The Square Circuit

Academia, parenthood, living in a bankrupt city, and what I read in the process.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

blinded by science

More and more I'm thinking that there's just an amazing book to be written about the Bush administration's clearly conscious, intentional, and long-planned decision to reject empiricism and the scientific method (remember, you learned what that is back in sixth grade) as an unquestioned basis for policymaking. (There's an even more important book about the general retreat, in American society, from acceptance of science, but that's for a philosopher to write and I probably wouldn't understand it.) From climate change to AIDS prevention in Africa to Iraq to energy policy to, now, emergency contraception, the administration only accepts facts as the basis for policy, and for the arguments for policy decisions, when those facts gibe with certain a prioris elucidated at Grover Norquist's breakfast meetings or in the boardroom of the Family Research Council.

On Friday, the FDA announced that it would not make a decision on whether or not to allow women to purchase Plan B (an emergency contraceptive method that delays or prevents ovulation, interferes with fertilization, and may inhibit implantation) without a prescription. As the WASHINGTON POST reports:

"After 28 months of growing controversy, the Food and Drug Administration yesterday indefinitely postponed its decision on whether women should be allowed to buy the "morning-after pill" Plan B without a prescription -- despite earlier assurances that it would act by Thursday."

FDA Commissioner Lester M. Crawford put it this way:

"What we are saying today is that the Agency is unable at this time to reach a decision on the approvability of the application because of these unresolved regulatory and policy issues that relate to the application we were asked to evaluate."


"We are beginning a process that will address the regulatory questions today, but we believe we can only decide these issues in an open, public process. Through this process, all interested parties can weigh in on the questions of whether a drug may be both prescription and over the counter based on uses by different subpopulations and whether the prescription and over the counter versions of the drug may be marketed in a single package."

All right, fair enough. Who's against an "open, public process?" This'll show those liberals that the Bushies aren't as fanatically devoted to secrecy as everyone says.

But the plot sickens... um, thickens. We read last May 12 that all might not be in the light when it comes to the FDA's deliberations:

"Soon after the Food and Drug Administration overruled its advisory panel last year and rejected an application to make an emergency contraceptive more easily available, critics of the agency said it had ignored scientific evidence and yielded to pressure from social conservatives. The agency denied the charge, but an outspoken evangelical conservative doctor on the panel [W. David Hager] subsequently acknowledged in a previously unreported public sermon that he was asked to write a memo to the FDA commissioner soon after the panel voted 23 to 4 in favor of over-the-counter sales of the contraceptive, called Plan B. He said he believes his memo played a central role in the rejection of that recommendation."

The good Dr. Hager, who has taken it upon himself to make women's reproductive decisions for them, apparently also has a history of making decisions for women when it comes to, um, non-reproductive matters, as well. THE NATION reports that Hager's ex-wife, Linda Carruth Davis, "alleges that between 1995 and their divorce in 2002, Hager repeatedly sodomized her without her consent." While she was sleeping. Because she has narcolepsy. Ow.

Anyway. So today, one of the FDA's people couldn't take the crap. Susan Wood, director of the FDA's Office of Women's Health—that's gotta be a great job these days—resigned today because of Crawford's stalling tactics. She stated that

"I can no longer serve as staff when scientific and clinical evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by the professional staff here, has been overruled. The recent decision announced by the Commissioner about emergency contraception, which continues to limit women's access to a product that would reduce unintended pregnancies and reduce abortions, is contrary to my core commitment to improving and advancing women's health."

bumper-sticker politics

I got a note from one of the part-time instructors here, a new teacher, who's frustrated by his students' inability or unwillingness to focus on the point of our class: how arguments are made in the public sphere. Instead, he complains, they want to just have pro-con debates on the issues, and inevitably those debates are boiled down to the most narcissistic, nihilistic 18-year-old stances:

Why worry about SUVs and pollution? everything causes cancer anyway.

Homeless people are homeless because they're dumb. it's their own fault.

This instructor is at his wits' end about this. I'm going to advise him to stay away from debating the issues—this might sound dismissive, but I'm not all that interested in most college freshmen's stances on important and complicated issues, and find it a waste of time to try to show them that even jackass ideologues like Bush and Santorum recognize that these topics have subtleties.

It's natural for students to take these kinds of positions, because having an unequivocal stance on something that brooks no complexity, no contingency, no sophistication is a preliminary, fumbling way for a young person to "join the conversation" about issues. It gets them out of having to debate things in the real world: "It all sucks, man, so whattaya gonna do?" My hope is that as we focus on HOW all sorts of kinds of arguments get made that they'll see, as they sift through ten or fifteen different stances on something, that there are all sorts of legitimate ways of looking at an issue.

The real problem, I think, is a general unwillingness to LISTEN to another voice. In a freshman-comp class, this translates into an inability to read carefully and a powerful desire to incorporate this new voice into the student's vastly oversimplified, pro-or-con understanding of an issue.

What I generally don't say to the frosh, but often want to, is "how is it millions of adults in America have missed this simple solution to the problem? If we'd only listen to our teenagers, we could realize the truth about the world: that life sucks and then you die, so WTF, man."

Monday, August 29, 2005

more Easton Ellis

The fake bio web site for Ellis' fictional wife in LUNAR PARK... I see three possible explanations: 1) the photocomposite for "Jayne" is so poorly done that it's a disgrace to Knopf. 2) Ellis is attracted to the "lollipop" look but doesn't want us to think he--or "Ellis"--is shallow so "Jayne" doesn't look exactly like every lollipop strolling up La Brea in that she's not blonde. 3) He and/or the publicity interns at Knopf are making fun of Hollywood's preference for the lollipop look. Either way, that fake web site ain't pretty.

The weird thing is that among "Dennis'" fake film credits is one for "Phlox" in the 1993 movie of THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH, co-starring Keanu Reeves. Ellis does say in the book that "Dennis" co-starred with Keanu at that time, but he doesn't mention a movie. I'm wondering why those publicity drones decided to plug MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH.


In today's "War Room," editorial fellow Aaron Kinney responds to conservatives' self-righteousness about being called "chickenhawks." (For those who don't know, "chickenhawk" is a term used to describe those who relentlessly push war but who do all they can to avoid service in wars, or in the military at all, themselves.) Kinney reasonably responds to the objections of chickenhawks like Jonah Goldberg of the NATIONAL REVIEW who have argued that this sort of name-calling is undemocratic and undermines the ethical, responsible, respectful kind of public discussion they value so highly.

I especially like how Kinney sticks to a reasoned argument and avoids talking about the elephant in the room: the utter absurdity of conservatives whining about how unfair ad hominem attacks, especially regarding military matters, are. Draft-dodger Clinton, Max Cleland the friend of Osama and Saddam, Gore who was "only" an Army reporter during Vietnam, Kerry the Swift Boat liar, Ann Coulter's bizarre recent statement about how New Yorkers would immediately surrender if, in some unforseeable event, they were attacked by terrorists... it'd be comical if it didn't, for reasons I still can't fathom, work on voters.

Check out the Chickenhawk Database here and a larger list of "Who served?" here.


Well, it's like with every other Easton Ellis novel. I don't particularly LIKE the novel, and I certainly don't like Easton Ellis, and in the novel he takes pains to accentuate everything about himself that most people would hate: his flatness, his narcissism, his Warholian fascination with celebrity, his self-medication, his inability to truly engage with other people. But, like with every other Easton Ellis novel that I've read, it's damn good.

Let me back up a little bit to explain that first paragraph. How, I would ask my students, can you equate the voice of this narrator with the writer himself? Twain isn't Huck Finn; Melville isn't Ishmael; Chabon isn't Grady Tripp. Ellis, though, is fascinated with the possibilities created by that permeable membrane between writer and narrator. My suspicion is that he's saying something about the nature of celebrity culture, wherein these days we don't remember the characters played by the popular actors of the day as anything but facets of the celeb's person. Performers who disappear into their parts to the exclusion of their own identities are admiringly called "actor's actors" by the press, but it's not them (Streep, Hackman, Joan Allen, Gary Oldman, Philip Seymour Hoffman) who drive the newsstand sales of IN STYLE and the viewers of ACCESS HOLLYWOOD. It's the A-listers, the Pitts and Jolies and Cruises and Kidmans and Harrison Fords (who makes an appearance in LUNAR PARK), who build their careers as one would build a brand, choosing roles that create a singular "image" for that actor. Neal Gabler does a nice job creating a "unified field theory" of this phenomenon in his book LIFE: THE MOVIE (he explains this here).

Ellis, whose books have been drenched in the outwardly blase/inwardly slavering L.A. attitude toward wealth and consumption and celebrity ever since he wrote LESS THAN ZERO in college, simultaneously attacked and celebrated the importation of this attitude to New York in the Reagan 1980s, where it mixed with go-go capitalism and the Trump way of life to create... well, who knows. Ellis would say "to create Patrick Bateman," but that's too easy. I'd say "to create million-dollar two-bedroom condos on Rivington Street or Avenue C." Ellis chronicled this life as he lived it--more, as he would probably say, as he and McInerney and Jamowitz and Fisketjon created it. It's familiar, the clubbing and the coke and the violence and the emergence of Manhattan as glamorous again after the 1970s and early 1980s and Bernie Goetz and all that.

Ellis' later books continued to mine this vein. AMERICAN PSYCHO, of course, is a vile slab of writing, but a good one. The problem with Ellis is that he's so damn talented you've got to read these books, but they're nasty. And he holds a fascination for younger writers. At my graduate school, his reading at the writing program was the event of the decade; no visiting writer, including the various Nobel Prize winners who came, drew an audience like his or created the post-reading buzz he engendered. I don't know if it was Ellis' half-earnest, half-ironic attitude toward violence and drugs and a high life that young writers simultaneously crave and despise, but a lot of copies of AMERICAN PSYCHO were sold that week.

So, LUNAR PARK. It's a metafiction--a fiction about itself--and it's an obnoxious game but, like Philip Roth's OPERATION SHYLOCK, a smart one. The first thirty pages are great. Ellis retells his history from the publication of LESS THAN ZERO to the "present." His history is Ellis amplified: as he tells it, he was more famous, more reckless, more addicted, richer, dated more famous women. It's like Ellis viewing his past on coke. The book then lurches into the present, at which point Ellis has married "Jayne Dennis," an A-list actress, moved to the suburbs, and is trying to be a father to their son and to her young daughter. At first, it feels like it's going to be LITTLE CHILDREN, a comedy about suburban life and modern childrearing. But, as any readers of reviews now know, the plot kicks in when "someone" starts recreating the crimes of Patrick Bateman in this suburb. Children start going missing. And the ghost of Ellis' father--who, Ellis admits, was the original model for Bateman himself--starts haunting him. There's also a heavy-handed HAMLET thing going on.

Worth the read. But Ellis is as loathsome a character as ever.

Friday, August 26, 2005

robertson and santorum

Sometimes our homegrown mullahs say things and then shamelessly deny that they say them, like with Pat Robertson's calm, reasoned, Christ-like suggestion that we use Special Forces to "take out" Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. His smirky denials didn't work when he inexplicably forgot that he said this all ON CAMERA on his own show. He later apologized—well, sort of—for his statements:

"I didn’t say 'assassination.’ I said our special forces should ’take him out,”’ Robertson said on his show. “’Take him out’ could be a number of things including kidnapping.” (

Or, conceivably, showing Chavez a nice evening on the town in Caracas, possibly including empanadas and a fruity drink.

The Daily Show did a great piece on this, and on Robertson's apologists' contortions, last night. See it here.

Sometimes, though, they work in the opposite direction. In response to charges by his likely 2006 opponent Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum insists that he has indeed "asked the tough questions" about the war in Iraq. However, as today's Philadelphia INQUIRER reports,

"Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum's office acknowledged yesterday that it cannot locate public statements of the senator questioning the Iraq war, despite the senator's claim last week that he has publicly expressed his concerns... Robert L. Traynham, Santorum's spokesman, said a search of Nexis, a news database, and the office's press clippings had not turned up any account of those comments. He noted, however, that the office's records are incomplete because the office is unable to record everything the senator says."

Thursday, August 25, 2005

team spirit

It feels like there is really some team spirit among the teachers--fulltime profs, grad students, part-timers--in the freshman writing program. I'm not going to take much credit for it; they're a nice group of people and I think they play well together for the most part. I do like it, though.

I forgot earlier to record that I've now read FREAKONOMICS. I enjoyed it, but I've been in academia so long that books like that seem half-assed. Throw in a clever insight or two, flesh it out with a few anecdotes, and you're done. The interstitial pages consisting of excerpts from an article about the author, though, really showed that he had a hard time filling the requisite pages. I was a little surprised at that.

I'm now reading the new Harry Potter. The wife warned me that, contrary to the good reviews it's been receiving, that it's a tough slog--it's a "get on with it, already" read. I liked the first hundred pages, and told her that I thought she was wrong, but it turns out she's right. I'm going to finish it tonight, finally. Rowling can plot, sure, but I'm not sure we needed all the cutesy set pieces, character development scenes, etc.

Looking forward to reading Bret Easton Ellis' LUNAR PARK next. I like him: I think he's genuinely good, and even AMERICAN PSYCHO had its moments. I'm still waiting for the inspiration to hit for me to get back into THE PICKWICK PAPERS, which I started on a recent plane trip. For me, the Dickens bug is... fleeting.

Reagan days are here again!

The Eighties never really die, do they? The Killers' new record does a great job of channeling the best (no, really!) of Big Country and Simple Minds. The Times' Thursday Styles section has a feature about the return of stovepipe pants and skinny ties. John Roberts is Ed Meese's epigone. And in Tuesday's press briefing, Rumsfeld compared Iraq today to El Salvador, 1982:

"In 1982, when El Salvadorans battled an insurgency in their country, a grandmother was -- reported that when she was told that she would be killed if she dared to vote, she replied, saying 'You can kill me, you can kill my children, you can kill my neighbors, but you can't kill us all.' That suggests the power of freedom's appeal in the struggle against tyranny."

Did someone say "El Salvador" and "kill me, kill my children, kill my neighbors"? Dude, deja vu! I can hear Al Haig now!

Rummy went on to compare those who are opposed to this war to—wait for it—you know it's coming—Commies!!!

"Throughout history there have always been those who predict America's failure just around every corner. At the height of World War II, a prominent U.S. diplomat predicted that democracy was finished in Britain and probably in America too. Many Western intellectuals praised Stalin during that period. For a time, Communism was very much in vogue. It was called Euro-Communism to try to mute or mask the totalitarian core. And thankfully, the American people are better centered."

—Hi, Secretary of Defense, please. Don, it's Condi. Look, I know that you had your hands in a lot of counterinsurgency projects back in the Cold War days, and that smearing your opponents by calling them Communists worked back in the day, but let's stay away from there when talking about Iraq. And about Salvador... there was that El Mozote massacre, there was the murder of three American nuns, there was the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. Yeah, Don, pretty much everyone knows it was the government and the army down there. No, it's not just the dead-enders who rent Oliver Stone films. Sorry. And you might want to stay away from Angola comparisons, too. You're making Karen's job a lot harder, and POTUS really doesn't want her to go back to Austin again.—

Assassinations, terrorism, murder... come to think of it, maybe Rummy's right. That Iraqi insurgency sure looks a whole lot like the Salvadorian government. Wait...

first day of class

It's always nerve-wracking, but this year's crop of freshmen seem a little more lively, more curious, maybe even more involved in their own education than last year's. In my class I ask, on the first day, what their favorite book is; a few always come up:

Great Gatsby
Watership Down
Catcher in the Rye
Harry Potter
John Grisham books
pop philosophy (Seven People You Meet in Heaven/Tuesdays with Morrie/etc)

and there's always one Ayn Rand-er in the class. I can make a fairly accurate prediction of how well the class will go, though, by counting the number of kids who say "I don't have a favorite book, I don't really read" or some variety of that. Generally, over 15% means the class will be a struggle. This year's class: 0%. Damn!

Of course, I might have skewed the sample by starting out the class by telling them at the start of class that Victoria "Posh Spice" Beckham has proudly stated that she's never read a book, and speculating that this might have something to do with her recently-expressed admiration for Tom Cruise.

Yes, celebrity gossip. That's what freshman comp has become these days.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

staff development workshop

I hate meetings, and all-day meetings especially get under my skin. I hated them when I was adjuncting and making $1800/semester to commute an hour each way. But now that I'm on the other side, I see why they're necessary. I'm also beginning the understand the value of things like assessment and the WPA's outcomes statement, and why some kind of standardization and top-down control is necessary in a writing program. So I tried to design a program that would be useful to people who've been teaching a long time while being REALLY useful to the new teachers I've got.

I think it went well. The wife reminds me that I've got to evaluate, send out some kind of a questionnaire, and she's right. But just from the anecdotal evidence (unreliable, true, but I'd like to believe it), I think people of all ranks got something out of it. Now let's see how the semester goes.

VFW Convention 2005

VFW Convention 2005
Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
From Atrios:

"Bill Moyer, 73, wears a "Bullshit Protector" flap over his ear while President George W. Bush addresses the Veterans of Foreign Wars. (AP Photo/Douglas C. Pizac)"

Monday, August 22, 2005


Bush's approval rating today, according to the American Research Group, is 36%—Think Progress points out that Nixon was at 39% during that Watergate thing. Silly thing, that, but still tragic, as Peggy Noonan reminds us—if it weren't for that villainous careerist Mark Felt, Nixon and Kissinger could have brought home an honorable victory in Vietnam and we wouldn't have been subjected to the long, um, several-hours-in-duration national nightmares RAMBO and MISSING IN ACTION.

Back to the point: the wheels may well be coming off, or we're just in the August doldrums and it's hot and the AC doesn't work so great and the boy is sick and school's about to start and you might as well blame it on that lackwit in Crawford. Gallup has Bush's approval rating at 45% as of Aug. 8-11, but more telling seems to be that in that same poll only 37% stated that they were "satisfied" with the state of the country. 60%, on the other hand, weren't. Hey, dumbasses, where were you back in November?

Sunday, August 21, 2005

frank rich & other journalists

Usually I don't love him, even though I generally agree with him. But I think today's column (recently moved from the Sunday arts section to the Week In Review section) is fantastic. It might be wishful thinking; a lot of us are really hoping that public support for the war is sinking and public patience with Bush's smug, insulated, disconnected, and generally duplicitous presidency is waning. It's too easy—and it's premature—to call Cindy Sheehan the catalyst of a movement that will eventually bring down this particularly vile brand of Republicanism, this perfect storm of the religious right, old-fashioned entitled American aristocracy, the worst of American knee-jerk xenophobia and Christian bigotry, and Grover Norquist-brand "starve the beast" economics. I hope it'll end up being true.

On a more depressing note, apparently the POST-GAZETTE has decided to publish in dialect. Two sports headlines—headlines!—today featured the most ignant of all Pittsburghese locutions, the dropped "to be." To wit:

'ATTENTION: KIDS AT PLAY. [subhead] As if you really need alerted to the fact that something special is at work around here.' Page D1


Interestingly, the online versions of these stories don't reprint these grammatical errors. One voice for the yinzers, one for the outside world?

While in New York, the wife and I saw stickers and flyers all over the place for the United for Peace and Justice march against the war on Sept. 24 in Washington. A vast number of groups are involved in this, but as I understand it the UPJ folks are explicitly NOT working with those creepy (but marketing-savvy) Maoists in ANSWER. We went down for last year's March for Women's Lives, and it was amazing--between 750,000 and million out there.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

bad senators

Okay, it's not Gallup or Quinnipiac, but Survey USA has a poll out today showing that Santorum is the lowest-rated Senator in the Senate. In more Santorum-debunking news, Chris Potter of the Pittsburgh CityPaper has a smart review of Santorum's IT TAKES A FAMILY in this week's issue. Potter argues that Santorum throws out his typical conservative red meat—sliming "liberals" throughout the book—while actually taking many traditionally liberal stances, such as the idea that "women's work" should be valued more highly. To quote Potter:

"Ironically, in fact, Santorum’s biggest criticism of welfare is that it is too stingy, an argument that liberal critics such as Frances Fox Piven have made for decades. Indeed, as Piven herself argues in her 1971 book _Regulating the Poor_, welfare benefits were often curtailed because conservatives feared rewarding people on the dole.

In fact, if it weren’t for all the liberal-bashing, Santorum could almost be a liberal himself at times. He acknowledges that some of the Democrat’s New Deal was “family friendly,” because it kept Granny from starving. He supports federal funding for the arts. He makes an eloquent plea for restoring the vote to released felons -- though one suspects he’s glad Florida hadn’t seen the light in 2000.

It’s no accident that Santorum sounds most liberal when talking about issues like poverty and the politics of race. Co-opting liberal positions on such issues lets conservatives off the hook."

And after that nonsense about Boston's lefty atmosphere being responsible for the priest-pedophile scandal, I'm waiting to hear his analysis of what "created" Dennis Rader, good church congregation president and Boy Scout leader, product of the deep red state of Kansas.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

searching for the sound

Reading Log, continued.

Finished Cheever's BULLET PARK and was amazed at how... weird it was. I didn't expect what it turned out to be, which was an experiment in narrative. Although he gets stereotyped as the chronicler of the MetroNorth suburbs, I've never found him to be a typical realist writer. His writings often take place in southwestern Connecticut, but they are not your typical New Yorker stories. "The Swimmer," his best-known story, is allegorical and classical and scary, and the WAPSHOT books take place not in Connecticut but farther up in New England. I won't spoil BULLET PARK but it's creepy and distanced and fantastic. There's a nice article about Cheever's "suburban aesthetic" on UVA's web. Anyone who's read Cheever's journals could probably attest to Cheever's scary strangeness, as well. He's got one of the strangest triumverates of obsessions I've ever seen in a writer: anonymous gay sex, the beauty of the city of Rome, and the interior life of the inhabitants of the New York City suburbs.

Read Phil Lesh's memoir SEARCHING FOR THE SOUND as well (it was sitting around the house). Not much interesting there. I've read a bunch of Grateful Dead-related books in the last year but I find nothing that explains the nature of the relationship between the band and the fans. It's a question I keep returning to, as I keep thinking about the East Coast Deadheads I went to college with. What drew them in? Was it just the drugs? No, really, after all the crap about community and oneness and blah blah, was it just the drugs?

dim sum

dim sum
Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
liked the sticky rice. liked the char su bao. didn't like the siu mai. LOVED the chopsticks.

spring street fountain

spring street fountain
Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
the vest-pocket park near Spring and Mulberry in Little Italy... every park in NYC had some kind of a fountain going last week, and I won't deny that I spent some time in them, myself.

back in the burgh

We had hoped to leave NYC after dinner and drive late into the night to get home, but since the boy wouldn't take his scheduled nap—which didn't allow us a leisurely afternoon—we powercleaned the sublet and hit the road at about 3:30. Stuck in traffic at the Holland Tunnel and then again for the endless I-78 roadwork in eastern PA. Home by midnight. All in all, not a bad drive.

It's back to work, and I'm frantically planning out a start-of-the-year workshop for the writing teachers. Although most of them are on board, there's some resistance. How do you all feel about teaching workshops, seminars, in-services, and the like? Is this the kind of continuing ed expected in professions like law, medicine, and engineering? Or is this an unnecessary burden?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

pittsburgh ahead of the curve

Apparently the seer has been in our midst all along. Steve Lashuk, Pittsburgh-based crusader for all that is not, um, Sapphic, has it on good authority that Hillary Clinton is a lesbian. Apparently, "a prominent magazine the 'GLOBE'" broke the story. Damn.

If we had only listened to Lashuk.

"For years I have been warning the public about Hillary Clinton's penchant for lesbian proclivities; a precursor to her sadistic megalomaniac behaviors."

Were his warnings the precursor, or her penchant, or the proclivities? Whatever, we were blind and deaf, or focused on girls gone wild:

"When trying to dissertate the imposing lesbian threat to our culture, the most frustrating conundrum I face is persuading heterosexuals not to-do not focus one's attention and displeasure with their sex acts."

I keep telling myself that.

tamiment library

Spent the day reading the files of the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, which are held at NYU. Very interesting to immerse myself in the world of 1950s anticommunism. All of the infighting among the groups is fascinating.

The NY Republican Party, with guidance I assume from Rove and the Repub Senate campaign committee, is running Jeanine Pirro for Senate. Apparently they know she won't beat Hillary but they want to "bloody" her in advance. Maybe Karl Rove can get together with Ed Klein and Dick Morris and they can devise some kind of "Hillary is a lesbian" attack.

It is nice, though, to be out of Santorum country for a couple of weeks.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

manuscripts and archives

I've been in three major archival libraries in the past three days: Columbia's Rare Books and Manuscripts collection in Butler (the library that doesn't have Alma Mater guarding the stairs), NYU's Tamiment Library in Bobst, and Yale's Manuscripts and Archives in Sterling. They're all nice, but man, does the Yale library beat them all. Sterling Memorial Library is, for my money, the most beautiful library in America, a massive Gothic pile with odd corners and secret rooms everywhere, and the Manuscripts and Archives collection is in a great old-fashioned room (unlike the more famous Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, which is in a fantastic transluscent cube designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill and built in 1960) that reminds you of the Morgan Library or of a scene from MY FAIR LADY.

Monday, August 08, 2005

blurry boy

blurry boy
Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
The boy LOVED the 6th & Ave. B community garden. I agree with him: it is amazing. Beautifully kept, and the community seems to use it. It's open to the public Sat and Sun 1-6; stop in.


Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
So one reason the boy likes this place is that there are these toys all over. Oh yeah, and a BACKYARD! in the East Village!! unbelievable.


Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
it's no-kidding hot here in New York these days.

NYPL inside stairs

NYPL inside stairs
Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
making his way up to the main reading room at the NYPL. I think he wanted to use the Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle, but I reminded him that his Fisher-Price card doesn't qualify as photo ID.


Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
Those are really big lions. You tend to forget.

NYPL stairs

NYPL stairs
Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
making a break up the stairs. Little did he know that the 42nd St. branch of the NYPL has very few Dora the Explorer books.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

NYC runners

For a runner, New York is a lot more congenial than it used to me. This morning I ran down to the Manhattan Bridge and across to Brooklyn; yesterday I did the same thing on the Williamsburg Bridge. Both have clean, safe, well-maintained and well-used pedestrian/bike trails across them. Of course the Brooklyn Bridge has always had that, too. East River Park, bordering what used to be the combat zone of Avenue D/FDR Drive projects, is now beautiful and clean. A running/cycling trail goes a long way up the West Side. And of course, Central Park and Prospect Park are still great. It's a different city from what it was 10 years ago.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

new directions

It's brutally hot in New York today. Pittsburgh gets hot, but there's something about the sheer mass of concrete and asphalt here to make it even worse. Fortunately, the boy didn't seem fazed by it, or by the fact that he was up until almost 2am. (We got into the city about midnight, and there's no way one can just go to bed without at least a stroll around the neighborhood!)

The wife is unhappy about how much hassle the alternate-side parking thing can be and how it screws with our plans. I assure her that I just need to get the routine down. Today when I was cruising, looking for a spot, I did manage to hear Rick Santorum on WNYC. Like Jon Stewart did last week, Brian Lehrer gave Santorum a pass, in the part I was listening to. He allowed Santorum to turn his antifeminist crap on its head and say that what he is REALLY after is fathers spending more time with their kids. Great. I'm all about that. So why is your legislation and writing aimed at controlling and limiting women's choices?

And who would have thought that of Jon Stewart, an NPR host in New York, and George Stephanopolous, it'd be Steph who did the most to make Santorum explain himself?

Had a very pleasant lunch with an editor of the great independent literary publisher New Directions and her husband (a serious literary figure in his own right, with one well-respected biography out there and another important one in the pipeline). I have a great admiration for New Directions' founder, James Laughlin (of the Pittsburgh Laughlins), and think the firm is about the classiest literary publisher out there. Talking with them made me wonder about the road not taken. What if I had tried harder to go into literary publishing? Too late now, probably.

road trip

I used to love road trips. Portland to Chicago? no problem. Do it in 40 hours. Austin to Vermont? What a great vacation! Pittsburgh to Los Angeles? Gas 'er up. Things have changed. Turns out, toddlers don't love being stuck in car seats for hours at a time, and they aren't shy about expressing that dissatisfaction. We drove today from Pittsburgh to New York. Mapquest quoted the trip at 6:30; I estimated 8, what with McDonald's Playland stops, gas, Starbucks, and diaper changes squeezed in. We managed to make it in just over 7 hours, but the hours when Boy was awake were... trying.

I'm now rethinking my plan to drive to Minneapolis this fall for a family reunion. And if I have to eat $900 in plane fare, versus $250 for driving, so be it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

working vacation

the wife, boy, and I are off to the big city for two weeks. For them, it's just a vacation; for me, it's a working vacation. My favorite kind of working vacation: it'll be spent at various archive libraries (NYU, Columbia, Yale, and the Ford Foundation) poking through old papers. My anti-NYU prejudice was fueled last week when I spoke to librarians at all four institutions. Three were helpful, friendly, and went above and beyond what might reasonably be expected of them (traits I find common to librarians); one was monosyllabic and rude. Some institutions really know how to infuse their personalities into every one of their employees.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

more santorum's Timothy Noah reports today about Santorum's introduction of the National Weather Services Duties Act of 2005, a bill ostensibly intended to force the National Weather Service not to compete against the "free market." The bill would require the NWS to make their raw data—which is, in that form, unintelligible to the layman—freely available to for-profit services like AccuWeather. On top of that, NWS would itself be prohibited from making that raw data understandable by laymen. In essence, it's Bush-style crony capitalism: PRETEND that we want to shrink government, when what we really want to do is allow companies to make money off of what the government would otherwise provide for free. It's pork politics, at its heart (AccuWeather is based in Pennsylvania), but like Tom DeLay's more notorious work on behalf of various Sugarland, TX companies, it's grounded in the hypocritical activities of anti-big-government Republicans who use that philosophy as a cover to turn over the public weal to the private sector, while making the government pick up the tab and provide the seed money.

And of course, Santorum has signed on to the most bogus, intellectually dishonest scam the religious right has been crafting for the last few decades, the idea that God is on the side of capitalism. Frankly, the notion that God has a favorite system of economic organization makes as much sense to me as the notion that God favors the Red Sox over the Yankees or that he hates the Pirates. Wait, bad example.

teaching composition

zp asks,

"If I were interested in applying to teach first year composition in the Pittsburgh area, say, next fall, where would I find the jobs advertised? I don't know if I'm qualified, but if I applied through the proper channels, I guess I'd find out."

That's a good question. I've hunted down adjunct teaching gigs in several cities, and it generally works the same way: just call the department in question. Rarely are the positions advertised, unless they're at Yale or something when they'll put an ad in the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER ED because they know that people would move across the country to pick up a class there. In a city like Pittsburgh, though, the best policy is to call the department.

On the bright side, there are so many schools in the area that one can generally find work. Carlow, Point Park, Waynesburg, Duquesne, CCAC, Cal UP, sometimes IUP, Washington and Jefferson, Geneva, LaRoche, Clarion all use adjuncts. However, those jobs pay poorly--about $2000/class is a ceiling. CMU and Pitt use adjuncts, as well, and pay much better, but they generally stick to their own graduate students and alums.

The required qualifications differ, but generally a candidate needs a master's in a relevant field (English, composition, or an MFA in writing) and some teaching experience at the college level. Sometimes when schools are particularly hard up they'll loosen those strictures slightly, but that's pretty much the baseline. Research, a hot dissertation, a published novel, a friendship with Terry Eagleton, all of those things that'll get you a second look for a tenure-track job, they don't matter. I'd take someone with four semesters experience teaching a 4-4 load of gut comp and a good rec from their department chair over an academic superstar any day.