Saturday, December 30, 2006

Reflections on the Stomach Flu

Most of my Thursday night was spent in the bathroom, waiting to throw up. Very little of this time actually involved vomiting. Of course the anticipation of vomiting is much worse than the act itself, so this may have been my least favorite bout of stomach flu. (This was #3 for me.) I apologize if you didn't wanna hear about that. My Friday was queasy and head-swimmingly unpleasant. The TV was too cacophonous and my book wasn't distracting enough. Today was much better. The TV was fine and I went to McDonald's for dinner as my first meal since Thursday. Since then I'd been subsisting solely on 7Up. (You know, it's 100% natural now!) That's one of the liquids my parents would give me when I had a tummy ache, although they'd give it to me flat. (FYI, the other liquid was mint tea.)

What made this illness especially sucky was the way it brought up questions about the direction of my life and my emotional well-being. What is it about puking your guts out that makes you question your place in the universe? God didn't give me the stomach flu. Duane did, as I just found out this evening while talking to him (talking to Duane, that is, not God).

Now I'm gonna hit the sack. The last Arrested Development of the night just ended on G4, the usual cue that my Saturday nite is over. Catch ya on the flipside!

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Great Electrodelic Get-Together

On Thursday the 24th I went to the Flaming Lips show at the State Fair, and I'd like to recount the event for Marc and Sadie's sake:

I drove to the fairgrounds. (My parents were on vacation. They said I could borrow their car. Honest!) The sky had been darkening since I left Uptown. After I parked and started walking, I saw a nightmarishly dark sky creeping up on the Fair from the north. I began to think the concert might be cancelled. When I got to the entrance, a monsoon hit. I had to struggle against the wind and horizontal rain. People were being blown past me as they fled the grounds. A teenage girl under a small tent was selling tickets. She let me in free after advising me not to even bother with the Fair.

I forged ahead in my rain jacket (which is more of a glorified windbreaker), until I realized that I had to find shelter. I wasn't worried about a tornado, I just didn't wanna get any wetter. I chose a rustic-looking log building. It turned out to be a store/museum devoted to Minnesota's pioneer days. There were some women inside in period dress. One was kind enough to let me use their private bathroom. Just the kind of generosity you'd expect from people pretending to be pioneers.

The rain let up after about 20 minutes, whereupon I wandered over to the Food Building (they should really try classin' up that name) and got a Veggie Pie, which I'd seen listed on the State Fair website's list of food. It was an assortment of raw vegetables stuck to a shingle of dense, indeterminate bread with an unidentified cream dressing serving as glue. It was OK, but certainly not the work of vegetarian gourmets.

After I finished that, with help from a bottle of water, I ran into Dan, my best friend from high school. I didn't recognize him until he was within a few feet. He was unusually buoyant. His sister was with him. She didn't seem to remember me. He asked what I was up to. I told him and then forgot to ask him the same. Dan then bid me adieu and got in line with his sister for one of the building's many gastronomic (Thank you, The Oxford Thesaurus: American Edition!) delights. I'm not sure if the pause between the end of my answer and the beginning of his signoff was long enough to justify one of his famous grudges. It seemed like he cut the conversation short. He could've just filled me in on his life without my prompting, at least to the shallow degree I shared my situation with him.

After the encounter with Dan, I walked around and eventually found the Grandstand, but I didn't go in right away since it wasn't even 7:30, the scheduled start time for the show. So I meandered around a few more minutes before my self-consciousness and boredom drove me back to the Grandstand. I followed the line up the stairs and found a crowd already congregating in front of the stage. But the crowd was pretty widely dispersed; we Midwesterners like our personal space. I found a random spot on the black pavement and occupied it. There were numbers on the ground to indicate chair placement when they set up chairs for other shows. I kinda felt like a chair.

Usually in this situation I would've felt extremely self-conscious, but I was relaxed. And bored. In between people-watching, I went to the bathroom twice and stood by the entrance to see if I could find any familiar faces (and also to look like I was expecting someone). I could've eaten at one of the booths on either side of the stage, but I wasn't in the mood to gorge myself. Something about pigging out alone in public seems really sad.

A man onstage told us the first band, the Magic Numbers, had their equipment drenched in the deluge and wouldn't be performing. The crowd reacted with disappointment mixed with cheers for Sonic Youth, who he said would go on at 8:20. This required more waiting. But finally the sun slipped below the horizon and Sonic Youth came out. (Coincidence?!) A lotta people were into Sonic Youth, but there was no moshing or dancing, except from Kim Gordon (the lead singer), who bounced around in her china doll dress like a teenager numbly trying to escape some secret pain.

I started wishing ardently that I'd brought some friends along at this point, because I came up with some great jokes. When Sonic Youth came out, I thought they should've asked the audience, "Are you ready for cool detachment?" When Thurston Moore (the lead guitarist) mentioned eating at Mickey's Diner and his intention to eat something on a stick at the Fair, I wanted to say, "He's connecting with us!" And then when they settled into another moderately-paced semi-rocker, I wanted to shout, "Whoo! Mid-tempo!" I thought of sharing these with the strangers around me, but I didn't have the guts. Thank god I remembered my witticisms so they weren't lost forever.

Sonic Youth was OK, but the songs all sounded the same to me and they weren't dramatic at all. It was a strangely sluggish warmup for the Flaming Lips. When SY was done, I made my move toward the stage, letting the two guys ahead of me blaze my trail. The crowd was in a state of flux because of the SY fans either heading out or just going to the bathrooms or the food booths. I only got within 100 feet of the stage. In front of me was a solid wall of humanity. To get any closer I would've had to endure the displeasure (either silent or spoken) of my fellow attendees, and I wasn't willing to do that, not even for the Flaming Lips. Besides, it would've been rude.

I think it took an hour for the Lips to set up. The main problem was the huge projection screen that was still wet from the rain and vulnerable to the wind. There were four cannons, multicolored boxes on wheels with megaphones sticking out the top. They looked like relics from Dr. Seuss's personal battery. The drum kit, an orange keyboard, the amps and the mic's were set up in front of the screen. A tiny camera was mounted on Wayne's mic, allowing us to see a huge closeup of his head on the screen. The crowd cheered the first few times Wayne appeared onstage. As the setup dragged on, though, the sight of him became less thrilling. Michael and Steven didn't arouse the same enthusiasm.

Just before the music began, Wayne surfed the audience in his clear plastic bubble like a hamster. He almost got to me, but then headed back to the stage. Inside the sphere he had trouble keeping his balance and fell down often. It was cool to see my hero looking like a victim of America's Funniest Home Videos while literally putting himself in the hands of hundreds of strangers. It showed he had at least some belief in his songs' message of hope in humanity.

I tried to guess which song they'd open with. I thought "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song... (With All Your Power)" was most probable, although starting your concert with the first song off your most recent album is not the most imaginative choice. I was hoping they'd open with "Race for the Prize," but when they actually did, I was rapturously surprised. The crowd burst into a blissful bounce and the electrodelic revival kicked off with a cannon-shot of confetti, a blast from Wayne's streamer gun and a hyperkinetic video montage. The famous costumed contingent consisted of a squadron of Santa's on the right side of the stage and on the left was a gaggle of girls disguised as sexy aliens from the Jetsons era.

The second song was "Free Radicals (A Hallucination Of The Christmas Skeleton Pleading With A Suicide Bomber)," a heavy, Prince-like funk plea for sanity. The intensity of the song makes it ideal for live shows. The screen showed an apparently Japanese game show in which women stuck their heads through holes in a platform across which lizards were walking. The appeal of the show lay in watching the women's disembodied heads scream as the lizards approached them. The Japanese sure know how to live.

Unfortunately, the Lips then stepped aside so the Magic Numbers could play an abbreviated set. After the protracted delay and performance of only two songs, this interruption was aggravating, but the Numbers only played two songs, so the interlude was mercifully short. The Numbers were decent. They had sweet voices. The lead singer was a tubby guy with long black hair and an acoustic guitar. Two women sang along, a chunky girl with a tambourine and the other empty-handed.

When the Lips returned, they delighted the audience with "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pt. 1," followed by an a capella sing-along reprise led by Wayne and assisted by his nun hand puppet. The Yoshimi album cycle continued with "Yoshimi... pt. 2," which was energizing. "Vein of Stars" came next, a nice, mellow break to gaze overhead at the low, grey clouds scudding across the sky and watch the stars drift by in the screen's cosmic scene. It was basically just a "warp" screensaver with a fancy red nebula in the background, but its languid feel and endurance through the entire song accented the music beautifully.

Then the highlight of the evening: "The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song." Wayne explained what he wanted us to sing before they began. He said we'd have to violate our personal beliefs by agreeing ("Yeah yeah yeah yeah...") with the selfish, greedy lyrics. He started with a dry run of the first line: "If you could blow up the world with the flick of a switch, would ja do it?" Sixteen "yeah"'s exploded from the crowd in pummeling succession. Wayne was clearly impressed. Then the song began in earnest, the laity providing the "yeah"'s and accompanied by a prerecorded black'n'white closeup of Wayne's face singing along to a series of words in different languages, which I assumed all meant "yeah" (or "yes"). The video, the audience's incredible energy in singing the "yeah"'s (and some of the "aaah"'s) and the band's funneling of this invincible electricity combined to lift the show to a new, astral plane of existence, for which we had previously only produced a close simulacrum.

Alas, the following songs could not maintain this ethereal altitude, but they delighted nonetheless. "The W.A.N.D. (The Will Always Negates Defeat)" rocked like the cosmic protest song it is, featuring Wayne on megaphone. "
My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion (The Inner Life As Blazing Shield Of Defiance And Optimism As Celestial Spear Of Action)" had an endearingly simple cartoon (from the '70s?) about the life cycle of the frog with the song's lyrics superimposed. "She Don't Use Jelly" reignited the congregation, and "Do You Realize??" burned the house down with flames of bittersweet, majestic love.

The devotees' deafening din slowly swelled after the Lips left the stage and then broke on a magnificently rocky coast of euphoria when they returned for the encore. Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" kept the crowd at fever pitch as a battering montage of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their war machine (with a Colin Powell cameo) provided the backdrop.

After this kind of life-changing, revelatory experience, you'd expect people to stick around for a while afterward to let the mindblowingness sink in. But everyone marched resolutely to the exits as soon as it was over. Many of them had to rush to catch the last buses out at midnight. My pace was determined as I tramped through the mostly dark and deserted fairgrounds with an escort of happy, wired coreligionists. Despite our shared devotion to the Lips, I didn't sense a great esprit de corps in the cool, fall-foreshadowing midnight air. We just boarded our buses and hopped in our cars in apparent resignation (or eagerness) to the return of normalcy.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Wild Speculation

In the spirit of my last post (lo, those many months ago), I'd like to continue with my apocalyptic theory of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. As my title suggests, this is not meant to be a likely scenario. It's a worst-case scenario, from the global human perspective. From the Washington Consensus perspective, it could be worse. Their worst-case scenario would be if China gained control of all that oil and natural gas in the Middle East and Central Asia. But enough of this gay banter...

It seems like the U.S. military is doomed to disastrous failure in Iraq. I can discern no hope of American forces securing a peaceful occupation of the country. There's little chance they'll be able to sit serenely in their 14 permanent bases in Iraq and periodically step out to quash a rebellion against the puppet regime or a predictably "terrorist" attack against the oil industry.

So what's a humiliated empire to do? Withdrawal would allow the people of the Middle East to govern themselves, and true democracy abroad has always been the American Empire's worst nightmare, especially in regions with a wealth of natural resources. Whatever governments would spring up in the wake of our exit, be they authoritarian or democratic, they would certainly harbor a deep, abiding hatred of the U.S. Our oil imports from the Persian Gulf would dry up, while China and the rest of the world (maybe even Europe) would see their shares of the bonanza grow. It's highly doubtful they would stop exporting to all countries, as I believe some religious extremists have suggested in Saudi Arabia, for then they would face an invasion (perhaps united) by all the world powers.

The other option, "staying the course," will gradually drain more blood, materiel and support from the imperial endeavor until the troops are forced to leave by a combination of native hostility in Iraq and a deafening public outcry against the war at home.

With the emergence of a new multipolar world order, the Middle East will enjoy greater self-determination. This should be self-evident to the Bush administration now that even they find it difficult to deny the catastrophe that is Iraq. Given the above scenario that would follow withdrawal, it's no wonder they're clinging to their "stay the course" position like grim death. You can bet Dubya is on his knees every night praying to his Book-of-Revelation God for a miracle that will restore American dominance of the Middle East. But no amount of newfound humility or Iraqi and American death will bring back the good old days.

But, speaking of Revelations, there is another option. Nuke the Middle East. Then there wouldn't be any energy resources for anyone. (They'd have to withdraw the troops first though. The war machine would still be needed.) It's the logic of the playground: If I can't play my way, then I'll take the ball home so no one can play. It'd be pretty drastic. We could still buy oil from the region. The key difference, though, is that "our" transnational corporations wouldn't be the ones profiting. That's just how evil our gov't is, even if not all of the officials in Washington are aware of it. If Peak Oil drove the administration to orchestrate 9/11, then why not a nuclear holocaust to wipe out a race of people they despise?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Iraq: Failure to Plan or Plan for Failure?

This occurred to me yesterday, though I'm sure there are others in the lonely depths of cyberspace who have contemplated the possibility. What if the failure of the U.S. occupation of Iraq is intentional? Noam Chomsky (my idol) has described it as the worst military catastrophe in history. I tend to buy into the common perception of Dubya as a bumbling idiot, but I, like most smart political observers, believe his handlers are extremely canny. But if they're so smart, how could they have screwed up Iraq so royally? I haven't discounted the theory, advanced by Frontline, that Rumsfeld thought he could handle Iraq like he handled Afghanistan, with a small force. Or the likelihood that the stifling corruption of the administration doomed the reconstruction from the start, by handing it over to such boy scouts as Halliburton and Bechtel. But the massive disaster of the operation makes me wonder if this wasn't the plan all along.

I should preface my theory by mentioning that I have little doubt the invasion of Iraq was motivated by the U.S.'s wish to control the world's second largest oil reserves. This is partly due to my belief in Peak Oil, but mostly due to my aforementioned worship of Prof. Chomsky and his theory of realpolitik (though I've never heard him use the word): the idea that the state acts in the interest of its society's elites.

So if global oil extraction (Most people say "production," but I don't like that 'cuz nobody "makes" oil.) is about to go into terminal decline, then it makes sense to secure the Middle East, site of most of the world's remaining oil and natural gas. But the U.S. gets most of its oil and natural gas exports from Canada, Mexico and Venezuela. We are dependent on the Middle East for our current economy, but a slight increase in fuel efficiency for our car and truck fleets (just 2.7 mpg) would eliminate the need for the 5 million barrels of oil per day we get from that region. Therefore, we can get by without them, even if oil production in the Americas declines soon. (I may be wrong, but I think it already has begun to decline overall.)

I've taken the long way around, but what I'm trying to say is the purpose of the Iraq occupation may not be to secure the oil for American use but merely to deny it to the rest of the world, in particular China and India, but also Western Europe, which has proved irritatingly insolent since the announcement of the Iraq campaign. The evidence? Iraqi oil extraction and export has dropped below pre-war levels. U.S. intelligence before the war predicted it would lead to more terrorism and greater regional instability. As Chomsky has discussed, a truly democratic Iraq would empower the Shi'a majority and could incite Shiites in northern Saudi Arabia (where most of the oil is) to revolt against the ruthless Saud dynasty. According to recent articles in the L.A. Times, Iraq is sliding into civil war, which could ultimately invite intervention from Turkey in order to suppress the independent aspirations of its own Kurdish population, Iran to support the Shi'a and Saudi and other Gulf states to support the Sunnis. Who knows how the American colony, Israel, would react, a truly frightening component since it's the only regional player holding the nuclear card. Now that would be a quagmire. Or, more accurately, a recipe for disaster, maybe Armageddon if China, India, Pakistan, Russia or Europe joined the fray to defend their energy interests.

In that scenario, and any realistic vision of the short-term future of the Middle East, it would become much more difficult, if not impossible, to import oil and natural gas from the region. Sure, the U.S. would lose the (illusory) chance of continued economic growth, but so would all of its rivals. In the end, I wonder if our elites aren't as worried about losing the capitalism endgame as they are about somebody else winning.