Day: February 13, 2005

Master of disgust?

“‘From the greatest of horrors irony is seldom absent,’ reads the first line of the H.P. Lovecraft story ‘The Shunned House,’ but chances are Lovecraft, who died in 1937, wouldn’t have appreciated the irony of his present position as American literature’s greatest bad writer. There are two camps on the subject of the haunted bard of Providence, R.I., and his strange tales of cosmic terror. One, led by the late genre skeptic Edmund Wilson, dismisses him as an overwriting ‘hack’ who purveyed ‘bad taste and bad art.’ The other, led by Lovecraft scholar and biographer S.T. Joshi, hotly rises to Lovecraft’s defense as an artist of ‘philosophical and literary substance.'” (Salon )

As seems to have been the case with many of his admirers, I devoured Lovecraft’s work most recently as an adolescent. I went a little overboard; I have first editions of most of his books, and they are virtually the only first editions I have ever collected. It sometimes takes hyperbole to inspire a jaded modern sensibility with the delicious experience of the weird and the horrible. I much prefer Lovecraft’s way of doing it than, say, the Halloweens and Friday the 13ths that pass for horror these days. They play very differently on the emotion of disgust, and with absolutely no irony. Besides, the adjective eldritch seems to have been made specifically for him.

Worry Spreads Over GI Drug Side Effects

“Some current or former troops sent to Iraq claim that Lariam, the commercial name for the anti-malarial drug mefloquine, has provoked disturbing and dangerous behavior. The families of some troops blame the drug for the suicides of their loved ones.

Though the evidence is largely anecdotal, their stories have raised alarm in Congress, and the Pentagon has stopped giving out a pill it probably never needed to give to tens of thousands of troops in Iraq in the first place.” (Yahoo! News)

But the evidence is not merely anecdotal! Most psychiatrists are familiar with the neuropsychiatric changes the drug causes, and the psychiatric literature is rife with reports.

Inventor Kurzweil Aiming to Live Forever

“Ray Kurzweil doesn’t tailgate. A man who plans to live forever doesn’t take chances with his health on the highway, or anywhere else.

As part of his daily routine, Kurzweil ingests 250 supplements, eight to 10 glasses of alkaline water and 10 cups of green tea. He also periodically tracks 40 to 50 fitness indicators, down to his ‘tactile sensitivity.’ Adjustments are made as needed.” (Yahoo! News)

Some People Push Back

This is the essay by Ward Churchill about Sept. 11th that caused him to resign under fire as chair of the department of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado. It has been intolerable to the jingoists ever since Sept. 11th and clearly remains so to suggest what is self-evident — that terrorist attacks against the US have some relationship to our arrogant swagger on the world stage.

Churchill, a Native American with an acute sensitivity to historic abuses committed in the name of American values, was certainly tactless in using one form of hyperbole that is taboo in public discourse — likening US militarism against the third world to Nazi genocide. (It remains a virtually unquestioned kneejerk assertion that no other evil is commensurate with Nazi evil. This acts, conveniently, to place the demons outside ourselves and obviate the need to examine our own baser tendencies.)

But Churchill is not exactly, or not only, saying that the American regime is like the Nazis. I read his point as more profound, more disquieting and more accurate. Churchill asks Americans to see that, if we held the average German citizen accountable for going along with the tyranny of the Nazi regime, we must necessarily examine our own complicity in the crimes against humanity that continue to be committed by the Bush regime. It speaks to the parallels that Churchill is drawing that he apparently could not make this point any more freely in the U.S. than a critic of the Nazis could have in Germany of the 1930’s or 1940’s. At least we don’t use concentration camps yet.

Survival of the druggies

“Taking narcotics may be part of our evolutionary inheritance.

If drugs are so bad for us, why do so many people use them? Because they helped our ancestors survive, argue two anthropologists.

Our predilection for psychotropic substances is usually seen as a biological accident. The conventional view is that drugs fool the brain into thinking it is getting a reward when in fact it isn’t.

But anthropologists Roger Sullivan of the University of Auckland and Edward Hagen of the University of California at Santa Barbara point out that our ancestors were exposed to plants containing narcotic substances for millions of years. In the April issue of Addiction, they argue that we are predisposed to drug-taking because we evolved to seek out plants rich in alkaloids.

Consuming such plants could have been a basic survival strategy.” (New Scientist)

Finally on DVD

The Adventures of Pete & Pete was a surreal comedy in which a peaceful suburban neighborhood was a strange and skewed world as seen through the eyes of pre-teens. Wellsville, USA contained many different unique characters, such as: two brothers that were both named Pete, their mom who had a metal plate in her head, Artie the spandex-wearing super-hero, and Petunia, little Pete’s tattoo. The Adventures of Pete and Pete originated as a series of one-minute vignettes (shorts) in 1990, then was expanded into a series of five specials, and then became a regular weekly series in late 1993 for three seasons. There is still a strong Pete & Pete fan base that has submitted an on-line petition to Nickelodeon to put Pete & Pete on DVD, with 3800 signatures to date.”

Update:

CNN’s Jordan Resigns Over Iraq Remarks: “Eason Jordan resigned last night as CNN’s chief news executive in an effort to quell a burgeoning controversy over his remarks about U.S. soldiers killing journalists in Iraq.

Even as he said he had misspoken at an international conference in suggesting that coalition troops had ‘targeted’ a dozen journalists and insisted he never believed that, Jordan was being pounded hourly by bloggers, liberals as well as conservatives, who provided the rocket fuel for a story that otherwise might have fizzled.” (Washington Post)

Can This Black Box See Into the Future?

“Deep in the basement of a dusty university library in Edinburgh lies a small black box, roughly the size of two cigarette packets side by side, that churns out random numbers in an endless stream.

At first glance it is an unremarkable piece of equipment. Encased in metal, it contains at its heart a microchip no more complex than the ones found in modern pocket calculators.

But, according to a growing band of top scientists, this box has quite extraordinary powers. It is, they claim, the ‘eye’ of a machine that appears capable of peering into the future and predicting major world events.

The machine apparently sensed the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre four hours before they happened – but in the fevered mood of conspiracy theories of the time, the claims were swiftly knocked back by sceptics. But last December, it also appeared to forewarn of the Asian tsunami just before the deep sea earthquake that precipitated the epic tragedy.” (RedNova News)

Skeptics claim there will always be a world event that can be used to explain an observed spike on the machine. Investigators should be ‘blind’ to the output of the ‘oracle’ during a given period of time until they decide which world events they predict should have registered on it. Then analyze the data. The built-in defense of the true believers is that paranormal phenomena evaporate under too much scientific scrutiny; here is a case in which the scrutiny could be far after the fact. Oh, but wait, if ‘sensitives’ can sense the future, they might sense that scrutiny coming from the future too…

Freedom, From Want

“Why does foreign aid have such a dismal reputation in the country that financed the Marshall Plan? Maybe it’s the term itself (which may explain why it has been replaced by the studiously neutral ”official development assistance”). For many Americans, ”foreign aid” sounds suspiciously like ”welfare for foreigners.” We don’t like welfare, and we aren’t quite sure what to think about foreigners. What’s more, American giving typically proceeds from a sense of personal affiliation, whether to church or community or school; and we have, until very recently, thought of foreigners as a remote species. That era came to an end with 9/11, of course. In his Inaugural Address, President Bush vowed that ”all who live in tyranny and hopelessness” will find a staunch friend in the United States. For all those around the world who live in poverty, however, he made no such promise.” (New York Times Magazine)

The Republican aganda is really an extreme form of social Darwinism in which we owe nothing to those, domestic or foreign, who are less ‘fit’. By fit, of course, the president and his cronies mean well-connected to a revenue stream and to opportunities to plunder. This is most clear on the domestic front, where the welfare state is being dismantled — hey, America is the Land of Oppurtunuhty, it is not our fault if some people are too stupid to take advantage. But the same sentiment, as well as other time-honored American traditions like xenophobia, invests the Republican attitude to the unfortunates abroad.

And this from professed Christians? They ignore this passage in scripture, I am sure:

“Neither was there any among them that lacked: for those who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.” (Acts 4:34-35)

This smacks abit too much of Marx’s cornerstone of socialist ideology, “…from each according to his ability, to each according to his need…”