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.

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)