Saturday, January 27, 2007

Surge In Or Phase Out?

[This is my editorial for Tuesday's issue of Inprint. Illustration by Jeremy Schlangen.]

Surge used to have a lime-green taste and a lot of caffeine. It twisted 13 year olds into hyperactive tizzies. After the high wore off, tight, nauseating knots grew in their little stomachs. The sickness was worth the payoff—it was a hell of a buzz, while it lasted.

During his State of the Union Address last week, George W. Bush introduced a new brand of surge--a major tightening of military bases, crack counterinsurgency techniques and the installment of 21,500 additional American troops. If all goes according to plan, Iraq will be the formula’s apprehensive recipient.

“Nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq,” Bush said at one point during his speech, inciting a standing ovation. For the moment, he stole a self-satisfied smile. “I ask you to support our troops in the field and those on their way.”

Like the syrupy soda of our youth, Bush's surge will only exacerbate the fiasco.

In the weeks after the U.S. military ousted Saddam Hussein, Bush’s push would have probably helped stabilize Iraq and gain more trust from the Iraqis. Today, though, more and more politicians see the surge as a desperate maneuver destined to fail. This is a way of thinking many are beginning to refer to as “realism.”

Lately, calling Bush out on his incompetence has been like shooting fish in a barrel. Last week, Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Joe Biden reinvigorated their demands for a withdrawal, Republican John Warner issued his own anti-escalation resolution and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee voted on a non-binding decree that protests the surge. Meanwhile, John McCain, Joe Liebermen and John Boehner were the high-profile reps for a dwindling population of surge buyers.

Right after the President’s speech, newly elected Democratic Senator Jim Webb, an ex-Marine, ex-Secretary of the Navy and ex-Republican whose son is serving in Iraq, issued a Democratic rebuttal. “The majority of the nation no longer supports the way this war is being fought, nor do the majority of our military, nor does a majority of our Congress,” he said. “We need a new direction.”

Although this bi-partisan assault has been something of a success, the only thing most lawmakers have agreed on so far has been Bush’s ineptitude. Every solution for Iraq has glossed over the complicated nature of this war. The Iraq Study Group's 79-point plan, a bi-partisan effort recommending changes that should have been made years ago, went largely ignored, and there has been debate over theories that incorporate terms like “immediate,” “diplomacy,” “phase,” “withdraw,” and “escalation.” Now, there's the “surge.”

On the week ending Sunday, January 21st, 600 Iraqi civilians lost their lives in Iraq, according to Iraq Body Count, an internet tracking group. Between December 3, 2007 and last Friday, when we went to print, the New York Times reported that 151 troops also died, and that 65% of them were between the ages of 18 and 24. At a Senate meeting last Wednesday, Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, Bush’s choice as the new commander in Iraq, said that the situation in Iraq was “dire"--indeed, “We face a determined, adaptable, barbaric enemy,” he said, and “there are no guarantees.” Petraeus' conclusion: Iraq needs surge, and fast.

“We know that we’re not likely to stop this escalation,” New York Senator Hillary Clinton told Petraeus, as though expressing a newfound hopelessness. “But we are going to do everything we can to send a message to our government and the Iraqi government that they had better change, because the enemy we are confronting is adaptable.”

Messages are great P.R. for politicians gearing up for a Presidential race. Clinton’s adoring audience will drink her resistance up, knowing that she visited Iraq for a day last week. Still, her efforts haven't been enough to convince half of Iraq's parliament to show up for work. Nor did they shield the squad of American troops now patrolling Ghazaliya, a dilapidated Baghdad neighborhood, from local Al Qaeda fighters and Shiite militias stationed at a base nearby.

All of this seems to ask the nightly news watcher, surge or phase out? Either way, Iraqis and American troops, and their families and friends, will continue to sacrifice their lives. They deserve healthier options.

This is the time I use the iTunes Store

[This article will run in Inprint, the student newspaper at the New School, this coming Tuesday]

Judging by the arrest a few weeks ago of DJ Drama for producing thousands of unlicensed mixtapes that hype up-and-coming hip hop artists, the Recording Industry Association of America is chafing at what little control they hold over the intricacies of cultural exchange. Unfortunately for them, even though the cops snagged 81,000 CDs from the DJ’s Atlanta studio, scores of his compilations were still available on Web sites, and even the iTunes Store.

That may have scored Steve Jobs and his increasingly ubiquitous Apple Experience some hip points. But don’t be fooled: He has also taken plenty of opportunities to conquer the free, unlicensed sharing of music. Thankfully though, these purveyors of intellectual ownership and media-buying software are facing competition from a free, interactive, educational and convenient digital radio interface called

If by chance you collect music, spend a lot of time on the internet, are taken to blogging, have an extremely tedious job, or all of the above, add “scrobbling” to your lexicon of corny Web tags. The “Scrobbler,” available for download on the London-based Web site, keeps a record of artists you listen to on Winamp or iTunes and enables you to create a personalized music profile. Then, with a radio interface that runs on your desktop, you can create a personal, digital radio station or search for artists to play music other users find similar.

The users, evidently, have interesting tastes and a knack for detail. When I ran a search for Rodan, a band from Louisville, Kentucky known for some of the first brash and intricate “math rock” grooves, selections included a track with a disjointed bass-line and distorted vocals by Braniac, a herky-jerky new-wave throwback from Dayton, Ohio; a lush guitar-strummer by Cul de Sac, an instrumental group from Boston; and the jumpy “Equators to Bi-Polar,” with a skittering drum beat and quintessentially indie out-of-tune vocals by June of 44. All of those bands, incidentally, are from the 1990s. Who knew?

Each selection contains a bio of the band, with a link to the Web site so you can read a longer bio or make friends with users who love this particular song. From there, you can generate a digital radio station composed of music your “neighbors,” as they call them, enjoy. Or you can keep on listening, whereupon the radio will make increasingly disparate connections. At one point, my stream went to “Metal,” fifteen minutes of metal pieces clanking along, by ‘70s British band This Heat. Very nice.

Brad Buckles, executive vice president for antipiracy at the Recording Industry Association of America, has evidently been too busy rounding up mix CDs with bootleg rap tracks on them to catch notice of the flagrant disregard for copyright law on He told the New York Times last week that, “When you start selling [mixtapes] by the tens and hundreds of thousands, I don’t know that anyone is saying that’s of great promotional value.”

Likewise, any number cruncher could argue that when listeners have access to hundreds of thousands of songs over a free Web service, which enables them to meet others users to exchange music on their own terms, promotional value goes way down. Yet, record labels still contact to post songs. Perhaps they have more faith in youthful vigor, and that ever entropic Web universe, than the statistician's hoary wisdom. Or perhaps they just know that culture is, and will always be, a free-for-all with marketable concessions.

Fuck Yeaaauh

Yes, indeed, Troy over at CityBeat made a wise choice--I will KILL Sebadoh. That is to say, I will KILL an article about Sebadoh.