The Square Circuit

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


I swear that I had intended--fully intended--to read Jeremy Scahill's BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL MERCENARY ARMY long before the recent, um, "unpleasantness" about Blackwater mercenaries indiscriminately killing Iraqi civilians and being threatened with ejection from the country by the Iraqi government. But I did run to the Carnegie Library the day that the story broke and picked up Scahill's book. I was expecting a more "measured" book, like IMPERIAL LIFE IN THE EMERALD CITY or Ricks' FIASCO, but Scahill isn't hiding his lefty methodology. And because of that it's very interesting. It's damn well documented, although Scahill doesn't get much of the first-hand sourcing that Chandrasekharan or Ricks or Woodward get. But although Scahill's general thesis--this Blackwater company has benefited from a "perfect storm" of terrorism, right-wing craziness for privatization, and what Scahill identifies as a "theoconservative" network of militaristic religious fanatics, and in the process Blackwater's activities and influence force us to confront what it means to have our military undertakings, and even civilian rescue efforts such as in post-Katrina New Orleans, run by unanswerable, unelected private companies that can't even be sued for their actions--is pretty easy to swallow for most people, what I like is the way that he understands his history and is willing to do a little digging. John Negroponte, for instance, who was US Ambassador to Honduras during the 1980s dirty wars and then was posted to Baghdad, Scahill links with death squads: he argues that Negroponte actively supported and even organized death squads in Central America in the 1980s, and brought that strategy to Iraq with him. Essentially, Scahill's saying that the Bush Administration either set up or winked at Shiite death squads (whose killings, Scahill points out, rose dramatically right as Negroponte came to Baghdad) as a way to "deal with" the Sunni insurgency.

Because of the Blackwater stories over the past few days, Scahill's gotten a boost in sales, but I haven't seen him making the rounds as much as one would expect. I do subscribe to the theory that the "mainstream media" tries to redefine the "center" as being much more to the right that most people would think, and that they label as crazy or cranks anyone who questions the US's determination to use military and economic power to dominate the world, so this is why I think that Scahill is getting largely ignored even though he quite literally wrote the book on Blackwater.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

I heart Glenn Greenwald

And he says this so much better than I could:

[V]irtually every column David Brooks writes is grounded in one of two highly misleading tactics and, on special occasions, like today, are grounded in both. That's all there is to him. He just re-cycles these same two themes over and over in different forms.

The first tactic is merely the most commonplace conceit of the standard Beltway pundit: Brooks takes whatever opinions he happens to hold on a topic, and then -- without citing a single piece of evidence -- repeatedly asserts that "most Americans" hold this view, and then bases his entire "argument" on this premise. Thus, the only way for Democrats to have any hope of winning elections is to repudiate their radical, rabid Leftist base and instead follow Brooks' beliefs, because that is "centrism"...

The other Brooks tactic is also a defining feature among pundits and a central prong in the Washington Establishment's orthodoxies. No matter what polls or elections show, Brooks' overriding goal is to "prove" that "most Americans" favor a "hawkish" foreign policy whereby America will rule the world by military force, most importantly in the Middle East... According to Brooks' most common claim, that the U.S. will continue to rule the world by military force is an unchallengeable belief spanning both parties, one that is so widely accepted that it is even beyond the reach of what can be debated.
Hence, the warmongering principles of Brooks and his former employer, The Weekly Standard, not only endure regardless of changes in party control, but they can never even be subject to examination in the mainstream. And that is the standard Beltway belief -- to be Serious, one must affirm America's right to rule the world by force. The only ones who reject that view are the Unserious -- the radical Leftist bloggers and, increasingly, the "isolationist" weirdos on the Right.


a minor zola novel

Finally, finally I can put Emile Zola's THE DEBACLE back on the shelf. I brought it to Texas this July, thinking that I'd read it quickly there, but I only got a few chapters into it before we returned to Austin. Then school started, I had to write a presentation, this and that, and so it took forever to finally finish it: but finish it I did, last night. It's certainly the least of the Zola novels I've read, but it was still relatively interesting. It's a grunt's-eye view of the battle of Sedan in the Franco-Prussian Wra of 1870, a war whose planning, at least on the French side, seems to make Don Rumsfeld look like a tactical genius. I decided to pick it up, I think, because it promised to be a fictionalized depiction of the Paris Commune of 1871 (which it really wasn't). What it was, though, was GORY, of a Cormac McCarthy level. Let's just say that field surgery in 1870 involved a lot of amputations. A lot. Pretty much that was what "medicine" consisted of. And there weren't those neat "HAZARDOUS MEDICAL WASTE" bags either--just piles of limbs.


Monday, September 24, 2007

boy 2: yogurt

boy 2: yogurt
Originally uploaded by Mantooth
The Junior Great Race, unfortunately, again had to take place not in the under-construction Point State Park but in the less convenient traffic interchange at Commonwealth Place. Still a fun event, though. And, accompanied by friends, we afterwards made our way to PPG Place and its fountain for a pleasant lunch--at which boy #2 enjoyed his yogurt.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

naomi wolf on fascism

My brother-in-law pointed out that I have not been keeping up this site, and he's completely right. The first part of the school year is to blame, of cousre, as it the wife's nearing completion of her dissertation, sick children, publications and talks that need finishing, and so forth. Still, not good.

Several of my students wrote their first papers (a rhetorical analysis) on an excerpt from Naomi Wolf's BEAUTY MYTH, one of those perennials in the freshman-comp class. So I was moderately, but not greatly, interested in hearing her interviewed on the Colbert Report last night. She's got a new book out--THE END OF AMERICA: LETTER TO A YOUNG PATRIOT--and so Colbert went through his usual schtick of "grilling" lefty writers to as to allow them to clearly state their case and responding to them in a just over-the-top O'Reilly/Hannity/Limbaugh masquerade. Funny, in other words. Wolf's new book, whose title is just silly, apparently takes 192 pages to make the argument that the Bush administration has begun taking us down the road to despotism. Wolf asserted on the show that her "reading"--she didn't say who she's been reading--has shown her that there are ten steps that a government will take (or, to be more accurate, ten steps that despotisms have typically taken) in establishing dictatorship. She details them in short form here. I love these kinds of paint-by-numbers arguments, but I do think that they are far too easy.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


Originally uploaded by Mantooth
Quite self-satisfied, in fact.

learning to feed

Originally uploaded by Mantooth
He's over 14 months and will neither walk nor talk, but one thing that really has his full interest is feeding himself. He demands to have the bowl/dish AND flatware, and is able to use a spoon pretty proficiently.