Monday, July 30, 2007


The inevitable question that is raised when anybody talks about things like climate change and alternatives to the amorality of capitalism and over-consumption, as I was doing here last week, is Okay, so what do we do about it? Sometimes, this question is asked in all honesty. Yes, I agree. What do we do now? Most of the time, though, it is considered the ultimate rejoinder: All you can do is articulate the problem. I've heard no solutions. There is nothing we can do. So, what to do when there is nothing to be done but continue to do what we have always done, but perhaps a bit more humanely?

Agreed, there is no solution in the sense that we now have a how-to list of ways to save the world. More important than the absence of any how-to, though, is the absence of will. If you talk about this stuff w/ most people, they get exasperated because you've not laid out the reasons and ways we can survive. What they want are ways we can all survive and still lead basically the same life we've been leading. That this is fundamentally opposed to the very critique of consumption never seems to dawn on them. (Example: people who talk about the electric car imagine a very happy world of zero emissions and high mileage, and a new world of economic growth and industrial expansion freed of over-consumpton. The problem with this is the amount of energy/consumption (& cost) needed to [a] completely redesign and rebuild the electrical grid, and [b] to create & maintain the new industrial market responsible for the production & distribution of millions of batteries, is so high, and so immediately necessary, that [at minimum] it will alter the playing field of who can afford to consume what is now even an average amount of resources.) If mathematics and geology are correct -- who can assume these things anymore? -- what is necessary is a fundamental change that not only changes the present, but in effect changes the past decisions that set us on this present path. Nobody wants to hear this, of course. It is the inconceivable.

What is not inconceivable, however, is that there is a solution to our problem. In fact, I think the end result of our consumptive ways is its own the solution. Our path has a terminus. There will be more famine. There almost certainly will be eco-catastrophes. There will be more disease. Lots of people, mostly poor, will die. The middle-class will become incredibly disenfranchised when the protective bubble of credit we've settled in is no longer sustainable, and incredibly dangerous when the reality we kept at bay seaps back into everyday life. The very same rich & famous we gawk at now may actually become the targets for aggression and resentment. And, where do the formerly coddled and now newly disenfranchised go for their succor but either identitarian movements that mistrust strangers and/or the awaiting rhetoric of demagogic religion & politics. All this seems unavoidable to me, and in a certain sense it does "solve" many of our problems -- in an absolutely dire way.

What's more. We are, I believe, beyond the point of stopping this. The most viable response now is to begin preparing ourselves for what comes after. People need to start learning NOW how to live in alternative, less-consumptive ways -- using their hands, learning agriculture, learning how to get by w/out driving, etc. I'm not so naive as to think or imagine a future anytime soon where people worldwide do these things and change our current situation, and reverse the course our history of bad decisions has set us on. But I can imagine our world being changed in such a way that we and our habits are forced to change. Making preparations now is imperative ... not to delay the future, though in some measure it might a little, but to prepare ourselves for its arrival.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Politics of the Exponential Function

The ignorance of simple math may very well kill us.

This is the premise of a lecture given by Dr. Albert Bartlett, a retired Professor of Physics from the Univ. of Colorado in Boulder (text, as well as streaming video and audio, can be found here -- highly recommended). The problem, he argues, is a complete ignorance and/or blindness to what exponential growth really means:

Legend has it that the game of chess was invented by a mathematician who worked for a king. The king was very pleased. He said, “I want to reward you.” The mathematician said “My needs are modest. Please take my new chess board and on the first square, place one grain of wheat. On the next square, double the one to make two. On the next square, double the two to make four. Just keep doubling till you've doubled for every square, that will be an adequate payment.” We can guess the king thought, “This foolish man. I was ready to give him a real reward; all he asked for was just a few grains of wheat.”

But let's see what is involved in this. We know there are eight grains on the fourth square. I can get this number, eight, by multiplying three twos together. It's 2x2x2, it's one 2 less than the number of the square. Now that continues in each case. So on the last square, I’d find the number of grains by multiplying 63 twos together.

Now let’s look at the way the totals build up. When we add one grain on the first square, the total on the board is one. We add two grains, that makes a total of three. We put on four grains, now the total is seven. Seven is a grain less than eight, it's a grain less than three twos multiplied together. Fifteen is a grain less than four twos multiplied together. That continues in each case, so when we’re done, the total number of grains will be one grain less than the number I get multiplying 64 twos together. My question is, how much wheat is that?

You know, would that be a nice pile here in the room? Would it fill the building? Would it cover the county to a depth of two meters? How much wheat are we talking about?

The answer is, it's roughly 400 times the 1990 worldwide harvest of wheat. That could be more wheat than humans have harvested in the entire history of the earth. You say, “How did you get such a big number?” and the answer is, it was simple. We just started with one grain, but we let the number grow steadily till it had doubled a mere 63 times.

Now there's something else that’s very important: the growth in any doubling time is greater than the total of all the preceding growth. For example, when I put eight grains on the 4th square, the eight is larger than the total of seven that were already there. I put 32 grains on the 6th square. The 32 is larger than the total of 31 that were already there. Every time the growing quantity doubles, it takes more than all you’d used in all the proceeding growth.

Bartlett then uses the logic of exponential arithmetic to lay out what is wrong with with seemingly innocuous notion that we must always be growing in order to be productive. His analysis of the problem is about as good as you're going to find. Introductory, funny, engaging, and downright chilling when he applies this soberly to our consumptive appetite for energy. In short, his mathematical gaze is to the point: not only is our energy consumption unsustainable (we all know that, right?), but the tipping point is actually right upon us, almost certainly within twenty years. The behooves us to ask, he warns: what will your world look like after the demise of cheap energy?

His only major misstep, in my opinion, is his overriding focus on overpopulation. I don't know. Maybe I'm going to ridiculed for this, but I think this is a potentially very dangerous red herring. Certainly as it is traditionally argued -- and even as Bartlett does here. There is, of course, the mathematical and geographical problem of overpopulation, which will surely lead to a catastrophe. A finite area, such as a city, a state, a nation, or a globe, cannot sustain unending growth. I do not argue that. What Bartlett does, however, and what I find most people do who talk about overpopulation (esp. in the global sense), be they conservative or liberal, is speak fully in the abstract about the problem w/ no real vision of a true solution. What is the typical solution? Namely, education -- be it the conservative vision of abstinence, or the liberal vision of unbridled birth control (or, if they're more "radical," reversing patriarchal hierarchies). Maybe tax cuts for people who stop having kids after one or two. Few, of course, will argue for a mandated systemization of abortion. Even fewer will apply a dark vision that genocide, war, and famine will do our job for us, so perhaps we should leave places like Africa to their own devices.

The problem with this perspective, near as I can tell, is that it assumes a certain equality that simply isn't there. It assumes that we are all individually complicit in such a global problem as overpopulation, in equal measure. Of course, that this perspective results in the Third World getting the stink eye is quite natural, as their populations are exploding far beyond that of the First World, and as such they're clearly not doing their part in this worldwide effort to be smart with Mother Earth. This, though, seems a little convenient.

What is so pernicious about this logic is that the very problem damned by the First World, we who search for the solution overpopulation frantically, is, in fact, caused by the steady march of First World growth. The very thing that now defines the First World! In spite of his absolutely vital critique of this growth, even Bartlett ignores the fact that this philosophy of growth is engrained in the very functioning of the First World. I.e., growth is built into the system in such a way that reality no longer matters -- otherwise, would the fact that advanced western economies are built on debt and credit, the buying and selling of debt unbacked by tangible resources, make sense? There is, I would argue, absolutely no means of reforming capitalism with a little humanitarianism here, and and some compassion there. Our incremental progress that late-capitalism was to bring, at this point, is running perilously close to the end of the cheap and ample resources that brought the First World to its present heights in the first place.

The deficiency of Bartlett's math is that it, near as I can tell, cannot show the socio-economic reality that where there is constant growth, there is also an inevitable decline, in the form of those who do not own the land that produces the goods that churn the wheel of progress. These, rather, are given a different criteria by which to judge their success, versus that of the rest of the world -- their standard of living is judged by comparing it to those who are just as poor or poorer, in such a way that we can justify paying them what amounts to scraps in terms of a First World criteria, because 'it's more than they'd normally get, so they really should be happy.'

And then we have the First World solution to the overpopulation of the very places that it effectively renders, and arguably keeps, poor. (Okay, yes, I realize that China is getting richer; as is India. And while one could argue that this is not likely filtering down to the lowest levels of either society, I would argue that the effects of this growth is built on an ecological and energy-depleting timebomb that extends to the budding middle class of these countries a new kind of poverty, namely, a uniquely modern myopic vision of reality that threatens the very livelihoods that have moved them beyond the slums, and inevitably their lives even to the budding middle-class of these countries. So goes the metaphorical cocktease taking place in emergent economies: the extraordinarily hot virgin (capital) with an inexplicable and incurable venereal disease.) This, despite the fact that where there is poverty, there is typically a population increase -- be it in Africa, or be it in Everwhere Ghetto, USA; as poverty decreases, so does the birth rate -- be it in western Europe or Everywhere Suburb, USA. Where there is poverty, education falls, women's rights decrease, and contraception is less available. We know that social conditions have a tremendous impact on population growth, and yet it is officially a non-starter when one questions the relationship of late-capitalism (which, I say again, is fundamentally indistinguishable from the inexcusably ignorant -- willfully ignorant -- object of Bartlett's dead-on critique). Instead, we mistake the symptom for the disease.

That Bartlett shrinks away from this, to something so abstract as warning us about overpopulation, when the the real problem itself is staring him, us, you & me, square in the face, is telling. It is telling of the disconnect between what we actually know and what we believe to be true.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Pause the Child Within

Articles like this one in last week's SF Weekly would not normally be my kind of thing. Sure, I read and thoroughly enjoyed Jeff Euginedes' gender-bending bildungsroman, Middlesex (again, as with The Road, I should note, before Oprah was putting her label on it), and appreciated the fairly thoughtful Belgian film Ma Vie en Rose, but by and large transexual and gender identity issues are not normally on my conversational docket.

What interested me about this article, though, is actually the same thing that drew me into the book and movie -- i.e., the focus is on kids. I lived a pretty benign childhood compared to these kids, and I rarely doubted I was happy as a boy (even when I was once mistaken for a girl because of my adorable curls), but I can resonate with never feeling completely comfortable inside one's skin. I was not (and to a degree, still am not) confident in what I can do physically, which is pretty evident to anybody who has ever seen me try to play a sport of any kind. The physical ability to perform an athletic task (or even an act of physical labor) is there, to some degree, but the confidence necessary to do it is hard to muster. Which is why I feel remarkably good about myself when I do something as mundane as fixing a plug on an appliance; and feel very sheepish when friends ask me to try my hand at, say, blacksmithing, preferring instead to sit by the fire and drink. I'm trying to get better at this, though, because I truly believe a time is coming where the information revolution is not simply not going to open out as freely into a host of opportunities for one like me who wishes to lead a "life of the mind." We are, I suspect, on the cusp of returning to an age in which skilled labor -- be it gardening, blacksmithing, or whatever -- will be valued once again, and the opportunities for intellectual life considerably diminished.

Oh, but crap, I just got distracted -- though I think it is all related to where I'm taking this. For now, though, back to the article. Yes, basically, it's a very interesting story about the recent developments in medication that effectively delays puberty. So, if a girl is experiencing major doubt about her "being a girl," rich parents can insure that her hips won't widen, her breasts won't bud, and she won't menstruate until she's old enough, presumably, to make a more informed and mature decision concerning which gender path she wants to pursue. Same story for boys. (In fact, there is a must-see pictoral progression of photos demonstrating his blossoming into a pretty blonde girl.)

The article itself is interesting enough on its own, but it was made all the more so for me when I read this paragraph:

Few of the transgender adults interviewed for this story said they had the consciousness at such a young age to know what transgender was in the days before Internet communities and Oprah specials, let alone that they would assume this identity. While many concede that kids who receive this treatment will have an easier time in puberty and passing in the years beyond, some question how transitioning so early will change a community where having lived on both sides of the gender line is part of a collective identity.

When I first read this, I took it to mean that some transgender activists were opposed to these treatments, on the basis that the identity of transgender community will be changed. And maybe they are. But now that I read it again, it seems that the use of "question how transitioning so early . . ." maybe points more to simple ponderings about what the identity of the transgender community will look like in coming generations. Either way, it seems inevitable that identity is going to be front-and-center. This, though, just seems fundamentally backwards to me.

It is no secret that I'm not attached to the notion of "identity," and thus do not feel as though the end-all solution for contemporary society is to embrace every new identity that can be imagined or created surgically. The upshot of what I have in mind includes acceptance, but it is not defined by it. It accepts difference, however, not because of a moral imperative, but because the identities that are assumed to lie behind and inform who we present ourselves as simply do not matter. They are as (ultimately) inconsequential as they are inevitable.

I take the position that when/if it is understood that everybody is playing a certain role, which we call an identity, a role that we knowingly either fashion for ourselves or acknowledge has been imposed upon us by history and/or culture (considerably more likely, if we're honest with ourselves), the whole situation in which we role-play is exposed as a necessary fiction. Such a fiction, when we become aware of it as such, is thus open to the thinking of radical change, and to fundamental liberation from the expectations we (and others) have on our bodies and our relationship to these bodies. At first, this comes in the way of imagining a radical change, a seeing beyond what is expected of us (by us and by others), and thus the envisioning of a fundamental liberation from identity. What follows from an imagination unleashed is the democratization of sense and sensibility, and the reminder that our status in the world is a political one. That is to say, democratization is manifest only insofar as there is tension between between ways of conceiving the world, a tension that is in fact the conception of the world -- not merely the proliferation and defense of identity. What follows is a shattering of the mirror, whereby I might look at myself and behold; instead, we have the possibility of finally paying attention to things that matter, things like socio-economic devastation and environmental catastrophe, not to things ephemeral and/or inconsequential, for, like tomorrow, they will take care of themselves w/ or w/out our undivided attention. And in finally paying attention, that is, giving life its due, we participate in the process of creating it anew.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Is Your Life Good?

As I've detailed elsewhere, I'm currently thinking about the relationship of home, labor, and nature -- namely, the degree to which we might resist their being only commodities of trade. Our communities and bodies, expendable for the sake of productivity; the environment in which these communities and bodies live, breath, love, hate, resist, and dissent, reduced to the limits of our perception and expectation, an object to protect or rape, sometimes both at once, but never to acknowledge with the dignity fitting of an active subject in its own right

I am under no illusion that I'm blazing a new trail of insight and research. I'm comforted by this. I've tilted alone at too many windmills in the past, and am comforted that Im not alone this time. I am, for example, very happy there are people like Bill McKibben out there writing books like Deep Economy and articles like this one in Mother Jones.

If we're so rich, how come we're so damn miserable?

In some sense, you could say that the years since World War II in America have been a loosely controlled experiment designed to answer this very question. The environmentalist Alan Durning found that in 1991 the average American family owned twice as many cars as it did in 1950, drove 2.5 times as far, used 21 times as much plastic, and traveled 25 times farther by air. Gross national product per capita tripled during that period. Our houses are bigger than ever and stuffed to the rafters with belongings (which is why the storage-locker industry has doubled in size in the past decade). We have all sorts of other new delights and powers—we can send email from our cars, watch 200 channels, consume food from every corner of the world. Some people have taken much more than their share, but on average, all of us in the West are living lives materially more abundant than most people a generation ago.

What's odd is, none of it appears to have made us happier. Throughout the postwar years, even as the gnp curve has steadily climbed, the "life satisfaction" index has stayed exactly the same. Since 1972, the National Opinion Research Center has surveyed Americans on the question: "Taking all things together, how would you say things are these days—would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?" (This must be a somewhat unsettling interview.) The "very happy" number peaked at 38 percent in the 1974 poll, amid oil shock and economic malaise; it now hovers right around 33 percent.

And it's not that we're simply recalibrating our sense of what happiness means—we are actively experiencing life as grimmer. In the winter of 2006 the National Opinion Research Center published data about "negative life events" comparing 1991 and 2004, two data points bracketing an economic boom. "The anticipation would have been that problems would have been down," the study's author said. Instead it showed a rise in problems—for instance, the percentage who reported breaking up with a steady partner almost doubled. As one reporter summarized the findings, "There's more misery in people's lives today."

[. . .]

If happiness was our goal, then the unbelievable amount of effort and resources expended in its pursuit since 1950 has been largely a waste. One study of life satisfaction and mental health by Emory University professor Corey Keyes found just 17 percent of Americans "flourishing," in mental health terms, and 26 percent either "languishing" or out-and-out depressed.

McKibben goes on to detail the research that has concluded that the breaking point of money buying happiness in any given culture is an income of $10,000 per capita.

"As poor countries like India, Mexico, the Philippines, Brazil, and South Korea have experienced economic growth, there is some evidence that their average happiness has risen," the economist Layard reports. Past $10,000 (per capita, mind you—that is, the average for each man, woman, and child), there's a complete scattering: When the Irish were making two-thirds as much as Americans they were reporting higher levels of satisfaction, as were the Swedes, the Danes, the Dutch. Mexicans score higher than the Japanese; the French are about as satisfied with their lives as the Venezuelans. In fact, once basic needs are met, the "satisfaction" data scrambles in mindlnding ways. A sampling of Forbes magazine's "richest Americans" have identical happiness scores with Pennsylvania Amish, and are only a whisker above Swedes taken as a whole, not to mention the Masai. The "life satisfaction" of pavement dwellers—homeless people—in Calcutta is among the lowest recorded, but it almost doubles when they move into a slum, at which point they are basically as satisfied with their lives as a sample of college students drawn from 47 nations. And so on.

Think about this the next time you're working overtime in order to pay for that new IPhone you stood in line for an hour to get so somebody, anybody, would notice you with it; or those badass Diesel jeans you saw somebody wearing, and that made them look so happy and alive, so attractive of life.

Who is manning the suicide hotline for an entire culture with a pistol in its mouth?

Friday, July 13, 2007

One More Thing

Something I didn't mention in the previous post is that, for all my bluster about San Francisco, Oakland and Emeryville (I'll get to Berkeley some other time), I have to admit that the small island community of Alameda, California is pretty insanely nice. Alameda is two islands, but I've actually only been on one of them. The other one houses the Oakland airport, so I can't imagine it's really a place worth seeing unless I'm in transit to someplace other than the Bay Area.

Ah, but the larger island is a thing to behold. A walkable & bikable community that is completely true unto itself. What I immediately noticed was how few chain stores and restaurants there were. Of course, there is a Starbucks -- but on any given night, the independent coffee shop right down the street does just as good if not better business -- and there are a couple of new shopping centers with places like Applebees and Basken-Robbins, these are so exceptional as to almost be appropriate!

Another striking thing is that Alameda's main street, Park Street, actually has the feel of a destination. Here, there are antique shops, bakeries, taquerias, bookstores, coffee shops, all come together without the precious quality that adheres to the main drag a lot of similar small communities (I'm thinking, for you Ohio residents, specifically about Yellow Springs). You'll find streets like this in campus communities, but rarely in old naval towns. I hope that as the rest of the Bay Area fills up and people look for some bit of sanity in Alameda, it doesn't get raped and plundered.

I don't know what the property value for a house in Alameda is. I did read somewhere that most of the houses are being sold to people already living in Alameda. Hopefully, this trend continues, at least for as long as it can. Because the people of Alameda seem to be among the most pleasant of the Bay. If the majority rise above middle class, it doesn't feel like it. I spend a lot of time over there, at their parks and in their shops, and the absence of a rampant pretentious appreciation of (apparent) socio-economic diversity is very welcome.

Of course, I'm still a newcomer. Perhaps all of these initial reflections are so far off-base as to be absurd, and maybe I'll come to realize this in a year. But for now, the fact that I live just over a small bridge from Alameda pleases me immensely. It has the feeling of an unknown gem. Good thing nobody reads this blog. I'd hate to be the one to give it away.

Summary Version

E-fucking-gads. So sorry, my dear Silentio, you've not been ignored. I check you daily, in hopes that somebody has figured out my login info and posted something meaningful. Every week I sit down with the intention of writing something, doing so, and then closing the Blogger window instead of posting it. I've been in crisis mode for about a couple of months, so bear with me. I didn't really want to put you through that. What then would I have to talk about with those I chat with online?

A summary version of the things I wanted to blog, but never did, is in order.

* * * *

Saw Sicko. It's good, I guess. Well, no, it's good that for whatever reason Michael Moore captures the media's imagination and gets people wondering, Hey, maybe we can do things a little differently and a little better. That's the American way, or at least its hope for itself, a little differently and a little better ... provided it has a huge in-built margin for profit. Anyway, if you didn't know it already, Moore will lean heavily on the French model for health care -- rightly so, it's pretty nice. Don't tell the newly installed French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, though. It'll be fun to watch him try to gut social spending in France in the coming years, in the name of economic prosperity and embracing Third Way liberalism.

* * * *

I'll cut to the chase. I'm not really liking San Francisco. Maybe it's the unemployment, maybe it's the feeling that I'm unemployable. Or, maybe it's the fact that this place is fundamentally over-priced, over-hyped, and over-sold. If you're from here, great. Call it home and love it. If you're not, stay where you are. Make a home and enjoy a community elsewhere. Unless, that is, you want daily to congratulate yourself and your friends on how liberal you are and how backward the rest of the country is. ('Excuse me, Mr. Homeless Man, yes, you can sleep on the front stoop of my million-dollar apartment, and, yes, here's $1, and do you want to sign my petition on a federal law protecting gay marriage? Yay! We're such a happy community here in San Francisco. Oh, and don't piss in the flowers. Do that in Chinatown next time, please.')

Oakland is a bit better, except for the fact that all the sustainable / walkable communities are so fucking expensive. That's also the American way -- one must be able to afford sustainability and good health.

Or, I almost forgot, one can move to a small town just north of Oakland called Emeryville, home to Pixar, which I originally mistook for an enclosed, private garden. In recent years, Emeryville has embraced a bastardized version of new urbanism. The idea as it exists here isn't so much to cut back on suburbanism, or even to create a sustainable community, but simply to get people to live in a tiny town that has no space for rampant suburbanization. What they've done is create a two-or-three block shopping & living district, the ground floor of which functions as a two-or-three block outdoor mall that has two or three floors of apartment space above each store. Here's the thing, though. You're not living above, say, a fruit market, or a butcher, or a hardware store. You're living above The Gap, Abercrombie, Apple, etc. For all the things you need, you'll still need to drive in to Oakland or Berkeley. Ah, but in the event you need a new pair of pants or the new IPhone, they're right downstairs. This is urban progress. It's fucking madness.

* * * *

I really miss an occasional cloudy day. I've not seen a real rain storm since I drove through the Rocky Mountains in May. Every day starting at 3 the sun begins its afternoon onslaught through the curtainless windows of my apartment, shining unabated by clouds onto the tv and computer screen, rendering them useless to human vision, which is fine because I'm a blinded sweaty mess until about 6.30. Every day. I see spots until, and change into a new shirt at, 7.30. I then check the weather report, and see that tomorrow is supposed to be exactly the same, forever, until the end of time.

* * * *

Though I've yet to get anybody in the great state of California, with its robust and promising economy, to even acknowledge the existence of my resume, I was able to get an interview for a teaching job back in England. It went great! Even for a phone interview at 6.30 in the morning, I was really on. My fifteen-minute presentation on 'Developments in Contemporary Theology' was erudite and concise, my answers to their questions were solid, and my questions for them were insightful. Sadly, in spite of this, I didn't get the job, but there were enough practical reasons that this was both a good thing and completely understandable.

A bit less understandable, perhaps, is that a local public library did not rate my four years of library experience and academic research experience even worthy of an interview. I can but imagine that somebody with five years of library experience and two PhDs applied. Or, a dreaded internal candidate. I hate the internal candidate. I curse you all, and hope your company goes out of business in such a horrific way that you've no hope for a pension. Work to 90, you miserable wankers.

* * * *

And lastly, I read Neil Gaiman's American Gods. This is a brilliant book. My wife has been on me to read it for years, fully convinced that I'd love it. I don't think she was prepared for my enthusiasm once I actually did so. I can see actually assigning it, or at least portions of it, should I ever get a chance to teach a course on Religion in America or Survey of World Views. The premise is in the novel's repeated refrain: 'America is no place for gods.' All the ancient gods invoked by America's ancient peoples and not-so-ancient immigrants, they once enjoyed adoration and sacrifice. But no longer. The ancient peoples are dead; the immigrants have been assimilated and forgotten the old ways. The gods originally invoked, be they Norse, or Egyptian, or whatever, they're still around -- they are, however, feeble, and only just getting by on whatever they can get from the few that still remember them. One god, the "all-father" is intent on waging war against the new gods of America, the gods of capital, of media, and industry. Which leads to the climactic battle between, not good and evil, but new and old, a battle that ends suddenly and unexpectedly -- with "the land" getting the final say. Tremendous imagination and insight is at work in this novel, all in a fun and witty story. Very worth your time, even if you're not really into sci-fi fantasy, because the gods know I'm not, and yet I still really dug it.