Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Post National Novel Writing Months

“On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought of writing a novel.”
-National Novel Writing Month Website

By now you are almost through November, NaNoWriMo. Congratulations! With victory in your sights, you may already be planning for life after 12:01 on December 1. Perhaps it’s a spending spree with that big advance. Maybe it’s more traditional post-novel writing pursuits, including drunkenness and bickering. 

Either way, you have lots more unfulfilled dreams. We at NaNoWriMo are here to help. Keep these in mind – and keep going!

December is National Symphony Writing Month. There are 135,000 notes in a typical symphony, which means you should set a daily goal of 4355 notes. Beginners often find themes like “What Happens When We Die?” help, but the key thing is determination. If you’re a “Walking Dead” fan, compose a symphony on surviving and murdering during a zombie holocaust. Don’t worry if the woodwind section doesn’t resolve, or get hung up on what you’ll wear to the gala – the most important thing is to keep going!

January is National Equestrian Statue Sculpting Month. Even if you have only carved fluted columns, heroic busts, or exterior friezes, everyone has inside themselves a larger than life military statue. Tune in to our Webinars to help you carve with confidence. Give yourself a goal of 18,000 chips a day, and stick to it. Declare your intentions, including which historic figure you are commemorating astride a magnificent stallion, on Twitter as reinforcement.

February is National Fundamental Physics Researching Month. Set a goal of reaching further back to the moment of creation by 300 nanoseconds a day. Prepare ahead with the right tools, including a high-energy particle accelerator with a tunnel 27 kilometers (17 miles) in circumference. Keep neighbors abreast of any discoveries on dark matter or new superstring dimensions -- they could be your biggest support group! Supercompute, supercompute, supercomputer!

March is National Lost Civilization Discovering Month. Check Google Maps for unusual mounds, earthworks, or disturbances in jungle canopies. Collect machetes and contract porters. Deploy high-altitude lasers and study fragments of runes for clues. Create a profile on social media. Do not specify which forgotten kingdom you seek – competition has can be unfortunately fierce, particularly in the latter half of the month. You’ll want to be excavating on site by week three, so prepare all necessary inoculations and bribes well in advance.

                                 Note: Artist Reconstruction. Actual size of sharks may vary. 

 April is National Pathbreaking Critical Theorist Month. Set a goal of 200 socially-constructed shibboleths a day. Question your own motivations, in the context of ritualistic sexual behavior in the playlists on the Acela quiet car. Become polysexual. If you are already polysexual, become celibate. Load up on official badges and banners. Moodiness is a great reinforcement. Don’t worry if at mid-month you are still comprehensible. Keep going!

May is National Republican Candidate for President Month.  At present this event is oversubscribed.

June is National Nascar Driving Month. Get inspired with late-night whiskey runs, drag races on packed sand, and impromptu duels at traffic lights. Set a goal of gaining 25 sponsors a day. Place their stickers and logos on your clothing daily as reinforcement. Flaubert claimed to spend an entire morning driving Madame Bovary on one qualifying lap, and the afternoon crossing her out. You do not have his luxury. Pedal to the metal! 

July is National Messiah Month. Decide right now that you have a unique and world-changing revelation from The Almighty. Tell everyone you can as reinforcement. We’ve prepared this tweet to help get you started. Print out and sign this agreement to deliver mankind from millennia of sin and confusion. Rock your apocalyptic intentions with t-shirts for your trusted followers. Share your story with the hashtag #endtimes. 

August is National Political Donation Bundler Month. Stuck for people you can tap for candidate donations of $2300 in a primary? Check out our pep talks from well-known bundlers who started out just like you, and have spent years of obscuring the democratic process. Check out our sponsors, who offer discounts on hall rentals, stretch limousines, and lobbyists. 

September is National Conquer Moscow In a Forced March Month. At 1550 miles from Paris (arrive early for shopping and brioche!), you’ll need to cover about 60 miles a day to have enough time to capture the Kremlin. Fortunately, the kids are back at school, and many districts have resources for child care in the afternoons. Amass an army of 500,000 souls ahead of time. Keep everyone up to date on Pinterest. Take mittens -- others have sometimes run over plan.

October is National Meteorite Catching Month. Decide right now that an ancient mass of primordial elements is headed your way. Set a goal of objects hurtling towards our planet from the frozen depths of space at upwards of 50 kilometers a second. Repurpose March’s earthmoving equipment to construct berms, trenches and other catchments. 

November is National Writing Month, Again. For God's sake, make sure you have something to say. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Rewrite of All Your Pain

“It was me, James…the author of all your pain.”

Welcome, Mr. Bond. What took you so long to find me? 

You have searched for me endlessly, yet I have been here all along. I was at your side in the shadows, never more than two steps away while you carried out Her Majesty’s dirty work, watching you, steering you. And all of my plans unfolded as perfectly as a lotus flower.

I, James, am the author of all your pain.

You never saw me. The parkour battle in Africa, surviving Le Chaffer’s poison at the casino, your fight there in the stairwell. All of it, my work. Your sad little chase, all the way to – where was it? – yes, Bolivia, where there was something about capturing a water supply, and drinking crankcase oil. The fistfight in between monitor lizards at a casino in China. 

All of it always leading you back to where I have always been, with my fingers typing at the keyboard of your destiny. 

Do you recall how the Service “accidentally” booked you in Economy? That was me in the middle seat, wearing the leaky headphones. 

The pain from Vesper will never end, will it? When there is not pain there is grief, and when there is not grief there is sorrow. The heartache I have caused you. Distress. Existential Throbs. Anxiety. As the author of your pain I have spent hours paging through the thesaurus of your pain.

Did you know, James, that Vesper was not even her name? Not in my first draft of your unending pain. While revising your pain I changed her name to sound like an Italian scooter. Do you recall how Bob in the shampoo marketing division, kept saying it wrong when he told his friends the plot? It was like a poppy seed in your teeth, James.

There is no writing of pain, I tell students at my pain writing retreats. There are only new and better drafts of pain. Stay with it. Have faith. Remember why you got into this crazy game. Be ready to throw away pages of unending pain, if they don’t feel right.

It has been…entertaining, authoring your fool’s errand to Barbados, Switzerland, London, Mexico, and Macao from my windowless writer’s room. I smiled as you foolishly saved the world from catastrophe. I snickered as you made love with the world’s most beautiful women. I chortled over our cup noodles while you drank Bollinger with a slightly bruised lip. It’s all so funny really, your pain. Sometimes I forget to laugh.

Yes, “our cup noodles.” We are Spectre, everywhere, with me the sole author. We are many things, mostly dedicated to your pain: counterfeit medicines, human trafficking, child soldiers, mayhem, terror. You may think of us as Santa and his pain elves, producing ricin and replacing printer cartridges as I author more pain. If there is time before your final doom, visit out gift shop: If my calculations are correct, today we are all out of t-shirts in your size, and the credit card machine is down.

You have met members of Spectre, James: Le Chiffre. Mr. White. Rosa Kleb, Julius No, Auric Goldfinger. But authors of your pain? Those puny centipedes want full credit for some bruise on your shin, a sore shoulder, maybe your case of traveller’s tummy. Residuals!. 

Their lawyers wave preposterous email exchanges, their pinched minds are incapable of understanding when we were just sitting around spitballing your pain. Mere ideas about pain are nothing. No one authors pain without getting his butt in a chair and by God authoring pain for hours at a time. I alone claim sole authorship of your pain. Not just now, not just today, but in all forms, digital and otherwise, that shall exist in perpetuity.

How this knowledge that you have been my puppet must sting, James. Here, have some pizza. Oh! Did you burn the roof of your mouth? Let me offer you an off-brand cola. It’s been in the fridge a couple of minutes at least, awaiting its role in your final, painful undoing.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Everything, And Our Problem With That

As everyone knows, the universe is expanding at about 200 million kilometers a month, without stop. Put another way, in the three seconds from the beginning of this sentence to here, it has reached another 310 kilometers, or the length of 6000 Olympic swimming pools. It's grown even more since then, to yet unprecedented size.

We need to face it: We are trapped in a place with extremely serious boundary issues.

The universe's cannibal galaxies, its drifting continents, and numerous celebrities only hint at the number and scale of its egotistical need. Just last July - nothing, within the scale of its estimated 13.9 billion years of hungry existence - we had stories of the unprecedentedly small pentaquark, and the incredibly big Hercules-Corona Borealis Great Wall. Even in our novelty-mad culture, there are few guardrails here. The universe gets bored with its old physical models and laws faster than ever.
Some theories say this universe is just one among a billion billion other universes, popping away like bubbles from some endlessly huge, endlessly shook-up can of soda. Even that, according to more thinking, may be some scrawny fraction of all the other universes.  

And yet even among this staggering multitude, our universe seems unable to stop feeling special about itself. We enablers, cheering it on with our science reports, continually guess about where it came from and where it will be going, like it's some incredible, attention-sucking mystery. It’s not healthy for us, nor for All That Ever Was And All That Will Be.

Don't confuse grandeur with a cry for help.
If we could contact the other universes, they might help us trace the roots of this sad case. They’d probably tell us something about its bulbous sibling (perhaps through hyper entangled subatomic quarks, just spitballing here) that comes down to one word: Overachieving.
Even in its initial Planck Epoch our universe was a showoff. Infinitely hot, infinitely dense. Always displaying its command of all the fundamental laws. By the time the universe was the age of typical human, it had already expanded a trillion trillion trillion times over. How is that supposed to make everybody else feel?

Our best radio telescopes and biggest computers say the universe is 56 billion light years across. It has 100 billion galaxies. It has over 300 sextillion stars. Beyond the furthest reach of our instruments, researchers at CalTech theorize, it has collected uncounted millions of designer shoes, most still in their original packaging. The word “enough” does not figure large in its vocabulary -- which, though it contains every word ever said, happens to be just one more of the Universe’s infinite number of other collections. 

Showoff, yes. But even more, needy.

Its official story is that the Universe emerged out of nothing. Just as likely, the universe was left to fend for itself. Somebody couldn’t keep meeting all those demands. Now it’s endlessly searching, endlessly growing in all directions, trying to please everyone all the time. 

That is another way of saying it's endlessly distancing itself from everything, even Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson. Dr. Tyson costarred with the universe in a hit television production, and while polite about the experience, seems in no hurry to work with The Whole of Reality again.
Hold a mirror up to it, and the universe may find it fears real structural change. It can’t move away from what it knows to do, or expand a the unthinkable velocities that feel safe. Old habits like over salting popcorn or consisting 73% of dark energy may be bad, but they're still hard to break. Losing those last ten pounds is hard, particularly when you encompass the whole of Nature.
At a density of one hydrogen atom per four cubic meters of volume, the Universe is beyond stretched thin. Even from Earth, supposedly a lesser and more obscure planet, anyone can tell it's had work. Probably a good thing, too – if you rule your existence with physical constants that favor gravity among the four fundamental interactions, you pay a price. Gravity always starts out fun, but long term, gravity is a drag.
Once upon a time, when the Universe had youth, looks, and promise, an eventual heat death of endlessly equivalent mass and energy probably sounded romantic, intriguing – and far, far off. Eventually, though, the quasars and the leptons get tired of the looks and the excitement. Like people, they eventually start looking for something like a plan. 

None of this matters as much as what we must do about it. Even when time and space are relative, winners remain fixed on the future.

Don't expect miracles. According to developmental psychologists working at CERN, if you want an eternal manifestation of reality to change deeply, catch it in the first 3 picoseconds. After that, you’re lucky if you get it to stop chewing gum. 

Even that is progress. Stay positive, focus on the healing, and remember: One planetary rotation at a time.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ceci Ce N'est Pas Un Magritte

Last week I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art's modern wing, where pride of place goes to Damien Hirst's stuffed shark:


called, swear to God, "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Something Living."

Being a truculent old crust, I'd rolled my eyes at this one from reading its first description. "He put a big shark in a tank?" I'd said, "And somebody paid big bucks for that? Are there no VFW halls where art collectors come from? No taxidermists?"
Seeing it, I'm a convert. Here's why: The shark looks like utter crap. There's a hole through one fin with stuffing coming out, and the others (used to hold the nylon thread supporting this thing) not much better. The eyes look like they were rejected from a Godzilla movie, and the mouth of the thing is painted a pasty white. The skin is worn. Really, it's more beat up sofa than swimming shark.
And yet -- the object holds people longer than anything else. Men in their early twenties talked about how you'd need to punch the shark in the eye if it swam at you. An art student photographed it on the sly, and another woman had to be dragged away by her boyfriend.
The response, together with the utterly crap condition of the former shark, play well with the title: It's the spectators that are alive, and they are treating this extremely dead object like it's a vital creature. The proof of the title is right there before you.
Modern art is journalism -- it points at the world, making statements about it so we notice things again for a moment -- and this is actually a successful example.
Still don't like his damn boat to the Tate Modern though.

A Trip to Africa (2)

Older Accra, where shop house arcades look like Arab Street in Singapore, 1984. The same colonial architecture -- here the plaster is encrusted or broken, and there is trash on the sidewalks, and people seemingly idle in their empty time. The nearby buildings, instead of Singapore's air-cooled towers, are shacks of plywood scraps that stretch for miles. Looking at both places is like viewing two paths from the same start.

Stuck in traffic at the slums, hawkers of cigarettes, Kleenex, videos, plastic sacks of water, antennas, power cords and ironing boards, walk ceaselessly past. You are in one place, so why shouldn't the mall move around you? Their hope reflected in the shop signs over the converted cargo containers: "God's Time Fashion," "Why Can't I Thank My Jesus Videos," "Lord is My Shepard Saw Sharpening." Or, more starkly, on the rear window of the minibus ahead of me, "After Death Judgment." A large chalkboard at the entrance to the slum, next to yet another Internet café, has the final score of the Chelsea-Liverpool soccer game.

There are goats grazing in the medians of the roads, a cow foraging on busted concrete at the shoreline, chickens free to wander on the steps of the Trade Ministry. Life that might seem quaint and picturesque elsewhere is an antic threat when it comes here, the lunacy of a peasant village slowly taking over a city.

The Chinese are everywhere, buying oil and other minerals, building roads and government buildings, filling the markets with Chinese products. Local textile makers can't compete with the Chinese, same as in America. I note that Chinese foremen run their road-building gangs even on May 1. No one notices the irony.

A Nigerian booster tells me to tell my countrymen to come share the boom. "Americans just get here and talk about how the toilets don't work. The Chinese are already out in the villages." After he is done building six more television stations he will build a movie house showing only Chinese films.

Living in the modern world means embracing contradiction, moving through continual discontinuity, but one notices it better in places like this, or Mumbai, than in London or San Francisco. A telecommunications provider in Accra, K-Net, operates out of an office that seems closer to a quiet corner of a "Mad Max" movie than it does to a Verizon network operations center: the latest equipment is patched to gear 10 years old, and a shed in a back is floor to ceiling with parts cannibalized from even older systems. Some of Ghana's biggest companies rely on them. Supposedly incompatible software packages are hooked together by clever college dropouts, for the sake of putting through the signal. The signal is power.

I have dinner with a man from upcountry who now lives in Accra. Growing up, he sold tooth-cleaning sticks in a market, and dreamed of becoming a dentist. He saved his money and now teaches at a hospital, and runs a software company on the side. He tells me that five hours of sleep is a lot for him. He answers each of my questions with "Yes!" and "Very good!" before he answers. The new dreams tumble from him: An office complex in the country that is solar powered to avoid the terrible government grid, villages of children fed and educated, complex software projects for small businesses. He has no time for African business practices, African mismanagement, African corruption. As I am talking to him I am overwhelmed by the drive. I cannot decide if I am talking to a man on the verge of greatness or bitter disappointment. The dreams and mania of capitalism seem unstoppable.

A drive along the coast to the Cape Coast castle, a processing fort in the slave trade years. All along the coast are slums, prisons, fishing villages and piles of trash. The better homes are inland. It is an older sense of the ocean, the fearful place where land ends. Our love of the shore, our value of it, is a mark of our security. There are a few hotels by the shore, however, where people enjoy the waves, and a few Ghanaian émigrés have retired home in seaside villas they build. Many more are under construction.

I ride with an American who first came here in 1973, and has been involved in USAID, diplomacy, and private business. He has traveled and worked in enough countries that he has strong opinions about Benin, Sao Tome, Swaziland. He has seen bitter disappointment, lost personal friends to political violence in several countries. I ask him what he has learned, and how he can stay positive. "I have learned that it is only a life," he says, and repeats twice, "It is only a life."

"I've understood the psychology if civil wars and coups," the American official, a black guy from Canton, says. "It's wrapped up in the broken promises of the expectations of people who start out with a vision for their country. One emerges as a leader, and 15 others are bitter. They think they are smarter. He starts making decisions as a strong man, without any checks or cooperation. It alienates them and shames them – there is a sense of betrayal, of personal rage."
Our SUV speeds past the shanties and the mud huts, the roadside hawkers of giant snails and roasted grass cutters, which a kind of rodent the size of a small deer. "We put civil wars around the power struggles of a country, but it's just about four guys really," he says. "It's a few individual personalities."

In other words, it's only a life.

He thinks the solution lies in paying off the politicians, guaranteeing them a life and an income after they leave office. We give them an endgame, just as we let our American leaders become highly paid lobbyists, speechmakers at $100,000 a pop.

Cape Coast castle is one of the best-preserved remnants of the old, mysterious Africa's trade in gold, ivory, spices -- and humans, a business with the Europeans that lasted from 1482 to 1807. People were one of the last big products incorporated into the network. They became a bulk of the wealth once the Europeans figured out that they could cut out the Arab middlemen who for centuries had been buying slaves from local people and transporting them across the Sahara.
The ocean is stunning, with 8' waves crashing on the rocks a few yards from the whitewashed castle walls. The site was chosen so that large vessels could not come close, and slaves and other goods were transported in longboats.
The holding rooms are 20x40 with three small openings to let in the rain, used for drinking and washing away the leavings of up to 60 captives at a time. In 1993 archeologists discovered that the dirt floor was 14" above the original stone floor – people had been walking on the composted food, leaves and human waste that accumulated over centuries of trade. The compounded lives.
Our guide, a Ghanaian, was at pains to minimize any local complicity in the trade. Yes, local people worked on the fort, but they did not know its use. The Europeans collected small numbers of people from lots of areas, so the cells became a Babel, and there could be no rebellions. At every turn, the Europeans tried to divide and conquer, he said. What unity there was in the kingdoms was not clear, however.
He often pauses in the monologue for self-examination. "So what I am telling you is…" "I am simply saying that…" "The very truth is that…" It seems like he is stopping to examine his own speech, eager to show its value. The tourists nod, suitably awed and shamed by the relics of suffering.

There is more contradiction and discontinuity. It is impossible to trust anyone who cannot admit the continuous life of evil in all our history, and fear those who believe we are just a few decisive steps from ridding ourselves of it.

Moonlight on the waves seen from the hotel bar, silver on the dark water and the sea spray. The humidity fills with salt and sea spray, and when it catches the moon we are in silver air. Back in my room, the maid comes to turn down my bed. She brings a chocolate bar and a can of Raid.

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Trip to Africa (1)

The Johannesburg airport was very efficient. Within 20 minutes of arrival my driver had my luggage in the trunk of his Toyota. Charles was a very jolly and polite Afrikaner. As we drove aboveground told me about being shot by a white man and saved by a black, about being carjacked when he stumbled between a renegade Zimbabwean soldier and his payroll robbery (he'd had to tell the man how to start the car), and how his injuries and life had been turned around by ballroom dance.

We drove to the Hilton in Sandton, the well-scrubbed and well-guarded enclave where people in my situation usually start. Dinner at a Thai restaurant in Nelson Mandela Square. My host, a Nigerian, displayed his countrymen's passion for meat, and their fearless ambition to shake things up. He has plans to build at least a half-dozen new enterprises in what he sees as a continent made new.

There is a growing consumer market here, and people keen to explore and exploit it. A market researcher named Hubert talks about the entertainment business, and the appeal that gangsta life, the guns and the coke dealing and the bling, holds for hundreds of thousands of young Africans. "It gives them a dream of something better." He meant a hunger for brands, products. I think he is correct.

Another visit, this one to manager at cellular phone company Vodacom. He discusses his company's business in Congo, where the armies of at least five nations are at war. Ten years ago there were 3,000 fixed lines in Congo, and less conflict. Now there are 2 million mobile phones. He taps his laptop and shows me a picture of Vodacom's Kinshasa headquarters: a tall glass buildings with an ugly black hole in the upper left corner. Three weeks before, a Russian-made tank pulled in front of the building and fired a round through it. It was the ruling power, looking for an opposition leader. "It was an honest mistake, they have apologized and they will pay for the damage," he says. "We are still friends."

You will notice, he says, that they did not shoot our switches. The army needs cell phones too. I also notice how calm he is about the whole affair, and wonder what kind of profits it takes for that to happen.

He taps another picture, a rural peasant in front of a big tree. The man had climbed 20 meters into the tree, until he was able to get a signal on his cell phone. He then built a treehouse at that height, and now charges his neighbors to climb up there and make a phone call. That, multiplied by 2 million, is why Vodacom wants to be in Congo, why he is humors a ruling power that shells him. This 45 year-old engineer, high in his Joburg office, is clearly having the time of his life.

One of new Africa's strengths may be individuality. "One thing is for sure," the Nigerian says, "at this point, nobody expects anything from their government.'

A famous restaurant in Soweto. As the center of the anti-Apartheid struggle, Soweto is Africa's most famous ghetto. We lunch in between busloads of tourists there to experience the slum that was the center of the struggle. My host, and Anglo-Ghanaian, was slightly embarrassed. At least, he pointed out to me on our way out, the second busload consisted of American blacks, not middle-aged American whites.

The nuisance bird here, the crow and the jay, is a medium-sized gray ibis. They tend to stay on the lawns, and off the high walls around every home and business – too much barbed wire and jagged glass. The birds have that same honking screech as our American birds, though they are even more oblivious and bold.

Business signs: "Security and house cleaning." "Firearms training and mobile phones."

It is 2 AM at a Johannesburg dance club. It is completely mixed black and white, everyone welcome and basking in the dream of unity and reconciliation, the best and most powerful part of the country's new political identity. The owner, a Frenchman, tells me that his club is South Africa's biggest importer of Veuve Cliquot champagne. One of the dancers shouts into my ear, barely loud enough to be heard: "You know what ended Apartheid? Brands. Nike. Coke. Everyone agreed on that." Brands, he thinks, will be the new music publishers, purveyors of all sorts of information. They are how we will organize out lives.

If brands unify the top of the New South Africa, poverty is the threatening source of rage. There is 27% unemployment, 90% in remote areas. It is the counterpart to the promise of healing, and it is not just a national problem, nor at a caliber most Americans understand. There are AK-47s left over from the horrible last years of apartheid, more guns from the wars in Mozambique and Angola, men with government-issued guns drifting down from the unraveling of Zimbabwe. And of course, guns issued to the many private security services. I go to dinner at friend's house and pass three security checkpoints and two spiked walls. At the heart of all the security is by all appearances a middle class English home, decorated with tasteful African carvings and baskets.

I ask my Ghanaian friend what it is like to be in a business that seems so promising, with the knowledge that 25% of his audience has AIDS. "Well, they will die," he says with a matter-of-fact seriousness. "Other people will take their place."

And he is right, I realize: Sentimentality is a luxury commodity. In the past 15 years, 5.3 million people have been killed in just six wars here – almost twice the number of slaves transported to North America from West Africa in all the centuries of slavery. To move forward, sentimentality is forbidden.

Before I left, many people who had been to Africa would at some point grow slightly misty and distant, and would tell me how it would "change" me. Meaning that my humanity would deepen by my witnessing timeless suffering; I would bear silent awe at the power to continue in the face of so much poverty and dashed hope. Such feelings are true, possibly even ennobling. But they came from people who were in this landscape by choice, and with their nobility was mindful of nearby air conditioners and potable water.

A farmer outside of Johannesburg is in some ways like a farmer everywhere: Business is terrible. The costs are killing him. He proudly displays an expensive and brand-new barn. Fearful of robberies, his field hands are no longer paid in cash, but instead now collect wages of about $200 via messages into their cell phones and ATM cards. The workers tell me the like it much better, though the illiterate ones have a hard time memorizing the prompting commands on the phones.

We fly north towards Ghana over tabletop land. Away from Johannesburg's hills of sand -- tailings from the mines, even in town -- the land is flat and empty. I look for habitation or a road as the sun goes down and we fly into Namibia. For more than an hour there is nothing. Later I spy a light in the darkness, a straight string of lights – a town, a village in the early dark. I imagine people gathering at the end of the weekend, the expectation of cars coming home. Then another string of lights, a perfect line, and then a crosshatch of orange lights with a green glow at each end. They are oil rigs, Angola's offshore oil bonanza. We are over the Atlantic.

We get off the plane in Accra at 10 PM to a punishing, puzzling humidity – such forceful heat that you want an explanation. Immigration officers display the storied national trait of hospitality and banter. A sign behind them encourages pedophiles to return home. Another reads "Smuggling? You will be caught – good luck," which seems excessively sporting.

I check into my hotel, a complex by the ocean with uneven Internet access. The phone rings at 2.30 AM. "Sir, I need the details of the woman you are with." -?- "…do I have the right person…sir, do you have a hat?" -?- "I am very sorry sir, I have the wrong room." The phone rings again a moment later. "Sir there is a woman who wishes to knock on your door. We have sent her away."

I lie awake for a long time, attuned to the meaningless and the sinister in a country I will not understand.

The morning radio leads with news of a trade fair – that Socialist-minded kind of prioritizing I remember from Singapore, and other remnant nations of the Empire. It adapted well from colonialism to self-rule. Still, it feels better than listening to the next station on the dial, a rapid and rugged French that I can't understand – signals from Cote d'Ivoire, now at the tail end of its civil war.

The hotel contains convention rooms, a business center, three restaurants, a bar, a business center, and twin guard towers flanking the beach side corners. Much of the time I am the only guest, and the guard is kind about letting me share the view from her post. A half-dozen of 20 tables are set at breakfast, and though the food is excellent we dine in slightly embarrassed melancholy. It is hard not to feel small and somewhat defeated, aware of the old expectations of important events, the commerce and celebrations expected as Ghana found its rightful place on the map.

The best people in places create a mood of waiting for the greatness so powerful that they themselves believe it. The staff responds to them instinctively. Black moths circle in the upper hallway, seeking refuge from daylight.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Aphorisms & c. (8)

The terrorist seeks to say “no” to History. Nothing more.

The market is a terrorist of necessity. All made new.

We are the creatures who wonder about “more.” It is around us, always.

A conversation you will never hear: “We have developed a new technology.” “Really? For God’s sake, keep it away!”

20 years ago I could read Pascal like a contemporary. Now I read him as if he is as remote as a classical Hindu. We have stepped into a new world.

Consider yourself to be among the dammed, and you assure yourself that the world was more than chaos.

Man is man and God is God. So all man’s logic must end in lunacy.

God is God, and not man. All God’s logic is comprehensive and infinite, and thus incomprehensible to man. Yet we would kill, based on our understanding of his logic.

Certainty is the greatest affectation.

We bask in the tyranny of the click, television channel and website, to concentrate away from the invisible worlds around us. Abandon fear, the information is at hand.

Embrace fear – it is information that your life may be about to change.