The Nine Billion Names of Khadaffi

In response to the entry, “Getting a handle on the Khadaffi / Ghaddafy / Qaddaffi problem,” reader Robert Dennison has written this satire on Arthur C. Clarke’s famous short story, “The Nine Billion Names of God.” In Clarke’s story, a computer is used to generate the nine billion possible names of God, which, the experimenters believe, will fulfill the purpose of the universe.

“It is really quite simple. We have been compiling a list which shall contain all the possible names of Kaddafi.”

“We have reason to believe,” continued the Imam imperturbably, “that all such names can be written with not more than nine letters in an alphabet we have devised.”

“And you have been doing this for three centuries?”

“Yes: we expected it would take us about fifteen thousand years to complete the task.”

“Oh,” Dr. Auster looked a little dazed. “Now I see why you wanted to hire one of our machines. But exactly what is the purpose of this project?”

The Imam hesitated for a fraction of a second, and Larry wondered if he had offended him. If so, there was no trace of annoyance in the reply.

“Call it ritual, if you like, but it’s a fundamental part of our belief. All the many names of the Supreme Colonel—Kaddafi, Qaddafi, Ghaddafy, and so on—they are only man-made labels. There is a philosophical problem of some difficulty here, which I do not propose to discuss, but somewhere among all the possible combinations of letters that can occur are what one may call the real names of the Colonel. By systematic permutation of letters, we have been trying to list them all.”

“I see. You’ve been starting at AAAAAAA … and working up to ZZZZZZZZ…. ”

“Exactly—though we use a special alphabet of our own. Modifying the electromatic typewriters to deal with this is, of course, trivial. A rather more interesting problem is that of devising suitable circuits to eliminate ridiculous combinations. For example, no letter must occur more than three times in succession.”

“Three? Surely you mean two.”

“Three is correct: I am afraid it would take too long to explain why, even if you understood our language.”

* * *

Larry began to sing, but gave it up after a while. This vast arena of mountains, gleaming like whitely hooded ghosts on every side, did not encourage such ebullience. Presently he glanced at his watch.

“Should be there in an hour,” he called back over his shoulder to Laura. Then he added, in an afterthought: “Wonder if the computer’s finished its run. It was due about now.”

Laura didn’t reply, so Larry swung round in his saddle. He could just see Laura’s face, a white oval turned toward the sky.

“Look,” whispered Laura, and Larry lifted his eyes to heaven. (There is always a last time for everything.)

Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.

- the end -


Jim C. writes:

“The Nine Billion Names of Khadaffi”

If you were a hipster, you’d change the title of your blog to this. It rings true—and it’s certainly not Randian or neoconservative.

LA replies:

That’s funny.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 21, 2011 02:59 PM | Send

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