Pangolo Junction
Life, arguments, and kunu... with Max, Nat and Zack

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Toxic Gist

(Hello... and I have to commend you on your impeccable timing, as you are just in time to see our three friends at their usual table in the Junction. Max and Nat are hunched close to a fourth person who seems to be barely able to contain his excitement, while Zack looks on at the proceedings with some distaste.)

Nat: So Jonah... what it is you have for us this evening? On your way in, you said there was some hot gist to tell.

Jonah: Yes o... this gist is hot!

Nat (impatiently): Eh, so don't waste our time, now - let the gist flow!

Zack (disdainfully): You guys should be ashamed of yourself. Listening to gossip, like old women.

Max: Nonsense - this is not gossip. It is factual and analytical gist, delivered by one of the most reputable and established spreaders of gist in town (gestures to Jonah). In the West, they have the Internet - in Nigeria, we rely on people like him.

Jonah: Abi o, Max! I tell you, this gist is red hot... smoking hot! It is so hot that it is making my insides vibrate like the engine of an okada doing 160 an hour!

(There is a period of silence as Max and Nat look on at Jonah expectantly.)

Nat (breaking the silence): Well...? Are you going to talk or not? Or has the gist become so hot it has burnt your tongue?

Jonah (smiling): No... I'm just letting the gist simmer in my head for a while to give it more 'flavour'. (Closes his eyes and carries on smiling.)

Zack: More likely, he's thinking of more 'fabu' to add!

Max: I'm warning you... for keeping us on edge like this, this gist had better be worth it!

(Jonah opens one eye, winks at Max and closes his eyes again. Finally, when it appears that their patience has reached breaking point, Jonah snaps both eyes open.)

Jonah: OK, I've had a rethink. Perhaps I shouldn't tell you guys the gist after all.

(There are howls of anger from Max and Nat on hearing this.)

Max: You're a useless man! How can you dangle juicy gist like this in front of us and then yank it just as our jaws are about to close round it?

Zack (smirking): Serves you both right. So Mister Gister, what made you change your mind?

Jonah: I'm sorry, but it just occurred to me that if this gist gets heard by the wrong person, there could be... consequences.

Nat: What sort of consequences?

Jonah (with a knowing look): You know what I mean... consequential kind of consequences.

Zack: Consequences for who? You?

Jonah: Look, the gist is about one prominent person - let's call him Chief X - who is involved in a scandal. If I reveal the gist, I could put the source of the gist in trouble - Chief X will find out who leaked the story and descend heavily on him.

Nat: Eh, don't worry. Your secret is safe with us - we won't tell.

Jonah: Ah - I can't take that chance o. It's not that I don't trust you - but I know how difficult it is to keep hot gist like this inside. Look at me, for example - see how I was burning to share the gist. And if I hadn't reconsidered at the last moment, I would have shared it too!

Zack (annoyed): I don't know what your problem is. Surely if this your Chief X is involved in a scandal, you should be thinking about the greater good - how to expose him, not how to protect your source.

Nat: Zack, I'm surprised at you. Doesn't the violation of trust mean anything to you? How would you feel if you told me something, and I broadcast it to the whole world?

Zack: Nonsense. (Turns to the others.) Tell me, if someone swore you to secrecy then told you that they were going to kill an innocent man, are you telling me that you would stand by and do nothing?

Max: Ah - that is a toxic secret o. I would rather not even be told about that.

Jonah (mockingly): Well, look at you. Were you not the one complaining about me keeping you on edge? You didn't even try and find out whether I was going to deliver toxic gist.

Max: Well, as the deliverer of the gist, it is your duty to tell your audience how radioactive your gist is before we decide whether we want to hear it. We can't read your mind, you know.

Jonah (shrugging): And how do I know what exactly qualifies as radioactive gist? Look at your friends (gestures to Zack and Nat who are still arguing over whether it is right or wrong for Jonah to reveal his information). If they can't decide, how can I?

But it's too late anyway. As far as consequences to yourself are concerned, telling you that I have this radioactive gist is as good as telling you the gist itself.

Max (alarmed): Haba! What are you talking about?

Jonah (smiling): Well, think about it. If the gist were to leak out through some other means, Chief X would start trying to find out who else knows about the gist so that he can silence them. Of course, he would know that I know, and therefore he would know that you know as well. Prominent people in this our society can be very... persuasive... in getting you to reveal information. And I can assure you, this man is very persuasive... with a lot of thugpower at his disposal.

Zack (pausing in his argument with Nat to turn to Jonah): For someone who might be 'persuaded' any moment, you don't sound worried at all.

Jonah (still smiling): Oh, there's nothing really terrible about the whole persuasion process, as long as I play ball and tell him what he wants - the thugpower is just in case I'm stupid enough to be heroic about it all.

Max: But there's no need to tell them the truth - you can just simply say you haven't told anyone his secret.

Jonah (smiling sadly): You see, the problem is that people have already seen me talking with you. They may not know anything of what we've said, but they'll certainly report back to Chief X that we spoke... so it would look bad for me if I didn't reveal this if he questions me.

Max (getting desperate): Eh, can't you say that we were talking about something else?

Nat (grinning): Max, relax - I'm sure that getting beaten up is a not as bad as it sounds. After the first few blows, I'm sure you won't feel a thing.

Max (angrily): Be laughing there. You think you aren't affected? People would have seen Jonah talking not just to me but to you as well!

Nat (suddenly panicky): Eh, yes - we are talking about something else! (In a raised voice, presumably to draw people's attention) Er... oh yes, did you watch that match between Chelsea United and Manchester Villa? Very interesting football match!

(Max and Zack are mortified and hide their faces, while Jonah's voice rings out with laughter.)

Nat (carrying on in the same loud voice, oblivious to Max and Zack's reaction): Yes, very interesting match. Did you see how Manchester Villa were awarded a penalty after they got three corners in a row?

(At this juncture, several people in the bar are sniggering. Zack cannot hide his embarrassment any longer and grabs Nat's shirt.)

Zack (hissing with anger): Will you shut up! You're disgracing all of us here.

Nat: But aren't you worried about the threat of violence?

Zack (still angry): Which threat? Jonah is just having fun at your expense, that's all. (Jonah chuckles as if in confirmation.) How realistic is it that this fictitious person will send his thugs after everyone who might have heard his secret? Not only will he have to send them after every person that that Jonah has spoken to, but he will also have to send them after every person that every person that Jonah has spoken to has spoken to as well.

But the real reason Jonah brought all that up was (turns to Jonah) you don't want to answer my question: why are you hiding information that could expose a criminal? It is this attitude that we have of going 'sofry, sofry' with our leaders that allows them to get away with murder!

Jonah: Come on, my friend. This is gist - it may be true, but it's not court-room standard evidence. Do you seriously believe that you could convict this man on the basis of gist?

Zack: You may not convict him, but revealing the information will help to stir up people to indignation, and this may drive some of them to seek a conviction by looking for evidence.

Nat: That's very unfair. First of all, the gist is unverified. Secondly, it biases the people against the person, so they might even end up fitting whatever evidence they find to match the crime that he is accused of.

Max: I don't care whether the man is guilty or not. What concerns me is that there is gist to be heard and I cannot hear it. Did you actually promise your source not to reveal anything?

Jonah: No... but sometimes, you can tell when it is all right to reveal something or not by judging what will happen if you do reveal.

Max: Can't you just 'leak' the gist? After all, there's no way that prominent person could know that it was your source in particular that revealed the information - anyone could else could have done it. Just drop a few hints... you don't need to name names or places.

Jonah: Well, my source is one of a small circle of people who knows about it. If the story leaks, Chief X will likely use his thugs to beat the truth out of each of the people in this circle until he finds out who divulged the information. But wait - you have an idea there. I guess I could modify the story to protect the 'guilty'.

Nat: I'm beginning to wonder... what was the point of your source giving you this gist if you can't spread it in its true form?

Zack: Yes, I was thinking about that. Perhaps I think your source must have been burdened with the need to share it with someone... and that someone was you. And now you are burdened with the need to share it with someone too. So it looks like his reasons for sharing it were more selfish than you would think.

Nat: In fact, the more I think about it, the less I want to hear it. I don't really fancy having this gist that is burning inside me that I can't share with anyone else.

Zack: And since you know that I want to go public with this, there's no point in sharing it with me. So maybe Max will be willing to be your 'confessor'.

Max: Yeah, don't mind them. Abeg, let's hear the gist - adulterated or not!

(Jonah leans close to Max and begins to whisper into his ear. Max's expression changes from excitement to puzzlement and finally disappointment.)

Max (when Jonah has finished): Is that it? Is that all there is?

Jonah (satisfied): Yeah - what do you think?

Max (shaking his head): Jonah, you're losing your touch. This is old gist - and it's not even true. (Turns to Nat and Zack.) Remember that story that was going round last year about Chief Okorie who was involved in ritual murder? Well, he's changed the names, but essentially, it's the same story.

Nat (mockingly): Jo-nah! All that drama just for this!

(Jonah gives Max an odd look.)

Jonah: Is that what you think the story is about?

Max: Well, yes - isn't it?

Jonah: OK, if that's what you think, don't worry. Anyway, now that I've delivered my gist, I have to go now - I'll see you all soon. (He gets up, turns to look at Max again with an unreadable expression, then walks out.)

Zack: I wonder what all that was about? Why was he talking like that?

Max: I don't know. Basically, he was telling me...

Nat and Zack (together, waving him off): Wait o! Wait!! STOP!!! We don't want to hear your gist - it's toxic! (They both get up and leave before Max can say anything more.)

Max (musing to himself): Well, let's see... did I get the story wrong? Well, he spoke about a prominent chief who sent his men to kill other people... he didn't really mention the word 'ritual', so perhaps I was wrong there. I think he also said that this chief was planning to kill one or two other people as well, especially one who he had recently done a deal with over some electronic spare parts, because the parts were inferior. Hold on o... didn't I recently do a deal involving spare parts? Who was the person I dealt with now... I can't remember his name, I think he must have been fronting for someone. (Thoroughly alarmed now) Supposing I am the one Chief X is after? I must get in touch with Jonah and find out. I hope he hasn't gone far. Jonah! JONAH!! (He gets up and runs out of the Junction shouting.)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Daily Amebo - Government Sets Out 'Fuel for All' Plan

Dear Reader,

I'm sorry that due to a snowstorm of commitments, I'm not going to be able to recount the goings-on in the Junction this week. However, rather than leave you with a blank page, I've decided to publish this article which is a satirical take on the Nigerian Government's handling of the fuel shortages. I hope you enjoy it, and I hope to be back next week with more tales out of Pangolo Junction.



The Daily Amebo - Government Sets Out 'Fuel for All' Plan

By Basketmouth Jagbajantis

Staff Reporter

Concerned by the incessant fuel shortages being experienced in the country, the Minister of Energy, Dr. Edmund Daukoru has set out a 'Fuel for All' strategy to solve the problem once and for all.

Addressing journalists at a press conference held today, Dr. Daukoru said that he had been personally ordered by the President to devote his energies to dealing with this problem once and for all, now that the president has been informed of how serious it is. "I have it on good authority" said Dr. Daukoru, "that the President was notified of the fuel crisis while he was abroad attending an international convention on the Blueprint for the Evolution of Good Governance in the African Region held in Washington, D.C, where he was photographed no less than twenty-seven times with various global movers and shakers.

"In fact, he was notified by no less a personality than his good friend, President George Bush of America who was the host at the conference. Mr. Bush seemed surprised to see him at the conference, and asked him whether he had managed to obtain the aviation fuel needed to fly to America on the black market. When the President expressed ignorance of what he was talking about, Mr. Bush joked that he must have made a mistake, and that of course the eighth largest exporter of crude oil in the world couldn't really be suffering from a shortage of petroleum products.

"Anyway, as soon as he returned, the President ordered a high-level enquiry on the situation, and after months of deliberation and investigation, I am glad to announce to all that he has concluded that the stories of a persistent shortage of petroleum products are indeed true. This means that we can now proceed to take action to deal with the problem."

Dr. Daukoru announced that the first step to be taken would be declare than henceforth, petroleum products would be given away free of charge. "In the course of our investigations," he went on "we found out that high prices on the black market and fuel shortages seemed to go together. We also found out that lower prices on the general market and general fuel availability also seemed to go together. We therefore concluded that that the lower the price, the more available the fuel seemed to be. Consequently, we have decided to make the fuel free so that the availability will reach infinite proportions."

But Dr. Daukoru said that this regime of free fuel will have to be carefully managed. "As I speak," he said "there are enemies of this nation - I will not mention names, but the retired customs official knows himself - who are plotting how they will cause these measures to fail for no other reason than being bitter, jealous, inadequate and frustrated at the achievements of the President. It is for this reason that we will have to take special care to ensure that the fruits of this new measure are enjoyed by all."

Dr. Daukoru then declared that with immediate effect, all supplies of refined petroleum product would henceforth be transported to Abuja and stored in a huge underground reservoir to be constructed in the backyard of Aso Rock for this purpose. The President would personally watch over this reservoir day and night with cutlass in hand if need be. In fact, he had declared that he would treat it like one of the chickens on his Ota farm, and woe betide the bunkerer who thought he was smart enough to steal a gallon or two of petrol. "As the President put it, 'he will see the naked redness of my eyes'", finished the Minister.

When asked how Nigerians were expected to enjoy the benefits of the free fuel if it was under lock and key at Aso Rock, Dr. Daukoru said that anyone who wanted fuel was free to travel to Abuja and pick it up. "After all, since fuel is now free, the transport fare to Abuja should be ridiculously low, enabling Nigerians far and wide to travel to partake of this latest 'dividend of democracy'. However, anyone intending to pick up fuel would have to submit themselves to inspection by the President to ensure that they were not planning to use it for nefarious purposes "such as supporting certain ex-customs officials".

Dr. Daukoru went on: "Not only will there now be free fuel widely available, but now fatal explosions resulting from vandalised pipelines will be a thing of the past. And eventually, in phase two of his plan, the President even plans to dig up the entire Niger Delta - minus militants, of course - and move that also to the backyard of Aso Rock for safekeeping, so that oil companies can drill in safety without worrying about being kidnapped. So as you can see, all angles have been covered to ensure that Nigerians continue to enjoy access to abundant fuel."

As might be expected, reaction to the news has been mixed. While most Nigerians welcome the news that fuel is to be made free, there are some who are concerned about the repercussions of moving the entire country's fuel supply to Abuja. The Daily Amebo spoke to Kola Adenekan, a self-described "common man", on the streets of Lagos, and he said that it showed that the President was a listening president. "But he should complete what he has started. Instead of just making the petrol free, he should also give each Nigerian N500 along with each litre of petrol that we collect. After all, we should have our own share of the national cake", he finished, to cheers of bystanders.

There was some disagreement expressed with this view by Emeka Onuora, an importer of fuel. "This is an outrage!" he exclaimed. "The government is going to put Nigerians like me out of business! How will I be able to feed my family? Moreover, how can the government afford to spend so much money either refining or importing fuel only to give it away free? This is madness! Madness!!" However, he was unable to finish his speech, as he was cut off by booing, jeering and shouts of "Exploiter! Exploiter!!" from bystanders.

"If Obasanjo likes, he can hide the fuel in his underpants - we shall definitely find a way of bunkering it", said Hassan Okwego, Chairman of the National Association of Bunkerers, in reaction to the announcement. "We shall deploy our extensive resources to bribe, flatter, beg, threaten or cajole our way into that reservoir. And once we have access to the fuel in there, we shall bunker to our hearts content."

The reaction from Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta was more even more hostile. "If the President thinks he can uproot the Niger Delta and leave us behind, then he has lost all touch with reality", spokesman Jomo Gbomo declared. "In case he has forgotten, we are the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. In other words, our main mission is to emancipate the Niger Delta, whether it is looking out on the Gulf of Guinea or securely locked in some mad man's backyard. And emancipate we shall!

"Indeed", he went on, "after the successful emancipation of the Niger Delta, we may decide that the initials M, E, N and D still have a useful purpose - except that they will now stand for Movement for the Emancipation of Nigerian Diesel from the Aso Rock reservoir. After all, it is the least we deserve after our land has been ravaged by oil exploration."

However, there were some people who gave their complete and total support to the new measure. Speaking from his newly acquired mansion located a stone throw from Aso Rock, Brigadier-General (Apostle (Chief)) Kanganka O. Kanganka (rtd.), a seasoned political veteran said: "Yet again, this government has shown us how masterful it is solving problems that have defeated lesser administrations. I tell you, this strategy is absolutely petrolicious! It is kerosational! It is... it is.. dieselightful! In fact, to show my solidarity with the President, I shall be recommending my services in personally transporting a huge chunk of the fuel to the reservoir."

When asked whether he was not concerned about the danger of concentrating such a large amount of fuel so near a residence, Air-Vice Marshal (Engineer) Kanganka (rtd.) shook his head, smiled and said: "You journalists have come with your scepticism. Tell me, in the history of the universe, have you ever heard of an explosion happening when a reservoir is built near a Head of State's residence? No? Exactly. So don't worry... everything is going to be all right."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Who are You?

(Hello again. You join me just as Nat is walking into the Junction to meet our two other protagonists.)

Nat: Hello, guys! (Takes a seat.) I've just had this very strange encounter.

Zack: What happened?

Nat: Well, I met this guy I haven't seen since my uni days. We used to be very good friends, so I was very happy to meet him again, except... (a puzzled look comes over Nat's face)

Zack: Except what?

Nat: Except he didn't seem to recognise me at all. He said yes, he went to the same university and yes, he also studied electrical and electronic engineering, but no - he didn't recall seeing someone like me.

Max (incredulously): Really? Perhaps he was 'taking style' to snub you?

Nat: Well, no... he looked just as puzzled and as anxious to clear up the mystery as I did. Very strange indeed.

Zack: Perhaps he did study the same course at the same university as you, but he did this in a different year and you have confused him for your friend?

Nat: Hm... that's possible. I didn't ask him which year he attended the uni. But it just shows that faces aren't as reliable an indicator of identity as most people seem to think.

Zack: But they are still very reliable in the overwhelming majority of cases. Think about it - isn't that why you're so surprised that you've got it wrong today?

Max: Well, they may be reliable today - but who can tell what will happen tomorrow? With the growth of plastic surgery, perhaps in a hundred years time you'll have people changing their appearance like they change their clothes. (Grins) That'll be sweet if you want to avoid your creditors.

Nat: Well, that may not be such a good idea. Remember, just as your creditors will find it more difficult proving that you are you, so also you will find it more difficult proving to your debtors that you are you.

Max: That can easily be dealt with. You'll send a message out to all your debtors that you plan to change your appearance, and you'll include a photo of what you plan to look like.

Zack (grinning): Ah, but then an enterprising debtor might demand for a discount in his debt and threaten to reveal to your creditors what your new appearance will be if you don't agree to his terms.

Max: Ever heard of the phrase "the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing?" Would I be so stupid as to tell my debtors who my creditors are?

Nat: Or he might decide that "what is good for the creditor is good for the debtor" and decide to change his identity without telling you.

Max: Hmm... well, it's clear that we won't be able to rely on faces as a means of identifying people. I can imagine that there'll be all kinds of interesting fallout as a result - I'm thinking of those situations where a man and woman who have undergone plastic surgery are attracted to each other purely on the basis of looks. They might be thinking "I want to marry this person because we're going to have really beautiful children". So they go ahead and get married, but when they have children...

Nat (laughing): It'll be a case of the wind blowing and exposing the nyash of the fowl when they see how unbeautiful their children are! You can change your face, but you can't change your genes.

Zack: So perhaps genetic testing will become a standard way of identifying who people are?

Nat: I don't know... it might be appropriate for situations where you need to formally identify someone, perhaps if a serious financial transaction is supposed to take place - but I can't see it being used in more informal, social situations. All that cutting, spitting and pin-pricking to get hair, saliva and blood for testing would be too awkward and cumbersome.

Max (making a face): Not to mention disgusting and potentially unhygienic. Anyway, it won't work in Nigeria. Too many people will be worried about their body parts ending up in some shrine or other.

Zack: So perhaps a better way of identifying people is how they behave in various situations and what memories of their experiences they have. For example, let's say someone rang you and said they were me. Then you'd try and find out if they know certain things that you know only I know about. (Grinning) Or if they said they were Max, you could respond by saying "This is Nuhu Ribadu of the EFCC calling to enquire about one or two questionable deals you've made in the past". If the phone line went dead before you had finished saying "Ribadu", then you would know it was Max for sure.

Max (smiling wryly): The phone line would go dead, because I would realise that I'd dialled a wrong number and got a joker on the line - Nuhu Ribadu would never say that, since he knows that all my deals are always above board.

Nat: That's an interesting idea - identifying people based not on their physical characteristics but on what you remember of their behaviour. I'm thinking about how this gives rise to the idea of virtual identities that are less tied to a person's physical being but are more tied to their words and behaviour.

In fact, with the the proliferation of online forums, e-mail and long distance phone calls where people interact without seeing each other, these are becoming more important. Someone who communicates using these means may never have seen the person he's talking to, but he still has a very firm idea of that other person's virtual identity - simply because of what he remembers of that other person words and behaviour from previous interactions.

And as the use of the virtual identities grows, you'll have different types of identities developing... people having several virtual identities... several people collaborating to create a single virtual identity... mass produced identities... throwaway identities... fictional identities... identities created by identities... and it'll be difficult telling one identity apart from another.

Max: I can imagine. For example, you could read a story about three identities who sit down in a bar and discuss whatever topic happens to be floating around in their heads, and you could end up wondering whether they're fake, real or a mixture of the two.

Nat: True. And I haven't even begun to talk about the kinds of virtual relationships these identities will form. I don't think they'll be any less intense than relationships in the real world - you only have to look at how people insult and curse themselves out on online forums - but I think that as people invest more and more of themselves in these virtual relationships, they'll want to know whether the person behind the identity is real or fake so that they know that their investment is worthwhile.

Zack: Why can't they just meet the person in the flesh? You guys are just going over the top with all this talk of virtual identities.

Nat: Why? How about lack of time? Or lack of money to make a long distance flight?

Max: Not to mention lack of visa. Or even lack of desire to meet the person.

Nat: Lack of desire? Surely there comes a time when where you absolutely want to see the face and hear the voice behind the identity.

Max: Not necessarily. Sometimes, you just know the reality cannot match the hype - and you really don't want to find out how far the reality is from the hype. There was this girl who I was once corresponding with online who I definitely didn't want to meet, because I sensed she was 'fronting'...

Zack: ...or more likely, you were 'fronting' and you didn't want to be found out!

Nat: But back to the real world of flesh and blood, and I guess that Zack is right. If someone believes that only you know certain things and only you behave in a certain way, then if you can show him that you know those things and behave in that way, he'll decide that you are you.

Max: It's a bit risky to rely too heavily on what someone says to decide he is him. For example, look how a con man operates if he wants you to think that he is another person. He first finds out a few significant facts that the person knows, and then he mentions those facts to you in order to convince you that he is that person.

Zack: That's true o. How come he can successfully pass himself off as the person even though he only knows a few facts about the person?

Max: Well, you have to look at how he does it. First of all, the few facts he knows are usually highly significant, and he can combine that knowledge with open-ended questions to get more information from you about the person. Secondly, the facts he has have a short shelf-life, so he's under pressure to make them pay dividends fast. He usually does this by injecting a huge dose of emotion to help him - like greed, when he says you are about to win a million naira - or fear, when he says your father is on his death bed.

Nat: And when emotions enter the picture, they end up scrambling your brain so that you completely forget about asking him lots of questions to determine whether he really is the real deal.

Max: But let's not assume that having someone assume your identity is always a bad thing. Look at students who aren't smart enough to sit an exam - that's why some of them get someone else to pretend to be them to sit it for them instead.

Zack: That may be good for the student - but it's bad for potential employers who will employ this dim student based on the grades that someone else got for him.

Nat: Yep - no matter how you slice it or dice it, there's always the potential for someone to suffer when identities get confused, whether by accident or design. And that's because every time you mistake a person for someone else, you say or do the wrong thing based on your ideas about how that person should or shouldn't behave.

Max: So all this identity palaver is really just to help you decide how you should behave towards someone?

Nat Yeah... pretty much so.

Max: And the decision you take is based on the assumption that a person with a particular identity will always behave in a particular way, so a particular response from you is appropriate for that particular behaviour, right?

Nat: Er, yeah... look, where is this leading up to?

Max: I was just thinking... supposing I vary my behaviour so randomly that nobody can predict how I will behave ten minutes from now? Then instead of having one coherent identity, it will be like I have many short-lived identities following each other in rapid sequence. There would be no point in trying to tag me with an identity, since that identity wouldn't tell me anything about me.

(Smiling) Then I would be free to do whatever I liked... slap a mobile policeman in the face... eat at a fast food restaurant and leave without paying... break noisy wind in a jam-packed danfo... and if anybody challenged me, I could say "That wasn't me. That was my identity of ten minutes ago."

Nat: Well, I can spot at least one flaw in your plan - you might be able to get away with all sorts of things, but conversely only someone of unsound mind will now want to have dealings with you. How would they know which of your many serial identities they would be dealing with?

Zack: And enlarging on the theme of unsound minds, there can only be one way for the public to regard a person who is so suicidally reckless that he slaps a mobile policeman and excuses himself by saying it was one of his multiple identities that was responsible. In fact, for you to have thought of this idea, one of your more insane short-lived identities must be taking over already...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

The Empire of Wiu-Wiu

(Zack, Nat and Max are sitting at their regular table discussing goodness-knows-what. Just then Nat gestures to Zack to stay still.)

Zack: Wha - what's going on?

(Nat frowns and even more insistently motions to him to keep still, while his eyes are trained on Zack's face. Suddenly, Nat deals Zack a heavy slap. Zack falls out of his chair, exclaiming in anger, shock and hurt.)

Zack (scrambling to his feet): Are you crazy or what? What was that for?

Nat (apologetically): Sorry, Zack - but there was a mosquito feeding on your neck. Unfortunately, you moved at the last moment and I missed. At least I don't think it got the chance to suck any of your blood - are you itching?

Zack (irritably): Did you have to use so much force? Are you sure it was only the mosquito you wanted to kill? Why stop there - why not carry the whole table and use it to break my head?

Max (grinning): What's your problem? Do you expect him to stroke the mosquito and gently beg it to come into the warm embrace of his killer palm?

Zack (jokingly): Take your time o! If you keep on talking like that, I might 'discover' that there are mosquitoes which have settled on your arms, head, neck, legs and body - mosquitoes which need to be killed with - very - heavy - slaps and blows.

Max (in mock surprise): You - you mean would actually do that for me? You would be willing to place your life at risk by undertaking the suicidally dangerous task of slaying the deadly killer mosquito? I'm truly touched. Indeed, I say unto you, greater love hath no man than this, that he be willing to stain his hand with a mixture of mosquito and human blood for his friend.

Nat: I'm a bit surprised that this mosquito didn't announce its arrival in its usual manner before settling on you, Zack. Did you not hear anything?

Zack: No... it may have just been too noisy. But that just shows you how stupid mosquitoes are, anyway. Flying around with that whine before biting is just like a thief sending you an appointment letter before burgling your house.

Max (shrugging): Who knows? Perhaps the whine serves as a decoy. Maybe mosquitoes operate in pairs... one mosquito says "OK, Iiiwuwiwu, I'll distract him by buzzing around his ears, and while he's waving me away from his face, you bite his feet." The mosquito may not be as stupid as we think.

Zack: Come on, Max - don't complicate a simple scenario. There is no point to the whine - the mosquito is simply too stupid to realise that its noise not only reduces its chances of getting a meal, but drives human beings so crazy that they declare all out war and try and stamp it out.

Nat: Really? I thought that the reason that we were trying to exterminate the mosquito was because it spread malaria - at least in this part of the world.

Max: We're trying to exterminate the mosquito? Nobody told me about that. I thought that with all the open gutters and floods around, the state government had launched a special 'Mosquito-Breeding' program. I don't quite know why, though - perhaps the government is tired of begging parents to bring their children for vaccinations and has decided to use the mosquitoes as a means of 'naturally' injecting the vaccines, instead. (Grinning evilly) In fact, that reminds me - Zack, I think your Ministry of Health would be directly responsible for this... would you care to shed some more light on this?

Zack (sighing): Those people in the ministry aren't serious - they're more interested in chopping money from issuing contracts. The sad thing is that if this government were serious, the mosquito would have been eradicated a long time ago! It's a simple enough matter - all the government needs to do is to have a regular programme of spraying stagnant water in public areas with insecticide, and to educate the populace on personal measures they can take to prevent infection and mosquito breeding - like ensuring there's no stagnant water nearby, and using mosquito nets.

Nat: You put it down to government incompetence. I put it down to citizen poverty. You can talk all you want about educating the citizenry, but try telling that to someone who has to choose between eating for the day and buying a mosquito net. Try telling that to someone who has to work so many hours a day that they are too tired to think of clearing their environs when they return in the evening.

Zack: I can't believe that someone would be so short-sighted to put a meal ahead of their health. For heavens sake, a mosquito net is not that expensive! And I don't buy that 'too-tired-to-clear-their-environment' argument either. What are Saturday and Sunday for?

Nat: (patiently): Zack, you're overlooking the fact that the more precarious a person's existence is, the more short-term his vision is. The possibility that a poor person might catch malaria in the future means less to him than the certainty that he is hungry right now - even though the consequences of catching that malaria are more serious. In short, anything that isn't geared towards immediate survival - be it clearing environments or buying mosquito nets - simply does not show up on his radar.

Max: And that's the problem, Zack - your ministry simply does not do a good enough job of terrifying citizens into taking malaria more seriously than getting their daily meal. I mean, I remember when I dropped in to see you at the ministry a few weeks ago, and I saw this poster with the slogan "Please Protect Yourself Against Malaria - Buy A Mosquito Net". Man, that was so dry I could feel my life being sucked out of me. What your ministry should be using are messages like this:

"Malaria will first cause your blood to heat up like fire. Then it will tear your joints apart one by one. You will begin to leak blood from your nose, mouth, eyes and ears. Your skin will burst forth in a thousand sores full of pus. You will convulse like someone who has been given several electric shocks... and finally, you will end up dying in extreme agony in a pool of your waste and vomit.

"And then, having completely destroyed you, malaria will start on your friends... your family... your loved ones... and just because you were too lazy to get a mosquito net."

Nat: Is it ethical to bend the truth like this, even if it is so that people take malaria prevention seriously? Don't you think people might take the ministry to court if they don't come down with these symptoms?

Max: Nonsense. This isn't America where people sue at the drop of a hat. And it's not like the ministry have signed some sort of contract with the populace to ensure that they get experience these symptoms. Heck, the whole point is to discourage them from catching the illness and experiencing the symptoms!

Zack: Max, we're a serious organisation! We can't go round making all sorts of wild and ridiculous claims - if people realise that we're trying to scare them by distorting the truth, then we lose our credibility as an impartial and reliable source of information.

Max (in mock surprise): The Ministry of Health is an impartial and reliable source of information? Obviously nobody has told me about that... I thought it was just a vehicle for the aggrandisement of the minister and the state governor. In fact, I seem to recall you mentioning this yourself in one of your tirades.

Zack (defeated): All right, all right. But if we are to aspire to be credible, we can't do what you're suggesting.

Nat (musing): Of course, it would be much easier to resolve this matter if mosquitoes were an intelligent species.

Max: Are you out of your mind? Look at what happens now when mosquitoes are as dumb as they are - we're still having a hard time exterminating them. Imagine what would happen if they became intelligent - they would be our lords and masters! Instead of the many nations that we have now, we'd have the Empire of Wiu-Wiu, ruled over by His Imperial Majesty Emperor Iiiiuwiiiwiiiuiwuiiiu III!

Nat: Not necessarily. Think about it - the reasons mosquitoes bite us now is because they are too stupid to realise that it ends up annoying us and it brings further destruction upon their heads. Also, their stupidity means that they can't communicate with us, and we can't tell them how annoying their whine is or how deadly their bite is. If they were intelligent, we could communicate with them and come to some sort of arrangement.

Zack: What arrangement? That we offer sacrificial humans who will willingly submit themselves for a round of biting in return for peace and quiet for all mankind?

Max: No - wait, Zack. I think Nat may have a point. If they are intelligent and we have something that they want, then there is the wonderful prospect of trade. An enterprising person can arrange for people to sell human blood to the mosquitoes in return for various services that they can provide.

Zack: What can a mosquito do that we might be interested in?

Max: Think numbers, my friend - numbers! A trillion mosquitoes could form the backbone of a very efficient and secure transportation network. For example, instead of transporting fuel through those pipes that are always being punctured by vandals and thieves, we could arrange to have mosquitoes suck up the fuel and fly it to its destination. Of course, I'm assuming that since the mosquitoes are intelligent, they will have developed a way of lining their stomachs so that the fuel doesn't poison them as well as increasing their carrying capacity.

Nat: More worryingly - how do you propose to get the human blood?

Max: What are you talking about? Don't you see those people who are always hanging around hospitals so that they can sell blood to people who have been involved in accidents? I'm sure there are more people like that who will be happy to trade their blood for money.

Zack (shaking his head): This is a very unsavoury slippery slope. One day, you'll hear of people selling their blood for money... the next day, you'll hear of people who are forced at machete-point to sell their blood for money... and it won't be long before people are killed for their blood to be sold for money.

Max (rolling his eyes): Na wa for paranoia!

Nat: It'll be much safer if we can invent some alternative fluid which we can sell to the mosquitoes instead. After all, mosquitoes can live off plant nectar, so they don't really have to drink our blood.

Max: I protest! As an advocate for mosquito rights, I challenge your attempt to curtail the mosquito's God-given right to feast on whatever meal it likes, especially where nobody is being harmed. How would you feel if the mosquitoes dictated to you what to eat or not?

Zack: You're not fooling anyone here. Advocate for mosquito rights? More like advocate for Max's pocket. And tomorrow you'll start complaining when we accuse you of being prepared to kill your fellow man just to make money.

(Just then Nat gestures for Zack to be still.

Zack cautiously mimes the act of a mosquito flapping its wings, points to himself and raises his eyebrows questioningly.

Nat nods his head and again motions him to be still.

Max gestures to Nat to take it very easy.

Nat lowers his hand slowly... slowly... until he is within striking distance.

Then just as his hand begins to move, he hears a high-pitched whine so loud that even Max can hear it. This makes him swerve and cause his hand to go off target and connect with more force than intended...)


Max (wryly to himself): The agents from the Empire of Wiu-Wiu strike again...