Showing posts with label hatchet job. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hatchet job. Show all posts

Monday, October 13, 2014

Trend-surfing Alacrity

For years I've resisted writing anything about Liberia or Sierra Leone. Too painful, too raw, too soon. The pen keeps calling however...

I figured Liberia and Sierra Leone deserved a couple of decades of peace and quiet but, as they say, 'Tings deh happen. Expect some toli.

I saw Rev. Jesse Jackson today with the Texas Ebola victim's family. Really? Some of us remember his history with Charles Taylor during Liberia's descent.

The Country Preacher ought to steer clear of anything related to Liberia and Sierra Leone. It's unseemly.

Suggested reading regarding Jesse Jackson, Pat Robertson (Pat Robertson!) and Charles Taylor: The Quiet American by Graham Greene

The salient quote: "He was impregnably armoured by his good intentions and his ignorance" - Graham Greene on the eponymous quiet American

Was it Stalin who talked of useful idiots? They always seem to materialize before and during wars.

Consider a taxonomy of useful idiots: the ignorant, those who should know better, the reflexively-tribal, and the professional opportunists.

Servants to power, we are all striving simians on the savannah at heart, looking to Alpha authority.

Apologists for war (think Iraq, think War on Terror) and apologists for unfettered capitalism have had a rough start to this century

Most useful idiots lie low when things go awry. That, paradoxically, is the only time they are of any interest.

Only posterity is unkind to the man of conventional wisdom, and all posterity does is bury him in a blanket of neglect - John Kenneth Galbraith

Professional opportunists are singular gremlins in human society and deserve close study. Sadly, we simply shake our heads at the spectacle

The professional opportunist knows no shame and depends on our short attention span. Hey! Look over there...

I looked.

Most professional opportunists escape scrutiny and scorn because there's always a core of past competence that one can point to.

The notion of shame has become a vestigial sentiment in many Western countries; some call it a casualty of modernity. I dissent.

Coming from a shame society, it's hard to watch bad behavior tolerated with benign neglect, or even rewarded.

My mother emphasized the necessity of permanent outrage. Will I be able to convey that to the children I'm raising in America?

I know my place in America (at the intersection of Tenuous St and Hired Immigrant Worker Alley) and accordingly keep a low profile.

Also civility.

Let's posit a corollary to the quantity theory of insanity. Perhaps a coefficient of opportunism? Argh, forget it: rusty mathematics.

Just because a lizard nods its head doesn't mean it's happy - Ghanaian proverb

observers are worried

Observers are worried

I'm reposting these (slightly annotated) twentysomething thoughts on opportunism here for archival purposes. With a little distance, I realize that this product of few fevered minutes of short form writing essentially revisits a theme I'd previously covered. Timing is everything I suppose.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

He of The Little Green Book

Events are fast outpacing the best laid plans of both dictators and mere toli mongers, thus, although the theme fits the bill, I have had to bring forward the piece I promised almost four years ago as a follow up to the theater of that secret video of Gaddafi that was leaked to me. The current atrocities and low rent circumstances however necessitate light verse, or even doggerel, rather than the intended prose poem. Thus I give you another entry in the Things Fall Apart Series, file this under the banner of Fallen Angels.

I. He of The Little Green Book

He of The Little Green Book was in Paris the other day
A grand tour, part of an awakening some might say

Hospitality and social graces were extended his way
Amnesty International had to make do with dismay

Inconvenient topics, blood and sin, never to be discussed.
He went hunting, or, as his hosts put it, faire la chasse.

The tumult of the entourage and the ceremonial band
The customary bodyguards, as always, were close at hand.

He pitched his travel tent on the lawn of the Grand Palais
And lectured his hosts on human rights throughout the day

An oasis of oil and gas under his land
He'd built up a legacy of blood-soaked sand.

Self-importance, one can always understand
The revolutionary principles, however, damned the man.

Epigrams, ludicrous even without translation
And with translation, worthy of the blandest corporation.

Claimed to be a Guide with revolutionary notions
To life, the Brother Leader presented solutions

You've heard no doubt about the "Third Universal Theory"
And of course "The Solution of the Problem of Democracy"

"The Authority of the People" was his starting point
His modus operandi however was blood, from joint to joint

The social and economic basis of this here distributed theory
Was, in practice, a political axis of corruption, not the first in history

Newspapers throughout Libya were organs of adulation
He of The Little Green Book, officially venerated as a philosopher-king


Back home in Ghana at the depth of our despair
When books were scarce, and food shelves were laid bare

He of The Little Green Book made a donation
A token of the good Colonel's appreciation

A thousand copies of The Little Green Book
Brotherly solidarity, extended to the Ghanaian pocketbook

The generosity of his wisdom, to be shared far and wide.
Our universities, the recipients of his vacuous bromides

We'd learned heavy lessons about what he called revolution
"Crush the dissent", "Don't brook any opposition".

Thus, ever since the Flight Lieutenant's arrival
We'd had to develop a new philosophy of survival

At markets, we would fight over corned beef and sardine tins
Throughout I kept asking myself: why are these men laughing?

Rawlings and Gaddafi on cover of Talking Drums magazine 1986-01-13 - Ghana stands by Libya in US dispute - Doe pledges reconciliation


He of The Little Green Book was in Italy the other day
Introducing good old Silvio to a rarefied kind of play

Bunga bunga parties were on the menu
Gas and oil deals discussed, and matters of revenue

On Putin's bed, it was eroticism incarnate
Sexual gymnastics, the orgies very articulate

They were men who thumbed their noses at everyone else
Impunity their lifeblood, they were enamoured of self

A cushy life, lived surrounded by buxom Ukrainians
They were gremlins and parasites, or rather, rogue authoritarians

Mercurial, the journalists would call him, and I think it was a cop out
For he was severe in the application of power, of that there can be no doubt

Adept at the shell game of diplomacy in latter times
Don't forget the expedient dumping of allies at the drop of a dime

There's even an opera about him, Gaddafi, do take a look
Although it points out inconsistencies in The Little Green Book

Fear not, in the pantheon where Chairman Mao had his Red Book
You can share the luminous thoughts of He of The Little Green Book

A slight never forgotten, that's what brought him here
The clannish sensibility of a cold-blooded dictator

He of The Little Green Book thus always made it clear
He'd kill you and your family no matter when or where

Stories of plots to bomb dissidents in Kenya, Egypt or Saudi Arabia
Only made it clear to everyone that the world was his oyster

In newspapers, the subject was always elided:
The khat, and other drugs that made him funeral minded

Conspiratorial notions were his living condition
He ascribed drunkenness and drug-taking to any opposition


He of The Little Green Book met Vladimir Putin the other day
It was the usual circus, the large retinue come what may.

Luxurious modesty was how he liked to call it,
He lived for the bustle around him, confident he could take Putin's judo hit

Like a palm tree rising in an oasis surrounded by blight.
The other leaders would be shown in their proper pedestrian light.

The desert savvy, the endurance of those who were truly able
By sheer will to conquer the shifting sands, of that he was quite capable

For months at a time he would go out there on a bend
Then emerge seemingly untroubled if not exuberant.

Men of will who forced their views on clans and the whole world.
The caliber of revolutionary, visionary men on the road to hell.

Take The Little Green Book - a blueprint for life itself,
To be studied and internalized, it even dealt with public health!

An unbroken chain of leadership, he outlasted Chairman Mao.
Who else had such a claim? He even beat Omar Bongo.

And that kleptocrat, only the French cared about him
The real prize, as you know, was to indulge in blood and sin.

No, it was only right, he belonged in the history books.
In any gathering he would stand out, opinions as sharp as his looks.

And he had put them down - the opinions that is,
Distilled them for present and future generations.

The Little Green Book, the wisdom for the ages.
A guide for the world, a guide for revolutions.

Battle-tested in countless countries, comprehensive and worldly
Luminous as only the folk wisdom of desert guides could be.


He of The Little Green Book met Tony Blair the other day
That sad sack, for whatever reason, again thought he'd have some sway

He of The Little Green Book couldn't believe the ease of the bamboozle
Of course, we could have told him he was dealing with Bush's poodle

Then later, remember, there was an audience with Condoleeza
And a call subsequently for a United States of Africa

US policy to the dictator was clear: coddle and let's make nice
His gifts, in return, were choice to the talented Miss Rice:

Diamond trinkets, a locket, and a copy of The Little Green Book
A sidelong glance, oil and gas contracts were the inevitable hook

Those Swiss bank accounts, how prosaic wouldn't you think?
Well, even an uncommon criminal needs money to drink

A bloodthirsty murderer that we indulged like no other
Willing to shoot children before their own grandmothers

He'd even bomb bystanders, he didn't believe in innocence
The legacy of a pariah devoid of all human sense

Months later it was declared, and this was no small thing,
Colonel Gaddafi would be the king of kings

Thus, among traditional leaders on the continent, he was elected
Well, according to his bank statements, he was rather self-selected

Gaddafi king of kings


But back to that time period I alluded to earlier
In a Ghana fraught with dubious revolution and political theater

Perhaps I should not venture into matters eschatological
As indeed my doggerel rather tends towards the scatological

Let me not lose the rhyming meter, indulge my light verse
I'm congenitally incapable of engaging in anything terse

My father, the law school dean, was very precise
And, truth be told, what he recalled back then wasn't very nice

Thankfully it flew under the radar of Rawlings' dispensation:
It was about the application of the good Colonel's donation

In Ghana's scarcity, nothing went to waste:
'Twas a grim outlook

He'd photocopy his lecture notes for students;
They'd have to do as a textbook

As he thumbed through thousands of the Colonel's pristine pages
He was minded that, in our country, there were even paper shortages

We really had no time for this Third Universal Theory
It was a undoubtedly a low moment in all of Ghana's history

The memory, then, should come as no surprise to you, Dear Reader:
The pages of The Little Green Book were used as toilet paper.


The Little Green Book  is dismantled

II. Excellent Discussions

The issue was blood and sin.

III. Lest We Forget

Field notes on a legacy of blood...
Prosecutor: Was there ideology taught in the camp?

Witness: Yes, what we learned in the Mataba was about how to share the wealth of your government - about the distribution of wealth.

Prosecutor: This Mataba, did you receive any books or lesson papers in that ideology?

Witness: The ideology was taught in Mataba itself. They had a school to learn the ideology. You learned about the Green Book. How governments are cheating other governments.

Taylor's former vice president: governments of Libya, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast supported Taylor's 1989 invasion of Liberia

Prosecutor: At what age do you say you were abducted by the RUF?
Witness: 11 years.
Prosecutor: Had you been to school up to that time?
Witness: Yes.
Prosecutor: In what languages were you taught at school?
Witness: English.
Prosecutor: From what age did you attend school up to the time you were abducted at age 11?
Witness: I don't know the age at which I went to school. I don't know the age.
Prosecutor: How many years had you been in school by the time you were abducted at age 11?
Witness: Six years.
Prosecutor: After you were abducted, at some point you have told us in evidence you had some lessons from the RUF. That's right, isn't it?
Witness: Yes.
Prosecutor: Were you at some time made to read passages of Colonel Gaddafi's Little Green Book by the RUF?
Witness: The Green Book. They called it the Revolutionary Green Book. They said it was from Libya, from Mohamed Gaddafi. Yes, I read that one.
Prosecutor: In what language?
Witness: In English. Everything was in English.
Prosecutor: So you speak good English, do you?
Witness: The English that I can speak is what I am speaking here. I don't have any other English. As you hear me speaking I don't have it above that and I don't have it below that. That is what I am speaking here.
Prosecutor: So, what was taught in English apart from the Green Book?
Witness: The Green Book when they read it they would read it in English and they would interpret it, because there were people who did not understand English and so they would interpret it into Krio to them, but some of us who were able to read a little bit when they spoke the English we would understand. That was why I said everything was in English.

Transcript of child soldier's testimony. The special court on Sierra Leone, 22 August 2008

[Moses] Blah testified about the first time he met [Charles] Taylor during his military training in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, and Tripoli, Libya. In Libya, he trained with a group of Gambians, as well as a group of Sierra Leoneans led by Foday Sankoh. Blah testified that Sankoh referred to Taylor as "chief." Blah recounted that the first time he saw Taylor, Taylor introduced himself as "chief" and named the soldiers the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. Taylor also appointed Blah as Adjutant General of the NPFL.

Charles Taylor trial report (pdf), May 2008

After listening to 91 prosecution witnesses over the past 18 months, Taylor said people had referred to his forces as if they "were brutes and savages: We are not. I am not."

Still, the former president acknowledged that skulls of Liberian soldiers were displayed at strategic roadblocks in 1990.

"They were enemy skulls and we didn’t think that symbol was anything wrong," he said. "I did not consider it bad judgment. I did not order them removed."

Taylor, who earned an economics degree at Bentley College (now University) in Waltham, said he had seen images of skulls used in many "fraternal organizations" and Western universities.

He also acknowledged that atrocities were committed in Liberia by "bad apples" and renegade soldiers, but said he had taught his small band of rebels - from their initial training in Libya - to abide by the laws of war.

"We found out that they were taking place, and we acted to bring those responsible to justice," he said. Rebel soldiers who committed excesses were court-martialed and sometimes executed, but civilian judicial institutions were left in place in areas under rebel control, he said.

Taylor defends displaying of human skulls at roadblocks, Associated Press / July 17, 2009
He of The Little Green Book and his brothers in blood will not be missed.

Soundtrack for this note

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

On George W. Bush

I. On Knowledge

His had been an intellectual decision founded on his conviction that if a little knowledge was a dangerous thing, a lot was lethal. — Tom Sharpe - Porterhouse Blue
I turned to Tom Sharpe expounding on knowledge a quarter century ago for insight on the 43rd President of the United States. At first glance, I thought his bons mots were a succinct and definitive summary of what we have seen of said President's attitude towards knowledge. Some have speculated about oedipal reasons or ice queen mothering for his essential incuriousity. I demur; one should give him the benefit of the doubt and ascribe his outlook to conscious decision. He has asserted after all that he is "the decider". Also as Sharpe explained, incuriousity can be a deliberate policy, indeed one founded on conviction, if not an instinct towards self-preservation. This is only human and it is clear that there is a lot of conviction in the President. Upon reflection then, Sharpe's formulation can only be a partial rendering. Knowledge is all the rage these days. Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld even proposed a taxonomy of knowledge, iconic in recent memory, in one his jawboning press conference performances — said taxonomy was incomplete as it turned out, he forgot the unknown knowns, and in the war policy he implemented, he discounted even the known knowns. Robert Waldmann recently added a few prescriptions on the matter. Political discourse in the United States of America has thus been all about knowledge: who knew what, when did they know it, should they have known it and so forth. There have even been acrobatics: "If I knew then what I know now, I would etc." Well, who knew?
porterhouse blue

II. On Ignorance

It seems to me that one should turn to the other side of the coin in search of insight on the 43rd President of the United States. Thus we'll consider ignorance. For this we'll go back to 1907 and to Hilaire Belloc's delightful essay On Ignorance. As an avid proponent of the collage and remix, let's see how well a sampling of his toli can flesh out our portrait...
On Ignorance by Hilaire Belloc There is not anything that can so suddenly flood the mind with shame as the conviction of ignorance, yet we are all ignorant of nearly everything there is to be known. Is it not wonderful then, that we should be so sensitive upon the discovery of a fault which must of necessity be common to all, and that in its highest degree? The conviction of ignorance would not shame us thus if it were not for the public appreciation of our failure. ... the biting shame of ignorance suddenly displayed conquers and bewilders us. We have no defence left. We are at the mercy of the discoverer, we own and confess, and become insignificant: we slink away. ... Note that all this depends upon what the audience conceive ignorance to be... Among very young men to seem ignorant of vice is the ruin of you, and you had better not have been born than appear doubtful of the effects of strong drink when you are in the company of Patriots...
Ignorance is an everyday occurence, something that affects every man. It isn't surprising that those who affect to be Everyman would not be immune from its effects. One wonders about the moods of crowds. Why do people turn when they do? What is it that causes reassessments and shifts in the cultural zeitgeist? Tipping points are only part of the picture. I continue to ponder the essential difference between those two fables: the boy who cried wolf and the emperor's new clothes. This is not to suggest that the 43rd President of the United States is a wolf or indeed an emperor, although there may be latent aspirations to both characterizations. Rather I wonder about the reception to the messages of those boys in the fables. The one was ignored (he cried wolf too often) while the other was celebrated (everyone laughed at the emperor). When does danger or hubris become plainly evident to all? Perhaps everything is local and our evolutionary make-up conditions us accordingly. But I digress. Back to ignorance...
Nevertheless... we should rather study the means to be employed for warding off those sudden and public convictions of Ignorance which are the ruin of so many. These methods of defence are very numerous and are for the most part easy of acquirement. The most powerful of them by far (but the most dangerous) is to fly into a passion and marvel how anyone can be such a fool as to pay attention to wretched trifles...
No one can fault the 43rd President of the United States for lack of passion. He is focused. He is a compassionate conservative. He is a war president. Passion and focus on big, serious and era-defining issues are his concern. War by definition is as big an issue as humankind faces. Would it that small things were considered; that however would reek of Clintonian microsteps, trivialities in essence. No. Crusades. Mushroom clouds. War. Terror. Big picture. Serious.
There are other and better defences. One of these is to turn the attack by showing great knowledge on a cognate point, or by remembering that the knowledge your opponent boasts has been somewhere contradicted by an authority...
The 2004 US presidential election campaign is perhaps a great illustration of this technique, and in this Karl Rove, sometimes labeled Bush's brain, was in full concurrence. John Kerry knows this all too well.
Yet another way is to cover your retreat with buffonery, pretending to be ignorant of the most ordinary things, so as to seem to have been playing the fool only when you made your first error. There is a special form of this method which has always seemed to me the most excellent by far of all known ways of escape. It is to show a steady and crass ignorance of very nearly everything that can be mentioned, and with all this to keep a steady mouth, a determined eye, and (this is essential) to show by a hundred allusions that you have on your own ground an excellent store of knowledge. This is the true offensive-defensive in this kind of assault, and therefore the perfection of tactics...
The steady mouth, the determined eye, the repeated calls for resolve, the swagger, the obsession with fitness, the cowboy photo opportunities, the outdoors pose of a "Texan" stand in stark contrast to the Connecticut patrician upbringing. This is deliberate it would seem. The notion of buffoonery is trickier however. The public gaffes during the Queen's recent visit are a case in point. One should ask: is the steady flow of homespun awkwardness calculated or genuine? Dwelling on bushisms as many do, only serves to lower everyone's guard and cause misunderestimation as the 43rd President of the United States so candidly and memorably put it. This is a theme Belloc covered a decade earlier in The Modern Traveller, a book whose toli I'm a year behind in addressing (real soon now).
On Ignorance - The modern traveller
Note the name, Blood, and the reaction to his shrewd manoeuvers:
It saved the situation. "If such a man as that" (said they) "Is Leader, they can go their way."
That is an efficient take on ignorance, who has the time to scrutinize closely in this fast-paced world? By and large, our decision-making is done on gut feel and liminal signals, with only lip service paid to due diligence. Most of the time things work out, right?
Lastly, or rather Penultimately, there is the method of upsetting the plates and dishes, breaking your chair, setting fire to the house, shooting yourself, or otherwise swallowing all the memory of your shame in a great catastrophe.
I fear that this is the terrain of the current moment; the aircraft carriers ominously deployed in the Gulf, the saber-rattling on Iran, Syria and such bode ill for all of us. Setting fire to the house, whether to its finances or its foundations is a real temptation. One school of thought on the Middle East misadventures is that if you break eggs over there, the natives will be scrambling amongst themselves. "We fight them over there so that etc". This Scrambled Egg Theory of Mesopotamia is a rather dubious historical legacy I must say. I rather thought that blood was precious for most human beings but it seems that a powerful cohort, and the 43rd President of the United States is among equals in these elite ranks, are determined to provide existence proofs of the quantity theory of insanity. This young century is on course to equal the butchery of its predecessor.
But that is a method for cowards; the brave man goes out into the hall, comes back with a stick and says firmly, "You have just deliberately and cruelly exposed my ignorance before this company: I shall therefore beat you soundly with this stick in the presence of them all." This you then do to him or he to you, mutatis mutandis, ceteris paribus; and that is all I have to say on Ignorance.
The closest we have come to this last method was when newly elected Congressman James Webb refused to shake the hands of the 43rd President of the United States. Decorum sadly did not allow the two to come to blows and thus provide catharsis one way or the other. Thus one must hold one's breadth until January 2009 keeping in mind, as his putative replacement has noted, that "the last throes can still be a violent period, the throes of a revolution". The great contribution of American capitalism to the world is the notion that the customer is always right. In a London shop over the weekend, I was reminded that such a sentiment is not a cultural universal (don't ask). Indeed rhetoric can often be alienated from practice, witness no child left behind, heckuva job and so forth. In this vein, the popular majority that the 43rd President of the United States received in the 2004 elections causes me to discount the buyer's remorse that is the current, apparent collective hand-wringing. I actually agree with his notion that we've had an "accountability moment". Moreover, he was indeed clear about his intention of spending that capital. So yes, capital is being spent — in all forms. As to the rest, others can add their assessment. I omitted the dialog that Belloc provided out of a sense of dismay, it predicted too closely the discourse we have been treated to. So, the 43rd President of the United States leads with his notions on knowledge and seems to be assiduously applying all of Belloc's playbook on ignorance. In this respect, he seems to be crossing the line from genial, if miscreant, rogue to fallen angel in the eyes of the American public. I suspect that this judgement, a fallen angel, is one he would be comfortable with. For my part, I only see Blood, but I have a jaundiced outlook on these things. All power to him I suppose, and history will tell the sorry tale. And that is all I have to say on George W. Bush.

Soundtrack for this note

  • Gil Scott-Heron - A Legend in his own Mind No comment.
  • Manu Dibango - Bush A little Afrobeat and jazz-funk excursion taken from the maestro of Makossa's 1975 original soundtrack to Countdown at Kusini. It's nothing too light nor indeed too deep. The bassline and driving horns are augmented by some demented guitar as the band steadily ratchets up the tension building towards the inevitable crash at the end.
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Monday, April 23, 2007

Excellent Discussions


I. Blood Brothers

Apropos strange bedfellows, I came across the following report this week:
Tripoli. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte left Libya on Wednesday without meeting leader Muammar Gaddafi after becoming the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit the country in half a century, officials said.

Negroponte said he held "excellent" discussions with Foreign Minister Mohammed Abdel-Rahman Shalgam and Ali Triki, Libya's envoy on Chad and Sudan, during a 24-hour visit aimed principally at discussing the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region.
Dig: Gaddafi presumably refused to meet Negroponte because the esteemed cold warrior was involved in Ronald Reagan's attempt to kill him in the 1980s (the bombing ostensibly killed Gaddafi's adopted daughter amongst others). There is honor among rogues it seems, and there are still some lines that mustn't be crossed. As we have seen, "he tried to kill my dad" was cited as a motivating factor in the geo-politics of the past 6 years. It stands to reason that "he tried to kill me" would provoke scruples even among those not noted for possessing consciences.

Tom Stoppard in Travesties imagined the scene in 1917 in the Zurich public library at the point where Vladimir Lenin, James Joyce (working on Ulysses) and Tristan Tzara (father of the Dada movement) might have run into each other. The result was inspiration itself.

In this vein I imagine Gaddafi, Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, and Negroponte all in the same room. You might think that it is unfair to place Negroponte in such exalted company since he's an enforcer and not an idea man; a mere civil servant and career diplomat. He's just doing his job after all, scion of John Foster Dulles. And yes, it would be unfair, not to mention a case of "insinuendo" as it were. And a matter of blood.

Still, Negroponte floating the "El Salvador option" in Iraq in recent years was iconic, and his statements were followed in the ensuing months by, well lets put it this way, a plethora of death squads dumping dead bodies at night with gruesome efficiency in the streets of that sad country. I'm reminded that General "Gitmo" Miller's visit to Iraq and emphasis on Gitmo-izing things obviously had nothing to do with all that Abu Ghraib hullabaloo that also followed. Several Pentagon investigations affirm that insight, right? There's no proven connection. It's all shades of gray when the gloves come off. Necessary exoneration.

One wonders what happens when these lords of war get together. Oh to be a fly on the wall of such encounters. Imagine: the architect of the CIA in El Salvador meeting with the architect of almost every malfeasance in the Middle East and Africa for a good generation. The Good Shepherd meets El Capo, rogue division. Death squads in Latin America meet death squads in West Africa. On Monday: mighty masters of macabre mayhem. The high priests of collateral damage tangle in the desert. Live exclusively on pay-per-view. The Great Game.

Further one wonders: are they truly ideologues? At what point does collateral damage itself become the prime motivation for their misdeeds? What ultimately separates these guys from the blood lust of Ayman al-Zawari and company? There is a difference to be sure. But is it simply style or rhetoric? The panache or subtlety with which they dispatch enemies, real and imagined? For indeed, even at a remove and intentions notwithstanding, their body counts are impressive.

And could one even shed a micro-tear for a millisecond for al-Bashir? Good Lord, you prompted Negroponte to seek out Gaddafi, the first high level meeting in decades. What world class malfeasance must you be orchestrating in Darfur? Carnage of champions. Hell froze over. The enemy of my enemy and all that. The rough beast.

I've often wondered what it was like to attend, say, an OAU meeting circa 1989. That must surely have been a rogues gallery sans pareil. Could you shake hands with everyone in that room and look at yourself in the mirror the next day? For that matter, could you sleep that night? And what did the small talk of the nifty fifty sound like? Scratch that, what exactly was their big talk? Inquiring minds want to know.
Comparing notes about fiscal looteries past
Idle boasts of military efficiencies
The minutiae of collateral damage

The bald soprano

II. Excellent Discussions

The following is a rush transcript of the secret meeting held between John Negroponte and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya on Wednesday April 18, 2007. The videotape was leaked to the toli and was immediately handed over to the relevant authorities for authentication. All transcription errors are mine.

[Inside a tent. Decor is well appointed, if not luxurious. Purple silks, indigo cloths etc. Soothing sounds. Negroponte and an aide are shown in by Libyan foreign minister and envoy. Inaudible exchange of pleasantries as they take up seats and are served cups of tea. After a minute or so Gaddafi walks in, flowing robes as usual. Takes up his seat opposite Negroponte. Stares. Long silence... They appear to be sizing each other up. Eventually, after a few false starts, they begin their conversation.]

Gaddafi: Brother Leader of the Great Socialist Arab People's Jamahiriya.

Negroponte: Deputy Secretary of State

Gaddafi: Guide of the Revolution

Negroponte: Director of National Intelligence

Gaddafi: Grand Commander of The Order Al-Fatah

Negroponte: US ambassador to Iraq and Honduras

Gaddafi [indignant]: He of The Little Green Book

Negroponte [impressed, but not wanting to show it.]: Skull and Bones... [Low steady voice] Death squads in Honduras.

Gaddafi: Death squads in Liberia.

Negroponte: Massacres in El Salvador.

Gaddafi: Small boy units. Charles Taylor. 'Nuff said.

[both men seem to relax... become expansive in their gestures]

Negroponte: El Mozote.

Gaddafi: Sierra Leonean amputations. Heard about Foday Sankoh? Trained a few miles from here.

Negroponte: Special intelligence units, Nicaragua..

Gaddafi: Semtex for the IRA. Provisional and Real IRA. Training camps.

Negroponte: Weapons for Savimbi. Hosting Unita via Mobutu. Heck: Mobutu. The fat lady sang.

Gaddafi [absentmindedly]: Those Basque separatists... um... what's their name, again?

Negroponte [interrupts]: Noriega!

Gaddafi: Oh yeah. ETA.

Negroponte: Paraguay!

Gaddafi [nodding... fondly]: ETA.

Negroponte: The El Salvador Option. Iraq. The latest. Militias. Pershmerga. Shia. Badr corps.

Gaddafi: Propped up Idi Amin.

Negroponte [whistles]: Ancient history... Death squads in Guatemala.

Gaddafi: A pattern. Let's see: Jammeh in Gambia, even gave him a medal.

Negroponte [air quotes]: "Dedication to democracy".

Gaddafi: Operation No Living Thing

Negroponte: Our "special project"

Gaddafi [curt]: Chad.

Negroponte [smiles broadly]: Nicaragua. Iran/Contra baby.

Gaddafi: Mengistu.

Negroponte: Old school... Hmm. School of the Americas.

Gaddafi: Rawlings... Campaore in Burkina Faso.

Negroponte: Small fry. New school. Black ops. Extraordinary rendition.

Gaddafi: No. No. Beat this: Carlos the Jackal.

Negroponte [a brief pause for reflection, then triumphant]: Pinochet!

[It looks like a stalemate... Both men pause to reassess. It's almost as if they are racking their brains for something that could top the other. Negroponte sips his tea. Almost a minute passes... several false starts]

Negroponte [curious]: So... was Black September one of your... affairs?

Gaddafi [wagging his finger]: No. No. Room and board only... Abu Nidal. That guy, now there was a wild one... Black September. Black ops... Let me ask: Abu Ghraib?

Negroponte [quickly]: Rumsfeld, Cambone, Miller. Axis of- [cuts himself off]... Mugabe?

Gaddafi [shaking head]: Nope, strictly business with Bob. Mining interests.

Negroponte: Yes, yes. We also have interests. The United States only has interests.

Gaddafi: Pawns.

Negroponte: Allies.

Gaddafi: Proxies.

Negroponte: Cut-outs. Drill bits.

Gaddafi: Valued partners.

Negroponte: Plausible deniability.

Gaddafi: No fingerprints.

Negroponte: Our hands are clean.

Gaddafi: Clean hands.

Negroponte: Strictly business.

Gaddafi: Only interests.

Negroponte [nods]: Only interests.

Gaddafi: Pragmatism.

Negroponte: Realism.

Gaddafi: Breadth.

Negroponte: Depth.

Gaddafi: Burden of responsibility.

Negroponte: Noblesse oblige.

[leaning closer together]

Gaddafi: Revolutionary sanctions.

Negroponte: Executive orders.

Gaddafi: Decisive principles.

Negroponte: Deterrent facilities.

Gaddafi: Resistance procedures.

Negroponte: Presidential findings.

Gaddafi: Fraternal solidarity.

Negroponte: Covert capabilities.

Gaddafi: Preventive action.

Negroponte: Policy imperatives.

Gaddafi: Independent agitation.

Negroponte: Unitary executive.

Gaddafi: Area of operations.

Negroponte: Spheres of influence.

Gaddafi: Vanguard strategies.

Negroponte: Trade. Lower barriers.

Gaddafi: Uh-uh. Business.

[pregnant pause]

Gaddafi: Business. Never personal.

Negroponte: Strictly business.

Gaddafi: Strictly business.

[A bodyguard peeks into the tent, checking on her charge. Her appearance seems to reminds Muammar of something]

gaddafi bodyguard

Gaddafi: Oh yeah. The hare- [gestures] -em Bodyguards. Personally dedi-

Negroponte [nonplussed]: Women from Honduran villages. Just ask Wilkes. Congressmen, agents. They all want more.

Gaddafi [suppresses a look of admiration... then]: Back to business.

Negroponte: The other business.

Gaddafi: Unfinished business.

Negroponte: Business as usual.

Gaddafi: Liberation movements.

Negroponte: Preserve our liberties.

Gaddafi: Unity in freedom.

Negroponte [quickly]: Democracy.

Gaddafi: Liberation.

Negroponte: Manifest destiny.

Gaddafi: Diplomacy.

Negroponte: Diplomacy.

Gaddafi: Freedom fighters.

Negroponte: Freedom fighters.


Gaddafi: Weapons.

Negroponte: Weapons systems.

[louder still]

Gaddafi: Blood.

Negroponte: Blood.

Gaddafi: Blood!

Negroponte: Blood!

Gaddafi [infuriated]: Lockerbie.

Negroponte [shocked, then recovers, coldly]: Your daughter.

Gaddafi [smiles inwardly at first, then acts hurt]: Blo- ... I feel... Need to...
Clean hands... That will do.
[shakes his head]
Business. Never personal.

Negroponte: Strictly business.

[Gaddafi gets up and begins to walk out... Imperceptible nod to subordinates who look attentive and acknowledge him. As he reaches the tent exit, he turns.]

Gaddafi: We never met.

Negroponte [nods]: You refused. We never met.

Gaddafi: We never met.

Negroponte : We never met.

[Gaddafi leaves]

[Negroponte sports a self-satisfied smile. He believes he got the better of the exchange. Turns towards aide. Nods. Finishes his tea. Pauses. Then hands his portfolio to aide and starts to walk out. His aide follows.]

Negroponte [to subalterns]: I think we can do business.

Foreign minister and envoy: [inaudible]

[At the exit]

Negroponte: A good meeting. Excellent. Excellent discussions.

[exits the tent]

[A song has been playing in the background throughout. Provisionally identified as Wynton Marsalis - Blood on the Fields. Revisit.]

[end of transcription]

la cantatrice chauve

Strange bedfellows are among my favourite subjects. Consider this note part of an occasional series. The banner is Fallen Angels.

Part III. By Way of Ionesco

Next: He of The Little Green Book

Possibly related: Recent Non-Specific General Threats

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Monday, April 09, 2007

Observers are Worried

I. Ancient History

Item: Stevie Wonder records Happy Birthday on his 1980 album, Hotter Than July, to lobby for a public holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr..

Dig: President Reagan signs legislation creating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 1983

Paul Krugman observes:
In 1980, when Ronald Reagan won the White House, conservative ideas appealed to many, even most, Americans. At the time, we were truly a middle-class nation. To white voters, at least, the vast inequalities and social injustices of the past, which were what originally gave liberalism its appeal, seemed like ancient history.
Would history repeat itself, one wondered? Let's pursue an alternate history, if you will. After the maudlin Ebony and Ivory (1982) with Sir Paul, there was a slight pause.

Then: Stevie Wonder releases Skeletons from his Characters album in 1987, raising his voice about the South African situation.
Skeletons in your closet / Itchin' to come outside / Messin' with your conscience / In a way your face can't hide
Effect?: The apartheid government of South Africa begins secret negotiations with Nelson Mandela and company in 1988. Mandela is released two years later and becomes president of the country after the ANC wins the 1994 elections.

The power of latter day Stevie has long been noted; historians would do well to study his writings as they tease out landmarks from our cultural history. Still, along with the passage of MLK day, the USA got the ongoing Reagan retrenchment - mitigated in part by Monsieur Clinton. Guilt was assuaged: first they got votes and affirmative action, then they got the TV mini-series, and now they've even got the holiday. Reversing the perspective, I can imagine the T-shirt:
I fought for civil rights and all I got was a lousy holiday.
On the South African business, Stevie had impeccable timing, ignoring if you will the multitude who joined in that long and ongoing struggle. They say that every thing that happened before 1994 has been reconciled with truth, right? Indeed that chorus started long before the 1994 handover. We still hear it:
Move on, it's all ancient history.

II. Right on Time

Jacob Weisberg's writing represents the just before banal of the center left in the United States. This is not to say that Mr. Weisberg is stupid, merely that by the time he writes something, there is a vast "The End" spray painted on the wall. He says something just as it is about to become common knowledge.

Stirling Newberry - The Unspeakable Truth discussing the received wisdom in American media and political circles in March 2007, namely that the Iraq war was a mistake
Dig: Barely weeks later, Joe Klein declared George W. Bush unfit to lead.

Per Newberry's spectrum of banality, Klein should be counted as being merely banal. One awaits the post-banal.

III. Risk Avoidance

Only posterity is unkind to the man of conventional wisdom, and all posterity does is bury him in a blanket of neglect.

— John Kenneth Galbraith discussing inequality in The Affluent Society, 1958
Dig the soul singer:
Predicting the loss
before I begin
So it don't cut too deep
when I don't win
I hate it when I'm right
Much rather be wrong
I'd rather be wrong

Amel Larrieux - Mountain of When, 2006

IV. The Bully Pulpit

Ancient history
Idées fixes
Aspirations of prescience

Firm pronouncements of Praetorian guards
Breathless headlines of received wisdom
Platitudinous laments

Ride the wave, over the edge
Light as a feather
That's how the cookie crumbles

Quibbling a la carte
Trend-surfing alacrity
Toothless prophecy

Polemics of convenience
Shrink-wrapped profundity
Trailblazers of the trade winds

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

Observers are worried

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

Jaundiced Zingers

Further nuggets for the toli scrapbook... ala Dictionnaire des Idées Reçus (Dictionary of Received Ideas) from Gustave Flaubert.

Hatchet Jobs

Choosing Denis Sassou-Nguesso over President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir of Sudan is sort of like passing up Idi Amin in favor of Moammar Kadafi.

— From an LA Times editorial, To lead Africa, commenting on the election of a new president of the African Union and how a gun-running rogue won out over the "slow genocide 'moderate' jihadist". The choices we have in Africa... God help us.

The anemic Mr. Shakespeare specializes in meaningful pauses and cryptic silences. A pastel watercolorist, a stylistic vegetarian, he is inadequate to the task.

William Grimes on Nicholas Shakespeare's In Tasmania

The God of Small Things is a hit with coffeehouse book clubs now for the same reason that To Kill A Mockingbird was a hit with Reader's Digest types fifty years ago. Both affirm the dim simplicities: Children are innocent; grownups are bad. Love is good; prejudice is bad.

— John Dolan on Arundhati Roy: The Goddess of Big Lies, part of the "Great Literary Frauds of Our Time" series.

Now, I know it’s customary in D.C. journalism to understand Harry Truman the way Joe Klein does: as a symbol, as a lovable, plain-spoken guy from the "heartland" largely unconnected to actual politics... So maybe it’s a little unfair of me to call attention to what Truman actually said. But Mr. Klein’s repetitive invocation of Truman, plus a little regional pride in the man, compelled me to look up the Turnip Day speech. Having listened to a recording of it, I think Mr. Klein is right in insisting that it be regarded as a model for Democratic candidates. I can also report that what Truman said in the speech is in almost every particular the precise opposite of what Joe Klein advises contemporary Democrats to say.

— Thomas Frank on Joe Klein's Turnip Day. A great piece on the fetishization of "authenticity" which apparently only Joe Klein is able to discern accurately.

Wherefore The Vicar of Bray?

I do love a good savaging of some of the blowhards that pass for public intellectuals, it keeps them on their toes - well it occasionally serves to reduce the chutzpah quotient. I am still gearing up to take on Thomas Friedman whose intellectual acrobatics, like those of David Brooks or Joe Klein, continue to be a source of wonder. When I think about the malleability of their rhetoric, I turn back to the poem and song in which the case was best laid out about willing chameleons and their agility in retooling their message for the talking point of the day, the Church of Rome and its authoritarian ways.
The Vicar of Bray

In good King Charles's golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Furious High-Church man I was,
And so I gain'd Preferment.
Unto my Flock I daily Preach'd,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn'd are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord's Anointed.
Indulgences are many...

Cryptonomicon consisted of nerdish Mary Sues afloat in a sea of Cliffs Notes for popular science books. Angels and Demons retains the nerd protagonists but adds a layer of cack-handed James Bond stuff.

— Kieran Healy cast his jaundiced eye on Dan Brown's Angels and Demons; the result was succint and savage.

The modern Republican Party is the result of collusion between a movement to take U.S. jurisprudence to the pre-Depression era, and a movement to take culture back to the pre-Enlightenment era. It is doomed because the latter would like a theocratic state to regulate culture, and the former want to smoke dope and look at dirty pictures.

— Max Sawicky - Maxspeak Maxim IX. See also Maxim V.

Dada by way of Funkadelic

What is the source of food for thought?
Image doggie bags
A me burger with I sauce on it
A myself sandwich
A personal burger
And a glass of constricted cola
Out to lunch with lunch meat
The fear of being eaten by a sandwich

Low calorie logic
Muscle brain, skinny brain
Count the calories of your thoughts

— Funkadelic - Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The DooDoo Chasers) from their 1978 masterpiece One Nation Under a Groove.

Singing during a Carterian window (pre-malaise) and shrewdly antipicating a Reagan retrenchment, Star Wars, Iran/Contra, El Salvador and crack epidemics, Mike Hampton's guitar, Bootsy Collins's bass and Bernie Worrell's keyboards laid a musical soundscape that meshed with George Clinton's escapism and scatological insight. The band were at their peak and Doo Doo Chasers and Maggot Brains were on the menu. How I wish the P-Funk crew would provide a musical deconstruction of the current moment. An Emersonian transformation is sorely needed.

On Napoleon's Tooth

A priceless cab ride; you should read it all
"Funniest trip I ever had to make," said the taxi driver. "Now, you'll like this one . . ."

"So I gets a call on me wireless," he continued, "an' 'e says; 'Ere, I've got one for you.'

"I says, 'Oh, yeah,' and 'e says, 'Yeah, you're gonna like this one, I want you to go to this address, in Kensington, pick up Napoleon's tooth and take it to Swindon for auction.'

"I says, 'You what ?' 'E says, 'You 'eard. Napoleon's tooth. An' I 'ope you're insured 'cos it's worth 8,000 nicker.'

[snip further hilarity]

"Well yeah, still, I'll tell you somefin'. You gotta 'and it to his dentist, 'aven't you? 'E shoves that tooth to one side, an' e says, 'I'll 'ave that and I'll keep 'old of it till someone invents eBay.'"

Sentences I Loved Writing

You know too the stereotype about black men, that we have large... vocabularies.

The ballads alone might cause unwanted pregnancies and bring opportunist politicians into your bedroom.

I know my place in America: at the intersection of Tenuous St and Hired Immigrant Worker Alley.

Rendition also reminds one of the worst practices of the meat rendering industry which we know indubitably leads one down the path to Mad Cow Square.

A Title for Future Toli?

Being emotionally in your pajamas.
I'm not quite ready to write something that does does justice to that title hopefully that could be next year's project. In any case feel free to use it.

Delineating Dysfunction

From one of my favourite songs of the past few years that I rediscovered last Christmas.
I really love it when,
I love it when we make mistakes
Because once again,
It gives me reason to complain

I love the battle lines
The battle lines we draw and cross in the mud
I love it when we fight
Standing on the verge of breaking up or making love.

What would I do if we were perfect?
Where would I go for disappointment?

Love without pain would leave me wondering why I stay.

I think of saving myself
But with nothing to complain about up in heaven what would I do?
Saving myself, but I really want to work it out
Down here in hell (with you)

Van Hunt - Down Here in Hell (With You)
I view this beautiful song (discussed recently at Breath of Life, my Sunday morning guilty pleasure) as an update of what Prince has sung: "what's this strange relationship that we hold on to?". In troubled times, when we are all singing the inflation calypso, we are prone to anaesthetize ourselves in nostalgia. Still, artists and grifters will always find a fertile ground celebrating the dsyfunction of the B-movie theory especially in America. It is no surprise that Elijah Muhammed and Berry Gordy arose during the civil rights movement or that Iceberg Slim wrote during Vietnam and Nixonian larceny and so forth. In this vein, it stands to reason that Van Hunt's father was "a part-time painter and a pimp" as he recounts in his musical autobiography. From this springs forth his ground level view of dysfunction and the hard sell. His observations of the hustler ethic informs his music and it leaves him "curious about what it was that happened during the day that makes people do what they did at night". As he puts it, "it is the inner turmoil and struggle to remain sane that stimulates" him. A personal sign of the times and melodious music to boot. You can sample the acoustic version of the song for the next few days.

The Fluidity of Ideas

Circa 1988 or so, I could often be found saying
Dancing is expressing in the perpendicular your intentions for the horizontal.
as part of my teenage flirtation arsenal. It served to lower people's guard in parties and the occasional nightclubs. I continue to use the expression since I believe in sticking with formulas that work. I never quite figured out where I got the witticism from and, for a while, was quite chuffed at myself. Of course that was just intellectual laziness and Google being the great Oracle, it took 0.3 seconds to get the correct source, George Bernard Shaw, and formulation:
Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.
I prefer the original to the toli remix but I'm tickled also by the derivation. It stands to reason that back in 1988 I directed a George Bernard Shaw play, Passion, Poison and Petrification or the Fatal Gazogene. I was even rereading said play last month and considering giving it a toli remix in the things fall apart series. The sampling of music and hyperlinking of snippets on the web are proxies for the fluidity of ideas in the modern world. We're all standing on the shoulders of giants and I wonder how many other notions are being reinvented and reinterpreted these days.

This Fanon Paddy

There aren't many who write on Ghana in the blogosphere but those that do always bring different perspectives to the conversation and with sometimes startling turns of language. I quite like this pidgin deconstruction of Fanon's ideas.
If we all start live like Americans aa, the earth no go fit handle am.

Apart from that, America too have in own problems. One of den problems be public squalor versus private opulence. Even though most parts be ok, more yards be nasty whereas some other posses dey live in fantastic neighborhoods.

That no shedaa be dangerous for a place where dema middle class be large. But transport such an idea to Ghana den trouble... Few obscenely rich people and many poor people. That just be the recipe for armed robberies and Ataa Ayis, no be so?
Be so, Paa Kwesi, it be so.

Further Proverbial Zingers

A Ghanaian proverb I discovered from a French blog now sadly disappeared from the ether. Said blog apparently doesn't believe that permalinks should be permanent - this brittle web of ours.
Si tu transpire c'est qu'il y a un motif.
roughly translated as
There must be a reason that you find yourself sweating.
If anything the proverb is reminiscent of
where there is smoke there is fire.
It sounds quite nice when rendered in French, I wonder if 5 years from now the French will be claiming it as their font of wisdom. I hope therefore that someone can fill me in on the wording in the original language (is it twi?) I don't remember running across it previously.

I recently pointed out this one
Trust God implicitly but always tie your camel up at night - proverb from Northern Ghana
Nothern Ghanaians have a quite fatalistic outlook on the world as exemplified their proverbial sayings.

[Update] It turns out that the Prophet Mohammed as noted by Al-Tirmidhi was the origin of the above saying, the fluidity of ideas again. The story is that
One day Prophet Muhammad, noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, "Why don't you tie down your camel?" The Bedouin answered, "I put my trust in Allah." The Prophet then said, "Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah"
If I recall correctly, Ali Mazrui has a bit about how Mohammed was the only one of the great semitic prophets (following the Rule of Four Mazrui meant Jesus, Mohammed, Marx and Freud) who experienced upward mobility during his lifetime and how it coloured the resulting outlook on life. Hence the practicality and some say dogma of Islam. One of my biggest blindspots in my reading of Africa is that I discount the Islamic influences. Well Mazrui is a good starting point to rectify that and Amazon will be getting more of my money...
If God breaks your leg he will teach you how to limp - Dagbani proverb, Ghana
It stands to reason that they deal with conflict in ways that mystify their fellow countrymen.

On my maternal side, in the Volta region, they are concerned with being prepared and using the right tool
When you have a club, you don't kill a snake with bare hands - Ewe proverb, Ghana
I wonder if the nail and hammer trope sprung forth from this notion or if it is the other way around? Cultural interplay is the order of the day.

Mobile Phone Wisdom

Mobile phones have taken off in a big way in Ghana in the past five years (I am due for some musings on the topic) and, as elsewhere, they are affecting our vocabulary. Thus:
"Out of coverage area."
That was the reply to a question about whether a friend back home currently had a boyfriend. I knew exactly what she meant.

There is much in my life that is out of coverage area, we need some soothing balms for these huhudious times. As it turns out, it is a simple matter of erecting cell phone towers everwhere and building redundancy into the system. But then there's the matter of getting over the "not in my backyard" business. Someone needs to build these metaphorical infrastructural edifices to preserve the commons. I know I'm trying to build a few in this joint. Your contributions are welcome...

See earlier wistful and proverbial zingers.

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