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


scarier than a ghost

Our department released a poll yesterday on how Texans are viewing the presidential election, as well as other down-ballot races. Among the key findings:
  • McCain is up on Obama, but not by as much as we'd expect. The poll, taken October 15-22 with a 4% margin of error (which is higher than the ideal 3%), shows McCain pulling 51% to Obama's 40%, with 8% undecided. This in a state that re-elected George W. Bush with about 61% of the total vote.
  • In the Senate race, it's Cornyn 45%, Noriega 36%, and Libertarian Adams-Schick 5%. Considering how poorly the Noriega campaign was run, it's not surprising that he's basically only getting the hard-core Democratic vote.
  • 89% say the economy is worse off than it was a year ago.
  • Bush's approval rating is 34%. How far the mighty have fallen.
  • And (you knew this was coming) 23% of my fellow Texans believe Barack Obama is Muslim. That's compared to 5-10% nationally. Had they sampled my cousins, I bet the percentage would've been closer to 100.


So things in the North Carolina Senate race for Jesse Helms' old seat are a little tense:


news from goma

From a friend in Goma:

"The casualties are many, especially from the populated areas, where most of the looting occurred in private houses. One family near ULPGL lost seven children. The bandits were also out in force, including the ones that come over from Gisenyi."

"Pray for the family of Mrs. Esanga and her family. They are all here in the hospital. All four children were seriously injured and the mother was tortured. They put a grenade under the mattress of the six-year old, where he was sleeping. I went into surgery while [redacted] and [redacted] were repairing the older brother, putting his liver and intestines back. We pray he will survive. Such cruelty is incomprehensible. It has nothing to do with war; it is banditry and terrorism."

Listen to a story about the situation here. The FARDC (national army) soldiers are back in Goma. Please keep the people of the eastern Congo in your thoughts and prayers.

new blogs I like

  • Wronging Rights, about the humorous side of human rights abuses. It's as wrong as it sounds, and yet...
  • I must have this t-shirt. Okay, that's not a blog, but it's on Wronging Rights.
  • Margaret & Helen, two grandmas who Have Political Opinions. To put it mildly. Are they for real? Who cares? Be sure to read this post, if you aren't easily offended and/or a Republican.

who's poor?

My students at Private Conservative Christian U got into a big debate the other day over whether tax dollars should be used to help those in need. One student, a cancer survivor whose parents worked their way out of poverty through his childhood, is adamently opposed to the idea. Another student burst into tears as she told us about her dad, a landscaper who died of cancer because their family didn't have health insurance, so he couldn't get treatment.

I tried to keep the discussion moving and balanced as best I could, but the students were really passionate about it. One point I made near the end is that it's important not to stereotype the poor as lazy. A household with two parents working full time jobs at minimum wage can't survive in today's economy. It's virtually impossible to feed, clothe, insure, keep healthy, and properly educate two children on that kind of budget.

A study out today finds that many of our stereotypes about those who need some assistance from the government are just plain wrong. The study, commissioned by Families USA and performed by the U.S. Census Bureau, shows that 89.5% of uninsured Texas children have at least one working parent.

Texas has the highest rate of uninsured children in the country. We also have an awful lot of kids who go to bed hungry at night, or who wouldn't eat at all were it not for the free school lunch programs.

Our taxes are low. We have incredible oil and natural gas reserves.

These things are all connected. How people don't get that is beyond me. It's embarassing that my state doesn't care enough about its weakest and most vulnerable citizens. It's ridiculous that we let our stereotypes rule the debate, rather than looking at the reality that hardworking families cannot make it, no matter how hard they work.

I don't know what else to say about it.

synchronized debating!

This is, in a word, awesome:

Get the latest news satire and funny videos at 236.com.

the latest from goma, ctd.

By most accounts, Goma is calm today after a rough night. Here's the latest:

So you want a political halloween costume....

'Tis the season for political costumes! While all of you may not need something incredibly esoteric to wear for your political science department's political costume contest (Ahem!), in an election year, you can never go wrong with something current and clever. Here are some ideas:
  • Sarah Palin. Natch. But there will be a lot of Sarah Palins this year. (Shoot, there's even a contest this morning in Austin.) The trick is to do Sarah Palin in clever fashion. Be moose-hunting Sarah (in a business suit and pumps) or beauty queen Sarah or Sarah with a cordless drill (get it?). Unless, of course, you actually look like a freakish hybrid of Sarah Palin and Tina Fey. Then you should just be Sarah Palin.
  • A Lame Duck. Duck mask, on crutches, and a "Hello, My Name is W." nametag.
  • The Bailout. Carry or be a water pail (preferably one with lots of [loop]holes in it). Fling fake money at everyone you meet.
  • The Permanent Republican Majority. Should also involve crutches. Look bruised and wounded. (Somewhat similar to my habeas corpus costume from last year.)
  • Ted Stevens. Dress like a prisoner, and carry around a box of Tinker Toys with which to build a bridge to nowhere.
  • The Median Voter. Be average, average, average. And wear flip-flops. This is a good costume for those who have neither the time nor inclination to put a lot of effort into it.

Any other ideas? Please note that we here at Texas in Africa are opposed to any dressing up like Joe the Plumber. Nobody wants to see jeans slung that low on Halloween. Or ever.


toys for political scientists

For those of you who also write papers about violent conflict and humanitarian disasters for a living, I just came across this cool little gadget from Reuters AlertNet. It tracks global press coverage of conflicts by the month. How cool is that?

God bless America

Well, not surprisingly, last night's D.C. High-Heel Races featured Sarah Palins. A lot of them. Plus 20,000 spectators. And nine polygamist sisters in matching pink gingham. They prayed over a member of the Wasilla PTA.


I ordered 160 copies of the second exam that we're giving tomorrow in my intro class, with half of them as Form A in one color and the other half as form B in another color.

Our new receptionist copied half the exams onto neon pink cardstock.

I guess the students who aren't blinded or papercut will get A's.

will goma fall?

“The Congolese army has abandoned most of their positions,” said United Nations spokesman Madnodje Mounoubai. “The road to Goma is now open to the rebels.”

CNDP has called a truce, but their word is about as good as that of most politicians. I've never been willing to say this before, but unless MONUC comes up with something overnight, Goma may fall. Friends in Goma said that yesterday MONUC withdrew its troops to barracks, although that was before the British colonel started pushing back against the CNDP. They are in control of Goma for the moment, but MONUC is stretched too thin in Nord-Kivu; they're fighting in multiple sectors, and they are apparently simultaneously fighting and trying to protect the population without the help of the FARDC. I'm just not sure they have enough manpower to hold onto the city.

Goma's population is flooding out, headed for Rwanda by car or on foot or down the lake by boat to Bukavu. 45,000 people cleared out of Kibati camp in a few hours today.

It will take at least a week to get well-equipped EU troops in there. They should've deployed yesterday. Belgium doesn't have a government and therefore can't do much.

goma update

CNDP rebels have declared a unilateral ceasefire "to avoid panicking the population of Goma."

It's apparently a bit too late for that. Goma was quiet early today, but apparently experienced what one observer called a "stampede" of IDP's and soldiers later on.

What does all this mean? Basically, the CNDP is closing in on Goma, and can probably take it, especially if Rwandan troops are involved. All it will take is one Tutsi civilian being killed in Goma. That gives CNDP and Rwanda their excuse.

the most reliable poll EVER

Weekly Reader's, um, readers have picked Obama as winner of this year's presidential election. For those of you interested in the electoral college play-by-play, Obama won the swing states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, but McCain took Minnesota.

election watch

Early voting turnout in Louisiana, Georgia, and North Carolina is already higher than the total early vote in 2004. Georgia's turnout is up by 36%, and the numbers are huge among African-American voters.

All three of those states have large African-American populations, and, as Nate Silver notes, African-American population at the state and county level is the "key determinant of early voting" turnout in this race. The question isn't for whom those voters are voting; we know that the vast majority of African-Americans in the United States 1) are voting, and 2) are voting for Obama.

What's not clear is what the effect of such high turnout will be on the downballot races. If African-American voters have high turnout and mostly vote straight-ticket Democratic, it could have a major effect on the Senate races in Mississippi, North Carolina, and Georgia. The polls for two of those races are neck-in-neck, which is kindof unbelievable for the solid Republican South. In North Carolina, it's highly likely that Democrat Kay Hagan will take Elizabeth Dole's seat, also known as the Seat Formerly Held by Jesse Helms. The thought that high turnout among African-American voters could lead to a Democrat taking Jesse Helms' old Senate seat seems like a bit of poetic justice, n'est pas?

Another thing to look for today: the Weekly Reader poll of elementary school students. Weekly Reader usually ends up being the most accurate of all the polls; since 1956, they've only been wrong once (in 1992). I'll post when the results are released.


the latest from goma

Some word from contacts and friends who are either in the D.R. Congo or who've heard from those who are. First, the personal:
  • The Peacekeeper's husband is in Goma; he's been stuck at MONUC for the last two days.
  • A team from Global Strategies for HIV/AIDS Prevention was in a village to do prevention of mother-to-infant HIV transmission work; they are stuck there. They'd appreciate thoughts and prayers for their safety.

And the official:

Photo: AP via BBC

between heaven and hell

"North Kivu looks like heaven. It feels like hell, my girl." - Government official to journalist Kate Thomas

running to goma

More AP photos of the flight are here. Most of the fleeing population spent the night outside in the rain. The situation is very bad, and it's getting worse in Goma by all accounts.


congo watch

Committee Member #2 sent me an email last night, titled "sure glad you're not 'in the field' right now." Me, too. From what I understand, all four MONUC compounds in Goma were attacked yesterday, and most expats are holed up at home. The CNDP rebels are headed straight for the city, and you can hear small arms fire in Katindo, which are the northeastern "suburbs" of Goma.

Usually when these things happen, the Rwandans close the border. I don't think anybody's getting out anytime soon. Including the poor guy who's reporting for NPR. Listen to his report here. They can hear the gunfire there, which is scary, scary, scary. The MONUC compound is kindof a fortress. (It's hard to get into unless your skin is white and your passport is western, in which case it's no trick at all.) It's situated directly across the street from the entrance to the airport.

My guess is that MONUC will send in as many troops as possible to defend the city. They cannot let Goma fall; when Bukavu fell for a week in 2004, it was a major embarassment for the operation. Problem is, the only group that can really stop Nkunda for good is the government of Rwanda.

In other news, the commander of MONUC forces resigned today citing family reasons. He'd only been on the job for seven weeks. The timing could not be worse.


this will and should break your heart

Here's what it looks like when tens of thousands of people flee amidst massive troop movements. Be sure to notice the cultivated fields that won't be harvested this year. That's why people starve in one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world.

update from Goma

From my friend J:

Dear Friends,

I've just talked with [redacted for safety] in Goma, and the situation is very tense, as you have read on CNN and other news sources. The Kibumba camp of internally displaced people that I visited in January, (and which has been growing ever since), is empty and walking, running on the road toward Goma. A number of wounded are being cared for at the HEAL Africa hospital.

...The Nkunda troops have overrun all Congolese army posts. The city of Goma is the haven of "peace", and the added burden to the population cannot but increase tensions, which will be used to inflame further ethnic issues, which will further delay the long-awaited stable peace for the people of Congo.

...They [international humanitarian aid volunteers] wait for morning. Think of them and the people of Goma today, while they are sleeping.


Other news, from CNN:

"Bertrand Bisimwa, a spokesman for the rebels, told the AP that rebel fighters had moved to within seven miles (11 kilometers) of Goma.

"Later Monday, a U.N. spokeswoman told the AP that U.N. peacekeepers were using helicopters to attack the rebels at the village of Kibumba, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) north of Goma."

congo watch: a bad day for goma

Well. I think it's safe to classify today as a Bad Day for Goma. Here's a quick recap of weekend events:
  • Nkunda's forces recaptured the Rumangabo army camp on Sunday. This is a major base for the Congolese army. It's the same base that Nkunda captured two weeks ago, then handed back to the army at the request of the MONUC peacekeepers.
  • They also captured the headquarters of Virunga National Park. Which just happens to be stocked with the radios, weapons, and uniforms the park rangers need to do their jobs of protecting the wildlife in the park.
  • Government troops are in retreat towards Goma, which is south of Rumangabo.
  • Rebels fired rockets at peacekeepers in Kalengara, which is close to Rumangabo, on Sunday.
  • Those peacekeepers were protecting the thousands of civilians who are fleeing towards Goma.
  • MONUC wants the military base returned again. And they are losing patience with rebels who fire on peacekeepers who are protecting civilians.
  • The MONUC compound in Goma is under attack from hundreds of protesters who are angry that the peacekeepers haven't been able to better protect civilians.
  • Nkunda's men are headed for Goma. They attacked Kibumba, which is 12 miles out of Goma and houses a major refugee camp, today. The camp is empty; all its residents have run to Goma.
  • MONUC may go after the rebels with its helicopter gunships soon. They just have to be sure they aren't firing on government forces or civilians.
  • Nkunda's spokesman, meanwhile, says that MONUC peacekeepers may be shot at as well. "In these conditions it is difficult for the CNDP to differentiate between the troops," he told Reuters. Yeah, 'cause those blue helmets aren't distinctive at all.

I haven't heard from any of my contacts in Goma, which is a sure sign that things there are very bad. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

(Photo: AP)

i (heart) election season

The bad ads just keep getting better:


sunday this & that

She is, of course, running in Alaska.


congo watch

The United Nations estimates that 200,000 Congolese have been displaced since fighting resumed in the east two months ago. Two million people are estimated to have fled their homes since 2007.

When massive population displacements happen, other problems abound. Internally-displaced persons (IDP's) don't necessarily get all the protections and aid that refugees (those who cross a border for political reasons) receive. IDP camps are notoriously disease-ridden; pack 40,000 people into a small area with no permanent toilets or clean water source - and do all of this just as one of the rainy seasons starts - and it's a matter of days before cholera, malaria, and a host of other ailments run rampant.

My contacts in Goma say that this year's round of fighting has been particularly bad because it's made food distribution very difficult. The violence coincided with the rise in food prices we're all experiencing, and rebel and army movements cut off the World Food Program's supply lines. Even hospitals in Goma weren't getting food rations for a few days earlier this month, nor was food going to the Mugunga camp, just outside the urban zone. If it's that bad in a city that is well-protected by peacekeepers, imagine what it's like in the countryside.

I'm working on an article about seasonal patterns of violence. (You know, in my free time.) It runs in cycles in the eastern Congo, and I'm pretty confident that I can explain why (Hint: it has NOTHING to do with harvests, lunar cycles, or erupting volcanoes. By the way, if anyone out there has thoughts on how to control for a volcano in a model, please leave a comment!). But whether that information can be used to prevent future conflicts - and therefore prevent the annual humanitarian tragedy that plays out year after year in North Kivu - is far from clear.

i just cried

8 years later

I'm really fascinated by all the user-generated content in this year's election cycle. These are not ads; they're not produced by the campaigns or, often, even by special interest groups. They're just made by normal people who are interested in the outcome of the election.

This one is pretty brilliant:


in the news...

Click here to read an article about Congo Week for which I was interviewed. Ridiculously obscure knowledge comes in handy every now and then!

that time of year


Russia wants her, too

This is kindof wrong, but it really gets good when they break it down around minute 2:15.

arrrrr there authorities?

"'There are a host of pirates, but they don't identify themselves with eye-patches and hook hands so it isn't immediately obvious that they are pirates.'"

That's NATO's James Appathurai speaking to the BBC about new efforts to stop piracy along the Somali coast. French marine patrols arrested nine Somalis on suspicion of piracy in the Gulf of Aden on Tuesday.

What I find most fascinating about this story is that the accused pirates were then "handed ... over to the authorities." If you find yourself wondering, "what authorities?" you're not alone. Somalia hasn't had a functioning government in Mogadishu that is capable of controlling the capital city, much less the countryside, since 1991. Its government typically meets in a hotel ballroom in Nairobi. Kenya.

Upon closer inspection, however, we learn that the accused pirates were actually turned over to the authorities of Puntland, the northeastern region of Somalia. Like its northern neighbor Somaliland, Puntland has a functioning government, security forces, and most of the other accoutrements of governance and authority. It declared itself independent a few years back, and the government of Puntland even has a nice website.

What the government of Puntland does not have, however, is the international recognition that accords legitimacy to sovereign states in the international system. That means that Puntland doesn't get a seat at the United Nations, nor does it get to enter into most international treaties and agreements. Instead, it exists in the netherworld that scholars and policymakers refer to as an "autonomous region," running an economy, maintaining basic public order, and, apparently, arresting pirates.

The fiction of functionality is one of the most fascinating and vexing aspects of Africa's weakest states. The world pretends that Somalia is the legitimate governing authority over all of the territory known as Somalia when clearly that is not the case. Meanwhile, those who can establish some form of rule - Puntland is not a strong state by any measure of the imagination, but it is more statelike than is Somalia proper - are generally ignored by the international community and left to fend for themselves.

Except, it appears, in this case. By returning the pirates to Puntland's authorities, France and, arguably its NATO allies, are at conceding that, at least in the de facto sense, Puntland is more legitimate in the region than is Somalia. The implications of that decision remain to be seen.

what T. Boone hath wrought

Holy smokes. And this man wants to lead our country's energy policy?

thursday this & that


it is a happy day

in which my jaw drops

Palin's real America apparently isn't so much like our real America.

congo week

October 19-25 is Congo Week, a time set aside to raise awareness of the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and of ways we can help. Here are some resources for getting involved:

plus the number of pieces of id you have to show to buy sudafed...

Sarah Palin prefers to campaign in the "real America," and a Congressman went so far as to say that liberals "hate real Americans." (He says he didn't mean it like that. How else could we interpret those words?)

Luckily, for those of use wondering whether or not we're real Americans, Jon Stewart has a formula:

In other Sarah Palin news, seems the governor has a penchant for charging the taxpayers for her daughters' non-official travel expenses.



"Honorata Kizende looked out at the audience and began with a simple, declarative sentence.

“'There was no dinner,' she said.

“'It was me who was dinner. Me, because they kicked me roughly to the ground, and they ripped off all my clothes, and between the two of them, they held my feet. One took my left foot, one took my right, and the same with my arms, and between the two of them they proceeded to rape me. Then all five of them raped me.'”

- As quoted in the NYT

Congolese women are beginning to speak about the use of rape as a weapon of war. Their stories are not easy to process, but they need to be heard. And there's a growing effort to track down and prosecute those who commit these crimes.

Donate to help Congolese women and girls who are victims of rape here.


it's official

I have now seen it all.

Also, there's a blogging plant. In Japan, natch.

beyond the facts

Precocious Youngster Sells Cookies To Buy Attack Ad

great moments in grading

"The two Vice Presidential nominees started off sending their condolences and thanks to everyone who made it possible for people around the nation to see the debate."

"[Obama] is such a formidable force as a speaker that it doesn't matter whether or not McCain gives a flawless plan of presidential action because Obama could recite a nursery rhyme and make it sound better. Obama is the Michael Jordan of public speaking."

"our great strength is in our unity and in our diversity"

"Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer is no. That's not America." - General Colin Powell

(Photo: Platon; HT: Andrew Sullivan)

election watch

Early voting begins in Texas today, and with very high turnout expected this year, if you've already decided on your candidates, it might be a good idea to go ahead and vote.

Here are a list of the endorsements made by major Texas newspapers. Some of them are very surprising, giving the strength of the Republican party in this state. Remember, even the Austin American-Statesman endorsed George W. Bush in 2004.

John McCain

Barack Obama

Lame Copouts from Clearly Divided Editorial Boards

No endorsement as of yet as far as I can tell

  • Fort Worth Star-Telegram
  • El Paso Times
  • Odessa American
  • Midland Daily News

The Bryan-College Station Eagle endorsement is particularly surprising, given that that editorial board hasn't endorsed a Democrat for president in fifty years. This fits into a larger pattern, however; Obama was endorsed by the Chicago Tribune, which hasn't backed a Democrat ever, in 161 years. The Chicago Tribune is half the reason there is a Republican party, for goodness sakes. They made Lincoln's political career in many ways.


names and faces

A fashion photographer named Rankin went to the Mugunga camp outside Goma to photograph some of the displaced people living there.

Here are their stories. And here's more information about the exhibition of the photos, running in London October 21 through December 21.

I love this, because it's a reminder that the victims of violent conflict aren't faceless Africans. They are people. They are mothers, grandfathers, chefs, and hunters who dragged their sewing machines, children, bows, and lives away when they had to run. Any one of us could be them, were it not for the accidents of birth and geography.

it gets better

I want Colin Powell in the Obama administration. (And I want him to run for president. He has too much good sense to do so, which is why he would make a great president.) Obama should make him Secretary of Defense, if Powell will agree to serve. For one thing, it would make a statement to the Middle East that America is NOT a nation whose benefits are only reserved for white Protestants, a message that is sorely needed in a region that sees the Iraq war as another iteration of the Crusades. More importantly, Powell has the experience and skills to clean up the mess that Rumsfeld made and that Robert Gates doesn't have sufficient time to repair. I can't think of anyone who could better oversee the withdrawl from Iraq that the Iraqis want to happen by the end of 2009.


I've actually been to Fairfield, OH. B, one of my closest friends from high school, has family there, and she and I spent a week at her grandma's house one summer. It did NOT strike me as a super-racist kind of place. But you can't predict what people will do. The fact that his neighbors are alarmed is a good sign, I think.

i'm a little bit speechless

McCain's behavior these past few weeks is just unbelievably disappointing to me. I used to think that either a McCain or an Obama presidency would be fine, because both of them are decent men who would try to the best of their abilities to make good decisions for America.

Not anymore. And it's no wonder that General Colin Powell just endorsed Obama. Why? At least in part because, as Andrew Sullivan puts it, "Powell also is horrified, as decent Republicans should be, by the attempt to equate Obama with "the other" and to delegitimize Muslim-Americans or urban Americans or gay Americans or Arab-Americans or anyone else as somehow not "pro-America" or integrally part of this country." Watch to the end of this video and listen to how clearly and powerfully Powell articulates the problem with such tactics:

McCain's use of race as a dividing factor in this campaign is horrifying, and I don't want to, nor can I support someone who engages in that kind of behavior, or who allows his supporters to openly do so. It's not patriotic, and it's certainly not the type of leadership we need in a country that is in trouble.

sunday this & that



That was fun.And we were on ABC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! At least that's what the barrage of text messages coming into our little area about halfway through the second quarter said.

Other famous people at the game: Lee Corso (on the sideline by us for a good bit of the game), Derek Jeter, and the usual.

I have to say, I didn't think Texas would be able to do it this year, but the team is really, really good. The defense had Missouri in negative passing yardage for most of the first half. They allowed way too many points in the second half, but it was a solid trouncing of a team that should have been more of a challenge. Texas is the real deal, and if we survive the next three weeks, we'll be BCS-bound. I haven't been a Colt McCoy fan, but he's on fire. The crowd was chanting "Heisman" before it was over.

Also, the new endzone makes the stadium really, really, really loud when we want it to be really, really, really loud. And our seats are amazing. In case I hadn't mentioned that before.

I love October.

a morning at College GameDay

Another year, another College GameDay Live visit to Austin, Texas. Today's edition featured the usual set of funny signs:
The reverse of this one said, "Get Big and Rich out of my ci-tay."

People, don't drag your young children down into the crazyness at the front. It only makes them miserable, and, given the prevalence rate of drunk frat boys, your child is likely to learn some colorful language of which your wife won't approve.If, however, you've taught your kid the Heisman pose, you get a pass on the above point.
Of course, there were plenty of signs mocking our opponent:
But the crucifixion de tiger was a bit much: I liked how our sign turned out, even after we moved back out of the madness to get some shade by the band.
This, however, is way premature:


oh. my. word.

Now this is a bit much:


well, well, well

Well, I'm glad to see that Baylor has come to its senses over the SAT retake scandal. I still don't buy that their motives were innocent, but whatever. It's over for now, and who knows? Maybe it will provoke a much-needed conversation over what Baylor is really about.


I won't hold my breath.

and it will be a GAME

Here's the view from the front door of my building:

College GameDay isn't just coming to our city; they're in our backyard.


Joe the Plumber:
  1. is not a licensed plumber
  2. owes almost $1200 in back taxes.
  3. apparently qualifies for a tax rebate under Obama's plan.

just your average joe

Meet Joe the Plumber.

(AP Photo: Jae C. Hong)


"Of all the components of the interview process, the setting that conveys the greatest amount of accurate information about a candidate's aptitude in this area is not the one-on-one meeting, nor the group meals, nor even the job talk itself but rather the question and answer period following the job talk. It is this Q&A, a mere hour in a long day or two of interviewing, that constitutes the most crucial component of the entire job searching ordeal. This is also the part of the interview that terrifies students most." - Ron E. Hassner, "Trial by Fire: Surviving the Job Talk Q&A" PS: Political Science and Politics 41:4 (2008), 803-8.

My practice job talk is at 10am tomorrow. To say that I am nervous would be an understatement.


"Earth's crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes -
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces, unaware
More and more from the first similitude."

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from Aurora Lee


it takes a Texan...

Oh, the debate's on, and they're in fightin' mode, which is odd, because usually the "at-the-table" debates are much friendlier and conciliatory. Thank goodness for Bob Schieffer. Our man from Fort Worth is keeping them in line.

8:30ish - Oooh, McCain should know better than to mention the defeat of America's team. His numbers on CNN plummeted the minute he mentioned that.

8:33 - Oop! McCain's proud of the racist rednecks!

8:36 - This is getting really nasty. Which the voters Never Like.

If you're semi-debate-bored, but, like me, trying to be a responsible citizen/professor by DVR-ing the Project Runway finale and watching it anyway, here are some things to keep you awake:
  • Imagine a world with Palin as President.
  • Efforts to disenfranchise swing state voters are in full swing.
  • Evan is liveblogging the debate as per usual, this time while eating year-old wedding cake from he and T's nuptials last October. His latest conclusion? That "these two need marriage counseling."
  • The Choice 2008, which aired last night on Frontline, is a much more interesting look at the candidates and who they actually are.

serenity now

baylor does it again

"Baylor University is being called 'the poster child for SAT misuse' after the student newspaper revealed an unusual practice: paying admitted freshmen to retake the SAT and offering large financial rewards for those whose scores go up by certain levels."

That's from Inside Higher Ed, reporting today on the scheme unveiled by reporters at the Baylor Lariat. In an effort to increase the incoming freshman class's SAT scores, which have an impact on the university's ratings in U.S. News & World Report, Baylor administrators gave a $300 bookstore credit to freshman who retook the SAT, and gave a $1,000 scholarship to those whose scores went up by 50 points.

John Barry, Baylor's vice-president for marketing and commuications, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that this was just a scheme to hand out some extra scholarship money, but that makes no sense. Baylor already has measures in place to award scholarships. And it's pretty clear from statements like those made by Reagan Ramsower , the vice-president for finance at Baylor, that administrators wanted to use this method to improve Baylor's reputation.

They have accomplished exactly the opposite.

The SAT is a college admissions test. It is not a test for those who have already been admitted to college. As Inside Higher Ed notes, [public education director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing Robert] "Schaeffer added that giving out scholarships this way violates NACAC standards, among other things. NACAC’s “Statement of Principles of Good Practice” says that colleges shouldn’t 'use minimum test scores as the sole criterion for admission, advising or for the awarding of financial aid.' While the Baylor funds are theoretically given out on a class rank/SAT, the additional $450,000 is now being distributed solely on the basis of changes in SAT scores.)" Yesterday, about 95% of Baylor's faculty senate voted in favor of a motion opposing the practice.

I've been appalled and annoyed by many of the things my alma mater's leadership has done in the twelve years since I first enrolled at the university. But this is beyond the pale. It is unethical, embarassing, and disgusting. As a current student told the New York Times, "'...the people who put forth this decision completely compromised what they say Baylor is about: its Christian values, the integrity of Baylor, the integrity of Baylor 2012.'"

If you have a Baylor degree, the value of your diploma just dropped like the stock market. This stupid action means that other universities won't take Baylor's academic mission as seriously, and won't value the contributions of its faculty and graduates as highly. They will see Baylor as a place that only worries about its rankings, and that will do anything to improve them, no matter how unethical or unseemly it is.

If you're tired of being embarassed by Baylor and its single-minded focus on rankings, I encourage you to call John Barry's office via the Baylor switchboard at 254-710-1011 and Reagan Ramsower's office at 254-710-3554 and let your feelings be known.



i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

- e.e. cummings

gee, I wonder who this guy's voting for?

tuesday this & that


a kidney for taxes

I just saw the most awesomely bad election ad EVER:

He's running
for Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector.

wonders never cease

We're doing a mock presidential debate in my introductory American government class this week and I gave the students the option to upload their questions as videos on YouTube. Check out what they came up with. I think they may have learned something from the assignment!

congo watch

Tensions in the eastern Congo are very, very high. Here's a roundup of the situation as of Monday evening, local time:


I have a post up over at Inspired to Action on becoming a well-informed voter. Check it out!


10 reasons

10 reasons today was pretty much perfect:
  1. 45-35.
  2. The best pancakes anywhere, ever.
  3. 38-10.
  4. 34-7.
  5. Competitive kickball with a bunch of prep school grads under a gorgeous New England sky.
  6. An afternoon wedding in a field under a perfect blue sky.
  7. At which the bride walked down the aisle to an acoustic rendition of "Sweet Child 'O Mine."
  8. Dancing all night to the sounds of The Best Wedding Band Ever. (Def Leppard, Duran Duran, Van Halen, oh, my word, my feet hurt.)
  9. An afterparty that featured a "special surprise you don't want to miss."
  10. Which turned out to be a mechanical bull.
  11. 45-35.

today's the day

Texas RB Fozzy Whittaker is listed as "probable" for today's game. Which is good, as Texas really, really needs him.

I'm off to play kickball. And OU still sucks.


just a note...

...it's 12:47am in Vermont, where the current temperature is 43 degrees. And OU still sucks!!!

here we go

Palin gets some policy experience.

a steel and concrete soul

PhSquared and 23 approached me with a bit of hopeful gloom in their eyes. "Have you heard from your Aunt Becki yet?" asked PhSquared. "And when's your flight?"

"I've never met your Aunt Becki," added 23, "but I like her a lot."

Sigh. When my Dear, Dear Aunt Becki emailed in August with her usual offer to set me up with fifty-yard line seats for the Red River Shootout, it nearly killed me to have to write back for the second year in a row to tell her that I couldn't go due to the fact that my marrying friends from Up North don't understand that some things are sacred.

Then I managed to (mostly) forget about it, until I stepped off the bus earlier this week and realized that this is the last year I'll have the chance to insult Oklahoma in my lectures (check!) or buy an extra-obnoxious t-shirt from enterprising undergraduates. Nor will I get to enjoy a Fletcher's corn dog, or this year's winning unique fried food entry, or see if the Cotton Bowl's rehab really made a difference. This is it, and Saturday, I won't be anywhere near the State Fair or the 50-yard line.

It's not like I can really complain about going to Vermont for the weekend; it's actually fall there, and few places are more beautiful in early October than the only state in the union that isn't overrun with billboards and big boxes. It's also going to be a bit of a Wedding of the Century atmosphere, with movie stars, Yale professors, diplomats, national security experts, and a former owner of pizza hut among the guests who are trekking out to a farm in Vermont for a weekend extravaganza. (Saturday morning's kickball game with that crowd should be memorable, to put it mildly.)

But, oh, I'm going to miss being in Dallas. (As are the boys, 'cause Aunt Becki hasn't called with extras for them like she sometimes does.) It's going to be a great game; both teams are ranked in the top five, but neither has really been tested yet. I still think the Texas defense is weak, but if Baylor's wunderkind freshman QB could score 17 against OU, then Colt McCoy should be able to do a lot more on his own.

Somebody text me the results.



Classy stickers are popping up all over Austin these days. I just saw this one on Enfield Road today.

brilliance in the polls

Silver adjusts his Senate projections - by including a control for the number of Southern Baptists in a state. Genius.

election watch

Polling, history, and the history of polling all indicate that McCain is probably sunk.

it's like christmas for nerds

Those of you who don't inhabit the world of political science geekdom probably don't spend much of your Octobers of even numbered years hearing endless talks on polling and redistricting. Seriously. I have friends who do this for a living, and it's ALL we talk about anymore.

Unlucky you.

The hot new thing in our little corner of that world is the website 538.com. 538 is the brainchild of Nate Silver, who's a bit of a wunderkind in the world of baseball statistics. Silver's turned his attention and models to politics this year, and he's getting some pretty interesting results. Right now, for example, they're predicting a 90.5% chance that Obama wins the election.

Silver was on the Colbert Report Tuesday night to explain his methods:

For the record, I think Silver's right. The economic crisis pushed Obama's momentum over the edge, and barring a huge gaffe or some unbelievable revelation in the next couple of weeks, Obama will win this election. McCain's campaign hasn't been run tightly or well, and his choice of Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential nominee alienated his party's intellectuals and scared independent voters who are already scared by the stock and credit markets.



call + response

Since several of my friends work on human trafficking issues (including Sandy, who works with sexually exploited children in Miami and who tells some incredible stories on her work blog), I've learned a lot more about this issue of late. All that can be said is that it's horrible, and people are forced into slavery right under our noses. Victims of human trafficking are in our restaurants, our factories, and our neighborhoods. Here are just a few of the facts about human trafficking:
  • An estimated 27 million people worldwide are enslaved or forced into labor against their will.
  • Over 1 million children enter the sex trade every year.
  • Every ten minutes, a woman or child is trafficked into the U.S. for forced labor.

More facts about human trafficking are available from CAST, the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking.

Can we really stand by while things like this happen to innocent people? That's just one of the reasons I'm going to see Call and Response, a new rockumentary featuring lots of music alongside the facts about human trafficking. If you live in Austin, the film premieres this Thursday night at the Dobie Theater; check the website above if you live elsewhere. The film's producers need about 10,000 people to see the film now so they can get a distribution deal, so the more of us who can go soon, the more others will have the chance to learn about this crisis.

In Austin, the 7pm show is sold out, but tickets are still available for the 9pm screening. I'll be at the 7 o'clock show and will probably hang around a little bit to chat afterwards. Let me know if you'd like to meet!


this can't be good

We broke the debt clock:

i promised myself i wouldn't cry

"What I Learned from Watching the Vice-Presidential Debate"
An essay submitted for extra credit to Professor Texas in Africa
by Jittery James

"[Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...]

"I watched the debate in high definition. What I learned is that Joe Biden has crow's feet and very, very white teeth. Sarah Palin, by contrast, is hot. She knows how to wear makeup and fix her hair and wear a skirt. She doesn't look like most female candidates I've seen.

"[Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah...]"

mom is so proud

Oh, gang, it's that time of year again: time for the IgNobel Prizes, given to those researchers whose works "first make people laugh, and then make them think." Among my favorites from this year's winners:

Biology: Marie-Christine Cadiergues, Christel Joubert, and Michel Franc of the National Veterinary School of Toulouse, France, “for discovering that the fleas that live on a dog can jump higher than the fleas that live on a cat.”

Cognitive Science: Toshiyuki Nakagaki of Hokkaido University; Hiroyasu Yamada of Nagoya, Japan; Ryo Kobayashi of Hiroshima University; Atsushi Tero of the Japan Science and Technology Agency; Akio Ishiguro of Tohoku University; and Ágotá Tóth of the University of Szeged, in Hungary, “for discovering that slime molds can solve puzzles.”

Economics: Geoffrey Miller, Joshua M. Tybur, and Brent D. Jordan of the University of New Mexico, “for discovering that a professional lap dancer’s ovulatory cycle affects her tip earnings.”

congo watch

"Congo Accuses Rwanda of Supporting Rebels in East."

In other news, the sky is blue, the stock market is volatile, and colonial cities probably contributed to the rise of HIV/AIDS.

tuesday this & that


you betcha!

Well, now we know what Pip and Lola can be for Halloween.

election watch

I've believed for several months now that Virginia will be one of the key states in this election. It's fascinating demographically; the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. are heavily Democratic, but those votes are essentially cancelled out by conservatives in the south and the eastern mountains. It's not clear how the military bases on the coast will vote; the war isn't popular, but it's hard to think that those sailors would vote against a veteran.

In the past, Republicans could generally count on Virginia to break for their candidates, but demographic shifts and the GOP's unpopularity have made it a toss-up this year. For the moment, McCain's lead in the state seems to be trending slightly down, but only just barely. He and Obama are still neck-in-neck and well within the margin of error.

Virginia Republicans are concerned that McCain may not have given the state enough attention. But maybe they shouldn't fear, since, as one of my students pointed out in his current event presentation last week, Liberty University is registering all of its students and giving them Election Day off from classes to get to the polls. Meanwhile, Obama is pouring money into the commonwealth.

This is one to watch, and it's likely to get a lot more intense between now and Election Day. Good luck to those of you in the t.v. markets there; you won't be seeing anything but political commercials for the next month.

congo watch

The eastern D.R. Congo is closer to full-scale war than it's been in five years. Last week, CNDP rebel leader Laurent Nkunda threatened to turn his insurrection into a country-wide civil war (his spokesperson rushed to say that he wasn't going to actually start a war of that nature on Friday). Predictably, Nkunda's comments threw the diplomats into a tizzy, and the MONUC peacekeeping mission isn't messing around anymore.

The problem, as everyone who follows this situation knows, is that there aren't enough peacekeepers there to secure the entire territory. Critics of the UN will point to the fact that there are almost 19,000 peacekeepers in-country, making MONUC by far the largest peacekeeping operation the UN has ever undertaken. But it took 16,000 peacekeepers to secure tiny Kosovo, and those were well-funded and well-equipped NATO forces. Kosovo's 1/3 the size of Belgium; D.R. Congo's the size of western Europe.

There are also 20,000 rebels, give or take a few thousand as nobody really has an accurate count.

UN officials are asking for more peacekeepers to be committed to the territory, but the UN can't force countries to send troops. The countries that will send troops to a place like Congo tend to be poorer ones with militaries that aren't always the most professionally trained and well-equipped. Wealthy countries' populations won't tolerate the deaths of their soldiers in a foreign country where they see little strategic interest in intervention.

Meanwhile the people suffer. Ethnic tensions are very, very high in North Kivu, and it's only going to get worse.

For some of my job applications, I've written sample course syllabi and outlines. One of my potential courses is about human security issues, that is, issues that threaten human well-being, which includes everything from poverty to war to environmental degradation. In imagining that course, I decided to make one week's discussion be about the ethical questions surrounding humanitarian interventions. The question I want to ask students - the question I've never adequately answered for myself - is whether there's there a moral obligation to intervene when people are suffering when we know the cost will be high, and when we have nothing strategic to gain from intervening.

It's not as easy as it sounds. Do you send one kid to die so that another can live? Do you make people who've pledged to defend their country risk everything for people they never volunteered to save? Do you define the national interest in narrow terms so you can avoid the difficult questions?

monday music

I'm just in a Soul Train mood of late:

hey, texans

Today is the last day to register to vote in the Great State. Info on how to register is here, but you should probably just go to your local grocery store or county clerk's office, given the whole time constraint thing. Somebody will be outside the Wal-Mart registering people. If you're in Austin, the College Republicans and University Democrats will be happy to accost you on the West Mall.

If you don't vote, you are NOT welcome to complain on this blog. I'm just sayin'. :)


missional driving

I got stuck behind this on I-35 for a good 15 minutes today. 'Cause, you know, who doesn't buy a church pew and strap it to the top of his minivan?

(To be fair, my sister does own a pew. But it's a tiny one. Its name is Pepe. (Get it?) And I'm pretty sure it was never strapped to the top of a minivan by people laboring under the illusion that they drive fast enough to be in the left lane.)

link love

There are lots of new readers and commenters at Texas in Africa of late, which is awesome. Welcome, y'all!

It's been awhile since I updated the blogrolls around here, so if you're linking to me and/or want me to link to you, please just leave a comment and I'll get your blog on the list.


come what may

Congratulations, taxpayers! You now own hundreds of millions of dollars worth of mortagages and securities that no one will buy!

Debra texted me earlier to say that CNBC was playing this:

this pretty much sums it up

From Adennak.

"This doesn't happen in America!"

Texans, don't forget that Monday is the deadline to register to vote. If you've moved since the last election (even within the same town), then you need to register. Info on Texas voter registration is here; those of you in other states can get info here. Here's hoping voting goes better for us than it did for Homer:


the debate in review

A few brief thoughts:

  • No major gaffes for either of them. That's good for them, boring for us.
  • Here's an early fact-check. More here. Lots of misleading info tonight.
  • Palin has learned to not answer the questions like any good politician.
  • Biden was too policy-wonky, insider DC baseball-ish. It was painful.
  • Palin was too folksy. It was painful.
  • When I heard Sarah Palin say that she believes the powers of the vice-presidency are constitutionally broad, I almost choked.
  • Moving the embassy to Jerusalem? That's Steve Biegun all the way. It happens every election, and it will tick off the Arab street.
  • Gwen Ifill did a bad job. She let them get away without answering questions almost the entire debate. Part of that is due to the conditions about the debate that the campaigns set, but the moderator should always do more to keep them on topic.
  • I think Biden won. Watching the CNN undecided-voter-o-meter, it was clear that his answers were more popular more of the time. For so much of her answers, especially for the last hour, was flat.
  • That said, Palin could have destroyed the McCain campaign tonight. And she didn't.
  • Palin's suit was really cute.