The Web, of course, is irresistible territory to a latter-day Cecil Rhodes, and the Scramble for Cyberia is the modern analogue of the nineteenth-century Scramble for Africa. There's a cyberland called Absurdistan, which is satirical, and another called the Lunar Republic, which sells real estate on the moon. In 1995 the rogue bishop Jacques Gaillot was stripped of his French diocese, in Evreux, and exiled by the Vatican to the diocese of Partenia, in Algeria. Partenia no longer exists as an inhabited place (it's a ruin in the sands), but the Vatican keeps hundreds of defunct ancient dioceses on the books, mostly as way stations for bishops awaiting the call to living communities but also as repositories for the odd problem case. The entrepreneurial Bishop Gaillot, though, turned Partenia into a bully pulpit: he created a cyberdiocese, with a chat room, an electronic catechism, and an archive of sermons. His is now a voice crying from the wilderness, at www.partenia.org.
Conjuring a micro-nation or a cyber-realm or a fictional domain has obvious appeal, but it pales beside holding sway over the real thing. The psychic satisfaction derived from status as the crown prince of New Utopia may be considerable, but who would not trade up for even the modest earthly powers wielded by the commoner Turkmenbashi?
Turkmenbashi has endured sniping for kitschy excess. But, if anything, he can be faulted for exercising restraint. He has so far contented himself with cosmetic alterations and a cult of personality, while amassing a fortune in natural-gas revenues. Absent is the social engineering that would have tempted a truly visionary leader. The world's many presidents-without-portfolio, like myself, can only shake our heads in sadness at the missed opportunities.
If I were in the Great Leader's shoes, with the task of calendrical reform now behind me, I'd be thinking of a more ambitious agenda. One key item would be to make time zones horizontal instead of vertical. This runs counter to the diurnal motion of the planet, to be sure, but at a stroke it would solve the problem of Turkmenistan's remoteness from anyplace you'd actually want to be. Thus the capital Ashkhabad, instead of being fully half a day ahead of New York, with all the logistical problems this entails, would now be in the same time zone.
I would also do something about my people's accent. There are tutors these days who can work wonders—like Sam Chwat, speech therapist to the stars, who specializes in accent elimination and dialect acquisition. It was Chwat who endowed Robert De Niro with an Appalachian accent for Cape Fear. It was Chwat who removed most traces of the South from the voice of Andie MacDowell. Right now everyone in Central Asia sounds like a Manhattan cabbie, but a little bit of effort could bring the level up to that of a Peter Jennings if not a Noël Coward. That way, when a Turkmen called for reservations at Elaine's, the maitre d' would not ask suspiciously, "Are you calling from Turkmenistan?" but would say, "Of course, Mr. Plimpton."