Miscellaneous Musical Update

Sorry for the sparse blogging as of late; I’ve been visiting the grandparents on Maui, and funnily enough the beaches at Wailea have a tendency to drag one away from his RSS reader. Anyway, apparently the Pipettes have broken up for all intents and purposes, which sucks pretty bad. Rosay (the “folksy” brunette) and RiotBecki (the riot grrl blonde) have left, meaning that none of the original members, and only one of the We Are the Pipettes-era members (Gwenno, the Monroe-esque blonde) remain. Rosay and RiotBecki were my first and second favorite members, respectively, so between their absence and the traditional awfulness of sophomore records I’m not so sure that I’ll shell out for the band’s second album, which they’re recording currently. I appreciate Monster Bobby‘s concept of a girl group he can direct and engineer, just like the Phil Spector days (the name is a reference to the idea that the band’s a lab experiment under Bobby’s control), but it’s hard to believe that he’s not making a mistake.
In all my beach frolicking, I also missed Ross Douthat’s unbelievable dismissal of rap as a genre, because it’ll never become high-brow, and that if it does it’ll be a true signal of cultural decline. My generational cohorts Zeitlin and Reskinoff do a pretty good job on this one, but I think the most damning counterpoint is that rap, especially indie rap, is already high-brow. I first heard about M.I.A. by listening to an All Things Considered review of Arular. I first heard about Clipse by reading the New Yorker review of Hell Hath No Fury – and that’s a coke-rap album. Ross’ point about the implausibility of “N.W.A. in the Park” is well-taken, but would anyone be shocked about “Mos Def in the Park” or “Common in the Park” or even “Jay-Z in the Park”? When the presumptive Democratic nominee can brush the dirt off his shoulders at a rally in front of a crowd that knows exactly what he’s referencing, without any real fear of negative political ramifications, I think that signals that the genre, even in its more risqué forms, is part of the mainstream, and not confined to any low-class cultural ghetto. Also, it was really, really awesome.
Lastly, Nick Beaudrot’s posting of an absolutely horrific Paul Anka cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” reminds me of one of the best parts of this vacation. When my family was eating at a pretty fancy Italian place by the beach, there was this guitar & violin duo playing various classical and traditional Italian tunes as background music. Right before our appetizers came, the violinist walked over and warned us that he was about to play “a loud song”. We laughed, figuring he meant Vivaldi’s “Spring” or something, but then the guitar launched into that I-IV-III-VI chord progression we all love so much and the violin followed with what sounded like “load up on guns, and bring your friends” and we realized that they were playing Nirvana. It took the table behind us a little longer to get it, but once they did they were as excited as us. It was a great reminder of just what a perfect song that is, and how long it’s been since I’ve listened to either it or Nevermind:

One of These Things Is Exactly Like the Other One

Look at what I found in NetNewsWire yesterday:
Forget for a second that Kirchick considers checking The Nation‘s knowledge of the order of the alphabet cutting journalism, or that he actually thinks there are people who care about Alger Hiss’ guilt, and look at who is listed at two locations as the creator of his post. You know, I used to be joking when I called him “mini-me”, but…

Were We Right to Blow Up the Moon?

You know what’s great? A regularly updated source of Fafblog (the world’s only such source, in fact). Observe:

So for the last five years all the liberals and the hippies and the nattering nabobs of normalcy have been coming up to Giblets and going “Was the war a mistake Giblets?” and “Are we losing the war Giblets?” and “Oh look at all the dead people Giblets, maybe we should stop the war.” And the correct answers to these questions have been “Shut up,” “Shut up you traitor,” and “We’d be winning already if you’d just shut up.” But Giblets is a patient Giblets and is willing to entertain even the most tedious requests of his dullest subjects, especially if it gets him published columns in Slate and The New York Times. So was Giblets really wrong? Was the war a mistake? Were we right to blow up the moon?

Giblets says: yes!

Aw Yeah. That Golden Rule.

Obama’s response to a question about the recent revelation that the greater portion of the National Security Council is composed of war criminals is really encouraging:

What I would want to do is to have my Justice Department and my Attorney General immediately review the information that’s already there and to find out are there inquiries that need to be pursued. I can’t prejudge that because we don’t have access to all the material right now. I think that you are right, if crimes have been committed, they should be investigated. You’re also right that I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.
So this is an area where I would want to exercise judgment — I would want to find out directly from my Attorney General — having pursued, having looked at what’s out there right now — are there possibilities of genuine crimes as opposed to really bad policies. And I think it’s important– one of the things we’ve got to figure out in our political culture generally is distinguishing between really dumb policies and policies that rise to the level of criminal activity. You know, I often get questions about impeachment at town hall meetings and I’ve said that is not something I think would be fruitful to pursue because I think that impeachment is something that should be reserved for exceptional circumstances. Now, if I found out that there were high officials who knowingly, consciously broke existing laws, engaged in cover-ups of those crimes with knowledge forefront, then I think a basic principle of our Constitution is nobody above the law — and I think that’s roughly how I would look at it.

Emphasis mine. I think this is an excellent precedent to be set, and one that should have been set more comprehensively after Watergate, had Ford’s pardon not interfered. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of high-ranking cabinet members in the Bush administration’s first term were acting in ways closer to those of politicians who get tried by the ICC or the ICTFY than those who have served in American cabinets in the past. As Obama says, this is fundamentally about the rule of law.
But it would have international benefits too, especially if Obama allows people like John Yoo, Alberto Gonzales, etc. to be extradited to the ICC. One of the more compelling points Matt Yglesias makes in Heads in the Sand is that America’s attempts to constrain the behavior of other states are only as powerful as our willingness to accept those constraints ourselves. By handing over Bush administration vets to the courts, Obama would show international leaders that we don’t consider ourselves above the standards of international justice to which we hold them. It’d be a powerful message, and it would go a long way toward repairing the damage to our reputation that’s been inflicted over the past eight years.

Straight Up Racist That Sucker Was, Simple and Plain

You know that episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where Charlie is pretending to be Sam Waterson’s character on Law & Order and at one point yells “Objection: extremely racist!”? Well, that’s what immediately came to mind when I saw this:

U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis, a Hebron Republican, compared Obama and his message for change similar to a “snake oil salesman.”
He said in his remarks at the GOP dinner that he also recently participated in a “highly classified, national security simulation” with Obama.
“I’m going to tell you something: That boy’s finger does not need to be on the button,” Davis said. “He could not make a decision in that simulation that related to a nuclear threat to this country.”

Um, Geoff, calling a black man who’s three years younger than you “boy”? Extremely racist. Moreover, I’m curious about what this simulation was, exactly. I probably won’t find out, as it’s apparently “highly classified”. But then again, if it’s “highly classified”, what the hell is Davis doing talking about it at a local party fundraiser? It sure sounds like a situation from which Davis’ conclusion about Obama’s fitness for office and mine would differ greatly, but I don’t think I’m alone in being interested in how Obama would respond to what Davis deems a “nuclear threat to this country”.

Heads in the Sand: The Actual Review

Five days after it landed Chez Matthews, I finally finished Matt Yglesias’ foreign policy opus, Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats. So what’s the verdict? Well, it’s good. Very, very good. But I’m not the ideal reader. That’d be that very special person you know who always gets an earful about the blogs you read, about the funny quip Ezra Klein made or the insightful long post Kevin Drum did, and has no idea what you’re talking about. Heads in the Sand is their guide to the world of my RSS reader. It explains concepts only blog readers would have any reason to know; the opening chapter demonstrates what Friedman Units are, the third relates the Yglesias-discovered Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics, and the eighth dissects over liberal hawks’ “Incompetence Dodge” (Klein’s blurb, dubbing the book “a very serious, thoughtful argument that has never been made in such detail or with such care”, is left unexplained but absolutely hilarious). More importantly, though, it presents a compelling synthesis of the blogosphere’s disparate critiques of the Bush administration’s foreign policy and, in even more detail, the liberal hawk phenomenon.
Bookended by discussion of doctrine and larger theory, the greater part of the book is a history of the Bush administration from a liberal perspective. Bush gets his due criticism, no doubt, but he and his administration are treated less as serious intellectual competition than as a pathology, a disease with which American government is saddled. He is engaged on the merits occasionally – most notably, in Matt’s discussions of Bush’s “democracy agenda” and of the surge – but for the most part, it’s assumed that Bush, and his policies, are unfortunate failures. No, the real enemies in Heads in the Sand are those liberals who tagged along with Bush for the war and for his other foreign policy misadventures. The quotes and examples used will be familiar to many – Thomas Friedman’s various inanities, The Threatening Storm, and Pete Beinart’s “A Fighting Faith” all get their fair share of criticism – as will the substantive argument, that these forces were carrying water for an administration that had no intention of waging the cautious, multilateral, carefully planned humanitarian intervention or (in the case of Ken Pollack) national security endeavor that they thought they were supporting. But it’s a critique that’s been mostly ghettoized to the liberal blogosphere, and Matt is doing a great public service in putting it in a mass-market book. It doesn’t hurt that he articulates it damn well, either. Take the single most devastating section in the book, wherein Matt responds to Beinart’s thoughts on Bush’s “democracy agenda”:

The president’s claim was that democracy both could and should be effectively promoted through the unilateral military invasion and subsequent occupation of that country by U.S. forces. This, of course, was something that a certain kind of liberal hawk had been endorsing before the war. It was not, however, a policy that had any genuine precedent in the liberal foreign policy tradition.
No Democratic president – no Republican president, for that matter – had ever done any such thing.
What happened instead was that liberal hawks devised the gunpoint-democratization doctrine on their own before the Iraq War, only to find the Bush administration embracing it after the fact. To acknowledge that they and the administration had hit upon a similar innovation would, however, put liberal hawks in an awkward position in terms of intraparty fights. Thus, the hawks wanted to claim that they were the true exponents of the liberal tradition, that Bush had embraced the rhetoric of this tradition, and then the hawks would explain away the evident failures of Bush’s policies by questioning his sincerity in embracing it. (143)

As good as Matt is in articulating the left flank of the Democratic Party’s position in its disputes with liberal hawks, he’s at his best when making an argument I haven’t seen comprehensively leveled before: that the main political attraction of liberal hawkishness, the idea that projecting “toughness” will bring electoral fruit to bear, is bullshit. He does this first in his analysis of the 2002 midterms, in which he shows, using the excellent example of Jeanne Shaheen, that Democratic candidates who sided with the administration on Iraq got no credit for it from either the administration nor the hawkish voters they were courting, and, moreover, that the Democrats’ overall inclination to concede national security issues to Republicans and focus on the economy in a national security-dominant election cycle was bound to fail. His account of Dean’s rise and fall borders on Greek tragedy, a story of a man who was preaching the 2007 Democratic consensus in 2003 and got pilloried by the media and party establishment for his troubles. The book’s very best chapter, “Evasive Action”, details how the eventual nominee, Kerry, was undone by the inherent contradiction between his need to mount a strategic critique of the Bush administration and his, and his team’s, unwillingness to acknowledge that his vote for the war had been a mistake. It was a problem I observed again and again at the time, and fear over which made me determined to vote for an against-the-war-from-the-start candidate in 2008 for political reasons alone. But Matt is the first major voice to describe it completely and convincingly. If you’re ever inclined to forgive hawkishness on the part of Democratic leaders for reasons of political expediency, read “Evasive Action” and think again.
The more theoretical portions of the book are great as well. His diagnosis of the ideological source of the Bush administration’s foreign policy – a belligerent nationalism born less out of Wilsonianism than out of jingoism – is certainly contested, and I’m not sure I agree fully, but he makes a good case for it. His brief for liberal internationalism is Yglesias at top form; his refusal to personally rebrand it is endearingly humble (he even gets in digs at Fukuyama, Wright, Hulsman & Lieven, and others who think up new labels for the exact same doctrine). He does run into some internal contradictions here, though. In the last chapter, “In With the Old”, he goes into a several-page critique of “Global NATO” or “Concert of Democracies” proposals similar to the one he’s made several times on his blog (196-201). But earlier in the book, he approvingly contrasts Bush’s version of democracy promotion with Wilson’s attempted “construction of a rule-governed liberal world order that would safeguard the world’s liberal states in a manner consistent with their own liberalism” (144). Matt never differentiates convincingly between this proposal from Wilson and those of Ivo Daalder, James Goldgeier and others to create a Concert of Democracies.
But that was my only major objection in the entire book. It’s a great, quick read, and a winning condensation of six years of blogospheric wisdom, no small part of which Matt’s own. You owe it to yourself to pick up a copy. More importantly, though, you owe it to that blog-ignorant friend who is in the dark whenever you talk about the arguments of bloggers like Matt. They’ll emerge from a whole lot less confused, and a whole lot more enlightened.