Tuesday, January 24, 2023

White Graves

"There are small fortresses on the hills in the background to which the inhabitants flee in times of danger or when bandits attack them.

White graves lie scattered on the slopes lower down."

Those of the Basel Mission captured so much that was striking
From the souls that, through advocacy, they converted to be Christian
To the photos that they amassed, with their typically meticulous bookkeeping
Their legacy is all over the world, they were, as advertised, on a mission

Which is how I came upon the image of the white graves
The tiny speckles that littered that Chinese landscape
Truth be told, this puzzle came by way of a diversion
But I was altogether intrigued by the poetic caption

I'd been searching the archival record for a doctor
Who I'd long known had ties to my grandfather
It's not that I was searching for a (white) saviour
But the title did suggest itself, A Good Doctor in Africa

He was an elusive figure this good Doctor
To whom had been seconded my grandfather
But armed with those keywords, his name and Gold Coast
I quite easily came upon African and Chinese mission posts

The annotation was prefixed by Huppenbauer
And therein lay the little mystery
For there was no known missionary
By that name who worked in China

"We don't know what this means", wrote the cataloger at the mission
This was an affront to their normally excellent record keeping
I guess it was at this point, a century later, that I took a second look
Perplexed, as were those earlier archivists, with the scrapbook

All that we had was the photo and the scraps of metadata
"Black and white positive, paper prints, gelatin silver"
But, you know, browse a little and your attention starts to wander
The trail of missionary Huppenbauers led to the Fophin River


Just past the bridge over the Fophin River
Near the Temple of the Goddess of Mercy
A group of house evangelists gathered
In front of the Basel Mission Station

All bore smiles, some wore hats, while others carried umbrellas
These men were converts, it couldn't have been easy, they were treading water
For they were surrounded by Buddhists who found it hard to relate
Nay, there were anti-Christian placards on one of the town gates

The mission vocation held that, through advocacy, redemption could be found
But there were a few limits: the house for Europeans lay in the background
The station was erected at a remove, a secluded part past the town wall
The mission had an uneasy foothold in the town, especially after nightfall

Still, there were good times at mission station Fophin
The Free Chinese evangelist Lo Wun Tshin
Would play hide and seek with the Meyerholdt's children
Idle moments of laughter in the botanical garden

I then ventured to Limtshai (an outstation of Fophin) on the hills
Navigating past the wet market and river down to the rice fields
The village is not compactly built, with fields between the groups of houses
The vistas laid out in this rural setting, and of course the outhouses

There was more, I continued in that vein, there was no end of material
For the archives were a font of lost stories, fugitive and ephemeral
Imagining backstories of those souls whose likeness had been captured
Conjuring up the rhythms of life of those places and their measure

I guess you could call it an odd form of escapism
To while away my pandemic with rank speculation
To spend time exploring the world of these missions
It might be a peculiar form of cultural projection

I was minded of the ambiguity in the Christian missionary impulse
And the old joke about the encounter with Africa, and our loss
"When you came, you had the good book and we had the land.
Now we have the good book - we read it, and you have all the land"

I would return later to my search for the good Doctor
I am quite hot on the trail but he was not to be found in China
More likely, the note was written by the other Huppenbauer, Hans
Who was on mission in Borneo and pictured teaching knitting class

But back to the striking caption, I beheld at this note's introduction
The small fortresses in the hills didn't look to afford much protection
Flimsy edifices, less robust escape room, and more temporary enclave
No wonder the bandits were wreaking damage as witnessed by the white graves

I was curious about this glimpse of a strange kind of life
The townsfolk regularly having to flee those bandits wielding knives
Only a century ago, at the heart of rural China, during their lost decades
What bothered me was what the missionary observed: the sight of the white graves


Fophin Mission Station, a playlist

A soundtrack for this armchair historian's note. (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See also: Fophin Mission Station in the Basel Mission archives. A mysterious image that troubled this searcher.

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Writing log: May 6, 2021

Tuesday, January 17, 2023


Trained officers
A tough job, we all know,

Jogging. Uppity
A stare. Traffic stop
Or sometimes just reaching

One wrong move
And your life slips away,
Your chest is heaving

Pleading for God and your mother
Or simply lying there

edge by kristin willits

After the killing of Daunte Wright.

Soundtrack for this note


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See previously: Goody Two Shoes

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Writing log: April 13, 2021

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Soul Inspiration

I saw an opening, that was all there was to it
Soul inspiration, I guess that's what you'd call it
Still, I'm not quite sure about my contribution, it has to be said
But I thought that I should join in the conversation, even if it came in verse

Inspiration is like that, when you suddenly have something to say
A stray word, an odd image, and you're off to the races
You're not even thinking about how it ends
It's all about the pleasures of taking up a pen
Or keyboard, or phone or, of old, a typewriter
You've gathered the writing pad or, in extremis, the scrap of paper
You've found the requisite solitude, it can no longer be denied
The detachment needed is on hand, you've sharpened the splinter of ice

And now that you're ready, the idea simply glistens
You'd explain its beauty to anyone if only they'd listen
But now it's down to you, and you're on a mission.
Who knows whether it will be worth it in the final analysis
But, for the moment, you're finally past analysis-paralysis

It's down to execution at this stage but that is its own tale
And when, no doubt, you revisit it, you'll note the irksome detail
That you had discarded even as you knew that it would matter
That plot point, that loose rhyme, that woolly notion
That you knew later readers would brand as imprecision
The failing you thought you could overlook as you rushed to completion
The fleeting doubt as you faltered in your tower of Babel creation

But nothing is amiss, right now there's a creative abundance
You're merely reaping the wages of soul insurance
Remember, the muse wills what she wants
She, it was, that ushered you in this direction
Be thankful for these moments of soul inspiration


Soul Inspiration, a playlist

soundtrack for this note (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: May 5, 2021

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Soul Insurance (Part 9 Indemnity Provisions)

The game of thrones never ended... Part 9 of Soul Insurance (see previously)

IX. Indemnity Provisions

The claims adjuster was dissatisfied with all the self congratulating
That the three tribes were engaged in now, with nary a trace of misgiving
For there was, in these matters, a failure to make a distinction
Between an insurance agreement and an indemnity provision

Humanity held the former coverage
   with a dubious advance from Ananse the Spider
But it wouldn't do to let them bypass
  indemnity provisions in their risk transfer
Nyame had authorized the adjuster
  to continue pursuing enforcement actions
Although his claims would be circumscribed
   by the ring-fenced soul section

Soul insurance was now to be an open two-sided market, a free-for-all
Any old middleman could now compete,
   even those without the wherewithal
The gains would be manifold
  if they could find the economies of scale
Thus there were perverse incentives
  for operators to behave beyond the pale

They could bundle up transactions
  and approach the reinsurance market for further sales
Complex derivatives and ostensible dispersion of risk but the devil was in the details
If humanity continued their speculation,
   they would risk the wrath of the Regulators
Who would surely call on, at the appointed time,
   parties like the claims adjuster

The weak link would always be the Ushers,
  they were the soul of complacency
First tribe contentment meant that even the most menial lived in the lap of luxury
The opiates of the tabloid scrolls
  anesthetized them from the glaring inequalities
That the masses faced.
  A situation that suited favorably the ruling oligarchy

The chief linguist of the Ushers was a greedy sort
  and could not resist the temptation
He'd previously mooted altogether reneging
  on Ananse's soul insurance compensation
He had a side hustle with the Carlyle Group,
   those black gold industrialists
Well known operators of banana republics
   and social club of monopolists

The linguist summoned his lawyers and accountants, "Take a look at the contract.
Do not leave this room without a legal opinion
   that keeps our options intact
I seek your counsel, for we have to remove Ananse, of that there is no doubt"
They invoked the Capitation Arrangement,
  suffice to say that the knives were out

mayfield park sculpture

Ananse was well aware that these humans were shifty creatures
Those with the backstabbing bent were like common vultures
But he'd had long, vicious experience of such faithless electors
You always had to account for the vicissitudes of the human factor

Thus he'd previously suborned a few in their ranks, strategically placed
Bad actors he could count on whose moral fiber was suitably debased
So short term was their thinking, he marveled, for it was surprising
You could reach, in barely two steps, the extent of their event horizon

His spy, Fifi, had revealed to him that his main antagonist
Was none other than that old rascal, the chief linguist
Ananse cursed his bad luck, he'd been pennywise and pound foolish
He'd skimmed on the upfront bribes in his dealings and been prudish

Vanity, he'd believed that he could get away
   by sheer force of argument
He'd forgotten the maxim:
  Trust in God but always tie your camel up at night
A trickster like Ananse lived by his wits and powers of persuasion
So much so that he preferred to use duplicity over plain corruption

Still, he thought he could see a way
   to double up on the filthy lucre
Even beyond the glorious bounty from the tribes
   that he'd already accrued
Long ago, one of their prophets had asked
  "What profit a man?", that outsider
He had been hinting to them the perils
  of dealing with Ananse the Spider

He'd play both sides again as he'd seen in the b-movie that morn
The great spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars, by Sergio Leone
He decided to enlist his good friend, Sika, she was a skilled actuary
Together, they'd approach the claims adjuster, humanity's adversary

He made the executive decision that he would use the ploy of the indemnity provision
The tro-tro mate started singing "Things dey happen" as they passed Atomic Junction
All of the passengers joined in with the chorus:
   "We suffer oh. This austerity."
They were close to their destination now,
   the meeting would be at Atomic City

atomic city

Indemnity Provisions, a playlist

The soul providence of Carleen Anderson's voice form the spine of this soundtrack to this tall tale. Amy Winehouse was not the only one to note that her vocal stylings struck the same kind of nerve as Donny Hathaway. (spotify version)
warning label: suffocation hazard

Soul Insurance (Index)

A covidious folktale
  1. Ananse and the Chief's Scribe
  2. Enter the Claims Adjuster
  3. An Audience with the Linguist
  4. Pity the Mink
  5. Short Sale
  6. Excessive Liabilities
  7. Premiums Due
  8. Soul Insurance, a playlist
  9. Indemnity Provisions
  10. Full Circle

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

Next: Full Circle

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Writing log: Part 9 April 7, 2021

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Soul Insurance (Part 8 A Playlist)

Part 8 of Soul Insurance. Music is our policy...

The previous folktales under the banner of Soul Insurance could be read as the liner notes for this soundtrack of comfort food. My bags are all packed and I have my pandemic bubble playlist. Listen without prejudice. (spotify version)

Soul Insurance, a playlist

  • Soul Insurance by Angie Stone
    Angie sings for the real soul cat and sounds the cautionary note about those who bring out the Xerox.
    It's too many ya'll ridin' in the same boat
    It's getting too heavy and the boat can't float
    Here's a little something to make you think
    You goin' down under if the mother sinks
    She's got our back but will call out those faking the funk. This mellow groove is my pick me up, my great day in the morning, my wellspring of soul inspiration. It bounces along lazily, the harmonies are impeccable and the intent is fierce. I plan to be a believer everytime I hear it and, even if I seem to have taken its theme into a surreal folktale, it continues to make me happy. Nothing hits your heart like soul music.
  • Searchin' for my Soul by Amel Larrieux
    Rendered live, this is a crowd pleaser because she always reinvents this song with an outstanding scat coda, it'a an opportunity to let her voice fly, my favourite bravebird lets loose.
  • Gentlemen, I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid by Charlie Hunter
    The claims adjuster delivers the news without commentary. Just the facts, humanity. When I lived in the Bay Area, Charlie Hunter's Home for the Holidays concert was the highlight of the season. I always tried to catch as many shows as I could for soul insurance. The tour in support of that aptly named album, Gentlemen, I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid, was phenomenal, the horn section led by Curtis Fowlkes added to the customary jazz-funk guitar virtuosity. You're a good man, Charlie Hunter.
  • Lessons in Love by Level 42
    By the time the horns come in around the chorus I am already happy. Feel good sing-along soul music.
  • Contribution by Mica Paris and Rakim
    Initially this was going to be Should've Known Better, her confection with Omar but it's hard to argue with Rakim Allah, there is no competition. Like his duet with Jody Watley this collaboration is the perfect meeting of hip hop lyricism and conscious soul. Voices in their prime. One world united. All shades invited.
jo bag: ghana must go in South Africa

A reprise. In the end, all we need is Angie Stone's warm voice and soulful groove to fortify the soul. I guarantee it

Guide to Lagos 1975 023 royal exchange assurance nigeria

See also: The Second Wave and A Covidious Playlist

Soul Insurance (Index)

A covidious folktale
  1. Ananse and the Chief's Scribe
  2. Enter the Claims Adjuster
  3. An Audience with the Linguist
  4. Pity the Mink
  5. Short Sale
  6. Excessive Liabilities
  7. Premiums Due
  8. Soul Insurance, a playlist
  9. Indemnity Provisions

This soul food is part of a series: In a covidious time.

Next: Indemnity Provisions

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Writing log: Part 8 March 28, 2021

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Teddy Mink

Along came Teddy Mink, as usual, with the girls in tow
The Mink Quadrant was a tight unit, a hard act to follow

Sheila, Joyce, Melissa, and Stephanie came up in lockstep
The classic lineup, they danced as if they were doing it to death

But Teddy insisted, he laid down the funk rules of the beat
And Diana and Mary couldn't handle the supreme heat

They’d opted for Motown and greener pastures
Get down on the one, the groove was the master

The drum is a woman, The Duke had said it before
Teddy agreed with this aspect of Ellington's Law

He'd had had a falling out with Cucumber Bones
Over the woman, and the song, Aretha is Home

Something about the credits and, as usual, the royalties
But, mostly, it was the oversight in the liner notes that he found petty

And now that he had something to prove on his hands
He was determined not to lose the battle of the bands

As a bandleader, he drilled the musicians harder then the Godfather
His work ethic approached Prince, truly, no one did it better

In the warehouse, the grooves and ideas flowed, the pace was unrelenting
And as for the dancers, he wouldn't let them quit - man, it was exhausting

His love language was a jam session, he lived for music, it was an obsession
But who the hell knew if they would defeat Cucumber Bones and Frankie Ocean?

A brief sketch, as told to me by the then 4 year old

The names of my son's imaginary friends have become more interesting. Who is this Cucumber Bones? And what is he singing with Frankie Ocean?

the bad tour by danso

Teddy Mink, a playlist

A soundtrack for this jam session. (spotify version)
See also Mingering Mike: The Amazing Career of an Imaginary Soul Superstar

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Writing log. Concept March 25, 2017. May 5, 2021

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Tony Toni Tone - Weary Sons of Soul

The Music Snobs were discussing Tony Toni Toné the other day - sterling as usual, covering the band's breakup, the legacy and the music. Still, they always leave an opening and I have some thoughts...

I was at university with a Wiggins cousin and like all of the Wiggins, he was a beautiful soul, insanely talented but famously prickly and always wary - he had seen some things. I later learned this friendly-but-guarded business is true of many black Bay Area folk.

He would speak of his cousins who were in a band and how they used to mess around at home and in talent shows, trying to find studio time. They were already doing well, The Revival had a serious impact the previous year. Musically minded, their family reunions had epic soundtracks.

Still, there was something a little frayed, a faint thread that ran beneath the smooth surface of these guys. It's in the music, in all their albums even as they became more confident performers. And maybe it's best to point to a lyric...

Lovin' You is arguably Tony Toni Toné's masterpiece. It stands in the pantheon of slow jams, an impeccable and lush ballad. And yet I'm drawn to a lyric that Raphael throws in: "This world is drunk and everybody's mad". How did that get into this seduction suite?

Skip forward to 2019 and Raphael Saadiq with nothing to prove to anyone, releases his most personal album, Jimmy Lee, a song suite musing about his uncle's addiction. And what do you see? Track 3: This World is Drunk

The driving chorus:

This world is drunk
And the people are mad
Lovin' You was their Adore perhaps, and just like Prince deflating things with "but maybe not the ride", Raphael drops "this world is drunk" to ground the beauty... They had moved beyond bubblegum by this stage. They could drop the mic and walk away. Grit was part of their legacy.


True story. Late at night. The mixtape is ready. Prince got us in the mood, then Maxwell's suite, the satin sheets are prepped, Meshell Ndegeocello, a declaration of intent, we're going to get freaky, D'Angelo, Brown Sugar baby! Then the Tony's come in, Lovin' You, to seal the deal.

Mood, low lighting, you're drawing close to steal a kiss, singing along "loving you..." Crooning. Let's sing together, it's on tonight... Then: "the world is drunk and everyone is mad" !!!

What? What did we just sing? That's like a reminder to use a condom, to make sure you have birth control measures in place... That is a warning.

I'd been thinking Let's get it on, not Brenda's got a Baby. I'd been thinking Turn off the Lights, I was suggesting Lay Your Head On My Pillow. Caveats and responsibilities were the furthest from my mind. Had I picked the wrong track?

These weary sons of soul put a parental advisory notice on the most sensual of moods. Rain check that night, I'm sad to say. I'd have to change the playlist going forward.

So... Tony Toni Tone put the contraception in baby-making music.

I started a family 15 years later...

If they were in finance instead of family planning, they'd have said sure go for the money but choose cement instead of crypto, choose dividends over dotcom dreams. Careful out there.


My introduction was Born Not to Know. A friend had brought the tape back from the States, I was hooked. But I stayed for Baby Doll (which had a Teddy Riley remix) and the songcraft. While Foster/McElroy were doing production duties on their first album, the Tonies were doing the writing and it was intriguing at that.

They were traditionalists, they had a band sound and were students of the greats. You heard that even in the first album, Who?. Their second, The Revival explicitly referenced their Oakland antecedents, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana etc. They had ties to Sheila E's band after all.

Sons of Soul and House of Music were further studies of the craft, hearkening to the different styles of the greats. But it wasn't just homage; they were modernizers, conscious of the legacy. Throughout, their soulful grooves came with real talk.

Little Walter was a little controversial for interpolating a spiritual. Sinbad appeared in the video - comic relief at the outset of their career, but there's no hiding that it was a cautionary tale that ends with "When Walter went to open it, he was blown to the floor".

261.5 features Dwayne singing about "falling in love with a minor" and risking breaking the eponymous California Penal code number. Playing for laughs and done with subtlety - PG-rated. It's an age old story and some later predators would ignore the warnings (say R Kelly)..

. There's a lot of dysfunction in their songbook. Take Jo-Jo - Raphael singing about a family situation - Jo Jo who goes missing, or My Ex-Girlfriend - learning about infidelity and being cuckolded with the immortal chorus "My ex-girlfriend (girlfriend) is a hoe". Vicious fun.

Don't Fall in Love is up there:
Have you ever fell in love with a woman, that wasn't a woman?
I mean, all the time, you thought she had the things it takes to be a woman
That's the Eddie Murphy line: "I was just giving the person a ride", that's The Crying Game denouement sung with soul.

I know, I know, that's a poor interpretation of the song, he's really singing about picking the right woman and even sings "You better let God pick your one". But the ambiguity of great songwriters is to make you find layers in their musical world even as you sing along.

Or take Annie May - their stripper anthem.
"Annie May's gotta make up her mind
Is it a girl or is it a guy?"
Is it a love triangle, gender confusion, sexual ambivalence, a discourse on binary themes? Or just a fun thought piece about a dancer? Shut up and dance. "Let your hair down"

Sidenote: at a certain point they dropped the punctuation in the band name: Tony! Toni! Toné! became Tony Toni Toné. They didn't need the exclamation points perhaps. Or was it like The Jacksons being born out of The Jackson 5, contract negotiations? Industry shenanigans? (ducks)

Like Janet Jackson, if there were only faint traces of bubblegum at the outset, they very quickly leaned in to chart their own direction. Regardless, when they took over production duties, there was no need for any histrionics, the music spoke for itself and lingers. We still talk about them and play their well crafted albums years later.

I'm glad that they weren't absorbed into the Prince universe, that going to Paisley Park didn't work out. I'm glad they remained a band and charted their own course. Being soul men was not easy in that era. But the writing was on the wall as to their longevity.

Still, they did warn, listen to Tonyies! In The Wrong Key: "Sometimes I wonder how we stuck together / But I'm so glad and happy we did". On hearing that, I wasn't sure that there would be another album after Sons of Soul. In that sense, House of Music was a double blessing.


I saw Raphael Saadiq live at The Fillmore in San Francisco in 2009, he was touring The Way I See It. I think that he would have been happier playing in the East Bay. When he went into his gospel, revival mode, very few in the crowd followed. It seemed I was the only one whooping and singing hosannas.

I did my 8 years in the Bay Area, my children were born in Oakland, proper African Americans. I'd like to think that there's something of the East Bay that rubs off on you. To live a remove from the moneyed power centers but also where the Black Panthers were founded. But I digress...

To be black in the East Bay is not to be living out Medicine for Melancholy, or even The Last Black Man in San Francisco. It's more in the vein of Sorry To Bother You and Fruitvale Station (especially). Restless joy but with a weary edge, and Tony Toni Tone laid down the soundtrack. ...

Tony Toni Tone had been through a lot but they had a formula: they seduce you with lush soul but made sure there was grit underneath. That's the Oakland Stroke, that's The Blues, the necessary counterweight to It Never Rains and Lay your Head on my Pillow. Family friendly but never shying away from reality.

Their legacy is to be central to the conversation amidst the soul movements of their era. They proudly wore the mantle of The Isley Brothers, The O'Jays, Maze and The Ohio Players.

Their brand of soul was beautifully constructed, the sound of a band, danceable grown folks music. It feels good and is something that lingers. I'm conflicted that they went out on a high but glad they they gave us what they did.

"This world is drunk and everybody's mad"

Sons Of Soul

Tony Toni Tone, a playlist

A soundtrack for these weary sons of soul. Spend some time in their catalog, it's worth your time (spotify version)

(Orignally written for twitter)

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Writing log. November 11, 2022

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Plight of the Soccer Widow

Dilemmas and dysfunction, the plight of the soccer widow
Yet there's a curious periodicity to those moments of sorrow
The arc of estrangement, it is said, reaches its peak every four years
During the world cup, experimental evidence confirms the trail of tears

For the soccer widow wears a thick veil of invisibility
The absent spouse having discarded the burden of responsibility
Grudging grunts and head nods, barely even acknowledging
It's clear you'll have to fend for yourself and your offspring

Alienation of affection, or rather transference
For that month, football is his sole allegiance
True, the unbridled enthusiasm can sometimes be infectious
After a win, especially, the tribal cheers are precious

But it turns out that frustration is the lot of the soccer widow
And her sole consolation is that there's no game tomorrow
A temporary reprieve that day between rounds of the competition
Palliative relief, truth be told, for the husband's obsession

For instead it's the constant discussion of minor trivia
Speculation about the starting lineups and locker room drama
Lamenting bribery and corruption in the ranks of FIFA
Bemoaning those sheikhs that brought the game to Qatar

Bedraggled after the first two weeks, now he's looking rough
All conversations revolve around a draw that was markedly tough
The injustice of being drawn in the group of death
But also the upside of the situation on betting spreads

That it's now all about commerce, rank power, and globalization
Colonizers facing independent states, questions of possession
No time for the old thrills and sensations of the beautiful game
Total football is long gone, there's a sameness to the styles of play

Complaining about the commentary, he's going quite out of his mind
Expletives galore - shouting: "Can't you see? The referee is blind!"
The madness, the insanity, the chants, the screams
The color of memory, fully wrapped in this fever dream

Any hopes for discipline are fictitious, those costs are fully sunk
All schedules rearranged, it's a wonder that any work gets done
Your household in upheaval, leaving you to do all the pickups
You're left wondering when you'll see the end of this world cup

But there's also the morning after, the inevitable disappointment
Comes the letdown and recriminations when the dream comes to an end
Worse still is the glint in the eye, even after he's fully spent
He's already looking forward to the next one four years hence


"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

— The Shankly Code (Shankly, Bill)

world cup brunch

world cup croissant bacon and eggs


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See previously: Dilemmas

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Writing log. December 10, 2022

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Gee Doctor Fauci (Revisited)

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
This strange life is such a mess
Look around, our streets are paved
With discarded rapid tests
Far too many think the pandemic's over
So cavalier and reckless
That we have staffing shortages galore, employee turnover
That's the price you pay for being feckless

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci, you know, I'm ailing
I'm really finding it hard to be a believer
The kid came home from school Friday, sniffling
Just hours later, we found out that he had a fever
What a life, even though the rapid test came back negative
We're all wearing N-95 masks just to be safe

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
In this minefield of mixed metaphors,
I'm forever drawing a blank
Or, to hearken to pirates of old,
It feels like I'm walking the plank
True, the virus sets the timeline for this crisis
But it's hard to keep living on the precipice

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
You know, I really can't cope
With this covidious business
Daily navigating the tightrope
We are canaries in the mine
Harried, our faces drained of hope
While outside, observers are worried
Waiting for the white puffs of smoke

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci,
They keep making the same mistakes
Behaving, for all intents and purposes,
As if their mind was a clean slate
When you act, without a care,
As if there's no community transmission
If you're lucky, in the best case,
You'll live to regret the decision

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
Please give me a break
A word to the wise:
Open your windows and ventilate
Wear a mask in crowded rooms
Get boosted, don't tempt fate
Lest you end up in the emergency room
Lying in state
And the doctor reminds your kin
That you said "Do not resuscitate"

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
We're really going through the wringer
The former president said it will all just go away by Easter
That we should shine ultraviolet light
And drink bleach; best of luck!
Sure, we voted him out and impeached him
But it's now two years later, what the fuck?

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
I think it's going to take a miracle
For humanity to abide, as it were,
With the mosquito principle
Those ghouls instantly latched on
To those fateful words: herd immunity
And continue to hold fast, despite the cost,
The very definition of insanity

Doctor Fauci, Pence, Trump coronavirus briefing April 10 2020

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
When will they come to their senses?
This plague has so many unintended consequences
On election day you thought you'd take a chance
Now the whole world is strangely out of balance
It's really a tragedy of the commons
When you submit to the rule of morons

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
The latest research confirms
That the plague's most common side effect
Is to make wives unhinged
And husbands truly reckless
Officials at the CDC
Now call these symptoms learning loss
The index case in the study?
The family of Justice Thomas

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci, we're living out Hollywood realities
If you go by how they're managing the pandemic
It's rather like being passengers on the Titanic
Every man for himself, we're not all on the same boat
And then the fat lady sang, "That's all", she wrote

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci I hate to take you to task
I hear you fell prey to the disease and dropped your mask
By lowering your guard at your college reunion
You forgot for a moment and were imprudent
But, as you know, the virus really doesn't care
Indeed, it spreads readily through tainted air

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
At this point I'm so dispirited
The handling of the pandemic
Needs to be revisited
A postmortem on how our leaders botched it
So many infected, they lost it
Due to their incompetence and misrule
Now millions are lying six feet under
Because of these fools

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci, I counted
I'm now up to 60 stanzas, disenchanted
For we're no closer to finally
Finding, a cure for this cancer
Ambivalence, I keep going round in circles
The same themes, concentric
Dissonance, my rhyme scheme meandering
Heavy-handed and more eccentric

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
Truth be told, I think it's really pathetic
To observe their preferred strategy
For dealing with the pandemic
I daresay that it's a sin and rather odd
Because it's plainly not effective
Indeed it's quite akin
To using the Rhythm Method
As a contraceptive

the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Soundtrack for this note

I give you three playlists that the Doctor and I have enjoyed over the pandemic See previously The Grand Reopening of Texas, Gee Doctor Fauci (Remixed) and Telemedicine Consultation

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

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Writing log: September 3, 2022

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Chinese Ambassador

She'd normally do this kind of thing on her own
But fortunately I was back in Ghana visiting home
At the appointed time, we were scheduled to have dinner
And so off we went to meet the Chinese Ambassador

I didn't feel bound by the Chatham House rules, those we could surely ignore
For, indeed, neither I nor my mum were part of the diplomatic corps
The invitation was an opportunity for the Ambassador to meet and greet
And pick her brain, conversing in a setting that was quite intimate

The staff had done impeccable opposition research on my mother
But my very presence (improvised and unadvertised) was an X factor
That occasionally threw the Ambassador for a loop that was hard to measure
Like when I harrumphed, and made a point about the terms of my company's joint venture

Who was this Young Turk irreverently pointing out inconvenient truths
While quietly sipping his second glass of pineapple juice?
Who readily dug in to the more exotic fare, not your average dim sun
And mentioned the village of the chef of his favorite Chinatown restaurant

I'll admit, it was a lark, I was being provocative, it was indubitable
To see whether I could pierce the mask of the normally inscrutable
But there was a larger point, I suppose, we are a proud people
With a self confidence that can only abide being treated as equals

To his credit, the years of diplomatic training were so ingrained
That the Ambassador never came close to breaking the veil
He so deftly brought the conversation back onto his preferred topic
That I almost started to applaud his mastery of the arts diplomatic

The rest I'll leave to the mist of memory
Some details linger, the tea was legendary
The Ambassador's pragmatism about the fraught nature of the great game
And his respect for the small players who still beheld a culture of shame

The recognition of the ongoing perils of galamsey
Short term profiteering causing long term dismay
"But those kinds of things are private actions, not public policy, as you well know"
I couldn't resist the zinger: "It takes two to do the corruption tango"

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, that I must concede
This was very far from a symphony of deceit
An invitation to visit the motherland was duly extended to my mother
At the end of the evening, this lovely dinner with the Chinese Ambassador

Diplomacy means the art of nearly deceiving all your friends, but not quite deceiving all your enemies.

Kofi Abrefa Busia
hot summer by amos amit

The Chinese Ambassador, a playlist

A soundtrack for this embassy affair. We should all learn Chinese. (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: May 5, 2021

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Self Portrait In Verse

When asked what I do for a living, I tend to lead with
"Truth be told, I'm really just a failed pineapple farmer"
When pressed, I then add that the bio reads "Technologist,
Omnivorous reader, sometime writer, and music lover"

The leading volley normally never fails to disarm
It leaves an opening, and then I can turn on the charm
It softens me up, this mix of false modesty and imperfection
I'm a connoisseur of the strange architecture of misdirection

The backup option too, while accurate, is a diversion
It tells its own story but adds to the confusion
Truth be told (again), I favor words as protection
Fugitive glimpses of the self, the art of omission

The Akan conception of self will get invoked
Even if most of my life, I've been an exiled soul
But some are very keen on the curriculum vitae
Or that American innovation, the resume


I write books of toli covering life in the torrid zone
Occasionally self referential, one hopes they can stand alone
Densely linked manifestations of hypertext dreams
Focusing on small things, dark matters, and whimsy

Ask not what I do, but focus on what I write
Ask not what I hate, I only know what irks me
Ask not what I love, but behold what I praise
The normalcy project is what I try to navigate

These words are, again, a diversion from the heart of the matter
I'm a man of the hills, a word fugitive that's hard to capture
While these days, you'll find me tending to my pandemic garden
I'm happiest reading a book, not too far from Aburi Gardens

Something whimsical by way of Hilaire Belloc
Or Caribbean, say Zee Edgell or Derek Walcott
Some biting satire, think Evelyn Waugh or Saki
Kwesi Brew for soul insurance or Chinua Achebe

Perhaps some afrofuturist young turk, you know the names, but nothing too dark
I'm a sucker for genre pieces by Octavia Butler and Richard Stark
Or James Ellroy, give me American Tabloid, here's to bad men
Indiscriminate, really, so long as the writer knows how to wield the pen

And there'll be music, my enthusiasms are well known
The urban griot soundtrack: soul and jazz with funk undertones
The blues feature, all the African genres, and hip hop
Gospel too, basically all who use music as a weapon

Academia is long in the rear view mirror
I saw more than enough of that life from my father
The Wife, a historian, has access to a great university library
I live as an omnivorous reader and cause good trouble dispensing toli

And that's the natural extent of my ambition
To luxuriate in the safe harbor of deflection
That while I might present as chief toli monger
I'm really just a failed pineapple farmer

Aburi house view

Chief Toli Monger, a playlist

A self portrait in music. It coheres for me but your mileage might vary. We start and finish with Burning Spear's Man in the Hills album, the maroon soundtrack. (spotify version)


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: May 4, 2021

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Opacity and Revelation

There's a Akan proverb about knowledge that defines it
In a phrase roughly translated as "I have heard and kept it"
In our iconography, this is rendered as Mate Masie
The Adinkra symbol at the heart of Akan identity

Of the symbol, there are many different variations
It's a testament to our propensity for invention
That the designs proliferate among goldsmiths and jewelers
(For we of the Gold Coast appreciate both bling and philosophers)

Our conception of self involves the love of learning
We behold the world and cherish understanding
A respect for tradition and the surety it extends
And a studied regard for observed competence

It is said that knowledge, wisdom and prudence are the themes
At least those account for most of the conventional readings
The traditional focus is on acquisition, comprehension, and retention
But I prefer the other takes: disclosure, opacity and revelation

If I have learned something and retained it,
If doesn't follow that I should disclose it
The tension exists, on the one hand, between transparency and revelation
And, on the other hand, between concealment and evasion

So we have traditions of keeping knowledge close to one's chest
And there's opacity about how things get done, or the basis of knowledge
The through lines in our culture favor black boxes and trade secrecy
The alienation of labour from capital; what, after all, is property?

The longstanding stereotype the British beheld
   to those they termed oriental
Would be well repurposed to the Akan tradition
   which favors being inscrutable
The colonists would find it difficult dealing with the Ashantis,
   for they were prickly
As they heeded the proverb:
   Just because a lizard nods its head doesn't mean it's happy

In our modern world, there is a blurring of consumption and production
And an often fraught balancing of control against participation
Whenever I learn something and share it, the process reifies curation
At scale, we distill historical and institutional memory through conversation

Still waters run deep, appearances are deceptive
The metaphors suggest a challenging perspective
Short of a level field, on what basis do we fight life's competition?
He who controls knowledge navigates opacity and revelation

The sentence moved the Ashantis very visibly. Usually it is etiquette with them to receive all news, of whatever description, in the gravest and most unmoved indifference.

— The Downfall of Prempeh by Major-General Robert Baden-Powell (1896)

Without some dissimulation no business can be carried on at all.

— Philip Stanhope (1749)

The Ashantis had so completely succeeded in blinding the authorities to their real intentions that Colonel Harley was even now disinclined to believe that an Ashanti army had really entered the Protectorate, and... wasted valuable time

— A History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti by W. Walton Claridge 1915

mate masie

"Nyansa bon mu ne mate masie" (I have heard and kept it)

After a conversation between John Leeke and Jon Udell about craft and sharing knowledge in the internet age.

Knowledge, a playlist

I give you a playlist of mostly hip hop, mathematics and street philosophy, diving into poor righteous teachers and the like. More than four hours of often incendiary and political messages about knowledge, ignorance, power and control. Pump your fist. (spotify version)


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: Concept December 1, 2008; May 4, 2021

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Shady (or The Lottery Ticket)

Can someone explain this grift? I'm quite puzzled. So... Well, let me start at the beginning... Sunday afternoon at loose ends and needing to escape the pandemic and getting depressed at America gearing up to vote (again) for depraved indifference, I thought I'd go buy a Powerball ticket...

Now I'm an engineer, a devotee of Bayesian thinking, I weigh probabilities on almost every decision I make, risk averse is my middle name. Let alone the cautious immigrant, protestant/Quaker influence. So this business about gambling (even with a billion dollar jackpot) was a big step.

Earlier, I'd been discussing lotteries, gambling, and addiction with The 11 year old, pointing out that I was more likely to be struck by lightning walking to buy a lottery ticket than to win, that most saw lotteries as a tax on poor people or the statistically challenged etc.

I'd pointed out that what most people gain from playing the lottery is the psychic benefit of imagining what they would do if they won. Two dollars for a fantasy of affluence is cheaper than dinner and a movie (pandemic permitting) or a montly subscription for a Netflix and chill.

She'd heard all the cautionary tales of substance abuse, addiction and obsession - the black sheep of the family. She'd heard how my second semester at Harvard was almost derailed by those three weeks bingeing on Tetris (of all things) so that I immediately uninstall any games on any device I own.

The 11 year old was unconvinced, she knows about obsession. "Just don't go overboard, Daddy. Maybe just buy a couple of tickets". She also made me agree that I should share any winnings with her and her brother. This one is actually interested in money.

The only time I've won a game of chance was 10 pounds at the lottery in England in 2012, just before the Olympics. That was the trip where Theresa May's hostile environment welcomed me by withdrawing my residency to Her Majesty's lands. Call it My Windrush (or Indefinite Leave to Remain).

Tell a lie, I did also win the Green Card lottery in 1995 - the first time I applied. And the first (and only) time that bureaucracy had ever tilted in my direction.

Normally I am fated to run into a Never Never Man. Sigh...

Anyway, my US residency and the 10 pounds I had won were the consolation prizes when I returned from that disastrous trip to London. I wasn't deported, but I'd have to be dealing with lawyers to contest and regain my UK residency. My animus towards Theresa May is rather personal...

Incidentally, IBM's lawyers helped expedite my naturalization and I was able to submit the paperwork just days before the first Gingrich Federal government shutdown. Thank you Clinton-Gore for keeping things moving. Those 1995-1996 shutdowns really caused upheaval and backlogs.

My salary increased by $30,000 that year. A commentary on just how exploitative the H-1 visa process is. Much as I'd like to think that IBM thought I was a stellar employee, I know that the salary adjustment was a fraction of the money they'd save on legal fees for processing an H-1 visa

Anyway... I walked down to our local corner store. Four years in the neighborhood and I've never entered the place. The Wife had warned me off in the early days. Their stock was stale, rancid even, the one time she'd bought some bananas, "They were rotten!".

But mostly it's the corner that's the issue. We've been doing the African gentrification of East Austin but that pocket is the last holdout of the bad days. I guess you'd say it's an active scene. Not quite Hamsterdam, but it's not wholesome. If there is still a drug scene, it's around there.

The South East Asian lady behind the counter looked at me with jaded but anthropological interest - wearing a KN94 mask in these times seems to be a cultural signifier. The Grand Reopening of Texas was in May 2020.

I asked whether they sold lottery tickets, and asked for $20 worth of Powerball tickets - I haven't used cash since March 2020, so the bill that I pulled from my wallet looked quite the worse for wear. Dusty, but I plopped it down on the counter with alacrity. You have to look confident.

Eyebrows raised at the layers of pocket lint on the bill, she moved to the lottery machine. And then the puzzle starts. I expected a 30 second transaction. Press to select Powerball, press 2, press 0, press Enter ($20). Press Print to print the ticket.

Instead it sounded like a old dot-matrix printer was at work, and it was going on for an eternity it seemed. She kept punching numbers and she kept printing. What gives?

Anyway after a good 3 minutes she walked back brandishing a stack of tickets. Okay I thought, maybe it was an older machine and she couldn't print all the tickets on one slip. Still, it was a little suspect.

She then proceeded to count out the tickets ostentatiously. 1, 2... to 10. Handed the 10 tickets to me, and pocketed the other 3 at the bottom of the pile. She smiled and turned to the movie she was watching (a Bollywood joint).

"Thank you ma'am. Have a good day".

So as I walked out and took off my mask, I started to wonder about the nature of the grift that was being perpetrated here. I first checked that I indeed had my 10 tickets. I satisfied myself that I wasn't being directly stiffed but I felt used somehow - dirty, unclean.

Was she stiffing the lottery company? And how did the scam work? I know that there was a notional $6 excess that I'd last seen go into her pocket. Call it the bezzle. But how was it redeemed? Was it the $6 that mattered or the lottery ticket? Or were both the bonus she sought?

Double entry accounting. Where was this $6 surplus going? If she was reporting a $26 sale to the lottery, where was the other $6 coming from? Was she doing a Breaking Bad money laundering in a cash heavy business type of transaction?

Or was it just about the ticket? Was there a pool of extra tickets that the owners can distribute? Launder money while potentially increasing one's odds of winning? Tilting the scales of "It could happen to you!"

Can someone explain the likely mechanics of the grift? What is the nature of the bezzle? Who is getting shafted here other than us taxpayers? There's skimming going on, but how exactly?

grocery store art

Shady, a playlist

A soundtrack for this anecdote (spotify version)
Postscript: I obviously didn't win the lottery but gained 25 odd tweets and food for thought for my trouble

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Writing log. November 6, 2022