The Square Circuit

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

Friday, August 31, 2007

larry craig

So what is the difference between Larry Craig and David Vitter? Did Craig just forget to talk about Jesus enough? Is it actually, all of the Republican/libertarian protestations to the contrary, that the sex he's after is of the homo variety?

My fave piece on this is by Jonah Goldberg, Lucianne's boy, at the NATIONAL REVIEW. Jonah--of course, blaming the uproar on liberals (who else? who else has a problem with anonymous airport restroom sex? Puritans!)

According to Goldberg, "The Left claims to hate “moralizers.” So any failure to live like Jesus while telling others to follow his example is an outrage, even the defining challenge of our lives. (In 2005, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean pledged, “I will use whatever position I have in order to root out hypocrisy.”)"



"One solution to the hypocrisy epidemic, of course, is to have no morals at all. You can’t violate your principles if you don’t have any. Another solution: simply define down your principles until they are conveniently consistent with your preferred lifestyle." Goldberg here conveniently, and appealingly, claims a lower standard of morality--he wants "a strict regimen" of sloth, booze, and red meat. Who wouldn't agree?

"...the Left has another solution. Under its system, you can still be a moralizer. You can still tell people what to do and how to live. And, best of all, you can still fall short of your ideals personally while guiltlessly trying to use government to impose your moral vision on others. All you have to do is become a liberal moralizer.

Once you become a liberal, you can wax eloquent on the glories of the public schools while sending your kids to private school. You can wax prolix about the greedy rich while making a fortune on the side. You can even use the government to impose your values willy-nilly, from racial quotas and confiscatory tax rates to draconian environmental policies and sex-ed for grade-schoolers — all of which will paid for in part by people who disagree with you."

Ah, yes. Those several Hollywood and Upper West Side lefties whose Escalades and Harvard-Westlake associations should tar all the rest of the left-leaning folks across the nation obviate the silliness of us criticizing Larry Craig. Yes: sometimes, rich liberals call for policies that they don't actually pursue in their own lives. Sometimes, they get haircuts more expensive than most of us could spring for. This, apparently, means that they are just the same as a Senator--one of the hundred most influential legislators in the nation, one of the five hundred or so most powerful people in the country--who HELPS LEGISLATE AGAINST conduct that causes no harm to anyone, even while that particular Senator engages, happily, repeatedly, as a "lifestyle choice" (because he's not GAY, certainly not, he loves his wife, he just likes to have sex with men in public bathrooms). The two are utterly equivalent: morally and practically.

It's great to watch the Right squirm under this one, after Vitter and Foley and that preacher from Colorado, but I'm hoping this puts the final nail in the Christian self-righteousness card. By this point, is there anyone who's not going to see through the first Republican stuffed shirt to claim some kind of a Jesus-inspired purity?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

keeping it pure

Ever wonder why everyone in those televised Bush speeches and appearances is such an enthusiastic supporter of the President? Ever wonder why the dirty protesting hippies haven't been able to sneak their way onto the cameras? Here, courtesy of the ACLU, is the White House's PRESIDENTIAL ADVANCE MANUAL, instructing teams on how to organize and police--no, not Secret-Service police to keep Bush safe--those events.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

junk reading

As befits a vacation--which is now, I'm sad to confront, over--I got some good junk reading in. I've posted earlier about one of these leisure reads, John O'Hara's APPOINTMENT AT SAMARRA, which was just great. The others I read weren't up to those standards.

yes, yes, I read HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS. I don't know what one says about it. Sure, it's very good, for what it is; and sure, it's hard to imagine Rowling ending the book any other way. I do appreciate that Rowland encourages her readers to remember the details and events from earlier books, and doesn't rehash all of the backstory through the mouth of what my wife calls an "exposition box." For the most part, one's able to pick the backstory up from context, but Rowling resisted the temptation to revisit the entire what-happened-to-Harry's-family-and-how-every-other-character-is-related-to-that-Ur-story. I like that. It was a quick read, of course, and was exactly as good--pretty much exactly the same--as every other volume of the series. I am really looking forward to reading these books to my father.

PREP I think I also blogged about. Again, I echo my wife's sentiments: every "real" literary writer--every Iowa Writers Workshop fiction grad--wants to write the definitive rewriting of CATCHER IN THE RYE. They all think they can give it something extra, something that will save it from being just a pop rewriting of CATCHER IN THE RYE. But they don't. And, with the exception of Tobias Wolff, I don't even think they can.

Finally, I just finished the very enjoyable JULIE AND JULIA, the book version of Julie Powell's blog about spending a year cooking every recipe in Julia Child's MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH COOKING in her tiny Long Island City kitchen. She's very appealing, and just earthy enough. Ironically, she's from Austin and writes a great deal in the book about ways she prefers Austin to NYC, but I didn't start reading the book until the car trip away from Austin. Anyway, all Austinites, current and former, appreciate her shouts out to places like the Nighthawk and Hut's.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

salt of the earth

David Brooks has a conversation with a "real person" (i.e. a trucker) and 1) uses this trucker to illustrate the sociological thesis of a book he's read and 2) concludes again that his insights into the "real world" show why liberals are generally wrong about everything.




Originally uploaded by Mantooth
At Louie Mueller's in Taylor, Texas, you get white bread and butcher paper with your meat. That didn't faze the baby, who was eager to get at that brisket.

rendezvous rib

rendezvous rib
Originally uploaded by Mantooth
One in a series of "baby with rib" photos: this one at Memphis' great Rendezvous.


Originally uploaded by Mantooth
For some reason, the boy thought it was a good idea to chew through the headphone wires and then complain that he couldn't hear the movie any more. That's what three days in the car will get you.


Originally uploaded by Mantooth
This is NOT the way to see if your ball has returned.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

c. wright mills

I picked up C. Wright Mills' classic sociological study THE POWER ELITE as part of my current research, and slogged through the first 250 pages, which anatomize the various groups which made (make) up the top levels of American society--corporate executives, politicians, military "warlords," etc. But after those chapters it begins to get very interesting, and very prescient. His argument is, essentially, that we fool ourselves into thinking that America is an egalitarian society whose decision-making process is very much still the Jeffersonian/Habermasian model of rational actors in a marketplace of ideas weighing the best options and choosing the most reasonable policy. Instead, Mills says that the "elite"--because of a wide variety of factors, not least of which is the fact that the "public" has now turned into a "mass" that is much more capable of passively receiving information than critically weighing it--have much more power than they ever have, but continue to tell us fairy-stories about how we are actually the ones in power in this society.

Some of Mills' paragraphs could have been written today. Take this one:

Scholars... have found an absence of mind and morality in the public life of our times, and what they have managed to create is a mere elaboration of their own conservative mood. It is a mood quite appropriate to men living in a material boom, a nationalist celebration, a political vacuum. At its heart there is a feeling of pseudo-power based on mere smugness. By its softening of the political will, this mood enables men to accept public depravity without any private sense of outrage, and to give up the central goal of western humanism, so strongly felt in nineteenth-century American experience: the presumptuous control by reason of man's fate.

Had he been listening to Bush?

Or this:

The petty right... have brought to wide attention a new conception of national loyalty, as loyalty to individual gangs who placed themselves above the established legitimations of the state and invited its personnel to do likewise. They have made clear the central place now achieved in the governmental process by secret police and secret 'investigations,' to the point where observant men speak realistically of a shadow cabinet based in considerable part upon new ways of power which include the wire tap, the private eye, the use and threat of blackmail. They have dramatized the hollowing out of sensibility among a population which for a generation has been steadily and increasingly subjected to the shrill trivialization of the mass means of entertainment and distraction.

Last year John H Summers of Harvard, who's working on a biography of Mills, wrote a half-century retrospective on THE POWER ELITE for the NEW YORK TIMES, saying

"The Power Elite" abounds with questions that still trouble us today. Can a strong democracy coexist with the amoral ethos of corporate elites? And can public argument have democratic meaning in the age of national security? The trend in foreign affairs, Mills argued, was for a militarized executive branch to bypass the United Nations, while Congress was left with little more than the power to express "general confidence, or the lack of it." Policy tended to be announced as doctrine, which was then sold to the public via the media. Career diplomats in the State Department believed they could not truthfully report intelligence. Meanwhile official secrecy steadily expanded its reach. "For the first time in American history, men in authority are talking about an 'emergency' without a foreseeable end," Mills wrote in a sentence that remains as powerful and unsettling as it was 50 years ago. "Such men as these are crackpot realists: in the name of realism they have constructed a paranoid reality all their own."


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The usual summer heat has returned to Austin, along with a persistent yuck that we are passing among ourselves. The boy couldn't go to his "drama camp" today because he woke up with a fever. I think he was pleased that he could play with his new spacemen and alien toys that we got him at Toy Joy.

We managed to drive out to Taylor to get meat at Louie Mueller's, which was absolutely as good as I remembered. That is serious brisket, and it's been a while since I've had the pleasure of just getting a bunch of meat and eating it off butcher paper. We also went to brunch at El Chile on Manor, which was absolutely excellent. (The chefs are from Jeffrey's, so of course.) Their take-out taco stand, El Chilito, comes highly recommended, but when the wife and I went we didn't have enough cash! I also took the boy for a haircut on Saturday morning and we got the breakfast tacos at Enchiladas y Mas afterwards--my all-time favorites.

Our time here, though, grows short. We leave Friday afternoon and hope to be in Pittsburgh by mid-day Sunday. Sigh.