Going on the third day of having Carly Simon's "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be" play over and over in my head. Right on the heels of almost a week of Roy Orbison's "Crying." And a recent Facebook post by a friend had ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" plaguing me for a couple of days.
I've had worse earworms. Not too long ago the old chestnut "I Want a Girl Just Like the Girl Who Married Dear Old Dad" irritated me for several days. I was forced to reflect on how Freudian that song really is. Here's a guy pining for his mother, when you stop and think about it.
I've never had the current earworm before, but I have had Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" drive me up the walls more than once. "Harper Valley PTA," "Ode to Billy Joe," and "Brown-Eyed Girl" are also regular visitors. It's the late 60s and early 70s popular music that most often appears in my head, I've noticed, at least lately. An exception is the B-52s' "Love Shack."
Sometimes two earworms vie for my attention. At least then I get some variety.
The word "earworm" was coined by researcher James Kellaris, who has said the the "worm" part of the word is not incidental, but meant to convey "the parasitic nature of the travel of songs into their listeners' ears, only to then get lodged and played on mental continuum" (link here.)
Why people experience earworms is not known, but at least those of us who suffer know we have plenty of company: according to Kellaris, 98% of people are afflicted by earworms. There are some common offenders:
including the Kit-Kat jingle ("Gimme a break"), "Who Let the Dogs Out," Queen's "We Will Rock You," the theme to "Mission: Impossible," "YMCA," "Whoomp, There It Is," "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" and "It's a Small World After All."
That's from 2003, and I imagine the list would have to be updated from time to time. (And by the way, only "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" of those selections has ever been in my personal earworm collection.)
Musicians and people with OCD have the worst cases. I'm neither--I KNOW I'm not a musician, and I don't think I'm OCD--but not a day goes by that I don't have an earworm.
I really hate it when a jingle gets stuck in my head. Usually these are old commercials from my childhood or teen years. "Come alive! You're in the Pepsi generation!" "You can take Salem out of the country BUT--you can't take the country out of Salem." "Everybody doesn't like something, but nobody doesn't like Sara Lee." I suppose this points to the success of the jingle-writer; forty years or more later, that "catchy tune" is still with me. Occasionally something more modern will annoy me, such as Chili's baby back ribs jingle. I don't listen to commercial radio and watch only a minimal amount of television (usually muting the commercials), and a benefit of that is to avoid future jingle earworms, I guess.
Worst of all are show tunes. I mostly dislike show tunes, but that doesn't mean they don't inflict themselves on me. "Big Spender," "Hello, Dolly," "I Can't Say No," and "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better," to mention just a few out of my huge catalogue, have all had their day (or days) lodged in my brain.
I'm sure everyone reading this has experienced this phenomenon. All I can say is, I suffer with you, and you have my sympathy.
National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, NaNo for short, is kind of a strange experience, I'm finding. Some days I put off writing until mid- or late afternoon. This morning I got out of bed at 4:22, after having lain awake for at least an hour, and went right to the computer to work on the draft. Sometimes it feels like a heavy obligation; other times it's Wheeee!
My draft sucks. There is no kind way to say it. It's really, really bad. But I just keep going. I've had interruptions, so I've not got the word count I'd like, but I'm chugging along.
My dialogue is terrible. The amount of exposition and blah-blah-blah I have is terrible. The plot--what plot? I know I have inconsistencies, and I need to work on the timeline once this draft is finished. I have to keep shutting up my inner editor, who constantly interrupts the flow (such as it is).
The thing is that I've never been able to write the way some writers do, using notes and an outline and sketching out major scenes and the like. I have to sit down and write and see what comes out. Thus I generate a zillion words that must be tossed out when I revise. But I haven't ever been able to do it any other way. As I write, I'm usually surprised, and sometimes shocked, by what my characters do and say, and by the turn the narrative is taking. Often it's a wrong turn and I have to backtrack and find a different way, but sometimes it leads to something good, or at least passable. It's only through this method of letting things happen and letting my characters unfold in the writing that I can get anything at all. If I'm lucky, a murky plot line eventually emerges from the fog along with a couple of themes or motifs. I can't plan it out at all. I just have to generate a lot of waste and then pick through it to find the usable stuff.
I start out knowing little to nothing about my characters. It's only through writing them onto the page (or screen, to be accurate) that I find out about them. Sometimes I might know something like "She's fat and has suffered for it," or "He was definitely the high school jock back in the day," but that's about it. Usually I don't even know that much until I sit at the keyboard. Sometimes an image will start me out. Once in a while a character graciously introduces her- or himself to me and invites me to invent a vehicle for her/him.
I was one of relatively few lefties who opposed the military invasion of Afghanistan. At the time I thought, and still think, that those who leveled the Twin Towers should have been treated as criminals. They were not acting on behalf of any particular nation, after all. That they were said to be hiding in Afghanistan seemed to me no reason to bomb the hell out of that country. And when you consider the warlords we did, and are still doing, business with there, it all just seems unjustifiable. What the invade-Afghanistan crowd wanted more than anything was revenge, on whom it didn't matter. Americans felt vulnerable and they were angry, so it was easy to whip the populace, as well as the politicians and "leaders," into a frenzy of war lust..
But now here we are, eight years later, still mired in a losing battle.
Ask Russia about the "Soviets' Vietnam", as their decade-long war in Afghanistan has been called. You might also care to reflect on the British experience there a century ago.
And the mujahideen we're now fighting? We supported them during their fight against the Soviets. The Afghan government at the time was avowedly Marxist, so the U.S., doing what it usually does, supported whoever was seen as anti-Communist--in this case, Islamic rebels. Well, we know how that turned out ...
Now it looks as if Obama intends to send tens of thousands more troops into that country. As Jeff Leys writes:
War spending in 2010 will exceed $190 billion if indeed the Pentagon seeks-and Congress approves—$50 billion in “emergency” funding. That’s more than the $179 billion spent under President Bush in 2008, the previous high water mark for war spending. War spending in 2010 will also far exceed spending in 2009 (which is about $145 billion).
While Admiral Mullen did not announce a new war strategy for Afghanistan, it is difficult to conceive for what this additional $40 to $50 billion will be used if not used to expand the war in Afghanistan (and to perhaps continue the occupation of Iraq at near current troop levels without the substantive reductions promised earlier this year).
We know that General McChrystal has asked for 40,000 additional troops. Not only that, but he--or someone on his behalf--leaked word of such a request, based on his Initial Assessment to the press, no doubt to try to force Obama's hand, perhaps fearing that Obama was leaning toward rejecting requests for additional troops. In my opinion, McChrystal (or his people, on his behalf) acted insubordinately and ought to be stripped of his post as Commander of US Forces, Afghanistan. Let's not forget his role in the Pat Tillman coverup, either. Frankly, because of McChrystal's role in the abuse of detainees, I was horrified at his appointment to his current post. He seems to me a dangerous man, one who believes that the ends justify the means, whether the means are leaking sensitive information or torturing detainees.
It is to be hoped that Obama and his advisors deliberate carefully here without caving to the pressure being exerted by McChrystal and other officers. But the Democrats are super-sensitive to accusations that they're soft when it comes to foreign policy, so I don't hold out much hope.
The problem, of course, is that extra troops are not going to change the facts on the ground. Says Chris Hedges:
Success in Afghanistan is measured in Washington by the ability to create an indigenous army that will battle the Taliban, provide security and stability for Afghan civilians and remain loyal to the puppet government of Hamid Karzai. A similar task eluded the Red Army, although the Soviets spent a decade attempting to pacify the country. It eluded the British a century earlier. And the United States, too, will fail.
American military commanders in Afghanistan, rather than pump out statistics about enemy body counts, measure progress by the swelling size of the ANA. The bigger the ANA, the better we are supposedly doing. The pressure on trainers to increase the numbers of the ANA means that training and vetting of incoming Afghan recruits is nearly nonexistent.
The consequences are all too predictable:
American military advisers who work with the Afghan National Army, or ANA, speak of poorly trained and unmotivated Afghan soldiers who have little stomach for military discipline and even less for fighting. They describe many ANA units as being filled with brigands who terrorize local populations, exacting payments and engaging in intimidation, rape and theft. They contend that the ANA is riddled with Taliban sympathizers. And when there are combined American and Afghan operations against the Taliban insurgents, ANA soldiers are fickle and unreliable combatants, the U.S. advisers say.
So what is the U.S. role in Afghanistan? We're having no luck at all training an indigenous army; we've failed to stabilize the country or to keep corruption out of government; opium production continues unabated; the population is terrorized by the Taliban, the ANA, and U.S. bombings alike; the social fabric of the country has completely broken down--what was left of it after years and years of war; warlords rule the outlying areas of the country (i.e., anything outside of Kabal and perhaps one or two other cities); the population is starving; and we've now targeted parts of Pakistan, surely not a gesture toward a lessening of conflict.
I don't have the sense that anyone knows what we're really doing there any more, or what the goals are. Oh, wait--there's one group very clear on the matter: the private contractors that are raking in money while our soldiers, and the soldiers of other nations, and all too often Afghan civilians, die in vain.
“American and Afghan soldiers are putting their lives at risk, Afghan civilians are dying, and yet there’s this underlying system in place that gains more from keeping all of them in harm’s way rather than taking them out of it,” the officer complained. “If we bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, we may profit morally, we might make gains for humanity, but moral profits and human gains do not contribute to the bottom line. Peace and profit are ultimately contradictory forces at work in Afghanistan.”
The wells that are dug, the schools that are built, the roads that are paved and the food distributed in Afghan villages by the occupation forces are used to obscure the huge profits made by contractors. Only an estimated 10 percent of the money poured into Afghanistan is used to ameliorate the suffering of Afghan civilians. The remainder is swallowed by contractors who siphon the money out of Afghanistan and into foreign bank accounts. This misguided allocation of funds is compounded in Afghanistan because the highest-paying jobs for Afghans go to those who can act as interpreters for the American military and foreign contractors. The best-educated Afghans are enticed away from Afghan institutions that desperately need their skills and education.
“It is this system that has broken the logistics of Afghanistan,” the officer said. “It is this system of waste and private profit from public funds that keeps Kabul in ruins. It is this system that manages to feed Westerners all across the country steak and lobster once a week while an estimated 8.4 million Afghans—the entire population of New York City, the five boroughs—suffer from chronic food insecurity and starvation every day. When you go to Bagram Air Base, or Camp Phoenix, or Camp Eggers, it’s clear to see that the problem does not lie in getting supplies into the country. The question becomes who gets them. And we wonder why there’s an insurgency.”
And that's what it all boils down to, as usual: profits for the few at a horrendous cost of lives and treasure for the many.
It's time to get out of Afghanistan and stop the murderous plunder. There's no way to "win." All we can look forward to is some really, really hellacious blowback.