Thursday, August 30, 2007

the future

"The actual future, in many ways, came without warning. The things that radically changed the world as we know it—instant messaging, picture phones, Napster, scoop-shaped tortilla chips—don’t turn up in the sci-fi visions into which we all bought while reading Jules Verne or George Orwell."

--Oops: 20 Life Lessons from the Fiascoes That Shaped America, Martin J. Smith and Patrick J. Kiger, 2006

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Chinese loch monster across the border

"Not just one, but more than a dozen huge creatures can be seen churning across Lake Kanasi in remote western China...

"A rare video filmed by a tourist at the lake in the Heavenly Mountains of the wild Xinjiang region, has reignited debate over the existence...of an legendary beast that has been rumoured for centuries to live in the depths of Lake Kanasi.

"Local myth among the Chinese Mongolians living in the scenic mountains near the Russian and Mongolian borders has it that the animals have been known to drag sheep, cows and even horses from the shore and into the deep to devour them."

--The Times

Thursday, August 16, 2007

The Steppe - Questions for Discussion and Review

1. The Classical Greek philosophical school of Skepticism holds that any knowledge of a physical universe is impossible. What is the horrific implication of Skepticism as presented by The Steppe?

2. What is the “gloriful” implication?

3. Moore’s argument for “common sense” over Skepticism, often summed up by the phrase: “Here is a hand,” argues that there is no more logical basis to distrust the perceptions of your senses than there is to trust them. How does Baatar address this argument?

4. Wittgenstein’s argument against Skepticism claims that Skepticism is thinkable only through a misuse of language, specifically through confusion regarding the contextual meaning and usage of the verb “to know.” How does Baatar address this argument?

5. How might The Steppe actually be considered a reductio ad absurdum argument against Skepticism?

6. Solipsism is the absence of belief that other human beings exist as consciousnesses. Despite the acknowledged logical consistency of Solipsism, there has never been a Solipsistic philosopher. Is Baatar a Solipsist?

7. Consider the original final line of The Steppe: “This narrative is dedicated to you, the reader, though I do not know and cannot know whether you exist.” Is Neuhalfen a Solipsist?

8. Consider Rad as an unreliable narrator who reports only his own subjective reality which, in the course of The Steppe, changes through exposure to Baatarism. How might the supernatural elements of Rad’s narration be explained naturally? (For example, in “Chapter Twenty-Two: Makhchin,” despite what Rad describes, an observer might report Rad killing and eating his own horse.)

9. How does The Steppe’s lack of a narrative counterpoint to Rad’s subjective reality reinforce the philosophical tenets of Baatarism?

10. One of The Steppe’s epigraphs alludes to Beowulf and one is taken from the epic poem itself. How is Baatar like Beowulf?

11. How is Baatar like Grendel?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Spanish Civil War

The tanks had not come up in time and finally had refused to advance, and two of the battalions had failed to attain their objectives. The third had taken theirs, but it formed an untenable salient. The only real result had been a few prisoners, and these had been confided to the tank men to bring back and the tank men had killed them. The General had only failure to show, and they had killed his prisoners.

“What can I write on it?” I asked.

“Nothing that is not in the official communiqué. Have you any whisky in that long flask?”


He took a drink and licked his lips carefully. He had once been a captain of Hungarian Hussars, and he had once captured a gold train in Siberia when he was a leader of irregular cavalry with the Red Army and held it all one winter when the thermometer went down to forty below zero. We were good friends and he loved whisky, and he is now dead.

--Ernest Hemingway, “Under the Ridge”

Friday, August 10, 2007


Philidor stared at him incredulously. “You expect us, the Expiationists, to become your soldiers?”

“Why not?” asked Xanten ingenuously. “Your life is at stake no less than ours.”

“No one dies more than once.”

Xanten in his turn evinced shock. “What? Can this be a former gentleman of Hagedorn speaking? Is this the face a man of pride and courage turns to danger? Is this the lesson of history? Of course not! I need not instruct you in this; you are as knowledgeable as I.”

Philidor nodded. “I know that the history of man is not his technical triumphs, his kills, his victories. It is a composite, a mosaic of a trillion pieces, the account of each man’s accommodation with his conscience. This is the true history of the race.”

Xanten made an airy gesture. “A.G. Philidor, you oversimplify grievously. Do you consider me obtuse? There are many kinds of history. They interact. You emphasize morality. But the ultimate basis of morality is survival. What promotes survival is good; what induces mortifaction is bad.”

“Well spoken!” declared Philidor. “But let me propound a parable. May a nation of a million beings destroy a creature who otherwise will infect all with a fatal disease? Yes, you will say. Once more: ten starving beasts hunt you, that they may eat. Will you kill them to save your life? Yes, you will say again, though here you destroy more than you save. Once more: a man inhabits a hut in a lonely valley. A hundred spaceships descend from the sky, and attempt to destroy him. May he destroy these ships in self-defense, even though he is one and they are a hundred thousand? Perhaps you will say yes. What, then, if a whole world, a whole race of beings, pits itself against this single man? May he kill all? What if the attackers are as human as himself? What if he were the creature of the first instance, who otherwise will infect a world with disease? You see, there is no area where a simple touchstone avails. We have searched and found none. Hence, at the risk of sinning against Survival, we—I, at least; I can only speak for myself—have chosen a morality which at least allows me calm. I kill—nothing. I destroy—nothing.”

--Jack Vance, The Last Castle

Monday, August 06, 2007

deep in the glens

“…Reuben’s spirit shone at intervals with an outward gladness; but inwardly there was a cold, cold sorrow, which he compared to the snowdrifts lying deep in the glens and hollows of the rivulets while the leaves were brightly green above.”

--Nathaniel Hawthorne, “Roger Malvin’s Burial”

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Khovsgol Diving Expedition

"Steven Schwankert is the founder of Beijing diving school SinoScuba. From August 9 to 23 this year, he will lead the first-ever diving expedition to Lake Khovsgol...

"We're not claiming it's the first time anyone has dived in the lake.... However, it has only been dived a few times, and we are the first diving scientific expedition to the lake.

"...there may be Buddhist relics thrown into the lake in the 1930s by monks who wanted to preserve them during a persecution."