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

9.30.2008

tales from the classroom

In my intro class earlier this afternoon, we had a discussion about the gender gap in political opinion. "Why," I had asked, "do women and men tend to vote differently?"

"Because women do what Oprah tells them to do," replied a student who has never answered a question before.

Thing is, there's some evidence that he isn't far off.

arrrr!

The Somali pirate story just keeps getting crazier. The New York Times managed to do an interview with their spokesman, from whom we learn that the pirates are just a glorified coast guard.

meanwhile, back on the horn of africa...

One of my colleagues studies pirates (no, really) and she is absolutely fascinated with the saga that's been playing out along the Somali coastline all weekend. Seems a group of Somali pirates managed to capture a Ukranian boat loaded with tanks and weapons that was destined for Kenya. This is dangerous beyond belief; Somalia is completely lawless and, assuming they could find someone to unload the tanks (a big assumption), the weapons and vehicles could be sold on the international market to all kinds of bad guys.

Both the U.S. and Russia sent destroyers to track the shipe down, and it's basically surrounded now. There are reports today of a shoot-out between rival Somali pirates onboard, but their spokesman (the pirates have a spokesman!) says it's not so. They wanted a ransom of $20 million for the ship's crew, but then it went down to $5 million, and at this point, it's unclear what will happen. One member of the crew reportedly died of illness over the weekend.

9.29.2008

candy from a baby

Ha! Paul Burka gets it exactly right: if they want a bailout bill passed, they should put Tom Craddick on the job!

political fallout

There's lots going on in terms of political fallout from the failed bailout for the financial services industry:
  • D'oh! McCain gets a lesson in not counting chickens before they hatch.
  • McCain blames Obama; Obama blames the market.
  • Everyone who voted today is up for re-election a month from Saturday. However, a relatively small number of those seats are actually competitive. Looking at the voting patterns from today, it's interesting to note that only 8 of 38 representatives in competitive races voted for the bailout. In non-competitive races, it was almost even, 197-198. Twenty-three of the 26 who aren't running for re-election voted for the bailout.
  • In other words, this vote was entirely political.
  • I think Obama just won the race. If Biden can keep his mouth shut and let Sarah Palin make a fool of herself on Thursday, that'll seal it up.
  • Another weekend, another round of fighting in North Kivu, including around Sake. This has nothing to do with the bailout, but it's a reminder that some people deal with much bigger problems than the status of their 401K.

bipartisan cooperation

The House of Representatives just rejected the $700 billion bailout plan for the financial industry. Guess what happened to your stocks since lunch?

I don't know what to think. There's something about this whole we-need-the-money-so-trust-us thing that doesn't smell right, especially with this administration. Learning that the $700 billion figure was picked because they just needed a really big number wasn't comforting. And I don't really trust the Secretary of the Treasury, quite frankly. As he's a former Goldman Sachs executive, I'm sure he knows what he's doing. Which isn't entirely a good thing.

The intersting thing is that the bill was brought down by the combined votes of very liberal and very conservative representatives. More Republicans than Democrats voted against the measure that would have propped up some of the Republican party's staunchest supporters and donors. That's bipartisan cooperation for you, even if they're now all busy blaming each other.

A colleague and I were joking a few minutes ago that it seems like there's finally an advantage to being graduate students with no assets, but as Committee Member #3, who's less than five years from retirement, pointed out, it's not funny at all for those whose retirement accounts are up in the air. And that's the problem: something has to give, but letting the foxes write their own legislation isn't a very trustworthy solution.

9.27.2008

acl update

C3 says they watered Zilker Park. All evidence thus far is to the contrary. Friday at 2:30 we were sitting in nothing but dirt.

9.26.2008

yep

You know Sarah Palin's in trouble when the National Review (a conservative magazine) runs an article suggesting that she resign the nomination. As the article points out, she is "an attractive, earnest, confident candidate. Who Is Clearly Out Of Her League."

Exactly. She just isn't qualified for the job. She knows nothing about foreign policy, and can't give substantive answers to questions about the economy. And that's a problem.

ever ever

Best debate commentary EVER.

he blinks

McCain will debate tonight. Oh, boy.

9.25.2008

yessiree

Oh, how I looooovvvvvveee watching USC lose. Especially to teams that were 1-2 before the game.

Maybe this will shut up ESPN's commentators for a couple of weeks.

apocalypse now

So the Republicans are imploding on one another, Obama may just be debating himself tomorrow night (newsflash: McCain just might make it after all and Mississippi's Republican governor says they're having the debate, oh, yes, sir, they are), Palin doesn't know what she's talking about, we still don't have a deal on the financial crisis, and it appears that the banks are not failing. Except for WaMu.

Oh, and there was a screaming brawl in the White House this afternoon, and Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson actually got on his knees to beg some Nancy Pelosi to do something. She pointed out that it's the Republicans who are blocking the deal, not her; he agreed. David Letterman is one of the few voices of reason, mostly because he's mad at McCain for standing him up and lying about it.

It's like a particularly awful Aaron Sorkin melodrama.

(Yes, I thought the West Wing was stupid. What of it?)

I'm going to sit in the sun for the next three days and not think about it. Somebody text me if the Fed catches fire or Palin dresses a moose on the floor of the House.

election watch

Since we're about five weeks from the election, I should probably start being a little more systematic with election coverage. I'll try to post on the polls and what they mean every day or two from here to November 4. Keep in mind that I have two very strong beliefs about polls:
  1. State polls of likely voters with margins of error of +/-3% are the only ones that tell you anything worth knowing, and
  2. There's not much of a point in paying attention to polls until about three weeks out.

That said, here's a little update on what's going on in electoral politics this week:

  • Obama is opening up a lead in the likely electoral college count. How to explain this, especially given Sarah Palin's popularity among social conservatives, whom she has singlehandedly energized to support the McCain campaign? It's the economy, stupid. Fairly or not, most Americans are blaming the Republicans for the economic mess we're in, and Obama's benefitting from that fact.
  • However, McCain may have the vote tied up in Michigan, where the economy is usually issue #1. That's odd, but it's not clear from all of the polls that are running there. We'll see.
  • Obama's doing better than expected in Colorado, but it's far from settled there. Look for Focus on the Family's political wing and other groups out of Colorado Springs to hit him hard on the abortion issue. Turnout among Hispanic voters vs. evangelical voters will be the key in deciding who wins Colorado. And one in five Colorado voters is Latino.
  • We still don't know if tomorrow night's debate will happen. Congress and the administration are supposed to be close to a deal, and were meeting with the president at the White House at 4pm EST. If a deal is reached tonight, that kindof takes away McCain's reason for the whole campaign suspension, right?
  • I've tried to keep an open mind about Sarah Palin, but it's increasingly apparent that she doesn't have the knowledge or experience necessary to assume the presidency. Don't believe it? Did you see her discussion of foreign policy with Katie Couric? I used to know the guy who's advising her on foreign policy, and while I disagree with him on just about everything, he knows his stuff. If he hasn't been able to prep her by now, she's really in trouble. It doesn't help that more Alaskans think Joe Biden is more qualified to be veep than she is.
  • If the election were held today, I think Obama would win. It's dangerous to peak this early, however, and there's a lot of race to go.

off to coral gables!

Well, this is certainly one of the more innovative GOTV efforts I've ever seen. The Great Schlep aims to get Jewish young people to go to Florida to visit their grandparents and, while there, convince them to vote for Obama, thereby swinging Florida's electoral votes to the Democratic column.

How do people come up with this stuff?

(Fair warning: the promo video on the site features Sarah Silverman. Which means the video is profane and could be offensive to many. The segment on what Jewish grandmas and African-American men have in common is, of course, hilarious.)

saints preserve us

Well, it's good to know that the chairman of the Texas State Board of Education lacks even a basic understanding of the principles underlying science.

9.24.2008

gonna catch a big one...

So... a number of media outlets are reporting that a guest pastor at Sarah Palin's church got his start in witch hunting in Africa.

...

...

Maybe this wouldn't be a big deal if he hadn't laid hands on her and prayed for her political career in 2005.

Unfortunately, these things don't only happen at Landover Baptist Church. It's a very real problem in several countries in Africa, including the D.R. Congo, where children are routinely accused of being sorcercers and thrown out of their homes. Earlier this year in Kenya, eleven people were burned to death after a mob witch hunt. Pastors who take the view that there's a need for spiritual warfare against actual demons and evil spirits (and the charismatic and pentecostal movements of which they're a part) have an easy time finding followers in most African societies. Most traditional religious practices in Africa involve a belief in an active spirit world. Syncretizing the teachings of certain branches of Christianity into those traditional beliefs is easy, and it happens all the time.

Now. I happen to think that since the Constitution forbids a religious test for holding public office in this country means that we should largely leave our candidates alone when it comes to their personal religoius beliefs. We should be concerned that we're electing people of wise judgment and good character, but the specifics of their belief are not supposed to be the center of the debate.

I'm also not 100% sure that "witch hunting" accurately describes what Pastor Muthee was actually up to, although he certainly was engaged in what he calls "spiritual warfare" in a specific territory. Check out this 1999 Christian Science Monitor article for a less sensationalized account of his activities in Nairobi.

But these views are at least as out of the mainstream - if not more so - than anything Barack Obama's former pastor Jeremiah Wright ever said. Can you imagine the firestorm that would be out there if this had been a leader in Biden's church?

hail mary

It's a sad commentary on the state of American electoral politics that when I heard that John McCain is suspending his campaign tomorrow to focus on the economic crisis - and that he wants to postpone Friday's scheduled debate - I just assumed it was a political stunt.

Sigh. As Politico points out, he's basically daring Obama to say no. Since McCain hasn't exactly shown himself to be adept at proposing solutions for the immediate and long-term economic issues facing the country, this makes him look like the leader.

But, wait, it gets better. Ben Smith reports that McCain has also asked Obama to suspend campaign advertising. (Good luck getting through on that link right now; all of Washington is clearly clicking it.)

Check out the analysis here, especially this commentary from a scholar at the very conservative American Enterprise Institute. Norquist thinks it's smart, which is enough for me to know that it probably is a stunt. Mickey Edwards puts it "somewhere on the stupidity scale between plain silly and numbingly desparate."

Is he broke? Does he want to look like he's the candidate who's putting America first?

MSNBC is reporting that Obama will call for the debate to go on.

congo watch

More fighting near Sake today.

I'm parsing out an idea for an article on seasonal patterns of violence. The only problem is that I can't figure out if this is really an interesting question or not. I mean, I'm interested in it, but will it tell us anything valuable about the nature of conflict, when conflicts are likely to occur, and how to prevent them?

Anyone have any thoughts?

oy

This whole economic bailout thing is a mess. And you know it's bad when Newt Gingrich is one of the few voices of reason. Or at least the one calling for sober reflection.

living on faithless street

Yesterday a student stopped by my office hours to clairify some of the points from last week's lecture on campaigns and elections. She's on top of things, which became even more clear from her questions about faithless electors. "Faithless electors" is a term used to refer to members of the electoral college who could hypothetically vote against the candidate for whom they're pledged to vote.

It's an historical anomaly, but it does happen.

Anyway, my very eager student wanted to know more about this, so she had called the Texas Republican Party to ask who their electors are this year, and, to quote her, got "a not-very-nice response." So we did some digging on their website and found the list of electors while she was in my office.

I took one look at the list, saw #7, and nearly choked.

Seriously? This is the hill on which the judge is choosing to die?

I don't know what else to say that's appropriate.

Good thing I managed to hold most of it in while my student was there.

9.23.2008

in which cynicism takes over

Well, in what is perhaps the least shocking news story ever, here's an analysis of the fact that Texas teenagers 1) are more likely to get abstinence-based sex ed than anything else in school (and the state gets more money than any other state for abstinence-only sex ed) and 2) have the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Oh, and the abstinence-only programs don't appear to have any measurable effect on behavior.

I'm sure someone somewhere is arguing that there's not even a tiny causal relationship between these facts.

In other news, the demographics of women who have abortions have changed a lot in the last 30 years. Now, most women who have abortions are a lot less white and are older than they used to be. As earlier studies indicate, there's a high correlation between low income and having an abortion, and since race and income also correlate, this isn't terribly surprising.

But, hey, let's keep policies that screw over the poor and make it impossible for poor women to raise healthy, well-educated children. It's what Jesus would do, right?

she lost!

God bless Chris Rock.

tuesday this & that

9.22.2008

wicked...

The Librarian's childhood classmate Rob Jeopardy! M has nicknamed Sarah Palin "Bible Spice." It's mean, but so, so funny!

congo watch

There's been rioting in Goma today (alarmingly close to my old apartment), while Nkunda's CNDP rebels attacked Sake before dawn on Saturday. The army held them off; CNDP is in the hills over Sake.

MONUC military spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Jean-Paul Dietrich summed it up well: "There is still no solution. There isn't yet a ceasefire. But at least they aren't shooting at each other right now."

100,000 people have fled their homes in the most recent rounds of fighting.

a silent majority?

"Mr. McCain's selection of an inexperienced and relatively unknown figure was unsettling, and the campaign's decision to keep her sequestered from serious interchanges with reporters and voters serves only to deepen the unease. Mr. McCain is entitled to choose the person he thinks would be best for the job. He is not entitled to keep the public from being able to make an informed assessment of that judgment. Ms. Palin's speech-making skills are impressive, but the more she repeats the same stump speech lines, the queasier we get. Nor have her answers to the gentle questioning she has encountered provided any confidence that Ms. Palin has a grasp of the issues." - Washington Post editorial, 9/21/09 (italics mine)

Palin has now been a vp nominee for 24 days and she has yet to give a press conference. Does that seem okay to you? It doesn't to me. I like to know as much as possible about the people for whom I'm voting.

9.21.2008

weekend this & that

  • Did the troop surge work in Iraq, or was it actually ethnic cleansing? Here's an interesting, if inconclusive study that looks at patterns of light emission. Given that Iraq is a war zone, there are many other potential explanations - namely that the electrical grid probably doesn't work everywhere all the time. The study (full text available here) tries to account for this, but I'm not sure they adequately controlled for it, and am not enough of an expert on GIS mapping to make a fair criticism. Also, they only used a few nights' worth of light signatures to draw their conclusions, which could mean they're just measuring anomalies. This is why scholars like me do fieldwork; we're just not convinced that you can get the whole story by making observations from afar.
  • We finally got a ruling from a state appeals court on the TRMPAC scandal. TRMPAC, you will recall, was a political action committee set up by former Congressman Tom DeLay to funnel contributions to candidates for the Texas legislature who would back his ultimately successful redistricting plan. As you may also recall, TRMPAC's employees managed to violate Texas' one and only campaign finance law - no corporate contributions to political activities of political campaigns - by laundering $190,000 through the Republican National Committee. In a feat of incredible rhetorical and partisan gymnastics, three Republican judges decided that TRMPAC did not violate the election law. Why? Because they used checks instead of cash, and the word "funds" in the law apparently must mean "cash." This is so appalling I don't even know what to say. Andrew Wheat, who uncovered this whole travesty to begin with, has great analysis of the problem with electing partisan judges here.
  • A travel writer spends a weekend in Austin and barely manages to break free of the SoCo/South 1st jungle. Typical.
  • Here's a chronicle of some of the ways the Bush administration has violated 1st Amendment free speech protections - on the taxpayers' dime. Of all the things the Bush administration has done with which I disagree, their assualt on basic Constitutional protections and provisions is the most unacceptable. You just aren't supposed to get to rule in an authoritarian manner in this country. And cleaning up the mess is going to take years and years.

9.20.2008

huh?

Did anyone else see the Baylor game last night? Yes, they lost, but, um, well, there were things in that game I've never seen from a Baylor team before. Like completed passes. Players with skills. And even a little defense. Not to mention actual coaching. Baylor lost, but Baylor was actually in the game.

I can't process it. The cognitive dissonance is too much.

But since Melissa the Missionary just sent me the above-pictured bit of east African goodness (she found it in Ethiopia; it's from Kenya; her theory is that some Baylor person ordered it and never picked it up), now seems as good a time as any to address the charges that were unfairly levelled against me on my friend Rod's Mixed Martial Arts Sunday School podcast. That's right, gang; I got mocked on a podcast for a sport I know nothing about.

Rod's specific criticism is that since I went to Baylor for undergrad, the fact that I cheer for UT makes me a bad person. Or something like that.

Now, I'm not one to worry too much about what an Aggie thinks of me. But this deserves some answering. Here are my points:
  1. It's not that I don't support Baylor. It's that I don't focus my energies on cheering for Baylor. I always want them to win, except when they play Texas and I don't know what to do.
  2. Being a Baylor football fan is disheartening. If it's all you've got, you'll start to hate God's greatest sport. And who wants that?
  3. I've been at Texas longer than I was at Baylor and Yale combined.
  4. And they pay me to be here.
  5. And it's a better atmosphere for college football.
  6. And I cheered for Texas before I even thought of coming here.

So there.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a game to get to at the lovely, newly expanded DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. Hook 'em horns!

saturday this & that

  • This is an appalling story of neglect of some senior citizens in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.
  • The discussion the other day about race and the McCain campaign was interesting, if not surprising. I've been too sick to mediate it, but I will say that I think we're kidding ourselves if we think that race still isn't an issue in this country, and that recognizing that it's an issue does not make one a racist. On that note, the Baptist Center for Ethics released a new DVD this week about Baptists and race. My friend Laura the Elder is interviewed, as is my father's longtime friend Javier Elizondo. I think their explanations of the subtle ways racism is expressed will be eye-opening for many of us. The overt racism Laura the Elder has experienced and shared with me - things that happened this year, with people who take their faith seriously - are absolutely appalling. Get your church to order a copy of this DVD and start a discussion around this important issue.
  • I know the Texas State Board of Education way too well. These people - many of whom don't believe public education should exist - should not be in control of what our children are learning.
  • Judging from how often Karl Rove keeps showing up in our department, the Bushies really are coming back to town. And they may have a tough time.

9.19.2008

teach 'em a lesson

Colbert was dead-on about the government's response to the economic crisis last night. "I believe in the free market, except when it might hurt a corporation" sums up the last eight years so well, n'est pas?

a day in the life


For the record, I would say that this semester I'm doing about 50% research, 30% job market preparation, 19% teaching, and 1% weeping for the future of Texas because my students lack prior knowledge about the Declaration of Independence. Thankfully, pitiful graduate students at the end of the process don't have to waste so much time on "service to the department/university/profession."

congo watch

Members of all of the armed groups engaged in recent fighting in the eastern Congo (including, apparently, the national army) have been systematically looting clinics.

The sad fact is that there probably wasn't much to take from those clinics in the first place.

Meanwhile, the people suffer...

9.18.2008

hmmm...

I taught campaigns and elections today in my UT class. As part of that lecture, we talk about political advertising, its goals, and the fact that most ads can be classified as either positive or negative. I also show a few ads in class, including Reagan's famous "Morning in America," and ads from the current campaign. I'd previewed this one before class, but didn't notice the racial subtext until I showed it in class:



Is it just me, or does this ad meant subtly suggest that Obama is coming for your white baby, or at least that he's going to make your white baby poor?

take what you can get

Hey, all, I'm sick as anything, so posting will be limited today. Here's some other stuff for your amusement/tears.

9.17.2008

here's a thought

If you are really, really, REALLY angry at your professor for not including Ralph Nader as a viable option in your in-class, simulated, presidential debate, and you want to send emails that accuse your professor of being 1) a "Republocrat," 2) undemocratic, and 3) only giving the students "coke or pepsi" and "Tweedle-dee or Tweedle-dum" choices, you should probably change your email address so that your angry rant isn't coming from someone named "Betty Haagen-Daas."

I'm just thinkin'...

wednesday this & that

love in any language

Last weekend I was invited to an "Interfaith Dialogue Dinner" hosted by the local branch of a Sufi Muslim movement. I didn't really know much about it going in, but a friend who's a state representative invited me, and you can't really say no to that sort of thing. Plus, the Attorney and the Librarian were also invited, so we figured if we got locked in a hotel ballroom for a couple of uncomfortable hours, at least we'd have each other with whom to giggle.

The event turned out to be very nice. It was an Iftar dinner, which breaks the fast each night during Ramadan. There were all kinds of people there, speeches from prominant Austinites, including the mayor and the police chief, and we learned about the Gulen movement, which seeks to promote peaceful dialogue between Muslims and others. The idea was that by sharing dinner with people of other religious faiths, we can all learn to get along a little better.

The Attorney and the Librarian's account of the dinner makes it clear that their table did just that. They had Muslims and Episcopalians and Catholics and Baptists, all talking about their faiths, answering one another's questions, and generally having a good time.

And where was Texas in Africa during all this, you might wonder? Oh, I was seated between the Mormons and the Scientologists, natch. And they weren't just regular Mormons and Scientologists; they're professionals, one working at a center for LDS college students and the other for, well, the Scientologists.

This is the story of my life.

We did, to be fair, have a couple of Muslims at our table, but one of them, bless his heart, was two weeks off the flight from Turkey and still working on his English and the other appeared to be entirely fascinated with the crazytown baseball that was going on with everyone else. There were a couple of women who never identified themselves in religious terms, but I wouldn't be the least bit suprised if they're Unitarians. It would figure.

Here's the problem at an interfaith dialogue when the progressive Baptist represents the most "mainstream" faith in your city and state: there are very few appropriate topics of conversation. It's not like you can come right out and say, "So, let's talk about your different (but equally nutty!) views about outer space." Or ask the Scientologist in the next seat over who's been working in Hollywood for the last decade if she taught Katie Holmes to be a Scientologist. It's just not polite. Especially at an Iftar dinner at which you are a guest.

Luckily, most people at the table had the social skills necessary to recognize that the interfaith dialogue of the types the other 19 tables in the room were enjoying probably wasn't going to work at our table. Instead, we talked about travel (the Mormons had been to Turkey!), the weather (hot and miserable, as per usual), raising children, and life on campus (several of us are or are married to PhD candidates).

Also, I learned that dates (the food) are really tasty. And that made for a lovely Iftar evening.

9.16.2008

this year

well, here's a new one

I suppose this was inevitable.

After class today, my little darlings, who are apparently incapable of passing a sign-up sheet through the entire classroom over the course of 150 minutes of class time, were finishing choosing roles for the in-class presidential debate we'll do in a month or so. And one of them comes up to me to whine (there's no other word) about the fact that she can only choose between representing Barack Obama or John McCain.

Apparently I have a LaRouche supporter. Or so I assume. Ron Paul and Denis Kucinich are out, and she doesn't dress like a Bob Barr fan.

Can anyone think of a nicer response than, "Because my patience with exercises in futility is spent on hoping you'll correctly cite your sources in the paper"?

not just a river in egypt

Wall Street's problems viewed as an issue of denial.

on my soapbox

Can we talk semantics?

Because there's something going on that's driving me crazy and that matters for the future. And that something is the misuse of words.

My annoyance with this particular issue is not, as you might think, due to my students, who, having experienced thirteen full years of being the Children Not Left Behind, know how to fill bubbles on multiple choice tests but can't explain what the Declaration of Independence did. I have low expectations for the little darlings, and they exceed my expectations on that count every time.

Nor is about the Olympic commentators who misused the word "temendously" to describe the diving judges' decisions.

It's not even the latest disaster on the Cake Wrecks blog, which is seriously the funniest thing on the internet.

No, it's that I'm going to scream if I hear one more news report that refers to people who left the coast because of Hurricane Ike as "refugees."

THOSE PEOPLE ARE NOT REFUGEES.

They are evacuees.

Now, I realize that perhaps I'm being a little petty here. But I work on this stuff for a living, and the term "refugee" has a very specific meaning, one that matters for international law and the protections to which an individual is entitled. Refugees are people who cross an international boundary because they have a well-founded fear (or experience) of persecution based on "race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion." Generally, those fleeing violent conflict fit into this grouping as well.

People who flee their homes for similar reasons but do not cross international boundaries are called "internally displaced persons" (IDP's). IDP's often get screwed, because they don't get the very precise kinds of protections and access to humanitarian aid that refugees are supposed to receive.

People who race out of Galveston in an SUV to hole up in a hotel room in San Antonio are not refugees. Nor are those who head to shelters on busses. They are evacuees.

I'm not going to apologize for my fastidiousness about all things grammar and usage. I am the daughter of an editor and a teacher, the sister of a linguist, and will, Lord willing and the creek don't rise, be a Ph.D. in six months or so. Clearly, I come by it naturally. And goodness knows I make mistakes of this type all the time.

But I think the misuse of words by people who broadcast the news to millions of people and who therefore ought to be a little more careful is just one more symptom of the general slide of our society into casual and tacky behavior. And I'm tired of pretending it's okay. Hrrrumph.

9.15.2008

who is my neighbor?

"I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

Sometimes people really show what it means to be a neighbor.

worth your time

If you're looking for a good explanation of the mortgage crisis that precipitated the bank failures and financial crises we're currently observing, I highly recommend that you listen to an episode of This American Life that aired last spring. It's an hour long, you can listen for free online, and I promise that it's the most informative and entertaining way you'll find to learn about what actually happened. I'm thinking of ditching my normal lecture on the economy this semester and just having my students listen to it instead. It's that good.

meanwhile, back on wall street

What with the hurricane and all, perhaps you haven't noticed that the economy is collapsing around us. Gang, it's bad. And it's not going to get better for awhile:



This gives me serious pause in thinking about the presidential race, especially with respect to which of the candidates, and their nominated potential successors, have the experience to handle a crisis like this. Quite frankly, it's not an encouraging thought with any of the four options.

On the other hand, it's pretty clear that this whole crisis was brought about by people who thought they could skirt what seems to me to be one of the most basic facts upon which finacial transactions are based: spending money you don't have usually causes you to lose more money. There was massive irresponsibility on the part of millions of people, and now we're all paying the price.

9.14.2008

"this water's filthy, too"

I know it's mean to knock people when they're down, but part (okay, all) of me thinks that Geraldo kindof got what he deserved in Galveston.

and i can see russia from my house...

I am SO tired of how overhyped Ohio State is this year. They sucked against USC, but, hello? Why were Herbstreit and Musburger so suprised? They were losing to Ohio University for a good bit of that game.

I finally reached the point last night where I just couldn't take it anymore and flipped over just in time to catch this. And, oh, am I glad I did:


God bless Tina Fey.

help me mama!

Last week I promised you a post about the wild hogs that are suddenly and unexpectedly part of my life. It's here.

Coming soon (I hope), adventures at an Iftar dinner, why I'm tired of watching Ohio State, and mocking Geraldo Rivera. Because he deserves it.

the casual reply

All I can say about this is that you're living a pretty sad life if you consider this "the ultimate connect with nature."

9.13.2008

i2a: how to help

I have a post up at Inspired to Action on ways to help with Hurricane Ike relief efforts.

I-45 south



photo: Eric Kayne, Houston Chronicle

stupid, selfish behavior

There are reports that up to 40% of Galveston Island's residents decided to stay on the island to ride out Hurricane Ike.

Sigh. I just have no patience for stupidity, and this is one of those cases where people were just being dumb. It's not like this hurricane snuck up on the island, or that we didn't know within plenty of time to evacuate that Galveston was going to take a direct hit.

But it's not just stupid; it's also selfish. When you do something like that, by default, you're putting other people's lives at risk, because when they know people stayed, they have to come search for survivors no matter what. Sure enough, when things got bad last night, people started calling for help. And there was no rescue, because authorities in Galveston weren't about to risk the lives of rescuers to send them out into impossible conditions in the dark.

Making a deliberate choice to do something stupid and dangerous that risks other people's lives is beyond irresponsible. And those people who were capable of leaving but who stayed on the island anyway have no one to blame but themselves. Let's just hope it's not as bad as it looks.

NASA photo

ike update

The Ex-Roommate is deploying to work in relief, rescue, and recovery operations on the Gulf Coast today. I know that she and her colleagues will do their best to help people who were foolish enough to stay on Galveston Island, and I know they could use your prayers today.

Here in Austin, we have some wind, but no rain. It was cloudy for the 300 or so of us in line at REI early this morning, but the sun's starting to break through. For those of you stuck in Houston without power, you're in our thoughts and prayers as well. The city of Houston says you need to boil your water, and to please stay off the roads so emergency personnel can have easy access.

photo: Johnny Hanson, Houston Chronicle

still hear your sea winds blowin'

A gorgeous song from a West Texas preacher's kid that seems right for today:

9.12.2008

water, water everywhere

If you're in Ike's path and need water, Euphrony's got a rather unorthodox solution for ya. Not a very Baptist solution, mind you, but, hey, it's better than six hours in line at the HEB.

you knew this was coming

Yep. We're getting next-to-nothing. As per usual with these things.

At least this means I can still go the REI garage sale tomorrow!

rock you like a hurricane

The sky outside my window keeps turning gray then going back to blue. I went over to the library about two hours ago and the wind is really picking up. We may get a little rain after all. Other hurricane stuff:

the story of hurricane


There's a hurricane headed our way.

Perhaps you've heard.

Actually, by, "our way," I mean that I fully expect tomorrow to be mostly gorgeous with a little wind. At most, maybe we'll get an inch of rain and some gusts. But we're apparently no longer within the elusive "cone of uncertainty" that the forecasters all keep talking about, so no one is panicking.

Nope, the main issue with the hurricane is that our city is now full of people from Galveston, Houston, and other idyllic places along the shoreline. And while I'm certainly glad that we can provide them hotel rooms and shelters that have no beds, there's just one tiny issue.

These people drive like they're from Houston.

Seriously. I stopped to get gas this morning before the prices go any higher and there was a guy from Houston with an SUV so big he blocked two pumps. And MoPac was a mess. At 10:30am. These out-of-towners don't seem to understand that the middle lane isn't the slow lane, and that the 65mph speed limit is considered as the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law by the vast majority of Austin drivers.

I realize that this is petty and trivial, especially when SURFSIDE BEACH IS GOING UNDER WATER and people will lose their homes and businesses. Not to mention that gas prices are about to go up. Ours are up 6-7 cents in the past few days and you'd better believe they'll go higher what with all the drilling platforms and refineries being shut down. I'm really glad that we're going to be safe and not take a direct hit like Galveston is going to get.

9.11.2008

9/11

9.10.2008

take a hike, ike

Darn it. They've moved the Arkansas game to the 27th, smack dab in the middle of ACL Festival.

It's the responsible thing to do, what with the evacuations going on and all. But, oh, my gosh, I want to see a game!!!!

better than sonseed?



I don't think so. The song just isn't as catchy. But the breakdancing, I mean, inspired movement, is spectaculaire.

ewe's on first?

Sometimes I really miss the Congo.

don't like ike

If this hurricane nonsense interferes with my first shot at tailgating and game watching for this year, I am going to be supremely annoyed. Public safety, lightning, hurricane force winds, blah, blah, blah. It's not like we haven't watched games in a downpour before.

Rumor has it that Mack and co. will make a decision at noon tomorrow.

Sigh. Stupid weather. Y'all be safe.

9.09.2008

ask a stupid question...

Texas in Africa, to her class: "So what did the Declaration of Independence do?"

Back of the room: "Freed the slaves."

Texas in Africa: "No...., that was the Emancipation Proclamation."

Back of the room, dead serious: "Ended the slave trade?"


Sometimes I want to cry.

9.08.2008

argh

Sorry re: the lack of substantive posting on this blog of late. Next Monday is the first deadline for job applications, and these deadlines will keep recurring every two weeks for the next eight weeks or so. That means that I have to assemble an insane amount of paper (in different combinations, with everything customized to explain to each school how I am PERFECT, absolutely PERFECT for what they need), and, well, time's a little short. Here's a little something that's pretty accurate as to how I'm feeling:

Don't worry; I've got some good stuff in the pipeline, involving wild hogs, Baptist hymns, and me being publicly insulted on a podcast for the first time! And if I ever get a good night's sleep again, it just might get posted.

music monday

What else could we do after yesterday?

9.07.2008

congo watch

More details on last week's Bukavu plane crash and those who died.

he'll zap you!

Kids, someone actually tracked down Sal, the lead singer of SONSEED, whose miraculous "Jesus is a Friend of Mine" video is a sensation here on the interwebs. Everything you wanted to know (and more) is here.

this just seems right for today

9.06.2008

that's all

I love college football. And Saturdays in the fall.

stalker jesus

UPDATE: Vimeo took it down, so here's the YouTube version:

We are thinking of renaming our Sunday school class for this band. Because it's completely awesome:


Thanks to David for the tip.

And I'd like to point out that they're just one short of a neuftet!

weekend this, that, & th'other

  • Sarah Palin's got a pastor who says crazy things, too. He believes we'll all be running to Alaksa in the "last days."
  • Did Sarah Palin try to ban books in her city library?
  • This is a heartbreaking story about family court for children who are in the state's custody. A friend of mine became a foster parent this year and has learned far more about this stuff than she ever wanted to know. I have a huge respect for her, not only because she allowed her life to be turned upside down, but also because she doesn't just talk the pro-life line; she did something to help kids who are already here. She is facing a big decision about the two sweet girls she fosters and would appreciate your prayers.
  • Only 59 days to the election. Thank goodness.
  • Sounds like it's fairly miserable in D.C. today. Y'all hang in there.
  • An antidote to all those women who go insane the minute they get engaged.

9.05.2008

we're texas

So we here at the University of Texas, being apparently more sophisticated than any of us previously realized, are now hosting a bevy of works of public art. What this means is that there are random pieces of concrete and steel in every plaza and courtyard within walking distance of my office.

I could care less about all this, although you have to be careful to not trip over the ones that are in the middle of the library now. But everyone's talking about one particular installation that is, well, rather unfortunately placed...

flashback

Somebody's been using this story to get elected for a long, long time:

austinites

from one of my favorite blogs, indexed:

9.04.2008

god's own party

Oh, I hate political conventions. And, yet, I watch.

The RNC is pretty much what I've expected so far. Palin knocked her speech out of the park, even if she did throw out a few statements that were less than 100% accurate. She came off as likeable and relatable, and managed to avoid talking about policy areas she knows little about. And I spent the whole speech fighting off a sudden and overwhelming urge to backcomb my hair.

McCain, for his part, is still talking as I write this, but he's doing much better at delivery of the speech than he normally does. McCain is notorious for struggling with teleprompters, but he clearly practiced this and is doing well.

The only other observations I have about the RNC are:

1) It's white. Really white. I heard on NPR that there
are exactly 36 African-American delegates to the convention.

2) The GOP has apparently become the party of big government spending. Why else would McCain be talking about spending so much money on job programs, something Republicans have traditionally opposed? Could it be because he knows he's seen as out-of-touch with those who are suffering in this economy?

3) Someone needs to tell Code Pink that they're not helping anything.


I can't take any more of these political infomercials. Back to football.

9.03.2008

campus watch is back...

School's back, and so is the absolutely hysterical U.T. police blotter, part of which gets reprinted in the paper every day. The current edition is particularly funny, being as it features all of the significant incidents reported from Saturday's home opener. Here's a sample:
DARRELL K ROYAL TEXAS MEMORIAL STADIUM, 2200 Robert Dedman
Consumption of Alcohol by a Minor: A 19 year old UT student was observed
demonstrating the balance impairments provided by alcohol consumption. That
student stated she was 31 years old and later stated her year of birth was 1931.
The student's further comments indicated she had a desire to relieve her
bladder on the officer. The student provided several false names and dates of
birth. The student was obviously under the influence of an alcoholic beverage to
the point she was a danger to herself and the officer's pants leg. A sober,
responsible friend agreed to take care, custody and control of the aging
student. Occurred on 08/30/08 at 7:39 p.m.

Good land. Now you see what we try to teach during the week.

(Note: I understand that a lot of this stuff is serious business, and so do the U.T. police. But you've gotta have a sense of humor to work that job, and I'm glad they do.)

moose hunting!

Dave Barry = Best Election Coverage EVER. A sample:

"But the McCain camp is defending Palin's résumé, which, aside from being a governor and a mayor, includes being a mom, playing basketball, hunting moose and being runner-up for Miss Alaska 1984. There was some grumbling among Republican insiders that McCain would have been better off choosing somebody with a thicker résumé, such as Mitt Romney, who actually won Miss Alaska 1984.

"But the choice has been made, so the question now is: Does Palin really have what it takes to carry out the duties of vice president of the United States? Specifically, would she go moose-hunting with lawyers? Because if so, let's vote her in NOW."


I'm going to be hugely disappointed if this year's campaign doesn't feature at least one moose hunt. Especially since Governor Palin is from a state that has a moose roadkill distribution program. You sign up. On a list. There's a separate list for programs that serve those in need.

Goodness, I love America.

argh!

My hatred of American Airlines is, I believe, fairly well-documented on this blog. It has something to do with reroutes via Des Moines and Istanbul for a trip that was supposed to go through Raleigh and London, waiting in line for two hours in Lima because they only have four people checking in 300 passengers for a 7am flight, and the fact that I now just plan to spend 6-8 hours at DFW when transferring there because something is inevitably going to go wrong. I don't know. Maybe I'm just impatient.

After flying American again in August and "getting" to spend several hours waiting for a flight because my first flight took off so late, then boarding the plane, then being deplaned because of a mechanical failure, then finally getting back home about six hours later than planned, I swore them off. For good.

Well, today, my American Advantage gold card arrived. Seems I've accrued enough miles to not only get a free ticket to Europe, but also to get free upgrades and check-in at the first class counter whenever I fly American.

Darn it.

At least I can go to Istanbul for free this time.

a st. paul welcome

Heh-heh!

9.02.2008

back to school

Well, today was day 1 and we're already off and running:

Texas in Africa, to the ginormous auditorium of anonymous faces: "So, what's going on in politics right now?"

Student on back row of ginormous auditorium, after his hand shot up and I said, "Yes?": "McCain picked that lady from Alaska and her kid is pregnant."

Rest of class, while Texas in Africa rolls her professorial eyes: laughter and applause.

Oh, yes, ladies and gentlemen, we are back. At least he didn't say "knocked up."

while we were out...


...Texas in Africa (the blog, not the blogger) turned three. Friday, to be specific, marked three years of senseless pontificating, opinionated & snide writing, and the occasional post about something meaningful. While this year is going to be incredibly busy, we'll do our best to keep up the tradition of acting our age. I guess that means that, like with any real three-year-old, you can expect this year's edition of Texas in Africa to be willful, stubborn, and fiercely independent. Thanks for sticking with me for the ride.

congo watch

Another plane crash in the eastern Congo, but this time it's one of the reputable, humanitarian airlines. I have several friends who've worked for AirServ at one time or another, and lots of friends in the international aid community who fly with them. Most of the pilots aren't with the company anymore, but who knows who else was on that plane? I feel a little sick.

9.01.2008

on it goes

Well, the McCain campaign finally did something to calm all the rumors about Palin's seventeen-year-old daughter. It turns out that she is pregnant and engaged, and that Sarah Palin's newborn baby really is the governor's.

I haven't written about this because I consider the quality of the so-called "citizen journalism" which relies on gossip and speculation on Daily Kos to be only slightly above that of the National Enquirer. Their shoddy reasoning on this story is enough to confirm those feelings. And I also think that families dealing with issues like these shouldn't have to have their private affairs dragged through the media. It's hard enough to be seventeen and pregnant without having to appear at campaign events and be the topic of gossip on the liberal blogs.

But it does make me wonder even more about McCain's decision to pick Palin. If the campaign did a good job of vetting Palin, then they knew (as they claim) that her daughter was pregnant before he decided. And they had to know the news would cause a scandal. Either they decided it wasn't that big of a deal, or they didn't do a very good job on the vetting. And either of those options does make me wonder about his judgment.