guide to folk dance with a Belgian architect during an "authentic" lunch - No, no, no, no, NO! I do NOT participate in "authentic" dancing on organized tours.
  15. learned that the waters of Lake Titicaca are indeed tranquil and blue, thus making the trip to Puno worth it - TRUE. But this picture pretty much sums up my feelings about the area:
  16. enjoyed a Belle Helene crepe for breakfast on the first morning in lovely Arequipa - TRUE. There is an Alliance Francaise in Peru. And the creperie was dee-lish:
  17. pondered exactly what the point was of becoming a cloistered nun 400 years ago if you were allowed to build your own house in the convent and keep four servants to manage it - TRUE. The Santa Catalina convent in Arequipa is an amazing city-within-a-city. I've never seen anything like it.
  18. found the "best empanada in Peru" to be pretty mediocre - TRUE. Meh.
  19. saw the mummy of a child sacrificed by the Incas - TRUE. No pictures allowed on the tour, which is not included in the price of admission, but which is mandatory.
  20. visited a colonial house in which the occupying family was allowed by the state to keep their crazy son in a pillory in the back bedroom - TRUE.
  21. pondered the unbelievable excesses of the Jesuits, and decided that it was no wonder that they got kicked out - TRUE. This is just a side altar:
  22. listened to three Alabama good ole boys at the next table discuss hunting for ducks and panthers and wrestling anacondas with their perplexed hunting guide - True. And I'm pretty sure they were Baptist, because I've never seen any other hunters who wouldn't be drinking beer after a day of duck hunting in South America.
  23. scrambled up rocks to see condors flying in a canyon that's twice the depth of the Grand Canyon - TRUE. And it was unbelievable.
  24. went paragliding over the Pacific and the cliffs of Miraflores with an instructor whose mama is from Pampa, Texas and whose daddy is a Texas Aggie - TRUE. Because, you know, if you're going to randomly jump off a cliff with a company recommended by the hotel, it makes sense that your instructor's mama would be from a West Texas town thirty miles down the road from your own mama's home. Obviously.
I loved Peru's natural beauty, and the days I spent in the backcountry were amazing (except for the sand flies). But the touristy areas are really touristy, and it's difficult and expensive to access many areas on your own. If you're going, I'd say hit the Andes and Arequipa, and skip the rest.


god gets arrested

I wonder what ProLife Richardson would have to say about this guy.

the poor you will always have

Here is an excellent post on why most churches never - or only rarely - talk about helping the poor.

la migra's more serious

I wonder if PETA realizes that most of that food is cooked in pure lard...


spots on my apples

Forgive me, those of you sans Nashville connections, but this Opryland tribute site is a hoot. And the background music is even better.


precious memories

Like everyone else, I thought the opening ceremonies of this year's Beijing Summer Olympics were pretty neat. And I especially enjoyed seeing earthquake survivor and national hero Lin Hao lead in the Chinese team with Yao Ming.

But because I am a bad person, of course the main thing I noticed is that the flag they gave little Lin Hao was, um, well, glued to the stick upside down.

I could make a joke about it having been made in China, but that would be massively inappropriate. Almost as inappropriate as NBC's segment tonight on panda fertility.

september's coming soon

Here's an interesting look at the draft language of the Democratic party platform on abortion this year. I'm pleased to see that it includes a section on reducing abortions by "ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre and post natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs." The Republican party makes a big deal about its anti-abortion stance, but the party also actively advocates reduction in social programs that make it difficult, if not impossible, for poor women in this country to successfully raise healthy, educated children. Given that over 70% of women who have abortions cite financial constraints as a reason for their decision, seems like it's something pro-life advocates would want to address.


tuesday this & that: olympics, war, & whatnot

Right-o, the Olympics are here, and as I spent the weekend with my parents in Tennessee, I've watched a lot of Olympics already. A few thoughts:
  • I just don't care about beach volleyball. And I have a feeling that if the outfits changed, neither would anybody else.
  • The opening ceremony was unbelievable, and there's an Austin connection to it. It's amazing what you can do with an authoritarian government and an unlimited budget.
  • It's a good thing the Chinese got the Star Spangled Banner right the second time Phelps won. That first night was embarassing, and it wasn't just that it was cut off early.
  • Check out the Darfur Olympics this week to learn about China's complicity in not pressuring the Sudanese government to end its genocide in Darfur. I'd argue that China is the most important piece of the equation to ending the tragedy in Darfur. Remember that while you're looking at all the neat architecture and watching fascinating cultural stories on NBC.
  • We should all be WAY more worried about what's going on in Georgia than about what's happening in Beijing. One tiny little detail that's getting left out of all these discussions is the number of loose nukes and fissile material that float around the Caucuses. The more instability there is, the easier it is to move those scary things around. Here's a good, easy-to-understand explanation of the conflict.
  • Mystery Science 3000 meets Martha Stewart, and the result will be golden.
  • If you'd been born with a midwife's help, could you prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you were born in the U.S. of A.? The State Department is being a tiny bit unreasonable concerning some of my fellow Texans on just that issue.
  • Should people who've paid their debt to society be denied the most basic of rights guaranteed to all American citizens? Or should we let former felons vote?

the $12 million question

Of all the bad ideas Congress has come up with in the last few years, the fence in the Rio Grande Valley is among the stupidest. Not only will it not solve the myriad of issues surrounding immigration in our country, it's also going to cut off essential water access for a number of ranching operations, take away private property from landowners in the flood plain, divide the University of Texas-Brownsville campus in half, and harm wildlife habitats. Oh, yeah, and disrupt the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who live and work (legally) on both sides of the border.

Anyway, you knew this question was coming, and no one asks it better than Tom Russell:

My guess is the border patrol will have to build it themselves. As for me, I'm looking for investment opportunities in Mexcian ladder and tunnel companies. Any ideas?

two years of this nonsense

Today makes two years since the terrorist threats against flights coming from the UK to the US. As my poor sister had to endure the nightmares of both Gatwick and Heathrow on that day (and "got" to fly to Dallas with nothing in her hands but her passport and credit cards in a ziplock baggie), believe you me, I think fighting terrorists is important.

But those attacks led to the TSA's ban on liquids on flights, which is not only ridiculous, but also a waste of time, effort, and resources. I remain unconvinced that confiscating hand lotion from little old ladies is an effective counter-terrorism strategy, and hope that the next president will direct American taxpayer resources towards activities that actually catch people who are up to no good, rather than inconveniencing travelers with an ineffective security charade.



There are so many levels of analysis that apply here:


what a...

Heard about this from a former colleague last weekend, but I wasn't going to post on it until a source more reputable than the National Enquirer printed something. Edwards was a little too shiny-politiciany for my tastes, so I'm not particularly surprised, but having an affair while your wife is undergoing cancer treatments is among the more reprehensible things anyone could do, politician or not.

It appears that Elizabeth Edwards will be speaking in a prime-time slot at the DNC. Good for her. And that will be all we have to say about this tawdry little affair, and about this former candidate. I think it's safe to say that his political career is over. Hers, however, may just be beginning...


viva, viva!

Scene: Nashville airport, around 4:15 this afternoon.

A big group of guys are standing around waiting at the baggage claim, and, one way or another, one of them gets offered money to dance. He does, and next thing you know there are dollar bills all over the floor. He seriously made $20+.

Welcome to Nashvegas.

last night in live music: the hold steady

My ears are still ringing from last night's sold out The Hold Steady show at the Parish. There's not much to say about the group except that they know how to put on a show. It's been a long time since I've seen fans that were that enthusiastice. We were seriously afraid the floor was going to break through from all the jumping. The show was a 90 minute overview of their albums, and just a lot of fun.

The same cannot be said of opening act The Loved Ones. Despite our best efforts, we caught the second half of their set. How can I describe it? Their sound is something akin to a group of 20-something guys who only listened to TRL in their formative years, loved Green Day, and tried to sound like something that plays in the background of an MTV reality show after Spencer and Heidi break up yet again. In other words, not something you want to watch, and not something that should be opening for one of the few bands from Brooklyn that don't suck.


extreme loyalty

Best. Job listing. Ever.


This week at Inspired to Action, we're reflecting on the 40 Day Fast. My take is up today.




paris takes on mccain

I cannot believe I'm writing this, but .... this clip from Paris Hilton is hilarious:

McCain's camp apparently took it as an endorsement of his energy plan.

tuesday this & that

  • Some resesarch on why it's bad (especially for other kids) to delay putting your kid in kindergarten for no good reason.
  • My congressman, Michael McCaul, is terrible at his job. I say this not as a disaffected Austinite who was redistricted out of having real representation, but as a political scientist who knows a little bit about what works and what doesn't. He's pretty ineffective as a legislator, but my main complaint is that he has TERRIBLE constituent services. His staff almost never answers letters or makes a big effort to reach out to the district. He's my primo example in classes of what not to do if you're an elected official. Well, McCaul has a serious challenger this time around, and all of a sudden, he's apparently really interested in what the voters think. Showing up in northwest Austin at a gas station is a start, even if it reeks of being a political stunt. The most clear sign he's worried is that I just received a reply to an email I sent to his office. It's the first letter I've gotten from them in four years.
  • Christopher Dickey's new piece on politics in the south is worth reading, if for nothing else than the comments from Earl and Merle Black, the best twin political scientists in the land.
  • Jon Meacham has other comments on what's going to happen in the south this year.

au revoir, marie-louise

Papa Wendo, the originator of Congolese rumba music, died last week. His sound was incomparable, and his status is legendary. Luckily, filmmaker Jacques Sarasin was able to capture Wendo's life in On the Rumba River . It was released last month:


music monday

And you know it's miserable when I'm willing to post something from a musical. It's only because the Ella version isn't available:

congo watch: this was predictable

Well, it's August, which can only mean one thing: time for another confrontation between the military and one or more of the various rebel forces in North Kivu. (Keep in mind that sometimes some of the "rebels" fight alongside the government against a common enemy. It's awsome like that.) Nkunda's ready to fight, and the government has shipped 6 planeloads of ammo and weapons into the Goma airport.

This is completely depressing and totally predictable. Until the underlying issues of land rights and citizenship are resolved, and until the Congolese government can secure its own territory (meaning that the economic incentives to keep the territory destabilized are removed), no peace deal is going to last for long. It's shockingly simple to spell out the problems, and incredibly complicated to solve them.

Meanwhile, the human toll of this conflict continues to build. According to contacts who've recently been in Goma, there are currently 900,000 internally displaced persons in North Kivu alone, and thousands upon thousands of women and girls continue to be brutally raped by soldiers from all sides, who commit their crimes with total impunity.

Check out this video on Heal Africa, where women and girls who suffer traumatic fistulae as a result of rape are treated. It's a great segment that gives you a really clear idea of exactly what's going on there - in English.

The film was shown at the Global Forum on MSM and HIV in Mexico City, where Lyn Lusi spoke during Sunday's opening session. It is criminal that no international foundation will provide anti-retrovirals for adults in Goma. And if we fail to raise our voices on behalf of those who suffer so much from this conflict, we are complicit.


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago and many other works on the Soviet Union, died tonight. He lived quite a remarkable life.

I had to read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich in eighth or ninth or tenth grade. I don't remember particularly liking it, but I still remember Solzhenitsyn's vivid description of the pure evil that human beings are capable of inflicting upon one another, and of the small ways in which humanity prevails in even the worst of situations. And those are things I think about every day.

sunday this & that

a race to watch

One of the more interesting side effects of my choice of career path, as well as education and background, is that some of my friends have really interesting jobs. Put another way, political science and international relations attract the ambitious kids. To put it mildly.

This year, not one, but two former classmates are running for elected office. One is running for the Senate as a Democrat in Nebraska, which is going to be a disaster, but the other is running for Congress in Virginia's fifth district. The district is traditionally pretty solidly Republican, but candidate Tom Perriello is making inroads by running a campaign that is heavy on the language of faith (he has campaign volunteers "tithe" 1/10th of their volunteer hours to good causes in the district like Habitat for Humanity, etc.) and focused on working for the common good. He's mounting a serious challenge, so much so that the DCCC has added him to the "Red to Blue" program, meaning he'll be getting a significant chunk of cash with which to continue the race.

It doesn't hurt that Perriello's opponent, twelve-term Congressman Virgil Goode, did something so stupid on the 4th of July that the Daily Show dedicated a whole segment to it. (Warning: there's a little coarse language in the clip, but "Republican or a Rapper?" is hilarious.) Nor is it harmful to have John Grisham do a campaign event. And when members of Congress are reduced to screaming like petulant three-year-olds who didn't get their way, well, this may be one of the rare years in which it's easier to run as a newcomer than as the incumbent.

I'm convinced that Virginia will be one of the deciding states in this year's presidential election. The demographics are fascinating. (With the rural, conservative mountains and the booming liberal suburbs of Washington, DC, it's could come down to how the military bases at the beach vote. And despite the military's issues with the Iraq war, I don't see them going for Obama.) The success of Democrats downballot will have a lot to do with what kind of turnout Obama and McCain are able to produce. Add in the votes of first-time voters, especially students and young adults in Charlottesville, Richmond, and Blacksburg, and no one is sure what will happen. That makes this race in Virginia's 5th (which includes C-ville) one to watch.


while we were out

A whole bunch of stuff happened:
  • The Librarian started a blog! Go over there and harass her to join Facebook!
  • Katherine gave us a really challenging post on missions.
  • 2,000 rapes were reported in one month in North Kivu. That's the reported rate, not the actual rate, which is almost certainly much, much higher. Again, we would not stand by if this were happening here. You can help women and girls who are victims of this terrorism by donating to Heal Africa, which provides comprehensive care to rape victims.
  • The Baylor regents fired university President John Lilley. This wasn't terribly surprising and it's just another indication that the underlying tensions left over from the Sloan era were never resolved. The CPP has been ill and I've been overseas, so we don't have all the details on what actually happened. It certainly had something to do with the tenure issues from April and the football logo, but I think it really has to do with these problems among the regents and other members of the Baylor "family" that still haven't been settled. Lilley is a decent, intelligent man, but no one could have brought the two sides together in the conditions under which Lilley was hired. And who in his or her right mind would want the job now?
  • Far more disturbing than the Lilley firing is the regents' decision to expand the board membership to 24. While the BGCT will still get to pick 1/4 of the regents, this means that they'll be able to pack the board with those who share Sloan's vision. I believe that this is a bad direction for my alma mater.
  • After five months of saving all the good stuff for a book, Stuff White People Like appears to be funny again.
  • The Saudis are completely insane. And yet we continue to deal with them.
  • I have plans for Saturday evening, but am nonetheless tempted to go see a band called The Hot Pentecostals. Simply because of their name.
  • A beer truck spilled hundreds of gallons on the Beltway yesterday. I bet it was easier to get out of that than it was to get out of the tar truck spill on the Wilson Bridge 7 years ago. Not that I'm still bitter about those four hours of life I'll never have again...
  • I liked the Dark Knight. And I LOVED that there's an example (albeit a bit imperfect) of the Prisoner's Dilemma in it. That they put actual prisoners in it made it all the more fun. Teaching game theory just got a lot easier.

40 days

Today is the last day of the 40 Day Fast over at Inspired to Action. I hope you've been able to read along with many of the 80 bloggers who participated in this year's fast. Since it's the last day, we're asking all the bloggers and everyone else who reads our blogs to participate.

The trick is that you don't have to abstain from food. Instead, we'd like you to commit today to doing something simple to help someone in need. Kat has some great ideas for things you could do today, right now, to stop living your usual, comfortable life to break the inertia.

If you participate in today's fast, please write about it on your blog and add the link to the Mr. Linky that's up at I2A.

For my part, I'm choosing to write a letter to Olivier, the Congolese child that the Attorney and the Librarian and I co-sponsor through Hope for the Helpless. Olivier is an orphan and he lives with Stage III HIV. He is on anti-retrovirals and lives with a foster family. He's not doing well, and E asked me to write him awhile back. I've been really busy for the last few months and haven't gotten around to it, but that ends today.

How has the 40 Day Fast inspired you? What are you going to do today? And what's going to change in your life for good?

the truth is stranger...

Well, that was a fun little vacation in scenic Peru. Rather than bore you with endless stories about Machu Picchu, let's play a game. 23 of the following statements are true, and two are lies. Whoever guesses correctly will win a very special prize, brought straight from that horrible city to you. Ready? Okay!

On vacation, Texas in Africa:
  1. spent a miserable night flying to Lima due to food poisoning from the yogurt she ate for dinner from the Au Bon Pain in Terminal D at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.
  2. got knocked out by the combination of food poisoning and the 11,000-plus foot altitude upon arrival in Cusco, thus precluding any actual "hiking" or "getting out of bed."
  3. saw a folk festival that involved a man having to carry a table on his head for no apparent reason.
  4. recovered by spending three days rafting a river that is the source of the Amazon through a canyon that is 5,000 feet deep at several points.
  5. acquired approximately 153 bites from DEET-resistant sandflies that the rafting guides called mosquitoes.
  6. "got" to try the local special of roasted guinea pig prepared by the rafting guides.
  7. pondered with disbelief the fact that there are no fish to catch for dinner in said river because river otters swam up from the Amazon ten years ago and ate them all.
  8. went cliff diving on the same river.
  9. spent most of the day at Machu Picchu speaking French and wondering what would possess anyone to build a city there.
  10. have a new Parisian friend for life due to a mutual inability to not giggle when the Machu Picchu guide told us to absorb the energy from a "special rock" on the site and the Japanese tourists obliged.
  11. heard several disturbing Andean panflute renditions of "The Sound of Silence" and various Beatles classics.
  12. found the guidebook's description of Puno as "somewhat less than appealing" to be a bit of an understatement.
  13. ate dinner at Machu Pizza.
  14. visited not one, but two human zoos on Lake Titicaca.
  15. was forced by the Titicaca guide to folk dance with a Belgian architect during an "authentic" lunch.
  16. learned that the waters of Lake Titicaca are indeed tranquil and blue, thus making the trip to Puno worth it.
  17. enjoyed a Belle Helene crepe for breakfast on the first morning in lovely Arequipa.
  18. pondered exactly what the point was of becoming a cloistered nun 400 years ago if you were allowed to build your own house in the convent and keep four servants to manage it.
  19. found the "best empanada in Peru" to be pretty mediocre.
  20. saw the mummy of a child sacrificed by the Incas.
  21. visited a colonial house in which the occupying family was allowed by the state to keep their crazy son in a pillory in the back bedroom.
  22. pondered the unbelievable excesses of the Jesuits, and decided that it was no wonder that they got kicked out.
  23. listened to three Alabama good ole boys at the next table discuss hunting for ducks and panthers and wrestling anacondas with their perplexed hunting guide.
  24. scrambled up rocks to see condors flying in a canyon that's twice the depth of the Grand Canyon.
  25. went paragliding over the Pacific and the cliffs of Miraflores with an instructor whose mama is from Pampa, Texas and whose daddy is a Texas Aggie.