Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Ghost Transcripts

Brief messages left behind by the dearly departed
Ephemera in times past, letters and scraps of paper
Of late, these new artifacts of the digital era
Faint traces, bylines, icons and avatars
Photos and videos, the color of memory
But also emails, logs, and chat transcripts
Voice mails that we remind ourselves to never delete

No, I want to hear that voice periodically
My brother imploring me to return his call
The chuckle, the slight hesitation
As if pondering the best approach
Before jumping in with the juicy morsel
That would whet your curiosity and impel you to respond
Then, without fail, the obligatory closing joke,
The lesson we learned early, always leave them wanting more

The voice is what I hold on to, its teasing inflection
And so I save the message every sixty days
And so I stay with this phone company
Despite the gaps in their coverage, and usurious rates
That customer satisfaction survey didn't have the option
For me to enter the real reason for my brand loyalty
Contra the telecom operator's retention policy
The textures of a life underwritten
The comfort of the ghost transcripts


Soundtrack for this note

Mostly the Voice by Gang Starr

See also: The Laws of Grief

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

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Writing log. December 18, 2021

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Blue Sand

The headline was striking sixty odd years later
The dust was said to be returning to sender
Swirling dervishes on magic carpets, a blanket of fine particles
Radiation straight from the souk, the message in a bottle

A sixties affair held, not in Provence,
   but rather in the Sahara
Uncharted territory
   in what they then called French Algeria
A convenient location,
   just a few Berber nomads around at best
The fruits of settler colonialism,
   a prime spot for a nuclear test

A case of droit de seigneur, this was the desert after all
Proud of his entrée to the nuclear club was General de Gaulle
Still, it's not something that one could sweep under the rug,
   this thing
Indeed, the test rather embodied a literal carpet bombing

First, the sharp flash of the detonation
Then, later, shock waves and the almighty sound
The scientists marveled at the novel reaction
The blueish fire that preceded the mushroom cloud

Ground zero, the impact crater, the hole in the dunes
The military had assigned a codename: Gerboise Bleue
The desert rodent of Reggane would be baptized in blue
The blue of the tricolor harkened to Saint Martin de Tours

In the aftermath, as expected, came the fallout in all its forms
The uproar was swift,
   later tests would have to be moved underground
Expressions of surprise
   that radiation would drift west and south
Significant traces detected
   in Upper Volta, Ghana and even Senegal

Ballistic rockets launched primed for nuclear payloads
The initial fear was of fission and Strontium 90 isotopes
Decay was all, the main byproduct was rather Caesium
It is an ill wind that blows no good, this reckoning

We are all casualties in the torrid zone of this triangle of fire
That, in a new century, nature had decided to share the wealth
Donations of micro doses spreading irony across the land
A radioactive gift to posterity, a legacy of blue sand

After: Irony as Saharan dust returns radiation from French nuclear tests in the 1960s (March 1, 2021)

France, don't do it! Atomic bomb tests in Africa

Blue Sand, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)
strontium 90 - future generations


The Wife's history of Atomic Junction dug up lots of interesting material. Here's a 1960 speech by by Tawia Adamafio denouncing French Nuclear Tests in the Sahara. See also a few more clippings from Ghanaian newspapers of the time.

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Writing log: December 16, 2021

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Action Items

Oh! I think I'm going to have to end this presentation now
I... I just got a message... It's on the news?... Oh wow
There's... there's an active shooter at my daughter's high school

What's that? Yes, yes, I have a number of action items
Look, I'll.. I'll schedule another teleconference
I have to go now. Rob can handle things. Um, Rob over to you

Mics unmuted. Gasps. Harrumphs.
   Worldwide expressions of sympathy
This is America.
This is the country's regular brand of insanity

Still, action items?
Who asked that? Poor form. Absurdity.
What is wrong with you, man?
Where is your humanity?

digable planets

Michigan High School Shooting: 3 Students Killed and Several Critically Injured

A 15-year-old sophomore was taken into custody with a semiautomatic handgun that was bought by his father four days before the fatal shooting.

Action Items, a playlist

A soundtrack for this lament (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log. Concept: November 30, 2021; December 12, 2021

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

The Color of Memory

First, the red cloth in the marketplace
Shimmering prints. Dakar was a revelation
First time abroad. First time on a plane.
The sounds, the laughs, friends and family
They have different jollof these Sénégalais
And, mon dieu, how about that poisson braisé
Black and white world cup matches on the TV
Then, a treat, we watched the final on a color screen
The orange of the Dutch team and their fans.
They lost. Orange was the color of memory

Again, a few years on, back home
Black and white TV. Monochrome.
Charles and Diana. A royal wedding.
We drove across Accra to my cousin's
A dash to their impromptu watch party
Just in time. We caught the carriage ride in color
Bright imprint, young mind. Colonial press
Strangely pallid, the prince and princess
Crown jewels from the Gold Coast. British monarchy
Our former rulers. Red velvet was the color of memory

Later. Exile. Someplace called Golders Green
Our own Babylon, mother and son, not quite refugees
Creature comforts, we bought our first color TV
This 9 year old's research pointed to a Panasonic
This was during the 1982 world cup, football fanatics
Fresh. The first thing we watched: Brazil vrs Italy
So unexpected, enter Paolo Rossi
A blue bandit overcame heroics from Socrates
Transcendent beauty outdone by clinical speed
Gutted. Frankly, everything has been downhill since
Contra the poacher, yellow was the color of memory

rainbow installation at The Contemporary Austin

Colors, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. I give you sixty odd flavors of a rainbow spectrum, listen without prejudice (spotify version)

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Writing log: December 11, 2021

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Until Such Time

Mystical spirits loom
Natural healing will soon come
Bringing justice promised us

Maroons, these searchers roam
The men of the hills journey
With rhythms of defiance

Crossing effervescent streams
Marking sanctified borderlands
Truths disclosed in light of day

Guidance duly salves the soul
It's the force of freedom
Protection until such time


Until Such Time, a playlist

soundtrack for the maroons courtesy of that griot Burning Spear (spotify version)
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Writing log: December 7, 2021

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Coinage Capitalism

Hottakes galore, call it coinage capitalism
Reification of the zeitgeist, the books proliferated
Bearing weighty tomes laden with keen, academic discourse
Along came the bright observers and the futurists

Cassandras calling, heady charges were duly leveled
Observe well the rhetoric of these social synthesizers
But scratch the gleaming surface of their mooted frameworks
And behold a fundamental misdiagnosis of the economics of networks

Such edifices they erected
   as they bemoaned the newfangled platforms
Perverse incentives touted by the lawyers among them,
   stern demands for reform
Bullet points on their charge sheets,
   not your garden variety contrarianism
A veritable rush to be the first to pinpoint the original sin

They extolled the perils of the day,
   but it was a new age of puffery
Their research probed the fatted calf
   or, at least, its dark underbelly
These pundits, badged with brows of concern and alacrity
Were minting think pieces full of shrink-wrapped profundity

Talking to themselves,
   the commentariat selling policy prescriptions
Data is the new oil, and other slogans that belied their fictions
But to take them at their word would be a crying shame
For, at the end of it all, they were merely playing a shell game

Tell us something new, there's no such thing as a free lunch
Captain Obvious, if you aren't paying, you are the product
Dark patterns applied as you skipped over the fine print
Taken hostage, the convenience of the Faustian pact in one click

Blinders on, the profit imperative,
   next they'll be fleecing you
Slouching wide awake, you customer,
   as they extract surplus value

Still, was there really anything novel
   in this dark empire of fear?
Methinks their sole invention
   was a new way of saying buyer beware


Cheap Talk, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log. Concept: January 29 2019. November 21 2021

Tuesday, August 08, 2023

An Hour Away

Cape Point. Near the southern tip of the continent
From the cliff, we watched the famed seascape
The blue waves that were said to rival Zanzibar
Then, the Cape of Good Hope.
Tourists. Escapism.

Later, an hour away lay the township
Punishing. We took in the juxtaposition
Apartheid painted from its drab palette
Slum life. Journalism.

(South Africa, Christmas 1993)

capetown capepoint

capetown khayelitsha slum

Put all this behind you, the scripts were being readied
The recent unpleasantness was all ancient history
Welcome to the New South Africa, they'd started to say
After all, you know, the elections are only months away

A Temporary Inconvenience, a playlist

Some sounds from South Africa. (spotify version)

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Writing log: December 30, 1993, December 1, 2021

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

Workforce Rebalancing

We recorded workforce rebalancing charges in the combined income statement
Structural actions to simplify and optimize the increase in employee exits
The allocation of corporate expenses was not meaningful


Structural actions
Simplify and optimize
Employee exits

After The Company's 8-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission

sweet shell

See previously: Restructuring Activities and The Annual Report

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Writing log: November 7, 2021

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Less Unfortunate Casualties

In Puerto Rico — among Irma's less unfortunate casualties — the lights were out. In many places, so was running water.

Caribbean Devastated as Irma Heads Toward Florida (New York Times, September 7, 2017)

I guess the relativity of casualties is what is hard to handle
The "less unfortunate casualties" construction amounts to a great muddle
In context, I can sort of see where the writer was headed
But the more I think about it, the more confused I get

One is certainly fortunate to be injured rather than dead after an attack
Yet one is clearly unfortunate to have been attacked in the first place
On the one hand, a casualty is, by definition, unfortunate
On the other hand, we are full of concern for those less fortunate

How to distinguish between the typical usage of unfortunate
And the duty of care we always admonish for the unfortunate?
Thoughts and prayers should always go to the less fortunate.
But what of the reverse? What is due to the less unfortunate?

Those who ended up without lights were casualties, that we must admit.
There are gradations of fortune, it seems, a full spectrum of hardship
Harken to the circles of hell laid out in Dante's Inferno
And so we come, in this instance, to misfortune in Puerto Rico

Like mosquitos and other disasters, the hurricane didn't discriminate
The truth is, those who didn't have running water were certainly unfortunate
It seems a stretch to make a distinction between those without electricity
And those of the former group. Whither the less unfortunate casualties?

AnySlum, Accra


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: November 30, 2021

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Rear View Mirror

Bear with me as I expound,
   my meaning will surely get clearer
I realize you want to put this plague
   firmly in the rear view mirror
It's only human to want to draw a line
   under the recent terror
Buyer beware, you may fall prey
   to the worst kind of category error

The blemish is that, per Doctor Fauci,
   it is the virus that sets the timeline
And, with a few new variants
   that escape the mooted, mitigating vaccines,
We're back to first principles:
   that global peril requires global solutions
Mother Nature doesn't discriminate,
   and the least of us deserve consideration

For all it takes is an immunocompromised so-and-so
   in some remote place
That, with a long infection,
   allows the virus to evolve and then displace
A few genetic markers in competition,
   for it's really survival of the fittest
And then a new variant is spawned
   with mutations that put humanity to the test
Unless you close your borders, or impose a quarantine,
   you have no protection
The new normalcy exposes
   the very real challenges of globalization

And so the tension that humanity faces
   is how to deal with the disease
Back to business, acceptable loss,
   and facing the ensuing unease
Will it be like malaria,
   once the challenge at home has been met
To close our eyes on the wretched,
   will we forget about the rest?

In the past, those in the first world
   were self assured and very vocal
Righteous, nay, they would always have you know
   that everything is local
A large part of humanity were consigned
   to face mosquito borne diseases on their own
For whatever reason, climate, bad luck,
   and the lack of development in the torrid zone

For some of us who know that no man is an island
Exiled souls living in the diaspora
Mindful about the fate of our relations
Our liminal networks have been disrupted

Those shielded from these troubles
   quickly gained a propensity for selective amnesia
Forgetting the enduring struggles
   that supported humanity's defenses
This pandemic has given a global education
   in observed competence
A corollary of the mosquito principle
   is vigilance against nostalgia

No problem

Rear view Mirror, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

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

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Writing log: May 22 2021, November 20 2021

Tuesday, July 11, 2023


Well, well, well, guess who turned 67 just the other day?
A neighbor distributed a flyer right at our doorway
Inviting us to a gathering to celebrate
   near the benches just before dark
Plum center, a photo of the birthday boy,
   the old man who lives in the park

Sadly, I couldn't rally to make it to the happy event
Even though I would consider myself one of his friends
Life intruded, parenthood and the pandemic's dismal reality
Meant that I missed out on the trappings of that ceremony

What do you give the man who has nothing but wants nothing?
I racked my brain:
   what could possibly be an adequate contribution?
Moreover, would he really want to be celebrated
   or, rather, left alone?
After all, when the party's over,
   the park would still be his humble home

At his age, one would traditionally be prime for retirement
Clearly though, besides his clothes and blanket,
   he has no safety net
Despite the gestures we've made
   to maintain a modicum of community
For all we know, he may not even be collecting social security

It can't be easy this life of his, being homeless
Street life, the whole world watching all your business
The soul of the neighborhood was the flyer's consensus
67, this old man. Think first, of the least of us

zinnias flower garden

The Old Man Who Lives in the Park (Redux), a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)

See previously: The Old Man Who Lives in the Park

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

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Writing log: September 11, 2021

Tuesday, July 04, 2023

Body and Soul

Human bodies can take a lot of physical stress,
Whether it is heat, cold, pain, or starvation.
Our surviving ancestors - those that handled it best,
Were accustomed to life at the extremes and deprivation

The gods would present challenges beyond mere deprival
For the health of the body is but one element of survival
The one paradoxical stressor
   that leaves the soul completely unmanned is solitude
A shadow's burden weighs on the psyche,
   isolation is the ultimate test of fortitude

Solitude has its uses, however,
   for such is the Gordian knot of human life
Many acts of creation require momentary detachment,
   if not a splinter of ice
A little dissonance and social distancing
   to garner an oblique perspective
To see things in proper true light,
   artistic impulse is the prime objective


Fellowship, a comfort suite is to be found in community and connection
Skin to skin, the merest touch can revitalize one's condition
Out-of-body, the journey to a far region of the mind has its own costs
Sensation, soul insurance assuages the spirit's rhythm of loss

Akue - Women carrying Pots

Body and Soul, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. Twenty odd takes on Body and Soul, one of my favorite standards. Coleman Hawkins's solo is the definitive statement while Billie Holiday has lead the approach to vocal treatments. This is the kind of music that makes you promptly pay your soul insurance premiums.

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

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Writing log: November 10, 2021

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Fortress of Ignorance

The proudly incurious throughout history
Stand in opposition to the experts of the age
The manifold flavors of their ignorance
Counterpoints to the textures of knowledge

Forget the hedgehogs and the foxes, they'll say,
Can't you see? We are forging our own reality
Never mind the hubris, the paradox of the day:
Their tribe often seem to be in ascendancy

That the lack of shame opens the way for the ignorant
   is the core insight
Where scoundrels prosper freely,
   the useful idiot has firm ground on their side
Observe well, the emperor's new clothes
   contra the evidence of your own eyes
Later narratives will rebrand those moments as frothy hysteria
   instead of common lies

And therein lies the dilemma,
   there is a tax to confronting the ignorant
A burden even beyond the avoidance of conflict
   that simian politeness demands
Humanity is not so far removed from ignorance,
   nay it's our default state
What more to be perceived as a killjoy stickler,
   most would rather shrink from debate

Badged with unshakeable convictions
   and certainties based on gut feel
It's a wonder to behold their impregnable armor,
   call it shameless steel
Mankind's sole weapons, volleys of ridicule
   and the attrition of experience
And deep focus to expose their folly:
   their Achilles heel is incompetence

urban decay

Knowledge may have its purposes, but guessing is always more fun than knowing.

— Archaeology by W.H. Auden

Soundtrack for this note

See also: A Taxonomy of Useful Idiots

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Writing log: November 7, 2021