Saturday, January 28, 2012

Consumer Confidence Rising

...gently rising, rising, as a stiff bloated corpse gently rises above an oily river that flows under endless onyx bridges to a black, putrid sea.  

(H. P. Lovecraft, 'The Rats in the Walls')

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Nothing new under the sun

Here is a statement of the obvious on tax policy:

When tax assessments and imposts upon the subjects are low, the latter have the energy and desire to do things. Cultural enterprises grow and increase, because the low taxes bring satisfaction. When cultural enterprises grow, the number of individual imposts and assessments mounts. In consequence, the tax revenue, which is the sum total of the individual assessments, increases.
When the dynasty continues in power and their rulers follow each other in succession, they become sophisticated. ... Their customs and needs become more varied because of the prosperity and luxury in which they are immersed. As a result, the individual imposts and assessments upon the subjects, agricultural labourers, farmers, and all the taxpayers, increase. Every individual impost and assessment is greatly increased in order to obtain a higher tax revenue. ... Then, gradual increases in the amount of the assessments succeed each other regularly, in correspondence with the gradual increase in the luxury customs and many needs of the dynasty and the spending required in connection with them. ... The assessments increase beyond the limits of equity. The result is that the interest of the subjects in cultural enterprises disappears, since when they compare expenditures and taxes with their income and gain and see the little profit they make, they lose all hope. Therefore, many of them refrain from all cultural activity. The result is that the total tax revenue goes down, as individual assessments go down. Often, when the decrease is noticed, the amounts of individual imposts are increased. This is considered a means of compensating for the decrease. Finally, individual imposts and assessments reach their limit. It would be of no avail to increase them higher. The costs of all cultural enterprise are now too high, the taxes are too heavy, and the profits anticipated fail to materialise. Finally, civilisation is destroyed, because the incentive for cultural activity is gone.

And here is another statement of the bleeding obvious, which is all the answer anyone needs to give to Dawkins et al.:

Man should not trust the suggestion his mind makes, that it is able to comprehend all existing things and their causes, and to know all the details of existence. Such a suggestion of the mind should be dismissed as stupid.

And here are some observations on pedagogy, which are spot on and universally ignored nowadays: 

Scholars often approach the main scholarly works on the various disciplines, which are very lengthy, intending to interpret and explain. They abridge them, in order to make it easier for students to acquire expert knowledge of them. ... This has a corrupting influence upon the process of instruction and is detrimental to the attainment of scholarship. For it confuses the beginner by presenting the final results of a discipline to him before he is prepared for them. This is a bad method of instruction. ... The procedure also involves a great deal of work for the student. He must study carefully the words of the abridgment, which are complicated to understand because they are crowded with ideas, and try to find out from them what the problems of the given discipline are. Thus, the texts of such brief handbooks are found to be difficult and complicated. A good deal of time must be spent on the attempt to understand them. ... The habit that results from receiving instruction from brief handbooks, even when such instruction is at its best and is not accompanied by any flaw, is inferior to the habits resulting from the study of more extensive and lengthy works. The latter contain a great amount of repetition and lengthiness, but both are useful for the acquisition of a perfect habit. When there is little repetition, an inferior habit is the result. This is the case with the abridgments. The intention was to make it easy for students to acquire expert knowledge (of scholarly subjects), but the result is that it has become more difficult for them, because they are prevented from acquiring useful and firmly established habits.

...A good and necessary method and approach in instruction is not to expose the student to two disciplines at the same time. Otherwise, he will rarely master one of them, since he has to divide his attention and is diverted from each of them by his attempt to understand the other. Thus, he will consider both of them obscure and difficult, and be unsuccessful in both. But if the student's mind is free to study the subject that he is out to study and can restrict himself to it, that fact often makes it simpler for the student to learn.

(Ibn Khaldun, al-Muqaddimat, 1377, translated by Franz Rosenthal. from the abridged version by N. J. Dawood.)

Hmm, this is post

Monday, January 23, 2012

I don't really have a dog in this race but I thought this would be funny

"Fellow Australians, it is my melancholy duty to inform you officially, that in consequence of a persistence by Germany in her invasion of Poland, Great Britain has declared war upon her and that, as a result, Canberra - and possibly Queanbeyan - are also at war. (With the rest of Australia probably following in 1943)."

(Robert Menzies, 1939)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Like, wow...

My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. 

Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. 

He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement. 

(Joe vs the Volcano, 1990)

Sometimes I feel as if I were almost about to wake up. Every year I give at least one lecture about how amazing biochemistry is, with lots of pictures of complicated molecules self-organised into fantastic systems, but I forget how *amazing* biochemistry is. It. Is. Amazing.

All this origin of life stuff focussing on replication as if that was the be-all and end-all, talking about the 'RNA world' or the 'protein world' or the 'Ke$ha world'[1], or whatever, as if any of those things could just fall together into existence somewhere - the people who talk like that are asleep.

The people who throw their hands up in the air and say 'it must have been a miracle', they probably just woke up once for an instant and were bowled over by the amazingness of it all.

I think the beginning was long ago and far away.

This is the minimum it needed.

I have no idea how many generations of life-not-as-we-know-it succeeded each other, each one nom nom nomming the remains of its predecessors, before life-as-we-know-it developed. I have no idea if life-as-we-know-it was designed in a test tube by some form of life-not-as-we-know-it.

But, I am pretty sure whatever happened was all complete before our solar system congealed out of a molecular cloud. I know there is *no point* working backward from life as we know it to get to the origin: we have erased our tracks.

I would like to work forward, but I don't even known what molecules to start looking at, since every organic molecule we see on Earth is part of a system that has comprehensively been worked over by living organisms for billions of years, making and breaking molecules to suit themselves. I know the molecules we see in space are the most common ones, and the ones exposed on the surfaces of things, so are not likely to reflect the complexity available there, and - I suspect - are also ultimately products of a carbon cycle comprehensively worked over by living organisms for billions of years.

Life is amazing.

The fact that the problem is immeasurably vaster and more complicated than we ever thought it would be does not mean it is insoluble. It doesn't mean we should give up and fall back on the God of the Gaps.

We should just live in a state of constant total amazement.

[1] ZOMG, there actually was a vaguely relevant link for that product of random neurons firing. Go figure.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cry Havoc etc., Part Two

One of the traditional strategies for getting people to assent to things that are dumb is the strategy of the False Dichotomy. It works like this:

1. Formulate a problem in terms of two ‘opposite’ answers (e.g., Faith vs Works; Capitalism vs Communism; XTC vs Adam Ant)

2. Disprove the bejesus out of one answer

3. Wait for your target to embrace the other answer warts and all, hoping they are not imaginative enough to realise there are other options.

For example:

Darth Sophus: “This hairy creature must be an Ewok, or a Wookiee.  While fully grown, it only reaches to mid-thigh, which is very short for a Wookiee. When beaten in games, it does not tear your arms off, which Wookiees have been known to do.  ... [nine pages of argument omitted] ... therefore, this creature must be an Ewok.”

Hairy creature: “Woof! Woof!”

It is usually less obvious than this.

So, I had been writing about Prof Lennox's book 'God's Undertaker' and had gotten up to the anthropic principle. I don't know how likely my two hand-waving explanations-away of the anthropic principle are to be borne out by events. Probably not very. My prejudice against being in a peculiarly unusual universe might just be an irrational prejudice.
But this doesn't mean that the only two possibilities for the origin of the universe are a multiverse or creation by the God of the Judaeo-Christo-Islamic tradition. There are lots of other possibilities, as the orcs are discussing about 70 seconds into this short film.

As I said in Part One, in Chapter 6 Prof Lennox loses me. He makes a very typical Creationist distinction between microevolution and macroevolution and implies, without explicitly saying so, that 'macroevolution' cannot occur by natural means. (Losing me at this point by ignoring all the suggestions that have been made in terms of natural alternatives to simple natural selection on random variation) To me, this supernatural intervention is inconsistent with the behaviour of the Creator(s) postulated in Lennox's discussion of the anthropic principle: a Creator or Creators that would make a universe so exquisitely poised on the values of a few constants to allow life to one day appear would surely allow its progress to unfold according to very unlikely, but natural, events. It does not seem in character for Him/Them to come in with a miracle every time a new genus of beetle is needed. This degree of micromanagement just seems psychologically implausible. And no matter how much Prof Lennox claims it isn't, this is the 'God of the Gaps' pure and simple.

The psychological implausibility of supernatural intervention struck me even more so in Chapter 7, which is about the origin of Life. A universe dependent on one chance in 1040 for the conditions to allow life to exist at all would surely be a universe where the specific conditions for the beginning of life were also incredibly unlikely - happening perhaps just once in the universe, in one pond, or deep in the interior of one comet. But by natural means, not supernatural.

I am confident that the origin of life is a soluble problem. I think its solution is far away, and that it will not be found by working backwards from the incredible complexity of life 'as we know it' - which is no more complex biochemically than the very earliest life we have ever found traces of on our planet.  I don't discount the possibility that life 'as we know it' was intelligently designed - but by creatures inside the universe.

Rather than working backwards, a solution will be found by working forward from physical chemistry. Simultaneously we should be broadening our knowledge of what life is and what raw materials are available for it to get started. Here are some things we should be finding out:

What sort of life exists elsewhere in our solar system? 
If the answer is none, we know we need to keep looking (working forward) for a mechanism by which life could have gotten started on Earth. If we find things that are based different chemistry in different places, we need to look for intelligent designers. If we find things based on broadly similar chemistry (my hunch) we need to look for the cradle of life further away.

What is the maximum lifetime of molecular clouds?
These are the places stars get started. If matter can hang around in them for reasonably long times, in reasonably large lumps, accumulating molecular complexity, and ideally get transferred from one molecular cloud to another, we have a reservoir of time and space for life to get started in.

The sorts of molecules we can observe spectroscopically from molecular clouds in general are not likely to reflect the molecular complexity available, since space is a pretty destructive environment, so we should be investigating the remnants of molecular clouds closer to home by drilling into the middle of comets: What sort of molecules exist in the interior of 'dirty snowballs', relatively safe from ionising radiation? Of course, if there is life there already, the distribution of molecules we find won't help...

 As far as the later chapters go:

I sort of glazed over in the probability chapter. I think this is what most undergraduate students do when people are talking about probability so I don't feel too bad about it. But I have read these kind of 'making a 747 by throwing bits of scrap metal together' arguments before. They are superficially appealing but are just another demonstration of how daunting the task is when you are looking backwards from the very complicated thing. You build up to complexity by walling off bits of the universe so there is a system and a surroundings. Compartmentalisation is the key. More later once I hear what other people think about the second half of the book. P'raps.

The idea of 'information being conserved' doesn't hold in biology. One airborne seed lands on Anak Krakatau. It grows into a plant, and in six months releases ten thousand airborne seeds, all of which are genetically different. Information increases. Sex = Lack of conservation of information.

And, I agree completely with Lennox on Hume and miracles: Hume's 'disproof' is just a classic example of begging the question.

Monday, January 09, 2012

The Da Vinci Connection

The first big disappointment of my book-reading year has been Robur the Conqueror.

It can be summarised as follows:

1) Helicopters are better than hot air balloons

2) Americans are easily caricatured

3) Characterisation is for losers

That’s about it.

While preparing this exhaustive summary it struck me that Jules Verne was the Dan Brown of his time. Both authors produced books consisting of lumps of poorly-digested research stuck together with action sequences engaged in by two-dimensional characters. And, look at the supposedly baffling cryptograms at the beginnings of ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’ and ‘The Da Vinci Code’. They are both so terribly lame.   

The big difference – which reflects badly on our century, rather than on either of these tremendously successful and industrious writers – is that in the 19th century ordinary people were interested in science and technology, whereas today, having sloughed off the inheritance of the Enlightenment like so many of Lady Prunella’s petticoats, ordinary people are interested in waffly occult rubbish.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

...then cry "Havoc!" and let loose the dogs of Philosophy

Not knowing exactly where the discussion reproduced on Marco's blog began, and unsure of where the participants in it actually agree or disagree with Prof Lennox, I will just throw out onto the aether my own thoughts about his book, 'God's Undertaker'.

I am in complete agreement with Prof Lennox wherever he is showing up the hubristic claims of the 'New Atheists'. They say things that are ridiculous and irrational and Prof Lennox does a good job of demonstrating this in his first five chapters.

Science is an instrument for making sense of the reproducible, comprehensible features of the experienced universe. To say that all features of this experienced universe are reproducible and comprehensible is a statement of faith - a defensible and rational statement of faith, but still a statement of faith. To say that nothing exists outside this experienced universe is a statement of faith that is irrational and indefensible.

The scientific worldview is not inconsistent with a belief in an omnibenevolent entity which is omniscient and omnipotent with respect to our universe. It just isn't.

The scientific worldview is not inconsistent with the definition of Good as a real feature of the universe, rather than a social construct or emergent biological epiphenomenon. Neither is the scientific worldview inconsistent with the survival in a 'location' outside the universe of the information describing a human life in its entirety; a belief in miracles; nor the active involvement in human affairs of free-willed 'macrobes' capable of masquerading as gods.

On the other hand, if 'belief in God' is conflated with 'adherence to a theistic religion', the situation becomes murkier in terms of the tension between science and religion. The scientific worldview posits a single source of authority - experience - and is antithetical in its spirit to all other sources of authority. Thus an organised religion resting on sources of authority that will in many cases appear to contradict experience - that is, all of them - will never be an entirely comfortable place for someone subscribing to a scientific worldview. Thus I have to disagree with his quotation (about 15% through) that 'vast tracts of science remain unaffected by such philosophical considerations': all of science is necessarily shot through with a spirit that is in opposition to all individual organised religions, even if it is not incompatible with theism in general.

So, where Prof Lennox is negative, I am on his side. Where he is making positive assertions, I am a little less happy. Though I have to say I didn't find anything particularly objectionable in the first five chapters.

In Chapter 6 he metaphorically wheels out his motorcycle and heads down to the aquarium when he starts talking about evolution. To me, this was because he quotes a large number of people who dissent from the 'neo-Darwinian' consensus, including Niles Eldredge of punctuated equilibrium fame, without telling us what they intend to put in its place rather than intelligent design. So, species are largely static: it makes sense that genetic change will be most rapid in small, isolated populations. So, random mutations won't cut it: but what about horizontal gene transfer? Changes in gene regulations giving major morphological changes from a minor chemical change? Some sort of Parigian neo-Lamarckism? There are a lot of possibilities, and Lennox doesn't talk about any of them because he has already written them off.

Where he talks about how unsatisfactory the current models for the origin of life are, in chapter 7, I - or more accurately, my real-world alter ego - am on pretty much the same page.

I think this just means we need to approach the question from a more fundamental direction, with simple building blocks for a metabolism, and be more open about the possibility of exogenesis. I think introducing Intelligent Design would be a terrible idea.


Consider the following syllogism, going back at least as far as the 1st century:

There is strong evidence that the universe was designed.

However, the universe is all ****ed up.

        Therefore, the designer of the universe is an ****hole.

Expressed somewhat more elegantly, this is a syllogism that has convinced a great many virtuous and intelligent people over the millennia. The problem of reconciling the existence of a good God with a ****ed-up universe is the central problem of theism. I solved this problem to my own satisfaction when I was 19, but I could not have done so if I believed biology exhibited intelligent design.

"What a book a devil's chaplain might write on the clumsy, wasteful, blundering, low, and horribly cruel work of nature!" (Charles Darwin)

The evil we see in nature can be explained as the consequence of natural selection and other natural evolutionary mechanisms: we do not see the perfect world of the divine vision, but the outcome of choices by free-willed beings that have led to a sub-optimal outcome. Extending this to a deep anthropomorphism that gives the attribute of free-will to the particles whose interactions give rise to physical law completes the process of letting God off the hook for the moral flaws of the universe.

Some more observations at different milestones through the book:

7% : I agree with Prof Lennox's argument about the 'forgotten roots of science'. I made the same argument here. I am pretty sure that both of us, and C. S. Lewis as well, got the argument originally from Chesterton, who doubtless made it better than any of us.

8%: I wish people wouldn't diss Aristotle. On the page before, Lennox has been talking about the dead hand of Augustinianism keeping people's attentions focussed on the supernatural world and encouraging a symbolic, allegorical intepretation of nature. What was Augustinianism? Baptised Platonism. The dethronement of Plato by Aristotle at the time of St Thomas Aquinas was the critical moment when the tide turned. Aristotle was part of the solution, not part of the problem. Whitehead's quote about people in Europe in 1500 knowing less than Archimedes in the 3rd century BC is just bogus: if he had said 1100, sure.

11%: 'The cosmos is all there is, or was, or ever shall be' (Carl Sagan)
This is the crux of the matter for me and though I repeated myself over and over and over again when we were talking about Dawkins' 'The God Delusion' before I am still not sure I got my point across.

Let's define the 'Universe' as all there is, or was, or ever shall be.

And let's define the 'universe' as this thing that is all we can ever access by experience, which appears to obey certain rules.

Conflation of the two is not tenable.

It was not tenable to clear-thinking people at the time of Lucretius. Speaking of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Kant, Hegel, Locke and Berkeley, Prof Lennox says correctly 'that the universe is not self explanatory, and that it requires some explanation beyond itself, was something they accepted as fairly obvious.' After Boltzmann's formulation of the 2nd law of thermodynamics and observations of cosmic background radiation suggesting the occurrence of a 'Big Bang', the conflation of the universe with the Universe has become yet more untenable. 

12 %: I don't think the definition(s) of science offered by Lennox rigorous enough to illuminate the areas of tension and non-tension between science and religion. I would like to refer you to this monologue by my alter ego. This is just my view: there is no creed defining science that we have to sign up to when we get our degrees. But I doubt that Peirce or Feynman would find much to disagree with me about - and so there is my token argument from authority out of the way.

16 %: '...theists claim that there is someone who stands in the same relationship to the universe that Aunt Matilda stands to her cake.'

Since Aunt Matilda made the cake for her nephew's birthday, these particular theists would be good subjects for a Lovecraftian short story. "The worshippers of Pzgra claim that the end of time she will give the universe to her nephew Pthaak-Zroghoroom, who will eat it, after first blowing out the suns to the strains of music beyond human comprehension."

26%: 'Saying that the universe arises from fluctuations in a quantum vacuum simply pushes the origins question one step further back, to asking about the provenance of the quantum vacuum. More importantly, it leaves unanswered the question 'what is the origin of the laws governing such a vacuum'?

Something must be self-existent; otherwise nothing would exist. And it doubtless seems more reasonable to many people that this something be a quantum vacuum governed by certain laws, rather than God. But in essence, the problem is that the universe and everything in it are not self-existent, so we have absolutely no experience of what a self-existent thing might be like. I am pessimistic about the possibility of us ever making any meaningful stabs at figuring this out from inside the universe with our universe-bound reason. Which brings me to about 27%, and Prof Lennox's discussion of the anthropic principle.

I have never been particularly sympathetic to anthropic principle arguments.
I dislike them for two reasons: my scientific prejudice is that just as there are any number of rocky planets not so unlike ours, and our sun is nothing special, and our galaxy is nothing special, our universe ought to be nothing special. I also have a religious prejudice against the universe being somewhere where things have to balanced to 1 part in 1040 in order for us to be here: I don't like the 'author intrusion' of a Creator who would show off to that extent. It smacks of Oolon Coluphid's Babel Fish argument. I guess I have always thought,without explicitly putting it into sentences, that any amazing sensitivity of our existence to quantifiable features of the universe having certain extremely narrow quantities could be attributed to lack of knowledge and failure of imagination. That is, when we found out more about the universe and how it worked, we would find good reasons for why it was very probable that we would end up with these values, given unexciting initial conditions; and that when we thought about it more we would come up with all sorts of other ways matter could be organised so it could think, given all sorts of other specific values of these constants. Maybe I am wrong.

I am told I have been typing too long, so I will call this part one, and return to the anthropic principle real soon now...

Friday, January 06, 2012

... then, crash your probe at 700 g ...

The second book I finished this year was a re-read, Hal Clement’s “Mission of Gravity”.

If you are about my age, you probably first met this book through the picture of the Mesklinite in ‘Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials’.  They are our high-density low-temperature hydrogen-breathing pals who are fun to be with.   
One of our high-density low-temperature hydrogen-breathing pals who are fun to be withTM

What struck me re-reading it this time is how ‘Mission of Gravity’ is a paean to science.

First of all, it is proper science fiction. Not ‘indistinguishable from magic’ science fiction. Not some rubbish latte-land love triangle with spaceships and aliens. Not flip-through-this-week’s-New-Scientist-and-grab-a-few-dodgy-interpretation-of-Quantum-Mechanics-articles science fiction. Just Newtonian Physics pushed to the edge.

Second, the motivation of the (largely offstage) human characters is all science all the time. They want to know stuff. They are part of a project spending a fortune to find stuff out. Completely fundamental blue-sky no-applications-need-apply stuff.  It’s all they care about. They never talk about anything else.  Which is how it ought to be, because next to a world like Mesklin everything else is pretty boring.

Third, the narrative arc of the novel is the conversion of the Mesklinite characters to the scientific worldview.  Barlennan, the main character, is the Han Solo or Vasco de Gama of his world. As the story begins he is all about the phat lewtz. But as it goes on – like Han Solo – he becomes aware of a higher purpose. A higher purpose that might enable him primarily to get more phat lewtz, true, but a higher purpose. Again and again, the scientific skills of the humans are shown to be of practical use in solving problems. Barlennan realises that he wants what they’re having. At the climax of the novel he refuses to help the humans anymore unless they teach him science. This is the sort of standoff situation people like me dream of.  So I’m going to quote his whole speech (awkwardly screenshotted from Kindle Cloud):
 Amen, little brother.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

First, immanentise your Eschaton

I hear from Lexifab that this is the National Year of Reading.

I am not quite sure what the ‘National’ refers to and I am not going to look it up yet out of contrariness. The message retweeted by Lexifab exhorted me to read Australian books, so perhaps it is the Australian National Year of Reading. I don’t intend to go out of my way to read Australian books since I pretty much know what Australia is like and how Australians think - I am more interested in distant times and places and how the zany people over there thought/think. On the other hand, there is a certain nation which I will not name that tends to assume it is the only one, where people don’t put the international dialing code on their letterheads, and the ‘National’ might well refer to that nation.

The first book I finished reading this year was written in *a* nation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.

In this book a practically unknown one-term United States senator with a charismatic personality and a magnetic speaking voice comes to power in 2008 and turns out to be the Antichrist. Honest.

Yes, this is basically the same plot as a book I was handed by a wild-eyed fellow outside Redfern station a decade ago. You may have been handed the same book. However, in this case: (1) it is the Protestants who cave immediately to join the Antichrist while the Catholics are the persecuted minority fighting him, and (2) the writing is really very good.

You should read this book for its prefigurements of the great 20th century dystopias. Before Our Ford’s T-Model, here is a London with the same Brave New World aesthetic, the euthanasia centres, the selfless meritocrats keeping the proles happy with bread and circuses. Before Mussolini’s march on Rome, here is Big Brother’s Cult of Personality, the Nuremburg-style crowds, the world eerily divided into three great blocs. In 1907, here is a dysfunctional European parliament, a thoroughly Godless Europe about to be overwhelmed by barbarism from the East, a London convulsed by mob violence. The book is like a chrysalis containing the whole terrible century that was to come. Of course science fiction is not about prediction: but this book, which doesn't claim to be science fiction, comes closer to predicting the real 2008 than anything else I've read from a similar distance in time.

Unless you are fond of the sort of things Charles Williams used to write, there is no real reason to read all the way to the end: after all, you know how it will turn out. I would suggest stopping after the passage of the Alps, except to flip ahead and look for the bits with Mabel in them. These are rather good, and also contain the basis for my assertion that the novel takes place in 2008. Oh, and the novel is full of Catholic jargon in a Morris West-like fashion, only more so. Those are my only caveats.

The book contains nothing to reassure Edwardian middle-class Protestants raised on tales of Catholic perfidy. The main characters are almost - almost - fanatical enough to be seen from the opposite direction as the bad guys in a Sheri S. Tepper novel. While the official position of the Church and of the heroes - who are all priests - is one of extreme in-your-face pacifism in response to persecution, there are other Catholics who do try to blow up Westminster Abbey, assassinate government officials, etc.: and the main characters never really condemn them, just worry about the possible blowback effects. Which are admittedly pretty bad.

I could never survive in a religion that required me to believe that this world was about to pass away. I am too fond of the bottlebrush tree outside the front door. All those millions of years of evolution to make such a beautiful thing, snuffed out all of a sudden, with all its kind, because it is just a minor non-player character in a story that is all about the humans? It is too painful to think about. And the beetles - I am inordinately fond of beetles. And the child of two who is just going about looking with wonder upon the bottlebrush trees and the beetles. And the man in Bechar who has an idea for a poem he wants to write this afternoon, but he can't, because the world is ending. I know all things must pass, and if they abide forever it is only in the mind of God - but this world is all so young and interesting. It would be like ending the Silmarillion in the middle of a sentence on page 14.