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

5.31.2008

six weeks to vacation!!!!

I think I've found my rafting trip for July.

5.30.2008

look, muffy!

A travel site for people like us!

i think today's the day

to buy:

If you're not familiar with the Kayak.com faretracker, now's the time.

5.29.2008

here's to the state

So I finally worked up the nerve to watch Into the Wild tonight. (Yes, it takes me six months to get it together to watch movies about people who find unique ways of learning to live by managing to kill themselves at the same time. I'm a little fragile on these things. Stop judging.)

Anyway, as I'm sure everyone but me already knew, it's great; the scenery is gorgeous, the story is haunting, and a lot of the movie made me want to ditch all responsibilities and go have an adventure. And letting Eddie Vedder do the soundtrack was genius. That said, I think this was my favorite part, music-wise:

this & that

  • Oh, my word. I'm speechless, and yet not surprised at all. Yeah, this will really help with the Muslim world's perception that the Iraq war is another iteration of the Crusades.
  • It appears that most of the 4 million Texans who voted in the Democratic primary are new Democratic primary voters - and that almost 10% will vote for McCain in the general. The worse news for the D's is the lack of downballot voting.
  • Heh-heh. Wish I'd seen this last week.

yep

This picture is worth a thousand words. Except there are already words in it. But you know what I mean. Right?

other than the 96-degree temps, that is

Sure signs it's summer in Austin:

  1. A fire ant bit me yesterday while walking back from the bus stop.
  2. I spotted the first of the roly polies that invade the basement offices where the TA's work. Wow, am I glad to not be down in the Cubicles of Doom and Despair anymore.
  3. The words "tubing," "Barton Springs," "beach," and "Colorado" are thrown around in conversations about the need to escape the heat, anywhere, any way.

UPDATE: AND, I have a chaco tan. How did that happen so fast?!?

young hillary

ouch!

In which the reality of Facebook hits a bit close to home. Careful, kids!

it happened

I just got my first email from a parent. Of a college student.

This one was fairly innocuous: my child is missing the first three days of class, what are the readings, that sort of thing. But my gosh. How ridiculous. I teach adults, not children.

5.28.2008

what man hath wrought


Proof that you can read the Bible to mean anything.

and more importantly, do i care?


I am thinking of posting this on the projection screens while students come into class on the first day of summer school next week. Is that mean?

fyi

Just in case you were wondering, here are all the symbols you can have put on a tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery (assuming, of course, that you meet the other criteria to be buried there.).

This is one diverse nation.

a little culture


This is the front of the new Newseum, now conveniently located on Pennsylvania Avenue rather than Arlington. And it would be a pretty great picture to use with students, if it weren't for that pesky lamppost obscuring the words. There is NO way to take a picture of it that doesn't involve the light. Believe me. I tried.

I didn't visit the Newseum (we do not pay for museums in the D.C. area), but in other cultural experiences, an absolutely fantastic exhibit of ancient Afghani artifacts opened at the National Gallery of Art on Sunday. If you find yourself anywhere near D.C. between now and September, you really should stop by - the collection of jewels, sculpture, ivories, gold, and glassware that survived 25+ years of Soviet invasion, Taliban rule, and the current war is really incredible. (If you can't make it to D.C., the exhibition will be on tour in San Francisco, Houston, and New York later this year and next.)

Also on view now are three great exhibits at the National Museum of African Art, my favorite D.C. museum. I went to be sure to see the part of the Disney/Tischman collection that is finally on display after its donation to the Smithsonian Institution in 2005. The Tischman collection is one of the world's best of western and central African art, and the portions on display in D.C. now did not disappoint. It's a beautiful set of statuary, masks, and other decorative objects, including a crucifix from the post-Christianized period in the Kongo kingdom that occurred after Portuguese Catholic missionaries left the region. Although no longer Christian in any real sense, the use of Christian icons as talismans continued for the three centuries in the Kongo; it was really fascinating to see an example of something I've read so much about.

I cannot say enough about how lovely the El Anatsui: Gawu exhibit is. Most of the show deals with El Anatsui's work in metal - specifically, bottle caps that he ties together with small pieces of copper wire to create pieces that look like fabrics. One is woven to resemble Ghana's famous kente cloth. It's an incredible melding of tradition and modernity, trash and treasure, and if you're in the D.C. area, you really should go have a look.

5.27.2008

across the mud huts where the children sleep

Sunday after brunch, B and I decided to go to the African Art museum to see the Tischman collection, which is finally on display after, oh, 23 years in storage at Disney World. More on that later, but what I want to tell you about here is what was playing when we were perusing the gift shop, comparing prices the Smithsonian will charge you with the actual fair market value. "Is this 'Where the Streets Have No Name?" I asked. "Yep," said B. And we saw this:

I don't really go for tribute albums, but In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 is insanely good. Put another way, kids, you haven't lived until you've heard Angelique Kidjo sing "Mysterious Ways," or listened to Vieux Farka Toure do "Bullet the Blue Sky" in the desert blues style his father perfected. In Bambara.

I can't think of a better introduction to contemporary African music, or to some of the most talented musicians the continent has to offer. Give it a listen.

make it a D

And I thought some of my students were off the deep end.

peace all over arlington

Arlington on Memorial Day is probably not a place you want to be. The entrance and visitors' center are total chaos; thousands of tourists and soldiers and boy scouts milling about, trying to find the Kennedys' eternal flames or the Lee house or the Tour Mobile that will get them there. If you're extra unfortunate, as I was, you'll arrive while the president is on-site to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown, meaning that tons of extra security personnel make you walk on the grass and that tourist after tourist after tourist waits to catch a glimpse of the presidential motorcade.

Yesterday morning, I went over to Arlington to pay respects to a friend who died five years ago next week. I'll write more about him on the anniversary, as he was a remarkable person. After dealing with the aforementioned total chaos, I got out to the part of the cemetery where you only go if you know someone who's died. It's quiet there, after the turnoff to the Tomb of the Unknowns and all the other sites. People who walk or drive back there greet one another with knowing nods, and an understanding that these visits are not about checking off another item on the siteseeing list. I even ran into a friend from Austin, there to visit his father-in-law's grave. It's quiet there, and even hauntingly lovely in its own way.

But the events of Memorial Day and the president's presence intruded on that quiet, for better or for worse, with the 21-gun salute. We were too far away to hear taps, down the hill, each alone with our private griefs.

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of this president, but I wonder if he knows what it's like for those people who are at Arlington on a beautiful Monday morning in May. I wonder if he ever thinks about the father I saw standing alone before a grave, his face covered in tears. I wonder if he sees the family out to decorate the tombstone of a son or daughter who'll never be with them for holidays again. I wonder what he would say to the young mother out there with her two children, her daughter carrying two yellow roses for her daddy's grave.

If there's one thing of which Arlington should remind us, it's that war is a terrible thing. It has a cost. That cost is high, and the sacrifices are great. Which is why we should only send our children to war when we have no other bad options left. Otherwise, the cost is too much to bear.

this & that: stupid edition

5.26.2008

if i know a song of Africa...

Film director Sydney Pollack died today. He had me at that farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills, and the day I stood on that porch for myself was one of my favorite days.

memorial day music



A good song, and a random slideshow, for Memorial Day

it's decoration day



It's Memorial Day. I'm going to Arlington to visit Ken's grave, then to lunch and a museum with friends. Whatever you're doing this Memorial Day, I hope you'll take a moment to remember what it's about, why we're free to enjoy a day off, and what sacrifices have been made on our behalf.

5.25.2008

worlds collide

This is how small my world is:

Today I visited a D.C. church for the first time. B, one of my best friends from high school who just moved to this city, came with me. At one point after the service (which was great), we were in a circle of people that included:
  1. Friends from church in Connecticut, including their daughter for whom I used to babysit, who, although she is perpetually 12 in my mind, is now actually a college student.
  2. A teammate from the Baylor Model UN team who used to be married to a girl from Franklin whose sisters had the piano lesson before my sister and I.
  3. Of course, B knows these people.
  4. The pastor of the church, who promised to report my attendance to my pastor so I'd get "church points." (Me: "But I'm on vacation!")
  5. Someone I've never met, but who went to seminary with, knows, and loves my sister, and who recognized me because she was a guest at the Wedding of the Century.

It's a little scary, no?

this & that

5.24.2008

duh

"Smart candidates don't invoke the possibility of their opponents being killed. This seems so obvious it shouldn't need to be said, but apparently, it needs to be said." - Libby Copeland

and links at Texas in Africa are dodgy

Eurovision does the Balkans: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/05/22/europe/EU-GEN-Serbia-Eurovision.php

reason #4,356

Tacky, tacky, tacky. It's not what she meant, but it came off that way, and she should've known better.

5.23.2008

improbable events

What if you were taking wedding pictures and an earthquake happened? Some pretty amazing shots from China are here. (Click on the "more pictures" link under the picture to see the rest.)

The cost of war is enormous:

"At age 7, Victor H. Toledo-Pulido was smuggled from Mexico through rugged mountains into California. He and another soldier were killed in May 2007 when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle southeast of Baghdad.

"'They judge us, and they say we just come to take their jobs and positions, but we also make sacrifices. Victor worked since he was little, in the fields and in restaurants,' his mother, Maria Gaspar, said after the 22-year-old was killed. 'He was Mexican, but he thought like an American. And he gave his life for this country.'"

texas, texas, yee-haw

Kickoff times are being set, and the season is only 3 months away. But 2:30 on September 13 is just asking for massive heat-related sicknesses in the new, breeze-free south endzone.

5.22.2008

eurovision favorites

Oh, I am still so stinkin' jealous that Steve the Lawyer will be at Eurovision this weekend. I love it not for the reason that Europe loves it, but rather because it's so over-the-top BAD that it's hilarious. Anyway, here's an overview of some of this year's more...special entries:

Latvia's entry is one of the more remarkable things I've seen. It involves pirates:


Bosnia = 16 kinds of CRAZYTOWN. And four exceptionally large bridal gowns. Which is particularly awesome when it gets to the Sir-Mix-a-Lot portion of the song:


Belgium entered a song that isn't actually in a real language:

It didn't make the finals.

Romania defies explanation:

It won't win. There aren't any costumes.

Croatia is like Johnny Cash does the Balkans. Oh, my word:


Georgia. Georgia. Georgia.


Portugal entered a chick with bad bangs and purple hair. She appears to be singing the theme song to a musical about the Lisbon earthquake of 1755:


Russia's guy sings while laying flat on his back on the floor:


You must watch Azerbaijan. What the???


Don't you know it's going to be a rocking Saturday night in Belgrade?!?

our endless numbered days

no! i just read survival manuals for fun

It says something about my life experiences that I already knew the answer to this Slate Explainer question. And I'm not sure that something is good.

life is so not fair

Steve the Lawyer is going to the Eurovision Song Contest finals in Belgrade this weekend.

We are Unspeakably Jealous.

(An aside - "tacky and kitsch" is exactly what makes Eurovision so entertaining.)

Anyway, aside from what I'm sure will be some entertaining, up-to-the-minute, private observations from Steve the Lawyer, I'll be relying as usual on Troubled Diva's coverage of the wonder of it all. (Although I'm starting to worry that perhaps he's not covering it this year, seeing as there aren't any posts up and the first semi-final was Tuesday. Whatever will we do if that's the case?!?) And hoping that maybe next year it will be in a country that won't bar my attendance due to the Republic of Kosovo stamps in my passport.

fun at the loc

Well, that was fun. Now I can add yet another inconvenience to the list of things I've endured in the name of political science: being evacuated from the Library of Congress.

Apparently it was all just a surprise drill. An alarm went off, we were directed to leave, we grabbed our laptops and filed out in orderly fashion, down the stairs, out the doors, and across the street, where we sat for 45 minutes while they made sure the building was clear. I met some of my fellow researchers, who are doing all sorts of interesting things, and we all grumbled together about how much of our time was being wasted. No one could leave because our stuff was all in the cloakroom, which you can't access during an evacuation.

Good times.

what makes a university happy?

This ain't far off.

who's gonna build your wall?

Ahh, the border fence.

The more I learn about the way things work inside the Department of Homeland Security, the more dismayed I am about our country's future. (Put it this way: that 30 Rock episode a couple of weeks ago wasn't too far off.)

Anyway, if DHS and the rest of the government are so stubborn as to pretend that building a fence on the border (and disrupting the flow of commerce, wildlife, and water access for south Texas ranchers) is really a good long-term solution, let 'em do it. If I were you, I'd start investing in Mexican ladder companies.

5.21.2008

why i will never buy a mac

1.  I am currently sitting in an Apple store in Arlington, Virginia, waiting longer than necessary for an appointment I made 24 hours ago.  They're running behind.
2.  This is because yesterday, mid-song change, my iPod made a staticky sound and then blew up.
3.  By "blew up," I mean that it no longer does anything except turn the screen half black and half white.
4.  An employee at this store wasn't very nice to me when I arrived and sat down for my appointment.  I didn't say anything to anyone else, but the sales manager came, apologized, and hugged me.
5.  I don't want to be hugged by a stranger.
6.  This is the fourth iPod that has blown up on me in less than 4 years.
7.  Why would I want to buy any more products from a company that can't sell me something that works for longer than 14 months?
8. Especially when I am spending precious VACATION time at the freaking Apple store in a mall full of eighth-grade tripping children behaving badly?

rain on the mara

Here's something beautiful for your Wednesday afternoon.

$15 for the first bag?

And I'm done with American Airlines. Just as soon as I use that voucher from my Kosovo trip nightmare.

5.20.2008

ever feel like you're stuck in a rut?

sweet mother of pearl

Brant Hansen is doing a week of "The Most Disturbing Album Covers Ever."

It is Somethin'. I highly recommend that you check it out.

adventures in the library

So. D.C. It's about 40 degrees cooler here than it is in Austin, which is unfortunate, because I packed spring clothes. It's always nicer here in May, but it's usually warmer than 55. Oops. But DC never really changes, and it's the usual mix of confused interns, sleazy lobbyists, and tourists standing on the left side of the Metro escalators.

The Library of Congress is the same as it always is: big, full of loud tourists, and generally inefficient. The good news is that they have one of the ultra-obscure histories I need to read that UT ILS couldn't find. The bad news is that that ultra-obscure history, along with more than half of the other books I need to read this week are on a deck that closed last Friday for construction. For the next two weeks, which is longer than I can stay. The reference librarians have been very nice about it and are trying to get them for me, but the odds aren't great. Sigh.

At least I can now prove to UT that this book exists.

But me and the central African librarian are now BFF's, which is great. She's given me some good places to keep searching for these materials and some ideas about other places that might be able to help. And...she LET ME INTO THE STACKS, which is about the coolest thing ever - you don't EVER get into the stacks at the Library of Congress. But she thought we could maybe find something I needed by searching through the uncataloged boxes of pamphlets, so into the stacks we went.

It was so cool.

You have to understand how much I love books. And libraries. I've loved books my whole life. When I was little, I believed that my mother's sitting down was an indication that she wanted to read to me. I checked out the maximum number of books (10) allowed just about every week of my childhood. When I was eleven and we visited DC on vacation, I wanted to visit the Library of Congress more than anything else. I was sadder than sad to learn that you couldn't get into the stacks or check out books from the Library of Congress. I ate up the episode of Reading Rainbow where they went to the library and showed how books make their way through the stacks and up the conveyer belt to the reading rooms. The day I got my researcher card for the Library of Congress was a happy, happy day. You should see my smile on the picture.

Anyway, back to the stacks. Apparently the LOC has its own collection of African dictator fabrics (just like me!) AND fabrics from George W. Bush's recent visit to Tanzania that feature his face. I asked where they get this stuff, and the librarian said, "Well, when you get ready to throw things away..." I told her I had stuff from the 2006 Congolese elections that I wouldn't want to keep forever, and she told me where to send it.

Something of mine is going to be in the Library of Congress.

This is the giddiest I've been while sitting on capitol hill since meeting Bono.

I am such a nerd.

5.19.2008

really?

Free tickets are never really free.

Case in point: to get from Austin to Baltimore, normally a direct, 3 hour flight, I had to go through Houston and Jackson, Mississippi. From the time A picked me up to the time I arrived at the CPP's house was 10 hours.

The CPP is not actually here, but SAM is. Turns out the CPP got a last minute directive to go instruct the leaders of a major professional sporting organization in the finer points of what documents they can and cannot shred.

Just goes to prove you never know.

Anyway, despite the long journey, I'm really glad to be here. I needed a break from Austin, and DC is where so many of my closest friends live. It will be nice to catch up, get some rest, and, of course, get some dissertation work done at the LOC.

Good times.

who's got the line?

Wow, am I tired. After six parties this weekend, I'm about to catch a flight, on which I plan to promptly go back to sleep.

One of the most fun aspects of this weekend was that O-Line was back in town. He graduated last year, but Dr. O-Line wanted to walk at graduation, which in our program you have to do in May. So it was a fun weekend of hanging out with an old friend.

O-Line brought his girlfriend to meet everyone who didn't meet her at our conference in Chicago, and to show her Austin. And he decided that yesterday, she needed to see the weirdest thing in the weird city of Austin, an event that takes place every Sunday afternoon at Ginny's Little Longhorn whose name I cannot print on this blog. You can read ALL about it here. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Yes, you read that right. Here in the sophisticated city of Austin, 200 people cram themselves into a tiny bar every Sunday afternoon to watch a chicken poop.

Of course, that bar has a steeple, and Dale Watson usually plays, so I guess you could consider it evening church. In a manner of speaking. Did I mention that I was in pearls, due to the fact that I had a graduation dinner to get to and that I hadn't had time to change since church? Right.

At any rate, the main reason we were there was so that O-Line's sweetheart could witness this spectacle. The poor girl. She's a nice Jewish girl from New Hampshire and apparently they don't do this kind of thing up there. (Clearly, she really likes O-Line.)

Anyway, the great Dale Watson played, we all managed to get tickets for bingo, and the crowd waited for about 20 minutes for the chicken to do his business. Which he did on my square, #47.

Technically, that's not true. Technically, the bird, um, went, on the line. But the majority of his um, yeah, was on my square.

Now. I don't dispute that the person holding the "line" ticket should've won. Ginny gives separate tickets for any line and any corner on the board. (Who knew this would be so detailed?) But the problem was that nobody had the "line" ticket, and so they went to a tiebreaker, where some woman who had #12 claimed that it was hers. It was SO not hers. Anyway, Ginny ended up giving it to the band, which is perfectly fine with me. But I don't imagine I'll ever be that close to winning again. Sigh.

this & that

  • I'm banning internet surfing in my classes from here on out. Here's a good explanation of the issue. It's not to be mean, it's just that students tune out and get nothing from the class (and bring their compatriots down) when they're thoroughly distracted. My general feeling is that if students have something more important to do while I'm lecturing (my lectures require active participation on their part), they should probably go do it. And it's not like I don't know EXACTLY what they're doing. It's totally obvious, even with the back row.
  • Here's a persuasive argument that not everyone should be in college. Although I think the doors of higher education should be open to anyone who works hard, I'm very inclined to agree. Some people just can't cut it, and it's a waste of everyone's time, money, and effort to pretend that they can.
  • Ha! This is for my sister. See?!?!

5.18.2008

happy buckday to me

Well, last night was my 30th birthday party. The Attorney and the Librarian were very sweet to host the party, since my apartment can't come close to handling that many people. It was a good time, in that "worlds clashing" kind of way that happens whenever you put work friends and church friends and random friends from other places into the same room, er, backyard. My sister made her amazing red velvet cake. It was way fun.

The most ... let's say interesting part of the evening was my gift from my Austin "family," delivered by two of the Favorite Kids and their parents:

Twin #1 (age 3) took one look at this and said, "Is it Lola?"

Lola is the Attorney and the Librarian's dog.

It was an entirely logical conclusion, but I am happy to report that they have not yet had to resort to packing Lola in a box when it comes to wishing a friend a happy 30th birthday.

But what could have been inside that box of wonder? Well, That would be this:

His name is Buck. Buck talks. And sings. Songs like "Sweet Home Alabama." And "Friends in Low Places." You can also do karaoke with Buck. Through a microphone.

As you can probably guess, Buck is fascinating for some small children and terrifying for others. Especially when his "voice" changes genders midway through a discussion, when someone else picks up the mike.

Believe it or not, this is not my first encounter with Buck. You see, the night before I took off for the very long trip to the Congo in 2006, I stayed with the family. It was a late night, as I had a good-bye party and lots of packing to do, so I got to their house long after everyone else went to bed. I tiptoed into the guest room, when what should happen but a loud voice started singing "Suspicious Minds." It was Buck, on my bed.

(That's when I learned that Buck is motion-sensitive.)

It was all I could do not to scream and wake everyone else. Favorite Kid #1 still came downstairs and we stayed up way late trying to fit everything into my car.

The best part of last night's Buck-stravaganza was driving home. See, Buck and his eight points wouldn't fit into my car without putting the top down. So there I was, driving down Burnet Road late at night with a deer head in the passenger seat.

I've never had so many interesting conversations with strangers in pickups at stoplights involving the words, "Did yew bag that yurself?!?"

It was even better when I realized that I had to get gas if I was going to be able to get to church this morning. That's when I got to talk to the Exxon guy who was refilling the tanks.

Seriously. It was so funny, but given what I dish out in terms of practical jokes and silly gifts, I totally deserve it. I am lucky to have such wonderful friends who open their homes and hearts and make me feel like I have more than one family in this city.

Also, if you're in need of a singing deer, I can hook you up. No charge.

a nice visual


This is a cool map I found this week while reading a book on early missionary work in the Belgian Congo. (The book is so old that it's falling apart, and I'm not allowed to take it out of the library, which borrowed it from a Big Fancy Library on the Coast on my behalf.)

Anyway, the map shows the Congo River basin superimposed on a map of Europe. I love that this gives such a great visual as to how stinking large the country I'm supposed to know everything about is. Notice that the distance from Leopoldville (present-day Kinshasa, the capital) to Lake Kivu, where I work, is almost as far as the distance from Paris to St. Petersburg. Katanga is down in Turkey and Greece. No wonder no one has ever really been able to control this vast territory.

5.17.2008

huki-huki-hukilau

Austin, Texas is party central of late. There's something about three other friends turning 30 (and another turning 25) along with graduations and the end of the academic year that means that I'm currently on day 8 of something like 17 straight days/nights of social events. Somehow my body has adjusted to going to bed at 2am, waking up at 11, and still getting enough dissertation work done to keep everyone happy. Go fig.

Anyway, around 12:30 Saturday morning at the celebration of Ann's impending 30-something-ness, something really special happened. And despite the fact that these ladies may kill me (although I know Natalie is totally cool with it, and the Librarian said it was okay), I've posted it on the intertubes. Have a look-see:



Sorry for the shaky video. I was laughing so hard it was hard to keep everything steady.

ott-bama

This is a bit much, no?

5.16.2008

huckabee's classless remark

Oh, my word.

and it quacks

This is a fun little blog about things that look like ducks.

the black death

Yet another reason to avoid Houston like the plague.

(Sorry Euphrony et al...)

pant-nastics

This can't be real, but it sure is entertaining.

5.15.2008

recycle for a cause

Austinites, if you've got old electronics sitting around that you need to get rid of, there's a great opportunity this Saturday from 9am to 2pm. Students at McCallum High School are collecting your old computers, televisions, CD players, cell phones, and anything else electronic to try to refurbish. What the experts can't refurbish, they'll recycle for you.

The best part of this is that the refurbished computers will go to students whose families can't afford their own. The students have a deal with Grande Communications to provide free internet access to those students as well.

What a great cause, and a great solution for several problems at once. We can get excess stuff out of our homes, we don't contribute to pollution by recycling, and teenagers who need a computer will get them!

oh, help

Admit it. You wish you'd gotten to spend this afternoon reading about Calvinist Belgian Protestants in the Congo. And a book about women Christians in the Congo published in 1936 that begins with this gem:

"Calmly they sleep by the Congo's stream
'Mid those that they yearned to save;
Yet a voice still speaks to the black woman's heart
As she stands by the white woman's grave." - Adapted

Thank goodness O-Line is in town and has organized a gathering for 5pm. I need to get away from this stuff.

geniuses

Gre-eat.

destination: tehran

Well, if the secretary of defense says we should go, then I think we should go! Who's in?

lazarus redux

So you can understand what's at stake in the PEPFAR fight in Washington, today I'm rerunning a post from last summer about Congolese individuals who live with HIV/AIDS, and the treatment they receive from international funding sources. While PEPFAR doesn't fund treatment in the eastern Congo as of yet, this will give you an idea of the devastating consequences that a decrease in funding or a failure to re-authorize the program would have.

PLEASE CALL THE 7 SENATORS WHO ARE HOLDING PEPFAR REAUTHORIZATION UP! Tell them that you value the lives of children like Olivier, and that it is inexcusable to deny treatment for this disease to the world's poorest people.

Lazarus

They mention Lazarus a lot around here. You know, Lazarus, him over whose death Jesus wept. Lazarus who, much to the joy of his sisters and friends, came back from the dead (although, as Barbara Brown Taylor points out in a sermon whose title I've forgotten, we never get to find out what Lazarus himself thought of what was surely a rather unpleasant experience.). Lazarus, that name that’s synonymous with resurrection by grace.

My dissertation is, in part (in 1/3, to be precise), about the health care system in the eastern Congo, and, while it’s complicated to figure out the mind-boggling government bureaucracy that is “supported” (read: financed and run) by a conglomeration of churches, community groups, and international ngo’s, one thing is unavoidable: sooner or later, you have to deal with HIV/AIDS.

Nobody really knows what the HIV prevalence rate is in the eastern Congo. The official estimates for this province hover somewhere around 3-4%. That’s 3 or 4 of every 100 individuals. As far as Africa goes, that’s not a bad prevalence rate. As far as accurate statistical reporting, it’s anyone’s guess. Certainly the prevalence of other factors, like rape, war, and poverty, suggests that HIV-seropositive prevalence is much, much higher in the region.

Things have changed in fighting HIV/AIDS since I first started studying Africa. Nine years ago in Kenya, we’d hear whispered murmurs about a cousin or an aunt who’d died of ukimwi, the “slim” disease that causes people to waste away before your eyes. Now, in most places, more and more people are open about HIV and its effects on social organization, on children, on economic productivity. Now, with the spreading availability of anti-retro viral drug cocktails, “HIV-in-Africa” isn’t necessarily a death sentence, though there aren’t nearly enough doses for everyone, meaning that the sickest patients get the treatment.

Even here in Congo, even in just two years, things have changed dramatically. There’s now a national program to fight HIV/AIDS. It's financed by the World Bank, the Global Fund, USAID, and others, and the staff of the Bukavu office are friendly, active, and dead-set on doing whatever they can to keep this illness from destroying their country even more.

I conducted a couple of interviews at their office last week, and one subject, A, invited me back to pick up precise statistics today. By coincidence, we were in the same shared taxi on Saturday. I told him about another ngo I was interested in visiting, and he promised to organize something.

Organize he did. A wants me to see exactly what they do to help those who are here referred to as “PVV” – personnes vivant avec VIH – people living with HIV. He took me to a residential treatment center and a men’s program today, and tomorrow we will go to visit a women’s organization that supports PVV’s in Bukavu in cooperation with an American religious aid agency. (We’re also going to visit A’s daughter, whose name is also Laura. :)

Lazarus. Talk to anyone who works in HIV/AIDS healthcare here, and they’ll tell you the change in a patient who begins taking ARV’s is remarkable. “It’s like Lazarus coming back from the dead,” they say again and again. (It's even in the July issue of Vanity Fair.) Thin, broken bodies become strong again. Mothers who couldn’t get out of bed are again able to care for their children. It’s resurrection.

The center we visited today is an amazing place. A insisted that I take pictures, then that he take pictures of me with some of the PVV’s living there. So that was awkward, but getting to speak with the patients who have come from the countryside to start their ARV treatment was anything but. It is quite a place. Because the rural areas are so insecure, it’s impossible for doctors to do the close monitoring that’s necessary to start ARV treatment. So, these people get to come to Bukavu, where they spent 1 month getting their medicines regulated, and another 2-3 months recovering and getting used to it. If the drugs work, they go home to continue treatment there. If not, they stay.

The amazing thing about ARV therapy is that you can see it working. I saw people who look perfectly healthy – you’d never know that they’d been on the brink of death. I met others who are clearly quite ill, who are living in a strange place far away from home, who might not have places to go back to when they leave. Families often reject HIV-positive persons, seeing them as a danger and a drain on resources.

Later, at the mens’ center, I met the association’s officers, both of whom are HIV positive. All 200-something members of the group are on ARV’s, and all are working to raise awareness about the disease and how to prevent transmission. “It tends to be seen as a woman’s disease,” they told me. “There are many men living with HIV in secret.”

Today I also went to visit the Baptists. They told me that they were the first Protestant church in the region to recognize the need to fight HIV/AIDS – to not shy away from it, but instead to do something. They run a voluntary counseling and testing center in a rural health zone. (They also run an incredibly cool skills program – I wish I had a picture of the guitar workshop, because it was, in a word, awesome.) And the pastors there talk about HIV/AIDS with knowledge and depth.

In February at the Current retreat, I attended a session led by Baylor social work professor Jon Singletary. It was about the church’s response to HIV/AIDS. It’s where I first saw this painting, of Christ with AIDS. It was a tough, convicting conversation, especially knowing that Baptists in the states (even the moderate Baptists) wouldn’t necessarily be the first to react if such a crisis were staring down our church doors. I’m not sure my church does anything to help HIV-positive persons in our own city, much less on the other side of the world. I’m not sure most of us even know what “sero-positive” means, much less how we might find ways to support our Congolese Baptist brothers and sisters who are fighting this disease with everything they have.

There's another Lazarus, you know. He's the guy in one of Jesus' parables who was ignored by the rich man, even though Lazarus was always in plain sight, begging at the rich guy's gate. The rich man spent his money and time doing things for himself, wearing fancy clothes and having big banquets for his supporters. The rich guy gets his reward on earth, and spends eternity in torment. Lazarus gets his own sort of resurrection, if only in the sweet hereafter.

I'm pretty sure I met Lazarus in both his disguises today. I saw him in a dozen surprised, broken, revived, exhausted, grateful, hopeful faces. I saw him begging at the gate, and all I had to offer was a handshake and a smile. I saw him coming back to life, little by little, day by day.

You generally have to be near the brink of death here to get access to ARV’s (there are fewer than 4,000 courses of treatment available in South Kivu at the moment), so the men and women I met today almost certainly know what it is to be at death’s door. They know despair, and they know the tough journey back to life. However painful it might be, it’s clear as day that the men and women and teenagers living with HIV/AIDS are grateful for their resurrection. Amen.

5.14.2008

this is pro-life?!?

It is unconscionable that seven Republican Senators are holding up authorization for PEPFAR, a program that treats and helps 3 million HIV/AIDS victims, a huge percentage of which live in Africa. Unconscionable. They're asking for unnecessary and ultimately harmful provisions in the legislation, and all of their shenanigans may result in the program being cut by 50%. Michael Gerson's article does a great job of explaining the issue.

(I would add to his points that one of the reasons nutrition is now included in PEPFAR-supported programs is that we've learned that anti-retrovirals don't do much good if the patient doesn't have enough healthy food to eat. Adequate nutrition is just as important as the drugs themselves.)

Even better is the fact that all of these Senators make a big deal of being pro-life when they're up for re-election. Apparently that doesn't apply to children who are already here.

If you live in one of these states, this is your problem. Your Senators are elected to govern on your behalf, and to do what you want them to do. If you believe it's important for children and other victims of HIV/AIDS who are poor to get treatment, PLEASE take a minute to call your Senator and ask him to release their holds on the re-authorization for PEPFAR:
  • Tom Coburn, M.D. (Oklahoma) - Senator Coburn is leading the effort to block this program. The fact that he is a doctor makes this all the more appalling. 202-224-5754
  • Jim DeMint (South Carolina) - 202-224-6121
  • Jeff Sessions (Alabama) - 202 -224-4124
  • Saxby Chambliss (Georgia) - 202-224-3521
  • David Vitter (Louisiana) - 202-224-4623
  • Jim Bunning (Kentucky) - 202-224-4343
  • Richard Burr (North Carolina) - 202-224-3154
I will be in DC all next week, and while my plan is to spend most of my time there in the Library of Congress, I will probably also be going to each of these Senators' offices to argue with their staffs about their unbelievably callous approach to the lives of innocent children.

And I'm taking pictures of Olivier with me.

===
If this is something you feel is important, please post about it on your blog this week. Feel free to copy and paste anything you need from this post. I think the lives of 3,000,000 people are worth any effort we can make.

slow posting

My laptop adaptor isn't working. And by, "isn't working," I refer specifically to the fact that it shoots off sparks whenever it's plugged in and moved.

Posting will be somewhat limited until Sony manages to get an expensive replacement sent my way.

"he's not dead!"

In which a political columnist apparently goes off the deep end.

good questions

"Why would anyone take issue with a church sign that said Love God, Love Your Neighbor? Jesus did say that and many other things. He said something about loving your enemy too. Jesus reached out to the down and out, told his followers to take care of the poor and needy, feed the hungry and pursue peace. If the Bible is so important, why don't we take Jesus more seriously?"

5.13.2008

it's only a marginal obsession


So this picture was on one of the monitors at the Wilco show last night. Anybody smarter/more obsessd than me know who it is?

a little link lovin'

It's been awhile since we've updated the old blogroll here at Texas in Africa, and since it's vacation-from-classes time, now seems like as good a time as any. So ... if you read or link to Texas in Africa and I haven't linked to you and you'd like to be linked to, leave a comment with your URL and it'll appear like magic. Promise. Thanks for reading.

(By the way, I never cease to be amazed at the variety of people I get to meet by virtue of having this blog. At first it freaked me out a little, but now it's kindof cool.)

this & that

every couch gag ever

Just try to not watch the whole thing:

brave sacrifice

So what has your president done to signal that he cares about our troops who are fighting and dying in a war he started?

He's given up golf.

You can't make this stuff up:

“'I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf,' he said. 'I feel I owe it to the families to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.'”

Maybe it's just me, but it seems like there are a few other, more substantive ways the president could "be in solidarity" with our soldiers' families.

in which good triumphs over evil (customer service)

Many of you may recall that my March journey to the wonderland that is Kosovo was somewhat less than 100% smooth. And by "less than 100% smooth," I refer, of course, to the fact that the journey was disrupted by a blizzard, which caused a 22-hour delayed reroute to Pristina via Des Moines and Istanbul, and luggage that made it to Kosovo approximately 96 hours after it was checked in.

Now. Believe it or not, I could have been patient with the whole process. Weather emergencies happen; I understand that, and I also understand that airline employees are under a lot of stress when every single passenger in the airport has to be rebooked. I get it. Really.

What I was not patient with, however, was the extraordinarily poor level of customer service I experienced while waiting in two different lines for 4 1/2 hours on that day in Dallas/Fort Worth. Our 3 gate agents, for example, all decided to take a break at the same time, leaving 25 customers standing in line for 30 minutes with nowhere to go. And the quality of customer service received varied with the particular agent with whom one spoke. When I finally reached a helpful individual, everything went smoothly. But that's not how customer service should work. Every agent should be helpful and able to deal with the problem.

Anyway, I'm not one to put up with bad customer service, and having remembered to Document! Document! Document!, I sent pictures of the abandoned gate and the long line to the CEO of American Airlines' personal email address which mentioned that I don't believe that bad customer service is ever acceptable, particularly for people who have been members of their frequent flier program for more than 20 years.

We here at Texas in Africa don't mess around.

Anyway, I am pleased to report that this morning, I received a reply from a customer service specialist. The airline is issuing me a travel voucher to restore my confidence in their company. Why I would want to ever fly with AA again is an open question, but I do appreciate having received a timely reply for my complaint, and that the airline made an effort to make amends.

In other news, Steve the Lawyer sent a new Kosovo flag to take to the Kosovars in McGregor. He used a friend who's a New York Times reporter as a courier service. This is something I could get used to.

last night in live music: wilco


"You have to learn how to die
If you want to want to be alive..."

I admit it. I have a Wilco problem. I know the words to most of the songs on most of their albums. I listen to bootlegs of their albums before they're released. I have MP3's of obscure performances. And I know that every one of the dozen or so times I've seen Wilco live, I always say it was one of the best of their shows that I've seen.

That's because it's true. Wilco is one of the best live bands anywhere. I don't know what it is, but it seems to me that since the lineup stabilized, the band has just gotten better and better. The last couple of performances I've seen from them have been incredibly tight, and, at times, breathtaking.

Monday night's show at Stubb's was no exception. The band - on the second night of a two-night stand in Austin and fresh from being thrown out of the hotel they were sharing with Karl Rove - was 100% on. The crowd in our area were true fans, recognizing all the songs on the first chord and singing along to everything. That's one of my favorite things about Wilco shows - you can become friends with anybody over a shared love of brilliant songwriting and amazing skills.

I don't have a full setlist, but highlights from tonight included Jeff Tweedy buttoning and unbuttoning his green jacket in response to a joke that carried over from Sunday night's show, "Passenger Side," which I hadn't heard live in ages, "Airline to Heaven," a great take on "Theologians," the always incredible "Spiders (Kidsmoke)" in the first encore (Nels Cline was AMAZING on this one.), "Kingpin," the always-gorgeous-live "Impossible Germany," and lots of other favorites, most of which were apparently fan-picked through voting on Wilco World. They closed the second encore with an epic version of "Monday" that was worth the price of admission on its own.

I was glad to get to see Wilco again so close to my 30th birthday, because if there's one band that defined my twenties, Wilco was it. From the first time The Diplomat played Being There for me on the way to Charlottesville to "Ashes of American Flags" on the long move back to Texas to one night when SOIUTK pulled me close during "I am Trying to Break Your Heart" and I knew that it was over for real, and a million moments in between, Wilco has been the soundtrack to many Significant Moments. Getting to stand in a crowd of strangers who become temporary friends was a nice way to bookend the last decade. And hearing one of my favorite Wilco lyrics, from "War on War" (above) was a good reminder that life's not worth living if it's consumed by fear.

There's a reason I keep going back.

5.12.2008

summer fun

"So...," begins the conversation I've had approximately 1,247 times in the last month, "When do you leave for Africa?" Or, "What exotic place are you headed to this summer?"

It's usually asked by a sweet little old church lady who keeps me on her prayer list, or a friend I haven't seen in awhile, or a colleague whose office is still in the Cubicles of Doom and Despair and therefore with whom I rarely have conversations.

And it's an entirely reasonable question. It's been four years since I really spent a summer in Austin; five if we don't count 2004, when I was the youth intern and spent eight weeks of that summer at camp.

Well, friends, here's the shocking news that leads to looks of surprise and dismay among those who've been asking that big question: I'm not going to the Congo this summer. Or anywhere else in Africa. Or anywhere exotic, really, unless you count Peru, but a place with that much tourist infrastructure left the "tropical backwater" label behind a long time ago.

Yes, I'll be in Austin pretty much all summer, teaching in summer school, working on my dissertation, preparing for the hellish nightmare that is the academic job market, scheming to get to Big Bend before it gets intolerably hot, and spending as much time at Barton Springs and Two Ton Tuesdays as possible. Sorry to disappoint you.

ouch!

Today I am reading theology dissertations written by Congolese Baptists from North Kivu. (Admit it, you're jealous.) Anyway, this morning my good friends at Interlibrary Services got a copy of the dissertation of one of my all-time most entertaining interview subjects, whom I'll refer here to as Pastor He's Not Only a Pastor; He's Also a Member of Parliament. Pastor HNOPHAMP ends his acknowledgements section thusly:

"...I congratulate all the missionaries who heralded the Gospel to Zaire. May their weaknesses and accomplishments be a reminder of both the human limitation and God's prevailing power."

That seems to signal a good time for a lunch break.

5.11.2008

good for her

Turns out Jenna outsmarted the White House press corps and most of Salado. It's pretty amusing.

an excellent list from mcsweeney's

"You know, you can't expect that everyone you date will be able to easily avoid moving to Abu Dhabi."

a song for mother's day

5.10.2008

yes, i watch election returns on saturday night

Happy day, Jennifer Kim is off the Austin City Council.

Seriously. I'm sure she's a perfectly nice person, but the prima donna act was a little much, and the fact that downtown has basically been destroyed* during her tenure on the council was enough for me to vote otherwise.


*By this, I am, of course, referring to the fact that the council incentivized the development of a ridiculous number of mixed-use units downtown and elsewhere in the city, displacing local businesses and making it even more difficult to find affordable housing anywhere close to the central city. Apparently we had a critical shortage of $400,000, 800-square foot condos.

now that's a party

this & that

  • Baylor girls come & go, but they basically never change.
  • The Zambian government has recovered the $60 billion that a former president stole from the country. This is exciting not only for obvious reasons, but also because my friend C was the person who had to figure out how much he stole (Seriously. It involved driving all over southern Africa to some very sketch places.). It's nice to know that she Made A Difference.
  • Not surprisingly at all, child soldiers are still being recruited in the eastern DR Congo.
  • Someone found Texas in Africa today by googling "people to avoid in East Texas." We are highly amused, and a little afraid.
  • Here's how you know where Bill & Hillary Clinton come from: they don't know how to leave a party when it's over.
  • I am sure glad that The Diplomat is posted somewhere safer than Khartoum these days.
  • You can't make this stuff up.

great moments in sport

This is one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. EVER.

six of one...

This blog is a scream.

yet another reason to avoid east texas

This must really stink. But clearly they have a sense of humor, 'cause the townspeople are calling it the "Sinkhole de Mayo."

5.09.2008

aren't you jealous?

This just arrived for me via inter-library loan services:

Quest for Ecclesiological Self-understanding of the Church of Christ in Zaire : Toward the Retrieval of Contextual Models of the Church in an African Setting

The only comfort I take from these sorts of things is that by the time this dissertation is done, I'm going to know just about everything there is to know about churches in eastern Congo. Everything.

At least it's in English this time.

ugh

Oh, my word, it's hot in the ATX. Seriously. It's normally pretty warm in May, but it seems too early for us to already be in the 98-degrees with 90% humidity range. I hit the point of just not being able to take it anymore yesterday afternoon, said "forget this" to my work, and went to Deep Eddy. I have a feeling that's about to become a pattern.

Is it this miserable where you are, or are we just special here in central Texas?

5.08.2008

a wide, wide river

My mother's hometown has the somewhat dubious distinction of being the home of what used to be the tallest cross in the Western Hemisphere. (It was the tallest until some guy in Illinois decided he wanted to make one that is 8 feet taller.) It's 190 feet tall (because 200 feet makes you subject to FAA regulation, and the builder wanted the government to stay out of his cross. That's a principle I can stand behind.) and was built by a guy from Pampa who wanted to build a billboard for Jesus that would counteract all the publicity for various triple-X establishments that lines Interstate 40. Since Pampa is apparently too far off the highway for even God's billboards to be seen, he had to find some land. And my mother's hometown - home of one Catholic family that obeyed the Magisterium's commands concerning fruitful multiplication over the course of several generations - is where he found it. Being as the land up there is flat, flat, flat, you can see the thing for miles.

Rather than finding the cross to be a devotional exercise in piety (as, apparently, many, many people driving along I-40 do), we tend to see it more as a tacky thing put up by some Catholic who's not even from here. Yes, it's a cross, but it's also 190 feet of corrugated steel, for goodness sakes. The big cross is surrounded by smaller statues depicting the Stations of the Cross, and we're not really sure how we feel about that. (Actually, daddy is quite certain as to how we feel about the named characters who aren't even in the Bible. But that's another discussion.) And then there are various and sundry other monuments, including this one:

It's a gravestone dedicated to the Sanctity of Life, which is Christian code language for talking about abortion. I show it not to make a point about that (because goodness knows I know better than to start an abortion debate here or anywhere else), but because I'm so mad that they took away the disturbing part of this particular monument before I got a picture of it. No one has believed me in the past when I told them that the grave featured carved hands reaching out from the tomb and cradling an aborted fetus. And, leaving the cross last Sunday, I feared that no one ever will.

Luckily, other people have evidence of this, and if you watch this video and pay very close attention, you'll get a glimpse. To learn more about this particular phenomenon of American cultural Christianity, listen to the fantastic episode of This American Life that featured a story on the cross.

15 seconds...

Now this is pretty cool.

(Scroll down. You'll see.)

the campus watch

The person who writes the police blotter at UT has a sense of humor. It's seriously amusing, almost every day they print it. Anyway, today's contains an item that is particularly memorable:

PERRY CASTENEDA LIBRARY, 101 East 21st Street

Suspicious Activity: A UT staff member reported approximately 200 people were running around in their underwear. Upon the arrival of the police, the officers observed both men and women running around wearing only their underwear along with a large orange X painted on their bodies. The officers soon learned that the group was collecting clothing donations for local shelters. Donations appeared to be a little skimpy. Occurred on: 5-08-08, at 12:51 AM.


Though not quite as ridiculous, an incident a couple of weeks ago at the Turtle Pond was also pretty amusing:

TURTLE POND, 200 West Inner Campus Dr.

Consumption of Alcohol by a Minor (4 Counts): A UT officer responded to the Turtle Pond on a report of several subjects throwing rocks. During the investigation, the officers learned that one subject had gotten stuck in the middle of the pond and his friends were building a rock bridge so that he could walk out of the pond. As the investigation continued, the officers soon discovered that all four subjects were under the legal age of 21 and had been drinking alcohol because they were bored. All four subjects were issued field release citations for Consumption of Alcohol by a Minor and were also issued referrals to the Dean of Students' Office. Occurred on: 4-13-08, at 12:40 AM.

so this is africa

I knew it would be bad when a birthday gift from Melissa the Missionary showed up bearing this label:

Oh, yes, and dear Melissa outdid herself this time. What greeted the 30th anniversary of my appearance on this planet? Why this little gem, of course:

Miss Anderson, it seems, was a Georgia native who was appointed by the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention to make her way to Nigeria in 1920, where she spent the rest of her life civilizing the natives. According to the forward, Miss Anderson's time as a teacher at a Baptist Girls' School in Nigeria made her "greatly beloved by all the black people who come under the influence of her Christlike personality."

Sigh. Melissa doesn't know how many of these sorts of books I have to read for my research. In trying to establish the social histories of the churches of the Kivu provinces and the history of social service provision by those churches, I get to read dozens of accounts of American missionaries who took off for darkest Africa, many of them never to return. And, truth be told, many of them give accounts of activities that are absolutely horrifying. If what they did bothers me, a nice Christian woman, then what do you suppose their Congolese converts thought?

It's not that I'm opposed to missionary endeavors. It's just that so many of them, especially in Africa, are undertaken with a level of naivite, arrogance, and lack of respect for existing cultural traditions that's just appalling.

In my work, I'm in the middle of reconstructing the history of Baptist churches in North Kivu in the DR Congo. There's a fantastic book about this, which makes the task a lot easier. But the history of mission and church in North Kivu isn't pretty. A group of missionaries, no doubt with the best of intentions, but also with a cultural arrogance and a sense that anything secular was inherently corrupting, ended up depriving a generation of Congolese converts of an education that would provide them with non-mission-based employment, and refused for far too long to allow local Christians any measure of control over the activities of the mission. They wouldn't even ordain African pastors.

As you can probably guess, this ended badly. The missionaries and their supporters were challenged by a group that agitated for more African control, for an education system that would allow parishoners to attain a level of material well-being that was comparable to that of the missionaries themselves, and for the mission organization and properties to be turned over to the Congolese Baptist churches. People actually died in violence that resulted from this struggle for control, and by the time most of the missionaries realized what they'd done in their quest for doctrinal and spiritual purity, it was too late. North Kivu's Baptists split, and they are still split today.

I've thought about this at length over the years - especially when watching groups of enthusiastic young American college students wearing matching t-shirts and carrying guitars board flights to East Africa - and I've come to the conclusion that the problem is not in the message, but rather in the culture. One of the huge (and entirely understandable) mistakes the early missionaries made was the assumption that deviations from American cultural norms of dress and conduct were representations of a "savage" or "heathen" mentality. So if women went around in the jungle naked all day, they were violating Biblical standards of modesty. Or if a marriage was celebrated by dancing, then clearly the culture had to be changed, because that was obviously a sign of an overt sexuality that needed to be repressed.

Never mind that those early westerners were projecting their cultural norms onto the society of others.

Unlike most of my colleagues in this field, I don't believe the missionary influence on Africa was entirely bad. They brought a new faith, they brought modern health care, they brought connections to the outside world that didn't exist before.

But they also brought a legalism, a sense of superiority, and an arrogance whose effects are hard to correct . And I fear that many very well-intentioned Americans carry that same attitude into Africa today as they go off to "bring Jesus to Kenya." May we remember that Jesus is already there. May we know that the kingdom of God is not about hierarchies, but about communities. May we be mindful of the fact that God speaks through all cultures, not just our own, and that what God requires of us is to do justice, love mercy, and act in a spirit of humility.

5.07.2008

this is depressing

Both of the guys in the next office spent today cleaning out their office. The three of us are the last of our cohort (that's an entering class, for those of you lucky enough not to be academics) still in Austin, and both of them are leaving. One is throwing in the towel after six fruitless years; the other is moving away to be with his fiance while he finishes his dissertation.

Our class has one of the all-time worst attrition rates in our program's history. We started with 19, and while a couple of far-flung folks are still enrolled, we still number no more than 4 or 5. No one has earned a PhD in the six years we've been here. It depresses us all.

We're having a gathering of "the old people" on Friday; those of us who've been around for six years or more, before people graduate or quit or otherwise scatter to the four winds. It will be fun, it will be sad, and it will be so, so strange to realize that these people with whom I've lived daily life for the past six years will suddenly be gone. The reality of time passing, of turning 30, of losing colleagues and partly wanting to be leaving with them is all hitting at once, and it's not easy.

"It's going to be strange being the only one left next year," I told S, the one who's quitting, as he was tossing out several years' worth of issues of the American Political Science Review into the big trash can in our hallway.

"But, hey," he replied, "you won."

"I didn't win anything," I said. "I'm not done. Nobody has a degree yet."

"But you're the last one standing," he said.

It sure doesn't feel like winning.

5.06.2008

our long national nightmare

MSNBC reports that Hillary Clinton has cancelled all her public appearances tomorrow. It's over.

woo-hoo!!!!!!!!!!!!

After eight years of undergrad (where she graduated with a 4.0) and seminary (where she graduated as the top student in her class), and spending a couple of summers in rural Ghana being sure that this is what she wants to do, I am proud to announce that, as of today, my baby sister is the newest member of Wycliffe Bible Translators. Congratulations, sis!!!!! I love you!!!

neverending story.

I think it's over. There are 220,000 uncounted votes in heavily African-American districts in Indiana's Chicago suburbs. It may go on through May, but the Clintons know they can't win this.

virginia is for...

Here's an obituary for Mildred Jeter Loving, one of the plaintiffs in Loving v. Virginia, a landmark Supreme Court case that struck down bans on interracial marriage. It's a great piece about ordinary people who inadvertantly found themselves making history, as is this appreciation.

the normative Christians?

I could care less about what's happening at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, but Robert Parham makes some excellent points in an essay about that church's current infighting:

"...what does the winner's circle theology say about those who live in crushing, inescapable poverty, who suffer from painful and bankrupting cancer or who never even make the team?

"Have you ever heard the last place runner say, 'Because God's in control, I lost. Give God all the glory?' Or do you known of a dying cancer patient who concluded: 'Because God's in control, God refuses to heal me and my family is now bankrupt. And we are so grateful for this blessing?' Or do you know of a church vote where the losers say, 'We're just praising Jesus. God's on the other side, the side of the winners?'

"Winner's circle theology is an emotionally understandable theology in a culture shaped by a strong sense of predestination and a powerful belief that success shows divine blessing.

"What is missing in our cultural narrative is a counter balancing note that God may be more on the side of the loser than the winner, the impoverished than the wealthy and the sick than the healthy. That thematic river flows through the biblical witness, even if it does not flow through our churches infested with positive thinking, prosperity theology and profiles of athletes, beauty queens and best-selling authors as the normative Christians."

5.05.2008

flatter than a tabletop

oh wow

Holy smokes.

I just got a possible job offer (as in, "we're desparate; someone we trust knows you; send your cv") for an academic job. For which I haven't applied. For next year. In Minnesota. With a real salary.

I have to say no, of course. I've already accepted a job for next year here. I can't teach three classes per semester (with five new preps) next year and finish my dissertation. I have a lease. I can't handle snow. Or move to Minnesota in two months.

But, wow. Nobody's ever offered me that kind of money before.

I think I'll sleep before replying.

5.03.2008

the angels will know my name

Gang, I'm off to Amarillo for a couple of days. Until then, here's a quiet version of one of my very favorite songs to enjoy:

the first Saturday in May

"This is the week when dear little old ladies in Shawano, Wis., get to know about sports figures named Spectacular Bid and Flying Paster. Spectacular Bid and Flying Paster are thoroughbred race horses, and there are vast and sinless areas in this country where they and their like are regarded as instruments of Satan 51 weeks a year. Then comes the week of the Kentucky Derby, and sinless newspapers that wouldn’t mention a horse any other time unless he kicked the mayor to death are suddenly full of information about steeds that will run and the people they will run for at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May. In cities all over the land stenographers invest their silver in office pools, in cities and towns and on farms the sinless old ladies study the entries and on Saturday almost everyone tunes in on television." - Red Smith, 1979


"The Kentucky Derby, whatever it is—a race, an emotion, a turbulence, an explosion—is one of the most beautiful and violent and satisfying things I have ever experienced." - John Steinbeck, 1956

5.02.2008

appearances can be deceiving

This gorgeous book showed up in my stack of books-brought-from-library-storage (oh, yeah, I get to read books no one's checked out since 1943). It's a production of the Belgian Foreign Ministry during the colonial era. Too bad I already know so much about how bad Belgian rule of the Congo was. Although the naked African carrying a heavy load on his shoulders is pretty accurate...

all my troubles seemed so far away

Well, if I had to turn 30, yesterday wasn't such a bad way to do it. Reverend Ann showed up at my door first thing in the morning for a, ahem, pastoral visit (complete with doughnuts), during which we called our friend Cody and tried not to think about turning 30 together (all of us hit the big one this month). Then I had a fabulous lunch with wonderful Genie on the balcony at Shoreline Grill, did some shopping, went to the spa, and ended up the day with friends at Eastside Cafe. That plus calls from all over, lovely cards like the one above, and some really special gifts (including a cd of "old lady" songs from the Librarian and the Attorney, about which more will be written later) made for a great day, and I was almost able to forget the reason for it all. Until a text arrived from Debra: "you have one hour left." :) Thanks, y'all, for making it a special day!

un-beel-leeevable

I just got an email from a student who 1) missed the first two exams, 2) didn't complete any of the other course assignments, including the research paper and presentation, and 3) overslept this morning's exam. Said student wants to makeup this morning's test in hopes of passing the course.

I was actually surprised to learn that this student was still enrolled in the course.

5.01.2008

say it was only a dream

When I was six or seven years old, we went to visit my grandparents. One late afternoon, as part of that visit, we drove a couple of hours from their house to a farm where someone was having a party. I don't remember whose party it was, or why we went, or much about who we saw. What I do remember is that I fell asleep on the two-hour drive there, and when I woke up on our arrival, I still believed that I was asleep. I have this distinct memory of sunset on the flat West Texas horizon and talking to a little boy while we were jumping on the trampoline (it was a fun farm) and telling him that none of this was real, that it was all part of my dream.

It wasn't a dream, of course, and I had woken from my nap like all children do after a long car ride. But that night, I was convinced that I was still asleep, and that the reality around me was just an illusion, waiting for the reality of awakeness to come and change everything.

All through growing up and even now, sometimes, I've thought about that and wondered if it has all really been a dream.

Today I turn 30. I'm not handling it well, and no matter how many games of "count your blessings" friends and I play, it's not getting any easier. 30 is just a number; nothing in my life will really change today, but for some reason, it still means something. My twenties - my crazy, around-the-world and back again twenties - are over. In a year, I should finally have a PhD, and I'll finally be able to get on with the real life for which I've been waiting and working so long.

I cannot complain. As my hilarious friend Kate pointed out tonight, I don't have any deformities, and I have insurance, so I'll die in a bed (her words, not mine!). I have a wonderful family, great friends, and secure employment. In the last ten years, I've had more opportunities and seen more of the world than most people ever dream about. I made my and Skip's goal of visiting 30 countries before age 30. I've seen some of the best and worst things people can do for and to one another.

A therapist would have a field day with my 20-something-year-old delusions of living in a dream world, I'm sure. And, sure, there's an element in there. of wondering about the choices you didn't make, the trains you missed, the life you didn't choose. If it's all a dream, then you get a second chance to avoid all your mistakes and fears and wrong turns.

But dwelling on what could have been is no way to live. And what could have been means that that which was would not have been.

The reality is that I've laughed and loved, taught a thousand or so students, and woken up on four continents, over and over again, to find that really living is much better than most dreams. The reality is that I've gone skydiving in San Marcos, climbed mountains on the Blue Ridge, two-stepped in the Congo, avoided sushi like it was the plague in Tokyo, and listened to the ramblings of a crazed Serb in Macedonia. The reality is that, while that little girl on a trampoline somewhere in West Texas has grown up and gone about as far away from home as she could get, I'm still an incredibly lucky woman who is surrounded by love and grace in all corners. Thanks for being part of my real life.