The Square Circuit

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

Monday, April 23, 2007

the touch of the sacred *celebrity*

I check the Huffington Post a dozen times daily because I have given myself over to the partisan-news idea. I love the way the editors of that side choose news stories and then title them in incredibly slanted, often misleading ways. It's the Drudge Report for my side. (It's like that line in ANNIE HALL: "I'm a bigot, I know, but for the left.") What I generally ignore on the site are the "blogs," most of them written by Hollywood hacks whom that Olympian self-promoter Arianna Huffington is trying to bring into the lefty fold. In my view, they embarrass the left with the simplicity and ignorance of their posts--one can almost see those blogs as former-Gingrichite Huffington's giant practical joke, a Machiavellan attempt to show America that Hollywood liberals really are sheltered and utterly unaware and uncritical of their own privilege. And they make a whole lot of grammatical and spelling mistakes. Oy.

So at this weekend's White House Correspondents' Association Dinner (the one that Stephen Colbert blew away last year), Rich Little was the entertainment (and reviews of his performance have been particularly harsh). As always, the Association invites journalists, politicians, and various "C-level celebrities" to sit in attendance, and this year featured a couple of C-plussers: Laurie David, the global-warming activist and wife of Larry David, and Sheryl Crow, the reportedly once-popular singer and one-time squeeze of Lance Armstrong. The Times reported that David and Crow took the opportunity to confront lord of darkness Karl Rove on the White House's continual refusal to confront global warming (and, presumably, on Rove's masterminding of the "deny... delay... dither... doubletalk" strategy for dealing with the issue). Here's the Times' take on the encounter:

Ms. Crow and Ms. David, who have been visiting campuses in an event billed as the Stop Global Warming College Tour, approached Mr. Rove to urge him to take “a fresh look” at global warming, they said later.
Recriminations between the celebrities and the White House carried over into Sunday, with Ms. Crow and Ms. David calling Mr. Rove “a spoiled child throwing a tantrum” and the White House criticizing their “Hollywood histrionics.”
“I honestly thought that I was going to change his mind, like, right there and then,” Ms. David said Sunday, The Associated Press reported.

Here's David and Crow's, from David's HuffPost blog entry:

We reminded the senior White House advisor that the US leads the world in global warming pollution and we are doing the least about it. Anger flaring, Mr. Rove immediately regurgitated the official Administration position on global warming which is that the US spends more on researching the causes than any other country.
We felt compelled to remind him that the research is done and the results are in ( Mr. Rove exploded with even more venom. Like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum, Mr. Rove launched into a series of illogical arguments regarding China not doing enough thus neither should we. (Since when do we follow China's lead?)
At some point during his ramblings, we became heartbroken to think that the President of the United States and his top advisers have partially built a career on global warming not being real. We have been telling college students across the country for the past two weeks that government does not change until people demand it... well, listen up folks, everyone had better get a lot louder because the message clearly is not getting through.

Here's where it gets good, and where the Hollywood shines through:

In his attempt to dismiss us, Mr. Rove turned to head toward his table, but as soon as he did so, Sheryl reached out to touch his arm. Karl swung around and spat, "Don't touch me."

Okay, rude enough, but what do you expect? It's been a hard week month year for Rove and the administration. But come on:

How hardened and removed from reality must a person be to refuse to be touched by Sheryl Crow?

Yes! Yes! Who could refuse the Touch of the Celebrity? Is Rove not human? Does he not understand that she is a Former Pop Star, a One-Time Consort of a Famous Athlete? Does he not have lingering ailments or conditions that a Celebrity can cure? Is he insane? or is he truly SATAN?

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Although it was unceasingly cold--as one with not a huge store of experience of the East Coast, I always forget how cold it can remain in New England well into April--Providence, Rhode Island with two small children was a qualified success. The wife was attending a conference over the weekend, so our home base was the conference hotel: the Westin, one of the nicer ones in that relatively small city. The Westin is a corporate hotel, so you get all of that loveliness (ours was getting billed almost $70 for honor bar consumption, even though all we'd done is move the cans on top of the fridge), and we also experienced a piercing alarm at 7am on Sunday announcing an imminent evacuation. That evacuation never materialized, and the problem was a flooded third floor that didn't effect us. But apart from that the hotel was just fine, and in fact the staff were remarkably good--friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. Pittsburgh could learn from that.

The highlight of the trip for Boy #1 was certainly the Providence Children's Museum, difficult to find but not a bad walk from the Westin. It's small, about half the size of the Pittsburgh version of the same attraction, but it's just as good. We spent two full hours there and I had to drag him away. There was even some stuff for the baby. We lunched at the Trinity Brew House, which had good beer (as did the Union Station Grill on the other side of downtown) and the baby ate black beans for the first time. On the second day, another chilly one, I walked with the boys up to the Brown University/RISD area, which is really quite beautiful with all the historic houses, but I think I gave the baby a cold from being out too long. We had dinner on the last night at Sicilia, a deep-dish pizzeria in Federal Hill (the Italian neighborhood), which was quite good but didn't compare to that great chain place in Chicago--Giordano's, is it?

We were greeted Sunday morning by a panicked hotel: the 7am klaxon, of course, but also a massively hyped "nor'easter" storm that actually did manage to cancel quite a few flights out of NYC and Boston and Philly. Ours all managed to leave, and mostly on time. It was remarkable. But we've come to expect great things out of Southwest (and this is coming from someone--me--who absolutely loathes the airline industry). Case in point: on the way there, we had a flight going Pittsburgh-Philadelphia-Providence. Bad weather in Philly, so they were going to delay the flight several hours. However, after about twenty minutes they announced that they'd just be skipping Philly and going straight to Providence FOR THE THIRTEEN PASSENGERS WHO WERE GOING THERE. The Philly passengers were put on a flight going later, so they didn't get delayed any worse than they were going to be anyway. But I've never heard of such a thing from an airline!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


My experiences reading Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe novels have been memorable. It's hard to separate the experience of reading each novel from what was going on in my life when I was reading the novels. When I read THE SPORTSWRITER, the first and my favorite of these books, I was in Colorado in April about ten years ago, and of course it was snowing--I was accompanying my then-girlfriend to a wedding, although I had already decided that the relationship was over. (It didn't end for a while after that, which was a terrible decision on my part.) The novel has a touch of bitterness in it but also a lot of passive acceptance, and that really reflected where I was.

The next of his Bascombe novels, INDEPENDENCE DAY, I didn't "read" exactly; I listened to it while on a long, very enjoyable crosscountry drive. Flashes of it return to me: a quasi-racist stretch while I was cruising on I-5 across Shasta Lake, the climactic section (where Bascombe's son gets hit in the eye with a baseball) as I drove through the Southern Ute Reservation in southwest Colorado, cruising too fast and having to slam on my brakes as I crested a hill to find a boy leading a large herd of cattle across the two-lane.

Ford is an interesting character--like many great writers, he's a Mississippian; and like many of those (Willie Morris, for one), he's a northern transplant. He's become a kind of stand-in for Bascombe himself, in that Ford is now the unofficial poet laureate of New Jersey. These Bascombe novels are steeped in New Jersey's landscape, not least because Bascombe is (at least for two of the novels) a real-estate agent in south Jersey, on the shore. (In INDEPENDENCE DAY he lives in Haddam.) THE LAY OF THE LAND is, I think I can say categorically, the least of the trilogy, without much driving force. Of course, in this the novel reflects Bascombe himself, who has reached what he calls the "Permanent Period" of his life and is carrying around radioactive BBs in his prostate as a cancer prophylactic. The novels always center around a holiday when Bascombe's complicated and never entirely satisfactory family life comes into sharp focus. In this novel it's Thanksgiving: Bascombe's daughter and son are coming to stay with him, his first wife expresses a desire--quickly withdrawn--to return to him, and his second wife, who has left him for very bizarre reasons, is thinking about reconnecting. The vast majority of the novel consists of Bascombe's navel-gazing about his family, the real-estate business, New Jersey, and his personal history. Nothing "happens" in the present of the novel (there is a great deal of flashing-back to earlier events) until the very end, when one of the most awkwardly inserted and least believable events I've ever seen in a serious book occurs. It's so strange, so ridiculous and out of keeping with the rest of the book, that it almost feels like some kind of postmodern, FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN-type experiment.

We are off to Providence, Rhode Island tomorrow. It's supposed to be cold, rainy, and even sleeting for our visit, and I'm set to squire the boys around town on foot. This could be a long weekend.

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Wednesday, April 04, 2007

samuel alito at duquesne

Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Samuel Alito came to Duquesne University here in Pittsburgh to receive the Carol Los Mansmann Award for Distinguished Public Service today, and I was there (although I had to leave before Alito spoke). It was a big deal--Alito was there, of course, but so were eleven other justices from the third circuit federal appeals court (where Alito and Mansmann served). Incompetent Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff sent his tribute by teleconference, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts sent a filmed dealie, and a bunch of local dignitaries were there. It was a very important day for Duquesne and the Duquesne law school, and good for them.

I do question, though, why a Catholic university, devoted to service to the poor and oppressed and even to prisoners, would honor a man who has almost uniformly over his judicial career sided with the powerful over the weak, corporations over consumers, the state over its citizens, police over civilians. Most recently Alito dissented in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, arguing in essence that the Bush administration has the right to hold Guantanamo prisoners indefinitely, without charging them, without giving them legal counsel, and without allowing them to even challenge their detention. But what's wrong with that? The Magna Carta is clearly "quaint" and outdated, and Republican Presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani thinks that the president has the right to throw anyone he wants in a hole forever and never should have to charge them with anything. (His rival, Mitt Romney, is undecided about whether we should revive this element of the divine right of kings--he'd want to talk to "smart lawyers" to see if he could do that. I suggest John Yoo or David Addington.)

(There were only two protesters outside of the speech and they were very quickly sent off-campus by security, although both were members of the D.U. community--the explanation, directly from the mouth of D.U. legal counsel, was that political protests are not allowed on campus because they violate Duquesne's tax-exempt nonprofit status.)

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