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


coffee is good...all the time

Except that the concept of "church marketing" makes my stomach turn, this is awesome:


all i have to say...

...is said better by Dwight.


just say no

It's Buy Nothing Day. In a society that does things as pointless as this, it's time to step back from the madness.

A different world is possible.



Today I've posted a series of pictures from the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. They are just a few of the haunting images that are coming out of the horrific situation there, shot by amazing photographers whom I hope won't be mad at me for posting their pictures. These are pictures that capture the Congo that I know, one where suffering and hope exist side-by-side, one where the absurd site of a soldier in drag is followed by one of a mother carrying a baby on her chest and a heavy load of branches on her back.

We focus so much on ourselves at Thanksgiving. We're thankful for our family, and our friends, and for the chance to be together with one another. We're grateful for good food and for football, and we're glad that we can spend a little less on Christmas gifts because of the deals at the mall on Friday.

These things are not bad. We should be grateful, for we are among the luckiest people in the world. We do not have to worry about our own safety, or that of our children. We do not have to wonder when soldiers will invade our towns, or if we will have food next week. We don't have to walk ten miles under a heavy burden every day just to make a living. We do not have to try to make homes in shacks made of branches, or under plastic sheeting provided by the UN, or in the open without shelter from the rain. We are so, so fortunate.

But others are not. Those of you who read this blog regularly know that there are millions and millions of Congolese families suffering on the other side of the world. There are parents who lost their children while running for safety. There are children who could care less whether they get the latest toys for Christmas. They'd settle for finding their parents and having a decent meal for once.

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a strong supporter of Heal Africa, and that I always suggest donating to their work as a great way to take action to help the Congolese. I know it's hard to know whom to trust with your money. All I can give you is my word. I support Heal Africa because they are a local organization of Congolese Christians. They speak the languages, understand the cultures, and know how to implement long-term, sustainable solutions to problems. They are not perfect, but they do a better job of working in those impossible circumstances than any group I know. And they could use your help.

I know it's hard to give money away when things are tight at home. But we have so much. I hope that this year, as you give thanks, you will remember that others have little for which to be thankful. I hope that you won't just say, "There but for the grace of God go I," shrug your shoulders, and go on living like you did before you knew about these things. And I hope that you'll choose to skip some of the gluttony of Thursday and the excess of Friday so that someone else may live. Happy Thanksgiving.

(Photo of Nyanzale IDP camp: BBC)

(You can click on any of the photos to enlarge them. I highly recommend doing so; most of them are stunning.)

don bosco

Abandoned and orphaned children eat at the Don Bosco orphanage in Goma. Don Bosco is housing about 1,500 people who have fled the war.

(Photo: Finbarr O'Reilly, Reuters, via The Big Picture)


(Photo: Walter Estrada, AFP, via The Big Picture)


(Photo: Uriel Sinai, Getty. Via The Big Picture)


Pregnant women wait in line for birth kits at an IDP camp in the eastern Congo. Getting a birth kit means that these mothers will be able to have some measure of disinfection when they deliver, including a clean blade to cut the umbillical cord so they won't have to share.

(Photo: Yasuyoshi Chiba, AFP, via The Big Picture)


(Photo: Reuters, Finbar O'Reilly. Via The Big Picture.)

marie charlotte

( AP Photo: Jerome Delay; via The Big Picture)


Internally Displaced Persons try to register at Kibati camp. Those orange ID cards are their voter registration cards from the 2006 elections, the only photo ID most Congolese have. The Congolese people's hope that democracy would bring peace have not been fulfilled.

(Photo: Roberto Schmidt, AFP, via The Big Picture)


Furah walks 16 kilometers a day to Sake and back to sell wood. She crosses the front lines twice each day with her baby.

(Photo: Jerome Delay (AP), via The Big Picture)


(Photo: Sven Torfinn (MSF/Reuters), via The Big Picture)

tuesday this & that

  • Oh, oh, here we go! Wonder what the story with the Midland guy is. At least it's not the tackiness of Clinton proportions.
  • Inspired to Action has a new look - check it out!
  • I completely agree with every single point in this analysis.
  • This is a great idea. (EXCEPT THAT AFRICA IS NOT A COUNTRY. Nor is "Africa" a community. It is thousands of cultures, languages, and traditions. Treating it like one homogenous whole diminishes the reality of that diversity, and it makes it all too easy for us to write off an entire continent as one big basket case of war, disease, and poverty. Which it is not. I'm really glad that more Americans are becoming more sensitive to the suffering that goes on in Africa's countries, but we would never talk about Russia and Vietnam as being representative of "Asia," and we would be insulted to be discussed in the same breath as Nicaragua as "America." We should show Africa's people the same level of respect.) But, really, other than my soapbox issues, giving up wasteful spending to help someone in need is the right thing to do.
  • Great. Something else to make air travel miserable.



"Aristat is among the one million people affected by a recent upsurge in fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo."

(Photo: BBC)

congo watch

As always, you can help victims of the Congo crisis by donating to the work of Heal Africa. A little goes a long way.

too early to say

Was November 4, 2008 a critical and realigning election?

Yes. No. We don't know.


nine months

"Ngarambe Rukambika, 49, is accompanying his son of nine months to Masisi hospital. His son was shot in the legs during an attack on their village in which his wife was killed and family dispersed." - BBC

Click here to donate to victims of the conflict in the D.R. Congo.

(Photographer unknown; photo from BBC website.)


sunday this & that on saturday

Yawn. I'm so bored watching Tech embarrass itself that we might as well go ahead and do the Sunday this & that now:

bulldog, bulldog

Today is, of course, the second most important football game of the year. And I'm not talking about the hoopla up in Norman. No, today is the 125th edition of The Game, the third-longest running rivalry in college football.

This year is also the fortieth anniversary of the unfortunate incident that was The 1968 Game. We really prefer not to talk about this, but somebody went off and made a movie about the infamous last 42 seconds of The Game that led the Harvard Crimson to run the headline, "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29." Whatever. When it comes down to it, this is what we're up against:

This rivalry is so intense that even MIT gets involved, most recently with a streaker running across the field in Cambridge (this is the least offensive of the videos of the incident). In 1990, MIT actually fired a rocket on the field, which hung an MIT banner on the goalpost. This is what happens when you put all the smart kids in one place.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to join the sons of Eli in cheering against those arugala-eating, latte-drinking snobs from Cambridge.


prop 8 in jersey

Oh, those Princeton kids.


oh, dear

This isn't good.

things i never expected to hear a student say in class, part 2,759

"So..., my dad used to be in the Klan, and he still gets the newsletter."

people = dumb

This is the best argument for limiting the franchise I've ever seen.

congo watch

Thank goodness, the UN Security Council agreed today to send 3,000 extra troops to the DR Congo! This is great news, and if they can 1) get a country or two to commit those troops and 2) get those troops on the ground before May, will really help to protect more civilians there.

In other news, the rebels are conducting reeducation classes for officials in Rutshuru that include a rather unique interpretation of Congolese history. My guess is that the works of Alexis Kagame are taken very seriously in those classes. Super.

first they came for eureka springs...

In the annals of fear-mongering by the far right, this has to be among the more amusing things I've seen.

congo watch

Charlie Rose's show on Thursday night will be about the Congo, and my friend and fellow researcher Severine is one of those interviewed. Set your DVR or watch it online; it will be very informative.


fun with science!

The Texas State Board of Education is meeting to consider science curriculum standards today and tonight. Since the SBOE is controlled by far right-wing extremists who believe that facts are opinions, it's pretty much a foregone conclusion that they're going to decide on something crazy that forces Texas public schoolchildren to learn religion in the science classroom. (I should add that many of them homeschool their children, however, they still think they should get to decide what your children learn.) But state law requires them to hear a heck of a lot of testimony from anyone who wants to speak before they can make an official decision.

Gotta love democracy.

Anyway, the Texas Freedom Network is live-blogging the hearing, and it's mighty entertaining. If you're bored tonight, I suggest giving it a look-see. And if you care about keeping religious instruction in the hands of churches and parents, think about sending them a buck or two.

And those of you who think this doesn't apply to you since you aren't in Texas, think again. Texas is such a large market for textbooks that what our state does affects what's available for school districts to purchase in smaller markets.

two aggies in a forest...

A text from Mizboyd:

"I am TOTALLY being nominated to be a namesake for fishcamp."

I'm hoping some of our Aggie friends can explain what that means.

a request

I've mentioned the precious girls my friend Foster Mom parents on this blog before. This afternoon at 3, those sweet girls are going to get some very tough news. It's the right thing, but it's going to be an impossibly painful day for them, one that they will remember for the rest of their lives. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.


Obama: already stirring up controversy.

tender mercies

Protegee and her baby niece found their mother. Thanks be to God.



Wow. Didn't see this one coming AT ALL.

Thanks, Ben.

from a conservatie perspective

Here's a fantastic piece on how Texas Republicans are shooting themselves in the foot.

it has a price

Focus on the Family chose to focus on politics instead, and it's costing them.


cotton pickin' minute

Thanks to David for pointing out this neat map of the correlation between cotton-growing areas of the old Confederacy and pro-Obama voting behavior.


sunday night


or something like that

It isn't very often that all three of our teams win in one day. All I can say is, "Bulldog, bulldog, sic 'em, horns!"

Also, I like Chicago, but I do not like Chicago's weather one bit. There was snow today. SNOW.

saturday this& that



congo watch

"Government forces in the Democratic Republic of Congo have pushed rebels back 5km (three miles) at the front line north of the eastern city of Goma.

"The BBC's Mark Doyle says the two sides are now separated by a dormant lava field created by a nearby volcano."

That's not far from here.

(AP photo of children separated from thier parents by the fighting. They are being taken care of by Don Bosco orphanage, which was already packed to the gills. If you'd like to send money their way, send me an email and I'll put you in touch with someone who'll get it there.)


the glorious south

Poor, white Southerners voted against Barack Obama in overwhelming numbers, and they did it because of his race. As this article argues, in doing so, it's quite clear that they've made the south - and the Republican Party's Southern strategy - largely irrelevant in national politics.

the gift that keeps on giving

I am completely and utterly speechless.

ending abortion

[As another scholar argued], "...it hasn't worked to vote Republican over the past 30 years in the hope for a Supreme Court that would vote to reverse Roe v. Wade."

A very interesting commentary from a Catholic liberation theologian.


My friend Jess and her colleagues are trying to eat on the budget of an American who's on food stamps as part of the Food Stamp Challenge. They each have to get through the whole week on $29.35. Total. Check out their blog on the challenge here. What you'll learn is that it's virtually impossible to eat a healthy diet when you're poor. And that's a problem.



My heart cannot take much more of this. Picture 27 is where I broke.

socialist apocalypse watch

Well, it's been a full week since Barack Hussein Obama was elected president of the United States of America, and so far, there are no reports of horsemen making mischief, collectivization of farms isn't progressing at all, and Iran hasn't hit Israel with a nuclear bomb. If that doesn't make for a successful transition, I don't know what does.

The only suspicious signs and wonders I've noticed thus far have to do with some strange activity out in Lubbock, where it appears that the last are headed to becoming first, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time until that gets straightened out by our frenemies in Norman. No need to panic, America.

congo watch

I haven't posted much on Congo lately, mostly because it's so depressing that I needed to take a break. Here's the latest. The short version? It's getting worse.

"The population of Kiwanja is crowded around the MONUC base. Conditions are deplorable. There are no latrines, very little water, no food. Around 15000 people are crowded up to the barbed wire outside the MONUC base. They are begging for help. But the new authorities refuse to allow distributions of humanitarian aid. They have destroyed completely the IDP settlements, and there is not a trace of anything that was left when the fugitives scattered last week.

"Hortance recorded some interviews with mothers and young people. People want to go back to their homes, but they are very afraid. Fear dominates over hunger and the very real danger of cholera. The Mayi Mayi are 15 kms north, and 20kms away on the Ishasha road to the north east. That’s really not very far, so the calm is superficial. We can read anxiety and despair on the faces of these people."

Click here to donate to Heal Africa's relief efforts in North Kivu.

Also, over at Inspired to Action, I've posted a way you can help end the financing of these wars, simply by sending an email. Please take a second to check it out.

(Photo: Roberto Schmidt, AFP)


happy veterans' day


A good question for supporters of California's Proposition 8.

the least of these

Remember these kids?

They're treating cholera cases at one of those orphanages this week.
Click here to donate to cholera relief efforts in Goma.

{Photo: Uriel Sinai, Getty Images)


fun with free speech

Oh, I've been waiting for this case. It would've been more fun if it'd been a giant Buddha on the lawn of the Texas capitol, but whatever.

farewell, mama africa

South African singer Miriam Makeba passed away today after she collapsed at a concert in Italy last night. Known as "Mama Africa," Makeba was the first African woman to win a Grammy. She sang on Paul Simon's Graceland tour and countless others. Exiled by the racist apartheid government in South Africa for more than thirty years, she was a key figure in the anti-apartheid struggle, and her music was full of life. Here's the last song Mama Africa sang. It was one of her biggest hits, probably because it's pure joy:


now for the hard part...


human trafficking resources

Over at Inspired to Action this week, we've been focusing on the problem of human trafficking. Be sure to check out the posts on the subject, ranging from an interview with Sara Groves and Charlie Peacock to a post on the work of the International Justice Mission.

One of the things I've learned this year is that human trafficking goes on under our noses, and we're rarely aware of it. There are modern-day slaves working in our restaurants, being forced into prostitution in our towns, and cleaning our neighbors' houses. Here's a great primer on recognizing victims of human trafficking, and here's a short video that brings the point home:

"including Carrot Top"

I completely agree with everything Dave Barry says about civility here. And the postscript.


while we were out...

Everything's gotten worse in the eastern Congo:
  • Fighting broke out this week between Nkunda's CNDP rebels and the Mai-Mai, which are pro-government militias.
  • Civilians are being attacked.
  • The situation is so serious that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon came to Nairobi for diplomatic talks. Nkunda was not invited, so you know those won't amount to much.
  • Nkunda says he'll keep fighting.
  • Angolan troops are fighting around Goma for the Congolese government . That is Not Good, as it's an echo of the 1998-2003 international war fought in the country. It could draw in the Rwandans.
  • Not that the Rwandans aren't VERY involved already. Contacts in Goma report that the CNDP troops are using heavy weaponry that appears to have been used in Darfur (meaning it's probably desert camoflauged). Rwanda has been a major participant in the African Union peacekeeping operations in Darfur.
  • The answer to the immediate problem is more and better peacekeepers. The answer to the long-term problem is to settle, once and for all, the questions about who gets to be a Congolese citizen and who gets the land. India, for its part, is helping with the immediate problem by sending in the Gurkhas. They'll replace another Indian battalion, because the mandate is only for 17,000 peacekeepers. That needs to change. Now.

the new agenda

I've been wondering who's going to get stuck with the job of explaining to Kenya and the rest of Africa's states that they won't be priority A-1 in the Obama administration. But even that guy will have an easier time than whomever has to explain to Obama's relatives that they probably won't be getting automatic immigration visas.

HT: Chris Blattman


Just, wow. This ain't the half of it.

still feelin' it

How 'bout you?


read it to the end

This one made me weep. Oh, my goodness. Oh, my goodness.

more election stuff

  • The transition website is up.
  • Watch this and don't cry.
  • There's a baby-naming craze in Kenya. "Pamela Adhiambo, who gave birth to twins – a boy and a girl - on the night after the elections, named them Barack and Michelle Obama. ...Mrs Adhiambo said she hoped the names would motivate her children to work hard and achieve as much as the Obamas."
  • Obama picked Congressman Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff. Emanuel is a piece of work - son of a militant Zionist, he volunteered in the Israeli army during the Gulf War. He also has a reputation for playing hardball; once he sent some pollsters he was mad at a dead fish. In the mail. As politico.com puts it, "If his goal had been to create a cordial bipartisan tone in Washington — much less a calm, profanity-free West Wing — Obama would have looked elsewhere."
  • You can pretty much tell from the map (of places John McCain outperformed George W. Bush) where the uneducated racists live. I mean, where there's a high level of white voters with low levels of education and income. Shoot, even Floyd County got more Democratic this year. (Note, click on "Voting Shifts" and look at 2008.)

a very political science christmas

A little more election-based fodder:
  • That place Sarah Palin called the "real America"? Yeah, they voted Obama. By a lot.
  • Here's what's going on in the uncalled races. My friend Tom is winning the VA 5th; we'll see if it holds through the recount.
  • It looks like Obama will win the Omaha Congressional district, and therefore get its 1 electoral vote. (Nebraska and Maine are the only two states that divide their electoral votes up in a somewhat proportional fashion.)
  • Here are some way fun charts for those of us who like to know about the exit polls.
  • What's gonna happen with Senator Joe Lieberman, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats who campaigned for McCain? Nobody knows, but it could tip the balance of power, and Joe's liklihood of getting any cash from the DNC in 2012 will depend on how this all shakes out.
  • It appears that the marriages of same-sex couples who got married between June and the passage of Proposition 8 will remain legally married.
  • Something odd happened with the vote in Alaska. (Personally, I think this election tells us that we shouldn't really trust the political judgment of most of Alaska's citizens, especially given that they may have just re-elected a convicted felon to the Senate. I will say the same thing about Minnesota if it turns out that they elected Al Franken.)

baylor pride

The more I learn about what happened at Baylor this week, the more disgusted and embarassed I am. You can watch some of Baylor's finest explain exactly what happened, and you can see the bonfire of Obama paraphernalia here.

Press releases and a voluntary, one-hour coffee are not enough to address this incident. If you are a fellow Baylor alum or a Texas Baptist, I hope you'll joining me in writing to Baylor Interim President David Garland to express your hope that the administrative will take stronger action to ensure that it is clear to every Baylor student that this kind of behavior is not acceptable. I know that Dr. Garland will do the right thing; I also know that it never hurts for alumni to ask for proactive steps to be taken.

You can email President Garland at david_garland[AT]baylor[DOT]edu, or mail a letter to:
Office of the President
Baylor University
One Bear Place #97096
Waco, TX 76798-7096



speaking african

What does Sarah Palin have in common with many of my students?

I'll give you one guess.

Thanks to Emily for the tip!

to light the ways of time

Well, Baylor issued a response to the racially-tinged incidents that occurred on campus last night after Obama's election, including a noose-like rope that was hung from a tree. I trust interim Baylor president David Garland, and I know he takes this seriously.

But as my friend and fellow blogger the Big Daddy Weave points out, Baylor's response is nowhere near adequate to address one of the ugly secrets of many Christian universities. Baylor needs to have a serious, honest conversation about race with all of its students, not just those who show up for some random coffee hour. Talk about it in Chapel-Forum. Spend a little less of Welcome Week setting people up for rush and/or their future marriages and a little more talking about what cultural diversity really means. Cover it in mandatory freshman seminars.

At least they're responding to actual racism this time, unlike back in my day when the administration couldn't tell the difference between satire and actual racism. They almost kicked out several of my friends - some of the smartest, most politically aware, and of the least racist people I knew at Baylor - over that ridiculous incident.

I wonder if Baylor will respond in the same way to those who perpetrated a real crime.

the real america

i love my life

Actual titles of emails that landed in my inbox in the last 24 hours:
  • another proud day in baylor history
  • Karl Rove Just Gave Me a Cookie
  • Goma updates, Wednesday,
  • Re: dance dance revolution

signs & wonders

Mercy me, I nearly fainted at all the angry rhetoric from some of my Facebook friends and acquaintances last night. Obama gets elected and all of the sudden we're facing imminent threats of a planned economy, gay abortionists, the second coming of Christ, and half our school teachers moving to the conservative hotbed that is Canada. You'd think it was the end of the world.

Being as we here at Texas in Africa are very interested in providing a public service whenever possible, now seems as good a time as any to launch a project we've been thinking about for awhile now: The Texas in Africa Apocalypse Watch 2008/09. That way, whenever you see a sign that the Obama administration is about to push America over the edge, you can report it here. We'll keep a log of all the plagues of frogs and locusts, rivers of blood, and changes in the color of the moon that are apparently inevitable, so keep 'em coming!

Seriously. I joke, but some of my friends really do believe this kind of rhetoric. And while I certainly believe that there are legitimate reasons to disagree with many of Barack Obama's policy positions, cavalierly throwing around terms like "socialist" and "antichrist" represents a fundamental failure to understand the meaning of those words or the way the American political system operates.

The record will show that I've already gotten on my soapbox a time or two about how bad the theology underlying the Left Behind fiction series is, so I'm not even going to dignify the antichrist nonsense with a response. Besides, according to what Dawson McAlister told us at a conference at Shades Mountain circa 1993, the antichrist will be Russian. ('Cause that's in the Bible, right next to where it says that puppy dogs go to heaven.)

As for "socialism," look. A taxpayer-funded bailout of corporations is not socialism, nor is a proposal to give tax cuts and credits to the middle class and working poor while raising the tax rate on the wealthy. It isn't a "redistribution of wealth" anymore than any other kind of government spending that doesn't benefit everyone in our society is. Socialism occurs when a country institutes a planned economy, puts tight controls on market prices for goods and services, and often uses force to accomplish those ends.

Nobody in the Obama administration will advocate collectivized farming.

Second, those who do and don't like Obama's policies both need to remember that presidents fail to secure their major legislative agendas about 80% of the time. Even in one-party government (which I agree is dangerous and almost always leads to corruption), presidents still have to contend with 535 outsized egos in order to get anything done.

"Ambition must be made to counteract ambition," wrote James Madison in Federalist 51. He designed a brilliant system that does just that. It sets up 537 people who are used to getting their way against one another, and forces them to compromise on policies that are best for the most Americans. That means, among other things, that no president, no matter how popular, can do everything he or she wants or promises to do in four or eight years. Remember Bush's bit plans for privatization of Social Security and immigration reform? How about Hillarycare, or Reagan's plan to cut spending that resulted in a huge deficit? Even if Barack Obama wanted to do all the crazy things his critics accuse him of (And, to be 100% clear, he doesn't want to do those things. Stop relying on unsubstantiated rumors and look at the facts), our political system won't allow it to happen.

I'm pretty sure that the fate of the republic is secure. Most of Obama's job will be cleaning up the mess the Bush administration made by restoring the powers of the presidency and vice-presidency to their constitutional limits, rebuilding America's relationships with our historic allies, and figuring out what to do in Iraq. But let us know if you see something funny, m'kay?

oh, baylor kids

Classy as ever.

morning update

Election updates and analysis are aplenty this morning:

morning in america

meanwhile, back at the ranch

Burnt Orange Report says that control of the Texas House depends on the count of provisional ballots in the District 105 race. The two candidates are currently separated by a margin of 25 votes. As of now, the D's appear to have picked up four seats, including that of Diana Maldonado in Round Rock.

Whatever happens in that race, I see no way that Craddick holds onto power in the state house. Thank goodness. I have no problem with a Republican speaker, but Craddick's behavior at the end of the last session was beyond the pale. Not to mention unconstitutional, undemocratic, and immoral.

(The important thing is that I'm not bitter.)

I am absolutely stunned at the numbers the Democrats pulled in Texas this year. True, they didn't win many statewide or judicial races, but they lost most of them with over 3,000,000 votes in the Democratic column. Anyone know the last time the D's pulled 3,000,000+ votes in Texas? Or that Harris county went for a Democratic candidate for president?

We know that Texas' demographics are changing rapidly and that the growing power of the Latino vote will affect our politics in the years to come. I agree with Paul Burka that Texas Republicans are setting themselves up for self-destruction with their stance on immigration. I would have expected something like what happened today to happen in ten years or so.

But Obama galvanized something in the Texas electorate and was able to bring out lots of new voters.


President Mwai Kibaki has declared today a national holiday in Kenya.

I don't think Americans fully realize the global impact of what they have done. Obama changes everything.


like you

When we went to see Obama speak in Austin in January, our little group was next to this woman and her son. He was maybe three or four years old, and of course couldn't see, so people around her took turns holding him up. It was way past his bedtime when Obama finally took the stage, I'm sure.

There was a lot going on that night, and I wasn't watching him for most of it, but when Obama first came out and his mother picked him up, the little boy looked at the stage, got a confused look, and asked his mom a question: "Is he white or brown?"

"He's brown," his mom replied. "Like you."

For me, that may have been the most powerful moment of this campaign. The thought that that little boy can grow up in a world where he will believe that anything is possible for his life has just overwhelmed me. He will grow up in a world where the formal discrimination that governed his grandparents' lives, and the implicit racism that affected his parents' will lose some of its power. All because of this election.

I did not believe that we would see an African-American elected president in my lifetime. That it happened now, in an era when we still have a former Klansman in the Senate and when being openly racist is still socially acceptable in large swathes of the countryside, is amazing.

I don't believe that race is a good reason to vote for or against a candidate. Issues, character, and judgment are much more significant.

But, wow, am I glad to be in a country in which that little boy's life will be full of the infinite possibility I've gotten to live.

down to the wire

Those of you who think your vote doesn't count should take note of my old classmate Tom Perriello's race in Virginia. He's currently leading by about 500 votes, with 7 precincts still to report.

BIG election news

Well, the news we've all been waiting for: the numbers are in for Floyd County, Texas. With 100% of precincts reporting, 70.8% went for McCain and 28.9% went for Obama.

I think Obama should consider that a victory. In a Bayloresque fashion.

election update

McCain loses Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. He cannot win now. There's just no way.

I can't live blog the election without going crazy, but I'm posting some stuff on Facebook. The best place to look is the front page map on Pollster.com, where you can easily see which network has called it for whom.

election day in austin

Some UT students have been in line for 2+ hours to vote at the University Co-op, and I've heard that lines at the campus precinct were just as bad.

I've never been so proud of my current and former students.

(Photo: Laura Skelding, Statesman.com)

what to watch for tonight

  • Obama is going to win. In the 159 polls taken in the last six weeks, Obama led in every single one.
  • The earliest exit polls are out, and for what they're worth, they show that 63% of voters said the most important issue to them is the economy. That's not surprising, and it favors Obama. As does just about everything else we know from those exit polls.
  • As does Nate Silver, I think we'll have a call for Obama from most of the networks between 9 - 10pm CST. He will win Virginia, which is a clear sign, but they can't call it so soon, because he won't be to 270 until the mountain time states' polls close.
  • Silver has a great hour-by-hour guide to what to watch for with the polls tonight.
  • Georgia. Georgia, Georgia, Georgia. Turnout there has been insane. Nobody has any idea what's going to happen. If it goes for Obama (which it may, but you'll have to wait for the Atlanta numbers to come in), the race is over. And so, possibly, is the solid Republican grip on the South.
  • Obama won Dixville Notch.
  • It appears the youth vote actually showed up for once. Lines at the UT precincts are 1.5 hours long. About 95% of the eligible voters in my class had voted by class time today. Most of them voted early. My other class is empty tonight (they're watching a movie while I catch up). I know at least 3 drove to their hometowns to vote.
  • By my count, you can take in at least 1,100 calories free-of-charge tonight, whether you voted or not. It's illegal for these companies to only offer freebies to those who voted, so go ahead and enjoy your donut/chicken sandwich/Starbucks.

we the people

I love to vote.

Really. There's something so amazing, so equalizing about this thing we get to do once every couple of years. We get to choose our leaders. And when you spend a lot of time with people and in places where that isn't (or hasn't always been the case), you realize what a precious right it is.

Ten years ago I was studying abroad in Kenya. Kenya at the time was still a dictatorship with very little political freedom. You couldn't talk about politics, at least not in public, and certainly not with people you didn't know very, very well. A few months earlier, people had died in election-related riots, just as they had died five years before and would die again ten years later.

One day we met a Swedish doctor who'd married an opposition member of the Kenyan Parliament. She spent her days evaluating torture victims for Amnesty International, documenting all the human rights abuses that were committed in the name of political oppression. They woke up one morning of an important parliamentary vote to find their house surrounded by government troops.

I love to vote, and I usually cry in the voting booth. As Jill Lepore puts it in her excellent history of voting in America (Which you should absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt read. Did you know Americans used to vote in public, and that you used to have to bring your own ballot?!?), I "mark my ballot, awed, as always, by the gravity, the sovereignty, of the moment. With the stroke of a pen, we, mere citizens, become We the People." This year, I've been crying all day at the stories of voting people are sending in to Andrew Sullivan. A thousand people in line in Atlanta. A 95-year-old African-American woman voting for the first time at D.C.'s Foundry United Methodist Church, one of the most amazing churches in America.

I voted early this morning, after about 25 minutes in line, due not as much to volume (20-30 people in line) as to the incompetence of one of the clerks who was yelling out personal information in clear violation of election regulations and not letting the other clerks do their jobs. (Since I'm not a fan of identity theft or voter fraud, I called it in to the election commission, oh, yes, I did. The guy there just sighed. Apparently it's hard to keep poll workers from breaking the rules.) And, yeah, I cried when I got into the booth. Cried at the significance and weight of the moment in history, and that I get to exercise this privilege that so many of my friends haven't always enjoyed.

"Freedom isn't free" is such a cliche, but it's also true. We're pretty good in this country about honoring our soldiers for their sacrifices on behalf of our freedom, but we forget that many other people worldwide pay the ultimate price to have a right we take for granted. We are the people, and this is our government. We're responsible for what it does, and for what it fails to do. May we take that responsibility seriously, and exercise our right to vote with caution and judgment.

why i vote

Don't forget to vote, gang.


why i am not a single-issue voter, part 2

This is a note from my friend Joseph Ciza that was passed on by another friend. He writes from Goma on Saturday, and I'm posting this in hopes that he won't mind getting his story out so you can know more. It's long, but I'm asking you to please read it. It's important to me.

"A tense but quiet night, thank God. In the early evening, there was gunfire by the airport, and we thought, “This is it! They are attacking!” But it died down. It was probably looters meeting a patrol. Col. Padiri has given orders to shoot looters on sight. Two dead men in military uniforms were left outside ULPGL gates (Université Libre des Pays des Grands Lacs), to make sure the message gets through to the others.

"I left the house at 8 am. It makes my children anxious when I leave. My oldest son, Jean-Felix, who is six years old, has refused to eat. He is afraid all the time that the soldiers will break in. He asks, “When will the war end? When can I go back to school?” Even if some shops are open again in town, the schools have not re-opened. The stalemate could flash back into war at any minute, so parents are afraid to let their children out of their sight.

"My wife is also anxious when I leave; she is finding it hard to feed us. No fresh food has come into town because no one will risk sending their truck out past the multiple army check points. The depots are not open, for fear of looting; a sack of beans is selling for 80$. A few Rutshuru traders got their trucks into the humanitarian convoy yesterday, bringing some vegetables and bananas to the market.

"I took a car and drove out of town to Kayaruchinya, a health center just north of the airport. There’s not much traffic about because people don’t want to risk their car or motorbike being requisitioned by the military. What a contrast to the usual scene of bumper to bumper vehicles, with the cloud of motorbike taxis weaving in and out like mosquitoes.

"The scene in Kanyaruchinya breaks my heart. There must be around 10 000 people crowded round the health centre. They are despondent, sitting in lines, waiting for someone to bring them help. The scenes of yesterday are fresh in their memory. Two children were crushed to death underfoot by adults in their rush to grab a handful of biscuits. These people have been waiting in the torrential rain, and the sun, without shelter, without water, since Tuesday. Kanyaruchinya is at the foot of the volcano: there are no wells, no streams, and no piped water in this vast expanse of black volcanic rock.

"I look for the camp manager to see how HEAL Africa can help. These people came from the Kibumba camp, but no one has seen their manager since they fled; there is no one to orgnaise an orderly distribution. UNICEF is preparing for a distribution of rations again today; Mercy Corps is bringing in water with a tanker. All I can do is pray: May God multiply these rations – they are insignificant for such a crowd; and that is what causes a stampede...

"Since the beginning of this fresh round of fighting, our hospital with 150 beds has received 42 war wounded civilians, 27 of them from Wednesday and Thursday. I am so sad to see a little five year old girl, whose face and chest is completely burned. She just happened to be passing by a group of youngsters who had collected bullets around the edge of the army camp. They were playing with them, burning them, and some cartridges were still live. This little girl happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, when the live bullets exploded in the fire.

"Bernard Kouchner and David Milliband arrive around 4 o’clock. It’s pouring torrential rain. European security forces are all over town; we don’t know where these two are going, or where they are staying or who they are seeing. But their arrival is a glimmer of hope for us. We are convinced that our town was saved by the outcry in the world, pushing these big powers to get involved.

"It’s evening, and I’m going home after the rain. I can see some Goma people straggling back into town. These are the ones who fled to Sake on Tuesday. And then there are the new arrivals, the people who have been on the run all this year. It’s pitiful to see mothers spreading their tattered cloths on the bare black rocks of Goma, and huddling against the wooden walls of houses, surrounded by their hungry children. They are begging for food. When I talked to some of them this morning, their one question was: When can we go home? Many of them have been living like this since April, with no help. They have survived by digging other people’s gardens in return for a share of food. If there will be no more fighting, they want nothing more than to go home.

"Back at home, I am so thankful for our meal of beans and rice. It comes from the stock we bought back in October. Always the same thing, but at least we have food on the table. The neighbourhood is quiet. There are many patrols of military police, and anyone suspected of thieving will be shot. So everyone stays inside, under voluntary curfew: no one comes out for fear of being mistaken for looters.

Photo of an injured baby in a Rutshuru hospital: Getty Images/Uriel Sinai

why I am not a single-issue voter

Hi, my name is Texas in Africa, and I am not a single-issue voter.

It's the last day of the campaign, and the rhetoric, accusations, and mud-slinging are at a fever pitch. Emails full of crazy, unsubstantiated rumors (Obama isn't a natural-born citizen! Sarah Palin banned books we all like! An Obama presidency will be worse than the Holocaust!) are flying, and some conservatives, realizing that the Republican party is about to lose the presidential race, are starting to panic. Meanwhile, emails, comments, and Facebook messages about the so-called "Christian" way to vote are stacking up.

The most common of that last type of ideas, of course, is that a serious Christian cannot possibly vote for a pro-choice candidate. The logic for such a stance is something along these lines:

  1. Abortion is Biblically impermissable.
  2. Any candidate who supports legalized abortion would contribute to the destruction of innocent life.
  3. Therefore, any Christian who votes for a pro-choice candidate is morally culpable for abortion-induced deaths.
  4. It doesn't matter what a candidate thinks about any other issue, including the death penalty, economic collapse, poverty, war, environmental degradation, or hunger.
  5. Abortion is more evil than any of those other evils,
  6. and a Christian should only take a candidate's stance on abortion into account.

Here's an example of such an argument from Focus on the Family. (If you think I'm unfairly explaining the line of reasoning here, please leave a comment so I can clarify.)

I think this is an incredibly irresponsible way to vote.

Why? Stick with me here. Setting aside the question of whether the abortion issue is so Biblically cut-and-dried (And we can talk about that another time, just as soon as someone explains whether the most compassionate thing to do for an eleven-year-old Congolese girl who became pregnant as the result of gang rape by soldiers is 1) to have her carry a baby to term in a country with no adoption system, packed orphanages, and very little chance of survival, or 2) to give her a morning-after pill before you flood her system with antibiotics to keep her from contracting HIV. There is a world in which moral ambiguity exists, like it or not.), let's assume that "life" is the most important issue a Christian voter can take into account. That's where my problem with the "you-should-only-vote-on-abortion" stance comes in. Because I don't see "life" as just being about abortion.

American presidents make decisions that affect almost everyone in the world. That's six billion people, give or take a few million. The decisions that the president of the United States makes about trade policy, foreign aid, and war are very often life-or-death decisions for people who have no influence on the American electoral process:

  • A trade policy decision made in Washington means that a farmer in the Guatemalan highlands might not get a fair price for his coffee next year, meaning he can't afford to send his children to school, meaning they're doomed to a life of poverty and struggle.
  • The decision to go to war, whether it's just or not, means that innocent civilians will die. "Collateral damage" happens in every war, including in those wars that are necessary. Estimates range widely on civilian deaths caused by the Iraq war, but there's no question that the cost in human life has been terrible.
  • Political decisons about the foreign aid budget are the difference between refugees sitting in camps in the Congo getting food asssistance or dying the very painful death that results from starvation. Cuts in foreign assistance mean that a mother in Zambia might not get the anti-retroviral treatment that keeps her healthy enough to care for her children.
I can't say that one of these is worse than the others.

Some people try to play the numbers game. They argue that the 1.2 million or so abortions performed each year in the United States cause far more deaths than does collateral damage in war.

But almost 10 million children die of preventable, poverty-related causes every year.

And 2 million people died of HIV/AIDS last year.

I don't like the numbers game. Each life is precious and worthy of being saved, and untimely death is a tragedy, whether it happens to one person or to a million. And the fact is, no candidate has a consistent position on life issues, especially when you view "life" as meaning something more than the prevention of abortion. The candidate who's anti-death penalty is almost always pro-choice. The candidate who is pro-life on abortion usually wants to cut funding for foreign assistance.

Even if you just look at abortion, it isn't that simple. We know that poor women have abortions at much higher rates than do wealthy women, and we know that 59% of abortions in the United States each year are performed on African-American and Hispanic women, a group for whom the poverty rate is much higher than it is for the general population. So if you vote for a candidate whose policies on things like welfare, taxes, the minimum wage, and children's health insurance make it harder for the poor to survive, are you also culpable for those abortions?

Taking all of these issues - and others - into account, I can't be a single-issue voter, especially when I know that no candidate has consistent positions that are even close to what I believe the Bible teaches us to do. Instead, I try to vote on the issues, and on my assessment of the candidates' character and sense of good judgment. I vote with the recognition that the decisions we make have far-reaching, global impacts.

And I hope you'll do the same. If nothing else, recognize that the world will not end if your candidate loses, and understand how fortunate we are to live in a country where we get to choose our leaders without fear of intimidation or reprisal. Get informed, get out and vote, and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same.

the least surprising football news in the history of the game

ESPN reports that Phillip Fulmer will step down as Tennessee's coach at the end of this season.

My money's on Mike Leach or Will Muschamp to replace him.


sunday this & that

  • Saints preserve us. Obama, The Musical opened in Nairobi tonight.
  • Here's hoping that RyanAir's 10 Euro London Stansted to New York fares will also be good for those of us traveling in the opposite direction.
  • Some clever commentary on California's Proposition 8. We here at Texas in Africa continue to wait for someone to give us a solid, non-Biblical-based reason why same-sex marriage shouldn't be allowed in a secular state.
  • Who's vote will matter on Tuesday? Nate Silver says Virginia, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, and Nevada. McCain has to win all of those to pull it out, and he ain't gonna win Colorado. Silver thinks he must also win Virginia and Ohio. There's also a good chance that one of Nebraska's electoral votes (the Omaha Congressional district) will go to Obama. What does all that mean? That it will be an early night. We should have results by 8pm, and I'd guess a call by at least one major network by 9pm CST.
  • Despite what you're hearing on FOX News, according to reputable polls, the race is not tightening in any significant fashion, and there's little reason to think it will in the next 36 hours. Chuck Todd explains why McCain probably won't win here.
  • George F. Will has great commentary on the historical significance of the vote.
  • Wow, I just saw a nasty anti-Obama ad from a Swiftboatesque group.

all saints' day

Godspeed to those shipping out to Afghanistan tomorrow.


some good news

In a reminder that some things are more important than poorly-called football games officiated by apparently blind referees, I'm happy to report that a UN aid convoy will cross the rebel lines to help the estimated 250,000 displaced Congolese who are trapped there and who have received little to no aid in the last week.

In other news, almost 50% of registered voters in Austin voted early, Obama's aunt living in the U.S. illegally was apparently the best October surprise anyone could come up with, and the asinine TSA liquids ban will loosen up considerably in about a year to something approaching reasonable and will be phased out by late 2010, even though there was never a solid scientific reason to limit us to 3 oz. bottles in a quart-sized bag in the first place.

updates from goma

Here's word from the folks at Heal Africa. Dr. Jo and Lyn Lusi are featured by the BBC today. Joseph Ciza, mentioned below, is a good friend and contact who more-or-less saved my research project when I wasn't sure what to do. He is fearless and will go anywhere to talk to anyone about ending the rape epidemic. Please keep him, his family, and his safety in your thoughts and prayers.

"We just spoke on the phone with Dr. Jo Lusi. He's on the way to the airport, to receive the ministers for foreign affairs from France and UK. They will spend two hours in Goma with him.

"The HEAL Africa hospital continues to treat the wounded. About 50 badly wounded remain in the hospital. Over 100 have been treated and released to go home. Joseph Ciza is working with people and organisations who have identified victims of rape, and they are being treated as well. There was an offer of a planeload of supplies, but because of the situation (who is in control of the airport, will trucks be able to be found to transport supplies, etc.) we have asked that financial donations be the way to respond, so that the hospital can purchase what is needed.

"...Thank you for your prayers for the staff, who are working around the clock. All of the mobile teams have been in contact, and are safe. We thank God for his presence with the people of Congo at this time. It seems that the international community is taking the situation seriously and are working at many levels to make a different future possible for the people of Congo, who desperately need peace."

Here is an update from Lyn from Friday:

"Today was a strange mixture of reality and unreality in Goma. The threat of violent catastrophe is very close – just 10 kilometers north of the town, where Nkunda is waiting out the results of negotiations. If he doesn’t like what is offered, he will probably advance before the French have time to send in the troops they have promised. We are grateful for the UN troops, because they are standing firm despite being so few and facing off heavy odds.

"...The children who were repaired yesterday are stable today. Please continue to pray for their mother, so traumatized.

"...Behind the Nkunda lines, from Kibati up to Rutshuru, his troops have broken up the displaced people’s camps and scattered the people, and burned the installations. People are fleeing once again."

"So much now depends on the outcome of the negotiations, in UN, in Eu and the African Union. Please pray for wisdom for the negotiators. The stakes are not the concerns of one rebel warlord. They cover the whole region, and they affect the interests of faceless big business around the world."

Other news:
  • The situation of the displaced is absolutely horrific. Most have not had food, water, or shelter for 3-5 days.
  • The rebels are forcibly emptying the camps for IDP's and telling them to go home. Then they're burning the camps so they're unusable.
  • PLEASE watch this video so you can understand. I am in tears as I type this. Share it with your friends, put it on your blog. People need to know that this is happening in our world.
  • The French and British foreign ministers were in Goma today, with plans to be in Kigali by tonight. British foreign minister Mark Malloch Brown says that sending in EU troops is a possibility if the ceasefire fails. I hope that they were shocked and horrified by the things they saw. A trip to the hospital should have accomplished that. Maybe they'll be motivated to really do something, rather than standing by yet again and allowing the people of the Congo to continue suffering and dying.

In a couple of days, I'll be posting on a practical effort you can be part of to help change the situation in the Congo in a lasting way. Please check back then.