Sunday, 14 June 2009


Return to Table of Contents While awaiting my trial I am locked for shuttered days in this gray windowless cell. What I've lost in freedom I've gained in time. What I've lost in free thought I have gained in the freedom to think, and what has gone from my external life has reappeared inside, where no one else but me can see what is gone. It's true I have changed, but I think I like this newer version of myself. My life no longer stretches before me endlessly. By the total elimination of free choice I now paradoxically am able to choose exactly who I am. I guess I was due a mid-life crisis anyway. At an age when some men voluntarily change their lives, I had change force its way abruptly into mine. It came in uninvited, crudely elbowing aside everything I had constructed for forty years. Until a year ago I had it all. I not only had the outward signs of comfort--house, car, tennis court, money in the bank--I was sharing them with the woman I loved. Look at me now, though. A cautionary tale, you might say. I read the other day about a Czech tennis player who said that he had learned in life that you go very slowly up and you can go very fast down. Well, I am at the bottom of the slide, and if this whole thing blows over I'm not sure if I'll even try to climb another slide or just not bother. It's not that I'm alone, either, though after they pried the lifeless body of my wife out of the twisted metal I certainly felt I was. That was a while ago anyway, the first step to sliding down the slippery slope to where I am now. I have friends. They are behind me and they believe, like I believe, that I am innocent. Or if not innocent, then right. Is there a difference? Someone will tell me--a lawyer, a judge, a jury of my peers. It won't matter to me though what they say. I know in my heart where it counts, and in my eyes when I look in the mirror, that I did the right thing and for the right reasons. In the end that is what matters most. With all the time I have had in the past month I've been going through the ABCs of how I got here. A is for Avarice, B is for Betrayal, C is for Courage or Crazy...and so on. I've decided that the letter that best explains what happened is L, for a trinity of reasons. L is for lust. L is also for love. And L is for Leibniz, who although he didn't know it at the time started it off. I'm no saint. I did what I did partially for lust, the lust for power and money and the special buzz you feel when surrounded by both. It wasn't that I would necessarily benefit though. Not me personally. I would, however strike a blow for the individual in all of us, and enrich my best friend's family. They were solid people, or so I thought, and I thought I would give them what was rightfully theirs at the expense of a faceless dying corporate giant. I had no idea of the power of lust, of the insidious creeping force which once it takes hold claws at the mind and the guts and turns good men into blind monsters. I shouldn't have been surprised, but I was, and I couldn't handle the horrifying visions I had unleashed. I also did it for love, for the love that is both memory and desire, the two most potent spirits in the cocktail of the human mind. I wanted to hold on to the past by changing the future, to bring back the happy memories of my youth. And I did it for those who I had loved, for my wife who was supposed to bury me with the crabs in Mobjack Bay but somehow got there first; for my best friend, who I choose to remember as he was and not as who he became; and for his sister, who brought warmth into my life at a frigid time and was an unwitting accomplice in the death of her brother. I know she can't visit me. There are too many ghosts, too many ghosts of the past that would whistle on by us and drown out the good things we would both want to say. No matter. In the silence of the cement walls of this cell I can hear her voice, and I can imagine what she would have said if it had not all gone so horribly wrong. Love is an all-encompassing feeling. You can live for love, you can die for love, but you can also destroy for love. Each action in its own way can make perfect sense though lacking all logic. This is the mystery which I confront each day without actually arriving at any answer. This is why I have gotten no farther than L in the alphabet of explanations for what happened. Which brings me to Leibniz. It is not a pet name for a dog. Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz was a very real 17th century German philosopher and mathematician who would no doubt marvel at the byzantine logic I have employed in identifying him as the source of everything I now write about. He would also no doubt be astonished at the blinking of a word processor, or the workings of a jet plane, or even a simple calculator. In a way however, he was behind it all. There are no new things under the sun. A cave man rolls a stone on a log, and then figures out that things will move much more easily if they are rolled instead of dragged. The human mind is a great imitator, but everyone who imitates always thinks he can do a slightly better job. Thus are born innovators who take ideas and in tiny increments transform them into unrecognizable inventions. A Ferrari, after all, is really not so far removed from the caveman's crude cart. The link is long and complicated, but it is incontestably there. Every once in a while though, however, someone comes along who takes the process light years forward, who sees something not for what it is but for what it represents. Someone who takes the object and makes it the subject around which a whole new world order is created--a way of life, a way of thinking. This genius causes a quantum leap forward, but nonetheless it all leads back to an original simple idea, a process or theory that can be universally applied. I am not a mathematician. If you showed me the scratchings of Leibniz on a piece of paper my mind would freeze up, and they would mean no more to me than the aimless scratching of a chicken in a barnyard. I can, however, appreciate simplicity. I can appreciate the genius who can condense the immensely complicated into a simple idea that can then be easily reapplied in an unlimited number of ways to become even more complicated. Leibniz invented binary mathematics. If he came to shake my hand today and extended a claw with only an index finger and a thumb, I would think no less of him as a man but much less of him as an inventor. Somehow I doubt that this was the case. Leibniz reduced the world of numbers, of adding and subtracting numbers as long as your arm, of the whole untidy mess of the arithmetic of the universe, to two: 1 and 0. On and Off. Light and Dark. Present and Absent. Existence and Oblivion. Of course, numbers could be represented by long lists of 1s and 0s, but still that was all there was. Either there existed something in its appointed slot, or there was nothing. No longer was a hand limited to counting to five. My friend Stokely Haynes showed this to a very skeptical group of us when he was in the seventh grade. This was before we became best friends. We were cautious rivals at the time, adversaries on the tennis court, in the classroom, and most importantly, on the playground. He called three of us over one day during recess, the intelligentsia of the seventh grade. We referred to ourselves not immodestly as the Brains Trust, a moniker which stuck until we left our small town and discovered that what we took for genius in our tiny school could actually be mediocre in the larger arena. But not then. Stokely, as he insisted on being called with no shortened nickname, made us a bet. He bet us each a dollar that he could count up to 31 on one hand, and offered to double up if he could go on up to 1023 on both. No tricks, he said. He would only use his fingers. We all immediately took him up on it, and five minutes later collectively as an audience we were six dollars poorer. Stokely, on the other hand, had gained much more than mere money. He had gained our respect. He told us it was his great grandfather on his mother's side who had invented this way of counting. His name was Helmut Hoeflinger, a German immigrant who had become rich and famous for his invention and whose portrait now hung in the Smithsonian in Washington. Stokely was exaggerating, of course. Not about the wealth or the fame or the portrait. That proved later to be all too true. He was wrong only about the inventing part. What Helmut had done was to apply binary mathematics to a machine, to enable a machine to count mechanically. His wealth and fame came from the application of Leibniz's principles, and from the fact that he had helped start a small company at the turn of the century along with Thomas MacEnzie, one of the titans of American industrial history. The company was of course Universal Business Implements, the infamous Big Red which became America's biggest and most admired company and whose ubiquitous three letters were synonymous with computers. But I am getting ahead of my story. Back to Leibniz and Helmut. The relating of binary mathematics to machines meant eventually that machines could think. It was nigh impossible to teach a machine to count from one to ten like a child on ten fingers. However, you could teach a machine the difference between off and on. Now suddenly you could turn everything into a number. Make the number four represent an apple, for instance. In binary mathematics, four is represented as 1 0 0. Three switches, one on and two off. Let me take you back to Stokely on the playground to explain. Hold your hands in front of you, palms up, he had said. Each finger in its place has a value. If the finger is down it represents zero. If it is up it is worth that number and no other. Now clench your fists. No fingers up. 0. Zero. Nothingness. Now raise your right thumb. This is 1. Simple enough. Put it down. Now raise your right index finger. 2, or in binary code: 1 0. Now raise your thumb again. 1 1 in binary code. This is 3 (Index worth 2 plus thumb worth 1). Put them away and shoot a bird with your middle finger. This is 1 0 0 or 4. Your apple. 5 is 1 0 1. And so on. Each finger to the left is twice the value of the one immediately preceding it to the right. So your little finger on your right hand is worth 16 and having all your fingers out on your right hand is worth 31. [16+8+4+2+1]. Your left hand is even more valuable, and all ten digits are worth 1023. Six dollars please. Neat, huh? We thought so in the seventh grade, and our little group became adept at counting using binary fingers, so much so that if I saw a 1 000 000 I thought not of one million but of 64, my ring finger on my left hand. So what has all this got to do with why I am sitting in this cell? Because of Leibniz and Helmut, we live today in a digital world. Our lives are governed by the trillions of bits of binary code which represent something else. I said 1 0 0 might be an apple. 1 0 1 0 1 (21) might be the letter Q or the colour green or the sound wave frequency of D flat. Whatever. Machines use this code to recreate reality, so that a piano sonata on a CD can be broken down into millions of numbers in code stored on a disc, with each number corresponding to a certain sound wave's frequency, timing, and strength. Up to 40,000 numbers per second are read by the laser in the player which are then reconverted into sound which approximates reality. At least I think this is how it works. I am not quite sure, because I really know very little about computers or CD players. In addition to not being a mathematician I am also not a computer scientist, or a scientist of any kind, for that matter. I have never made it past counting in binary on my fingers, and the thought of millions of instructions per second and little on/off switches the size of molecules is as foreign to me as the nearest galaxy. However I can, as I said before, appreciate simplicity. And what I see is that in the new world order of digital man science wants to see everything in simple stark terms of black and white, off or on, evil or good. We are trying as digital men to play God, to slice reality into the tiniest little atoms of off or on to be able one day ourselves to make from these minuscule bits of zeros and ones a reality of our own creation. That is what this trial is about. I don't believe in digital man. I don't believe in black and white. I don't think life is like that. I think humans and all they do are one big grey area. The reasons why they do things can never be easily classified, explained, or recreated. No one but God can judge love, though of course I will accept the decision of a group of my fellow human beings on the crimes they accuse me of committing. And of what am I accused? I am accused of arson and the willful destruction of property. This I do not contest, though I claim extenuating circumstances. I am also accused of theft, though what I stole doesn't exist any more. I am also accused of the murder of my best friend. I am saddened by this because of all things this would be the last thing I would ever do, in spite of everything that happened. This is why I am writing now at two o'clock in the morning, with nothing to accompany my thoughts except the bare white bulb and the drab walls of this cell. I believe in the death of digital man, and I think that in the end love will triumph. Let me explain.

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