The Square Circuit

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

Friday, February 29, 2008


Wow, I haven't updated this for a long time. You'd think that dreary, homebinding winter would make one WANT to spend time on the computer, blogging, but apparently that's not the case, judging from the radio silence here. I do have some excuses: a book MS had to be finished, two demanding classes with smart students who deserve lots of feedback on their writing; the ongoing project to spruce up our house, and so on. I do have some stored-up opinions:

Barry Bonds should not come back and play for the Pirates. Even if he played for the league minimum. As my wife can tell you, I get suckered in every year, thinking that maybe this will be the year the Bucs ne suckent pas. I have a distinct lack of even that doomed enthusiasm this year. And boy, would the presence of Barry kill any good feelings this town has for the team.

John Dos Passos' MANHATTAN TRANSFER is a very easy book to skim through and ask of yourself, "and why is this a 'classic'?"--which was my opinion after reading it last fall. But as I learned while teaching the book, it really rewards a careful reading. There is much more going on there than I initially saw.

Ikea furniture is very versatile and cool looking in the catalog. Putting it together is unbelievably rational and intuitive, and the manuals are the greatest examples of clear communication I've seen in that genre. But it's time-consuming, hard on the hands, and that crappy, heavy particle board leaves no margin for error.

And I've now made my peace with voting for Obama. My first candidate was Kucinich; then I decided I was an Edwards man; then I agonized forever about Clinton v. Obama. And given that I don't see any really significant difference between the two in terms of policy, I have to vote on who has the best chance of beating McCain...

--side note: why are we talking about "having a chance to beat" a Republican, this year? what happened to the death of that party? why are we not able to nominate the proverbial ham sandwich and still beat the representative of the party that gave us warrantless wiretapping, torture, extraordinary rendition, the discrediting of science, environmental and labor laws written by corporate lobbyists, the "women's health" office staffed by antiabortion, anticontraception fanatics, and so on? this is ludicrous! is it fear, is it our certainty that we'll always be losers, or is it real?--

...and that appears to be Obama. Sorry, Hillary. Love you, love what you stand for. We just can't lose this one. Not after 2004.

Monday, February 11, 2008

FOIA ombudsman

After many years, Texas Senator John Cornyn and Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy were able, in the FY2008-9 budget, to allocate money for a FOIA ombudsman--someone to whom citizens could appeal when their Freedom of Information Act requests didn't get answered in the specified 20 days--when they hear nothing for, perhaps, 20 years. Finally, on New Year's Eve 2007, Bush signed a bill that authorized this position.

But then he didn't, burying an elimination of the position in the Commerce Department budget, released on Feb. 4. Cornyn--a right-wing Republican who up until now hasn't seen a thing Bush did that he didn't luuuurve--and Leahy are trying to get Bush to change his mind.

It shouldn't shock anyone that the Bush administration wants to close off citizens' access to government records; this has been the M.O. from pretty much day one. (Innocents, we thought it was just about denying access to Iran-Contra records naming his daddy. If only we'd known then that he has no problem undercutting George H.W., that this position came from a philosophical stance that citizens have no right to know what the gov't does or why.) I heard about this only today, and it hits home: I'm on the verge of having to sail into FOIA territory, as I'm doing research in Cold War-era CIA and State Department records, and all I hear from people working in this field is Don't Count On It.

Here's a letter from "" to the House Appropriations Committee on the subject.

It took over a month for anyone to notice this had happened. The damage from this Administration will be with us for decades--and it'll take years just to find out what they've done, much less the ultimate effects of those acts.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


Dahlia Lithwick rocks:

The only thing the Three Mikes [AG Mukasey, National Intelligence chief McConnell, CIA Director Hayden] did know beyond a reasonable doubt was that the legality of water-boarding has nothing to do with international treaties, secret legal memos, acts of Congress, or their personal interpretations of same. The claim on which they were all perfectly clear is that the legality of future torture will be determined by the president and the attorney general as the occasion arises. It will not be measured by any objective standard of conduct but will turn on "the circumstances" surrounding them (in McConnell's formulation) or the value "of the information you might get" (in Mukasey's). It will be a secret decision, made using shifting, subjective standards, for which neither the torturers nor the legal decision-makers will ever be held to account.

This is not simply the theory of a unitary executive at work; this isn't the notion that the president makes the law, and acts of Congress are legal elevator music. This vision of executive power is that the law not only emanates from the president but also ebbs and flows with his hunches, hopes, and speculations, on a moment-to-moment basis. What we are hearing now from senior Bush administration officials is that if the president thinks someone looks kinda like a terrorist and the information sought from him seems kinda worth getting, it will be legal to torture him. And it's legal no matter who justified it, regardless of the supporting legal doctrine, because, well, the president just had a feeling that the information would prove valuable.

That's not an imperial presidency. That's the kind of presidency Yahweh might establish. I'm sure there's some law professor out there who can make the legal argument that executive power in wartime encompasses even the reckless guesses and impressionistic whims of a single man, as they arise. At which point, that too will become an "open question" on which "reasonable people will differ." And the dance will begin again.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

first haircut

first haircut
Originally uploaded by Mantooth
19 months, 1 day.

chair nap

chair nap
Originally uploaded by Mantooth
the boys and I stayed home today. The older one insisted that he did NOT need to nap: this was what I found ten minutes later.