Friday, March 23, 2007

Slightly Preoccupied

Well, the Knapp Adventure Blog has had a very silent week . . . the silence was largely the result of a 52 page paper I finished yesterday on the liability of successor corporations under CERCLA. While I considered sharing the work with the blogosphere, I quickly realized that I would inevitably lose all of my readers, now and forever.

DC stories still deserve mention. After all, Mark Everett and I witnessed three arrests, were attacked with soda, and spent glorious hours throwing the frisbee around the Mall. Our trip also provided some great photo opportunities, so I hope to add those pictures next week.

For now, Megan and I are packing once again--this time for Santa Fe, New Mexico. With nearly 70 inches of snow still on the slopes, I plan to join Dad for another run down Muerte. Otherwise, we should enjoy a few days of food and relaxation before returning for the final weeks of my time in law school.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Shamrock Fest, Washington DC

I got an early start to Saint Patrick's Day celebrations with Washington DC's Shamrock fest last Saturday evening.

Mark Everett and I had traveled by plane from Dallas to Kansas City to Baltimore before catching the Amtrak to Union Station and then a cab to the hotel. The trip took a while, and we were pretty beat. Upon arrival, we kept getting calls from our brother, Tom, to head to RFK Stadium to some event called "Shamrock Fest." We were told the event was some sort of festival with Irish music, and we expected a low-key time.

As we reached the Metro platform, we noticed large numbers of folks wearing green. In fact, it seemed that a ton of folks were headed that way.

We started walking to the stadium after reaching the Armory-Stadium metro stop, and we soon noticed that we would likely encounter something a bit more exciting than just traditional Irish music. The crowd leaving the festival consisted of a mass of stumbling, mumbling, near-comatose individuals . . . and it was 6 PM. We saw guys concentrating hard to stay on their feet while several couples decided that the world needed to participate in their affectionate cuddlings with their drunken escorts. The crowd that had decided to cut themselves off from the party was sloshed, which left us a bit fearful of what the actual festival would hold.

It was like Dante's journey through the Inferno. Except we were encountering deeper circles of drunkenness. Finally, at the eighth circle, we found the festival and the madness it entailed. The ground was littered with cups and food wrappers with several individuals deciding that games of kick-the-cup were wildly entertaining.

The music hardly qualified as Irish traditional as covers of rock songs filtered through the air. Thousands of people rocked on their feet on the verge of unconsciousness as they horded around beer lines and food lines and toilet lines. Needless to say, Mark Everett and I quickly had to shake our exhaustion and wake up fast, even if just for added awareness and self-preservation.

We wandered for the first hours observing the madness around. We partied to a Journey song at one stage, grabbed chicken sandwiches, and listened to the musical brilliance of DJ AM.

Finally, Flogging Molly was set to headline, so we made our way down to the main stage. The crowd, at this point, was rowdy, and Irish punk music lit quite the fire. The front of the crowd immediately became a mosh pit leaving one of Tom's roommates with a hand injury. Folks began streaming out of the center of the crowd with fearful looks on their faces.

After a while, a guy staggered our way being held up by his friend. The friend was gripping the guy by his t-shirt. At one point, the drunken fellow fell to the ground--we assumed he would be out for good, but he rebounded, did a really silly dance, and wandered away.

Immediately behind us, a mosh pit opened as a group of folks decided that this music really required them to smash their bodies into one another on full runs. Occasionally the pushing from behind would shift our group into near collapse, but we escaped unscathed.

Flogging Molly tried to sedate the crowd, imploring them to take it easy and be kind to one another. Their words had no effect, and after a few awesome songs, we decided to head to calmer climes at the Hawk and Dove, a bar near the Capitol.

I decided that the music scene on that particular day suffers from a serious lack of hippies. I could not imagine Austin City Limits turning into such a raucous drunkfest . . . then again, ACL doesn't take place near St. Patrick's Day.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Great Links

I am headed for a week of great times in Washington, DC. Since Knapp Adventure Blog will remain idle for a week or so, I thought I'd provide a couple of links that will potentially fill the void.

The Long Roadtrip South is a great chronicle of a car trip from England to Cape Town. Last time I checked, the couple was in Lome, Togo. Their route is enormous and audacious, and it is exciting to read about their latest adventures.

One of the Conde Nast travel magazines is sending a writer Around the World in 80 Days. He has created a number of rules for the trip. He cannot travel by air, and he cannot travel over 100 miles per hour. He began in Brooklyn just a few days ago, and, at his last entry, he was headed westward out of Denver. The trip promises to be fascinating, and I cannot wait to see if he makes it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

War and Witchcraft

I was reading a BBC article on a conflict in Vanuatu sparked by a claim that a sorcerer used black magic and witchcraft to kill a rival. This accusation spiraled into wider conflict along "tribal" lines.

It is easy to dismiss these sort of news stories as a product of another culture's "ignorance" or "superstition." These stories seem far removed from our generally scientific way of thinking.

But, as I read this story, I thought about our own motivations for the current conflict in Iraq, motivations that proved as ephemeral as these accusations of witchcraft. Weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorist networks were myths encouraged by our own fears, and we will probably be leaving Iraq in pretty bad shape. While the violence in Vanuatu left three dead, the violence that has emerged in Iraq has killed tens of thousands (and probably more than has been estimated).

Moreover, our decisions are branded as policy decisions based on "intelligence" gathered by various agencies. The term "intelligence" is invoked as some untouchable, mysterious set of sources that we-the-people obviously cannot understand but is something we should just trust in. In that manner, "intelligence" becomes our own "black magic," and, in this case, proved just as elusive.

Perhaps we are not so immune from war out of ignorance after all.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Driving Across Africa

I previously wrote my thoughts about "The Long Way Round," the documentary tracking Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman's trip across Asia and North America. As I mentioned in that post, they plan to leave in September on the "Long Way Down," a trip from the northern tip of Scotland to Cape Town.

I have wondered what route would be feasible given unrest in various places along their path. Fortunately, Ewan and Charley will have a chance to determine the appropriate route by following the Long Roadtrip South, an overland trip that a British couple is taking from England to Cape Town. Instead of motorcycles, they are in a well-equipped Land Rover Defender. Their vehicle looks up to the journey: though, in the words of Andy of, "man, this seems like a great truck to rob." Hopefully the couple won't face that threat . . . as long as they watch out for picnics near rivers in Tanzania.

I'm excited to follow their progress. They have posted photos, diaries and video tracing their journey from initial preparation to their current location in Lome, Togo.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Concert in Cardiff: No Room at the Inn

Shivering as we walked through the dark streets of Cardiff, I had fantasies of being tossed in jail . . . at least that would be warm, right? And how bad could a Welsh jail be? Shake the thought . . . and just keep moving . . .

The thoughts were largely provoked this morning by tantalizing blog entries by a couple of cousins currently studying abroad. My cousin, Will, is at St. Andrew's in Scotland, and his blog describes a close encounter with Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds in Glasgow. Similarly, my cousin, Alyson, is enjoying a study experience in Copenhagen, and her blog mentions an upcoming music festival where she'll be seeing great shows like Galactic and Keller Williams. Their experience with these US musicians in intimate European venues reminds me of my last week in London in December 2002. We headed to a venue called "Bush Hall" where we saw Austin singer-songwriter Patti Griffin give a remarkable show. It was a taste of music from home as welcome as the barbecue restaurant we found in an East London market (run by a guy from Arkansas . . . which was good enough for us).

Meanwhile, I have been creating a mix of global music back home. I've collected some great stuff over the years ranging from random Tibetan pop music to the bluesy sounds of Ali Farka Toure. I've add some interesting European finds, like Sui Vesan and Sigur Ros, to the mix as well as a great Blanquito Man track from the movie, Babel, called "Cumbia Sobre El Rio."

I sit at home listening to music that reminds me of being abroad while my cousins are abroad listening to music that likely reminds them of home. And we all do a bit of travel, at least metaphysically. But back to the cold streets of Cardiff . . .

24 Hours in Cardiff

My favorite international concert experience involved a much different situation than the ones above. A friend from college, Shelby, and I headed to Wales in November 2002 to see Welshman, David Gray, perform before an adoring home crowd in the city of Cardiff. Even his grandfather watched from a balcony.

Our plan was to stroll into Cardiff the morning of the concert, see the sights, find a youth hostel, and have a few drinks at local pubs before and after the show. Immediately upon our arrival in Cardiff, we knew our plans would be derailed. The streets were swarming in a strange patchwork of black and green and red. The black colors belonged to the jerseys of the New Zealand All Black's fans while the green and red represented the Welsh team. Cardiff was mad for the rugby event about to unfold, and we soon realized that our lodging prospects were dimming. Regardless, we headed to a castle and some shops and generally fell in love with the town. The day felt like Mardi Gras, with the Kiwis getting a very early start to the celebration. In the first match between New Zealand and Wales in a very long time, both sets of fans were there to party . . . and to win.

A quick inquiry into our lodging options revealed that there was really no room at the inn, so we determined the time had come to reach a pub and get a pint before the concert. We watched the match from the bar and soon received lectures from our fellow patrons on how rugby is a vastly superior sport to American football. After all, why do our guys have to hide behind pads? They had a point, and they were buying us beers--so of course, we agreed. After watching more rugby, our agreement was suddenly genuine.

So we headed to the concert, and we loved every second of it. The venue was like a high school gymnasium, maybe a bit larger. The crowd adored the show, David Gray's drummer performed his usual quirky antics, and, for those hours, I had forgotten that we would soon be out on the cold streets without shelter.

And then we were on the cold streets without shelter. The post-rugby party was in full swing, and we began thinking creatively. As we wandered, we grew colder before noticing a glow from a nearby Burger King. A bit hungry anyway, we realized we could hang out at the Burger King until they closed at 2:30 AM. So, equipped with fries and cokes, we headed to a long wait at a warm booth.

But we hadn't really thought this plan through. After all, drunk people tend to be attracted to fried nastiness, and Burger King offered exactly that. After a few hours, the natives were growing restless, and the Kiwis and Welsh fans were started to have a bit of a row. This was relatively entertaining until some genius realized that cups of coke make ideal projectiles. Soon, the Burger King was turning to a chaos of soda showers as cups missed their targets and smashed into the walls. Hoping to avoid a cold night of soaked stickiness, Shelby and I headed out of the King and back into the streets.

But the streets had changed in the passing hours from clean cobblestone to knee-high refuse. Styrofoam containers, previously home to delicious doner kabobs, now blocked our path, and the bottoms of our shoes became stained in condiment juices. Nice.

So we wandered and wandered. We soon found the train station was closed (the Gare du Norde had been a nice home on a cold Paris night once), so we huddled into seats at a relatively sheltered bus stop. Soon , we were shaking from the cold, and Shelby threw out a suggestion, "Dude, why don't we just sleep in a hotel lobby?"

I pondered his suggestion and images of vagrants flashed through my head. We couldn't be vagrants (obviously not thinking . . . we had just been sleeping at a bus stop). "Come on, man, maybe a hostel has some space."

So we navigated the dark streets until we found a youth hostel. We rang the buzzer and soon heard a voice, "We're full."

"Please, just a little room on a couch? Do you have a floor we could sleep on?" I sounded pathetic because I was. It was 3:30 AM, and my body was shaking.

"No room."

And we were wandering. Movement kept us warmer. We noticed some doner kabob stores open, but we were both short on cash--the exchange rate had been killing us for four months, and paying for a sandwich seemed like steep rent.

"Maybe we can find a hot vent." That's what people find in the movies, right? We just needed to find a grate with steam rising up.

We wandered through the refuse and considered making a small fire. The fire would warm us, and, worst case scenario, a night in jail would give us a warm bed, right?

Around 4:30 AM we spotted a hotel. The doors were open, the lobby looked warm, and a group of All Black's fans were still drinking at a table. Shelby's suggestion, made two hours before, seemed brilliant, and we soon found ourselves unconscious in green wingbacks in the lobby. We were warm and asleep and life was good.

At 6:30, a manager tapped me on the shoulder. "Sir, you will have to leave around 7. The guests will be waking up."

I thanked the man for his hospitality. We must have looked pathetic to warrant the charity . . . it was welcome.

We wandered back toward the train station to catch the first train back to London. We had down duvets awaiting us. As we boarded the train, we miserably slumped into our seats and began to doze. As I passed out, I noticed the seats next to us being filled with three guys carrying a few cases of beer. It was 7 AM, and they were beginning to drink.

Their energy was nauseating, and I was soon blissfully asleep.

It was an awesome concert.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Preliminary Thoughts: Jared Diamond's "Collapse"

Normally I would wait until the end of a book to review it, but I can't resist sharing some preliminary thoughts at the half-way point of Jared Diamond's book Collapse. By telling the fascinating histories of the environmental collapses of many great civilizations, Diamond hopes to reveal the fragility of our own society, and his analysis proves as thorough as it is terrifying. I basically find myself constantly thinking about this book. For the traveler, the book provides stunning descriptions of amazing and remote places. As a human in the world today, it provides valuable lessons in our own fallibility and will hopefully force people to change the way they live.

So far, I have read Diamond's analysis of the Maya, Anasazi, Easter Island, and other Pacific Island civilizations. Each of these societies reached a peak of greatness and complexity noted by construction of monuments honoring an elite class. These booms in architectural sophistication and population came at the expense of the natural environment, and many of these societies soon encountered a lack of building materials due to deforestation and a deterioration in food quality due to high population and soil depletion. With such human-caused devastation of the natural environment, small outside factors like drought or other temporary climate changes could exacerbate the situation and lead to societal collapse. The ruling elite in the societies often relied on supply chains that suddenly stopped functioning, and the populations dwindled to non-existence in some cases.

When I first started reading the book, I assumed that the parallels between these past societies and our own would be too tenuous for me to believe that a collapse would be possible. I had visions of Mad Max movies and laughed those off as fiction. Obviously we use our environment to support an enormous population, and obviously we reveal the magnitude of our resources through monumental architecture and countless luxuries. It is quite difficult to imagine centuries of modern society being brought to its knees by environmental destruction . . . until, of course, you consider that the Mayan civilization developed for over 800 prosperous years before collapsing over the period of roughly a century. Our modern history is a blip on time line, and we are cocky to assume we are invincible.

Environmental skeptic? Let's talk flu

But my readers are thinking that I'm a paranoid environmentalist anyway. Yesterday, I started thinking about Collapse in a much different and much shorter term context, pandemic flu.

Megan and I spent yesterday morning at a fascinating conference called the "Conference of the Professions," an event designed to unite lawyers, physicians and clergy to discuss ethical issues facing all three professions. The topic of this particular conference was pandemic flu planning. I was surprised by the number of unknowns in the process. Some epidemiological evidence suggests that we are already in some sort of influenza pandemic based on the historically high number of annual deaths from influenza in recent years; however, I was presented no evidence as to whether these numbers are just tied to the fact that the population is so much larger.

What really interested me were the descriptions of food supply. In the societies Diamond talks about, the elimination of the food supply is often the trigger for widespread chaos and even cannibalism. Apparently the city of Dallas has roughly 48 hours of food on the shelves at any given moment. If influenza disrupted the supply chain (as it likely would), one can quickly imagine the repercussions. Arguably most homes will have longer stockpiles, but perhaps not much more. In a society that loves to refrigerate and eat at restaurants, the end of the grocery store would create severe problems. Moreover, relief would likely not come from other locations since most models of a flu pandemic show a national and global impact. During Hurricane Katrina, other areas could provide support (however slowly)--a pandemic flu would preclude such relief.

This Stuff is Scary

Diamond says he concludes his book with some examples of societies addressing environmental problems to save their societies from collapse. I'm ready to get to those chapters. I'm assuming the solution is not to depopulate and live in isolated farming communities with individuals self-sufficient on their own agricultural production. We have to remember that life on the earth is actually life from the earth, and I think Diamond's book will provoke individuals to discover that principal more fully.
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