Nothing like the smell of naked greed in the morning

NEW YORK (AP) — A worker was killed in the crush Friday after a throng of shoppers eager for post-Thanksgiving bargains burst through the doors at a suburban Wal-Mart, authorities said.

At least four other people were injured, and the store in Valley Stream on Long Island was closed.

[From The Associated Press: Wal-Mart worker dies after shoppers knock him down]

What is there to say about this? I’d bet money that people complained that the store was closed. People suck.

Perspective

When talking about billions or trillions of dollars, it helps to have some perspective:

If we add in the Citi bailout, the total cost now exceeds $4.6165 trillion dollars. People have a hard time conceptualizing very large numbers, so let’s give this some context. The current Credit Crisis bailout is now the largest outlay In American history.

Jim Bianco of Bianco Research crunched the inflation adjusted numbers. The bailout has cost more than all of these big budget government expenditures – combined:

• Marshall Plan: Cost: $12.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $115.3 billion
• Louisiana Purchase: Cost: $15 million, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $217 billion
• Race to the Moon: Cost: $36.4 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $237 billion
• S&L Crisis: Cost: $153 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $256 billion
• Korean War: Cost: $54 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $454 billion
• The New Deal: Cost: $32 billion (Est), Inflation Adjusted Cost: $500 billion (Est)
• Invasion of Iraq: Cost: $551b, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $597 billion
• Vietnam War: Cost: $111 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $698 billion
• NASA: Cost: $416.7 billion, Inflation Adjusted Cost: $851.2 billion

[From Big Bailouts, Bigger Bucks | The Big Picture]

Via BoingBoing

Links for Edifiyin’ & Intelligensifyin’

top_logo.gif

This is an awesome archive of old films. Unfortunately they don’t allow for embedding, but check out the old time erotica, or a science fiction short from 1909 , or watch cowboys take Broadway by storm in one of John Ford’s earliest movies, or (cause you know you want to) check out some more old time erotica.


200811242120.jpg

The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin has a fabulous archive of Mike Wallace interviews. The level of intelligence on display and the depth of the conversation makes you really appreciate just how smart tv used to be. Some of my favorites include his interview with Frank Lloyd Wright, Salvador Dali, and the stripper Lili St. Cyr. Ex-smoker’s beware, however, he smokes the whole show through!

200811242133.jpg

I have a total crush on Sarah Haskins from Current TV’s infoMania. You should go there and watch all her videos. But just to get you started, here’s her take on Disney Princesses.




dylan-cash-1969.jpg
You likes your Johnny Cash? You likes your Bob Dylan? Aquarium Drunkard has a terrific set of music that finds Cash & Dylan playing together. Two great tastes that taste great together.

200811242155.jpg
And finally, one of my favorite authors ever has a really fun story that combines HP Lovecraft’s Cthullu mythos with the Sherlock Holmes characters . . . and the audio version, read by Gaiman himself, is FREE! I should warn you though, that once you hear Gaiman reading his own work, you are going to want to hear more. In addition to being a great writer, he is a wonderful reader of stories. I have several of his books as Audiobooks and he’s nearly spoiled me when it comes to audio fiction.

And the moon is always gibbous


Lovecraft3.jpgI’ve been reading a bunch of HP Lovecraft’s stories recently, plowing my way through the second of three Omnibus collections but out by Grafton Books in the mid-80s. For teen boys of a certain type—namely geeks those into science fiction and horror—Lovecraft is a name to conjure by. There is something about Lovecraft’s writing that strikes a chord, despite his weaknesses as a writer, and his weaknesses are plentiful. His stories aren’t even particularly horrific. In fact, he often fails to describe exactly what most teenaged boys would want to read: the horrific visions of twisted bodies and vile, disgusting monsters that populate his fiction. More often than not, his narrators will simply state “it was too horrific for words” or “it was beyond description” or something else of that nature. There is a sameness to the structure of many of his stories: Character gets lost in a distant region and/or space slightly askew to our world and then finds himself in a place that is more ancient than history and encounters any number of powerful, to vile to describe gods/demons/presences and either dies or returns with the sure knowledge that there is something beyond our ken, something powerful and dangerous and implacable, but he also knows that nobody will believe him. Time and again, Lovecraft uses slight variations on this structure so that, by the second page of the story, you already know the general outline of what will happen. This isn’t always the case, however, but when he does stray from this template, he quite often writes about a man who finds himself in another, often beautiful world, but loses his connection to that world for one reason or another.

Actually, two of my favorite stories thus far fall roughly into that second pattern. The White Ship and Celaphais both concern characters who long to leave this world and journey/return to a fantastic and enchanting land of unspeakable beauty. Not much happens in these stories beyond the description of various lands, but both end with a sense of melancholy that strikes deep and true to the heart.

Upon reflection, I think that an appeal of Lovecraft lies in the fact that his stories are always about something that is just under the surface or just out of sight or just around the corner from our reality. In a lot of these stories, the true horror doesn’t lie in what that something is, but that the characters who catch a glimpse of this larger world will not be believed. Nobody will take these narrators seriously. Each one has this great and terrific secret to share, an insight into the true nature of the world and yet they are powerless and impotent. They are unable to do anything but give an ignored account of the truth. I don’t know about you, but I remember my teen years as being a time when I believed that nobody had ever felt feelings so deep as myself, or understood the true meaning of love and pain with the subtlety and despair that I experienced. All my bad poetry, all my bad song lyrics were about sharing the fact that I had the true knowledge and if only people would listen to me, really and truly listen, they would understand what was real and true in this world.

Alternatively, I would also feel, as a boy-in-the-process-of-awkwardly-becoming-a-man, that as Lovecraft puts it in his story “Arthur Jermyn:”

“Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we know of it peer daemonical hints of truth which make it sometimes a thousandfold more hideous.”

You could replace the word “life” with adolescence and I think you’d have an adequate description of a lot of people’s teenage years.

I’m certainly not saying that the pleasures of Lovecraft only appeal to adolescents, but I think being introduced to his work as an adolescent can help you see past his technical weaknesses and into the heart of his horror.

Below is YouTube version of the first part of a BBC radio series about HP Lovecraft. I found it after I had written the bulk of this entry and was amused to hear the narrator basically restating my ideas about adolescence in a much more pithy and thoughtful manner. Give it a listen. There are some really great authors talking about Lovecraft’s work in much more intelligent way than I have. If you have any thoughts on Lovecraft or favorite stories, drop me a comment, I’d love to talk more about his work with other fans. You can also find most of his stories online at either Feedbooks or Wikisource.



A Small Rant

When in the world did I become “Pete” to any number of people? Yes there have always been a few people who called me that, mostly my brother, my father and Jon R., but lately it seems that everyone I know from high school and have been reconnecting with since I got on Facebook and moved back to RI have taken to referring to me as “Pete.”

I was never, and will never be a “Pete.” There is no way that I would have let that stand in when I was younger (i.e. a pretentious and annoying teenager), so I’m trying to wrack my brains for an explanation as to why people that I haven’t seen for 20 years have begun using this particular nomenclature for me.

So let’s be clear here: my name is Peter.

Not Pete.

Ok?

Thanks.

Wandering the Tower – An Academic Romance, Part 2

(Link to Part 1)

Today is grey and rainy. I’m up early and listening to Pandora.com’s David Sylvian radio station (thanks to John for the recommendation of Sylvian’s work) and wondering where I should start this next entry regarding my romance with academia and grad schools. Throughout the week, I’ve started and discarded a number of openings. I planned on writing this while at work because I had next to nothing to do at my temp job and spent most of each day trying to keep myself from banging my head against the desk just to break the boredom. I found, however, that I couldn’t really concentrate enough in that environment to be productive, so I spent each day compulsively reading the rss feeds from sites like Daily Kos, Pandagon, Feministing, IO9, BoingBoing and about a dozen other, checking my mail every few minutes to see if someone, anyone had written, and contemplating just what the hell was I doing in a corporate office answering phones and making copies.

So I sit here, a cup of tea, the quiet sound of rain and still I wonder how best to talk about my complex feelings toward grad school and I keep coming back to a larger issue that, perhaps, has some bearing on the issue at hand: desire.

Desire may be experienced in the present, but it is always for something outside of the moment. Something from the past or the future. Once the object of desire is possessed, then desire ceases (at least for that particular object). Desire can be a healthy and productive driving force in a persons life. Without desire (for the mother’s breast, for love, for sex, for pleasure, for justice, etc.), there’s not much point to the whole human experiment. Yet, in religion after religion, philosophy after philosophy, pop psychology book after pop psychology book, we come face to face with the recognition that too much desire can be, like too much Rick Astley, a bad thing. Hell, if you are even vaguely Freudian (and who isn’t), our Id desires and our super-ego is there to say, “no.” So we struggle, day in and day out, trying to balance desire against either getting lost in the wild woods of our desiring or placing our very souls into the objects of desire and thereby hollowing ourselves. It is this hollowing out that helps feed our materialism these days. We put our souls into HDTVs or Bose speakers, or iPods, or Macbook Pros (damn those new models are sexy!!), or a million other things. We then hope, when we get those things in our life, that we will recognize ourselves and that the hollow feeling will go away.

Sometimes we invest ourselves in drugs or religions or political parties or other people, setting forth a continual cycle of desire and pursuit that never truly satisfies.1 Desire is like, to switch metaphors, oxygen. Too little and we can’t truly live. Too much and the air explodes around us, the flames burning us down to blackened bones. Which brings me to Star Wars (through Uncle Owen & Aunt Beru’s burned skeletons), to Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back when he said of Luke that:

All his life has he looked away… to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things.” (Link)

And so I circle back to myself and the instant recognition I felt upon hearing Yoda’s pronouncement. I knew, even at eleven years old, that Yoda was talking about me. Writer, Actor, Director, College Professor, Writer (once more), Corporate Consultant, Academic (possibly?): all various careers/goals/plans/futures that I have held in my mind at one point or another. The problem lies not in any of these particular goals, but rather that I have been so busy looking to the horizon that I keep stumbling around the various pot-holes and broken sidewalks of my life. It’s rather difficult to make a long journey if you keep tripping every couple of steps because you refuse to look away from the distance—from your desire—to see what’s around you here and now. Most of my life I have squandered2 considerable emotional and intellectual resources just trying to keep my balance because I refused to look more often and more closely at my present surroundings; to invest myself in the now.

No wonder that I struggled with grad school! No wonder that every time I gained some distance from school I wanted to go back. By leaving the tower, I was able to stop tripping over myself in my pursuit of the faraway horizon of desire and could see just what it was that brought me into that ivory tower in the first place: the fact that I love to learn and read and think and write and teach. Because of my “eyes-on-the-horizon” perspective, however, I kept forgetting just how much joy I ought to take in my surroundings. I forgot to recognize the privilege of being in an environment that supports many of the activities that I love; an environment that encourages and challenges me to do them better and better. I saw all of the various challenges of grad school as obstacles because each one raised a bulky shape in front of my vision and broke my view of the horizon; obscured my view of that distant goal, that desired place of “I’m a Tenured Professor Now.”

So, what are you saying, that you should go back to school? Come on, how many times have you gone back and how many times have you left and what’s to say this time will be any different. (That’s an example of the super-ego right there!)

I’m saying, simply, that I need to find a more balanced viewpoint. I’m saying that I want to work on learning how to appreciate the now and to use the horizon more as a reference point rather than an end goal. If pressed, I would say that being in a university setting suits me in ways that other environments don’t and that the tower of academia gives me a sense of community that I haven’t found in other arenas. What last week’s conference reinforced was just how much I enjoyed being around the people who make up academic and university life. Even if I never became a student again in my life, I think it’s important for me to understand why I’ve had such a contentious relationship with an institution that, for all its faults, offers me a great deal of opportunity and joy and community.

  1. None of these observations are particularly new, having been made countless times over the course of our history. It seems that each of us must find our own way into this particular territory and just hope that our particular route may provide a few hints and tips for others. []
  2. Squandered is probably too strong a word if I am going to be fair to myself, but I can’t help feeling that I’ve misspent some of my youth. []

A Week of Pictures – Friday

The last in this week’s series of photos. I am considering keeping this habit going, though I might not post them here every day. By trying to find an interesting image on a daily basis, I found myself paying a bit more attention to the here and now of my surroundings. Considering my tendancy to dwell on the past or the future, anything that grounds me in the present is probably something I should cultivate. So here is “Foggy Providence” and “Phone Cord: Reversed.”