Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label poetry. Show all posts

Monday, June 03, 2013

A Resource Action

You've been surplussed.
That was the word used.

This is a resource action.
That was the phrase used.

Leave. Or find another position.
That was the message.

You have 30 days,
The clock is ticking.

They read the script.
Over the phone.

Out of sight.
Out of mind.

You were checking in the code,
Rushing to meet the deadline.
Heads down, juggling things.
Bugs, emails, instant messages, ideas.
Plans: car, house, family, books.

Then: there was a resource action.

"12 years of my life"

It's over.
Simple as that.

You're not mad;
You're merely sad.

You thought you were a resource,
But then there was an action.

The Corporation.

The language.

"Rebalancing... efficiencies...
Your responsibility..."

The workings of capital
The theory of surplus value

This is a dark matter.


Note the time. Start writing.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007, 12:14:05 PM

You hang up the phone
A fleeting thought:
"No wonder they never sent the new monitor".
And the fuss about that expense report

You fire up the browser
"Let's get some more news about this thing... this... this... 'resource action'".
The blog loads and renders.
7,000 words stare at you.
Written the previous day.

Unsolicited: your contribution.
Unrequited: your capital.

Extracted: your labour.
Redundant: your value.

Ironies are many

No matter.
You check in the code.
Respond to the instant message.
Answer the emails.
You are a resource.

You finish.
Break for lunch.

Things fall apart

This is a dark matter.


You call The Wife.
You need a comfort suite,
And some soul insurance.

This is a dark matter.



The first plank of the web style:
Identify all important resources.

First pass at a resume:
Enumerate skills and experience

Second pass:
Strive for brevity

Visualizing Koranteng

You can have me in 30 days.
The clock is ticking.

This is a dark matter.


You get back to work.

Email arrives. Inbox:
"The Company's Africa work sounds so cool!"

So. Africa. The Company. Work. Sounds. This! Cool?

You have 30 days,
The clock is ticking.

You're still a resource



You were a resource
But they've taken an action
A judgement of value: surplus.

No matter.

It's your turn now.
You'll publish another resource.
Add value to the global surplus.
Your hyperlinked testimony,
Your resource action.

This is a dark matter.


Music. Pet Shop Boys:
"There's lots of opportunities.
If there aren't, you can make them"


Music. Vesta Williams:
"Once bitten, twice shy"


Music. Gil Scott-Heron.
"She could hardly understand
that she was really sweeping up
pieces of a man."

This is a dark matter.


An awful conversation
An untimely disruption
A broken connection

A fractured dislocation
An involuntary termination
An extraordinary rendition

A resource manipulation
An ironic meditation
A redundant representation

A corporate decision
Announced with euphemism:
Call it a resource action

Best to rethink things.
After all: "You have 30 days".
The clock is ticking.

This is a dark matter.


Before: they paid you to stay.
Now: they'll pay you to leave?

Ironies are many

Strictly business,
Don't take it personal.
You're not alone.

A full frontal stare,
You dare not flinch.
You're all alone.

A temporary inconvenience
and a matter of soul.
Put your game face on:
"Be humble but be bold"

Timing is everything.
Must be more to the story.

No condition is permanent.
Observers are worried.

This is a dark matter.


It's time to save things
Let's see, the folder: web
The filename: resource-action.txt

That's enough.
Don't be precious,
You'll add the links later.

Note the time. Stop. It's all wasted time.
Wednesday, May 30, 2007, 1:45 PM

You get back to work.

Good father - Confidence - Big Blue truck in Africa

[ this space intentionally left blank ]

This is a resource action
This is the school of hard knocks

This is a dark matter.

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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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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Poetry as Cultural Memory

Kwesi Brew's poem, Ghana's Philosophy of Survival, is a curious beast, one that continues to confound even as it strikes a chord of admiration and indeed recognition. Judging by the title alone, there's no quibbling here about a pursuit of happiness, that laudable aspiration and seminal con. In this reading, the message of Brand Ghana (or maybe even the more general Brand Africa) boils down to survival, and a philosophy at that. You might be a little perplexed and expectant when you turn the page and first encounter the poem. Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves, that's only the title and you can read the rest for yourself. I thought I'd discuss a few poems and consider his notions of cultural memory: the things we choose to remember and to forget. Herewith some therapeutic toli...

Ghana's Philosophy of Survival

We are the punch bag of fate
on whom the hands of destiny wearies
and the show of blows gradually lose
their viciousness on our patience
until they become caresses of admiration
and time that heals all wounds
comes with a balm and without tears,
soothes the bruises on our spirits.

This is the mettle of invisibility.
This is how we outlast and outlive
the powerful and the unwise.
Whether it is best to wait
or engage the scarlet fury of battle
to stay the hand is for the wise to say,
and not the rashness of the moment.

But we have always been here on this land of ours.
Our country is our home and will always be here at home
To watch, listen and take our suffering
'til true happiness comes naturally and without bitterness.
Love of family kith and kin and brother-keeping
has cast us in this mould:
that while we take the blow and seem unhurt,
speechless, we also watch and wait.

Kwesi Brew, from Return of No Return (1995).
He doesn't pull any punches does he? Indeed he comes right out and gets your attention with the assertion that "We are the punch bag of fate". I admire the nerve as well as the craft. You can't help but be implicated in the "we" even if you're not Ghanaian because what follows are stark words. Phrases full of ironic caresses follow from a connoisseur of the school of hard knocks. He has thought long about the topic and is deploying his talents in plain language.

He isn't berating a culture of excess, or greed, laziness or similar human failing. He's not complaining, nor is he making any value judgments like the prophets of yore. No. Not quite. There's no moral indictment to be found here. Further, should we go looking in the opposite direction, we also won't find any praise-singing. There is merely clear-eyed reflection on a the workings of a community. We are treated to observations born of the discriminatory sensibility of a curator, observations wrapped with the detail of a wordsmith's weaponry. So, reflection it is. The mood is akin to wist, the atmosphere filled with the cosmopolitan perceptions of the weary.

It's a heavy burden however that he has set for himself. Discoursing on the lack of wisdom of the ruler or the excesses of the powerful is the first order of business. One almost expects this kind of pose of our poets. Still, turning the mirror at a society, as the cultural interpreter is wont to do, risks the weight of unpopularity. You get branded as a shrill gadfly demeaning the national character.

As an aside and recent example, it shouldn't have required much courage to criticize the opportunistic imps that landed us with wars and a depression early on in their misdeeds, but few displayed it. Now that the incompetence of that cabal is the conventional wisdom we all prefer to forget the social hysteria that prevailed and that they were able to exploit, the self-righteousness of the wounded and so forth. Cobwebs, I know, dusty cobwebs...

Carry trade - The things we carry - for love and of necessity

Returning to the poem, what are the contours of the stated philosophy of survival, I wonder? Let's start with the question of form. This isn't an essay, manifesto or political tract, it is very specifically a poem. The meter is off kilter - read it aloud and you'll see what I mean, I would hazard that this is deliberately so. He is usually very precise in his works. The chosen form is meant to disorient with its mixture of concision and paradox. The skill of the poet lies as much in the choice of words as in what is left unsaid. The tone also is very different from the exuberance of his earlier poems, the ones that excited a generation of Ghanaian writers.

There are certain phrases that are meant to heighten the tension. Consider the journey that starts with "the mettle of invisibility" and ends "the powerful and the unwise". It is worth dwelling on what we pass through: a coping strategy that helps us "outlast and outlive". If there are gems in this philosophy of survival, perhaps it is in a certain sense of community, the social interplay that Kwesi Brew describes as "love of family kith and kin and brother-keeping". Teasing out this clue, we learn that social living is the strategy. It's a protective mesh to be sure, but one that one that liberates from the peril of alienation that invisibility otherwise implies.

I keep returning to the last lines contrasting them with the first. It's an improvement, if not a reversal, with a sense of purpose. Cultural memory is the thesis. We may decide what we chose to remember and forget as individuals, what a society remembers, however, is often in the realm of the historian, who takes her cues from the raw material of the journalist, or the humble bureaucrat whose notes serve to underlie - or give the lie to, the politician or flight lieutenant's self-serving talking point memo. The hope is that a community will harken to the larger and deeper truths of a poet's lyricism, the storytelling of the griots of yore.

If it is sometimes good for a person to forget, it can be fatal for a community to forget. By the same token, it also matters what a community chooses to remember and to forget - the trappings of nostalgia, myth-making and selective amnesia mark out many blind spots in this landscape. The task then for the poet is to speak to cultural memory, to weave the dreams at once and to reflect on the messy muddle from whence we forge our society.

Kwesi Brew was perhaps the most famous of Ghana's poets (he passed away last year) although, and perhaps this is in keeping with his notion of survival, the poet in him was only one of the many lives he lead: diplomat, businessman, politician and so forth. He didn't simply witness the story of Ghana in the twentieth century, he midwifed the country and helped write its story with all its ups and downs, an active voice even when politicians and journalists would decry a "culture of silence". His declared task, and indeed his legacy, was to make sure that we never forget "the voiceless days of the past" as he wrote in another poem - contrast here with "speechless, we also watch and wait". Consider also the threat to "engage the scarlet fury of battle", and the almost Ali-Foreman rope-a-dope strategy he alludes to. Of course there is also is an element of myth making in the stories that we tell ourselves and he made sure to tell his own stories and to influence the things we remember about our small country. The lesson that Kwesi Brew's Ghana has to teach the rest of the world goes well beyond mere survival.

Don Diego at Edina - Elmina

The book of poems in which Ghana's Philosophy of Survival appears, Return of No Return is centered on a trio of long poems imagining the encounter of Africa with the West. The titular poem is written for his good friend and fellow poet, Maya Angelou, "No Return" was his nickname for her and a reference to the Door of No Return that is the feature of Elmina castle and the various other coastal castles on that saw slaves shipped off to the Middle Passage. Sidenote: these days the castles are tourist attractions of a mournful sort, legacy tourism they call it.

There's a story lurking here in the relationship between the two fellow wordsmiths. Maya Angelou, like quite a number of African Americans in the 1960s left the USA for safer and more hospitable climes. Some were in exile escaping J. Edgar Hoover, others the more benign recriminations of the civil rights era, and still others aiming to satisfy that longing for the motherland. In any case Ghanaian literature and arts in general benefited from the encounter - Efua Sutherland, Kofi Awoonor, Ayi Kwei Armah, Kofi Anyidoho and others would be part of Kwesi Brew's milieu.

Sidenote: by the early 1990s African Americans were beginning a second round of engagement with Ghana. The Leon Sullivans and Jesse Jacksons of the black establishment part of the seduction. No return was indeed returning.

Thus the terms of reference are ostensibly about the Return of the Native, and his note to Maya Angelou would deal with that and all the complexities of American and African interactions. He prefaces it however by considering the beginnings of that trans-Atlantic story and the centuries-long engagement with those who would become the colonizer. The two earlier poems in the series bear the title Don Diego at Edina (Elmina) and imagine a couple of meetings between local chiefs and the Portuguese. I think we'll call this poetic license but also much in keeping with Brew's own history. The Fantes were the first to encounter the Portuguese once these latter got their headstart on the high seas. Fantes are stereotypically reputed to be the most assimilated with the West. What stories indeed would they tell themselves about the relationship? His character of Don Diego Azambuja is perhaps based on his poet's notion of the first adventurers. Where does power lie? And how much foresight can we grant? This excerpt is a poet's history:
And the brown in the King's eyes thickened darkly over
The presage of gold on hands of iron, gold, gold, gold.
Will there be enough gold to dampen these fierce appetites,
Will there be enough gold, Kyeame?

- from Don Diego at Edina (Elmina)
The old chiefs were no fools but were confronted with guns, steel and the concomitant "fierce appetites". The second poem in the series, adds The Great Rebuff as its subtitle perhaps indicating the bad turn in this centuries-long conversation. In it the chief's Okyeame (his spokesman) whispers
Remember, Nana, temptation's honour is disgrace.
The stranger seeks the nether edge of your bed
To snatch your pillow for his head
when sleep overtakes your wakeful care.

Azambuja looked on.

Tell them, Kyeame tell them,
Friends who met but seldom,
Til death parts them.
Savoured the sweetness of untroubled friendship.
The nature of human heart wreaks its mischief
Upon close neighbours each smoldering with his own craving
From unfulfilled desires burst forth consuming anger

- from Don Diego at Edina (Elmina) The Great Rebuff
Again, the chief and his advisers have agency and foresight and negotiate as best they can. Perhaps this is an important point in light of the later catastrophe of the slave trade and colonization. He ends the second poem with an observation about nostalgia, moving forward a few centuries and laying the ground for his consideration of the African American yearning for return. He couldn't talk to his soul sister, Maya Angelou, without invoking the African memory of that dislocation and forging a common language. Again the entire suite is all about cultural memory, what we choose to remember and to forget.

The collection, Return of No Return, was a departure for Kwesi Brew, less exuberant than The Shadows of Laughter and less expansive than the vision outlined in African Panorama (previously discussed here). A mature meditation and a means to recapture his muse. Always clear-eyed, at times it is a simple critique. Consider:

The Force Of Evil

When bad men
Pass through a place
The way is closed
Behind them by the injured,
Even to innocent men.
When in this mood, titles such as Democracy with a Dark Face, Power Perverted should give insight into the focus of his observations. Miracles and the Message is his reflection on the the 1983 drought in Ghana another sore episode and one that is rarely addressed, even as its effects linger.

In writing about these topics, he was perhaps responding to a frequent complaint about the short memories of Ghanaians. So when thugs confront us, we should meet them with our active gaze. And just to prove this point here is Kwesi Brew as Jeremiah, inveighing against the military thugs who were then in the midst of their misrule. No one can say that they weren't confronted. Consider this excerpt from A Goodbye to Arms
Where the green khaki struts and grinds
its marijuana terror into unarmed hearts,
They come as men-at-arms
badged as justice, grim of face.
And then at last, dissembling cloak removed.
A pack of common traders stained in violence
Wresting bread out the mouths of babies
only to give it back to them at a price
so kind are they who betray us.
Mothers, fathers, children, brothers and sisters
Their own shame stained blood


Where is our liberty, you thieves of time?
Where is your vision of prosperity, disciples of greed?
Where is your safety of life, agents of death?
Trusting in these tempers of discontent,
We shall be free again
Free from fear, the fear of fear, the worst
And forever!
A nation's life is a span of just one single bold day!

- from A Goodbye to Arms
The play on the phrase "free from fear", favoured of election observers everywhere ("free and fair, free from fear") is perhaps the sole levity in that poem, a J'accuse directed at Rawlings and his chameleon crew who were ostensibly shedding their military proclivities (hope springs eternal). The rest of the collection, however, serves to round out the picture with laughter and acute observation. We can all use some laughter to leaven life, some riddles to puzzle over and some landscapes for quiet contemplation and revival. The oral tradition that was our past might have encouraged laughter and forgetting but it was also the font of proverbial wisdom and coping strategies for dealing with tricksters. The poets and writers of our present have their work cut out for them.

There is only one aspect of Ghanaian society that Kwesi Brew's words don't fully address in his works, and that is the growing influence of the new religions. Perhaps the urbane cosmopolitan in him didn't feel the need to consider these articles of faith as he spoke to memory. His message of social living was a worldly one even as it invoked the spirit of brother-keeping. It was simply his duty as observer to hew to that message, to bear witness to an unvarnished Ghana.

He lived then "in a land flooded with ubiquitous miracles" and fought the good fight, fashioning his way in the path of a long line of cultural interpreters. I love the texture of Kwesi Brew's poems, the exuberant efficiency of his wordplay and the complications he teases out as he captures both personal and social moods. His words are a soothing balm when the temptation of wrath beckons, they have the consistency of shea butter, guaranteed to heal open wounds and I feel very close to their vitality.

I often feel impatient about Brand Ghana, the twists in the writing and the frequent setbacks. My elders counsel me that it is best to dwell on the small things, to look at the big picture. Talking the long view is a hard thing for the impatient; watching opportunities pass by as small mindedness prevails seemingly at every turn. After reading Kwesi Brew however, I come back refreshed. I no longer begrudge the sanitized fairy tales that many like to tell about Ghana - they have their uses, and, if anything, sharpen my resolve: resist nostalgia and the larger temptation of myth making. Lyricism and clear-eyed reflection were Kwesi Brew's weapons of choice. We are writing the story, we have been writing it forever.

Poetry A Playlist

This is the second of some reflections on Ghana, prompted by the recent election. Let's place this note under the banner of social living.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Of No Fixed Abode

My initial response to the 2005 London bombings was in the vein of whimsy: London's got soul, a trilogy celebrating the place, my favourite town. I then considered a case of identity theft last year to kick off the present Things Fall Apart series. After the news of the past few days, I can now give you the second part of a trilogy focused on the people. This time a look at my "fourth man": the fifth bomber, a man of no fixed abode. Some notes ripped from the headlines, a few musings and some poetry...

"Thought to be Bukhari": A Paper Trail

You lived with him
You stole his name...

They trained you well
Your name is cursed...

No one knows the identity of this man who performed the identity theft.

Identity Theft

[Redacted] 32, from West London. A Ghanaian, his real name is thought to be Bukhari. Said to have abandoned his bomb at Little Wormwood Scrubs after losing his nerve. Represented by Stephen Kamlish, QC.

21/7: the trial, January 16, 2007

Mr Kamlish, representing [redacted], said to Mr Ibrahim: "You wanted to do a copycat of 7/7 - four bombs on 7/7, four bombs two weeks later on 21/7. That was your plan.

"We say your 21/7 bombs were to be bigger and better in your twisted thinking than that of 7/7.

"Four real bombs on the Tube and one block of flats, a tower, destroyed, going up in a ball of flames. That was your plan, wasn't it?"

Man 'planned tower block blast', March 22 2007

During the trial the man I called cursed continued to be referred to by his alias and that inevitable suffix, "of no fixed abode".

Tricksters, gremlins and parasites; who is which?
Mr Kamlish said his client - who the jury was told was really called Sumailia Abubakhari - was "used and abused" by Mr Ibrahim who was a "cowardly, manipulative schemer".

21/7 suspect 'saved tower block', April 17 2007

On Tuesday, he took to the witness box for the first time and told the court his real name was in fact Sumaila Abubakhari and that he is 28 - not 34. Wearing a crisp white shirt, dark blue tie and grey suit, [redacted] said he came to the UK in December 2003 using a passport in someone else's name and applied for the Army. He said he did not consider what countries he might be sent to on active service.

Ghanaian suicide bomber 'wanted to join Army', April 17 2007
Aburi mask - strange days

Muddied waters:
A terror suspect dismantled a bomb and saved the lives of people living in a tower block, his lawyers have claimed...

Prosecuters say he was the fifth bomber who allegedly lost his nerve at the last minute.

But Stephen Kamlish QC, defending, said his client had ditched his bomb - made of hydrogen peroxide and chapatti flour - at Little Wormwood Scrubs after "making it safe".

Woolwich Crown Court heard claims he also dismantled a booby-trapped sideboard at a "bomb factory" allegedly set up by a co-defendant in Curtis House, New Southgate, north London.

Mr Kamlish said: "He's not asking for any applause, but if he hadn't have done it and it was a bomb that actually worked ... he was in fact responsible - potentially - for saving the block and all the people in it."

Mr Kamlish said his client - who the jury heard was really called Sumailia Abubakhari - was "used and abused" by Ibrahim, a "cowardly manipulative schemer".

The barrister told the jury that [redacted] had been under intense pressure, and was even threatened by another defendant, since deciding to "break ranks".

He described his client as a "decent" and "somewhat childlike, sometimes naive" man.

'Not Asking For Applause', Sky News, April 17 2007

A theatrical man, he makes good copy with his African emotions; consider the headlines generated in under an hour a few months ago:
masks aburi

A compromised man:
Anthony Jennings QC, defending Hussain Osman, accused Mr [redacted] of crying when he told police about his supposedly dead father.

Mr [Redacted] has since admitted that his father is still alive.

"You were doing exactly what you were trying to do to this jury, which is pull the wool over their eyes by starting to cry when you were lying," said Mr Jennings.

The barrister went on to accuse Mr [redacted] of being a "self-confessed liar", a "fraudster", and a "sly and devious liar".

Mr [Redacted] denied lying, saying: "I was remembering the time as I'm staring death in my face and you're telling me not to cry?"

21/7 suspect 'is a devious liar', BBC, April 17 2007

Bukhari or Abubakari?
The prosecution says his real name might be Sumaila Abubakari but his nationality is unclear.

'Bomb plot' trial, BBC, April 17 2007
Bukhari or the other moniker Abubakari are Muslim names typically found in West Africa (from Northern Ghana, Nigeria to Sierra Leone). In Ghana at least, the north is much poorer and less developed than the rest of the country. Northern muslims tend to settle in the zongos (slums). Regardless of nationality, the experience of these dwellers is much like that in the slums of Nima, rough and hardscrabble lives. As an often itinerant people, they are deliberately opaque and insular. This served them well in their dealings with the colonials and beyond but this opacity gives rise to much uncertainty as in the present case. We simply don't know what the nationality is.

Mr [Redacted], who is said by the prosecution to have lost his nerve and dumped his device, has said he was not a "fanatic".

He told the court he left the device he was given in a west London park as he "just wanted to get rid of it".

He said Mr Ibrahim had told him the devices would "not hurt anyone".

He told the jury: "It didn't make sense to me. I didn't know whether this was hoax or real or anything to do with terrorists.

"But I didn't want anything where the police got involved in it.

"I thought: 'I don't want to listen no more. I have heard enough. I just don't want to have anything to do with it." ...

At one point, Mr [redacted] needed several minutes to compose himself in the witness box.

He broke down after telling the court of how Mr Ibrahim demonstrated the rucksack device on the morning of 21 July 2005 - two weeks after suicide bombers struck in London on 7 July 2005.

"He started to explain for the first time as if he has been talking to me before," Mr [redacted] told the court.

"I was waiting for him to tell me if this was a suicide bombing or not.

"This was my belief, that this was going to be a suicide bombing because it just happened two weeks ago."

He told the court: "I wanted to live. I wanted to have a good life. I wanted to support my family. It is just something that I have never thought of in my life."

21/7 accused breaks down in court

aburi mask

Lies and Truths:
But he agreed with Mr Sweeney's description that he had lied to police on an "epic" scale, including not telling them his real name, religion or background, about buying the peroxide or what he did after the "attacks" had failed.

He said: "It is unbelievable when I look back at these lies...I lied about the whole day of July 21."

Mr Sweeney said: "You lied through your teeth as to who the bombers were."

[Redacted] replied: "Yes I did. I did not want to associate myself with them after realising what they had put me through."

[Redacted] denied lying to cover up his own guilt, maintaining that he was initially manipulated by co-defendant Muktar Said Ibrahim to follow the story that the attacks were meant only to be a hoax but realised once the trial had started that he had to tell the truth.

21/7 suspect 'lied on epic scale' April 27, 2007

The jury deliberating the cases of the alleged July 21 bomb plotters was today discharged after failing to reach a verdict on the final two defendants.

The decision by the trial judge, Mr Justice Fulford QC, came during the eighth day of deliberations by the jury at Woolwich crown court in south-east London.

He asked prosecutors to decide by tomorrow whether they want to seek a retrial for [redacted].

Jurors fail to reach verdicts on two 21/7 defendants, Guardian, July 10, 2007
The jury was discharged yesterday after failing to reach a decision on two other defendants, [redacted], both of whom deny conspiracy to murder.

[Redacted], 34, of no fixed address, ... will face a retrial, prosecutors said today.

Four July 21 plotters jailed for life, The Guardian, July 11, 2007

A Redacted Note

It has been known since September 2005 that the man I called cursed, a man of "no fixed abode" and now "thought to be Bukhari" was not the man his identity papers claimed, yet in the proceedings of the trial and the journalistic coverage, he is continually referred to with his stolen name. Perhaps this is as it should be, the slow workings of the law and the wheels of justice, an administrative decision. Yet each mention of the name is an open wound for a family in Ghana and London, a reminder about the continuing trauma in their lives. We are all collateral damage, the walking wounded of these interesting times.

I'll note in passing that the western journalistic tic of attaching an age and provenance to every name leads to the stilted formulations of the copy we have seen. Indeed these details detract from the heart of the matter and obscure rather than enlighten the complexities of this very human story. As we have seen, the name, age and nationality are still undetermined and the reporting has been wrong throughout. The only certainty is that he is "of no fixed abode". If we do have to name, place and date in tangible words, I suggest in this case that we stick to the following:
"[redacted], undetermined age, unclear nationality, of no fixed abode"
aburi mask dark


A few more leading indicators to round off our notes:
Al-Qaeda has responded to the U.S. intelligence focus on young Arab men as potential risks, he says, by recruiting "jihadists with different backgrounds. I am convinced the next major attack against the United States may well be conducted by people with Asian or African faces, not the ones that many Americans are alert to."

George Tenet: Tenet Details Efforts to Justify Invading Iraq, April 28, 2007
No country is immune from these things, consider this clipping from last summer:
Two Nigerians, whose identities were not disclosed at press time, have become victims of the exchange of artillery fire between Israeli authorities and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

Two Nigerians Confirmed Killed in Lebanon bombings, July 24, 2006
The footsoldiers of The Great Game know no boundaries, indeed their variety is a historical commonplace.
So when I watched the recent protests in Kyrgyzstan, I thought not to the recent people-power outings in Ukraine and Georgia or even to the collective courage that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall (not pope-inspired by the way). Rather I thought back to Christmas 1990 sitting in Nancy, France, watching images from Bucharest alongside a true-believer socialist as his worldview finally succumbed to that ineffable and unrelenting pull of gravity.

It is no comfort to have learnt, as I did a few years later, that there were Ghanaians who died fighting for that reptilian man, Nicolae Ceausescu, alongside his Securitate during the Romanian overthrow of that macabre communist regime. I thought about the kind of world in which someone would send young Ghanaian men to train in interrogation techniques in far-flung places like Cuba, East Germany and Romania to come back and oppress their people.

I thought about what it meant for a young man to find himself in that position, in a foreign land, dodging bullets and shooting at people, in their own country mind you, trying to overthrow a rotten regime. I thought about how miserable and brutish their lives must have been to have undergone that kind of journey. And what about their peers who did come back from their various schools of grist to wreck havoc on their compatriots? I'm sure that some of these trained killers are among those who carry out weekly armed robberies in our towns.

Strange Bedfellows and the Journalistic Impulse
Perusing these notes, the obvious questions remain unanswered. Depending on where you stand, the actors range from convenient scapegoats like John Walker Lindh, to the convinced and morally convicted ciphers such as Richard Reid, to the more ambiguous cases like that of the man I call cursed. There is perhaps a full spectrum of responses: from moral courage, through the mistaken and misguided indiscretions of youth, to moral midgetry. That is the terrain of fallen angels.

As with all things about the human factor and the theatre of our existence, our fall from grace perhaps renders this melancholy mystery unknowable. One cannot but stare at the trainwreck when it comes. But how does one equip oneself to face the abyss? Where does one buy soul insurance? In a dark time, perhaps social living is the best.

masks maame

"Of No Fixed Abode"

Identity theft
Open wounds

Fallen angels
Damaged goods

Brutish living
Scarred consciences

Devious schemers
Lost nerves

Enemy combatants
Collateral damage

Modern travellers
Prison shelters

Stolen verdicts
Jury deadlocks

Bomb factories
Moral blinders

Hostile lives
Fractured dislocations

Cultural interplay
Social living

The aliases of exiled souls
Alienated, "of no fixed abode"

Soundtrack for this note

  • Antibalas - Indictment
    An angry afro-beat meditation with dissonant horns that presents a bill of goods, if not some articles of impeachment, on our current situation. The song is also a humourous indictment of all those rogues in a musical court of law. One wished everyone expressed their grievances in music or words. The cover art is prescient about the flight of that man "thought to be Bukhari", the confusion and urgency are the same, as is the mistaken resort to violence. It is the mask of a man of no name, of indeterminate age, of unclear nationality and of no fixed abode. The only missing thing is the discarded, bomb-laden rucksack.

    Antibalas - Indictment
  • Prince - Reflection
    A simple song: light drums and an acoustic guitar that sticks in your head and gets you singing along before you know it. The melody is wistful and, befits the title, reflective. We're reminiscing about innocence lost, the good old days when decisions were without consequence and life itself was carefree. Not everyone has that luxury but we can all empathize with that sentiment
    Sometimes I just want to sit out on the stoop, play my guitar just watch all the cars go by
  • Angie Stone - Soul Insurance
    Her warm voice endears as does the music; Angie assures you that she has got your back. Soul assurance. Soul insurance. Where do I sign up for mahogany soul?

Update August 29, 2007

The following passage should give much pause for those sympathetic to this man "thought to be Bukhari"
He said that Mr Omar had offered a bed to a mentally ill African refugee, took in a homeless Indian man and paid visits to people in hospital. He never heard Mr Omar speak out in support of any act of terrorism. Mr Dixon said: "He was against the Iraq war, but... he said nothing radical." Mr Dixon became an unwitting helper of the alleged conspirators when he accompanied Mr [Redacted] on a trip to buy dozens of litres of hydrogen peroxide, the chemical that formed the key ingredient of the rucksack bombs.

Witness was unwitting helper with 21/7 purchase
So not only did [redacted] use people unwittingly to help buy bombmaking equipment but, if my reading is correct, he also stole the identity of that "mentally ill African refugee" who his accomplice had taken in. No one has connected these particular dots but I would lay even odds that said refugee was indeed the man who woke up to learn that the police were calling him a bomber. That would certainly round out the circle of infamy of tricksters using anyone who falls into their orbit. One wonders if there really are any more shades of gray to this story.

Next: Ode to Betty Brown

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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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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Game of the Rough Beast

This is an open letter.
This is a game.
This is a poem.

To The Editors,
Dear Mr Reporter,
This is my second draft.

First I wrote to The Editors,
Then it was to you.
Now it's a different beast.

A parlour game in your honour.
I tried it out on a friend.
A political junkie, he likes toli.

He said it was rough,
That it needed work.
Bear with me, I'm wrangling with this thing.

I'm a child of the web.
First an adventure in hypertext
Now prose and some poetry.

William Butler Yeats.
Recall what he wrote:
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold"

This is part of a series.
I hope you'll play.
It's about The Second Coming

  1. Cut and Paste
  2. Cause and Effect
  3. The Game of the Rough Beast

Cut and paste

A game for you.
Simple instructions.
A test of comprehension.

Phase 1: Cut

Read the following passage.
It's from the New York Times
Some questions when you are done
In the northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya, thousands of Palestinians mourned the death of most of the Ghaliya family and wept as Huda Ghaliya, 7, kneeled to kiss her dead father before he, her mother and four siblings were buried. All were killed when the Israeli shell struck the beach where they were having a picnic. Huda had been playing nearby on the beach at the time. On Saturday, she asked mourners, "Please do not leave me alone."

The Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya of Hamas, who called the incident "a war crime," said he would adopt the girl. Later, Mr. Abbas, who called the incident "a dangerous, horrible, ugly crime against civilians," issued a presidential order adopting her.

The dead included Ali Ghaliya, 49, and his wife, Raisa, 35, and their children Ilham, 15, Sabreen, 7, Hanadi, 1, and Haihsam, 4 months. Mr. Ghaliya's first wife survived, said Ayyam Ghaliya, 20, one of Mr. Ghaliya's surviving children.

Questions (Phase 1)

  • Imagine that you wrote this passage, what title would you use when you submitted the article?
  • Imagine that you were the editor of this newspaper and received this article, what title would you use when you published it?
  • Bonus question: What page would you run this article on?

Phase 2: Paste

Read the following passage,
it's from the same article.
Some questions when you are done
Hamas fired at least 15 Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel on Saturday, ending a tattered 16-month truce with Israel, a day after eight Palestinians were killed on a Gaza beach, apparently by an errant Israeli shell.

Later on Saturday, in Ramallah, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, announced he had set July 26 for an unprecedented Palestinian referendum on the principles of a unified political platform agreed upon by Palestinian prisoners, which calls for a Palestinian state in pre-1967 boundaries alongside Israel.

Spokesmen for the ruling Hamas movement said they rejected the referendum decree and were studying their options, raising the prospect of further confrontation.

Questions (Phase 2)

  • Imagine that you wrote this passage, what title would you use when you submitted the article?
  • If you were the editor of this newspaper and received this article, what title would you use when you published it?
  • Bonus question. How well do these passages flow?

Cause and Effect

I made your second passage my first.
If you read the published article,
You'll no doubt see the reverse.

These were my friend's answers:
"Orphaned girl adopted by President"
"Random stuff about Palestine"

He saw two different stories:
"Death of family leads to end of truce"
"Hamas breaks cease-fire to distract attention from political confrontation with the President"

This was the published title:
Hamas Fires Rockets Into Israel, Ending 16-Month Truce
My friend then wrote "The perfidy of the press is one subject you should be used to"

It was a late night
The Wife saw me reading
Something in my face

"Why are you reading this Israel-Palestine stuff?"
Then I showed her your second passage,
I now call it the second coming.

"But they've buried it.
I would have never read past the beginning.
What page is it on? ... The whole thing is hidden..."

The Guidelines
They said:
Avoid politics

The Guidelines
They said:
Don't pick fights

Common sense,
Empirical evidence:
Steer clear of the Israel-Palestine matter

Still: I'm a journalist's son
You've given me an opening
I can't resist the temptation

The journalistic impulse
I seek out strange bedfellows
A student of editorial decisions

I'm in awe of what you've accomplished
You wrote the strongest fourth, fifth and sixth paragraphs I can imagine.
You ought to be a hero.

You covered a textbook massacre
Wrote in the strongest language
And yet: the story was buried.

A skillful presentation
You reported eight deaths
You shouldn't be accused of mendacity

And yet: the story was buried.
It's lost. Misrepresented at best.
The Reporter and The Editors.

Intentional and artful rather than inept:
The page, the wording, the images, the placement.
And calculation: the title. Best left unread.

Below the fold.
The Reporter's byline.
Those delicately arranged passages

A terrain of uncertainty
Did The Editors ask you for balance?
Were there two separate stories?

Who chose the title?
And are you proud of it?
I'd rather be wrong.

I would be grateful if you could comment
On words hidden in plain sight.
I had the most dreadful time that night.

A young girl has been taught
An awful lesson in life:
Death, the school of hard knocks

I lost faith that night
At this brutish spectacle
What kind of world is this?

A perplexing script:
Business as usual,
There go those Palestinians again.

My first draft:
Your article published on Sunday June 11, 2006 in the New York Times newspaper is by my measure the most skillful piece of journalism in the past year. I applaud the care you have taken in your endeavours, the craft with which either yourself and your editors combined to tell a story. It is so skillful that I feel obliged to write to you.
My second draft:
Your article published on Sunday June 11, 2006 on page 6 in the New York Times newspaper is by my measure the most skillful piece of misdirection I have witnessed in journalism in the past year. The phrase intelligent design does not do justice to the craft with which either yourself and/or your editors combined to bury a story of outrage. I applaud the care you have taken in your endeavours. It is so skillful that I feel obliged to write to you. You should win a Pullitzer for it.
I attempted to play your game
Exercising editorial discretion
And tried my hand at misdirection

The rest of the article
The same clarity of structure
3 paragraphs to muddy, 3 paragraphs to disarm

The Reporter and The Editors
I haven't slept since that day.
I assume someone didn't sleep round your way

The cameras must have been rolling
Slightly different story the next day
Hmmm, a new reporter.

The Game of the Rough Beast

Cut and paste.
Cause and effect.
The logical structure of perfidy.

The Reporter
The Editors


A question
An exclamation
A period

A fine line

Cognitive dissonance
Fair and balanced

Paragraphs: 1-2-3
Paragraphs: 4-5-6
Jackson 5: "ABC. Easy as 1-2-3"

I want to think the best of you.
I want to think the worst of you.
This is all a big muddle.

I want to think the best of The Reporter.
I want to think the worst of The Editors.
Resistance or deception? I'm unmoored, bereft.

[ this space intentionally left blank ]

The beach at Beit Lahiya.
The soul of a reporter.
The policies of The Editors.

"From Gaza into Israel"
"On a Gaza beach"
First movement and action, then the passive, a mere location.

"Hamas... launched at least 15 Qassam rockets"
"An errant Israeli shell"
First actor then action, then the passive. There's no actor.

Curtis Mayfield spoke the truth
We lost him, I miss him
This is what he sang:
They're all political actors... but they all know
If there's a hell below
We're all going to go
The logical structure of perfidy.
An awful reversal of causality.
The strange architecture of misdirection.

Normally effect follows cause.
Outrage is directed at cause,
And understanding attaches itself to effect.

In the human infrastructure of misdirection,
Cause follows effect,
And cause is itself an effect.

In those middle pages of your newspaper,
Cause is buried by effect,
And outrage attaches itself to effect

All that remains is effect.
Your byline, your story, the passive tense
The Editors, The Gray Lady

Back to front, the story is buried.
Eight dead bodies replaced by abstraction
Grim reality meets editorial necessity

I can't work out this puzzle.
I don't know which facts to dwell on.
I like to play this puzzle at night.

I don't know how to order these paragraphs.
Cut and paste. Cause and effect.
I don't want to play the game.

Do you sleep at night Mr Reporter?
Do you think The Editors sleep at night?
I rewrite your article at night

Her name is Huda Ghaliya.
Her family is dead.
They died on the beach in front of her.

It was a picnic. On the beach.
A shell.
They are all dead.

She cried.
They died.
I cried.

I suspect you cried
Did The Editors cry?
And were the cameras rolling?

Did the world cry?
Errant Israeli shell
15 Qassam rockets

June 11, 2006
Page 6 of the New York Times
The title, your story: buried.

The beach, the picnic, the shell
The cameras, the family: the coffins
The rockets, the funeral, the story

June 12, 2006
Page 8 of the New York Times
New title, the story: gasping.

Night. Sleep. Day
Black. White. Gray.
The Reporter. The Editors. The Gray Lady.

New York Times.
Steven Erlanger.
Hamas Fires Rockets Into Israel, Ending 16-Month Truce

The spin.
Peretz: Gaza beach blast may have internal Palestinian cause

New York Times
George Azar. Politics as Theatre.
Errant Shell Turns Girl Into Palestinian Icon

This is what I read that night
This is what I saw
This is the fog of war

Do you know each other?
Do your editors know the other editors?
This is such a muddle.

My original title: Abject mendacity of New York Times Editors
My draft title: On misdirection and injustice
My published title: The Game of the Rough Beast

I wanted to avenge her.
Instead I wrote a parlour game.
It is my only act of resistance.

I want to stare directly at the heart of darkness.
I hope I won't flinch.
I don't trust myself.

I wonder if you've come close to the rough beast.
I think you've come close to the rough beast.
Have you come close to the rough beast?

I want to know what he looks like.
I don't want to know what he looks like.
I know he's there.

I can only hope that one day you will do a follow-up story on her loss.
I can only hope that one day you will do a follow-up story on the Hamas shelling.
A follow-up story with the same editors.

I can only hope you'll play the game again
The game of cut and paste
The game of cause and effect

Then maybe I'll sleep at night
Then maybe I'll know the rough beast
Then maybe I'll make my own accomodations

I have only my pen to wield
I wonder if you've read this far
I hope you haven't read this far

He is close
I can hear him
A neighbour's house is on fire

I hear her cries.
I see her face.
I play my music
"It's 2am when the party's over
All I wanna do, all I wanna do
I wanna be with you"
Cut and paste.
Cause and effect.
The logical structure of perfidy.

Her name is Huda Ghaliya.
Her family is dead.
They died on the beach in front of her.

I want to avenge her.
Bring them back to the picnic.
Maybe it is better this way.

What kind of injustice is this?
Who is writing the script?
And who is editing it?

What are the names of your editors?
Did you have an editor at all?
I prefer to know them as The Editors.

Let's hear it from the poets
William Blake: Til we have built Jerusalem
William Butler Yeats: Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

Yeats's first cut,
A quotable sort
Everyone remembers this:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all convictions, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
But it's about The Second Coming
The story written afterwards
And everyone forgets it:
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born?
My thesis as it is:
In the School of Hard Knocks
Things Fall Apart beats Heart of Darkness

More practical, bear with me.
Heart of Darkness: Angola, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Congo, Chile, Somalia, El Salvador
Things Fall Apart: Soviet Union, Nigeria...

Try it again, your neck of the woods.
Heart of Darkness: 9/11, Baghdad, Al Zarqawi, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Haditha...
Things Fall Apart: Katrina, Enron, Abramoff, Cunningham...

When I read your article
I was reminded of the poem
"A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun"

I seek a comfort suite
And pray for peace and quiet
The cement of my society

To be out of sight
To live out of mind
A chance to recover

I try to stare at the sun
I want to look into his eyes
Confront him head on:

The rough beast.
Observe his contours
Resist nostalgia

I hope I don't flinch.
I want to cover my eyes
I fall asleep

Help me, Mr Reporter.
Her name is Huda Ghaliya.
The rough beast, The Editors

This thing's a puzzle.
I'm tired of the game.
Where are The Editors?

I wake up on the beach at Beit Lahiya
Where are you, Mr Reporter?
And who are The Editors?

The rough beast lies next to me.
William Blake: Among those dark Satanic Mills
William Butler Yeats: Slouching towards Bethlehem to be born

Yours sincerely.
Sincerely yours.
I'd like some answers.

The Game of the Rough Beast
The Reporter and The Editors
The beach at Beit Lahiya

The Second Coming
The Ghaliya family lost four members less than two years ago when an Israeli Army shell hit their farm in Beit Lahiya. Then, as now, the army said it was shelling to try to stop Palestinian fire into Israel.
The Rough Beast

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