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


a brief word from kiwi country

Of all the crazy things I've done in life (and believe me, there are many), landing here:

in this:
is right up there towards the top of the list. Happy New Year to you!


what christmas is all about


holiday greetings

I'm off for what's sure to be a very memorable vacation. Posting will be somewhat intermittent for the next two weeks. Have a wonderful Christmas and a very happy new year!!!


speechless night

Sweet eight pound, six ounce baby Jesus in the manger.


year in review

Goodness, how time flies. I believe I mentioned that I've been more-or-less living at the airport of late, a fact which has become all the more real today. It's somewhere around 70 degrees in Austin today, but apparently there's snow in Chicago, so no planes in Texas, and flight delayed for four hours, blah, blah, blah, blah. All I know is that when I showed up for my 2:20 flight at 1:14pm, they took my bags and put me in another line, where I was finally informed that it will be 10pm before I get anywhere near Nashville. I'm at Gate 11, in the comfy chairs with electrical outlets. Stop by and say hi. I'll be here all afternoon.

(This all happened after watching a gate agent scream at a mother traveling alone with her three preschoolers, one of whom absolutely deserved the non-abusive spanking she gave him. Apparently Southwest now hires the Parenting Police to run its customer service operation. I think everyone in the line will be writing a letter about that one. That poor woman deserves a voucher.)

Then my colleague R called to ask if he'd just seen me leaving the airport Maudie's. (Ahem, yes, of course I stopped at Maudie's. Five hours goes by a lot faster with some Maudie's enchilada goodness.), so we had lunch together before he left for Palo Alto on time with American. Apparently only Southwest is having trouble moving people about the parts of the country where it isn't snowing today.

Anyway, given that I've got nothing but time and three apples from the pantry, I figured now is as good a time as any to do a year in review post. Let's go month-by-month, 'kay?

January kicked off with a bang at the Wedding of the Century four-day extravaganza.
Then of course, there was the Mom of Twins' birthday sushi cake:Even the sushi cake, however, was topped by the wonder that is Miracle Wrap we found at the New Baptist Covenant:In February, I didn't eat the cookies at my last-ever GA Valentine's Day Cookie Sale,
then went to Lubbock for a much-needed dose of West Texas, which would've been awesome except for the black ice south of Sweetwater.
March began with an actual presidential campaign in Austin, and with a caucus during which we learned exactly which one of our neighbors is most likely to barricade himself inside his home with a weapons stockpile.
In mid-March, I met my longtime goal of reaching 30 countries before my 30th birthday with a visit to Steve the Lawyer in the world's newest country, the Republic of Kosovo. We also took a spin around Macedonia, and I had coffee in Albania and spent a couple of days riding buses across Montenegro. Seeing a Yugo in its natural habitat was completely worth the 22-hour blizzard-induced flight delay and reroute through Istanbul via Des Moines.
April meant a trip to Chicago to convene with 7,000 of my closest friends in political science. It also meant dinner with Melissa the Missonary, at which we had one of the single most disgusting things I've ever tasted: fried Twinkies. Ew.
May was rough, what with turning 30 and all, but it was made easier by the fact that a whole mess of other friends also turned 30, a fact which was "celebrated" by some of our other dear friends in June.
And by a quick trip to DC to catch up with friends, some of whom are newly committed to the spirit of Baylor:
June was long, hot, and slow. I taught summer school at an ungodly hour of the morning, then worked on my dissertation the rest of the day, all day, every day, including weekends. Luckily, camping with friends at Pedernales Falls was a great way to cool off.
In July, I got out of the heat and went to Peru, where I finally got to see Machu Picchu and learned what food poisoning feels like.
Nothing cures altitude sickness like paragliding over the Pacific coast:
August was even worse than June. My colleagues and I escaped to Boston at the end of the month to confer with our political scientist friends once again.

September was for football and music festivals, as per usual.
October meant a wedding in Vermont at which the bride walked down the aisle to "Sweet Child O Mine"
and Halloween, for which the polygamist Mormons definitely won the best costume prize in my book:
By November, I'd taken up residence at the airport, first to go to Chicago again, where they were apparently having trouble keeping their streets flat in their post-election ecstacy.
December involved flying all over creation for job interviews, then a musical extravaganza in the church Christmas pageant for which the Librarian and I dressed like a sixties girl group (and during which a very alert seven-year-old asked her mother if we were all drunk or what)
and the Librarian's magnificent birthday party, to which Steve Not the Lawyer brough a pinata and two Mexicans.
Oh, and I got a job. More on that later.

All in all, it was quite a year, and it's not over yet. In an unprecedented departure from tradition, la famille Texas in Africa is skipping out on Christmas altogether and heading to the beach. In the southern hemisphere. (I know. Up is down, green is red, and North Carolina voted Democratic. Strange things are afoot.) Bonus: for the first time in who knows how long, I'm using my passport to go somewhere that is 1) not a third-world hellhole and 2) not a site of ethnic cleansing in the last 15 years. I don't know that I know how to brush my teeth with tap water in a foreign country anymore.

I hope your 2008 was as much fun as mine was, that you met some life goals that were perhaps more significant than visiting Albania, and that you 2009 is even better.


finally, a Texan

Ron Kirk will be the U.S. Trade Representative for the Obama Administration!

thursday this & that

the christmas schlock continues

I wonder how many starving children could be fed with the money spent on their electric bill.


"now the only thing missing is charo!!!"

We had at least this much fun with a pinata last night at the Librarian's super-festive birthday party.

call us weird, we don't care

My apologies for the complete and total lack of posting here today. We here chez Texas in Africa woke up when our phone rang at 9:30am to learn that the electricity was out. When I finally gave up and left to have lunch with Favorite Kid #1, there were men with a ginormous corkscrew looking thing outside. I don't know what they did, as I was preoccupied with getting the eyeshadow off of my nose (oops), but by the time I got home this evening, everything was back to normal.

Of the news that is news here in Austin, Jennifer Gale died overnight. Our city has something of a tradition of political participation by transgendered or cross-dressing homeless individuals (really). Gale was a fixture at almost every single meeting of the Austin City Council, the school board, and other community governing bodies. She was also a perpetual candidate for city offices, and came very close to winning a spot on the school board a few years ago. Although Gale made an easy target, the city is genuinely worse off without someone whose commitment to improving life for all of our citizens - especially for the poor and vulnerable - was so strong. The comments about her life in her funeral guestbook make it clear that this city valued her life.


this ain't right


nonsense drumming

One of my favorite pieces of bad Christmas music ever. You have to understand that I HATE this song with a passion.


Turns out there was one thing that could bring Iraqis of all religions and ethnicities together...



"Aisha Makombo, 15, has been raising her 11-year-old sister, Khadija, since their mother died of AIDS last year. An expressive girl with a soft, round face, Aisha, who is H.I.V. negative, has been struggling to get drug treatment for Khadija, who is now sick with AIDS.

"She took her little sister, so stunted she appears half her actual age, to Parirenyatwa Hospital, the nation’s largest referral hospital, last year, but crucial test results needed to qualify Khadija for life-saving medications were inexplicably misplaced.

"On a later visit, Aisha was told the machine that performed the tests was broken. Now the hospital is virtually closed. Aisha said she was referred to private doctors who demanded payment in South African rand or American dollars, but the girls had no money.

"Aisha’s eyes filled with tears as she explained that she had been able to obtain only cotrimoxazole, an antibiotic used to treat opportunistic infections, for her little sister."

Zimbabwe's nightmare has grown even worse in recent weeks, in large part because water stopped running in Harare's huge slums, prompting a major outbreak of cholera. Water stopped running because the national government took over the system's operation from the city council, which opposes the ruling regime. Hyperinflation is now so bad that salaries do not cover teachers' commute costs to work, and many doctors and nurses no longer show up to work.

The NYT has a list of organizations that are on the ground trying to help children like Aisha and Khadija. In the meantime, they could use your prayers, especially as Aisha tries to find ways to earn enough money to care for her sister. The danger that she will end up in the commercial sex trade is high.

weekend this & that


ho ho ho

I'd like to thank my friend Ben for sending along this little gem of holiday cheer. That's Texas Tech quarterback/almost-Heisman trophy finalist Graham Harrell on the upper left.

The best part? It's for this year, which means it's clearly a joke. I wonder whether TTU sports PR got to clear the joke first?

in excelsis brassica oleracea botrytis cymosa

This is quite possibly the most amazing thing I've seen as far as Christmas carols go:

It gets better: there's a debate as to whether broccoli really sounds like that.

with mary we behold it

A little of what Baylor's Chamber Singers' Christmas Concert used to be like.


who knew?

Even Aggies come up with okay ideas every now and then.

All I want for Christmas...

...is a comprehensive peace deal in the Congo. There will be a deal eventually ('tis the season!), but they won't address the land tenure issues that have driven so much of this conflict. I also doubt that it will determine once and for all whether Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese are citizens of the DRC or not. A deal that doesn't address those issues is doomed to fall apart.

with the poor and meek and lowly

This is one of my very, very favorite carols. It broke my heart that the interim conductor of Baylor's Chamber Singers abandoned tradition and didn't open their concert with it this year. I look forward to hearing their version each December.


no wonder we're all sick

It was almost 80 degrees and muggy when I got to work this morning.

It's currently around 35 and various frozen substances are falling from the sky.

Anyone have a weather report for Atlanta?

tuesday this & that

lovely weather


always start with this one

I'll be running some of my favorite holiday songs these next couple of weeks. This is the song I always play first.

job market = junior high

I haven't been blogging much of late.

Perhaps you've noticed.

Things have been a little busy around here.

To be more precise, I'm in the middle of a nine-week run of being at an airport at least once a week.

I'm not complaining. It's much better to have family to visit, conference papers to present, jobs for which to interview, and vacations to take than the alternatives. But I am tired.

Here's what I've learned about the academic job market thus far: it's remarkably similar to choosing a spouse. Using the dating methods of seventh graders.

You put yourself out there, often by letting your advisor know that you're interested in this or that job. Your advisor and other professors then introduce you around, letting those schools know that you like them, and you want them to like you, too.

And then you wait for the phone to ring. And wait. And wait. And begin to think that the phone will never ring, that nobody will ever want to give you a chance.

Then it does. Ring, I mean. Sometimes it's the school you wanted to call. Sometimes, it's not. Regardless, you have no idea what to say, but you pull it together, manage to sound cool, and reply, "Of course, I've always dreamed of living and working in northwest Iowa/metropolitan Las Vegas/outer Mongolia. Who doesn't?"

If they like you, it doesn't matter whether you like them or not: you're going for that interview. You rehearse everything you'll say with your friends and people who are wiser than you, come up with an answer to every possible question, have amusing anecdotes on hand for when conversation slows, and have your mutual friends call to talk you up. You also get every single piece of dirt, I mean, information on the school that can be found online and through your networks.

Then comes the real fun: the campus interview. In which both parties involved have one, maybe two days to decide whether they want to spend the next thirty years together.

It's like going from the first date to an engagement in one day.

Academic job interviews are not like interviews for other jobs. In a normal job interview, you spend an hour, maybe two talking to the people whose responsibility it is to hire new workers. In an academic job interview, you talk. About yourself. For eight or nine hours. To a mind-boggling array of people. You meet as many members of the department as possible, visit with the dean of the college and the department chair about tenure and promotion and benefits policies, take a campus tour, sometimes teach a class, meet with students, and always give a talk on your research, which is followed by what can be a brutal Q&A in which faculty members may try to impress one another with how smart they are by berating you. Everyone, from the dean to the undergrads, is constantly evaluating you, so you'd better not say anything stupid, and you'd better not lose your voice or catch a cold.

You also get treated to fancy dinners, ones that you suspect won't be forthcoming once you commit.

Then you get to wait again, to see if they'll make an offer. And if they do, you have two weeks tops to make a decision that determines where you'll likely spend most of your career. And you have to decide what to do.

Sometimes it's easy. If the school is It, the One, the Only One, you just know. But they may not see you as It, the One, the Only One, and what then? Then you wait, because if their first choice turns them down, you might still have a chance.

Sometimes it's not. If you get an offer from a place you're not sure about - or, worse, one you know you'd hate - then you have to decide which risk is worth it. Stay on the market for spring's Round II, or accept a job you don't want in hopes of moving on in a couple of years. The former is frightening in this economy. The latter is very unfair to a school that spent a thousand dollars trying to woo you in.

It's complicated.

Being as I'm among the minority of academics for whom ending up in New York City or at most of the major research universities is the nightmare scenario, my market experiences have been almost universally positive this year. It turns out to have been a jackpot year to be an Africa specialist, and having taught my own classes for two and half years gives me some credibility. I'm interviewing at places at which I would enjoy working. It's going to be okay.

But, wow, what a system.


beef & cheese


weekend this & that

  • Next time you don't think your vote matters, remember this race.
  • This is ridiculous.
  • DRC's government will talk to Nkunda. Finally.
  • A colleague and I are discussing writing a paper on the Somali pirates and their view of themselves as providing a public service. Here's an interesting view from one of those pirates.


holiday gift time!

Well, I know we've all been waiting with baited breath for this: here are Joe the Plumber's holiday book gift recommendations.


congo watch

They're at least talking.

pesky constitution

Hillary Clinton will be the next Secretary of State. There's just one tiny problem.


the girl effect

One of the hardest things I've ever done was part of my duties as an intern in a U.S. embassy in central Africa. We had some scholarship money to distribute, and the ambassador decided it should go to girls. Hundreds and hundreds of applications came in; we had money for maybe 100 girls' tuition at the primary, secondary, and university levels. They had recommendation letters from teachers, pastors, and Peace Corps volunteers.

The letters from the Peace Corps volunteers were the hardest to read, because most of them came from far north of the country, a predominately Islamic area in which many nomadic ethnic groups still live. "If you don't give Fatima a scholarship," read the typical letter, "she'll be married off next year. Her family can't afford to support her anymore, her father doesn't believe that money should be spent educating girls, and they need the dowry."

Fatima was usually about twelve years old.

There was nothing we could do. We could help some of those little girls from the north, but not all of them. It was a big country, and we needed to build goodwill towards America all over the nation.

And every application we rejected was a twelve-year-old girl who would be forced into marriage. Usually to an older man. Without more than a sixth grade education.

We know that women in the developing world who are educated have healthier families, are less likely to contract HIV, and have children who have more of a chance at a better life. The Girl Effect works to help girls become those women, and helps them to build stronger communities from the inside.

That's something worth supporting.



I've mentioned my love of the Campus Watch, UT's hilarious police report, on this blog before. A friend sent along yesterday's report, which contains this gem:


Robbery: Several UT staff members, faculty, students, and Texas Ex's discovered a fraction of a percentage point had been taken and was transported across state lines. The percentage point was discovered north of the Red River at the campus of another Big 12 South University.

tuesday this & that

  • Yes! I always teach my students that it takes the powers that be about a year to call a recession. Now I have a perfect example, because, in case you haven't noticed, we're in a recession. Officially.
  • "BCS declares Motel 6 Top Hotel; names McCain Time's Man of the Year"
  • Yesterday I received a handout about this miracle product: The Cross Toothbrush. Their website isn't up yet, so you'll just have to take my word that it's special. Very special. Glory!
  • Only fourteen days until the Electoral College meets! I know you're all as excited as I am.
  • And in the Lovely Cities that Shouldn't Exist department, Venice is flooded.
  • Shockingly, Texas Republicans are still imploding on themselves.

(Photo: mine, the currently flooded Piazza San Marco, Venice, August 2000)


feliz navidad

You know it's Christmas when REK is on the radio first thing in the morning. Merry, merry, y'all.

world aids day

Today is World AIDS Day, a day set aside to remember those who have died of this horrific disease, and to take action to help those who suffer from HIV/AIDS and to prevent others from becoming infected.

To mark today, you could go buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks, which is donating 5 cents from every sale of its drinks today (but from only three of its products through January 2) to the Product (RED) campaign.

Or, instead of letting Starbucks pretend to be a good corporate citizen by donating .0125% of its profits from a $4 cup of coffee, you could skip the overpriced caffiene for once and give that $4 to Global Strategies for HIV/AIDS Prevention, which will use your donation to save four infants from contracting HIV from their mothers at birth.

The choice, it seems to me, is clear.