I have hunger.” That’s what real French people say. I think it’s neat how French people have hunger, but they aren’t hungry like Americans are. I mean, it’s a lot easier to try not to have something than to try not to be it.
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I have hunger.” That’s what real French people say. I think it’s neat how French people have hunger, but they aren’t hungry like Americans are. I mean, it’s a lot easier to try not to have something than to try not to be it.

-Lori Gottlieb

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I feel to that the gap between my new life in New York and the situation at home in Africa is stretching into a gulf, as Zimbabwe spirals downwards into a violent dictatorship. My head bulges with the effort to contain both worlds. When I am back in New York, Africa immediately seems fantastical – a wildly plumaged bird, as exotic as it is unlikely.Most of us struggle in life to maintain the illusion of control, but in Africa that illusion is almost impossible to maintain. I always have the sense there that there is no equilibrium, that everything perpetually teeters on the brink of some dramatic change, that society constantly stands poised for some spasm, some tsunami in which you can do nothing but hope to bob up to the surface and not be sucked out into a dark and hungry sea. The origin of my permanent sense of unease, my general foreboding, is probably the fact that I have lived through just such change, such a sudden and violent upending of value systems.In my part of Africa, death is never far away. With more Zimbabweans dying in their early thirties now, mortality has a seat at every table. The urgent, tugging winds themselves seem to whisper the message, memento mori, you too shall die. In Africa, you do not view death from the auditorium of life, as a spectator, but from the edge of the stage, waiting only for your cue. You feel perishable, temporary, transient. You feel mortal. Maybe that is why you seem to live more vividly in Africa. The drama of life there is amplified by its constant proximity to death. That’s what infuses it with tension. It is the essence of its tragedy too. People love harder there. Love is the way that life forgets that it is terminal. Love is life’s alibi in the face of death. For me, the illusion of control is much easier to maintain in England or America. In this temperate world, I feel more secure, as if change will only happen incrementally, in manageable, finely calibrated, bite-sized portions. There is a sense of continuity threaded through it all: the anchor of history, the tangible presence of antiquity, of buildings, of institutions. You live in the expectation of reaching old age.At least you used to.But on Tuesday, September 11, 2001, those two states of mind converge. Suddenly it feels like I am back in Africa, where things can be taken away from you at random, in a single violent stroke, as quick as the whip of a snake’s head. Where tumult is raised with an abruptness that is as breathtaking as the violence itself.

-Peter Godwin

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Bookish folk aren’t what they used to be. Introverted, reserved, studious. There was a time when bookish folk would steer clear of trendy bars, dinner occasions and gatherings. Any social or public encounters would be avoided at all costs because these activities were very un-bookish. Bookish people preferred to stay in, or to sit alone in a quiet pub, reading a good book, or getting some writing done. Writers, in fact, perhaps epitomised these bookish traits most strongly. At least, they used to.These days, bookish people, such as writers, are commonly found on stage, headlining festivals, or being interviewed on TV. Author events and performances have proliferated, becoming established parts of a writer’s role. It’s not that authors have suddenly become more extroverted – it’s more a case that their job description has changed. Of course, not all writers are bookish. Not in the traditional sense of the word anyway. Some are well suited for public life, particularly those from certain academic backgrounds where public speaking is encouraged and confidence in social situations is shaped and formed. These writers may even be termed ‘gregarious’, and are thus happy being offered up for speaking engagements, stage discussions and signings. Good for them. But the others – the timid, shy and mousy authors – they’re being thrust into the limelight too. That’s my lot. The social wipeouts. Unprepared and ill-equipped to face our reader audience. What’s most concerning is that no one is offering us any guidance or tips. We’re expected to hit the ground running, confident and ready, loaded with banter, quips and answers. It’s a disaster waiting to happen.

-Paul Ewen

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It’s useful to make the distinction between reports and stories. A report is above all responsible for providing the facts, without manipulation or interpretation. Stories, on the other hand, are a way that people try to make sense of their lives and their experiences in the world. The test of a good story isn’t its responsibility to the facts as much as its ability to provide a satisfying explanation of events. In a few paragraphs, the reader learns of the problem (sales and profits are down), gets a plausible explanation (the company lost its direction), and learns a lesson (don’t stray, focus on the core). There’s a neat end with a clean resolution. No threads are left hanging. Readers go away satisfied.Now, there’s nothing wrong with stories, provided we understand that’s what we have before us. More insidious, however, are stories that are dressed up to look like science. They take the form of science and claim to have the authority of science, but they miss the real rigor and logic of science. They’re better described as pseudoscience. Richard Feynman had an even more memorable phrase: Cargo Cult Science. Here’s the way Feynman described it: In the South Seas there is a cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas — he’s the controller — and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.That’s not to say that Cargo Cult Science doesn’t have some benefits. The folks who wait patiently by the landing strips on their tropical island, dressed up like flight controllers and wearing a pair of coconut headsets, may derive some contentment from the whole process — they may live in hope of a better future, they may enjoy having something to believe in, and they may feel closer to supernatural powers. But it’s just that — it’s a story. It’s not a good predictor of what will happen next.The business world is full of Cargo Cult Science, books and articles that claim to be rigorous scientific research but operate mainly at the level of storytelling.

-Phil Rosenzweig

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