Thursday, July 18, 2024

First Responder

First on the scene, smell of sulfur
Spent cartridges, overturned tables
Kicked a hand grenade, it was live
Luck. Tonight was not my time
Out of the darkness, a mess
The bodies, the bodies. Look

No time to check for vital signs
Training kicked in, adrenaline
Secure the premises
Clear. Damage assessment
The bodies, the bodies. Count

Then blood, first aid. Hurry
Flesh distorted, unnatural positions
Wrenching. Anatomy lessons
The sounds, such sounds
Gasps. Screams. Sobs
The bodies, the bodies. Damn

The brutality of field triage
Tourniquets fashioned
Technique. Muscle memory
Blood, so much blood, a new smell
Broken glass, splinters
Eyes darting. Holding hands
Stay with me. Help is coming
The bodies, the bodies. Hold on

Out on the street, male cadaver
Too late, he lay in the gutter
Looked around, table cloth
Makeshift shroud, best you could do
Back inside. The golden hour. Help
First time for everything, terrorism
You'll never forget the bodies
First responder. Life and death
The bodies, the bodies. Baptism

digable planets

Soundtrack for this note

roots and culture hasa 1993-1994

See previously: Heidelberg Tavern Massacre

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Writing log. April 8, 2022

Saturday, July 13, 2024

Head Nods - Toli Turns Twenty

So apparently I've been writing at this joint for 20 years
To all who've been reading, a head nod in your direction
An interruption perhaps to your regular programming here
A head nod, twenty years is worth a little commemorating...

I've found that, when it comes to the heart of the matter,
The typical toli intervention still adheres to the old formula
The ingredients are well known: some prose, a poem, and a playlist
I vary things as enthusiasms ebb and flow, even on technical topics

But it seems that poetry has taken over these past few years:
Even book reviews are escaping in virtual ink dressed in verse
The slightest thing sends me into significations and wonders
But the muse wills what she wants, who am I to question her?

The poetry started to flow, as it were, for want of a bolt
First a golden encounter (a hungry man offered me some gold)
Then a broken lawnmower turned out to be the proximate cause
Now, having settled into a groove, I've been steadily adding to the vault
Hell, I've got things scheduled out for the next six years and more

I tend to cover mostly familiar topics:
Small things, whimsy and dark matters
Albeit the arrival of parenthood affected the quantity of toli chatter
Some were concerned at the prolonged absences; I told them

"Sleep deprivation will only get you so far"
And trusted that the fallow years of writing would soon come to pass

I'm firing on all cylinders these days,
  Covering humanity's curriculum
Writing from the torrid zone,
 A far region of the mind under the sun

Meanwhile, I dream in hypertext.
 My books of toli all start with a link
So, again, a head nod in your direction, Dear Reader,
  Do let me know what you think

Koranteng globe portrait

Head Nods, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version) And I leave you with the Kings of Swing again from the golden age of hip hop: Nod your head to this

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Writing log: July 13, 2024

Tuesday, July 09, 2024

Final Journey

Blinking lights, funeral procession
The police escort slowly led the way
The motorbike rider up front occasionally blowing the horn
The long parade of cars followed from Mission funeral home

Frustrated. A couple of stragglers, delayed by a red light
Stopped and faced the onlooker at the crosswalk
Eyes red after the earlier mourning
Newfangled mask pulled under the chin

In that minute, a wordless exchange
A head nod, then a gesture to the heart
A smile, and a head nod in return
The light changed, they revved to catch up
Onward to the last rites at the cemetery

demolition in East Austin

See previously: The Laws of Grief

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

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Writing log. April 24, 2022

Tuesday, July 02, 2024

Goddamn Lies

They cut deeper, they do
 They hurt more than the unvarnished ones
Sure, you can make your peace with the white lies,
  The garden variety deceptions
And deal with the untruths
 And the artful omissions
The distinctions without a difference,
  The what-have-yous
But it's hard to cope with the goddamn lies

You are well familiar with the symphony of deceit
Intimate even, with the ways of evasion

The instinctive lies
 The barefaced ones
The reflexive ones
 The rank denials
The wholly unnecessary ones
 The exaggerations
The diversionary ones
 The outright fabrications
But it's hard to abide with the goddamn lies

And what, you may ask, elevates a lie into that august territory
Moving forward, worthy of that emphatic qualifier?

The texture of a goddamn lie is of the nature of a wound
A goddamn lie aims for, and achieves, infamy
Its essential quality goes far beyond shame
A goddamn lie rises above the highest peaks of untruths
It is of a piece with the surreal, devastating and brazen,
A goddamn lie summons irony, borne as it is out of its bed of hypocrisy
Most of all, a goddamn lie celebrates the lie qua lie
A goddamn lie dances on the grave of its achievement


Politicians, as a matter of course, are avid connoisseurs of the lie
Indeed we expect a close acquaintance of it of most of their breed
Some breathe it with a naturalness that is often unnerving
Grifters too are students and daily practitioners of its corruption
And deploy it in a manner that is all too self-serving
But it is the rarest beast that achieves the goddamn lie

All cultures have their own folklore,
  Often at the expense of others
Founding myths, origin stories,
  Their striking legends soaked in blood

Erecting statues of the colossus,
  Destinies manifest and men's burdens
On terrain where equality, dreams and fond promises
  Meet ceilinged glass
The rhetoric of the powerful
  And the strategy of the shrewd
The hand of god,
  Witness the triumph of the trickster
Freedoms and liberties,
  The laws of grifters

From faulty biology, allusions to race, and sundry nationalisms
History books point to those who heed the conqueror's catechism
But when everything they claim to uphold is written in sand
It's hard to keep things straight when all is goddam lies

chief zaachi physical and spiritual center

Deceit, a playlist

A soundtrack for this evasion. (spotify version)

See previously: Symphony of Deceit

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

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Writing log. April 22, 2022

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Baby Me by Chaka Khan - One Track Mind

More musings on music have been requested (apparently weekly playlists and poems are not enough) so I'm inaugurating an occasional series I'm calling One Track Mind. I'll pick a song, nothing too obvious, and see where the discussion leads.

Baby me by Chaka Khan is my first pick.

Chaka Khan CK 1988

Chaka Khan announces herself. May God preserve her. Her musical chops are undeniable, she's every singer's favorite singer (Ask Joni). She was recently (finally! belatedly!) inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She doesn't need more flowers and yet I come to sing her praises.

Beyond that voice, that immaculate voice, that awesome weapon, there's that unerring sense of funk. You've seen those videos of her drumming, right?

Chaka Khan also has impeccable taste. The story goes that she told Stevie Wonder that she wasn't feeling the song he'd written for her and that he should go back and try better. (This was 1974-vintage Stevie, the greatest songwriter in his prime period)

Of course he then wrote Tell me Something Good

The point being that Chaka Khan has exceedingly high standards.

By this stage in her career - 1988, she had nothing to prove to anyone. Every project she took on was an all-star affair, akin to a Minnie Riperton album - an event, and everyone scrambles to get in on it. The voice and talent are so compelling that you want to throw your hand in.

The sessions for the C.K. album were no different. The A-side is an embarrasment of riches.

First, a cover of Stevie Wonder's Signed Sealed Delivered featuring the man himself on harmonica reprising his guest appearance on I Feel For You

Soul Talkin' is next, written by the peerless Brenda Russell who also supplies background vocals. Bobby McFerrin joins in the fun, channeling the sound of a saxophone with his own vocals.

It's my Party brings the joyous sounds of Womack & Womack to the table. This was the first single of the album.

And then Prince supplies Sticky Wicked (featuring Miles Davis, Eric Leeds and Atlanta Bliss) a nouveau funk affair, and then offers Eternity one of his effortless ballads (Chaka and David Frank produce the latter)

On the B-side, she continues her jazz explorations paying homage to Billie Holiday with The End of a Love Affair and I'll Be Around again bringing in inspired collaborators: George Benson, Marcus Miller, Dave Grusin, Steve Ferrone and Miles Davis again.

Chris Jasper of the Isley Brothers also crafts a tune, Make it Last. Frankly we are spoilt for choice.

And yet Baby Me, the third single, is what we should focus on. Let's have a listen (also on spotify)

A few preliminaries to save you to trip to Wikipedia or Discogs. The legendary Russ Titelman is the producer, Rob Mounsey arranges and plays keyboards. Holly Knight, Billy Steinberg are the songwriters. Chaka Khan, of course, does all the vocal arrangements

Russ Titelman was trying to capture the magic he'd witnessed when he had her and Rufus in the studio during the sessions for the Stompin' at the Savoy album in 1983, especially the performance on Ain't Nobody. You can read some of his memories of the time

Baby me is a deceptively simple love song. The lyrics are of longing, tenderness and vulnerability. After all, who doesn't want to be babied and treated with care? "The world is crazy and sometimes cruel / So baby me and I'll baby you"

(Incidentally, I fully believe in the power of misheard lyrics so I'm serving notice that I'll ignore any stickler who might bring up that "sometimes cruel" is probably not how the line goes. That's what I heard and I'm sticking to it)

It's a keyboard driven song, much like Ain't Nobody, the hit that capped her reunion with Rufus in 1983, and which serves as a kind of blueprint.

It's a fairly restrained affair to start with, bouncing between the keyboards and her voice, and punctuated by Paul Pesco's guitar fills. The lyric in the refrain goes "When you touch me, I come undone", and then carries on asking "Do you do this to every one?"

Then the excitement builds. "Take me in your arms / Rock me tonight"

Observe the way she sells the "Rock me tonight" line.

Then the chorus changes as if to emphasize the mounting infatuation:

"When you touch me I come undone / You better not do that to everyone".

Is this the pleasure principle speaking or resignation at being lost in love?

Then to the bridge, the bridge that un-mans me. For she goes in flight with a little scatting - her voice is an instrument, and then the saxophone comes in. The scatting is cathartic, duelling almost with the saxophone. You realize just how striking her voice is.

"Touch me" she sings. And then she makes you wait - a model of restraint, it's fully 3 minutes 10 seconds in before when she finally winds up and starts wailing. It's a release of the built-up tension. And you, the listener, want to join in.

The genius of this part is that she doesn't keep going, she stays in the pocket. Sure she lets loose, there's a release, but then she retreats. This part confounds me because once you start, you always want to keep it up.

I know that once I've started on my own wailing on Baby Me (in the shower or, as my household have caught me on many occasions), I can't help but adding my adlibs. I just want to sing at the top of my voice. And keep singing.

Patti Labelle or Aretha Franklin would have decimated the end of the song. I fully envision histrionics if Patti were let loose on this song, and perhaps if Chaka ever performed this live, she would go wild. But it works here; she's almost inviting the listener to fill things in.

Chaka Khan, known for her vocal pyrotechnics, is well aware that she could belt this out; but she chooses to be restrained in the arrangement, restrained even when she lets loose. She stays in the cut, in the pocket, in service of the song. And that is her knowing artistry at work.

There are a few remixes that highlight the craft and thought that went into finalizing the song. Rob Mounsey's arrangements were on the mark.

The Big Baby Extended mix emphasizes the keyboards showing how tight the mix is in the released version and the importance of the guitar licks and Warren Hill's saxophone

Compare also to Come 2 my House a decade later, the title track of her album length collaboration with Prince.

The 3cks and a baby remix highlights the scatting and adds a few more improvisations and wailing at the end, hinting at the kind of arrangements that could have been used in the final mix

Soul Talkin' follows a similar formula with Bobby McFerrin supplying the vocal solo in lieu of the saxophone. (My long overdue Brenda Russell appreciation piece will be forthcoming).

Here's some more Chaka Khan drumming (you're welcome). Again, she stays in the pocket instead of being flashy

The Babysitting mix of Baby me is a more stripped down affair, a little too sparse to my ears

I'll also throw in Eternity which bears the fingerprints of Prince.

Spotify doesn't have the remixes but the essential is there

I suppose this is fodder for my contention that 1988 was one of the greatest years in recorded music. But I'll flesh out that provocation another time...

What can I say, the song moves me, the arrangements, the voice - everything about it. I'll leave you with 4:06 minutes of soul perfection:
Baby me by Chaka Khan
Let me know what you think.

See also: Janet Jackson and the importance of bubblegum and Tony Toni Tone - Weary Sons of Soul which I retrospectively nominate for this series

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Writing log: May 3, 2024

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The Magdalene Propositions

'Twas a pope in the western tradition who raised the difficulty
In a homily that sought to explicate the muddled references in the liturgy
The Eastern Orthodox tradition would disdain this unholy trinity
The conflation of Mary Magdalene, the unnamed sinner, and Mary of Bethany

From these roots, legends have sprung
And conspiracy theories been long mooted
Angels summoned and demons expelled,
Codes of dishonor, sacraments disputed

A fallen woman anointing with the purest spikenard -
   Such an indignity
From martyrs and persecution to miracles and wonder,
  The essence of Christianity

Yet this would be the faithful follower on hand at the crucifixion
Indeed, even more crucially, the first witness of the resurrection
Spinning origin stories of the seven deadly sins
The basis of those so-called Magdalene propositions

Elliptical and sensitive, this woman, we owe her a debt
She moved the spirit and troubled the soul as she wept
Leaving her trace on parables that we keep debating
He is risen. A message with the plainest of meanings

Khayelitsha african gospel church

The Magdalene Propositions, a playlist

A soundtrack for this article of faith. (spotify version)

My original conception was in the vein of a tall tale with conflicting artwork that went from a vision of fallen angels to an admixture of commerce and faith. The muse decided otherwise and what issued forth was the above, but perhaps those stories will come in their own time. The title is so evocative that it continues to fire my synapses.

minnie and mary

See previously Articles of Faith

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Writing log. April 22, 2022

Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Striving Simians

There is an art to being a great leader
We rightfully celebrate those few examples that we have
Many books and tomes have been written

There is also an art to being a bad leader
These last proliferated throughout history
Indeed, bad seeds are plainly in the majority

Still, despite the appeal of cautionary tales,
Far fewer tales are told about bad leaders
Heroes over zeroes, humanity prefers redemption stories

Ever the optimists, we celebrate triumphs rather than failure
Perverse incentives carried over from our antecedents in the savanna
The pathology of groups outlined in crass social behavior
Paradoxically, we reward bad leaders in equal measure as good leaders

Some contend it's even worse in the modern corporation
Namely, that we reward bad managers out of routine dysfunction
Call it the Peter Principle or what have you, they tend to fail upwards
Borne on the deep seated human need to be appreciated

Monkey dey work, baboon dey chop
The fear of being shunned
To be laughed at for being mistaken or ridiculous
The importance of grooming, the appeal of approval ratings
Fragility, we accommodate rogues for fear of shame
Ignorance is bliss, we blindly obey the rules
And stay quiet, lest our competence be impugned

The banality and burden of following the orders
The ever looming specter of the conqueror
Striving simians we are, not far removed from the savanna


Monkey dey work, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note, from afrobeat to blues by way of jazz funk. spotify version)
See previously: Restructuring Activities

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Writing log. April 22, 2022

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Mortgage Refinancing in a Covidious Time

A brief note on mortgages in a covidious time...

Back in June 2020, we refinanced our mortgage to take advantage of lower interest rates - never let a crisis go to waste and all that. For what it's worth, we went from a 4.5% 30 year mortgage to a 2.5% 15 year loan, saving something like $200,000 in interest payments.

This being America, perhaps with the savings we've made, one of our children will be able to afford a year of university when the time comes - or hopefully a semester, one can always dream (stay on topic, man, tackle spiraling higher education costs another time).

This was at the height of the pandemic and although lockdowns were lifting, vaccines were not in sight, the whole world was in upheaval. Luckily, The Wife and I still had jobs and were working from home - albeit I had taken a 20 percent salary deferral as The Company sought to preserve cash and cancelled all chip orders and such, snarling up the supply chain in the process (but I digress yet again - car company executives are not often lionized for their financial savvy, call it herd mentality in a time when we were all seeking herd immunity).

Anyway... we saw interest rates at historic lows and tried to act.

Sidenote: I had never seen a faster reaction than that of my previous mortgage broker at my "Looking to refinance" email. Left to him, we'd have sealed the deal that very day. He was hungry for my business; the global pause had brought about a great financial shock, it really seemed to be a buyer's market.

There were a few glitches, however, and where there are glitches, there is toli...

A Live Human

The first issue we encounted was when the mortgage company wanted to verify employment.

I asked my manager and he pointed me to GM's official process for employment and wage verification. As a large company, it employed a vendor to automate this process. I went along and set things up at the vendor, The Work Number, and provided it to the mortgage company.

I got the following response from the broker. Apparently, enough of the 40+ million newly-unemployed Americans had applied for mortgages just after being laid off, that all mortgage underwriting companies were tightening requirements. They were now requiring to speak to a live human to verify things.

"Unfortunately, we can't use automated verifications. The system is not current... meaning up to day to day. So the HR person will just need to verify that you are an active employee 2 days before closing. Again, it's a Covid guideline so we have to make sure you haven't been laid off."
In other words, mortgage fraud was rampant. Mortgage servicers weren't trusting any of the automated systems that were in place. A live human was needed for verification.

This was also one of my first encounter with that felicitous phrase, covid guideline. A phrase that quickly become a catch-all and authoritative, even when said guideline was sometimes questionable. Middle management and frontline staff alike could just allude to a covid guideline and all manner of nuisant rules would manifest themselves.

(Covid Guideline also sounds like the name of an indie band.)

I didn't want to put my supervisor or assigned HR partner on the spot by giving out their contact details to verify employment. That would be wrong and I didn't want to go against The Company's process.

But I was in a bind if all mortgage companies were now wanting to contact a live body in light of the pandemic. I wondered if I should try to find a different mortgage company, if one existed, that would proceed with the automated process. From what I understood however, all other underwriters were in the same boat. I briefly considered feigning cold feet with my broker just to see him sweat a little (so keen was he for my business).

The news reports indicated that this was a widespread issue

WSJ Says Banks Can’t Determine Who Is Credit-Worthy: More COVID-19 Fallout
‘Flying Blind Into a Credit Storm’: Widespread Deferrals Mean Banks Can’t Tell Who’s Creditworthy

Millions of Americans are out of work and behind on their debts. But, in many cases, the missed payments aren’t reflected in their credit scores, nor are they uniformly recorded on borrowers’ credit reports.

The confusion stems from a provision in the government’s coronavirus stimulus package. The law says lenders that allow borrowers to defer their debt payments can’t report these payments as late to credit-reporting companies.

Lenders that are having a tough time spotting risky loan applicants are approving fewer borrowers for credit cards, auto loans and other consumer debt. They are also hunting for new data sets that could indicate who is in financial trouble and how much they need to set aside to cover soured loans. The Federal Reserve last week said the biggest U.S. banks could be saddled with as much as $700 billion in loan losses in a prolonged downturn.

“Without accurate information, their only option is to pull back on credit,” said Michael Abbott, head of banking for North America at consulting firm Accenture PLC. “Banks don’t know who is going to pay and who isn’t. It’s like flying blind into a credit storm.”

Banks started tightening their underwriting standards in March, when the first wave of coronavirus layoffs began.
A year later in 2021, this low trust environment still persisted
Lenders are calling employers to confirm that the homebuyer will have permission to work remotely when the pandemic ends. Rates are lower for loans on primary residences, and the lender also wants to make sure the borrower actually plans to work after getting the loan.
Luckily for me, after some back and forth between the broker and my employer's human resource department, things worked themselves out. I was able to be verified. Our HR department found itself staffing up virtual call centers to do the work that they had previously paid good money for an automated solution from an external vendor. Live humans were indeed needed.


Our closing ceremony was quite eventful as I've previously recounted. Interestingly, a curious document manifested itself during that process - a "Covid-19 attestation" that the notary insisted that we sign. The financial situation of millions was in upheaval; the breakdown in trust across society was complete, and mortgage companies sought to protect themselves by adding whatever they could to the closing process even if of dubious legal standing.
Covid-19 attestation

I affirmed that the income documentation (my last paystubs) I had provided was unaffected by "the COVID-19 resulting economic impact, and I am not aware of any future changes in my employment status and/or income that will affect my ability to repay my loan".

As I signed, I questioned how the mortgage company ever hoped to enforce that attestation and what value it would have if indeed my income did change dramatically. Perhaps someone can enlighten me. What actual use is that Covid-19 attestation in legal terms? Force majeure is what it is, attestation notwithstanding.

From what I understood, the majority of fraud in the US during the covid years concerned repayment of covid relief PPP loans. I was a little surprised that even garden variety real estate mortgages were similarly precarious.

I believe things are stabilized four years on, and that there has been a return to the normalcy. The credit environment and the mechanics of the mortgage process have adjusted. Higher interest rates will cool excess exuberance, I suppose. Colleagues that refinanced last year inform me that our company's automated employment verification solution was accepted. The Covid-19 attestation endures however...


The New Process

Speak to a live human
And sign the attestation
So go the covid guidelines

Attestation, a playlist

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

(I'm revisiting some of the notes I jotted down in the first years of this ongoing pandemic, do let me know if you find them useful)

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

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Writing log: June 21, 2020. January 13, 2024

Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Shards of Solace

Shards of solace
The aftermath of heartbreak
Putting it back together

The comfort of a touch
Lingering on what had been
The afterglow of the memories

A spell was broken
So many lessons were learned
And in their wake, regret

Welcome to changes
Gather yourself, my friend, caution now
Pride and vanity have no place here

It's long past tallying
the missed opportunities
There'll be time enough to pick up the pieces

masks of civility

Shards of Solace, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version) File under: , , , , , , ,

Writing log. April 21, 2022

Tuesday, June 04, 2024

AFRC Member

Apparently he was the father of the soul singer
The evening's main attraction, it was her release party
She was premiering her latest album at Citizen Kofi
But all I would remember was that he was an AFRC member

Fit, even at his age, a tall man in his sixties
Standing there, we were exchanging pleasantries
Accra's finest, we all waited for the artist
Then, unprompted: "I was a member of the AFRC."

Deep breath. He should know better, shouldn't he?
Looked him up and down, you should tread easily
But you couldn't help the now-sharp arch of your eyebrow
You replied, "Those were tough days. We are much freer now."

"Some of us would like to bring those days back."
He really didn't realize that you were taken aback
You lowered your head. Drew on your well of diplomacy
The other two exchanged looks. He repeated: "AFRC"

Armed Forces Revolutionary Council, that blasted acronym
To uphold it as a badge of honor was really quite surprising
For most of us, it meant fear, upheaval, and terror
Blood and arbitrary sin dispensed in equal measure

There was no denying
   that the present situation was awkward
You kept your counsel,
   there were so many things that you could have said
But, well, his lot were the ones
   who gifted us the culture of silence
After inflicting on us a tyrannical reign of relentless violence

If those days were indeed back,
   no doubt there would be a curfew
We'd be stuck at home listening to martial music on the radio
Back then, the only ones with curfew passes
   were AFRC members
I guess he was envisioning a smaller event for his daughter

Was he one of the soldiers who raided houses in the evening?
Or was he rather one of the ones that ordered the beatings?
Still, the name didn't ring a bell, he didn't look familiar
Was he one of the intellectuals who gave them cover?

Revolution, they said, his cohort of murderous cronies
Destroying all nightlife, culture, and much economic activity
It has taken thirty years to recover from their disruption
And, even now, the soul of our society is a pale imitation

My cousin smiled stoically,
   reveling in the silence as she observed the man
Next to her stood my uncle, same age perhaps,
   a worldly businessman
He nodded, at a rare loss for words,
  for even with his smoothness, he couldn't deal
Never mentioned that they'd been forced into exile by this crew,
   forced to rebuild

The amnesty they gave themselves
   is the only reason this guy wouldn't be in a jail cell
Instead of standing there
   expounding blithely, as he was, full of himself
It was hard to take, those years
   when all we could do was bear witness
We're freer now but we still bite our tongue
   out of simian politeness

So: "I'm a big fan, you must be proud,
   she's done well, your daughter"
There was nothing left to say,
   we moved on amidst the nervous laughter
Later, she came and sang a short set,
   her voice ever delicate and tender
But all I would remember of that night
   was that he was an AFRC member

military we are cleaning the society - trampling on their backs talking drums september 1984

AFRC Member, a playlist

A countrywoman, Rhian Benson, does the honors for this soundtrack. (spotify version)
They put us through a lot. Never again.

See also: June 4th, The Wages of Thermidor, and Truth and Reconciliation

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Writing log. Concept: December 31, 2010. April 19, 2022

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Gremlins Do Cry

His was a belated conversion narrative,
   Adequate perhaps, and seemingly benign
But it rather belied the question,
   Was the structural adjustment genuine?
For the jury was still out
   Amidst this veritable parade of hand wringing
To the keen eye, the pose of faux humility appeared to be opportunism

Not so long ago he was so adept at using the bully pulpit
To tar many others with the broad brush of cowardice
The charge was, variously, weak wills and muddled thinking
War was justified, to oppose it was to be a quisling

With ivory tower bonafides, his credentials could not be questioned
He'd write odes to manifest destiny and similarly well-crafted paeans
Loud and obnoxious, spouting claptrap and cheerleading all the way
His world-historic, record breaking hubris prominently on display

Now he tells us, witness the tears of a gremlin
Finally recognizing the "unfolding catastrophe"
That others pointed out was bound to happen
And the concerns raised that he dismissed so easily

Now he tells us,
   And only after flirting with a debased reputation
Pray tell, which of his previous bromides does he now disclaim?
That he was gloriously wrong in every way,
   Witness the horrific death toll
Let alone the huge amount of money squandered
   In the wartime black hole

No one seeks a public flogging
   Or the penance of ashes and sackcloth
But it bears saying that his tribe
   Were the ones who got all the rewards
We should assign responsibility and blame accordingly
   - That is the path of honor
Instead it's manifest destiny revisited as farce.
   A savaging is still in order.

stamp china panther 1986

Apologies, a playlist

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

Like others I wasn't impressed by the immediate fit of buyer's remorse. If I recall correctly I was even moved to write letters to the editor. Somehow the muse has deemed that verse might be a more lasting contribution.

This note is part of the Shell Games suite.

Previous entries considered Shame Cultures, discussed The Skeptic's Credo, proposed A Taxonomy of Useful Idiots, and observed a Change of Tune.

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Writing log. Concept: August 5 2007; April 18, 2022

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Talking Drums on Apartheid in South Africa

Let's have a feature:

Talking Drums's coverage of the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Head on over to read it from the source. As usual, I have some commentary.

Talking Drums may have been billed as the West African news magazine but it covered the entire continent. Indeed there was something about South Africa in almost every issue. And not merely talk of boycotts, sanctions, or ritual denunciations. It reflected African opinions on the matter.

The two issues on which all African states agreed in the eighties were the resistance to the apartheid regime in South Africa and the demand for independence in Namibia. While some states favored opening up dialog, all were in favor of sanctions, and many actively supported the liberation movements even with arms.

(Western Sahara caused rifts - Morocco would leave the OAU over the matter; and most other issues were contested, after all, this was the height of the cold war and great games were playing out. African countries were highly fraught terrain - grass, elephants, pick your metaphors)

On the ground, there was a quite visceral reaction to the continued support of the South African regime by the US, West Germany and the UK (and Israel to some extent). Throughout those years, there was continued and increasing pressure for boycott, sanctions and an end to the apartheid policies of Pretoria

Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher's disgraceful legacies speak for themselves, standing as they did on the wrong side of history propping up institutionalised racial discrimination. Not for nothing would Fela immortalize them as Beasts of no Nation when he got out of jail.

True, the die had been cast earlier by Henry Kissinger, but the rebrand of US policy (courtesy of Chester Crocker) as constructive engagement fooled no one. The commentary in the magazine was uniformly scathing.

There were the daily atrocities of apartheid in everyday life and then the lowlights, say the Langa massacre at Uitenhage in 1985. The National Party would undertake cross border raids bombing of its neighbors ostensibly to harrass the African National Congress whose local leaders were mostly in jails.

Cubans would commit troops to the fight in Angola and Mozambique. Cuito Cuanavale (1987-1988) would be the eventual tipping point but the early 80s were a hard slog. Especially since the US was actively involved propping up South Africa.

Bishop Desmond Tutu would receive the Nobel Prize, piling on the international pressure from the moral high ground albeit, some readers urged him to reject the prize. The apartheid regime, however, was long used to being a pariah.

talking drums 1984-11-05 Desmond Tutu Nobel Peace Prize - who is a Ghanaian - Amnesty report on west africa

(The Pope expressed "deep sadness" over South Africa, and who could blame him; the regime was unrepentant and bloody minded)

The efficacy of sanctions was debated at length - some called for military action in its stead. But inaction was intolerable. In the hundreds of references in the archive, I couldn't find any non-commital opinion.

Whenever there are sanctions, there are also attempts to evade them. Cue the Salem, the Liberian registered tanker affair: "scuttling the 214,000 ton Liberian tanker... after embezzling its oil cargo, owned by Shell, and selling it secretly to South Africa for $45 million." South Africa tried everything in this respect in its sanction-avoidance efforts.

But the pressure was felt and applied on many fronts. Campus activism urged divestment and boycotts. Sample headlines: President Abdou Diouf of Senegal was an eloquent advocate of sanctions and embargos, holding western governments to their stated values.
President Abdou Diouf for his part issued an appeal to Western countries to strengthen their economic sanctions against the Pretoria regime. He said, "with the system of apartheid one cannot even speak of violations of human rights, it is a question of their being purely and simply negated. This is the reason that African public opinion is less and less able to understand the passivity of certain Western governments, who are normally so sensitive to human rights' issues, in the face of what has become a real genocide of the black South African people today."
Beyond the grocery store boycotts of produce, there was real teeth to the resistance. The frontline states paid a price but persisted. It is easily to criticize the authoritarian tendencies and domestic policies of Kaunda and Nyerere but on South Africa they actively fought the good fight.

The boycotts of cultural exchange added to the isolation. It wasn't just music and arts, South Africa post-1994 would race to see what they were missing. Sports mattered a lot to the country's psyche. A few countries boycotted the 1984 Olympic games citing South Africa. Generally the boycotts hurt.

(Think of Israel currently facing worldwide opprobrium but proceeding without heed. Would Fifa, UEFA or similar organizations weigh in denying the Israelis their own creature comforts?)

When Thomas Sankara proclaimed Jamahiriyah(!) in Burkina Faso, following Gaddafi's lead, it also came with a pledge "to make 1986 a year of the final attack against apartheid, and of the proclamation of a democratic, free and independent state in South Africa."

Talking Drums would cover it all (even a bloodthirsty Mengistu of Ethiopia taking a break from killing at home to roundly denouce the South Africans when he assumed chairmanship of the OAU!!). The magazine would highlight the ironies and the twists and turns of the liberation struggle.

I compiled 70 or so pieces from the archive for this feature but there's much more. Read for yourself...

Apartheid years, a playlist

For good measures here's a soundtrack for this note.

Some Fela, Dudu Pukwana, Mahotella Queens, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Soweto street jive that was reviewed in the magazine. Five hours of listening. Enjoy...

See previously: Talking Drums

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Writing log: April 25, 2024

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Change of Tune

First comes shame, that old friend, ever reminding of inadequacy
It's never enough, however, for it merely highlights the unspoken
Then comes fear, primal, with its forcing function
Fear prompts action, a movement to self preservation

The moral pivot requires fleetness of execution
The Friday night news dump is a long established tradition
To bury consequential events, bad news and policy shifts
Not everyone can erase history but you can attempt a face lift

For grifters are highly attuned to the attitudes of their marks
Their sixth sense is in identifying a losing play, a bad hand of cards
Almost as if on autopilot, they make course adjustments
The idea is to stay in the game, the shell game that is

Public relation consultants advise a short apology
The content doesn't matter as much as its visibility
After all, you never know, that's the thing about human beliefs
You might still be able to salvage some unearned cash from the deal

For sure, some appreciate a serious expression of contrition
But don't mistake buyer's remorse for actual misdirection
Self-criticism is a bridge too far in the rectification of errors
More preferable is the prompt application of the reverse ferret

chameleon at San Antonio zoo

Chameleon, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

After observing the NFL owners' Come to Jesus moment in light of the George Floyd protests, my long gestating series on Shell Games gained a very au courant hook. As an example of a course adjustment, it was a clarifying case study. Indeed, the headlines were revelatory

In the same vein, an older more classical take on the malleability of opinion and policy is The Vicar of Bray.


This fit of buyer's remorse is part of the Shell Games suite.

Previous notes considered Shame Cultures, The Skeptic's Credo, and posited A Taxonomy of Useful Idiots.

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Writing log. April 18, 2022