The Square Circuit

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

Thursday, March 29, 2007

greenwald on brooks and bush

Glenn Greenwald just posted a great piece on making a very elegant argument about two of my favorite points: the Bush version of "conservatism" cloaks itself in the "Reagan-Goldwater" model (limited government intrusion in private citizens' lives) while explicitly working against that model in every way (as did, well, Reagan himself); and David Brooks and his insistence that he speaks for (in his own words) "normal, nonideological people" while at the same time he carries water for the most ideological administration any of us have seen in our lifetimes.

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Monday, March 26, 2007


I just returned from the CCCC convention, the annual gathering of college writing teachers, which was held this year at the Hilton in midtown Manhattan. I've been to five of these conferences and enjoy it more every time. It's so different than the MLA convention, a nightmare largely because its main function is as a job market in a field that is terribly oversaturated. The MLA is half populated by nervous, sweaty grad students in strange suits interviewing for jobs in hotel rooms (I've been there many times, this year as an interviewER for the first time) and half populated by relatively smug elders of the profession. The panels are tedious--PowerPoint is still viewed with suspicion as being too flashy for our profession, and so a panel consists of three people sitting at a table and reading ten-page papers on arcane, obscure topics.

"The C's," on the other hand, is like a tractor pull compared to the MLA. They use PowerPoint! They stand up! They don't read from papers! They're just as badly dressed, but probably because it's not a job fair there's no heavy cloud of anxiety at the C's. There's also more money in textbook publishing than in scholarly publishing, so the big textbook publishers Longman, Prentice Hall, and Bedford St. Martin's sponsor fun get-togethers with free food and booze. I have started to go hear speakers and panels largely on the topic of assessment, which is unbelievably tedious yet crucial for WPA's like myself. I also get to see old friends, and stay in big cities. It's a great deal.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

le pommier

For the wife's birthday, we thought long and hard about where to go for dinner--someplace we knew was good? someplace that MIGHT BE good? someplace that offered Kir Royales (her new obsession)?--and settled on Le Pommier, a French place on Carson that had always looked intriguing but that we'd never tried. We arrived there for our 5:30 reservations (the life of parents of young children is so exciting and glamorous) but weren't actually the only diners there--it was about half full. We got seated between two tables of priests, who apparently didn't really know each other; I can't swear there's a priest corner in that restaurant, but I can't swear there's not, either. We both ordered the steak-frites, the most basic of French bistro dishes and the one by which you can judge a place that calls itself a bistro. I used to go to a place in New York that actually called itself "Steak Frites" but was never all that impressed by their version of the dish. Le Pommier, though, really did it right, and when you asked for it rare (as my wife did) they'll give it to you "bleu," the way the French like it. The frites were damn good, too. I was actually impressed by everything: the service, the unpretentiousness of the place, the rooms themselves, and the food. Highly recommended.


Wednesday, March 07, 2007


While we were at his house, my father-in-law pressed upon me the book THE MAN WHO TRIED TO SAVE THE WORLD: THE DANGEROUS LIFE AND MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE OF AN AMERICAN HERO, a recent nonfiction book about Fred Cuny, a Texan who worked at high levels of the international crisis community. From Biafra to Bangladesh to Bosnia, he was in the middle of it, providing aid to refugees and generally (at least according to the author of this book, one Scott Anderson) getting things done more efficiently, humanely, and enduringly than bureaucracies such as the UN or US-AID. Cuny finally found himself drawn to Chechnya just as Yeltsin decided to put the clamps down on it, and came there soon after the Russian army leveled Grozny and turned most of the little place into a free-fire zone. Then, as he was on another of his innumerable missions to deliver assistance to imperiled civilians, he disappeared and was almost certainly killed by one of the warring armies or factions there in Chechnya.

Anderson's book isn't particularly well written but it's a story that just is a winner. Cuny was at first very archetypical Texan, an A&M cadet in the 1950s. But he never finished and never made it into the Marine air corps as he wanted and instead took those defeats and did something else with his life. There's a bunch of poorly developed intrigue in the story--was Cuny CIA?--that the author hasn't seemed to do sufficient research on, but it's hard to fault Anderson on the research he did into Cuny's death. Anderson retraced Cuny's movements through Chechnya, which sounds like hell in 1995, when Cuny was there, and still like hell in 1998-9, when Anderson came there. He talked to everyone he could find and even drove around Chechnya in the same ambulance that Cuny was in when he disappeared.

The book is no great achievement, unfortunately--it reads like an OUTSIDE magazine profile extended to book length, but without the introspection or formal awareness of Krakauer's great INTO THE WILD (and lesser INTO THIN AIR). It's also poorly edited and the seams between the sections show--people are introduced in one part, only to be re-introduced as if we've never met them before when they reappear in the next part of the book). But I couldn't put it down. My father-in-law, much like my dad himself, has pretty good taste in books--I always leave a visit with a good recommendation.


brotherly affection

Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
Boy #1 continues to be intensely--at times TOO intensely--affectionate and protective toward his little brother. However, Boy #2 is a big ol' bruiser and will be able to take his elder sooner than his elder thinks.


desert museum, tucson

Originally uploaded by Mantooth.
We took the boys to the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson during our visit to their grandfather last weekend. It's a great place, and particularly good for children (albeit children probably a little older than ours). I had to miss the Gila monster demonstration because we had much more important coloring to do.