Friday, December 29, 2006

Red-Headed Stepchild

When I first came to A&M in the mid 90's, the titular epithet was a favorite for describing Texas Tech's relative rank as a state "flagship" school. Much has been written on the "rivalry" (e.g. here, here) or lack thereof in recent years. Talk from school administrators about holding the annual game in Dallas certainly does nothing to quash such debate [sidebar: Dr. Gates recently outed himself as Ranger65 on the premiere on-line destination for Texas Aggies, where he reported his own opinions that 1) the game should not be moved to Dallas, and 2) Tech shouldn't be considered our principal rivals].

I started this post two months ago after the first of three heartbreaking losses at Kyle Field that would have gone our way but for the combined total of six points. I saw the loss coming when, at a crucial third and two...from the two yard line...Coach Fran calls a timeout and J. Train knows what's coming because you could see a disgusted look on his face as he pulled his helmet off going to the sideline. Sure enough, when the Ags took the field again, we go for the pass (when we haven't completed one all night) and muff it, settling for a field goal. There are a lot of things that are out of the control of a coaching staff, but play calling is not one of them. (One astute poster at Texags.com put together this impressive set of data, knowing Coach Fran's penchant for coaching by the book, illustrating how thick-skulled this call was.)

Another thing that is a coach's responsibility, in my opinion, is a sense of urgency. Throughout the season I've commented on our apparent lack of a "hurry-up" offense and the lacksadasical manner in which the offense trots from the huddle to the line. I know, it's apples and oranges, but when I played in high school Coach Basinger taught us that the intensity it takes to drive your opponent off the line begins with the attitude you bring from the huddle. The commentators at last night's debacle of a Holiday Bowl echoed those concerns.

I closely resemble the titular epithet, though I can gladly report I wasn't mistreated the way the rest of the saying usually goes. I wonder if the Aggies (at least in football, hopefully not in basketball) are taking Tech's place as the hopelessly ill-fated younger siblings to the perennial powerhouses of the Big XII South (the recent win over t.u. notwithstanding).

Earlier in the week, my brother asked me if the Aggies were going to help him win his fantasy football bracket and I had to confess that the outcome depended alot on whether or not our secondary could stop the big plays. The defense in general and the secondary in particular have made great strides this season. But, we still couldn't shut down Cal's passing attack...and then were too demoralized to shut down their running attack. Perhaps one reason is that it looks like we spend too much time trying to strip the ball. I'd much rather see us hit with abandon (and wrap up!) and let the turnovers happen as they will.

So, I have an idea: co-head coaches. Has this been done before? Could we afford it? We give the Defense to R.C. Slocum and the Offense to Fran...maybe between the two of them they can strike the necessary balance of emotional connectedness and strategy we so despereately need.

Goodbye to 2006

A quick end to the year's postings...since I doubt I'll get the opportunity to set anything else down this weekend, and I'm apparently being quite prolific tonight. Here's hoping that some of you 80 visitors will check back and be rewarded with new (not necessarily useful or interesting) content for doing so.

It has been a year of travel for me: London, Seattle, Vancouver, Oahu, Galveston, Denver, NYC, Philadelphia, Marshall, Shreveport, and Dallas (and that's just nine months!)

I'm a first time daddy (or will be shortly)!

Aggie football gave us hope, Aggie basketball will hopefully give more results than hope.

Big-Government Republicanism failed, let's see what the Dems can do.

Here's hoping for Kucinich in '08 (let's see, in '04 his platform was universal health care and ending the war in Iraq)...maybe Obama will run with him...Dennis is, apparently, the black candidate in the race.

Rummy's out and Dr. Gates is in...

Saddam is also out

and so much more to be thankful for and cry God's mercy. May He bless each of you richly in the coming year!

Hurrah for books! and marriage! and books about marriage!

Observant readers (there are 80 of you so far...from as far afield as Europe and South America no less!) might have noticed the ever increasing list of books to the right hand side of the screen. Go ahead, look, I'll wait.

OK, now that you've had a chance to peruse the list of books I'm reading, have recently read, and my own sad, egotistical attempt to put together a list of books about Orthodox Christianity, let me mention something about a few of the books. Since elementary school (at South Davis), I have recognized in myself a penchant for reading. During my second grade year (in addition to wetting my pants while waiting to use the restroom in our class room...aren't elementary school teachers saints? aren't I glad that I lived literally next door to the school?) I read something on the order of 120 books to receive a certificate that required only forty or so. My mom tells me that my teacher disbelieved my reports until she quizzed me and I was able to give a plot synopsis for every book when asked. Anyhow, since then, I've loathed the book report (and it's grown-up cousin, the book review) mainly because I have a hard time getting past the whole work to provide a condensed version. If you're so interested, why don't you read the book yourself! *grin*

So, I'm not likely to give regular reviews on the books I'm reading (though I will be more than happy to discuss them if you ask...hopefully with specific questions), I wanted to take the opportunity the happy occasion of Shauna and Tony's marriage (and my current seclusion in a hotel room in east Texas) to mention the books on my list that deal with marriage.

Fr. John Meyendorff's book Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective is a wonderful exposition on how the vocation of marriage can and should be a reflection of Trinitarian theology.

Fr. Thomas Hopko's book Christian Faith and Same-Sex Attraction also deals with the theology of correct human marital relations, as well as providing a Patristic, nuanced, and thoughtful guide to how to lovingly deal with the marred expressions of our created intent for completing each other.

Dawn Eden's book The Thrill of the Chaste is unique in this collection in that it is written from the perspective of someone outside of the Orthodox Church. I was first alerted to Dawn Eden's blog and writing through the blog Orthodixie, written by a Houston-area Orthodox priest. Ms. Eden's book, like the other two mentioned above, provides a clear exposition of principles with which I had wrestled previously to express in internet conversations (e.g. here) and in email exchange.

The basic tenet shared in all three books is that marriage is an ascetic vocation (like monasticism) in which the selfish individual will is transformed by submitting to grace into a person in communion with God and the person's intended husband or wife. A point that I've made in personal conversation is that marriage was revealed to humanity before any other sacrament, and is thus, I believe, a natural state...one that is yearned for despite what ecclesiological, sociological and/or political structures might guide the expression of such a union. And since marriage is a sacrament, and sacraments are the participation of the material with the divine, we can look to what we know about God to describe marriage in its intended state. Fr. Meyendorff and Fr. Hopko's books accomplish this exposition explicitly through Orthodox teaching. Ms. Eden does so by faith-fully communicating the lessons she has learned through trial and error. And that is exactly what I'm talking about when I say that your religious/philosophical tenets need to provide a satisfactory explanatory framework for existence.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Agent of Change

In the midst of a large (by Texas A&M standards) anti-racism rally last Wednesday, I received a call indicating that Donald Rumsfeld had stepped down and Texas A&M University President Robert Gates had been tapped to replace him. Emotions in the crowd ranged from despair at the loss of a perceived ally in effecting lasting change to hope at the prospect of helping to select another progressive leader.

While Dr. Gates confirmation is by no means a done deal, his message to the Aggie community indicates some certainty on his part that he will be headed to Washington D.C. Dr. Gates history with the CIA during the Iran-Contra affair is likely to be an issue of contention during Senate confirmation hearings. Journalist Robert Parry of consortiumnews.com seems to be the most vocal critic of Dr. Gates' appointment. Parry has advanced speculation about Gates' politicization of intelligence during his tenure at the CIA in his bookSecrecy & Privilege, repeatedly at consortiumnews.com, and recently on the Democracy Now radio show. Parry's accusations about Gates' involvement in weapon sales in Iran and Iraq and concocting evidence in pinning the 1981 assassination attempt of Pope John Paul II on the Soviets are troubling, and my hope is that the allegations will be addressed front-on and wither substatiated and dismissed. Alternatively, Fred Kaplan at Slate.com has indicated that Dr. Gates is "the best man for Rummy's job". In this insightful editorial Kaplan makes the case for Dr. Gates as a thoughtful academic and, Parry's allegations notwithstanding, nonpartisan. Where Parry conflates Dr. Gates’ culpability with that of William Casey, Kaplan shows the two had a tenuous partnership. Kaplan calls Gates’ withdrawal from the confirmation process”ironic” after his role in the Iran-Contra affair became an issue when Bush41 first nominated him to the top CIA post in 1991:
Gates had risen through the agency's analytical ranks—he joined the agency as a Soviet specialist in 1966, straight out of college—and he would have been the first CIA director to have done so. Like many analysts, he distrusted the covert-ops branches. Although he was Casey's trusted chief of staff and then his deputy director, he did not, for instance, share his boss's enthusiasm for the Nicaraguan contras and their war against the Sandinistas; he saw it as a diversion from more-serious threats.

At the very least, Parry’s allegations are complicated by Kaplan’s read. Given the political milieu in which these accusations are based and which they now surface, it seems what is being politicized is Dr. Gates’ ties to the Bush family.

The politics of Dr. Gates’ tenure at Texas A&M have been eclectic, not partisan. Dr. Gates has lived up to the title he gave himself, "agent of change": he has overseen the creation of the Vice President of Diversity position as well as made meaningful connections with the Black Former Student Network and Hispanic Former Students; his plan for eliminating race and legacy in admissions decisions, coupled with targeted recruitment and retention programs have resulted in marked gains in the ethnic/racial diversity of our incoming students; his emphasis on staying true to Texas A&M’s legacy as a land-grant institution and our charge to serve the population of the state of Texas resulted in the creation of the Regents’ Scholars program which gives significant funding and support for first-generation college students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds; he has been vocal about preserving the traditions at Texas A&M that make it a “unique American institution” including a significant strengthening of the Corps of Cadets; he has repeatedly emphasized the role that Aggies are expected to play in serving their communities, especially in referencing Washington Monthly’s recognition of Former Students contributions to the nation; at a time when most colleges and universities were slashing budgets and circling the wagons, Dr. Gates announced the ambitious plan to hire 400+ new faculty and enhance the undergraduate experience at Texas A&M. Dr. Gates is a consensus-builder, and this further complicates the reading that those like Parry wish to make of his tenure at the CIA. This Washington Post editorial throws more cold water on allegations that Dr. Gates is a partisan hack:
Former senator Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), whose questioning of Gates in 1987 led to the withdrawal of his nomination to be CIA director, praised his "ability to work closely with Congress on a bipartisan basis" and said he "has a well-deserved reputation on both sides of the aisle for competency and integrity."

No doubt the details of Dr. Gates’ tenure at the CIA contain passages that would give anyone pause. If the recent elections indicate a shift back toward more open and accountable government, we should have every opportunity to investigate and have each explained. Given the service that Dr. Gates has performed for Texas A&M and the humanity that he showed in the process, I pray that the process is not vicious or vindictive.

Dr. Gates: good luck and God bless!

Thursday, November 09, 2006

"The Aggies are We"

Like many other Aggies, I was appalled this week to learn of the hateful video posted online by Texas A&M students. Ironically, I heard about the video at the close of a presentation I was doing for the African American Student Leadership Institute on Dr. Cornel West’s book Race Matters. Our discussion centered on the problems of pervasive poverty and nihilism in the African American community, how black people are figured in the popular American cultural imagination, and how we need visionary, moral, and race-transcending leaders to effect lasting social change.

The student leaders who have lent their voices to the protest of the offending video and underlying cultural illness at Texas A&M should be applauded for living up to the high standard set by Dr. West. That several students have responded that they are offended at the insinuation that they are complicit with a racist power structure demonstrates, perhaps even more significantly than the video incident, that a culture of passive racism does thrive on our campus. It is the prerogative of white privilege to insist that racism is not a highly salient factor of existence for persons of color on our campus.

Failing to recognize hate speech and action in one’s environment is deplorable enough, but to insist on one’s one failed reading of that environment crosses the line into rhetorical violence by stripping those who are directly affected by such hateful acts of the right to describe their own lives. That a person in blackface was the touchstone for this conversation is no accident since the racist stereotypes of black persons as lazy, stupid, and sexually aggressive were codified in blackface shows of the antebellum period.

We as Aggies need to realize that so long as we allow the problem of lingering hate and racial ill-will to be stylized as a problem of “us vs. them,” we cannot hope to make any progress. We have to be willing to be personally offended when hateful speech or actions are directed at any member of our community, and we must not settle for merely commiserating. The Aggie ideals of Honesty, Integrity, and a love and respect for Community must inform a constructive and healing response.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Clock is ticking...

Often I heard that the average life-span of a nation is about 200 years. Obviously this is a problematic formulation since the idea of nation itself is only a couple hundred years old. Nevertheless, the idea that the U.S.A. has reached a precipitous middle-age is not too far-fetched when you consider how radically the state of our nation has changed in just the last quarter century.

Americans are certainly myopic about the relative health of our nation; 200 years of the same government is laudable, but not as impressive as some of the more stable geopolitical organizations around. Hereditary monarchies the world over could do two centuries with their eyes shut.

A recent article in the New York Times illustrates how close we could be to constructing our own demise through political apathy:
By the oldest trick in the political book — the whipping up of a panic, in which any dissenting voice could be dismissed as “soft” or even “traitorous” — powers had been ceded by the people that would never be returned. Pompey stayed in the Middle East for six years, establishing puppet regimes throughout the region, and turning himself into the richest man in the empire...

Those of us who are not Americans can only look on in wonder at the similar ease with which the ancient rights and liberties of the individual are being surrendered in the United States in the wake of 9/11. The vote by the Senate on Thursday to suspend the right of habeas corpus for terrorism detainees, denying them their right to challenge their detention in court; the careful wording about torture, which forbids only the inducement of “serious” physical and mental suffering to obtain information; the admissibility of evidence obtained in the United States without a search warrant; the licensing of the president to declare a legal resident of the United States an enemy combatant — all this represents an historic shift in the balance of power between the citizen and the executive.



There are few checks to the increasingly disproportionate role of federal government. The blame for the shift does not rest entirely with Republicans either, since the Democratic Party is beholden to the same big-money donors. Further, the apparatus for change within the Democratic Party is lacking because efforts to produce the most "viable" candidate have marginalized anti-abortion, pacifist, and socialist secotrs of the party.

The mid-term elections next Tuesday will undoubtedly reflect the fact that Americans understand the threat to the sovreignity of the electorate, but I don't know that enough can be undone to regain our democratic birthright. One option might be to follow the lead of Colorado and give greater access to private citizens to write legislation.

I don't have a pithy ending for this observation. I invite comments to round out this discussion...

Tunnelling its way into a property near you...

WIth Governor Rick Perry firmly entrenched for the forseeable future, the Trans-Texas Corridor is considered to be a lock. This was a divisive issue in the 2006 gubenatorial campaign which had the effect of pushing some long-time Republican supporters into the Libertarian camp.

This is a case of eminent domain on a massive scale and could be a huge loss in our ever-eroding rights. What Perry orignally touted as a free trade, and Texas Transportation boon is looking more and more like a concession to the new politics of multi-national corporation$. Though Perry remains in office and the deals already in place with Cintra-Zachry are likely to go forward, the TTC is bound for a rocky road with protests from increasingly active, and increasingly populist rural Texans.

The transportation engineers with whom I have contact make no bones about the fact that a project of this size is needed to accomodate our transportation needs. I wonder though, if we've done enough "outside-the-box" thinking on this project. Besides the rural land grabs, another big concern with TTC in urban areas is where are you going to put a ten-lane highway? Enter the Tunnel Boring Machine. Perhaps even one like this; a similar one is being used to put a commercial transportation artery through the Swiss Alps. This worm-like tunnel factory drills, reinforces and builds a water-tight concrete wall as it passes below the surface, leaving all of that valuable surface space for personal property ownership.

In Our Image

I saw the phrase "Free Hawaii" on a bumper sticker this past July while in Honolulu for the 2006 AVMA Converence. Once back at work, I googled the phrase and discovered that I had unwittingly participated in the ongoing plunder of island culture.

In discussion with office mates, we determined thatHawaii and Puerto Rico were the last visible vestiges of Manifest Destiny, but not the end of that problematic worldview. I suggested that the problem is reified in our hegemonic imposition by force (in Afghanistan, Iraq) and economics (all over the globe).

The argument reminds me of this. Which also reminds me of this.

What do you think?

Working out the Kink(y)s

Texas gubenatorial candidate Kinky Friedman visited the Texas A&M University campus last Wednesday afternoon. I've been loosely following Kinky's candidacy since he announced last year, and specifically didn't vote in the primary elections so that I could sign his petition to be placed on the ballot (though I never got a chance to actually sign on), more because I am convinced that the two-party system is broken than his merits as a candidate. In fact, I continued to hear rumblings into late summer that Kinky's run was a huge joke.

Joke or not, I'd been impressed with Kinky's no-nonsense answers to most questions, but hadn't made a decision to support him until Chris Bell's campaign sent a message targeted to Kinky supporters telling them to not waste their votes.

More recently, however, Kinky has been in the news for his indelicate references to race. His campaign released a damage control statement in response to the "Negro talking to himself" comment, but refused to back off of Kinky's lumping all Katrina refugees together as criminals until very recently (a quick search of his site only shows these comments in footnotes...looks as though Kinky's position statements on the issue have disappeared). During his visit to TAMU, Kinky made a joke that it didn't seem to be a fair trade that Louisiana arrested Willie Nelson in exchange for our taking in all of their criminals. Kinky did refer to the Katrina crime issue during the recent sham of a gubenatorial debate. In the debate, Kinky also defended his use of the word "Negro" as endearing by noting that he was raised by a black woman. As much as I can understand generational differences, I am still uncomfortable with his brazen indifference to the lingering specter of racial power difference. Perhaps it's just part of his non-politico schtick.

Kinky's comment in support of his non-politico status during his visit at TAMU just didn't ring true. He mentioned that the difference between himself and Perry is that he knows the diner waitress' name (apparently indicating that he is a man of the people, someone who understands local needs). Apparently this didn't apply to the rule of uncovering in the MSC out of the respect for Aggies who have died in combat (yes, I did ask him through his manager).

The bottom line is that while I did give financial support to Kinky's campaign early on, I'm not sure that I will vote for him...though I do think we need to knock out the two-party monopoly of our political system. And I'm certainly not going to campaign for him.

I did enjoy listening to Jesse Ventura..I think I could support his candidacy...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Breaking In

Today I received the following email from at least two people:

Let's say I break into your house

A lady wrote the best letter in the Editorials in ages!! It explains things better than all the baloney you hear on TV.

Recently large demonstrations have taken place across the country protesting the fact that Congress is finally addressing the issue of illegal immigration. Certain people are angry that the US might protect its own borders, might make it harder to sneak into this country and, once here, to stay indefinitely. Let me see if I correctly understand the thinking behind these protests.

Let's say I break into your house. Let's say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave. But I say, "I've made all the beds and washed the dishes and did the laundry and swept the floors; I've done all the things you don't like to do. I'm hard-working and Honest (except for when I broke into your house). According to the protesters, not only must you let me stay, you must add me to your family's insurance plan, educate my kids, and provide Other benefits to me and to my family (my husband will do your yard work be cause he too is hard-working and honest, except for that breaking in part). If you try to call the police or force me out, I will call my friends who will picket your house carrying signs that proclaim my right to be there.

It's only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I'm just trying to better myself. I'm hard-working and honest, um, except for well, you know.

And what a deal it is for me!! I live in your house, contributing only a fraction of the cost of my keep, and there is nothing you can do about it without being accused of selfishness, prejudice and being an anti-housebreaker. Oh yeah, and I want you to learn my language so you can communicate with me.

Why can't people see how ridiculous this is?! Only in America....if you agree, pass it on (in English). Share it if you see the value of it as a good simile. If not blow it off along with your future Social Security funds.


I think that this message, like a lot of email forwards of this ilk, is misleading and panders to emotion. Why does it matter that this message seeks to engage emotion? Research has shown that too much of what passes for political dialogue in our nation today is a function of emotional reaction* rather than rational thinking.

Mr. Karl Rove has been an especially pernicious purveyor of this type of politics, employing a strategy that I've termed "Discredit, Distance, Dismiss". It is telling that the same kind of categorical dismissal of subjective experience that follows in emotionally reacting to political stimuli is also what is at work in racism (as I define it: a *system* of privilege based on phenotype).

Nevertheless, what the forwarded email does have going for it is the fact that it employed extended metaphor, of which I am a great fan. For that reason, I wish to engage the argument by extending the metaphor. Let's say that the first generation of intruders in the story go unnoticed (if we were to parallel reality, we might concede that we built the house around the "intruder" while coercing his "help" or brought him in as cheap labor...let's hear it for unchecked capitalism!)...and a second, maybe a third generation of "intruders" now occupy your home. They don't have a place to "go back to", they are in a very real sense "at home," though most people that live in the house in which they were born tell them that they don't belong. If you can be empathetic with the protagonists here, can you imagine any reason why you might feel for affection for the flag of a land you've never seen?

So now we have second or third generation "intruders" that have no place to go, and no real chance to advance in our society. Sure, there are opportunities to get a high school education, still fewer to get a college education, but then what? True story: a young woman finishes at the top of her high school class, engages in an intense Science curriculum at one of the state's flagship universities, and graduates with distinction. Despite her proven acumen, diligence, and work ethic, this young woman is unemployable because she cannot get a Social Security number, though Texas is the the only home she's ever known. Sure, she can elect to "get in line" and begin the legal process of naturalization (which seems like an oxymoron, given her situation) and in about thirty years she can finally claim to be a U.S. citizen. Even if her parents had started the process when she was born, she would still have to wait another decade to become a U.S. citizen.

The email correctly identifies that people are angry, but in classic "Discredit, Distance, Dismiss" fashion ascribes it's own reason and then argues against it (in systematic logic that's what's known as a "straw man" argument). What makes me angry is that millions of young people such as the one I described are not only being denied the "American Dream," regardless of the effort they make but that our government wants to classify them as felons for something over which they had no control. *Make no mistake*, no "liberal" that I know is making an argument against protecting the U.S. border; we definitely have a problem with illegal immigration, and I think it needs to be fixed so that immigrants to our country actually find this a land of opportunity. I also think that our efforts to keep people from crossing our border need to start long before they get there. We need to eliminate poverty and ameliorate the living conditions for those who find being an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. more favorable than being a legal citizen in their own country.

Finally, the email ends by cavalierly throwing Social Security down the drain if the illegal immigration problem isn't solved. This argument is perhaps the most disingenuous of all since payments from undocumented workers have propped up the system for decades. Giving Social Security payments to those who have paid in isn't pandering, it's the opposite of robbery.


By the way, my Spanish is really rusty. Anyone want to translate the email posted above so I can send it along? = )

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I'm Fixin' to...

I'm finally getting around to using this account that I created about two years ago.

In the interim, I've been an occasional contributor at IdeaPlay and a frequent reader (and sometime commentator) at The Scientific Activist and History Post . While these, along with CNN International Edition , Slate.com , and The Eagle, have provided me with good opportunities to process and discuss current events, I find myself more and more interested in writing about these issues (alas, the good old days of dialogue at Texags are long-gone).

My interests span religion (specifically Eastern Orthodoxy), politics/social commentary, literature, hip hop, race studies, and giftedness/creativity. Accordingly, my posts will probably fall under one or more of these headings.

A final note about the title of the blog, "Fixin' a Hole...," is a reference to the Beatles' song by Paul McCartney. In the song, Paul describes what amounts to efforts to stay in "flow" (a concept described by Csikszentmihalyi). Borrowing that idea, these are the efforts that I'm making at reducing partisan, racist noise and creating conditions that are congenial to the pursuit of peace.

Please enjoy and comment as appropriate.

Peace!