The Square Circuit

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

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Report is In

The Pennsylvania House Select Committee on Academic Freedom finally wrapped up its phony work last week--and, not surprisingly, after four public hearings across the state they decided that (in the words of the Philadelphia Inquirer, "A statewide policy governing college students' academic freedom is unnecessary because political bias is rare at Pennsylvania's public colleges and universities, a bipartisan legislative panel has found." I've written before (as has Michael Bérubé of Penn State, much more extensively and eloquently) about the nonsensical nature of these hearings: a solution, one provided by the deeply disingenuous David Horowitz, looking for a problem). Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights" was soundly smacked down by the PA committee's report, which saw--in a bipartisan report--no need for such legislation, and not just because as written it's ludicrous: they found that the purportedly pervasive anti-conservative bias in academia, the constant harassment of honorable conservative students, was almost entirely a fiction. Horowitz, though, is claiming victory, apparently because he got people with "Honorable" attached to their names to listen to him.

I'll post a link to the Committee's report when I can find it (they haven't released it yet, apparently).

Saturday, November 25, 2006


Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
The boy's aunt, a craftswoman of great accomplishment, made him a beautiful skullcap for his birthday: it makes him look like a character from THE NAME OF THE ROSE or THE DA VINCI CODE. Not visible in the photo, though, are the Spiderman buttons on the ends of the ties.

Friday, November 24, 2006

two restaurants--one new and one old

After securing a babysitter--an increasingly difficult proposition--the wife and I managed to have a "date" last weekend. It was just a movie and dinner, but that's pretty good these days. Anyway, as we were seeing a movie on the South Side, we decided to try Ibiza, the "tapas restaurant" next to the popular (and, we feel, just better than mediocre) Mallorca on Carson. Ibiza was, unlike Mallorca, a pleasant surprise. It's not a real "tapas bar" (the selection of tapas is quite limited, and lots of favorites are absent) but the dishes we got were quite good. I'm a particular aficionado of the "tortilla española" or "tortilla classica," which is essentially a potato-and-egg quiche, and Ibiza's was excellent. The service--the bane of our restaurant experience here in this city--was also quite adequate.

I can't say that for the Union Grill on Craig. We've been there numerous times--who hasn't?--and have never been impressed by it, but we had a whole family crew of hungry people and nobody wanted Indian or Middle Eastern (the other two best choices on Craig--Lulu's Noodles is out because it gave these people food poisoning several years ago, although I've eaten there several times since and always had good food). We went, and it was crowded, but the service was ABYSMAL. Of course we had a 3-year-old and an infant so that made it much more difficult, but it took an hour. Unacceptable. I think our waitron was at fault, not the restaurant, because another waitress, exasperated-looking, brought half of our order, and ten minutes later we had to ask the original waitress for the rest of the plates.

I've complained constantly on this blog about the bad service just about everywhere in this city--there's a half-assed attitude toward work here that's just endemic (and isn't limited to those in the service sector, either). But what makes me sad is that there seems to be no consequences of this. Is it that there's no competition here? Or is it that consumers have just been treated poorly for so long that they've given up?

Monday, November 13, 2006

end-of-season report

So, I hemmed and hawed about whether or not we were going to subscribe to a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) farm this summer, and I solicited opinions, and in the end we decided to do it. The Pittsburgh farmers' market system is only half-adequate, and some of them (the Wilkinsburg market, for instance) are just bad. The Highland Park market is probably the best, but it's only okay, and even though I like being downtown during the workweek the Thursday noon market at Market Square is also halfassed. I guess there's not enough of a clientele for these markets, but I don't quite understand why--western PA seems like great farm country. I didn't see all that many Amish farmers at these markets either, which makes me think that there is some kind of disconnect there, as well. The only farmers' market that's reliable and worth hitting weekly is the Farmers Co-Op Market across from the East Liberty Home Depot--the one where the Kennedy farm has a stand.

Anyway, so that's why we went with the Kretschmann Farm. We got our first delivery in April, probably, and the last one arrives tomorrow. It's been well worth it (at about $475 for the year, that's saying something). I've written previously about my conversion to the idea that one should buy locally produced food--that local production is even more important than "organic" status--and anyone who's read Michael Pollan (from whom I got the idea) knows this. So Kretschmann already had that going for them. But we discovered that they really did give us almost exactly what we should--not COULD, but SHOULD--be eating in terms of vegetables every week. Our boxes forced us to come up with innovative ways to cook strange vegetables. I had never cooked kale, chard, beets, fennel bulbs, beet greens, acorn squash, and several other of the things we received before this summer/fall, and I'm pleased to say we did a lot of experimenting. I'm still not fully a convert to the beet--there was one endless pot of "creamy beets cooked with mustard" that sounded good but was hard to get through, and there's a gallon of Ukranian borscht in the freezer waiting for some winter's day--but I don't even flinch when I see a bunch of kale or chard anymore. That's a small victory. We also ate many more vegetables than we usually do, and there's nothing bad about that.

Still, the drawback is the price: that's a lot of cash. I see it, though, as the cost of modernity: in a world where calories themselves are cheap, we must pay a premium for GOOD, nutritious calories, and not just more HFCS. The premium isn't that great--hell, they're charging almost a dollar per lemon at the Iggle!--and another fringe benefit is that we, or at least I, felt a lot more in tune with the progress of the seasons. Provided that we're HERE next summer, and not off on various fellowships and family trips, we'll definitely do it again.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

much rejoicing

Needless to say, there was much rejoicing in our sleep-deprived house when we heard about the Santorum-Casey results. And then the news just kept getting better. I have very high hopes for Montana and Virginia: George Allen's head on the wall would look great next to Santorum's.

Baby 2, once a champion sleeper (slept 7 hours the night we brought him home and kept that up for months), appears to have hit what some call the "four-month sleep regression". It's killing us: and now his big brother has returned to a bad old habit of rising before 6am.

Friday, November 03, 2006

the good rev. haggard