Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thought for the Day:

Fuck Chuck Klosterman.

Dear Chuck,

About GNR: if you like GNR, when you hear an awesome GNR song, you don't immediately shove three fingers up your butt and use your other hand to write a long-winded review of the album. Acceptable alternatives to the Klosterfuck?

1. Drink Heavily
2. Air Guitar
3. Uh, Drink Heavily?

(If you must meta-appreciate, play Sweet Child of Mine on Guitar Hero or watch Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Work in #1-3 as circumstances permit.)

If Axl Rose is who you say he is, I hope the two of you meet in a dark alley someday and engage in a loving 69 of forward-looking musical/critical insecurity. Maybe have John Woo nearby to release some pigeons at the moment of climax. You know, for gravitas.

Chuck Klosterman: History's Greatest Monster?

"At this juncture in history, rocking is not enough."


Monday, November 17, 2008

Repeal Prop 8!

... so members of the 1985 Rams can get married.

You know, I could write more jokes, but they would just distract you from the homoerotic glory that is THIS:

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fuck Joe Lieberman

Seriously, fuck that guy.

For those of you who haven't been keeping up on the Saga of Lieberman, he endorsed John McCain on December 17th, 2007. If you're keeping score, that was way before McCain even looked like he had a shot at winning, which I guess means that Lieberman had the courage of his convictions. Chief among those convictions is that we shouldn't be backing out of our hideously tragic, financially ruinous war with Iraq. I'm sure Joe has his reasons, but no matter what your premises you should never be able to argue yourself into putting your penis in a blender, much less keeping it there once you've punched the "liquify" button.

So Joe, lover of national-dick-in-blender foreign policy, gave a speech at the GOP convention, hurled a lot of slime at Barack Obama, and skulked around in the background during McCain's concession speech. In other words, he chose poorly.

Now he's trying to mend fences, and hopefully continue to drape his saggy posterior over the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee. Barack Obama has appealed for a less vindictive solution that keeps Lieberman in the Democratic Caucus, and Harry Reid is in talks with Benedict Joe. As Kos points out, there are essentially three outcomes for Joe:

1. No comeuppance--Joe keeps his chair, keeps his seniority, gets to pick Harry Reid's nose.
2. Some comeuppance--Joe loses his chair, keeps his seniority, has a good sulk before the new congress convenes.
3. Maximum comeuppance--Joe loses his chair, loses his seniority, is dragged down 1-95 by a sled team of cannibals.

Joe, with typical prescience, has indicated that everything except option 1 is unacceptable. That's essentially the equivalent of putting all your money on "Harry Reid is a wuss. D'you hear that Harry, you big wuss?!" Unfortunately, Lieberman's bargaining position is highly dubious. With an absolute majority short of 59 seats in the Senate, the Democrats need for a little Joementum has never been less acute. Of course, Joe has the weapon of last resort: he can hitch his wagon to the party that's compared BHO's volunteer corps to Soviet forced labor practices and the Holocaust. Oh, and let's not forget the incoherent GOP ravings about some sort of Obama-sponsored Marxist gestapo.

Yeah, that'll get him re-elected.

There is an alternate possibility. I'm sure Rahm Emanuel is pulling for option 3, possibly in the hopes of rustling up a replacement finger. Barack Obama may be burnishing his huggy bipartisan credentials while encouraging Reid to hang Lieberman out to dry. When Lieberman eventually walks the plank, Obama can be gravely disappointed while acknowledging the legislature's right to police its own. Reid gets a much-needed spinal graft, Obama isn't seen as vindictive, and Joe Lieberman and Ted Stevens can give each other reacharounds in hell.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Strategy and Tactics

One of the recurring notes throughout this campaign has been the invocation of jargon like "strategy" and "tactics" as a way to establish foreign policy chops. John McCain attempted to do this during a presidential debate when he asserted that "Senator Obama doesn't know the difference between a strategy and a tactic." It would've been a real zinger if he hadn't thereby implied that THE SURGE was a strategy.

You can think of any large-scale military endeavor on a couple of levels. First, there are the minutiae of combat: how do I kill those guys 300m away using the capabilities I have at my disposal? You can expand the lens of tactics to larger scale considerations as well, including securing an area so that supplies can move freely, and so on and so forth.

We can conceptualize a strategy as a plan for victory. A solid strategy contains an internal logic that propels it toward the accepted definition of victory for the current conflict. Because of its broad nature, a strategy influences decision making at many levels, from battlefield tactics to logistics.

This is all a little arcane, so let's take a look at these concepts in (hot, napalm-y) action: the Vietnam War. General Westmoreland implemented a strategy of attrition according to which the massive US military machine would be used to drive up costs on the North Vietnamese until they decided "fuck it, this communism shit just isn't worth it" and leave South Vietnam alone. Victory! All of the horrors of the war were to some extent connected by this strategy. Everything from the Rolling Thunder campaigns to free fire zones, from kill counts to My Lai could be seen in the context of a war of attrition. It didn't really matter who you killed, because murdering the fuck out of anyone would make life worse for the North Vietnamese. Anyway, you can see that the strategy was driving the tactics, and the strategy itself was pointing at a condition that we (mistakenly!) believed would cause N. Vietnam to break off hostilities.

As an aside, much like strategic bombing campaigns, these "morale breakers" didn't really work. When you slaughter the fuck out of someone's village, the survivors are A) completely dependent on the government and B) hate you with the fire of a thousand suns because you just destroyed their livelihood and their family. When there's a ready-made national unification movement for them to hitch their wagon to, things tend not to go so well for you.

Anyway, Iraq is a bit atypical because we have no clear idea of what victory looks like. Yes, we'd like it to be fully democratic, pluralist and free, but it's a bit unclear how we use the Marines to do that. The problem is that the internal logic of our occupation was a bit weak. To wit:

1. Topple Saddam.
2. ...
3. Democracy!

There's obviously no purely military solution to our problems in Iraq, but we can understand the Surge (tm) as part of a unified political and military strategy to allow national reconciliation. The problem is, that with the election coming up relatively soon after the Surge was announced and the Iraq War, the President and the GOP deeply unpopular in the United States, the incentive structure for Maliki was, shall we say, skewed. Did pissing on fires all over Iraq give us any increased leverage over Maliki that might lead him to share power with the other factions in Iraq? Probably not. On the other hand it definitely improved the optics of the Iraq War at home in the United States, enabling John McCain to run on the "Surge=Victory" platform and eventually make it to a debate in which he idiotically called out his opponent for not knowing the difference between a strategy and a tactic.

On a larger scale, the problem with the Surge is simple. If I were a betting man in Maliki's shoes, and some unpopular lame duck came to me and said "I'm going to fill your country with soldiers, calm shit down and suchlike and in the meantime I want you to make nice with these other factions." My answer would be "Sure thing, Hoss! How much longer will you be running things over there?" Then, immediately after our conversation I'd set about entrenching myself in power and building alliances with people who share my interests so that once he's quenched the fires with American blood and gone home, I would be in a position to outmaneuver my rivals and run the country as I saw fit.

Obviously, the situation is a good deal more complicated than that, and I'm not sure exactly how it will play out in '09 and '10. I am prepared to offer the following bit of sound tactical advice to the readership: don't turn into a snake. It never helps.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

The Utley Award

So, Newsweek has had this "Special Election Project" running for some time, where reporters were embedded with the campaigns and their reports embargoed until after election day. They seem to have unearthed some gems, including this one from our 44th President:

So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, "Well, I planted a bunch of trees." And he says, "I'm talking about personal." What I'm thinking in my head is, "Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I fucking changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective."

Collective, eh? Socialismo o Muerte! Seriously though, I'm very happy this guy is going to the White House. So on behalf of all of use at FTB, I'd like to congratulate Barack Obama for being the first recipient of the Chase Utley Award for Excellence in Dropping the F-Bomb.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Get Outta Here!

Hey you! Yeah, you, Imaginary Reader! What are you doing reading this stupid blog? Turn off your computer and go vote for Obama, unless you want this to be second in line for the Oval Office.

What's that you say? You're only imaginary and, thus, don't have a voter registration card? I DON'T CARE! Go vote your imaginary little heart out, or I'll stop directing you to so much awesome music to put on your imaginary iPod.

O'Death: Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin

Listen to the frantic, sawing fiddle; the high and wild twang of the vocals; the murderous Southern gothicism of the lyrics; the gut-bucket thunk of the banjo and bass. Listen to how they fuse yowling hillbilly blues with the snarling intensity of punk rock. Close your eyes; can you tell where these guys are from?

If you're an avid follower of indie rock, you've probably guessed that they, like most sub-par salsa and alt-country bands, hail from the genre's great mecca, Noo Yorg Citay.

Who cares, you ask? Uptight music critics, that's who. You can almost hear the eyes rolling as Pitchfork pronounces them "the latest of a long line of New York traditionalists who look to old-time music as a place to hang their contemporary quirks." "I tend to get a bit skeptical when a bunch of dudes get on stage for a good ol’ hootenannie hoe down —- in Brooklyn," deadpans Joe Tacopino of Popmatters. "They seem to embody the jug band farce of suburban kids dressing as 19th Century beet farmers." Elevating context over content, these critics tend to ignore the joyful, apocalyptic fury of O'Death's sound in favor of a liberal arts graduate's hyper-sensitivity to acts of cultural appropriation. Is Amy Winehouse performing in modernized blackface? Did Paul Simon Gershwinize African Isicathamiya music on Graceland? The answer to both of those questions is probably "yes," but the more important question it begs is "so?" There's something condescending about all of these ivory tower critics defending the integrity of provincial forms. There's a whiff, even, of Sarah Palin's notion of "real America," the patronizing idea that rural poverty is the only true bestower of authenticity. O'Death play it like they mean it, and you don't have to spend time in a barn to stir up a good barnburner. Purity is incestuous anyway -- great artists tromp gleefully across boundaries, laughing at the furrow-browed guardians below, forming little fences out of their term papers.

O'Death aren't great artists -- Broken Hymns, Limbs and Skin, their new record, begins to shows the limitations of their shtick. Their press package claims a wide-ranging assortment of influences, from Prince to the Microphones, but such eclecticism is nowhere to be heard. Their music functions according to simple plan: take traditional country/bluegrass and crank the amps to eleven. It's the exact same M.O. that animates the Pogues and Gogol Bordello, applied to a different traditional form. Here on their third album, they're tilling the exact same soil as when they first materialized, fully formed, on the Brooklyn scene that both loves and loves to sneer at its phony rednecks. They're either unable or unwilling to expand their range beyond the furious, snarling murder ballads that tend to kill at their shows.

O'Death is an unmissable live experience -- constantly cracking the whip over the crowd, these five maniacally sweaty guys keep upping the ante: harder, drunker, faster, dirtier. Non-stop catharsis, though, while great for a whiskey-fueled hoe-down, becomes wearying when pressed onto a disc. Embracing the Crazy Horse side but not the Harvest Moon side of his Neil Young-ish yelp, singer Greg Jamie never finds or even reaches for anything like the ragged, heartbreaking balladry of Shane MacGowan, which served to underline and expand the Pogues’ punk aesthetic. Songs like "Home" and "On an Aching Sea" open slowly and thoughtfully, but O'Death can't resist the urge to build every damned track into a wrecking-ball psychobilly freakout, which renders even the good songs unmemorable in their sameness.

Their albums, taken together, provide an excellent soundtrack for the coked-up slaughtering of livestock, but not much else. Some of the individual tracks, though, are monsters, shining a shadowy light on the more sinister places of American folklore, the southern Gothic we all carry around somewhere in the backs of our minds. "Low Tide," the opener, is a vicious shanty, building an eerie plucked banjo line into a howling churn, as brutal and sudden as a swelling electrical storm at sea. It segues into "Fire On Peshtigo," where Jamie makes the most of his pinched, nasal voice, chanting staccatto lines about a wild-fire in Wisconsin with the urgency of a newsreel voiceover. These are the two best and most interesting songs on the album, and once they're over we're left with a lot of stuff we've heard before, some of it terrific, some of it only okay, none of it bad, but none of it surprising. As glad as I am to have a new album from a band that I like a lot, I find myself far less excited for their fourth album than I was for their third. I’m rooting hard for these guys to switch up their sound a make a few unexpected moves, because I want the uptight critics, more interested in biographical authenticity than in dancing their feet down to the bone, proven wrong. Like O’Death, I’m from New York City, and I want the world to know that our salsa can be spicy as a motherfucker.