Unintended Effects of Food Aid Policies

By Susan Kemboi

[Susan Kemboi is an international student from Kenya; a sophomore Mathematics major and Economics minor at UT Arlington. She is passionate about her homeland, and enjoys reading and writing about ongoing issues and debates in continental Africa.]

This article is printed in the Fall 2014 edition of Veneratio – The Newsletter of the Honors College at The University of Texas at Arlington

Imagine the horrors of living through starvation, of a child’s life ebbing away from the pangs of hunger, of a helpless mama incapable of feeding her feeble, emaciated children. Imagine that nagging fear, that persistent uncertainty of having food today, tomorrow maybe . . . but skeptical of the days to come. Imagine the sorrows of an inevitable death, day in, day out, and year in, year out. I was there once, languishing in hunger after the 2000 drought claimed most of our farm produce. I remember those devastating afternoons, trying to learn on an empty stomach. I remember the schools closed down that semester. I remember those haunting wretched cries of hungry children, and of my friend who died of malnutrition. I remember most of us survived only by the goodwill of the American people who gave so generously of their ‘yellow maize.’

The hunger problem in Africa is of unquestionably crucial importance to humanity. Needless to say, food aid has had a remarkable impact on its recipients, especially those living deep in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, where at least three children die every minute of hunger and malnutrition-related diseases. To many such at-risk people, food aid has become a source of survival –a solution full of looming possibilities, a savior! The heated debate on the intricacies of food aid therefore has far-reaching consequences not only to the 890 million people in the world who are still victims of starvation, but also to our children and our children’s children, whose future welfare and is at stake.

Despite the popular acclamation of food aid as the epitome of American generosity, critics have for the past few decades questioned the efficiency and sustainability of food aid, especially to Africa. Dambisa Moyo, an economist and one of the most outspoken critics of foreign aid, in her book Dead Aid depicted the aid model as a double-edged sword—promising change and the alleviation of poverty on one hand yet a devastating tool that has crippled many African economies. While economists like Moyo focus their argument on the repercussions of food aid on the economy, policy makers have criticized the politics of government spending and agricultural reform. New York Times Journalist Ron Nixon published an article last November that vividly captured the reactions of lawmakers, merchants, and farmers when Congress failed to approve revisions to the Farm Bill that would have significantly altered the execution of food aid. The new bill advocated for waiving the “U.S. flag vessel requirement” that required food aid to be shipped by U.S. merchants; additionally, it would allow the purchase of food aid from recipient countries. “It creates jobs in this country,” one Mississippi farmer complained, “and people get the food they need. Why change that?” To merchants, farmers, and policy makers from farm states whose income and political reputation are at stake, such a restructure in food aid policies ought to elicit an unprecedented level of contention. At best, these arguments have drawn remarkable attention to the rigidity of the American food aid policies, the sorry nature of starvation in Africa, and the need for pragmatic solutions to the hunger problem.

While the number of severely famished people in most developing nations of Asia and Latin America has fallen drastically for the past four decades, statistics from the World Food Organization reveal that starvation in Africa has, in spite of the continuous supply of food aid, increased by nearly 36 percent. Such statistical disparities have intensified the controversy surrounding the efficacy of food aid policies. Does food aid really solve the hunger problem? Does it alleviate the fear, uncertainty, and perpetual insecurity experienced by at-risk people, or is it merely a tool of overseas political influence? Contrasting the suboptimal consequences of current U.S food aid policies to the objectives of the Food Assistance Convention (FAC)—a multilateral cooperation between the largest donors of food that oversees all forms of food assistance—reveals that the goal of “reducing hunger and improving food security of the most vulnerable populations” has, as depicted by the increasing rate of starvation, not been met. Current food aid policies are therefore inefficient at solving Africa’s hunger problem because they destabilize local agricultural production, create a cycle of dependency, and are prone to economic exploitation by donor countries.

Destabilization of Agricultural Markets

Agriculture is of crucial importance to many African economies. According to research done by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), agriculture is the main and often only source of income to food-insecure people in Africa. IFPRI’s report pointed out that in Rwanda, as with many African countries, agriculture accounts for 50 percent of all household income and 75 percent of income for average poor families. Such high reliance on agriculture by the greater majority of people means that the overall productivity and GDP of these countries are highly dependent on the market conditions of the agricultural sector. Furthermore, Article (2)(a)(v) of the Food Assistance Convention states that one of the principles for the operation of food aid programs should be to “provide food assistance in a way that does not adversely affect local production, market conditions, marketing structures and commercial trade or the price of essential goods for vulnerable populations.” Therefore, any kind of food aid that destabilizes local production violates the efficiency standards set forth by the FAC.

Most food aid supplied to Africa by the United States is “tied”—that is, food grown or purchased in the U.S, shipped to its recipients on U.S. vessels, and subject to other conditions as required by the donor. This rather inflexible system creates delays of up to six months in the delivery of food aid to target areas. A report compiled by the Food Trade and Nutrition Coalition revealed that most often the arrival of food aid happens when food shortages have slightly abated because local producers at this time have already responded by planting food with short crop cycles—roughly equivalent to the time it takes for food aid to arrive at the desired location. Inconsistencies in the timing of food aid render it virtually ineffective at addressing immediate food emergencies. Poor timing also leads to the creation of a surplus of agricultural produce in the local economies, which in turn leads to a fall in food prices.

In addition to the inflexibility of “tied” aid, about 40 percent of food aid to Africa is, according to the World Food Programme, “monetized” by allowing it to enter the local food market as commodities to be traded. Monetized aid is highly subsidized and is relatively more affordable compared to local produce. Cheap monetized food aid competes directly with local produce not only in terms of prices but also on preference. Higher preference for American food perceived to be more nutritious increases recipients’ demand for foreign aid relative to the local production.

While many economists have argued that falling food prices are favorable to the poor aid recipients, especially the net food buyers (who buy more food than they sell), this benefit is highly temporary because falling food prices have far more detrimental long-term effects on the macro agricultural market. In his paper “Food Aid’s Intended and Unintended Consequences,” economist Christopher Barrett observed that “many recipient economies are not robust and food aid inflows can cause large price decreases, decreasing produce profits, limiting producers’ abilities to pay off debts and thereby diminishing both capacity and incentives to invest in improving agriculture.”

Such market instability resulting from falling food production and price fluctuations in African economies could be temporary, as Barrett argued, if the local markets were more flexible and well connected with global trade networks, where supply shocks to the agricultural economy would be mitigated by government intervention or export of the excess food produce to foreign markets. Most African economies, however, are struggling—with fewer trade connections, alarming levels of government corruption, poor infrastructure, and inflexible domestic markets that are unable to absorb food surpluses and attain stability. For many small-scale farmers highly dependent on agriculture, falling prices means that they will get less revenue, plant less and even less for the following seasons. Eventually, most of them become trapped in a never-ending cycle of poverty. As food aid expert Roger Thurow observes regarding Ethiopia in his article “Lesson from a Famine,” “food piled up on farms and prices collapsed . . . farmers lost incentive to plant the next year. Then the drought hit, and feast turned to famine. The markets had failed before the weather did.”

Food aid, by creating negative unintended effects of falling prices, decreasing agricultural productivity, and a subsequent instability in agricultural markets of recipient countries, worsens the conditions of aid recipients it is intended to help. Moreover, by creating these suboptimal outcomes that are inconsistent with the operating guidelines of the FAC, current food aid policies prove to be inefficient at solving the hunger problem.

Creation of a Cycle of Dependency

Food aid can be deemed to be creating a cycle of dependency if it limits the capacity of aid recipients to meet their future food needs on their own. According to the principles of food assistance effectiveness outlined in Article (1)(a)(iii) of the FAC, donor countries should “provide food assistance in a manner that protects livelihoods and strengthens self-reliance and resilience of vulnerable populations, and local communities, and that prevents, prepares for, mitigates and responds to food security crises.”

Since the early 1980s, starvation in Africa has been skyrocketing despite the frequent supply of food aid. While many economists have pointed to the rising population in Africa to explain this incongruity, the increasing rates of starvation are largely due to the creation of a cycle aid of dependency that hampers the future ability of many aid recipients to solve the hunger problem.

Many critics of the food aid model have often argued that aid recipients become dependent because the continuous supply of food aid creates a work disincentive, mainly because people become lazy or engage in unproductive activities with the expectation of receiving food aid in the future. According to a report by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, however, food aid can alter people’s behavior “only if they are reasonably sure that it will be available to them when they need it.” Considering the highly sporadic and unreliable timing of food aid, it is virtually impossible for aid recipients to have a regular dependable access to food aid that is strong enough to generate a work disincentive from food aid. Moreover, the painstaking effort of accessing food aid in certain areas offers little incentive for aid recipients to stop producing their own food when they can.

The cycle of dependency, therefore, does not ensue because people just get lazy, but rather as a response to the production disincentives created by food aid. Food surplus and falling prices, as discussed earlier, reduces food production, which depletes the productive capacity of many poor farmers. This shrinks the number of net food sellers (those who sell more food than they buy) and establishes the need for a continual presence of cheap and heavily subsidized food aid to counter the falling agricultural production in recipient countries.

Dependency is also created when food aid provides “insurance” to local governments against the devastating effects mass starvation. The State of Food and Agriculture report suggests that governments of aid-recipient countries can become dependent on food aid “if the supply of inexpensive food allows recipient governments to ignore needed policy reforms and shift developmental resources away from the agricultural sector.” If other people are focusing on Africa’s hunger problems, local governments have strong incentives to continue relying on foreign food help or ignore the hunger problem entirely. In their book Enough, Roger Thurow and Scott Kilman point to an Ethiopian saying that embodies the dependency attitude of most aid recipients. “It is not the rains in Ethiopia you need to worry about, but whether it rains in Ethiopia or Canada.”

Instead of setting aid recipients towards food security and independence, food aid, by discouraging agricultural production and decreasing local government’s accountability to solving the hunger problem, creates a cycle of dependency on donor countries. These outcomes are ineffective and are contrary to the operation requirement of the FAC.

Humanitarianism or Dumping?

Although food aid is one of the most inspiring depictions of human altruism, its donor-oriented focus renders it susceptible to economic exploitation by donor countries. To prevent the possibility of such abuse, the FAC, in Article (3)(b)(vi) provided a guideline that would “ensure food assistance is not used to promote market development objectives of the parties.”

The U.S Food for Peace program that was started in early 1950s developed as a way to get rid of the excess grain production in the United States that would have otherwise wrecked the agricultural economy. Eisenhower, the president who signed the bill that set up Food for Peace, on commenting about the purpose of the legislation, wanted, “[to] lay the basis for a permanent expansion of our exports of agricultural products with lasting benefits to ourselves and peoples of other lands.” While the origins of U.S food aid programs may have their basis in the economic “salvation” of the agricultural economy from falling prices and market instability created by food surplus, the problem lies in the over-politicization of food aid policies that have for years prevented the operation of an efficient aid model.

The nature of U.S. food aid policies has created strong incentives for the vested interests of the farming, shipping, and distribution sectors in food aid. According to a report by the Food Trade and Nutrition Coalition (FTNC), the U.S. government spends more than $300 million annually to purchase subsidized grain produce from U.S. grain farmers. Since the amount of food aid purchased is directly correlated to the presence of agricultural surpluses, farmers are cushioned from the adverse effects of falling prices. Moreover, the constant supply of food aid to famine-stricken regions provides a sure market for American grain produce as long as starvation still exists. The “U.S. flag vessel requirement” is highly favorable to the U.S. merchants and distributors by restricting competition in transportation and increasing revenue for U.S. firms. FTNC’s report further suggests that “giant distributors . . . handle [the logistics of] commodities and shipping companies transport the food at rates inflated as much as 80 percent by rules that steer 75% of the business into U.S. firms.” Such unprecedented gains are highly dependent on the continual “tying” of U.S. aid, despite the negative effects that such a system creates in the recipient countries.

While such a model may, as proponents of “tied” food aid claim, create job opportunities and government revenue for the U.S., the system is highly inefficient. According to FTNC’s report, Dumping Food Aid: Trade or Aid, “fifty percent of every dollar allocated by the U.S. government is not spent on food, but on getting the food to developing countries.” If current U.S. food aid policies were focused on solving the hunger problem for at-risk individuals, such extreme levels of wastage evident in this system would not be tolerated.

The failure of policy makers from farm states to pass revisions to the Farm Bill that would have allowed increased purchase of food aid from donor countries is evidence of the economic priority of focused food aid policies. Opening up aid channels to allow for the purchase of local produce would increase the timeliness of emergency response, increase aid efficiency, eliminate the ripple effect of market instability in recipient countries, stimulate economic growth, and set the aid-dependent African economies on a path to economic independence. The leaders in those countries would start being responsible for their citizenry without delegating their problems to the rest of the world for another 50 years! By continually resisting the restructuring of the tied aid system, however, U.S. food aid policy has evolved into one that pursues the economic objectives of the donor country at the expense of market instability in recipient countries—a stark violation of the operation directives of the FAC.

In conclusion, it is evident that current U.S. food aid policies are inefficient because they destabilize recipient countries’ economies, create a cycle of dependency and are also prone to economic exploitation by donor countries—effects that are contrary to the objectives of the FAC.

Works Cited

Barrett, Christopher B. “Food Aid’s Intended and Unintended Consequences.” State of Food and Agriculture No 0605 (March 2006). Print.

Dercon, Stefan. Giligan Daniel. Hoddinott, John. Woldehanna, Tassew. “The Impact of Agricultural Extension and Roads on Poverty and Consumption Growth in Fifteen Ethiopian Villages.” International Food Policy Research Institute (December 2008). Web

“Dumping Food Aid: Trade or Aid?” Report by Food Trade and Nutrition Coalition (April 2005). Web

“Economic Controversies over Food Aid.” Report by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (2006). Web.

“Food Aid Information System.” World Food Programme. Accessed January 27th 2014. http://www.wfp.org/fais/

Moyo, Dambisa. “Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working And How There Is A Better Way For Africa.” Vancouver : Douglas & Mcintyre, 2009. Print.

Nixon, Ron. “Obama Administration Seeks to Overhaul International Food Aid.” The New York Times April 4th 2013. Web.

The Food Assistance Convention, 1999. Web.

Thurow, Roger. “Lessons from a Famine: Markets Matter.” Huff Post Impact 13th May 2013. Web.

Thurow, Roger and Kilman, Scott. “Enough: Why the World’s Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty.” Public Affairs (2009). Print.

Religious Tolerance in America

By Bradley Wabbersen
(from Veneratio Spring 2014)

This essay is from Dr. James Warren’s Honors English 1302 course

Imagine with me, if you will, a nation in its infancy, unlike any the world has seen before. The government is the product of an age of reason: a hybrid democratic republic that values the individual. This nation is composed of people from many different countries and cultures who brought with them their own religions and belief systems. All these groups of people coexist under the same new nation. This nation has no state religion and guarantees to every individual the right to practice whatever religion they choose. This is necessary, you see, to avoid the violence and oppression that have almost always followed religious differences throughout history. It is not enough, however, to require by law that the government stay out of religious affairs. There must be a common cultural understanding, a set of unwritten rules to govern the interactions of private citizens, to oppose oppression in all its forms.

The country I describe is the United States of America at its founding. The system of unwritten rules I described form what we might call religious tolerance, the tenets of which are anything but settled even after all these years. The problem of ambiguity has only become more apparent in fact. In one of his latest books, The Intolerance of Tolerance, well-known theologian D. A. Carson reports on the dire state of the controversy. “It does not take much cultural awareness to see that the difficulties surrounding this subject are eating away at… the fabric of Western culture.” Advances in communication and increasing urbanization across the globe make the world in which we live seem smaller every day. People of different beliefs interact more frequently now than ever before. In the coming years, religious tolerance will be crucial in maintaining stability. Getting it right will be just as important. This is predominately a cultural issue, meaning that your opinion matters, my dear readers. How you interact with people matters. How you expect people to interact with you matters. Like voting in an election, you cannot simply leave it to someone else to make an informed decision. In this paper, I will analyze a few of the major viewpoints on religious tolerance, emphasizing what I believe to be their strengths and weaknesses, and support a position of my own.

I believe that many commonly held beliefs about religious tolerance are either counterproductive or at least incomplete. At the very least, we as a culture need to re-examine our ideas about religious tolerance. By the end, I hope to prove that religious tolerance is best achieved by exploring the differences between us through education and exchange. Even if you disagree with my conclusions, I hope that this paper will stimulate serious thinking on the subject. The positions I will describe were derived from several academic sources. These positions have come to be known by some as Secularism, Pluralism, and Post-Secularism.

To explain the first position, I will return to the early days of America. The rise of secularist philosophy in America has often been attributed to the rise of Jeffersonian Democracy, a system of ideas about good government and society held by President Thomas Jefferson and his colleagues. Jason Springs, a professor with the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, recently published an article in the Journal of Religion that overviews the progression of the religious tolerance debate in America. He explains that Secularism in the United States is rooted in the “Jeffersonian Compromise.” The compromise goes something like this: citizens are permitted to practice any form of religion they want or no religion at all so long as the practice of their religion does not infringe upon the natural rights of others.

The idea of natural rights, and indeed much of Jefferson’s philosophy, was born out of the Enlightenment. The rights to life, liberty, and property are a few examples. The only other stipulation was that religion be kept out of public discourse. The reason for this is simple: if religion is not discussed in public, conflict will be minimized. It seems to me that Jefferson meant to keep religion out of politics only; however, some have argued that religion be kept out of all public life. The important thing to remember is that apart from the right to religious freedom we now enjoy, this compromise is not written in law. It is merely a model for how society should function. We know that the government will in the vast majority of cases intervene if a citizen violates the law, regardless of religious motivations. However, there is no obligation under law for religious citizens to keep their religion to themselves. The only force that enforces this part of the compromise is social pressure.

Secularism, in some form or another, still has many supporters today. Sensing a decline in the popularity of Secularism, Dutch philosopher and writer Paul Cliteur defended secular thinking in his new book, The Secular Outlook. He advocates, like many of his predecessors, a non-religious public sphere. He even proposes that society should adopt a skeptical attitude toward religion. While not all secularists agree on every aspect of the philosophy, at its core Secularism always advocates for less public religious expression. Religion is simply too messy to be included in public life. Different religions are irreconcilable and disagreement can in some cases lead to violence. Thus only secular reason and objectivity can be trusted in the public sector.

While Secularism has some strong arguments, I still find it to be lacking. I agree that freedom of expression must be limited at some point. To use the classic example, a person should not be allowed to yell “FIRE!” in a crowded theatre if there is in fact no fire. That would create chaos and society would be unable to function. The same rationale applies to religion. Finding an appropriate place to draw the line is difficult. How far should society go to accommodate religious beliefs? Much ink has been spilled over this issue. In this paper, however, I aim only to address what we as a social force should require of each other. It may be easier simply to keep religious discussion out of public life, but it is not altogether productive to do so.

Restricting the exchange of religious information may result in misconceptions about certain religious groups. Worse, it may allow bitterness between religious groups to fester and eventually lead to violence. One need only look back to the attack on September 11 for evidence of this. Remember how suddenly the bitterness that Islamic fundamentalism felt toward the U.S. was brought to the forefront. Think about how little the vast majority of Americans really knew about this group of Muslims. No one can say whether terrorist attacks like 9/11 could have been prevented through increased cultural awareness, but that is not my point. The fact of the matter is most of the American people never saw them coming. Perhaps real discourse with disparate factions in third-world countries is impractical; but with the new threat of home-grown religious terrorists on the rise, society must actively work to stop the cycle of bitterness. Apathy or, worse, irritation toward other religions is counterproductive to society and can only be resolved through discourse.

Another problem with limiting religious discussion is that certain religious groups emphasize sharing their beliefs in public as part of their religion. Some groups might consider this kind of limitation persecution. For every limitation society places upon religion, there is a cost to freedom. In addition, history has shown that trying to silence religious groups is an entirely futile endeavor. Because limiting religious expression allows bitterness and misconceptions to thrive and may be perceived as persecution, I believe we should not view religious tolerance as a call to keep religion private.

Apparently, others agreed that Secularism was lacking, because other major viewpoints soon emerged. The next major philosophy I will discuss is known as Pluralism. Out of all the viewpoints, Pluralism is perhaps the most diversely defined. I will follow the lead of Springs in defining Pluralism as a “marketplace of ideas.” Any religious idea can be exchanged at the marketplace so long as the idea does not threaten the marketplace itself. This has been described as an evolution of Secularism. Pluralists argued that Secularism cannot be truly neutral because it relies on the idea of natural law and makes reason the supreme virtue. Pluralists claim that if society cannot be truly neutral, then it should make tolerance the supreme virtue. In other words, Pluralists have no problem with religion in public; in fact they welcome it. The only caveat is that any religious ideas that are intolerant are unwelcome. The purpose of the marketplace is to produce shared values that everyone in society can relate to. Thomas Plante, a professor at Santa Clara University in the Department of Psychology, published an article in Pastoral Psychology in which he argued that society should focus on the positive attributes of religion rather than the negative attributes. In particular, he makes the point that all religions are like a mountain; the ideas converge at the top. Ideas like “sacredness of life and of the world, ethical behavior towards others, prayer and meditation, community and service involvement, and both love and respect for all” should be valued by society. This is a good example of Pluralist thinking. The end goal of Pluralism, at least the Pluralism I am describing, is to reconcile religious differences for the betterment of society– a noble goal. I appreciate the move toward more religious expression. However, I still take issue with many aspects of this philosophy.

Pluralism makes an assumption that is central to its belief system; namely, that different religions are reconcilable. While many religions share some of the same ideas, there are key differences that should not be ignored. The bottom of the mountain matters too. For example, many religions such as Islam believe that entry into heaven is gained through a life of good works, in contrast to the idea held by many Christians that salvation is through faith apart from works. Clearly, there is no compromise that would not alter the essence of each belief. Another problem with the Pluralistic compromise is the perceived requirement to give approval to beliefs and actions that contradict one’s own religion. It is clearly not reasonable to require someone to be completely comfortable with lifestyles that are contrary to their religion. Tolerance doesn’t have to mean approval. I agree that there is value in recognizing similar beliefs. The ideas of natural law, for example, originated from commonly held religious ideas. Natural law has been invaluable in forming our society. However, as a social force, we cannot focus only on the similarities between us. Otherwise we will misunderstand the religions we attempt reconcile with. Interestingly, this philosophy can become a religion in and of itself. Groups such as the Universalists have merged what they consider to be the best parts of the world’s religions into one religion. However, this is clearly not the same religion as the religions that formed it.

We also risk offending those who hold to beliefs that are in opposition to the consensus. Fundamentalist groups are perhaps the most ill-tolerated in Pluralist society. By fundamentalist, I simply mean any religious group that takes its holy text literally as a source of truth. It seems harmless enough until you consider that these groups are essentially saying that they have the only source of truth. This does not mix well with Pluralism because the claim that there is only one truth is intolerant of others who claim to have a source of truth. In these cases, Pluralism has in fact become quite intolerant in its effort to be tolerant. This is one of the main arguments that D. A. Carson makes in The Intolerance of Tolerance. Alienating fundamentalist groups to the idea of tolerance is not beneficial to society, especially when there are better, more inclusive ways to achieve tolerance. This along with the idea that different religions cannot always be completely reconciled has convinced me that tolerance should not be a call to compromise.

The final viewpoint I will be looking at has come to be called Post-Secularism by its supporters. As the name suggests, it is a fairly new movement. However,it is quickly gaining support among community leaders and educators. While its central ideas may not be exceptionally nuanced, it is only now gaining any real traction, likely as a reaction to the shortcomings of the previous two philosophies. They believe that any kind of restraint to religious expression, beyond the obvious restraints of law, is counterproductive to society. Their solution is quite simple: education. In a recently published article in The Social Studies Journal, Jeff Passe and Lara Willox made a case for teaching religion in public schools, citing a strong post-secular movement. As educators themselves, they argued that a trend of increasing religion in the public sector called for a balanced religious education to prepare youth for a post-secular world. As religion is once again coming to the forefront of society, the secular era is coming to an end. More diverse religious groups are interacting now than ever before. Post-secular thinkers believe that society needs to be prepared for a religious public life. Post-seculars do not necessarily believe that the world’s religions are compatible; but they needn’t be. Society should stop relying on political and legal pressure to conform people into tolerant citizens. People should be free to express their religious ideas in public and society should help them do it. They see public discourse not as a debate, but as a free exchange of ideas. They find value in the differences that the other views would rather ignore. Even fundamentalists can be an accepted part of social discourse. Some might think that fundamentalists would object to an open exchange of ideas and perhaps some would object. For those who are completely convinced that their way is the only way, discussions about different beliefs might seem pointless. However, they should recognize that there are benefits for all parties under this system. Unlike Pluralism, there is no pressure to grant approval to other lifestyles. The only pressure is to open dialog. Such an exchange would provide a medium for the religiously-minded to proselytize without fear of persecution. This is all well and good, but what does this mean practically?

In my research, I ran across a few examples of how post-seculars operate. One example is the National Conference of Christians and Jews that worked to address religious intolerance primarily in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. This group used religious education to achieve tolerance in the US and actively opposed the use of political, legislative, or legal action. They were famous for their “intercollegiate parlays.” They were most successful when their primary focus was religious education of local communities, as they were winning numerous awards for their work. Another group, The Interreligious Coordinating Council, operates today in Israel, an especially difficult area for this sort of work. They too focus their efforts on educating local communities about other religions. They run many programs that bring students and religious leaders of different faiths together to share their beliefs. They also offer intensive mutual study programs on religions in the community. Despite their relative youth as an organization, they already report a large impact on their community.

If you haven’t figured it out already, there is a lot about post-secular philosophy that appeals to me. It doesn’t require that religion be kept private. It doesn’t require conformity to a commonly held set of standards. So far, the ideas seem to work. The question is can we as a society handle truly open discussion of religion, or will we fall back into our violent predispositions? I am convinced that we should explore the differences between us through education and exchange. I believe this process will clear up misconceptions we have about other religions and allow for genuine respect to develop.

Okay, but what can the average citizen do? I’m glad you asked. To conclude, it is everyone’s responsibility to practice religious tolerance in their day-to-day lives. We should neither compel nor feel compelled to remain silent about religion. We should neither compel not feel compelled to compromise. We should welcome and perhaps even instigate honest discussions about religion. When we truly understand each other, perhaps we will find that we can tolerate one another.

Bradley Wabbersen is an Honors College Electrical Engineering student from Mansfield, Texas. He is one of our Honors Distinction Scholarship awardees. The HDS is the most prestigious scholarship that UTA offers.

A Step for all Mankind

by Narendra De

Nothing was the same now that people knew what had happened.
The world stood transfixed, spellbound.
All who watched or heard the news were moved, television and radio were themselves out of this world. Now these wonders of technology would broadcast a message of hope for mankind. His mouth generated a pressure wave, a microphone made a current, a radio made a wave.
Through a quarter million miles of space, physics worked perfectly well — not only for the earth-based receivers but also for the gravity-directed cylinder, a cone and a spider-shaped capsule on ellipsoidal trajectories — for which two heavenly bodies cooperated. They exchanged occupants.
The earth was first to release for departure, the moon accepted three brave men, two of whom were more ambitious. They slowed to land on a surface unchanged for centuries and stepped out with the whole world watching.
One proclaimed his little step on the moon was a leap to the silver shining crescent sometimes full, sometimes invisible.

San Antonio Missions Trail Road Trip

by Davina Sasoon

The Alamo (Mission San Antonio de Valero) was over 100 years old during the famous battle in 1836. While it is the best known of the Bexar area missions, it is one of five built along the old missions trail that connected Mexico with East Texas in what was the largest mission concentration in North America.

Traveling south of the Alamo, from the heart of San Antonio, are four other old missions within a seven-mile stretch now know as the Mission Trail. The original Yanaguana Trail (named for the indigenous people) meandered along the San Antonio River. There, between the end of the 17th and middle of the 18th century Mission San Antonio de Valero (the Alamo), Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo, Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purísima Concepción de Acuña, Mission San Juan Capistrano, and Mission San Francisco de la Espada were built.

I was excited to attend the Honors College Road Trip to San Antonio in late February this year.  I made quite a few new friends and met new members of the Honors College.  We explored San Antonio together and made great memories.  A really special part of the trip was seeing the missions in San Antonio.  Most of us have read about the Alamo and the missions throughout school, and though we learn about their purposes in Texas History class, it is a whole different experience to walk through the missions, read the signs, and realize the purposes each area/room served.  As we walked through the mission rooms, they seemed small.  Some students did not fit through the doorways without bending.  We explored the areas throughout the missions and gained a real appreciation for their numerous functions.  My favorite mission was Mission San José. It was founded in 1720 and quickly became a major social and cultural center.  It was very interesting to observe how the missions were much, much more than churches.  They were communities.  We walked through where the kitchen used to be, where the people lived, and we saw the boarded wells.  Mission San José also has a special, beautiful symbolic structure called The Rose Window.  The meaning of this unique window is not fully known or understood. It is believed to have been sculpted by Pedro Huizar, who was living in the vicinity of San José in the 1780s. According to a few of the legends the rose window was so called because it was dedicated by the mourning sculptor to a lost love named Rosa or Rosita (from the Texas State Historical Association web article on Pedro Huizar).

The Road Trip is a feature of Honors College programming each February. In recent years the destinations have included Archer City, the LBJ Library and Ranch in the Hill Country, the ghost town of Thurber, Oklahoma City, and Dinosaur Valley State Park.

Check out our photo gallery from the road trip.

The PAL Experience

by Krisalyn Kuklock

My first experience with the peer academic leader (PAL) program was being a recipient of its services as a first semester freshman in an Intro to professional nursing course. I was intrigued by the idea of a student, who was not very much older than I, allowed a position alongside an experienced faculty member to teach college students.

Of course, I was aware of undergraduate and graduate teaching assistants whose role is to instruct laboratories and/or offer students other avenues of receiving help. In my own laboratory courses, the teaching assistants lectured briefly about material covered in the lab booklet and demonstrated the procedures for the day; but the PAL program was clearly something different.

My initial decision to pursue the PAL program was, not surprisingly, sparked by watching my own PAL stand up in front of a classroom of college students and lecture. As someone who enjoys public speaking and has an interest in becoming a future nursing instructor, I thought the opportunity would serve as a benefit by providing some experience as a sort of test trial to discover if teaching in my future field is something I want to or am capable of doing. However, this past month of PAL training has opened my eyes to the true advantage of a PAL position: a platform for innovation.

I am pursuing a position as a Peer Academic Leader at an exciting time. Our course instructor for the semester-long PAL training course is exposing our class to a new way of thinking; PALs are supposed to be innovative and interesting, as well as relevant and helpful to the students we teach. It should be mentioned that these students are often a year or two our juniors in coursework. This is a difficult task! We are given plenty of ideas on how to make our lectures interesting and engaging, and those two words are thrown around a lot in training; but we all know that the end product of our lectures is learning. So how am I going to get students interested enough to pique their personal curiosity and become active in their personal learning process? What will I do to change their way of thinking and inspire them? These are the questions I am excited to answer and a challenge that I, as an Honors College student, am thrilled to accept. Rather than viewing this role as a way to test my skills in teaching, I now realize that being a PAL is an incredible opportunity to experiment with new ways of lecturing and inspiring students. This may be ambitious, but my goal is to intrigue every student in the classroom; and with forty minutes to an hour each class to do so, the possibilities seem endless.

The PAL position is available to majors with Freshman Interest Groups and First-Year Seminar Courses.
To find out how to become a PAL in your major visit: www.uta.edu/pal

The Stars at Night

by Suzanne DeLeon

As a new member of HCC (Honors Constituency Council) this spring, I found that going to Star Night was an extra special way to start the semester. Many years ago, my family and I were invited to the Planetarium to be part of the audience for the filming of the promo videos. We watched Pink Floyd and many other music productions. It was good. But Star Night was great!

Adrenalin Junkie is definitely a term used to describe me! Starting off Star Night with a ride on the Mercury roller coaster had my stomach doing flips more than any ride down the street at Six Flags. We flipped and swung from one end of the planet to the other in a ride that was truly awesome. I cannot wait to come back on a Sunday afternoon to ride all of the roller coasters, one on each planet!

Trevor Howard at the controls of the Digistar 4.

My favorite part of the night was seeing the stars over Arlington. Trevor Henry was our star guide and he had us laughing and learning at the same time. Never have I been able to locate certain constellations in the sky but with his very simple instruction and humorous drawings I was able to find and track where the constellations were.

My boys, age 11 and 9, also joined me on Star Night and loved the opportunity to learn where the constellations were located, something I had never been able to teach them. Upon arriving home to a dark night sky we immediately put our new knowledge into practice and sat back to gaze at the stars and find almost all the constellations we had just learned about. Keeping track of the stars and finding the constellations in the night sky will now be one of our regular activities.

You will never find me outfitted in scuba gear; my one great fear is ocean depths. Very odd for a former lifeguard, I know! Our last Planetarium viewing was of the Coral Reefs. For me this was a very special treat. Seeing the vast amount of sea life and beautiful fish that swarm over these reefs is truly breathtaking. I continue to be amazed at how intricate and beautiful life is even on such a small scale. And knowing that I will probably never have the opportunity to see this type of life up close gave unique meaning to watching it unfold on the vast domed ceiling of the Planetarium.

Star Night was a great night in my semester and I look forward to the other events being sponsored by the HCC, and hope to meet many more of you at these events. Come on out and have fun!

Adventures of a Washington Intern

Abby Allen in Washington, D.C.Every semester, a handful of students from the nine UT System schools are selected to participate in the Bill Archer Fellowship Program in Washington D.C. The program involves taking three classes while working full-time in an internship for an organization of the student’s choosing. I participated in the Fall 2012 class of Archer Fellows and can say without exaggerating that last semester was the most important and exciting of my college career. Living in the nation’s capital is truly incredible. The Archer housing is in an amazing location right on Capitol Hill. On my daily commute to work, I passed the Supreme Court, the Capitol, the House and Senate offices, and the Library of Congress. On weekends it was an easy walk to the National Mall and any one of the free-admission Smithsonian Museums. D.C. offers a truly unique atmosphere that blends local culture (such as street festivals and neighborhood markets) with national pride and history.

While the program, like the city itself, is focused on policy making and government, it is open to students in all academic disciplines. About half the students in my class were political science majors, but the rest represented very diverse fields. We had several criminal justice students, economics and finance majors, and even pre-med and biology majors. As an English major, I had been concerned before applying to the program that I would feel behind in class, but the diversity actually enhances the class discussions.

Each semester, The Archer Center does an amazing job making sure that each class has an unforgettable semester by providing students with talks, tours, and other events. With the connections from the Archer Center, I was able to attend the Washington Ideas Forum, where I heard speeches from former Secretary of state Madeleine Albright, Senator Marco Rubio, and MSNBC commentator Chris Matthews. We toured the Capitol, the White House, the Pentagon, the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, and the Department of Energy. One of the perennial favorites of each cohort of Archers are the classes with Dr. Joel Swerdlow at different memorials across the city. We had class at the Lincoln Memorial, the FDR memorial, the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Ford’s Theater, and the Newseum. These classes are one of the exciting opportunities presented by life in D.C.

The internship portion of the program opens up the possibility of working at one of the city’s many government offices or private-sector organizations. I worked for the Center For American Progress, a nonprofit, independent think tank that focuses on advancing progressive policies through research and advocacy. I worked in their Energy and Environmental Issues department doing research, writing blog posts, and attending panels and discussions around the city. The internships accepted by Archer Fellows are as diverse as the fellows themselves, and represent a cross-section of the many spheres of power and influence in the city. My class had fellows working in the White House, in Congressional offices and committees, and the State Department, as well as organizations such as the United Nations, the National Science Foundation, and NBC News. Even if one isn’t particularly interested in politics, Washington is a city that provides all kinds of opportunities in advocacy to work for a cause that one believes in.

I would definitely encourage any UT Arlington student with an interest in participating in the program to apply. The Archer Program is a unique opportunity to live and work with young people in a fascinating and vibrant city. The program virtually guarantees once-in-a-lifetime experiences, tremendous opportunities to work and learn, and the chance to develop friendships with diverse yet equally passionate individuals.

Whitney (Abigail) Allen
Energy Department Intern, Center For American Progress
Bill Archer Fellow, Fall Semester 2012
Honors B.A. in English, UT Arlington, December 2012

Lauren Devoll’s RNC Journal

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Initial Goals and Thoughts

One initiative The Washington Center seems to stress is their desire for students to understand diverse or opposing perspectives. It is one thing to understand the textbook version of varying opinions; it is another thing to experience them. I come from a conservative, familial, private school, Christian background – a textbook WASP. I have spent my secondary education in public universities with minorities/international students, low-income students, students with disabilities, first-generation college students, homosexual students, and just plain liberal students. In addition, my family has housed my mentally-ill, welfare-receiving uncle for the past year. Such a mixture of influences has had an interesting effect on me which I did not fully notice until my arrival in Tampa. For example, walking into Orientation, the first thing I noticed (beside the huge line) was the lack of ethnic diversity. Most everyone was white! I had never felt so odd and agitated being in a place where most WASPs feel right at home. Furthermore, walking the streets of downtown we came across police making arrangements for the homeless during the convention. If we understood them correctly, they are planning to “lock them away” in hotels for the week so they aren’t seen or are a nuisance. A possible future president is coming to the city and they are going to hide an in ignorable portion of America’s problems? My uncle would be homeless if we hadn’t taken him in. It felt hypocritical. I have not had a paradigm shift or an epiphany inspiring ownership of a new hard-core ideology, but I am absolutely in a state of limbo and many questions have arisen. How’s that for experiencing diverse perspectives?

My primary goal for this entire experience is to learn. We sometimes forget to make that a goal. Specifically I want to examine this experience through the framework of leadership, such things as observing hierarchy, the use of power, how power is demonstrated/made visible, how power is allocated. I’ll be looking for it among the candidates, the delegates, the press outlets, the event organizers, and even The Washington Center staff.

Observations from the Commissioner Julie Immanuel Brown

Perhaps my thoughts can best be expressed by the email I sent to her this evening,

Hello Commissioner,

I am a student attending The Washington Center’s RNC Academic Seminar. I was hoping to catch you right after dismissal and exchange business cards, but I believe Tallahassee was in dire need of you.

As a young woman considering the possibility of a rather intense career choice, it was encouraging to hear you talk about your family and life that you’ve built outside of your career. I’ve felt like I’ve been at a crossroads recently. The world wants me to make decisions about my direction in life and it feels, sometimes, that there is no best-of-both-worlds, you must pick one or the other. I’m very glad to have come across someone where that is simply not the case.

I’d love to have a further discussion with you about this in your “spare time”. I know you will be rather occupied for the next few weeks, but I wanted to reach you while the memory of TWC was still fresh.

Thank you for coming today. It was very special to me.

Reading: Road to the White House, Chapter 1

Chapter 1 outlines the election process and briefly touches on the morphology of the presidential role. It also spends some time discussing the rise of parties, their importance to the system, and how they influence the process (or rule the process). They have become an indistinguishable part of the process as politician selection is becoming more about the platform and less about the candidate. It also addressed how the public’s general desire to play a role in the process helped shape the use and importance of parties. Finally, it touches on some imperfections of the Electoral College system despite its ability to involve more people. As a PR major, the portion I found most intriguing was Wayne’s nod to how the development of communication and technology has affected the election process. I wish this had been discussed more because, quite honestly, advancements in the election history would not have been as drastic without the accompanying changes, and initiating changes, in technology and communication methods.

Bonus Section

I asked Congressman Mickey Edwards to dance at our Welcome Reception this evening. Although he wanted to, he felt it most judicious to decline. He later friended me on Facebook and commented on my business card.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Observations from Journalist-in-Residence Aaron Brown

For me, Professor Brown’s abrasive and cynical method of communication crossed the line of humor into apathetic disrespect. The man’s credentials speak volumes and some valid points were made in his discussion this morning, but I had a very hard time being inspired by Aaron because of his delivery. This “almost thinking adult” left agitated and clouded by thoughts. He spoke primarily on the transformation of news into productions and the ludicrous pomp dedicated to current-day conventions. Aaron shared an interesting anecdote about his chaotic experience during the convention of 1968. That year, through the magnifying glass of television, the public received an unscripted and unplanned glimpse into a party that was asking for public trust. In counteraction to this event, parties have now done their best to make conventions as produced and planned as possible, a very sad turn of events for reporters and, Aaron would argue, the American public. Many such sweeping and valid statements were made.

I must remind myself to apply Aaron’s model to his statements and this experience, “check it out.” Not many people have the opportunity to check out a national convention but I plan to take full ownership of the chance and see where I can find evidence or lack thereof for Aaron’s claims.

Observations from Michael Smith, President of The Washington Center

Although it was brief, I greatly appreciated President Smith’s remarks about TWC’s desire to for students to walk away with the energy and inspiration to try larger, seemingly unreachable goals. If his students walk away empowered, he is satisfied. What a beautiful thing. Thank you, Washington Center.

Reading: Road to the White House, Chapter 4

Chapter 4 outlines the changes that have occurred in the delegate selection process. The Democratic Party made the first set of reforms. The GOP eventually followed and while they have different guidelines and selection processes, the reforms have allowed the general public to be more involved in both parties and feel wanted in participation. The system has created and strengthened the importance of primaries. However, Wayne argues that the reforms reinforce the polarization of parties and alienate a large group of moderates and independents.

Bonus Section

Today I had the most eventful trolley ride yet. A woman entered the trolley at one of our stops and I felt I should ask her how she was doing. She responded with a story of an accident she just had at one of the trolley stops. We carried on a conversation no more than 3 minutes, but I could tell she needed it. She was headed to her job as the night shift security guard at the Florida Aquarium.
The ride ended with my standing serenade to the trolley. I sang (by request, of course) a few lines from “Orange Colored Sky” by Nat King Cole and received applause afterwards. It has been a while since my knees shook that much.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Observations from Congressman Mickey Edwards and small group

Honestly – at the moment- I am so exhausted by his topic (the party gridlock, party system’s disservice to the American populace) and the beating we gave it in small group discussion, that my original glowing support of the Congressman’s thesis has mellowed into a dazed hopelessness of realizing stalemate is all around us. Is it bad that all this talk has made me want to “just not mess with it”? I feel terrible for having such a reaction. Do politicians and scholars ever grow weary? It seems everyone around me feels so energized. What does this mean about me? Is it a sign that this is or is not for me?

I follow the Congressman’s logic. I appreciate his thesis. I want to read his book. His anecdote of rearranging the furniture is something every American should hear.

Sound bite of the day

“Currently people are ready to fire Obama, but are not ready to hire Romney.” – Dr. Michael Genovese.

I respected this layman explanation. Sometimes we forget that the Presidency is an actual job. A job like the ones for which universities drill students. We need resumes. We need experience. We have track records. We do interviews. We look the part. All the same things should apply, despite their magnification by the enormity of the position.

Reading: Road to the White House, Chapter 5

Chapter 5 addresses the issues and challenges candidates face when running for the Republican or Democratic nomination for President. Funding, appeal, organization, focus, public opinion and leadership imagery are all areas that require specific focus and strategy when building a campaign. Wayne indicates the two chief forms of primary strategy, a front-runner approach and a come-from-the-pack approach. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but ultimately the candidate who is most popular and builds the biggest voter base is the one who wins. This tells us why the candidates usually change their approach and stance several times over the course of a campaign.

In addition, Wayne briefly highlighted the importance of current technology. I find this interesting because both the Democratic and Republican parties are doing their best to take advantage of the popular, youth-oriented technological outlets this year. The GOP will actively use Twitter during the convention and President Obama just released his Ask Me Anything account on Reddit.

Bonus Section

Perhaps the most intriguing speaker of the day was a member of the Tampa Bay Police Department. I do not think his vivid analogy of weak, intoxicated bulls being hunted by hungry tigers in the grass will wear off shortly. He related to his audience exceptionally well. As Dr. Mena Bose and Dr. Genovese defined it, he was someone who possessed great “emotional intelligence: while being intelligent/learned, remains highly relatable to people.”

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Observations from Congressman Mickey Edwards

I felt extremely validated by the Congressman saying socializing and building relationships is a (partial) solution to the issue he is exposing. Finally! I know socializing works wonders, but no one takes that seriously! I know building relationships is the most fundamental root to solution, but that does not sound complicated enough in front of review boards! Really, the solution is simple. People need to be people. We were built for relationship. Why on earth would we ignore its role?

Observations from Professor Aaron Brown

The percentage of students in this program who have taken an advertising course is most likely the minority. Aaron’s discussion and delivery of the evolution of campaign ads was spot-on today and especially relevant to me as I have had some background in advertising. I loved the examples he showed. I appreciated he showed excellent work from both parties throughout history and he taught us the strategies within campaign advertisers have to work. He really taught today and I was envious of those students who get to spend a semester with him.

Sound bite(s) of the day

I believe in doubt. I believe in not having too much damn certitude.” – Mickey Edwards
“It’s hard to call someone a Bolshevik at noon and negotiate with him at four.” – (first heard) Aaron Brown

I find these moments related. Much of the world is missed if one is wearing blinders or only faces one wall for his/her approach to life. The second quote beautifully summarizes what I have been thinking and trying to verbalize for at least a year when addressing both my own and other peoples’ approach to tactful (or non-tactful) opinion creation and expression. When I heard it my brain literally shouted, “That’s it!” I am almost positive other people heard it.

Reading: Road to the White House, Chapter 2

Chapter 2 discusses the obvious importance of campaign finance and the transformation of money management and contribution regulation over the course of history. Legislation in the 1970s started to address the corruption and hidden figures, but it distinguished between primaries and the general selections which did not solve all the problems. Further reforms have helped equal the playing field in among candidates. Having such reforms has also increased the public’s knowledge and interest in the finance portion of campaigning. The BCRA has helped to reduced soft money, but not eliminate it. The Supreme Court decided that labor unions do not have limits on the money they can contribute to federal campaigns. Wayne closes with an impressed analysis of how much money Obama was able to raise in 2008 and a discussion of the trend in bigger funding equating to election success.

I hate fundraising. It is annoying. I think fundraising is one of the primary mental blocks I have that would keep me from running for public office.

Bonus Section

Today I introduced myself to Dr. Mena Bose who was very familiar with UTA and friends with some of the faculty. She pulled me aside among a large group of students to inquire about a certain UTA faculty. That felt pretty awesome, like being called to the front of a line.

At the TWC Reception, I walked up behind Professor Aaron Brown who curiously had his hand tucked into the back of his pants. I simply walked up beside him, mimicked his action and made some slightly snarky introductory remark. That illuminated a thoughtful and fun conversation. In the conversation I did my best to express how special it is to sit in the audience and have these internal “ooh, aahh” moments about our speakers, their backgrounds, and their lectures but then to be able to walk up to them and, there he is with his hand tucked in his pants, as genuinely human as possible. To my final mimicking he simply embraced me much like a father and kissed my forehead. It was a cloud nine moment.

I cannot fully verbalize my appreciation for the sweet accessibility our scholars have given us to their intellectual and experiential wealth.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Midterm Assessment of Goals

This morning’s discussion between the trinity – Bose, Edwards, and Brown – further encouraged me that I am indeed on the right course in my thoughts, if not ahead of where the leadership suspects most of us are. They are individually and collectively pushing us towards what I realized was already happening internally when I arrived: exploration of viewpoints free of constraints and tactful formulation of one’s own opinion. In our small group discussion, Brown summarized succinctly what I have desired to share with colleagues of both sides. Solutions and practicality are rarely found in ideology, but the gray area. At this moment, I feel like the definition of blurry, fuzzy, floating gray. Is one ever truly anchored in their gray? Are certain pixels white and some black? What does that anchoring? Brown said today that we as students and young twenty-somethings still have so much to learn. Thank you for recognizing that! We feel so much pressure to have it all figured. That was not a demeaning statement to me; it was a relief. I am perfectly comfortable not having it all figured. I like learning. And since that is my primary goal, I think I am doing pretty well.

Observations from Lecture

I was very glad that the declining Republican Party appeal, particularity to the minorities and youth, was finally brought up in the forum today. It is an issue that has been glaring in my mind since arrival because there is a very strong chance when I get back to my university, even though it is in Texas and even though it is a stellar story, I might face some grudge because I went to the Republican National Convention. Republicans are not very popular at the diverse UTA and I have been wondering ever since arrival how to frame this story so that it still possesses some appeal and content-worth to the student body. The Republican Party has got to do the same thing. It is so obvious to me now. The Republican Party needs to start formulating and communicating updated messages. The trick is how to do this without becoming dictated by popularity in their ideological base. It is a tough question requiring a unique and wise solution, but it absolutely requires a solution even if they do win the election this year. I hope a win will not mask the fact that this still has to be addressed. The longer the wait, the larger the detriment.

Reading: Road to the White House, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 highlights topics we have danced around all week. It discusses the portion of time between when the candidate is basically picked and when he is officially picked at the convention. During this interim time the candidate has to stay visible, not do anything stupid, get a tighter grasp on his/her platform and continue to fund raise. Wayne addresses the transformation of conventions into a scripted show to arouse emotion and support and the difficulty media outlets have creating news out of such an event. He also states how their popularity has declined, but it is substantive in re-shaping a candidate in the minds of those who do choose to watch.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Observations from Dr. Michael Genovese

Dr. Genovese spoke on the antiquated process we use in Congress. He several times made the indication that our 18th century constitution was not adequate enough for the speedy processes that need to occur in the 21st century. His lecture could have been interpreted as a call for shredding the constitution. While I believe him to be a man of more forethought and decorum than that, I wish he would have clarified what exactly he thought needed to be done to reconcile the issue.

Observations from Congressman Mickey Edwards

Congressman Edwards gave a brief history on the movement of conservatism. By his definition, conservatism means limitation of the government’s powers both fiscally and socially, a libertarian protection of freedoms. Not the religious, traditionalist fighting the government and people unlike them. If people understood conservatism in the original light, and I had to give an answer right now as to what I would politically label myself, I would chose conservative. However, I am too afraid of public ignorance and opinion to shout it from the rooftop.

Sound bite of the day

“People don’t want journalism; they want to be told that they are right.” – Aaron Brown
“A strong President is different from a strong presidency.” – Mickey Edwards

Reading: Road to the White House, Chapter 3

Chapter 3 addresses the stigmas, preconceptions, and ideologies people hold steadfast when coming to the voting polls. While open-minded exploration of policies and facts is praised when making these decisions, it is rarely the case. Shocker. Wayne also uses a significant portion of the chapter to discuss voter base and the demographic appeal of each party. However, a book is not really needed to tell an educated citizen, or just an observant citizen, that generally a white Christian will vote conservative and a low-income African-American will vote liberal. Again, Wayne writes that the growing polarization of the parties is creating and offending more independent/moderate voters.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Interview: Former Governor Robert List

The coolest part of this experience is the collection of notable people that are here. You do not have to request an audience or jump hoops to get a visit, someone will just sit next to you at the bar and he is the former Governor of Nevada and a member of the RNC Executive Board. Robert List sat right next to a friend and me while we were enjoying a glass of wine and smiled as he overheard parts of our conversation. As it was rather personal things we were chatting about, when we reached out to the him he went straight to personal things. We talked for twenty minutes about his career, his family, and faith.

The hotel bar is a treasure trove of notables! Why did I not know this before my last night at the Hyatt? I informed my fellow classmate attending the DNC of this strategy I had to figure out on my own.

Sunday, August 26, 2012


This evening I volunteered at a party honoring a former Texas Senator at the Cuban Club. As I worked the ticket will-call and bar pass table, I got an interesting view of “this kind” of party’s dynamics. The guests ranged from politicians to sponsors to compensated workers to guests. I could typically tell who was who by the different level of expectation each guest possessed as they entered. What is about people that make them crave for recognition and reward? The organizers of the party knew who they wanted to favor with that attention. I only caught glimpses – really not enough to form an analysis – just enough to wonder what it would be like to carry on a conversation with some of the people I handed tickets and bar bracelets. Tonight, I made it a point that if I ever get to be on the opposite side of that table, that I would recall this moment and its impressions. Money plays such an interesting role. You have to possess some to play the game, but how does one keep it from ruling the game? Is that even possible?

In addition, outside the general entry a protest was going on and members of the press were flashing photos and video in the rain. “Dear Diary, I had my first experience with paparazzi and high press today, even though it was at a distance.”

Monday, August 27, 2012

Reading: Road to the White House, Chapter 9

Chapter 9 opens discussing the factors that contribute to popular interest and participation in the general election. It is “dramatic, decisive, participatory, and affects future politics.” Many tests and polls have been devised to determine and calculate where public opinion lies in reference to the presidential campaign. Recently, the most important issues to voters have been the campaign’s issues and the approval of the party/candidate currently in power. This public perception of whether or not the candidate is addressing the important issues in the desired way typically is the driving force in all elections.

Bonus Section

Tropical Storm Isaac rolled in early this morning as I arrived at the beach from fieldwork. Our bus driver was gentle-hearted and humorous. Coming from an event were affluence was rampant, in the moment that I exited his bus I realized that I want to be affluent so that I could make such a man’s evening with $100 tip. Maybe everyone starts out wanting to be affluent for that reason and spectators laugh at their naivety, but I feel very genuine about this.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


I had one of the most frustrating days I have ever experienced. This is not a place to complain so I will not. However, I will note that from now on I will do all in my power to thank, notice, and not complain to service-stationed employees and volunteers.

Interview: Su Song, Texas Delegate

I found Su in his festive Texas shirt sitting on a picnic table outside the forum Tuesday night. I went to him because Texas is an easy conversation starter and also because his disposition did not seem to reflect the cheer among the other delegates. After some talking, I discovered he was a Ron Paul supporter and was exhausted by his day of “Ron Rally.” A significant portion of Texas delegates had rallied for Ron Paul and placed a vote for his candidacy the first day of the convention. I found this interesting because Texas is rarely divided substantially in such issues. It also gave insight into convention dynamics. It was obviously already decided that Romney would be the ticket. So we had a large convening to officially decide something that was already decided? It is like sports teams that win the super bowl and automatically come onto the field with their champion gear…except worse. Su made it very clear that they were still going to do their best to see Paul’s ideas implemented. How so, he did not say and was rather annoyed with me by this time.

Convention Sessions

I am very sure my cynical perspective of the entire evening was a hilarious mental discourse, but certainly a product of my frustration during the day. While I sat in the nosebleeds watching the spectacle unfold, I realized that the convention is one massive pep rally. All conventions are simply fanatic fests! Why am I just now getting this? All these thoughts start to flood into my mind about what Aaron Brown said about the scripted spectacle. While I did not make any permanent mental decisions because of my mood, I have to say that Aaron’s argument was very real and valid to me. It felt so shallow – and I do not think that is something specific to Republicans.

Bonus Question

How do you become somebody people will listen to?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


It was another disappointing day of being stuck directing traffic on a street corner. I did get to see a few famous faces as they pulled their limo-tented Tahoes and Escalades or special golf-carts into the private VIP areas. As I smiled and acted my way through the day, many thoughts about what makes “a very important person” started simmering. Talent, money, prestige? They all like to know each other and pretend that they are in an exclusive club.

Interview: Jonas Davis, Iowa Delegate

Jonas was one of the very few that responded to my smile and offer to help. He actually looked me in the eye, reacted to my greeting, and there a conversation was born. He wanted to know where he could find a Starbucks. I humorously pointed to the Starbucks emblem straight ahead. Genuine humor puts people at ease. He asked if there was somewhere to kill time and I assisted him as best as possible with my handful of Floridian knowledge. His credential denoted that he was a delegate and I asked him what got him interested in the political process. For him, it’s a hobby. He is a middle class political junkie. A fanatic. I am thankful for fanatics. Their passion is necessary in our societal balance. There really is a place for everyone’s fetishes and this one just happens to visibly impact the course of our country.

Convention Sessions

It was a much better evening as I “snuck” into the empty ADA section with a perfect, lower view of the stage. When I stood cheering for Paul Ryan, I realized “O my gosh! This convention thing works!” I was excited. And then I was not sure if I should be. Was it a trap? I am not typically this cynical or devil’s advocate-like. This is not a natural persona for me. I am certainly not incapable of belief. Trust is at the core of my ideology and life. So it’s been very odd to experience this much doubt.

Condoleezza Rice was phenomenal. I will meet her one day. My mom, watching at home, remarked that some stations chose not to air her speech. I found that most unfortunate because not only is her service and experience worthy of note, she was clearly the most crowd-respected convention participant. It brought to light once more that the GOP can do their absolute best to put forth the exact message they want, but media still shapes it how they wish. Unless, you are present at the convention, you will not get purely what the GOP put forth.

The Republican Party is doing a die-hard job of trying to appeal to the minorities and women. And quite frankly, I think they have done an excellent job. The number of minorities in the party is growing and it was not fabricated as I saw many Asians, Hispanics, and Indians pass by on their way into the convention the past two days. Yes, the majority is still overwhelmingly white. The GOP’s message shaping has played largely into this billowing issue of race/lifestyle appeal that pounced on me last Sunday.

Thursday, August 27, 2012


I notified my supervisors that I had reporting for my school to do and I did not go to my directional post. Instead I spent the day actually utilizing my credentials. I got on the floor during the day which was an overwhelming experience that produced quite a bit of smiles. I was especially fascinated by the amount of media on the floor. Media members were rampant, everywhere. And they are cut-throat with each other too because they are all competing for a worthwhile story from the same empty pool.

Interview: Spanish Reporter, D.C.

I will not lie, due to the gentleman’s thick accent and lack of a business card, I was not able to remember his name, but from the descriptions of his assignments and his demeanor, you could tell he was prestigious and well experienced in his field. He works closely with CNN, but reports for Spanish news broadcasts in Mexico. We struck up a conversation about iPhone picture taking techniques and this turned into a twenty minute discussion that covered topics from worldview, philosophy, his family, my career ambitions, and his warning about the demands of his job. He has been to some exceptional places. He referenced the Middle East most often in his esteemed travel destinations/assignments. What struck me about this man is the woeful dignity with which he spoke and thought. When we talked about certain things, I felt he was just as ignorant and opinion-muddled as I was. My heart went out to him because I could sense disappointment when he would talk about certain portions of his career and experiences. I wonder. I think there are some portions of his job that have torn him apart his family, particularly his wife – maybe ex-wife? We saw each other later in the day and exchanged a very sweet nod.

Interview: Congressman Michael Burgess, TX

I requested an interview with Congressman Burgess because I worked with him in high school and he addressed my class at commencement. While I thought I perceived an attitude of obligation from him, I did appreciate meeting with him. We spoke about his personal involvement in the convention process as he had been a Newt supporter in the primaries. We talked about the dynamics of a convention and I asked him if there was an importance to the convention. He firmly stood by the position that they were a necessary portion of the process and that unity was the key outcome. When I addressed the observation that there did not seem to be many youth involved in the process, he doggedly opposed me and said that this was the most youth-friendly and youth-infused convention he had seen.

Interview: Tony Colyatayud, Radio Station operator, Miami

Tony immediately wanted to know who I was and what my goals in life were as he was very eager to share his. He proudly manages radio stations all over the nation, with 3 in Miami. Did I mention he’s very proud of his prestige in Miami? He stuck with me a while in conversation, urging me to have a specific 5-year-post-graduation- plan. I inquired what his 5-year plan was out of college. He could not answer. That was gratifying. Those kinds of “plans” are rather comical to me. I understand goals and directions, but too much changes on a daily basis to have the next five years outlined. When another dapper, expensive business man/entrepreneur intruded our conversation at one point, Tony jumped ship and neither man paid attention to the young college student who had actually initiated the entire conversation. Tony eventually came back to me after the other man left and insulted Fort Worth’s lack of culture which I heartily, respectfully, and successfully counter-acted.

Convention Sessions

I appreciated Clint Eastwood’s presence as it makes a strong mark in the public’s mind. When Hollywood gets involved, the cool factor and interest sky-rockets. Thank you, Clint for being so bold (or old enough) to not care what the rest of your peers think. Not that you had to be worried about that, you’re Clint Eastwood. (Again, what makes you somebody people will listen to?)

I would vote for Marco Rubio.

Unfortunately, Mitt Romney was the most disappointing speaker of the evening. That hurt. After this extreme, beautiful build-up of his personal character I was ready to hear from him. His personal acquaintances, friends, and colleagues spoke so highly of his humanizing and compassionate character. (The story of writing a will for the dying 14-year-old boy made me cry.) Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I perceived him as cold, distant, and disconnected. Maybe it is his expression of confidence, but they did such an outstanding job of painting him as not-the-cookie-cutter-guy. When he got up there, I felt he was the cookie-cutter-guy. I want to believe his family, friends, and colleagues! I really do! But I’ve got to see it from him as well. His final word and balloon drop was anti-climatic.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Final Assessment of Goals

My chief goal in this experience was to learn and I certainly achieved did that. I hope learning is something I never achieve but always continue. I have not experienced an internal revolution, but a healthy dose of full exploration. I am very thankful that the program gave me an opportunity to get hands-on and close-up thought material. While I had a disappointing and unrelated fieldwork placement, I did sculpt an elaborate social experiment the related specifically to my framework of leadership observation. Conclusion: 1. Appearances dictate the initial judgment of power and leadership ability. 2. “Power” is easy to distinguish when it is hanging around your neck. People did not look at my eyes. They looked at my credentials. And they did not look my way unless I was out of COA uniform. Our generic COA uniforms made us a part of the scenery. I had hoped for something different, but it does not surprise me. It just inspires me to be out of that superficial ordinary.

From the Republican National Convention 2012, Tampa Bay, Florida

by Lauren Devoll

My senior year began with a two-week field trip. Instead of climbing aboard a bus with zoo tickets in hand, I boarded an airplane carrying my Republican National Convention credentials to Tampa Bay, Florida.

The day after arrival I triumphantly marched into orientation for The Washington Center’s Academic Seminar, a program that included lectures from esteemed political scholars, journalists, and public servants as well as classroom discussions and fieldwork at the Republican National Convention.

“Wow, everyone here is white,” I so eloquently thought as I waded through the crowd of fellow college students. Ironically, this humorously staunch observation tuned my eye to look beyond the faces and search for the deeper things.

Our keynote speaker for the academic portion of the program was former Congressman Mickey Edwards. His list of accolades built a wall of reverence that I finally felt bold enough to cross at our welcome reception. After carrying on a conversation that felt more like an interview to me, I asked him to dance when the band switched to a slower, jazzy melody. He judiciously declined, but I received his Facebook friend request later that evening. When he sent me a message complimenting my “crazy business card,” I saw the deeper thing. This man who built federal legislation for 16 years was just a person.

One evening I enjoyed a glass of wine at the hotel bar with a fellow student. The man who sat next to us chuckled as he overheard parts of our personal conversation. When I unknowingly extended the conversation to him, the former Governor of Nevada, we talked for twenty minutes about career, family, and faith. This state leader was just a person.

I traveled back to the hotel via trolley one afternoon. A single woman boarded and sat solemnly in front of me. Something prompted me to ask her how she was doing. “Not so good,” she sighed. “I just tripped at the trolley stop and fell on my face. I’m in pain.” We conversed no longer than three minutes, but after exiting she turned and gave me an encouraging wave. This lonely woman traveling to her night shift at the Florida Aquarium was just a person.

My first day working on the Convention grounds, I was placed as a welcome hostess to the delegates as they trickled into the Forum. From 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., I smiled through the humidity and received a variety of attitudes. Many appeared festively happy, but a few felt it their duty to reprimand me for inconvenient circumstances beyond my control. These men and women who passed my welcome, marching to their air-conditioned haven were just people.

Award-winning journalist Aaron Brown presented several fantastic lectures during the program. One day I noticed that he curiously had one hand tucked into the back of his pants as he conversed. I walked up beside him, mimicked his action and made some slightly snarky introductory remark that illuminated a thoughtful and fun conversation. Towards the end he embraced me like a father and kissed my forehead. This man who led the CNN morning broadcast on September 11, 2001 was just a person.

This experience taught me the power of perspective. I did not get the opportunity to meet Mitt Romney or his entourage, but I am fairly certain that after interacting with them I would have concluded similarly. Like the woman on the trolley, like the Congressman, like me, he too is just a person. Every path is lined with people, both commoners and champions. Life is merely a dare to treat them all as such.

From Veneratio, Winter 2012

Alumnus on the Vanguard of Brain Research

Honors College Alumnus Ali Alam, who is attending Texas A&M Medical School, has been spending his summers studying brain cancer under the tutelage of Dr. Amy Heimberger, Professor of Neurosurgery, at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Ali recently co-authored an article with Dr. Greg Fuller, Chief of Neuropathology at M.D. Anderson, concerning his research on alterative therapeutic options for treating brain tumors. The article will be published in the Journal of Neuro Oncology within the year, and Ali is presenting his findings at the American Association of Neurological Surgeons Annual Meeting this spring in New Orleans.

His research concerns a rare form of neuroglia cell brain cancer called a subependymoma. He and Professor Heimberger have been on a quest to discover what could inhibit this particular brain tumor in hopes of discovering treatments for this and more common brain cancers.

Using various media, their first discovery was how to sustain subependymoma tumor cells in vitro (outside the body). Achieving this is the first step in applying flow cytokine array, tissue micro array, immunohistochemistry and other tests in determining cancer cell susceptibility to various substances.

The most promising discovery in understanding the tumor cell biology is that subependymoma cells express an appreciable amount of nucleolin and other factors, known as cytokines, that could lead to novel noninvasive immunotherapeutic treatment. In other words, brain tumor cancer vaccines may result from these new discoveries.

Ali talks about the exciting possibilities involved in personalized medicine that are just now being explored. From ‘bedside to bench’ is how he describes the ability to take a small sample of tissue, and by using computation, discover precisely what the patient’s problem is and how it can best be treated.

Ali expects to receive his M.D. from Texas A&M Health Science Center Medical School in 2016, and hopes to continue his career as a physician researcher in order to develop new therapies to help patients with neurological cancers.

Ali Alam with Dr. Amy Heimberger
Ali Alam with Dr. Amy Heimberger in her M. D. Anderson Cancer Center Laboratory in Houston.

From Veneratio, Winter 2012