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

9.29.2006

qotd ii

"You look so good with blonde hair and black roots, it's, like, not even funny."
-Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion

Here we go. I am off to my class reunion and will not be posting this weekend. Deep thoughts about my classmates who've had five children/become television personalities and/or rock stars in the last ten years will be posted on Monday. Y'all have a good one!

qotd: bush and life

This is a harsh and sad critique of the president's views on life, with respect to the unborn and to civilians killed in Iraq. Quote:

"I don't see anything coming out of this war that is worth 50,000 innocent lives, although a case can be made, I guess." - Michael Kinsley

9.28.2006

grace and peace

I was sitting in my other office this afternoon, having office hours to which no one came, pondering whether I'm doing that good a job of explaining in class, or if they're just oblivious to the looming test (2 weeks, kids. 2 weeks.) . And an email came in on the weak wireless connection in office #2. It was my sister. Ruth Ann Foster passed away.

I didn't know Dr. Foster, but my sister has been her assistant for most of her years at Truett. She'd been sick for a long time, but knowing she would soon die didn't make it any easier. Dr. Foster was a role model, a mentor, and a friend to my sister, and to so many others. She will be missed.

selling access?

Mmm-hmm.

bad legislation

This is wrong. I am appalled. We just lost the moral high ground for good.

If you don't know what this administration does to terror suspects, you might want to check this out.

soon in live music

There are many reasons I love Austinist. But one of the most important is their monthly (or so) listing of big shows that come through town. The list for the next two months is out today, and they've got a couple of great new ones - My Morning Jacket on November 18 at Stubb's and Jay Farrar with Gob Iron on November 3 at the Parish (wow, will that be different and great fun for pre-election weekend) - along with several I was already looking forward to (Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins at Stubb's on October 23, The Mountain Goats on at The Parish on October 29.). Time to re-evaluate my fall live music priorities...

liberty and justice for all

The guy who made this has some issues, clearly, and I'm not endorsing his views (ht via Andrew Sullivan). That said, the House's passage of H.R. 2679 this week echoes the view expressed in this poster, and not in an ironic way. The bill attacks the First Amendment by making it more difficult for you to sue the government over violations of the establishment clause. Rob Jeopardy! Marus has a good explanation of what the bill would do here.

Do we really want to live in a world where the government can establish favoritism towards one religion? There are certainly people in our country who do.

But think about this. Government's purpose is not to advance the kingdom of God - its purpose is to keep society organized. Public policy is subject to the whims and trends of politics, which is a struggle for power. And Jesus taught us to do many things, but fighting for power was not one of them.

Here's what I think: I don't want government-sponsored prayer in my childrens' schools. I don't want a government teacher telling my children what they are supposed to believe about God, church, and faith. These vitally important matters - the ones that define a person's faith and practice - are so significant that I don't want my government involved in them. Period.

Some people argue that communities should be able to implement whatever kind of educational policies they want - after all, if everyone in our town is a Christian, why is it objectionable to have a prayer at the football game?

Here's the problem with that. Politics change, prevailing political views change, demographics change, and the United States we see today won't be the same as the one we'll see in fifty, or even twenty years. Religious plurality is increasing. And in twenty years, your town's religious makeup may be nothing like what it is today.

As Congressman Chet Edwards put it in his speech on the bill, "...what if that courthouse in Alabama had had a judge that put a 2 1/2 ton statue of Buddha in there. Would one not give the citizens of that community the right to respond?"

We forget that, in the Pledge of Allegiance, the words right after "one nation under God" are "indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." (did you know the original pledge was written by a Socialist Baptist preacher? Huh.) Liberty for all. It's one of the cornerstones of the American republic, and one that we should be doing all we can to ensure. Instead, our majority party wants to take away part of the religious liberty we all enjoy.

Do we really want to set a precedent as a nation that part of our constitution shouldn't apply? Do we really want to say that parents shouldn't have the right and ability to respond if a public school tries to teach their children what their faith should be? I don't.

9.27.2006

update

Charles's surgery went smoothly and the surgeon thinks it was successful; thanks for your prayers. I drove J home from church tonight and she seemed 100% okay - most of the 20-minute ride was a nonstop discussion of everything that's going on at her high school, her cousin's high school, and an upcoming football game involving two other high schools. That was a good sign. If she's not worried about her dad anymore, neither am I.

finally

Good news from Congo!!!

It costs less than $75-$100 to send most children to school in Goma. When E was short tuition for 16 orphans, using some donated and personal funds, the tuition was covered with about $300. $300. It's nothing to us. A drop in the bucket. It's everything to sixteen children. The difference between an education and ignorance.

That's what's so appalling about the whole situation - how little money it actually takes to give people a chance to make their lives better. It doesn't take much at all.

reports from the field: musharraf and jon stewart

Remember how I mentioned that Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharaff, was appearing on the Daily Show last night? Well, it turns out that Actually an Actuary and his blushing bride had tickets. Here's AaA's report on the show:

"The guest was the President of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf. Security was crazy. Lot's of police and suits with earpieces. They even put Kevlar on the stage in front of the desk."

That's so crazy! Of all the days to go to the show, you end up on the Episode Most Likely to Feature a Political Assassination? Way to go, AaA!

For those of you hoping for a more detailed account of what happened (tea, twinkies, fate of the world as we know it), it's not on YouTube yet, but you can read the AP account via Fox News here. Or you could navigate the Daily Show's homepage to watch the film - good luck with that. The interview was definitely worth not working on my lecture for a few minutes to enjoy. The Seat of Heat question was pretty funny, too.

Back to explaining bureaucracy to the kiddos.

liberties, schmiberties

I bet the D.A. had a fun couple of days with this one. Sigh. This is a serious attempt to limit your constitutional liberties by limiting your rights to sue under the Establishment Clause. What are they thinking?!? Do they really want to set this precedent?

Perhaps I don't want to know the answer to that.

qotd

"I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded . . . I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed . . . I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war."
-Franklin Delano Roosevelt

It is so easy to forget who's fighting and dying in this war that we all hate.

prayers

Please say a prayer today for Charles. Charles's wife is the GA director at church, and their daughter J is in our youth group. Charles is having experimental brain surgery today in San Antonio, in hopes that it will slow or reverse the progression of his Parkinson's disease. The neurosurgeon expects it to go well, but I know they're all nervous, as any of us would be.

Please keep the whole family in your prayers today. I am hanging out some with J tonight while her parents are at the hospital and will hopefully be able to report good news tomorrow.

9.26.2006

woo-hoo!!!!

the freak show

Okay, I'm sorry, but I don't think there's anything wrong with having a quirk here and there. I can't stand lettuce on my sandwiches, and it's not because I don't like salad. I do. It's because the textures don't go together. There. I said it. Fine.

and the vocal minority?

E.J. Dionne, Jr. is dead-on today.

show me the money

Rule #1 in playing or studying politics: Follow the money. It will tell you who's doing what, who wants what, and, very often, why a politician makes a particular decision.

Texans for Public Justice does a great job of following the money in Texas politics. And there's plenty of it; we live in a state where individuals are basically able to give as much as they want to campaigns. That's a whole 'nother problem.

Texans for Public Justice has a great new report on money in the governor's race: where it's coming from, who's getting it, and what it all means. Check it out.

qotd: has it been two years?

"You will miss sunrise,
if you close your eyes.
That would break
my heart in two."
- Townes Van Zandt, "If I Needed You"

It really has.

living is sighing; dying says nothing at all

"I'm sorry I went on for so long; I get upset," I said.

"I don't see how you can talk about these things and do anything but weep," he said.

In the end, that was the only thing to say.

I spoke to a group about Congo on Friday night. It was the first time. It won't be the last. I'm supposed to speak to the WMU in November, and then at a conference in San Francisco a couple of days later. So I guess I should get used to it.

But telling the story of Congo is hard. It hurts to talk about four million people's deaths. It hurts to explain to your friends that there are innocent little girls who've been raped by horrible men. It hurts to watch children die. It hurts to tell a story that is not about you, but that has changed you to the depths of your being.

The setting on Friday was hard, too. Here was the request: "Could you talk about how you ended up there, what you gained as an academic, and what you gained as a Christian?"

It's going to take a lifetime to figure those things out, much less figure out how to explain it in twenty minutes.

I've written about some of the things I saw in Congo. But speaking and writing are two different things. I am much more comfortable with writing. When you write, you control the process. I can walk away from the words when it hurts too much. I can weep - and I always do - when writing about atrocity and suffering and hope in the face of it all. I can decide what shape the narrative should take, where it should start and where it has to end, and what to leave out. Speeches aren't like that, exactly, especially when you're answering a set of very broad questions.

It's not that I mind speaking in front of a crowd of people; I've spoken in church, at conferences, and to an audience of 4,000. Every week I stand up in front of twenty college students, who stare at me for three hours. I'm comfortable with public speaking, but I don't like doing it. I get nervous, almost sick sometimes, especially when I'm sharing something from my deepest heart. Which, really, is the only way I'm capable of talking about DRC. You can't cry when you stand up to give a talk that results in people asking how they can help. You can't lose your composure when getting the story told could be the difference between life and death for some of the poorest of the poor.

And I haven't processed my experiences there. It's too hard, too painful, too much. If I think about Congo too much, I can't get any work done, so I read the news from there each morning and work on my dissertation and try not to think too much about what it means, day-to-day. It doesn't work. I find myself thinking about it at the strangest times, in class or church or on the subway or talking to friends or at a show or, most especially, in dreams.

So I'm carrying a bit of a burden, deep inside, about things that happened and people I met and conversations with strangers and places you'll never see that won't ever make it onto a page or into a speech. It's just too much to comprehend, to hard to put into words, to private to share. I can't, for example, really write about the eyes of the three-year-old boy who begged by the buses leaving for Kigali, and who would run to buy food as soon as you gave him a 50-franc note. Fifty francs being about 10 cents. I don't have the words to describe the moneychangers in the market who insisted that I bring them American wives, and how wide their eyes got when Suzy and I showed up to shop one Monday.

I don't know how to share how funny my friend Rob was when he explained, in a very matter-of-fact way, why a conservationist also happens to oversee a rapid response commando force of park rangers. I'm incapable of explaining what the stars looked like on a cold, late, moonless night at Coco Jambo where Ben and I sat in a corner and talked while everyone else danced. I'll never be able to get into words what the red lava of the volcano looked like reflecting off the smoke and clouds, leaving this red glow hovering in the black sky on the way home at three o'clock on Sunday morning, laughing about the madness of it all with Anna and Junior and Aaron.

I doubt I'll ever even try to share it all. One of the cards on PostSecret the other day said, "I'm sick of hearing about your experiences in Africa." I just laughed, but I worry about that - about boring my friends with stories of Congo, about talking about horror so much that it becomes routine. People ask, at work and church and on the phone and over email, "How was it?" and I say, "Crazy" or "Great" and leave it at that, because most of my friends, even close ones, don't want to know, really.

Our sermon yesterday was about taking up your cross and following Jesus, and that all of us don't have the same crosses to pick up. Oh, and that some of us might have more than one cross to bear. "What's your cross?" said Roger, and that was so much a better question than the standard "following Jesus is costly" generic Sunday-school answer.

Sharing Congo is a cross to bear. It is not my story, not really, but it is the story I have to pick up, wrestle with, carry, search for words about, try to talk about, and weep over. It was crazy, it was great, it changed me as an academic, as a Christian, and as a person. And deep down, I know at least some of what I need to say next.

9.25.2006

must be election season

So Pakistani President General Puvarez Musharraf will be the guest on The Daily Show Tuesday night. That should be almost as entertaining as Pat Buchannan's visit tonight.

why i cancelled my subscription two years ago

And they say there's no real journalism anymore. Appalling.

the whole wide world around someday

Eyes on the Prize is coming back to PBS! This is so exciting - the film is the best documentary on the civil rights movement anybody's made. It's also been tied up in copyright suits forever, making it impossible to purchase a DVD of the film. Definitely check it out if you get the chance - the first part airs for three consecutive Mondays, starting next week, October 2.

wondering...

My friend Travis made the New York Times! The details are semi-incomprehensible if you don't understand the use of economic models to explain social phenomena, but the article does a good job of explaining what it all means: basically, they found that income inequality in America (which increased throughout the 1990s) happened largely as a result of the information technology boom, on a regional basis. In other words, people in Silicon Valley got really rich, really fast.

Income inequality-based theories don't entirely explain why people are poor, but they do explain why there are vast gaps in the amount of income made by the rich and the poor. And there's no question that the rich are getting richer while the poor struggle to keep up. This year for the first time, everyone on the Forbes 400 (which lists the 400 wealthiest individuals in America) is a billionarie. Billionaires.

What are we supposed to think about this, especially those of us who think about it from a Christian perspective? Why does anyone need a billion dollars, much less several billion dollars? What could you possibly do with all that money?

Well, some people do set up foundations and give a lot of money away. And there's no question that this is good - children living in desparate poverty who now have access to anti-retroviral drugs get what they need as a result of these foundations' commitments.

But I wonder what Jesus would have to say about the massive accumulation of wealth in the first place, or the extravagent homes that get built with the money that didn't go towards philanthrophy. I wonder what Jesus would say about all of our choices, all of our excess, all of our billions that get spent on things nobody needs. I wonder...

qotd

"At my window
watching the sun go
hoping the stars know
it's time to shine
daydreams
aloft on dark wings
soft as the sun streams
at days decline
Living is laughing
dying says nothing at all"
Townes Van Zandt, "At My Window"

music monday

I meant to go see Chris Knight in Virginia this summer and then forgot. And I'm missing his Austin show at Threadgill's this weekend because I'll be in Nashville, and the odds are good that I'll be in Austin when he's playing Nashville, so there you go. (Good land - he's even playing Westport, Connecticut with Robert Earl Keen. It's like a joke. Not to mention that no one interesting ever played in Connecticut when I lived there. Unless you consider Barry Manilow "interesting.")

This post, however, is intended to be an observation that Chris Knight's career really seems to be taking off. I haven't heard much of the new stuff (other than what a guy I grew up with has playing on his MySpace), but I have loved his 2001 album A Pretty Good Guy for several years now. "North Dakota" is an incredible song, and I just love "Oil Patch Town." Knight is a gifted songwriter and if you haven't heard his music, you should check it out. He's from Kentucky, but his songs feel like the west. Maybe the closest comparison is pre-Translate Macon Greyson (playing TWO OU weekend shows at Adair's!), one of my very favorite Texas bands.

Chris Knight plays Threadgill's on Friday, Flores Country Store on Saturday, and at the Birchmere in November. Go and say you saw him before he got big.

feel far away

I love Melissa Rogers. This is hilarious.

9.24.2006

it's a neighborly day for a beautywood

See, redistricting is a problem everywhere.

9.23.2006

football saturday

So I'm watching Notre Dame play for the first time this season (watching for the first time, not that they're playing for the first time), and, wow, was Brady Quinn overrated. By everyone, including me. What happened?

i-yi-yi-yi-yi!

This is not something you should check out at work. Unless you work in a Finnish recording studio, in which case, by all means, go ahead.

pray for your enemies

Has bin Laden been dead for a month? Was the White House saving that information for October to give Republicans a boost in the mid-term elections?

Nobody knows. But if he really did die of typhoid, I'm not sure that's good for electoral prospects. Think about it: we send troops to fight a war, spend five years fighting, never find him, and he dies from a common third-world disease. It's pretty hard to spin that as a victory. Not that they won't try if all this speculation turns out to be true.

9.22.2006

talk about single-issue obsession

So our topic in class this week was American political culture - baseball, apple pie, democracy, hard work, liberty, support for the military- you know, the stuff we all believe in. To get my students to think about how ideas about America's core values play out in politics today, I had them watch a series of campaign ads and identify appeals to those core values in the commercials. It was a good little exercise - kept them awake, gave them something to laugh at, and let me mock both the NRSC and the DSCC.

The point of this is not to share my brilliant pedagogical technique, but instead to share a doozie of a political ad I found while trying to find good examples for my students. And, wow, is this an ad - illegal immigrants taking your job, letting in child molesters, and support for illegal alien flag burners versus the veteran who'll reward your hard work. Setting aside the fact that it's pretty hard to support flag burning by illegal aliens in the legislative record, and the fact that Robinson/Robinson's campaign has insinuated that his opponent is gay since he's childless (due to his wife's inability to have children), you know, I'm sure he's a decent guy. And we wonder why people don't vote.

(And no, I didn't show this one to the class. I don't want to get fired. But I am seriously tempted to show Robinson's other ad. WOW!)

this will be my only comment on this particular incident

I love Slate's Explainer. Only they would cover Chavez's, um, namecalling of President Bush by explaining what hell smells like.

9.21.2006

3 weeks!

Here's a link to the trailer for Sunken Treasure.

sunshine almost always makes me high

I did a little barefoot hiking in May while rafting the Nile - we stopped at an island for lunch, had to walk the raft around an unnavigable Class VI, and hiked up a cliff at the end. It hurt. A lot. Rocks and sticks do not feel good when your delicate feet aren't used to it. And you feel every single pebble.

But I have to admit, it felt kindof cool to feel the mud between my toes, and to accept that there was nothing I could do about it - I had to stop worrying about diseases, or tiny creatures that crawl under your skin and lay eggs there (Bilharzia? Oh, it happens in Africa ALL THE TIME if you're not careful. Ewwwww.). But if you're thirty kilometers down a raging river from your shoes, you stop worrying about it and start realizing how much of nature we miss in our sanitized lives.

We're really good at protecting ourselves from discomfort in the west. We have air conditioning and solid roofing and pasteurized milk and e-coli-free spinach. These things aren't bad. But there's nothing like waking up to a breeze off the lake, or cool rain on your sunburned shoulders, or the taste of something that hasn't been processed or sprayed with chemicals or frozen for months on end. I got used to not having a lot of these things in Congo, and since I've been home, I've found that I'm less worried about them. Air conditioning makes me cold most of the time, and while I wouldn't trade in the roof over my head, sometimes it's nice to take a walk in the rain.

Maybe the barefoot hikers are onto something. They're pondering a very basic question, after all: with all our conveniences and all the things that keep us safe from the world around us, what are we missing out on?

don't mess with texas

Amen and amen and amen.

the other night in live music: crazytown

I was on a kind of live music bender for most of last week. Six nights, to be exact. Six consecutive nights of live music, three of which were free and three of which were the festival. What's clear tonight is that I am entirely too old for this. Even SXSW is only five nights, and you get to sleep in for that.

But, whatever. The chance to see Cat Power & the Memphis Rhythm Band tape an episode of Austin City Limits on Monday night outweighed my concerns about catching up on sleep/cleaning up the house/enjoying silence in my own home.

And what a show it was. Chan Marshall (who is Cat Power), you see, has a bit of a, um, reputation. She leaves shows mid-set, has nervous breakdowns on stage, and had some substance abuse problems, to put it mildly. The guy in front of us in line went to her show in Los Angeles last year, during which she played six songs, then climbed into the rafters, sang three songs with Jack Black, yelled, "I dropped my vodka," and left. The guy in front of us in line said, "I wanted my $47 back."

All this is funny, but it's also very sad, because Chan Marshall is an amazingly talented musician.

But things are changing, maybe for the better. Marshall has sobered up and she held it together for her ACL festival set on Friday.

Monday night started well. She is backed on this album and tour by The Memphis Rhythm Band, which includes Teeny Hodges, who's part of Al Green's band. The band is amazing, and it was so cool to see them in a tiny setting like the ACL studio (which holds about 300 people). They rocked out, and, more importantly, kept Cat Power going, even as she talked about the voices in her head (she was serious) and danced to beats the rest of us weren't hearing.

Then the band left so she could tape a few solo songs. She talked with the audience for awhile and then launched into the most beautiful version of "House of the Rising Sun" I've ever heard. But she couldn't get through it. She tried and tried and tried and kept getting through two or three verses and stopping. Her manager came up and had her sit down and she tried again and got a little farther, then gave up and moved on to something else.

It was so sad. I was sad that all of you wouldn't get to hear that song, because it was beautiful, transcendent, not entirely of this world. But she finished the solo songs and gave it another try and got the whole thing laid down, and, wow. If they don't air it on the show, it will be a huge error in judgment.

All in all it was a beautiful way to end a week of music. Cat Power was great and just crazy enough to make it interesting, and her band was amazing. I need a nap.

election 2006

This is interesting, but it's not a sign that the Democrats will take the house this fall. It might be a sign that incumbent D's face as many risks as incumbent R's in swing districts who've been loyal to the White House. From where I'm sitting (in the basement of a political science building), it doesn't look like much will change.

9.20.2006

i am too old for myspace

This is a gorgeous, heartbreaking song a guy I went to high school with wrote. (It would be more accurate to say that Laura and I purchased him in the slave auction at band camp, but that's another post.) I ran into him in 12 South in Nashville last year in a music store but otherwise haven't talked since high school. If the rest of his stuff is as good as this, he's got a good shot.

You really should give this track, "Carol," a listen - if you go to his MySpace, it starts playing automatically.

Speaking of high school people, Rodrocker moved to Portland and is putting out some interesting stuff. (And clearly he's still the same as he was in high school, because he named his bluegrass-roots band after an INXS album.) Who knew we had all these old friends with music careers?

a rose by any other name

Well. Well. Well. I guess it's a free country, and you can change your name, and your kid's name, to whatever you want. Although if you're going to change one of your children's middle names to Pro-Life, why wouldn't you change the middle names of the other fourteen?

Electoral issues aside (It might be a tiny problem that this guy doesn't support the rule of constitutional law, but maybe I'm being picky about details), I don't have a problem with him legally changing his name to reflect his, um, beliefs. It reminds me of Byron (Low-Tax) Looper, a Tennessee politician who legally changed his middle name to (Low-Tax) (parentheses and all) a few years back. Unfortunately, Mr. Looper had some legal issues relating to his time as Putnam County Tax Assessor, but that turned out to be small change compared to his subsequent conviction for the murder of his opponent in a state Senate race.

It gets better. Since the Democratic candidate for the seat was dead, (Low-Tax) ended up being the only name on the ballot, due to some technicalities in the Tennessee electoral code. A write-in candidate managed to get organized enough to win.

Anyway, despite the fact that Mr. Pro-Life says that Idaho should "ignore federal court decisions," I'm sure he's not as out there as (Low-Tax) Looper. And if you need a gimmicky name-change, your campaign's probably already in so much trouble that we don't have to worry about the fate of the republic.

well, that's true

Oh, wow, last night on the Daily Show, they did a ten-year anniversary salute to Even Stevphen! I had totally forgotten about the feature in which Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell would debate issues - often by just yelling "Yeeeesssss!" and "Noooooo!" at one another. Oh, memories!

9.19.2006

a few acl pics

Jay Farrar. He smiled at the end. He did. We had two witnesses.
This is Sylvia St. James in the gospel tent. I don't know what else to say.
The incredible Explosions in the Sky
Joey Burns of Calexico. Okay, so he's got the George McFly hair going for the moment. Whatever. He's still the coolest.

congo watch: barricades & fire

Things in Kinshasa are not good. Really not good. The checkpoints sound eerily like the days when what amounted to a pogrom was conducted against Tutsis in the east. There were checkpoints set up all over Kinshasa to find Tutsis there - some of whom were soldiers who helped him get into power in the first place. My friend E nearly got killed at one of these checkpoints, and she's not even Tutsi.

Oh, DRC is so close to being able to do something about its many problems. But my hopes are not high that we will make it through the run-off period without seeing more violent. My hopes are even less that the post-election period will be smooth. It's a power struggle, one in which no one is strong enough to win. The people like you and me who get caught in the middle will suffer the most. Again.

red fish, blue fish

I'm speaking about Congo to a pretty conservative group of Christian grad students this Friday. Last year at one of the meetings, a new student, actually an undergrad, I think, started making jokes about how "liberals" think this and that. His clear meaning was that "liberal" is the opposite of Christian, a common view in very conservative evangelical circles.

I hate that. I hate the labeling of people created in God's image as the "other." I hate the use of a word that is so political to describe someone who disagrees with you in deragatory terms. And, while I didn't say so in those words, another grad and I told the student that he shouldn't assume that everyone in the group shares his political views. (This despite the fact that most people in that group probably do.)

Anyway, I say all this to preface how shocked I was when I read this. To read a very conservative pastor talk about the term "liberal" as one that is demonizing, and, in many ways, unbiblical, is not just refreshing - it's more like stunning. To hear him say that some fundamentalists worship the Bible rather than the God of the Bible is amazing - moderates in the SBC pointed that out 20 years ago. Very interesting.

qotd

"The majestic equality of the law, which forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread." - Anatole France

I'm trying to teach my students about the importance of the rule of law, how that's what makes the United States unique, how that's the basis of the stability and freedom we enjoy every day. Sometimes when I see the rich running our government and trying to get away with violating the rule of law, it feels like an exercise in hypotheticals. But sometimes, Hamdan wins, generals speak out against torture, and the press starts doing its job. As Steve Not the Lawyer said Sunday, "I have more faith in the republic than the regime."

nothing but blue skies do I see

It is a gorgeous day at the University of Texas at Austin. I took this picture while walking to class. Hope it's this beautiful wherever you're sitting this afternoon.

last weekend in live music: ACL festival

Because I don't have time for anything approaching a real review, here's every band I saw at ACL, in five words or less:
  1. Asleep at the Wheel - Heard end. Missed it again.
  2. Paolo Nuni - "Crazy"? Why? Walk-by.
  3. The Dears - Sounded great in walk-by.
  4. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists - Not bad. Not my favorite.
  5. Guster - Mellow. Goofy.
  6. Stars - eh.
  7. Gnarls Barkley - Disappointing. Boring. Left early.
  8. Nickel Creek - Fun. Better than Gnarls.
  9. Cat Power & the Memphis Rhythm Band
  10. Jimmie Dale Gilmore - Beautiful. Played "Another Colorado."
  11. Oliver Mtukudzi & Black Spirits - Awesome. I miss Goma.
  12. Centro-Matic - Wow. Why at noon?
  13. Ghostland Observatory - Freak. Show. Oh. My.
  14. Eli Young Band - Took a nap.
  15. Joe McDermott & the Smart Little Creatures - Yes, the kiddie tent.
  16. The subsequent SURPRISE APPEARANCE in the kiddie tent by Matt Costa that caused all the hipsters to come flooding in, but I was there when it started - Pretty cool. Pretty darn cool.
  17. Nada Surf - Eh.
  18. Los Lobos - Okay. Not great.
  19. Calexico - Great. I (heart) Joey Burns.
  20. Guy Clark - Sad. He's old. "Dublin Blues."
  21. What Made Milwaukee Famous - Overhyped. B & I checked football.
  22. Explosions in the Sky - Transcendent. Incredible. Perfect.
  23. Willie Nelson - Okay. Bad sound.
  24. Anathallo - Pretty good on walk-by.
  25. Rocky Votalato - Rain. Beautiful in the rain.
  26. Robyn Ludwick - Great, unique voice. Robison sister.
  27. Sam Roberts - Fine. Nothing special.
  28. Sylvia St. James & the Gospel All-Stars - That dress.
  29. Jack Ingram - As bad as expected. Ugh.
  30. Matisyahu - Still bizarre.
  31. Son Volt - Great show. New songs!
  32. The Greencards - Beautiful set. Other sets loud.
  33. The New Orleans Social Club - Fantastic. So glad we went.
  34. G. Love & Special Sauce - Fun. Late.
  35. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers - Steve Not the Lawyer. Rain.

Overall it was a good ACL. Not as hot as last year, and the water-the-grass thing worked to keep the dust down, as long as you weren't at the BMI stage. I am so sick of the security contractor's constantly changing rules and nonsense, but what are you going to do? As for the music, I wasn't impressed with the lineup when it came out, and I wasn't impressed with it in reality, either. There were two and three-hour blocks of time when there was no one I cared about seeing, then there'd be six bands I love playing within two hours of one another. Not cool. But I saw some great music and had fun hanging out with friends. And so it goes.

disgusting

Torture is wrong. I know there are arguments that we have to extract information that could save other lives. These are bad arguments, because a person who's being tortured will confess to things he has not done, or provide knowledge of events and plans that she does not have - just to make the pain stop.

What's more important with this issue is that when we use torture against our enemies, we lose the moral high ground. When we do something dehumanizing to another person, we forget that they are sinful people created in God's image just like us. When we torture innocent people, we've crossed a line. And it's really hard to come back. Torture is wrong.

9.18.2006

i tell you it's the wide open spaces

I went to Ann Richards' memorial service this morning. It was a spectacle - almost 4,000 people, lots of celebrities (political and otherwise), that kind of thing. I'd never been to a political funeral before. Apparently the normal rules (don't applaud, don't show up wearing fishnets and/or a sequened turquoise jacket, don't walk out after the headline eulogizer, stand up and be quiet until the family exits) don't apply, especially when Hillary Clinton is giving a campaign speech - I mean, eulogy. And why the President (who claims Texas through and through even though he wasn't born here) couldn't be bothered to come to his home state for an important funeral is beyond me. Everybody else - from Lady Bird Johnson on down - was there, including loyal Republicans Kay Bailey Hutchison and the Governor.

The service was full of music, laughter, and tears. Lyle Lovett, Willie Nelson, and Nora Jones were playing before the UT Faculty Brass Quintet started the pre-service music. And I suppose if the best you can do for live music is to get Jessye Norman to sing "Ave Maria," well, we have to take what we can get. Wow, was it beautiful, as was the Wesley United Methodist Church Intergenerational Choir. Ron Kirk and Henry Cisneros gave standard eulogies, Liz Smith told hilarious stories, and Hillary talked a lot about continuing Ann's legacy. (She also said that Ann told her that, in regards to her hair, "You have to make a decision." She also said, with respect to her role organizing Texas for the McGovern campaign in 1972, "What happens in Austin stays in Austin.") They showed a film of snapshots (to the sounds of Willie's "Don't Fence Me In," Jerry Jeff Walker's "What I Like About Texas," and "Love Lift Us Up" (Hey, 2 out of 3 ain't bad). The images of the thousands of ordinary Texans who marched up Congress Avenue to the capitol on her inauguration day were especially powerful - she opened our state government to everyone - and those thousands of ordinary Texans showed up to remember her this morning. Here is the service if you want to watch it.

But for me, the best part of the service was the speech by her granddaughter Lily Adams. Lily's picture with her grandmother when the former was a little girl is famous in Texas, and Richards often talked about Lily as representing her hopes for the future. A giant banner of that photo hung to the right of the stage today. But Lily said it all: "To you she was the governor. Or Ann. To us, she was Mamie." Her speech was simple, direct, and full of sadness and love. She closed by saying, "She was fond of telling people she had eight nearly perfect grandchildren. I'm here to say we had a nearly perfect grandmother."

I saw Ann Richards in person only once in real life, at South by Southwest, at the screening of The Boys of Baraka. She slipped in late, sat down directly behind me, two rows up, and just smiled when everyone (and I mean everyone) turned around to gape. She wanted to watch the movie, and maybe she wanted us to watch the movie, too. It's a story of hope for the hopeless, and opportunity for children who don't get opportunities. And that was what Ann Richards was ultimately about, as everyone from a United States Senator to a nineteen-year-old grandchild said today. May we remember that legacy and carry that work forward.

remembering ann

"While campaigning for governor, [Richards] was asked if she supported or opposed the death penalty. She said, 'I will uphold the laws of the State of Texas.' The reporter then asked, 'But what would you do if the Legislature passed a bill repealing the death penalty?' to which she replied, 'I would faint.'"

huh

We're on the front page of the Daily Texan. Well, not "we" - I was to Lara's right in this picture, but still. Those are my weekend houseguests. How crazy.

post-acl pick-me-up

Today is Dining for Life, a benefit for AIDS Services of Austin. The way it works is, you go out to eat at one of the fabulous participating restaurants in town, and they donate 15% of today's proceeds to Dining for Life. Some of my favorite restaurants in town (Maudie's, Guero's, El Chile, Thai Passion) are participating. There are also a few restaurants doing this tomorrow - including the Attorney's favorite Enchiladas y Mas (although yesterday we saw enough Y Mas to get us through the year, thanks very much). If you live in Austin It's a great way to help out a great cause.

sad day

I can't think of any better ways to remember Ann Richards on the day of her funeral. Enjoy:

9.15.2006

acl day one


Yeah, this daily blogging ACL thing isn't really going to work. Brief highlights from today:
  • I saw/heard sets and partial sets from about 12 artists. It was hotter than blazes. I maintain that they need to move this thing back to October. For the love of all that is right and good and mindful of people who burn-don't-tan.
  • Gnarls Barkley was a disappointment. Despite coming out and announcing that they were "John Nash and the Beautiful Minds" (which quickly separated the grain of the game-theory and/or film nerds from the chaff of people who have better things to do (put another way, I knew where my colleages and the two econ grad students were), the rest of the set was bo-ring. My sister left before it was 10 minutes in, and the Librarian and I left to catch the second half of Nickel Creek's set, which was fun, in a Nickel Creek kind of way. They played covers of Britney Spears' "Toxic," The Band's "The Weight," and another song I'm forgetting right now, which leads me to believe that Nickel Creek has decided to just be a cover band from now until they break up next year.
  • Guster was mellow and fairly cool. They didn't play "Jesus on the Radio," but you can't always get what you want.
  • Cat Power is some kind of crazy. But The Memphis Rhythm Band (which is Al Green's band) is awesome, and the set together with Cat was fantastic. I can't wait to see them at their ACL taping on Monday night.
  • Hands down my two favorite shows of the day: 1. Jimmie Dale Gilmore, as the sun was finally sinking in the western sky. He played "Another Colorado," a song I love, and closed with "Peace in the Valley," for Ann Richards.
  • 2. Oliver Mtukudzi and Black Spirits, at sunset under the tent. This show rocked. Mtukudzi is a huge star in Zimbabwe and the band played a solid hour of African dance music. The crowd was completely into it - the ex-Roommate and I danced until we were completely exhausted, and then hung out to enjoy the rest of the show. It made me really miss Goma and the nights we'd go dancing until all hours of the morning. Perfection.
  • The Texas in Africa ACL Fashion Spectacular (co-presented by The Librarian) is going to be Something. Else. And this was only Day 1.

woo-hoo

Yay, Suzii!!!

the last word

Molly Ivins' on Ann Richards. Wow.

the last two nights in live music

ACL is just a few hours away and I'm already behind on blogging. Quick notes on the weekend's kickoff shows:
  • Calexico's taping of Austin City Limits was amazing. We had no problem getting inside. Their set started off with just Joey and John playing "Convict Pool," and moved through a good mix of old and new stuff. Highlights included "Quattro (World Drifts In)," which had the whole crowd rocking out, the transcendent "All Systems Red," and Salvador Duran and Iron & Wine's appearance for "In the Reins" and a couple of other songs. I especially enjoyed getting to hear the Calexico/Iron & Wine collaboration on Lou Reed's "All Tomorrow's Parties." It was probably the best show I'll see this weekend. Episode airs November 11.
  • Last night at Trophy's (a place that's so much of a dive they have a dog), That's Mister to You show was fun. Their sound has matured a lot in the two years since I last saw them play. That, or Morgan's shiny new guitar made all the difference.

And now, the festival! This year's lineup is not as good as previous years, but that also means it's less stressful in terms of feeling like you need to hear everything. Shows I am looking forward to: Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, Okkervil River, Centro-Matic, Ghostland Observatory, Calexico, What Made Milwaukee Famous, Explosions in the Sky (!!!), and Rocky Votalato. I'm also hoping to discover some new bands, and check out a few that have been getting buzz. If you're in town for the festival, definitely see What Made Milwaukee Famous; they're about to hit it big.

I'll try to blog daily reports on the shows, but don't count on it. ACL is an exhausting, fun weekend, so we usually just crash at the end of the day. Also, exciting and new on the blog this year, The Librarian and I will be sharing our catty fashion commentary. We already saw what's likely to be a contender for Most Poor Fashion Choice of the Year on Wednesday at KLRU - a woman was wearing an outfit that managed to be simultaneously crocheted and tie-dyed. Did I mention that it was pink and brown? It was sum-thin'.

9.14.2006

motorcycle mama

Check out Texas Monthly today. The lead article features discussion of Ann Richards' hair. The Doctor's sister did her hair for many years, so we laughed about it a lot. She was Texas through and through.

congo watch

Oh, goodness.

qotd 2

"Naturally, I want it to be easier for women to get involved in politics. I want them to think of politics and public service as a good place for them, as something honorable and something worthwhile for them to pursue. And the way they are going to do that is to say, 'If she can do it, I can do it.' " - Ann Richards

so wonderful so great

Beautiful tributes to two Ann's today. As the CPP said, "If Ann Miller was the best of Baylor, then Ann Richards was the best of Texas."

qotd

"I have always had the feeling I could do anything and my dad told me I could. I was in college before I found out he might be wrong."

Rest in peace, Ann Richards.

9.13.2006

more on ann richards

Wayne Slater and Molly Ivins are the only people in Texas who are really qualified to eulogize Ann Richards. Slater's piece is here. I haven't seen Ivins' yet, but it will be in the next Observer.

And, in typical Ann Richards fashion, the press release calls her "one of the most important women in American history." Nothing like a little Texas pride.

grace and peace

Ann Richards passed away this evening. She was a role model and a hero for thousands of smart Texas girls. She fought for what she believed in and kept working for Texas after leaving office. She was also a role model for Baylor alumnae - like herself - who wanted more from life than what Texas expects from Baylor girls.

She was also a quintessential Texas woman in that she said what she thought - usually in hilarious fashion. Concerning our current president's father, she once said, "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." Jokes aside, she sometimes spoke profoundly:

"They blame the low income women for ruining the country because they are staying home with their children and not going out to work. They blame the middle income women for ruining the country because they go out to work and do not stay home to take care of their children."

My sister got to meet Ann Richards and get a picture made a couple of years ago. I'll be forever jealous of that snapshot, grateful that Texas got to have a governor like Ann, and so, so sorry, because we will not see the likes of her again.

where's my wand?

My house is not magically unpacking boxes, clearing out piles of bubble wrap, and cleaning itself up before a whole mess of ACL guests show up to stay with me for four nights. I don't understand! Maybe Joey Burns will send good vibes my way and it will all be clean when I get home tonight...

qotd

"The whole screening process is a facade to make the public feel safe, to show that the government is doing something." - Gary Boettcher, Coalition for Airline Pilots Association

This quote comes from an interesting article in today's Post about how people are flouting, intentionally and unintentionally, the current ban on liquid and gel substances in the airline cabin. I've always felt that most of the security measures enacted since 9/11 are cosmetic in nature and do very little to make us any safer. It would be much more effective for our government to invest the resources they spend on throwing away tubes of lip gloss on effective counterterrorism measures, like training analysts and developing other human intelligence capabilities. You'll note that the August plot to blow up planes over the Atlantic wasn't stopped because of what happened at the airport x-ray machines - it was stopped because British authorities had good intelligence and were able to track the suspects for months to establish a case against them.

Besides, if you're going to allow people to carry on liquid medicines, baby formula, and juice and gels necessary to treat low blood sugar, what's the point? A terrorist could easily disguise explosives as one of those substances. Then we're back to square one. Providing our intelligence services with the resources they need to figure out who the terrorists are and what they're trying to do will be a lot more effective in the long run than playing cat-and-mouse at the x-ray machines.

This article, though, is very interesting on another level: that of the limits of the rule of law. In Congo, many people only follow laws when there's some kind of enforcement capability, which isn't there very often, especially in rural areas. It has been amazing to me how quickly I adjusted to that system of just doing what you want, what's most convenient for you. And even though I know that the lack of rule of law is one of Congo's biggest problems, I had a hard time adjusting to following rules when I got back this summer. Not on major things - of course I pay my taxes and of course I don't rob banks - but on little things like crossing the street at a crosswalk, when the light says I can cross. Choosing to abide by the law isn't always convenient, but it's the price we pay to have an orderly society in which the police come when you dial 911 and the lights come on when you flip the switch.

In Italy a few years back, someone told me that Italy's parliament often passes laws establishing new taxes, but that people wait to see if their neighbors will pay the tax. If most people don't pay the tax (presumably because they think the tax is too high or that a particular good or service shouldn't be taxed), the government ends up repealing that tax.

This is about consent of the governed at its most basic level. Agreement that everyone has to follow the rules is the basis of an orderly society in the republican (small "r") tradition. But what happens when a lot of people see a rule as being unreasonable, or beneath them and their $300 Chanel face cream? Exactly what we're seeing in this article. Bad rules don't have legitimacy, and they are extraordinarily difficult to enforce when the population doesn't want them to be enforced.

I've flown twice since August 10 and have followed the restrictions, even though I think they're ridiculous. But I wonder how long they'll last given that people clearly know how to sneak stuff on. I wonder if this will stop being a game and start being something people complain to their elected officials about, or if we'll accept yet another cosmetic "fix" in the name of security. I wonder...

you'll always hit the ground running

And what, you might ask, is that? What will Texas in Africa be doing to kick off a very long weekend of musical happiness? That, kids, is one of two tickets to Calexico's Austin City Limits taping. Oh, yeah! More precisely, it's one of two tickets that give us the right to stand in line in hopes of getting inside. But for free Calexico, three hours in line and a little luck is a small price to pay.

9.12.2006

but will it slow down bomar?

The new clock rules hurt everybody. They stink and should be changed. Period.

But I bet this will eventually show up on www.firemackbrownand/orgregdavis.com as evidence that Mack is a whiner/can't beat OU every year under every possible scenario. You just watch.

i promise i only have three guilty pleasures

Loralei, nooooooo!!!!!!!!

sanity - ooh, there it goes!

My life lately has been kindof a mess. I am working really long days, scrambling to get everything done and be in the right place at the right time, and then coming home to a house full of boxes. Add to that the facts that 1) I have 3 houseguests this weekend, 2) the post office is refusing to deliver mail to my new address, and 3) I've just been told I owe Austin a water bill for August (which is really an accomplishment given that I didn't live here then), 4) there are currently 1,647 emails in my inbox and I am three weeks behind on answering the ones that aren't of an immediate nature, 5) I've been a little sick lately, 6) the Advisor is Not Happy, 7) I should have written two columns a week ago, and, well, I'm having a hard time believing that I've only been home for two weeks. Ugh.

But. ACL is three days away. I just got news that we have an AWESOME (and free!) parking space for the festival. It's only going to feel like 97 out there on Saturday. It'll be okay.

a new low

It sure sounds like we're torturing people. This is appalling. Look how defensive the president is.

you say potato...

Steve the Lawyer's friend just published a guide to Austin restaurants. If they really didn't like Guero's, we here at Texas in Africa may have some issues with their, ahem, taste.

(Knowing that said publisher isn't from around here and just moved down for a few months to eat at all our restaurants before retreating might have something to do with our opinion as well. I'm just sayin'.)

Update: So literally while I was typing this post, I got an invitation to the book release party on Thursday. If anyone wants to go instead, give me a ring.

baraka means blessing

Tonight on PBS, The Boys of Baraka airs as part of the POV series. I saw Baraka at SXSW last year. It is a fantastic film about a group of boys who are taken out of Baltimore's inner city to attend a boarding school in Kenya. The film also happens to feature my friend Keith, who taught at the school. When the boys climb Mt. Kenya, you'll hear Keith encouraging them to make it to the top.

It's a great film and I highly recommend it. Unfortunately, KLRU in Austin has chosen not to show the documentary tonight. It will be on KLRU 2 in the middle of the night later this week. Those of you who live elsewhere will be lucky enough to have the chance to see it tonight.

let it fall down

Well. Leave it to Baylor to release a major study about church attendance on 9/11. I didn't want to blog about anything else yesterday, so I didn't mention their findings that the "nones" - the people who are religiously unaffiliated - have been miscounted in the last fifteen years, and that actually there are about 10 million Americans who've been misidentified as uninvolved in religion.

Okay. So once again we see that polling is tricky and that the way you ask a question matters. And I doubt this will make much difference to the legions of churches who are obsessed with the "nones." What church leaders of a certain age do not understand is that denominational identity just isn't important to their children and grandchildren. It's unlikely that will change. What my friends who care about faith at all are looking for are churches that are authentic (meaning, first and foremost, not obsessed with marketing and pretty buildings), grounded both in tradition and in modern reality, and are seriously concerned with social justice. Does that sound like your church?

democracy in action

Well. It's always a positive development in your post-election, theoretically-not-at-war-anymore transitional authority decides that perhaps the competing troops loyal to different presidential candidates should go back to their barracks for the duration. Especially when your national army is theoretically composed of troops from all of the old rebel armies.

The odds that "democracy" is going to work so easily in Congo are pretty slim, I'm afraid.

9.11.2006

baby watch #11

I completely failed to blog about the arrival of Chase a couple of weeks ago. Welcome to the world, sweet baby boy!

qotd

"About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

"In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on."

W. H. Auden, "Musee des Beaux Arts"

then I feel you coming, but I don't know how, september

The Philosopher called the other night. We hadn't talked in ages, more than a year at least. He went to Korea and finished his master's and I've been to the Congo and he's moved back east and so it was a long conversation.

The Philosopher is one of my friends from college. We're friends not because we moved in the same circles for most of our college years, but because we had Ann Miller's class together one year and then ended up with adjacent study carrels a year later while working on our respective theses. Then I moved to Connecticut and a year later he moved to New Jersey and so we were relatively close by, for two Southerners trying to survive the cold winters.

We talked about all that's happened, and how things look on the other side of the world, how much we love teaching our own classes for the first time, how much longer we'll each be in graduate school, about the inappropriately young date one of our old professors brought to the funeral, and how neither of us ever thought we'd miss living on the east coast.

And somehow through all those memories, today came up. Today being 9/11, of course. It has been five years. Sometimes it seems like just a few months ago.

My 9/11/01 started really early. It was the day of the Democratic primaries in Connecticut, which is essentially the election for most offices, including mayor of New Haven, which was the contentious race that day. Someone had dared to challenge the Democratic party machine in the city, and the factions were fighting and tense. Someone decided this would be a good opportunity for graduate students who were likely to one day be observers in much more contentious elections overseas, so there we were, out at a precinct on the east side before 7am. And there are funny stories about what happened that morning, but it's inappropriate to tell them, and besides, the thing I remember, and the thing everyone seems to remember, is that it was an absolutely gorgeous day. The sky was so blue, the chill of fall was coming in, and the leaves would be changing soon. It was gorgeous, but I had to leave to TA the 9:30 African politics class.

We came out of that class and the world had changed. A tv was in the lounge outside the classroom, and most of my colleagues were standing there, staring in disbelief. Someone had told me that a plane had hit the trade center; I assumed it was a Cessna until my friend Jean-Paul said, "Do you know what the World Trade Center is?" (That sounds really arrogant, but it wasn't. Jean-Paul's a New Yorker who may have thought that I was the epitome of Southern ignorance about the ways of the world. He's a good guy and was concerned that I'd understand.), and I said, "Yes," and he said, "Half of it is gone."

And then we watched the other tower fall.

Words cannot describe the feeling, the mood on the Yale campus at that moment. People were in hysterics. I think people all over America, all over the world, were totally shocked by what happened, but where we were, people didn't just recognize the World Trade Center as an icon or a tourist destination - it was where their parents, siblings, and friends worked. When we heard about the Pentagon later that day or later that week, I don't really remember, my advisor made a comment about my thesis. "You should interview so-and-so," he said, then added, "If she's still alive."

People were screaming and crying and fainting and living exactly as you would if you were among those who had no hope. I did what I could to help; Malie and I took our friend A downstairs, away from the television, to try to calm her down and get some information, which we did, from a New Zealand website. That was Malie's idea: "It's the middle of the night there. Their site won't be overloaded." And then I had to leave. It was just too awful. I told my Swahili teacher I couldn't stay, he had no choice but to agree, and I left for home, ran into Adrian, a friend from Baylor, on the way, picked him up and told him what was going on while I drove him to the lab, got home, and started trying to call my family to tell them I was safe, to tell them I hadn't gone into the city for the day, to tell them that if another plane went down in Boston or anywhere else near my apartment, that I was driving home.

I couldn't call. I dialed and dialed and dialed and dialed for two and a half hours and I couldn't get through. All of our phone lines went through New York. A lot of them went to the top of the World Trade Center. Finally, finally AT&T started routing calls through Canada and I got through to my sister's answering machine and a little bit later I talked to my mom, finally. Finally.

And then I had to go to class.

It is one of the great coincidences of my life that in the one semester in which the United States experienced one of its greatest security crises in forty years, I happened to be enrolled in the courses of two of the most influential scholars of grand strategy in America. At 2 that afternoon, I sat down in a small seminar room on Hillhouse Avenue with fourteen colleagues and friends for John Lewis Gaddis's graduate Cold War seminar. "This is no time to have class," he said, and sent us on our way, so three friends and I decided we'd better go give blood. They'd been lining up stretchers outside Yale-New Haven Hospital all morning and the news said that casualties would be brought this far up the shoreline, so we figured they'd really need as much blood as they could get. We finally found a Red Cross drive in Branford and waited in line for three hours and chatted with people in line about what we'd learned about international relations and war and terrorism and survival rates of major disasters. None of it made us hopeful.

By the time we headed home, it was rush hour. Or it should've been rush hour. One of my most important rules in New Haven was never, ever, ever get on I-95 between 3-7pm. The traffic on 95 would often back up all the way to the Bronx, and it was always bad. Every day, and also on summer and winter weekends when people would head to their houses on the Cape or to the ski slopes in Vermont.

On 9/11, I-95 was empty. The electronic traffic signs that would normally be alerting us about an accident in Stanford or a lane closure in Greenwich all flashed the same message, over and over again: "NYC: All bridges and tunnels closed. Avoid area."

I don't know why, and after five years, I still haven't figured out why that was the thing that made it real for me. Something as ordinary, as mundane, as downright annoying as traffic? Of all the horrible things I had seen and heard that day, from emails from my church listing who was missing (Everyone, thank goodness, eventually turned up, including one of our members who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, a firm that lost almost all of its employees when the collapse happened. The town was not so lucky. 46 of its citizens lost their lives that day.) to friends collapsing in hysterics because they had no idea whether their parents were alive, why was it the total lack of traffic that got me?

I think it was precisely because of its ordinariness. No matter what happens in the world, or in your private life, some things are always there. To see that there wasn't any traffic was tangible evidence that nothing about that day was normal. It was awful.

And then we had to go to class again. That evening, we had class with a very eminent scholar of diplomatic history. He liked to hold his graduate seminar at his home, because that way he had easy access to his private, third-floor library of international history. But on 9/11, we didn't go to the library. He seated us in his living room, passed around a bottle of scotch, and told us that he'd been predicting this would happen for ten years. Apparently, the world media believed it, because he never really got class going due to all the phone calls from news outlets in Hong Kong and Edinburgh and who knows where else. We watched our Congressmen and Senators sing "God Bless America" from the steps of the capitol and went home.

Except I didn't go home. My best friends Allison and Lindsey wanted to be together that night, and goodness knows I didn't want to go sit in an empty apartment. We just sat there in stunned surprise and grief and gratefulness that none of us had gone into the city for the day. The next morning, our local news got really grim. See, we had 2 of every network channel: one from Hartford and one from Manhattan. Every station was playing nothing but news by then, but the New York stations switched off the national programming. Instead, they ran picture after picture of missing people, along with the home phone numbers of their families. Here is someone's sister, someone's fiance, someone's son. It also meant that New Yorkers, privacy-obsessed New Yorkers, were giving out their personal contact information on television. It was heartbreaking, and terrifying, and all too real.

And nothing was the same. It was surreal. Being at Yale that year was a fascinating experience. The university celebrated its Tercentennial a few weeks later, and Bill Clinton came to campus. A group of Sierra Leonian law students came to learn about running legal clinics as soon as flights resumed, so one of them was sleeping on my sofa and reminding me that other places have experienced tragedies far worse than ours. I wrote an op-ed piece for the Yale Daily News, the first essay I ever wrote for publication (for some reason, it's no longer available online. This is probably a good thing.). A week later, Professor Gaddis brought former Senator Gary Hart to class. Hart co-chaired the Hart-Rudman commission that had predicted the possibility of a major terrorist attack on American soil. That year, I would hear Salman Rushdie and John Negroponte and Donald Kagan and Stanley Fish and many other experts and writers speak on what had happened, what it meant, and where we'd go from here. (Scott and I and the director of the speaker series and somebody else I can't remember had Thai for dinner with Fish after his talk. He talked about literary theory and terrorism in the speech and John Wayne westerns at dinner. The whole year was surreal.) In November, Charlie Hill passed out an article about the Bush Administration filling up the Strategic Petroleum Reserves in the class I TA-ed for, and said, "This means they'll go to war in Iraq."

Nothing these brilliant people had to say was more important than the stories of those who died, though. The New York Times ran short pieces about every single person's life. The stories ran for weeks and weeks. They were about normal people, who lived and worked and loved and died. These obituaries-as-stories are better memorials than anything they'll build out of stone or glass.

A month after the attacks, the Philosopher took the train from Princeton and I took the train from New Haven, and we met at Grand Central Station. Here is something else that was surreal: Grand Central was almost empty. I'd never seen that before and don't expect I ever will again. But posted in the tunnels and halls were picture after picture after picture of people who were missing, who were obviously dead after that long, who would never see their families again. The silence and the pictures.

I was glad to see someone who'd known me before all this madness. There's something about old friends that makes all the difference, especially when you can't be near your family when something terrible happens. We decided to get it over with and go downtown first. On the way, we talked about his first month of seminary and my conversation with Ambassador Hill about maybe getting a PhD instead of being a Foreign Service officer and what was happening with our college friends. And suddenly we were there.

The thing about lower Manhattan in those first few weeks after is that it was nothing like what you saw on television. There was no memorial in October 2001. You couldn't get within ten blocks of the site, couldn't look at the pit, or lay flowers, or do any of the other things you can now do. You could go stand outside Trinity Church, but you couldn't go inside unless you were involved in the clean-up. You could stand and stare at all the pictures slipped in the fence and at banners from community groups all over America.

And you could look at the dust. The dust from the towers was everywhere - on the sidewalks, on the walls, on the street. You stepped in it and around it and probably breathed it in and tried your best to not think about what it was. Dust. It was so quiet.

Silence. Pictures. Dust. We didn't want to get back on the subway there, so we just walked. I don't remember where we went - we had dinner in Little Italy and caught trains back to our idyllic campuses and I haven't been back to lower Manhattan since. And I don't really care about seeing a memorial or going back to remember again, not at this point. A sunny day one October was enough.

A month after that, I was in Washington, doing interviews for my thesis and staying at Skip's parents' house in Arlington. We were hanging out one morning, the phone rang, and Skip, who'd answered, said, "Oh, my God, not again," hung up, and turned on CNN. A plane had crashed on takeoff at LaGuardia. It turned out to be mechanical problem. Skip had watched the Pentagon on 9/11 from an overlook down the street from his parents' house, and, since he worked for a Big Fancy News Organization, had seen more than enough footage of 9/11.

Washington was so strange that fall. Adrian and I had been there the weekend before 9/11 and the city was hot and fun and pretty much its usual self. After, though, security was high, and unpredictable. I'd had dinner that November weekend with Steve the Lawyer and The Diplomat, who pointed out the random searches of all delivery trucks on Connecticut Avenue, and we saw Richard Armitage at our favorite Virginia bbq joint, which now that I think about it was really strange given that it was ... after. Why would our government officials be eating dinner out like normal people? It was such a normal Washington thing, even after what happened.

After Skip and I figured out that our country was not under attack again, I left to go back to New Haven and drove by the Pentagon exactly at the moment that the local radio station played a song Alan Jackson had sung on some awards show a night or two before: "Where Were You When the World Stopped Turning?" It was yet another surreal moment in a surreal time.

A few days after that, I would tell my Sunday School class of kindergarten and first-graders that I was flying home for Thanksgiving. "You can't," said Kelsey. "Why not?" I asked. "It's not safe to get on a plane," she said with wide, brown, six-year-old eyes. Her daddy, it turned out, had been flying the day of the LaGuardia crash, and his flight had been delayed, and her mommy had to explain that sometimes planes crash, not because people are cruel, but because bad things sometimes just happen. Our pastor had preached a series of sermons that said all that could be said, but words couldn't calm a little girl's fears.

When I moved to Austin, I didn't really think about 9/11, or about how different the experience of that day was for people here as it was for those of us living on the east coast. On the one-year anniversary, I didn't have a church yet, so there was nowhere to go to mourn. I sat in my living room and cried for a little while that morning, then went to work. I was shocked to walk across the UT campus and see that no one seemed to really notice what day it was.

I have a really hard time listening to people talk about 9/11, especially people who weren't there. I can't watch movies about it - the Philosopher said he can't believe Oliver Stone even made a movie - and I can't stand to hear people talk about it. I don't like that politicians use the attacks to justify all kinds of policies. Hearing someone say, "Let's roll" makes me feel sick.

It's strange that I have these feelings. I wasn't in the city that day, but I lived very close by and people I cared about were missing and we could see the smoke. My experience was not direct - I did not have to walk home to Virginia like the Intrepid Lobbyist. I did not have to wonder if my husband was alive like a friend from camp did.

But that's how it is. The Sunday after the attacks, my pastor gave a sermon on five big questions. One of them was, "Where was God?" "Suffering with us," said Bob. Another was, "How will we ever get over this?" His answer was, we won't.

We won't. That's maybe, paradoxically, the most comforting thing anyone has said. Wars will be fought, memorials will be built, elections will be held, our civil liberties will be limited, and life will go on. It's gone on for five years. Millions more people have died all over the world, at the hands of terrorists, natural disasters, war, disease, povety, and old age. But this day changed me, changed all of us, profoundly. You don't just get over something like that.

9.10.2006

more football

The latest:
  • Colt McCoy has potential and will be fine. He just needs experience, and last night's experience will be useful in the long run.
  • The whole evening was designed to say, "We're better than you." Matthew McCounaghy nearly fell out the window of his box leading cheers, before he headed down to the sideline. He's back in his usual space, about three boxes away from our seats. Other people there: Emmitt Smith, Lebron James, Lance Armstrong, and Earl Campbell.
  • We only fell to #8 in the AP poll. This is very reasonable, right, and good, and when Notre Dame is exposed and West Virginia gets crushed by OSU in Glendale, we'll rethink the BCS and do nothing about it yet again.
  • I was part of the largest crowd ever to watch a football game at any level in Texas. That's pretty cool. We need more capacity in our stadium. The renovations aren't going to add enough seats.
  • At least we didn't need overtime to beat UTEP. Or let Washington score 20 points.
  • At least our students have some class. And/or an awareness of the danger of fire.

when the music had ended & the crowd dwindled down

Well, to quote Billy Joe Shaver, "It was fun while it lasted, but it didn't last long."

Sigh. Yesterday was really fun. I've been alternately looking forward to and dreading this day since about January 6, whenever it was that Vince said he'd be leaving us. The game day atmosphere was unbelivable - people had been tailgating since Tuesday and there were thousands and thousands of people out in the streets from about noon on.

We got our favorte parking spaces along San Jacinto around 8:30 in the morning and headed over to Game Day Live. It was, as ususal, a blast.

The best signs we saw:
  • "Tressel, sweater-vests went out of style with your defense."
  • "Tarell, say hello to Maurice for me."
  • And this one, which was really funny, even if it turned out, um, not to be accurate:

But the best part was that my signs were on tv, which I think technically means that I was on ESPN. Oh, yes it does!

Basically, it just turned out that we were standing in exactly the right place to be seen over Chris Fowler's shoulder. You could see it better when there weren't graphics over it.
Unfortunately that was the point when my camera battery ran out. Oops. Anyway, at the end of the show, right before the picks, they showed a shot of Fowler and we had this sign right over his shoulder. Allison saw it at home, so it really did make it on!!!!

Unfortunately, that turned out to be the highlight of the day. Well, that and the full day of tailgating and hanging out with friends. It was a such a fun atmostphere. We were in a garage on San Jacinto, at a perfect spot for people watching while P fired up the grill. We also had a very entertaining view of this unique product, which goes really fast.

As for the game, I don't want to talk about it. Sigh. The stadium atmosphere was so charged - more than the Cotton Bowl ever is. It was jam-packed half an hour before gametime, which never happens. Our seats are right at the north end zone and we thought the fumble call was a bad one, but they reviewed it and found otherwise. And it was clear by the half that OSU had the better team. We have a freshman quarterback who has lots of potential and who made some bad decisions.

The stadium was dead-silent by the time OSU scored its third touchdown. It was really different from the loss three years ago to Arkansas. Then, people were angry. This time, we were all just quiet, because we knew we'd been beaten by a better team. Although Austin Austin and I just about died laughing, when, not 2 minutes after the game was over, the guy behind us started ranting about how we need to fire Greg Davis. (And Mack Brown, too, right?) He and I walked back to the cars, talking about the game and how far we'll fall in the rankings (he thinks #12, I think #10).

It was such a depressing end to such a fun day. We hung out in the garage until about midnight, waiting for the traffic to clear, then made an appearance at my department's welcome back party. I asked if we'd really spent 16 hours at a football game, and P just said, "Yes." By the time I got in the car to head home, KVET was playing the saddest songs they could find ("Nobody in His Right Mind Would've Left Her" was the first one I heard. Seriously.) and the tower was dark.

That said, I really love football. I love to cheer for my team, but I also love to see really good football. We got to see an outstanding team play last night, and our guys got the challenge. Troy Smith threw a couple of beautiful passes, and our defense managed to stop Ted Ginn enough times to keep OSU from scoring 56 points. Our usual run of September games (Rice, Louisiana-Lafayette, UNT) is always so boring. Even Sam Houston State will only be marginally more interesting if Bomar gets cleared to play. The season is a lot more fun when we have a big home game to look forward to before playing Tech or the Aggies near the end of the season.

Problem is, there's no incentive whatsover to schedule big games like this, except for pure love of the game. I would love to see us play USC, Miami, or Notre Dame in home-home series in the future. That probably won't happen, but it would be fun, and it would settle a lot of nonsense about which conference is stronger before we all have to watch West Virginia play for the national championship.

At the end of the day, though, we lost. There's not much else to say.

9.08.2006

let's all quack together

This is probably only funny if you're obsessed with Project Runway. Guilty as charged.

best headline EVER

See, they really are that ill-mannered.

let's get it on

I've been to a lot of football games in my life. But the atmosphere around this game is like nothing else. It's not like OU weekend, because there isn't the visceral hatred of the other side, and I haven't seen any cussing grandmas ... yet. It's not like the Rose Bowl in January - no game is ever going to compare to that and no atmosphere will ever be as charged as it was in Pasadena on January 4.

But this weekend's OSU game is big. Huge. People have been tailgating since Wednesday. Game Day Live was setting up (at the other end) in Mike Meyers stadium this afternoon. Traffic around campus is already insane. There are people in red walking around our city like they have any business being here. I can't wait for tomorrow. And I hope the game lives up to the hype!

32 hours to go!

What would it mean to small-town Texas football if a kid from Tuscola pulls it off tomorrow?

congo update

The newly elected Congolese parliament does not have a party in the majority, which will either 1) force a coalition, or 2) lead to a collapse of the whole thing. If I were betting (which I would never do) about what will happen in the next year, I'd go with both. A lot of it will depend on who wins the presidential run-off next month.

9.07.2006

hope?

Okay, I'm watching SportsCenter (which I do after an eleven-hour workday, thank-you very much), and even Herbstreit says we can stop Ginn without Tarell Brown. I don't know whether to be pleased by his approval or frightened that he'll curse our chances. He didn't pick us for last year's OSU game, or for the Rose Bowl.

And of course not.

texas fight!

There are times I like what KBH has to say in spite of myself.

They all have to do with football.
This weekend is going to rock. Tailgates were already being set up at the corner of 15th and Trinity this afternoon, a full 52 hours before kickoff. We have a great sign for GameDay Live at dawn on Saturday. And Texas may have a cornerback issue, but at least our former players aren't in this much trouble.

two weeks too early

Former teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron is speaking at Southwestern Seminary chapel on September 20, undoubtedly about my favorite late-night-television-before-we-got-cable-distraction-which-also-airs-in-Kenya, The Way of the Master (the best quote from that show ever, from Kirk himself and not from the Australian evangelist: "People just don't believe they're going to burn in a pit of eternal fire." He seemed so shocked.).

Sigh. I want to feel guilty, but this is just so funny. Baylor chapel was never this interesting, with the exception of the best Noze prank ever, which happened after I left. (Did we know that the Nozes have Wiki-ed themselves?).

A road trip may be in order. If we wore a hat like Dorothy, we could probably sneak in. Then again, it's available as a live webcast. That will probably be entertainment enough for one Wednesday morning.

$500 for one game?

I should so be selling my ticket for a serious profit. But who wants to miss this game?