Archive for July, 2009

Gaia and Balance

July 30, 2009

An interesting article in The Chronicle of Higher Education on visions of our planet and Gaia in light of modern science. Written by Michael Ruse, a noted philosopher and historian of biology, it is both an ode to balance (in perspective, if nothing else) and a pithy introduction to the history of science. He takes the reader from Heraclitus and evolution to mechanism, romanticism, the fate of the earth and back again, emphasizing how important it is to consider the nature of life from manifold perspectives. He could have used the word vitalism, but didn’t — so many seem to shy away from it because of misconstrued associations. Alas, what he is essentially getting at is a kind of vitalism…

By way of Arts & Letters Daily.

Shawnigan Lake

July 29, 2009


On My Desk, Vol.8: The Summer Sci-Fi Edition

July 27, 2009

Partly inspired by this post on Acephalous about elitist disdain for the sci-fi genre, I’ve decided to resurrect an old standard with a particular focus.

Jack McDevitt, Seeker (New York: Ace Books, 2006).

A 2006 Nebula Award winner that caught my eye wandering a local bookstore, I decided to give this fairly new author a try. The cover boldly promotes McDevitt as “The logical heir to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.” I may not go that far, but the novel has a definite Golden Age-y feel and read well. Good old-fashioned space opera plot line with a foundation in hard sci-fi. Not earth-shattering, but a planet-smashing romp nonetheless. Some fascinating observations about history, the passage of time and the quintessential qualities of human nature, too. Apparently this is part of a series. Scandalous, I know.

Tom Boardman, Jr., ed., An ABC of Science Fiction (London: Four Square, 1966).

An old-school collection of short stories, 26 of them (one for each letter of the alphabet), providing a veritable A to Z of science fictional material for the veteran reader and uninitiated. A wide range here, from a 1806 Washington Irving tale about lunar exploration to more familiar names like Frederik Pohl and Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Funky used store find that has been thumbed through for fun and profit…

Michael Moorcock, The Time Dweller (New York: Daw, 1979).

Better known for his Elric fantasy series, there is something acid-trippy and classically New Wave about Moorcock. He just knows how to destabilize the reader, pushing you out of your comfort zone. This odd, eccentric and hard to pin-down novel does this only too well. Half-way through, I was enjoying the wonderful play on ideas of time and space. Wondered how it all hung together until I finally realized it’s a series of short stories. Really?!

Michael Ashley, ed., The History of the Science Fiction Magazine: Part 1. 1926-1935 (London: New English Library, 1977).

I’m saving this one. A history of the first pulp sci-fi magazines by way of brief exposes and exemplary stories. Funky, obscurantist and downright genuine sci-fi material. Includes some illustrations of old magazine covers. Cool.

Bernard le Bovier de Fontanelle, Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds, trans. H.A. Hargreaves (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1990).

More science fact than sci-fi, this translated text is a classic expostulation on the plurality of worlds. Published in 1686, less than a century after Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake (in 1600) for suggesting similar phenomena, de Fontanelle took some risk in popularizing his controversial view. In typically French ancien regime fashion, it’s written as an example of wit and imagination in a vain attempt to charm and seduce a beautiful woman. What other reason is there to talk of the stars?


July 22, 2009


Moon Musings

July 20, 2009

I’ve come out of pseudo-retirement to note a paradigm-shifting date — the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Much virtual ink has been spilled around the web in this regard, yet nothing seems more compelling, readable and incisive than this op-ed piece in the New York Times by the ever-dapper Tom Wolfe. Wolfe wrote The Right Stuff (1979) and has been following American space exploration since before the momentous (and according to some, possibly fictional) event in question.

Essentially, he says a new quest to land men on Mars is key to both an American and global future, and what was lacking in the old NASA zeitgeist wasn’t ingenuity (which they had in spades), but philosophical refection about the whole purpose of the endeavor…That and good “words”.

A sombre swan song about men in space. And a simultaneous ode to the power of language.

By way of the orbiting carnival that is Arts & Letters Daily.


July 9, 2009

After a little over three years, this blog is coming to an end. Just tired of writing missives and posting images to the aether, feeling it’s akin to throwing pebbles into the ocean trying to make waves. Blogging, like most of life, was something I thought I liked. But it’s a disappointment. Kinda like life. I need change and transformation in mine, which is currently languishing and feels pointless. It’s starting here.

As some Buddhist philosopher or stand-up comic (what’s the difference?) once said: “Every end is a beginning.”

And you gotta start somewhere.

Peace out.

Death of an Ancient Technocrat

July 7, 2009

Only the good die young. Mastermind and architect of the Vietnam War and bombing savant extraordinare Robert McNamara (1916-2009) died yesterday, aged 93. Long before Dick Cheney blended the executive branch of corporate America with boosterism of the military industrial complex, McNamara had already blazed this infamous trail.

Something of a madman, with a cold, calculated approach reminding of the cunning “evil genius” persona out of a bad sci-fi novel, McNamara’s career path was ably profiled in the wonderful documentary Fog of War. He emerges as a man without much feeling, whose decision-making employed pure logic. McNamara appeared to lack even a hint of empathy or intuitive sense.

Chomsky’s take on McNamara resounds deeply and it is easy to see parallels with other rationalizing technocrats. He at times seems not unlike the Eichmann painted by Hannah Arendt.

McNamara moved from Ford to the Defense Department, an architect of cold war who commissioned nuclear strike survival manuals and saw the economic benefits of arms races and missile proliferation. He went on, appropriately, to head the World Bank. McNamara was the archetype of the man in the gray flannel suit.

There is the suggestion, made explicit in John Ralston Saul’s take on McNamara in Voltaire’s Bastards, that the man was the technocrat par excellence. Something mentioned in a recent obit at The Atlantic.

This is certainly clear. McNamara represented the culmination of “instrumental rationality”; a pure strategist and thinker without much of a sympathetic bone. One hesitates to suggest he was emotionless…but he was clearly unemotional. Mechanical.

In the future, it is possible we will have machines make clear, logical decisions about the lives of hundreds, thousands and millions without a care for their health and welfare, sending them to die for some grandiose cause. For now, we must be content in the fact that there are people willing to fulfill these roles. More technocrat than intellectual, with a kind of self-assured arrogance that allows them to believe in the rightness of their own boundless ambition.

Robert McNamara was one of these people.

Sunset Over Denman

July 6, 2009



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