Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Disturbing Tranquility

I practiced the coup drill for we already had our lost decades
Marked by tanks in the streets and the military men's arrival
When so many failed to stand up and be counted
And displayed an altogether impressive passivity
I dissent from that brand of disturbing tranquility
That culture of silence, that philosophy of survival
I'm not inclined to continue as the Ghanaian Sphinx

God knows, I'd rather be proved wrong at this stage
Even after living as an exiled soul, on the losing side
I'm part of a loud minority — tribes, vibes and scribes
My chosen soundtrack is that of the urban griots
Firm believers in the necessity of permanent outrage
Unleashing wistful zingers, satire deployed as a weapon
Irony as the key register even in impassioned conversation
Let it not be said that defiant stares are our only aggression
Voices inside, soul singing, we march on the road to freedom

Now they want us to turn back the clock
And return to the autumn of the patriarchs
When conquerors partied until the break of dawn
While the rest of us dealt with curfews, chits and laissez-passers
Subject to daily confrontations at arbitrary roadblocks
The fear of being caught out on the streets after dark
And to think that the foreign press counsels us to "accept reality"
I daresay it's an affront, intolerable this rogue civility
I'm therefore proud to be accused of disturbing tranquility

The coup leaders in Myanmar have released the names of seven opposition activists they want arrested. They were accused of disturbing tranquility, a rarely used charge.

BBC, February 13, 2021
wire maintenance

Disturbing Tranquility, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note. I nominate this pièce de résistance for the Things Fall Apart series under the banner of Social Living. Trapped in my pandemic cage, thousands of miles away from the kind of danger so many are facing in Myanmar, I could only contribute these words and a defiant stare.

An Afterthought a few months later


Obliquely, the above was born of a thought experiment. What if the men in khaki stepped back into the frame in today's Ghana? And the counterfactual: what should/could have been the response when they did step back into the frame almost 40 years ago? If more had been prone to disturbing tranquility rather than the masks of civility that we wore, would we be debating cultures of silence today? Ain't that peculiar? as Marvin would sing.

Anyway, some would say better Myanmar than Ghana (God forbid). But injustice anywhere is an outrage, and we should all stand in solidarity. The heart aches at the damage past and ongoing, and the things that we've lost.

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Writing log: February 13, 2021

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Taste

Of the senses that cruel nature can decide to deny
Taste is apparently the ugly stepchild
Likely to be easily dismissed without a thought
Or simply sacrificed as in a pact with Faust

Its function can even be subsumed by its siblings
Harken to the ancients of the Epicurean tribe
Who claimed that we eat first with our eyes
Even as visual appetites can be further whetted
By the alluring smells of culinary anticipation
I'm minded that even the sounds of food preparation
Can occasionally climb to the most flavorful heights

The hunger for touch and tangible connection
The music of comfort suites and aural pleasures
The sight of delightful contours elicit recognition
The familiar smell of home remains a welcome perception

True, there are magical feasts in fairy tales
And secret recipes are oft highlighted
The storytellers of yore emphasized poisonous potions
But far more of their plot points hinge on glorious visions
Suffice to say that the gustatory is underrated

The plague announces itself with the theft of taste
A sensual covidious casualty even before smell
Superfluous perhaps, this robbery, for food is fuel
But the pandemic's effect on the tongue means all is gruel

To no longer know the meaning of a grain of salt
Or that the sweetness of a smile could be lost in appreciation
And sour moods could remain mere shadows rather than viscerally appall
What a life, to be resigned to the bitterness of disappointment

No more folktales, what about the princess and the brown sugar?
What is the spice of life when everything now requires a food taster?
You can have all the riches in the world, all that money
But without comfort food, would the prince still savor the honey?

What circle of hell is this, with no easy excuses to forgo your broccoli?
Sustenance perhaps, but might as well go for feeding tubes really
Everything is pap, utter undifferentiated banality
This poisoned chalice that has become your new normalcy

A paradox, the sensory organ continues to exist
Still soft, warm and lush, this vestigial proboscis
This invisible disability remains a dark matter
Even as you sit ruing the loss of your taste receptors

The body compensates, they say, and refines the other textures
Enhanced smell might give you an entrée as a great nose in the perfume industry
But it's no consolation when you can no longer detect a wine that's merely ordinary
A subprime foreclosure on your mooted career as a fine wine buyer

We've been reading the tale of the lost stories
Narratives of control; this paradise from which we’ve been severed
Social distancing with so many unable to walk in glory
Pity the survivor however, at a remove from a taste of heaven

The heart leaps at the mention of Auntie Becky's kelewele
Roadside excellence, the comfort food of Labone childhood reveries
The intense longing, an almost physical vibration
Synesthesia, I can picture the plantain with such acuity
But to have these flavors foregone would be agony
To be left with only the color of memory
Would a kiss of life even be extraordinary?
Taste, a lack of sensation, to no longer be at ease
It is said that nostalgia can be a fatal disease

kelewele: glorious fried plantain

After learning of my sister's covidious condition and a friend stuck in Texas trying to summon the memory of the taste of plantain

Taste, a Playlist


A tasty soundtrack for this grace note.

See previously: Touch

This sensory process is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Book Is Done

The book is done.

The book is done. As conceived, you've written what you wanted. No more fiddling.

The book is done. God knows, you thought this time would never come, it's a good feeling.

The book is done. You remember that you've said the same thing four times previously, that you've felt the same way with this one, felt the same confidence that you have a new creation.

The book is done. Of the pleasures of taking up one's pen, much has been written, but what about that other moment that you've just reached: the act of completion?

The book is done. You try to recall the original conception, but it's lost to you by this point. The muse wills what she wants, it was she that mandated the direction.

The book is done. Be it resolved, you'll ignore your inner editor, ignore those other gatekeepers, those interlopers on the journey to publication.

The book is done. For this moment at least, forget imposter syndrome and all those other inhibitions.

The book is done. Any typos and implausible scenarios are beside the point. Let's call them intentional misdirections, music to your fiction.

The book is done. Enough already, 45 poems and folktales should be enough, resist the temptation.

The book is done. You're the son of an editor, so you're always wary when someone presents what they believe is the finished article. "I'm done, here it is", they might say proudly and expectantly, and for good reason.

The book is done. You smile sympathetically but immediately start to consider how to break it to them that, yes, there has been an act of creation, but that creation is not completion.

The book is done. You're a hard editor of others, occasionally savage in your cuts and suggestions.

The book is done. You have a soft spot for yourself, you never have the same severity with your material. Oh no, could you lose this heaven? Is this sensitivity a delusion?

The book is done. As a writer too, you recognize that the moment when you think "I'm done" is not an end, but really just a beginning. Still, you celebrate that feeling.

The book is done. This fixation on the book, the physical object even though there's electronic editions and, these days, more listening than reading.

The book is done. You're beyond the draft, you've printed it out with your concept cover, apt to be discarded. No more deletions.

The book is done. You've been consumed by it. Now you can get back to reading.

The book is done. Now you can catch up on the world. Time to put out some feelers.

The book is done. Steel yourself for the shadow of the naysayers. Also the inevitable mystery: will there be any readers?

The book is done. Hold on to the feeling even as you realize the moment is fleeting.

The book is done. Recognize that it is only an opening act, proofs loom, the fact checker and copy writer will undoubtedly be taking you to task.

The book is done. If you're lucky, you'll soon move beyond words and be discussing types and faces, artwork, and the book's mask.

The book is done. You're soul satisfied, more than a little exultant, that you cannot deny.

The book is done. Truth be told, you hadn't been planning this one. A detour from your arch concepts, funny how it crept up on you, the realization, on the sly.

The book is done. Writing starts with solitude, detachment perhaps, and a splinter of ice.

The book is done. Now you can repair those relationships neglected for the book, and try to make nice.

The book is done. You can't help yourself: you've started thinking about the next one.

The book is done. That's ridiculous. Focus on your wife, daughter and son.

The book is done. As in your hypertext dreams, you built out your world, threw in some Easter eggs, a few traps, and many erasures; and now you're spent.

The book is done. You turn the page over, close the notebook, and put down the pen.

The book is done. You name it final-final, click the Save button, compose the email, and then hit Send.

The book is done. You've reached the end, a moment of clarity, a brief pause for reflection.

The book is done. The moment passes. Enter the specter of The Editor, now come the complications.


Books, however much their lingering, books also must Come to an End. It is abhorrent to their nature as to the life of man. They must be sharply cut off. Let it be done at once and fixed as by a spell and the power of a Word; the word:

Finis

— On Coming to an End by Hilaire Belloc

Feeling Good, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note. Music, as ever, is my comfort suite; it certainly feels good.

Presentation Pete - Leaping Pete

Postscript


After writing the foregoing, I delayed publication as is my custom, and found myself fiddling further. I must confess that I wrote a few more things for "the book" as if to thicken the stew further. Physician, heal thyself, or rather, Dear Reader, send me an editor, I might warrant an intervention.

Postscript to the Postscript


I fear I am afflicted. I finished another book, this one written with furious intent over the past six weeks, I feel positively Dickensian. For fear of flooding the zone while I shop the previous one, I'll serialize the latter. We'll call it Toli Tuesdays - see if you can discern the theme in the coming weeks and months.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Dust

Everything is written in sand
The virus sets the timeline
While the plague's evolution is orthogonal,
Humanity's horizon is measured in lifetimes
From dust we came, and we shall surely return
Nature's impositions become the harsh lessons learned

Everything is written in sand, at least that's how things stand
We need flexibility to accomodate the change of plans
For our budgets have the same shelf life as our tiers
Ad hoc policies were manufactured as flimsy protective barriers
And regulations were inconsistently applied - no common carrier
Squalid tales of queue jumping, the rule of diverted supplies
Chains of inequality revealed in lieu of shared sacrifice

Everything is written in sand, for this take a bow
For we’re all amateur epidemiologists now
Who wax eloquent about the nature of spike proteins
Droplets, aerosols, and the occasional red herring
The security theater of overly fastidious hygiene
Debates about vaccine efficacy and mask protection
This uncertainty, our close confidant and companion
An ambiguous adventure this gospel of germs
The season of migration to the land of concern

Everything is written in sand, it's hard to fill in the gaps
A temporary inconvenience this global narrative collapse
Requiring gymnastics from leaders who simply aren't up to the task
That I reassured you "absolutely" of school safety on Saturday
Is no guarantee that we'll be able to avoid a lockdown come Monday
Yes, the tough rules that I suggested might be necessary "later",
As the science has evolved, have had to be imposed "rather sooner"

"Cases are rising almost everywhere"
Driven by the new variant, it appears.
"And without further action, there is a material risk of being overwhelmed"
Still, "with a fair wind in our sails", the ordeal could well be over by half term

Clarity foregone, contrast their statements with their inaction
Even as they assure you that this is the best course of action
A duty of care, "Further steps must now be taken to arrest this rise"
The confused messages from your leader are in abundant supply

In the background, a torrent of common lies
Beastly evasions launched with shrinking half lives
Slothful neglect and responsibility shirking
Malice aforethought and depraved direction

Declarations of intent are suspect
In the torrid zone, you must understand
As my lament stated at the outset,
Everything is written in sand

Touch briefly, the fleeting canvas slips away from your grasp
What remains are the sands of time, the memories that last
Sorrow and tears, a symphony of labored breathing
A closing ceremony of unfathomable grieving
Worse, it was unnecessary, so many unforced errors
Human beings reduced to a handful of dust. Ephemera.

Everything is written in sand
The arc of a human lifetime
To dust we shall return
Shallow breaths as lifelines

Ephemera

Everything is written in sand
What paradise have we lost?

Everything
Sand
Wind
Dust

Busy Day by Hector

Dust, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note to lighten the mood. Some soul food. I excised Gil Scott-Heron's Angel Dust from the playlist to keep things grounded, your mileage might vary.

This internal displacement is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Tuesday, April 06, 2021

No One Is Coming

No one is coming to help you is the bitter lesson
A signal moment of clarity in this your time of need

No one is coming to save you from this mess
The painful rule of thumb in the midst of your distress

No one is coming, there'll be no cavalry
The loudmouthed white hats trumpeting action are no sanctuary
Indeed, these days, those in the wild west have their own quandaries
In the frantic struggle for survival, some died with their boots on
It's best to solve your own problems, not rely on other persons

No one is coming, there's no need to ask
You might as well face up to the facts
Deferred maintenance leads to deferred dreams
Your own hands will have to repair the frayed seams

No one is coming, get it into your head
There's no saving grace, you've clearly lost that bet
Change makes you want to hustle, it is often said
Focus on resilience and adaptability instead

No one is coming, rise up to the test
In prior times, they could easily pay lip service
Indeed, some made it their self-appointed business
Truth be told, before the reversal of fortune, it was manifest
Your destiny was once removed, it was always clear they'd lose interest

No one is coming, there are no pat solutions
It may feel good to rely on international organizations
True, we all sink or swim together, embrace solidarity
Yet with the new variants, you may face your own mutations.
Buyer beware, some of the same ones who are now so vocal
Will soon remind you that, at heart, everything is local

In the Anglosphere, we saw the callousness of the response.
Once Wall Street was protected, the rulers lost all interest
Leaving the rest of us to plaintively wonder: whither survival checks?
In England, getting the Tory party to do more than the barest minimum
Was like pulling teeth in extremis, impossible in a timely fashion

The world over, elites are forced to confront crippled healthcare systems
No exfiltration, nor Medivacs, we all use the same hospitals
Those bearer bonds, those bank accounts, those offshore vessels
And digital blockchains are no protection, all that cybersecurity
Counts for nought when we haven't reached herd immunity
The Swiss now require vaccination certificates, newly-minted attestations
Quarantine even in the Cayman Islands, new procedures, rules and regulations

Accordingly, support bubbles of affluence are being pierced
Private jets navigate narrow, restricted travel corridors
Previous greed and privilege distilled, in short order, as if cursed
Now's the moment of reckoning, if not of buyer's remorse

"No one is coming to save you, it's up to us", goes the chant
Yes, well, it's the daily news even if it seems like a taunt
It was the purest folly to expect as much, is the insight
That others would forgo their insatiable appetites
Every man for himself, goes the conqueror's catechism
It takes behavior to get along, let's keep on singing.

Oh the humanity, "We have no place to bring our dead"
The overwhelmed owner of the funeral home plaintively said.
Air quality standards had to be relaxed to enable robust cremation
Such are the dilemmas of all public health interventions.

No one is coming to save you, we'll just have to endure the lockdown
In 1918, my grandmother recalled walking the streets of Jamestown
Skipping over dead bodies on her way through High Street to Trinity Church
A century later, many others are being similarly left in the lurch
She was ten years old when the influenza pandemic hit Ghana
Brought in by sea men visiting Accra, everyone suffered
Sorrowful, the scars endure and resonate as mood markers
The tale of the lost stories, these indelible chapters
Such, I suppose, is the conflicted legacy of my upbringing
The keen sense of outrage and the knowledge that no one is coming

No
No one
No one is coming
No one is coming to save you
No one is coming to help you
No one is coming
No one
No

Sea Never Dry

No One Is Coming, A Playlist


A soundtrack for this lament, taking a few liberties to add some sweet to this grief concoction.
There is no help. None.

This uplifting folktale is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Saturday, April 03, 2021

Empire State of Mind

A memory. An open day at the Electrical Engineering department at Imperial College for accepted candidates, the professors wanted to demonstrate their new face recognition software to the group. I demurred (shyness), but they insisted that I be the volunteer.

So I sat and watched for 15 minutes as nothing worked. "Smile", asked the graduate students. "Frown", asked the professors. Same result: no detection. Others were summoned. Invisible man.

It's a minor point, but I can't forget the sheepish grins. As I told the professors and their harried students: "You probably didn't train your algorithms much with many faces like mine."

Cultural sensitivity in technology is one of my perennial themes. And it's hard work even if you acknowledge your blind spots. The anecdotal failures continue to pile up. What was true back in 1991 is much the same in 2021, software and hardware are far more sophisticated and performant but face the same blindspots (provenance of training data, applicability to real world scenarios, ethical framing etc.)

The challenge for software engineering - which is still a craft, is to move beyond curve-fitting phrenology (and Deadwood) into its industrial revolution.

Sidenote: recruiters these days are all "big data, machine learning, cloud yada yada". Buzzword fatigue is an occupational hazard.

I miss the great mass amateurization and view source ethic of early web development and yet the developer tools and frameworks these days almost feel like a golden age is within grasp.

Obligatory citations:

Incidentally, Imperial College was the venue of my worst interviewing experience (and there have been many) - the low point of which was walking past the open door as I left the interview, and walking straight into the wall. This was after having flubbed almost every question I'd been asked.

The laughs and looks exchanged by the professor and the secretary as I turned around, shuffled back muttering an apology (why?) as I rubbed my sore head and headed out the door. Even English reserve and politeness could not deal with my Buster Keaton imitation.

I was admitted to Imperial College a week later.

I occasionally regret not having gone to Imperial or Cambridge for university. Without a doubt, I would be a stronger engineer and yet I suspect the eclectic toli monger you see before you would be repressed.

Guide to Lagos 1975 005 3m 191 revolutionary  copier

Imperial Visions, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note. I've been neglecting the Toli Technology Series for years now, albeit I occasionally make a few gnomic pronouncements on Twitter, consider this some throat clearing to prompt a reboot.

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Thursday, April 01, 2021

Widget Consultants of Austin

Dear valued customers,

We hope you and your loved ones are remaining healthy and safe during these uncertain times.

New Office Space


We at Widget Consultants of Austin (WCA) would like to update you on some exciting news for our practice. In July 2020, a state-of-the art renovation for our central office was completed. Now Widget Consultants of Austin is located in Suite 419 on the same floor as before but to the left of the elevator.

Austin Research Center for Widgets


In addition to this beautiful upgrade, WCA's current and future research endeavors will be conducted through WCA's research arm: Austin Research Center for Widgets. WCA and its consultants have chosen to part ways with Widget Research Center of Austin. However we remain evermore committed to providing ethical, high quality, specialized widget research to the greater Austin community.

With over a decade of combined research experience, we continue to provide first class widgets at WCA. As always, we remain dedicated to providing compassionate and skilled care to you. We look forward to continuing our valued relationship with you.

Best Wishes,


WCA

Presentation Pete - Collaboration Pete

The above letter is reproduced with only two substitutions, widget and customer. Inquiring minds would like to know what prompted the split in widget land such that Widget Consultants of Austin are now affiliated with the Austin Research Center for Widgets, having severed ties with the Widget Research Center of Austin. All this upheaval took place in the middle of a pandemic, no less. Especially titillating is the pointed comment about ethical standards, things must have really soured. What breach of ethics in widget research might the practice have witnessed that shocked the conscience? The human drama behind those few words is intriguing and deserves attention.

Further confusing things is that it appears that the offices of both organizations are on either side of an elevator. Those rides up to work must be fraught. Printing out the acronym soup only deepened the puzzle for WCA has now split from WRCA to go to ARCW, it's all Greek to me. I have postponed my annual appointment to check up on my widgets during these uncertain times, but look forward, with no small amount of trepidation, to my next encounter. I pray that I exit the elevator in the right direction.

See previously: Also: Naming, a playlist

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

The Tale of the Lost Stories

Masks of civility fortify the immune response to aggression
We wear satire as personal protective equipment
Irony as antibodies primed in bloodbaths, these memory cells,
And cultivated in experimental batches for later activation

A coup drill, oft practiced by exiled souls
Dismal legacies discussed amidst internal displacement
Rendered on a gory canvas, functional defenestration
The balm presents itself, choose your desired flavor
This human marketplace serves aloe vera or, my preference, shea butter

Shell games duly fomented by cheerful tricksters
They're desperately counting on atrophied shame cultures
Badged as grifters, unrepentant gremlins and parasites
Caution, take heed of their insatiable appetites

The stage is set, the world enmeshed in mournful contemplation
Affinity for doubt deserves affirmative action
Embrace the skeptic's credo contra these miseries
Global narrative collapse, the tale of the lost stories

II.

The usual currencies were no longer accepted
Neither black gold nor conflict diamonds and pearls
Strategic reserves were tapped to no avail
Sovereign wealth funds rendered worthless

Helicopter money unloaded didn't even move the needle
The oracles were consulted but silence prevailed, a global pause
Explanations were mooted, the chattering classes suddenly idled
Ideologies and articles of faith sidelined. Force majeure clauses.

What profit a man, these paper profits? Perplexion.
Even royalty these days faces the dishwasher situation
For when the maid and cook's boarding houses become viral vectors
For shame, protection must now extend beyond the banking sector

III.

There were a few stragglers who hadn't read the script
These traveling salesmen kept selling their idées fixes
They hadn't signed on to the new warfare
And preferred easy fictions and wishful thinking
Weaponizing mischief as usual, their duty of care

But the evidence made their audience harsh critics
That the whole world was watching prompted an identity crisis
Social interplay became fraught, some brought up matters of justice
Storytellers at the ground level wrote new narratives

For want of a bolt, they were unmanned those peddlers of dreams
The new variants of their certainties were being contested
The message of the urban griots now crystal clear after being neglected
Living in the new epicenter, we reconsidered what really mattered
In this dislocation, there are social studies and new avenues of inquiry
A sneak preview of the report of the truth and reconciliation committee:
Everything is written in sand is the new code of the streets

integrity

The Tale of the Lost Stories, a Playlist


A soulful soundtrack for this note; I'm especially proud of the way the music flows. The pied piper, Corona, took the stories away, out of Wiase. After this collapse, who is left to write today's script?
What paradise have we lost?

This folktale is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

The Traveling Salesman

The traveling salesman problem is long studied in computer science
But now it's epidemiology that's behind the headlines
His mission was selling products that make you healthier
But sadly his tainted breath made him a superspreader

The virus keeps causing sheer pandemonium
By changing humanity's curriculum
Asymptomatic transmission is a tough problem to solve, on its face
In retrospect, they searched for close contacts to track and trace

Remember, the postman always rings twice
Opening your door is a roll of the dice
Wear a mask, it's your duty of care
The moral of the story: buyer beware


After: Covid-19 'superspreader' in northeast China linked to 102 infections

Advertising

The Traveling Salesman, a playlist


See previously:

This folktale is part of a series: In a covidious time

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Shape of Dread

I wrote of The New Epicenter on New Year's Day 2021
In terror of what might befall my family in England
The onset of my sister's covidious symptoms
Came four days after she received her first dose
Of the AstraZeneca vaccine in February
Too late, in other words. 'Tis quite the pity

Up close and personal now, but unemotional, this nurse,
About the implications of this biological curse
"An occupational hazard", she quipped, of her profession,
She'd lost the race despite all of her precautions
Now it's up to medicine, luck, and her immune system
To face up to the struggle against the new variant

I can't describe the shape of my panic and dread
When she disclosed her condition. A shot to the head.
Oh no! My sister. And what about the boys?
Mother Nature, damn her, has dealt us this wild card.
Fear and worry were instantly etched in my heart.
Instead of sharing with her those light words and laughter
All I could offer across the ocean were thoughts and prayers.

Still, my heart also harbors a splinter of ice,
And I've stuck to my publishing schedule, with all that implies
All the while praying, as the days go on, and hoping against hope
That the macabre prophecy - I even mentioned a kind of hearse -
That I mooted in those stanzas of lyric verse
Wouldn't end up being a sort of obituary for my loved ones.
I've been sitting, paralyzed in fear for weeks now, a broken man.
I would gladly tear up these words, if only I could
To return to a different world but I realize that it would be no good.
Try as I can, to cut the Gordian knot of guilt and apply the knife
I'm also mindful that irony is the key register of African life.

digable planets

The Shape of Dread, a playlist


A soundtrack to leaven this ongoing horrow show

See previously: The New Epicenter

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time.


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Tuesday, March 02, 2021

The New Epicenter

I've been thinking of my sister and nephews who live in Kent
They've been in lockdown, it seems, ever since the start of Lent
Last year's, that is, the start of that long winter
Of dread and distancing and social dilemma
And now, as isolation stretches out for just over a year
They've been facing life under the most restrictive tier
The fourth one, the hastily manufactured one
Imposed just a few days before the third English national lockdown

They'd gone from the original traffic light schemes
To other mixed metaphors and coded rainbow regimes
Ten long years of austerity had left the NHS crushed
The ground was prepared by the hostile environment and Windrush
The confusion over changing definitions of support bubbles?
This is what you invite when you keep voting for Tory trouble

She's a nurse, so had early warning at the outset
About the grievous lack of personal protective equipment
What was it the bard said about discontent?
A prophecy of life with the new variant.

Their home is not too far from the new epicenter
Revealed, belatedly, to the general public this past December
Although there was fair warning from researchers back in September
Mutations were expected given the inconsistent public health measures

The Greenwich Meridian runs prime through Delay-Deny Road
The dithering pathway to all manner of grief, and deaths untold
There was a temporary detour through Eat Out to Help Out Alley
But the protective barriers at the Furlough Scheme Bypass were dismantled prematurely

Think of those truckers who spent the twelve days of Christmas
Stranded on the way to the port of Dover, some slept on the tarmac
The Sikh community nearby rallied to provide crackers and soup
And, eventually, some portable toilets were procured for the inevitable poop
Stuck in motorways and a dreary airfield as tensions boiled over
An early taste of life after Brexit, this pointless disorder
Despite reassurances from the hapless Minister,
(Gove, Shapps or Hancock was it?)
Nothing is remotely close to being "match fit"

That scoundrel Mister Johnson claimed to speak with a heavy heart
At that phrase, one should advisedly check one's pockets
Lock down any spare change, and advise your daughters
For, even as he gives that signature, dismissive, and nonchalant shrug
There's always an angle with He of the Studied Disheveled Pose from Eton
For any hint of sincerity bespeaks the grifter's insufferable ambition

I fear for my family, harried and burdened,
They've lost their sense of delight and wonder
It's all about raw survival, I guess, is the lesson
I don't envy Her Majesty's subjects in these matters
To quote Evelyn Waugh's warning and bleak insight,
Remember: "Charm is the great English blight".

The excess mortality figures belie the competency claptrap
And the mealy-mouthed talk about leveling up
I guess the cheerleaders who foisted all these bitter pills
From prorogation on, skipped town, leaving us to foot the bill

The rabid allies in the yellow media,
Call them the Murdoch Industrial Complex,
Are counting on fatigue, if not induced amnesia,
To erase the lasting traces of this covidious mess.
Wolves in bigots' clothing,
They now rely on the Fixed Term Parliament Act
To give them enough room for breathing
To craft a narrative for their next act.

london bridge tower glory

Still, no matter the scapegoat or scenario conjured up,
No matter how misbegotten
I assert that none of these dead bodies
Will ever be forgotten
The wound is too deep, moreover the futility rankles
That, by neglect, these rogues condemned Grandma or perhaps your favourite Uncle

If you're lucky, your last hours are spent in an ambulance in a parking lot
No specialized breathing apparatus, medical care is scattershot
And forget about the American President's experimental treatment
In a overcrowded hospital in Maidstone, you'll be lucky to get to the basement
This is the second hospital, they'd first driven you to the Tunbridge Wells Trust
But you were turned away like that family who ended up in the manger, it was a bust
By definition, you'd already lost the race between the vaccine, social distancing
And the virus. And with low oxygen supply, your care is now subject to strategic rationing

Speechless, you might blink your eyes, if you can still manage that,
Morse code to your brethren over that last video chat
They wave, sob silently, and mouth they miss you as you expire
The electronic beeps in the background that punctuate your labored breathing
The tangle of wires you're hooked up to as your chest is heaving
The dire sound, the spasm and the quickening - everyone is wearing face masks
As your body gets colder, you frantically snatch your last gasp
Of air. The emergency room technician, shell-shocked and overworked
Is the one who now gets to perform the last rites, you see,
It's not much unlike a closing ceremony
With less pomp, but also the obligatory paperwork (bureaucracy)
Thankfully these days there's a rugged tablet for data entry
But the buggy contractor software occasionally necessitates a reboot (sigh)
He codes you out, noting the time, and stops the clock
And quickly makes to preserve the depleted oxygen stock

And then the ignominious exit that rounds out the story
The casual disposition of your dead body
Sometimes there's a pile up at the doors of the nearby mortuary
As in life, so in death, there's a queue, it's the eternal village of waiting
"There's no whimsy or light anymore", my sister reports, "it's disheartening"
No wonder there's considerable attrition
Nurses are in short supply, so funereal has become the medical profession
Pity the health service, its staff are under extreme pressure
Forced to triage, major incidents declared, and other exigencies
No time for a cup of tea even, there's not a moment for leisure

Meanwhile, there was no scrutiny over the procurement contracts
Hastily doled out to bosom friends and rogue acquaintances
With no prior experience nor indeed competence
A WhatsApp message after dinner, old boy, nudge-nudge wink-wink
And then they have the unmitigated gall to aver, with special pleading,
That their abandoned app, and test and trace roll out, is world beating

Keep calm and carry on, stiff upper lip, and thanks for all the fish
Save it for when you smugly explain that jaunt to Barnard Castle
It was Malcom Bradbury who said about "the English,
They have the most rigid code of immorality in the world."

back view

The sirens draw nearer, they wax and wane
You start to ignore those omens of pain
Eventually you're drawn to other sights in the city
The trail walks and routines in the new normalcy
You second guess every interaction for the risk of exposure
Defend in depth, you erect many protective measures
Still, will your son run unprompted to hug his friend he hasn't seen
For ten months and thereby breach the family's quarantine?
The pandemic dictionary predicts that a support bubble
Is destined to be pierced, and cause no small amount of trouble
The optimal strategy, unsatisfactory as it may be, is to retrench
Like the old man who lives in the park and sleep under your metaphoric bench
The best advice is to retreat to your minimal social unit
Lest you be placed as the song goes, in the thick of it

hampstead view

"How worried are you about the new variant?"
Asked the earnest and expectant BBC reporter
Her look betrayed no small amount of dismay
At this strain "originally detected in the UK"
The bespectacled epidemiologist from Baltimore
Shrugged, he'd just been informed of the furor
On the front line in West Texas, not too far from Abilene
Some healthcare workers were balking at the Moderna vaccine
Refusing the jab and staking their lives on hydroxychloroquine.

...

The names are well known by now, we recall the dire scenes
First Wuhan, Lombardy, New York City and Tennessee
But your time will come, whether in Iowa or South Dakota
The spike protein attack doesn't discriminate among actors
And, yes, wishful thinking is not a capable detractor
Nay, it only haunts when you're at the epicenter
Ruing the misplaced efforts challenging mask mandates in the courts
A signal moment of clarity, if not buyer's remorse
If it helps, think of the virus as a moveable feast
Or, anthropomorphized, a roving menace and churlish beast
That preys on the cracks in the cement of society
Observe well the correlation of its impact with inequality
It doesn't bear thinking about the ineptitude and dysfunction
Let alone the catastrophic public health intervention

About the only consolation is the knowledge that this too shall pass
And that other communities will one day graduate from this trying class
I know that in my current home in Texas, I can see already the signs
It was the good Doctor Fauci who said: "The virus sets the timeline".

Humanity knows no boundaries, it's about the Mosquito Principle
I've said it before, social living should be the abiding principle

I, for one, am resigned for another year at least of this sorry chapter
But I miss my family now living at ground zero in the new epicenter

london-bridge-tower-bridge

The New Epicenter, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note

See also six weeks later: The Shape of Dread

This note is part of a series: In a covidious time.


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Tuesday, February 23, 2021

The Prime Minister's Coinage

The Israeli Prime Minister
A dirty, rotten scoundrel
Seemed to have found his way
Out of his latest scandal
The vaccine rollout wasn't proceeding
Like other debacles
That have marked his misrule frequently
Nay, the covidious jabs underway
Were being praised and going grandly

He saw an opportunity
To heap further calumny
On others, as is his wont.
Thus he coined The British Mutation
A new variant of a rogues' deflection
Piling on the land of Brexit.
But his nativist gambit
Was for nought, the next day it came a cropper:
The focus turned to Trump's mob

The strange architecture of misdirection
Promoted by insidious gremlins
Is founded on an embrace of euphemism
Uneasy phrases full of absurdism
The merchants of such sour propaganda
Thus cheerfully continue to prosper
So unctuous was his lexicon:
His koan was coated with poison

One aspect of that family's longevity
Notwithstanding the tendency towards the mercenary
Is an unabashed propensity for hubris
In Ghanaian parlance we would call them huhudious
After the loss at the raid on Entebbe came indignation
But also chutzpah and, inevitably, shame abrogation

As goes the old adage
So too the Prime Minister's coinage
Today's news is tomorrow's fish and chips papers
Indeed Yesterday's News is cat litter
And therein lies the opportunist's dilemma
Many a clever soundbite become ephemera
Thus populists are merely feral
While truth is immortal


Nationalism at the expense of another nation is just as wicked as racism at the expense of another race.

William Sloane Coffin Jnr


No nation sinks to greater depths than when its government is obliged to listen silently to moral sermons preached by obvious scoundrels

— Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach

the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

This folktale is part of a series: In a covidious time.


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Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Telemedicine Consultation

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
I think I'm going insane
What with these new variants
Mutations are on the brain
First the English, then the South African
Next the Japanese discovered the Brazilian
The spread simply can't be contained
Just now in Ohio, they found The Columbus Strain

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
I guess the reason we're all suffering trauma
Is the lack of support for nurses and doctors
I can't wait to get a new President
Instead of yet more superspreading events
Remember: he suggested drinking Mr Clean
Long before they approved the Pfizer vaccine

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
I think you'd call it an ethical dilemma
My boy got a lead through an unofficial channel
To jump the queue and get a dose of the Moderna
Vaccine, the magic potion against the Corona
What to do? He's no essential worker
But he's tired of living in a bubble

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
Every day feels like rolling the dice
The root of our covidious predicament:
How's a man meant to go about normal life
With the relentless spread of the new variant?
Hell, the Capitol Police aren't up to the task
What more when so many refuse to wear masks

buried bones and child shoes in backyard

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
What is it with naked ambition
That overtakes a common politician
To take full leave of his senses?
I guess life lived without consequences
Can lead a grifter to incite a riot
Then, left holding the bag,
Now accused of being a cad
Behold: a useful idiot

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
When will we get over the hump
Flatten the curve and get out of this pickle?
Couldn't you conjure up a miracle?
Word is any number of Senators
Somehow got a jump on the action
First on call options for AstraZeneca
Then on the priority lists for vaccination

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
Please clarify the regulations
The Governor keeps making excuses
For fear of breaking the cold chain
Been learning all about freezers
The vaccine distribution algorithm?
Mere lip service to the old geezers
Instead: Battle Royale and The Hunger Games

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
Why do they keep saying the problem is logistical
When you and I both know it's ideological?
They want low taxes and monopoly rents
Not the competent application of government
They held up survival checks - that is
Until they got their Supreme Court Justice

Doll parts and bones

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
I guess it all depends
One's assessment of their incompetence
These chancers thought they could
Wave the plague away with a magic wand,
Wishful thinking and exorcism.
Say what you want
About Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism
I'd rather be living in Taiwan

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
Please help me defeat this unending tedium
I just saw that those pesky actuaries
Are minded to raise my insurance premiums
I get it, times must be hard
For their business, what a mess
But life is harder and stark
Living in a petri-dish of coronavirus

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
They say hindsight is 20/20
And that those responsible shouldn't be taken to task
But they really shouldn't have held
The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally
And the postal service should have sent out face masks
For want of a bolt, there's no consolation
Six feet under, no questions can be asked

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
Food banks can hardly be the response
To this covidious misery
Starving children don't cry
Tears waste too many calories
No, the kids are not alright
Parking lot wifi out of sight
True, man cannot live on bread alone
But surely you can find some crumbs to loan

Children shoes and buried bones

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
Your English colleague Dr Whitty
Now faces a similar dilemma:
Opportunities lost, goodwill squandered
Political buffoons and a grim death toll
The only saving grace
In this panoply of mistakes
Is that only the virus knows the answer
For whom the bell tolls

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
You've really got to wonder
How come Rupert Murdoch
He of the human capital stock
Was first in line for the vaccine
The nurse really struggled
To find a vein in that body of ice
Also, he already had immunity
His diet gives protection: lies, lies, lies

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
I had to get you on on the phone
For while I was digging up my garden
I came up with children's shoes and buried bones
I'd rather not think about these omens
Got enough problems with the pandemic
Was my yard the scene of an epic
Texas chainsaw massacre?
That's something I don't want to consider

Texas chainsaw buried in the back yard

Telemedicine Consultation, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note

I've been having these conversations with Doctor Fauci for months now. We discuss toli and other matters. He's a good listener, I feel like I'm on the verge of a breakthrough.

See previously: The Grand Reopening of Texas and Gee Doctor Fauci (remixed)

This remote audience with the good doctor is part of a series: In a covidious time.


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