Can’t Knock the Surge?

Generally speaking, the foreign policy case for John McCain has three parts:

1. John McCain supported the surge before it was cool.

2. The surge caused a reduction in violence.

3. This implies that McCain has good foreign policy judgment.

The accuracy, importance and relevance of the first and third points have been questioned extensively, of course. The second one is generally taken as an article of faith, and granted even by Obama backers. But is it true? Is the surge mainly responsible for the decline in violence, or were Moqtada al-Sadr’s semi-retirement, the Anbard awakening, and the ethnic cleansing in Baghdad bigger factors? Was the surge even a tactical success?

Ezra and I doubted it. But don’t take our word for it: we asked basically every think tank type who writes about Iraq for their thoughts, and they all agree it’s complicated. The results are here. Unsurprisingly, Michael O’Hanlon and John Nagl represent the right flank, with Juan Cole and Larry Korb on the left and Colin Kahl, Tom Ricks, etc. somewhere in between.

Guilty on Five Counts

I’ll cop to having been tempted by the “Top Five Guilty Pleasures on Your iPod” meme that’s been going around, so I’m glad Ned tagged me with it. But I must say, it’s a tough one, for reasons that are specific to my iTunes situation. The summer after 8th grade, I decided to rip every CD in my house, whether it was owned by me, my brother, or my parents. This was nice, in that when my dad bought a Sonos system we had an extremely large collection of music to use. But it also means that I have Bette Midler’s Experience the Divine, the soundtrack to Aladdin, and basically every Original Broadway Cast Recording you can imagine. Suffice it to say, I never listen to any of this (hearing my musical theater friends belt “A Whole New World” is quite enough, thank you), but it’s in my iTunes and, as a result, my big, hard-disk iPod. So a better barometer is the music I’ve put on my iPhone, excuse me, my 3G iPhone, which is generally material I listen to on a semi-regular basis.

Another preliminary note: I don’t think these five songs are bad. Certainly I like them, or else they wouldn’t be on the iPhone. And it’s pretty absurd to dub songs “bad for you”, as if Pitchfork and AV Club and the like comprise a kind of musical FDA that approves or rejects aural treatments. So there’s no real science to this. But hey, it’s fun, so why not?

1. “The Way I Live” by Baby Boy da Prince, Across the Water.

http://media.imeem.com/m/ditM5Zwk2O/aus=false/

One of my favorite jobs when I was working for the Obama campaign was “canvassing for twos”. The standard coding system we used labeled undecided voters “threes”, supporters of non-Obama candidates “fours”, and Obama supporters “twos”. Obama supporters who signed cards indicating their intention to vote for him were “ones”. Canvassing for twos involved driving to the house of every two in the database and trying to convince them to sign one of those cards.

It was a great gig; you were talking to people who were already sympathetic, you got to drive instead of walk, and, best of all, you worked in pairs. And you spent a lot of time with your partner. This is how I learned that Alex Hughes (hi, Alex!) – Bates graduate and WASP extraordinaire – has extraordinarily bad taste in gangsta rap. Just gangsta rap, mind you. We’d start every canvass by blasting “Definition” by Black Star, which is a perfectly respectable alt hip-hop track. But she also loved this song, and “Poppin’ My Collar” by Three 6 Mafia, and some song called “Poppin’ Pockets” that’s so bad I can’t seem to find it anywhere except her iPod.

Anyway, Alex and I listened to this song enough in her car that I eventually bought it. And it’s a damn catchy song – stupid, but catchy. So it’s made it onto my iPhone.

2. “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here” by Deborah Cox, One Wish.

http://media.imeem.com/m/XengB1dA58/aus=false/

Remember those NOW! That’s What I Call Music compilations that were popular before Napster and iTunes made it possible to obtain individual songs? I got this on a knockoff of one of those called Totally Hits when I was eight or something. I was looking back at the track list last month after I had a tug of nostalgia for LFO’s “Summer Girls” – it’s as bad as you remember – and found this. And on an objective level, it’s a great dance track, with all of the overwrought melodies and crescendos and drum thumps that the genre requires.

3. “Truly Madly Deeply” by Savage Garden, Savage Garden.

http://media.imeem.com/v/6zQeNH5jio/aus=false/pv=2

You know when I knew ’90s nostalgia had arrived for people my age? When an a capella concert at my school featured a medley with “I Want It That Way”, “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”, and this song. There’s really no redeeming qualities to be found here; it’s total schlock, bad prom music. But hey, I was six when I first heard it. When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible, and when I’m less young and slightly more responsible, I have license to reminisce.

4. “Caribou Lou” by Tech N9ne, Everready (The Religion).

http://media.imeem.com/m/7u4-uMePPh/aus=false/

Another Obama song. During my brief stay in Manchester, I would often bum a ride with this other intern who at times seemed like a total hipster, but who’d then blindside you with a completely unironic appreciation of “Maneater” by Hall & Oates. Or, for instance, he’d have a copy of “Stronger” on his iPod two months before its legal release, and then play this. It’s catchy, no doubt, but it’s also a shameless “let’s get drunk featuring my signature beverage” song. Also, “Kansas City, Missouri” sounds so much less cool than “South Central” or “Bed-Stuy”. Just sayin’. To be fair, though, this song did lead to one of the better graphs ever created.

5. “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany, Tiffany.

I really have no excuse for this one. I wasn’t even alive when this came out. And it’s not like there aren’t other, more respectable versions of the song I could listen to. But no, my favorite has to be the one Tiffany did. Tiffany, the manufactured pop starlet so artificial she didn’t even hire a ghostwriter to get her some original material. It’s the bass, I think. It’s so sharp and clipped, almost like tuned drums. Either that, or I am truly devoid of any and all taste.

What Are You Cut Out For, Junior?

I’m with Jonathan Hawley and Pete Suderman: Oliver Stone’s new Bush biopic looks surprisingly good:

The casting is interesting; any film that has James Cromwell, Ellen Burstyn, Thandie Newton, and Rob Corddry in it will be eclectic, to say the least. But they’ve got some good people; Jeffrey Wright as Colin Powell should be excellent.

I understand the commercial and political reasons for making the film, but I must say I’ve never found Bush, the person, very interesting. I’ve found his advisors fascinating; The Rise of the Vulcans would be a gripping read even if the events it documents were of no consequence. But Bush just seems like a screwup who landed where he is by a mixture of serendipity and nepotism. If the ’94 Republican wave hadn’t blown Ann Richards out, if Gingrich hadn’t screwed up the budget face-off and thus ruined his chances of a run in 2000, if McCain hadn’t faltered in South Carolina, if the 2000 election hadn’t gone to SCOTUS – if it weren’t for dumb luck, Bush wouldn’t even be worth a mention.

What I would be interested in seeing is a Bill Clinton biopic, because Clinton as a person is fascinating. Whatever you think of his politics, even his conduct during the primaries this year, he’s an unbelievably intelligent and almost preternaturally talented political operator, and one who grew up with nothing to help him get where he wanted to go. And yet – again, regardless of your view of his politics – he was deeply flawed in many respects. What’s most jarring for me is the degree to which his greatest gifts – his personal connection, his deep empathy, his distance from the Washington milieu – led directly to some of his most grievous mistakes – trusting Dick Morris, not getting his first term agenda in the right order, his sexual misadventures. He’s been caricatured as a womanizer after the Lewinsky scandal, of course, but his dealings with Congress and his flirtations with Morris are much more interesting to me. Stone is too interested in the salacious to do a good job with the subject, but there’s got to be some good material there for a more substantive filmmaker.

His Name Is…

Ned Resnikoff, a fellow made man in the teen blogger mafia, has switched his URL up. Veritosity is dead, long live resnikoff.wordpress.com. Go check it out.

In other blogging news, if you weren’t at the Velvet Lounge this afternoon, you really missed out. I went to see Spencer Ackerman, the Lester Bangs of political journalism, and his band The Surge kick out the jams, but the two acts preceding them were just as impressive.

First up was Gull (aka Nathaniel Rappole), probably the only person capable of playing a drum kit and a lead guitar line at the same time. With a skull mask on. From the looks of it, he’d rigged his red Tele to act like a Chapman Stick; that is, he could finger a note and it’d play without any strumming. It sounded like nothing so much as a math rock version of the first Rage Against the Machine album, which is to say it was pretty fantastic.

Next up was Max and the Marginalized, featuring Max “Son of Carl” Bernstein on vocals. They do great protest pop-punk; Spencer described them as “the Buzzcocks mashed with Matt Yglesias”, which seems more accurate than the WaPo‘s “Hüsker Dü mashed with Yglesias” formulation. In any case, they’re been a severe dearth of good antiwar and anti-administration protest music over the past eight years, and Max and co. go a long way toward ending it, with songs on everything from FISA to John Yoo to Lou Dobbs. Also, they had the funniest mic check in, um, ever. Max: “Could you turn down the highs a bit? My guitar’s sounding pretty shrill.” Spencer: “Shrill like Brad DeLong!”

The Surge itself was surprisingly ambient; Ezra‘s summary, “Explosions in the Sky crossed with blogging”, is pretty accurate. But even when doing slow-moving material, Spencer was active enough to break his drum cymbal. How punk rock is that?

My Job Here Is Done

Jamie Kirchick calls me out by name. Apparently, I am part of “marginal attempts by far left feminist and ‘queer’ activists to upend a vital social institution.” Note the scare quotes around “queer”; I don’t like calling people self-hating anythings usually, but Kirchick’s really pushing it. Anyway, I’ve inspired the wrath of Kirchick, my life is complete.

One thing, though: Kirchick, like Jesse, didn’t get this point of mine:

Imagine a traditional wedding in which two white families are sitting on either side of the aisle. Now imagine a wedding in which one side is completely white and the other completely black. See the problem?

This was unclear, and it warrants more explanation. Here’s what I wrote in Jesse’s comment thread:

The point of the images in the section on interracial marriage was meant to emphasize the degree to which the marriage ceremony stratifies the families of interracial couples, while uniting the friends and families of same-race couples.

But for Kirchick to deny the racial issues at play with marriage is of a piece with the kind of purposeful thickness that he displays, well, everywhere.