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



chimp


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.

Attestation


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

Friday, May 10, 2024

Porch Wedding

The bride still wore white, standing there on the porch
Over the fence, we made sure she got a round of applause
The sole entertainment we'd had in this era of lockdowns
A porch wedding, how thrilling, over there in the backyard

It had been rare, months even, to see so many people gathering
More than fifteen would seem to run counter to the restrictions
In a circle on the porch, paying lip service to social distancing
The pandemic improvised a new kind of destination wedding

Earlier, it was the sound of highlife and afrobeat
  That attracted our attention. Really? How could it be?
First Alhaji K. Frimpong's grooves, then Fela Kuti's
Not what you'd expect to hear on Austin Texas streets

We'd seen something like an advance party the previous day
Must have been a sister or bridesmaid trying to spruce things up
Putting up a few sparkly decorations, some balloons on display
Frankly, however, it seemed that their very presence was enough

In such times, you find out what is truly essential
And love finds its way even during times of turmoil
Life goes on, we all seek some semblance of normalcy
Even when stuck at home, bound together in close proximity

A stripped down affair: bride, groom and a few friends
A zoom feed set up, a live stream for their parents
Touching, the exchange of vows in this intimate setting
Still, a leap of faith, over the fence, this porch wedding

The happy couple happily posed for the sole guest, the photographer
A few speeches, then confetti and, (what's that?) face masks tossed up
As they beamed, we whooped and cheered and filled the air with laughter
"Congratulations. You saved a lot of money. Enjoy your life together"


Porch wedding in a covidious time



Porch Wedding, a playlist


The soundtrack that announced the wedding was what first drove notice. It was rather unexpected to hear the sound of highlife and afrobeat in our backyard. We took a closer look at these neighbors that we hadn't spoken to since they'd moved in six months earlier. Great taste all around. (spotify version) Bonus beats: White wedding by Billy Idol

A covidious home wedding



[Update 2024]

Four years later, they have a one year old. Life goes on.

Porch wedding in a covidious time



(Have been revisiting notes I scribbled during the early days of the pandemic. Lockdown really felt like another world)

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

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Writing log: Concept: May 16, 2020; February 9, 2024

Tuesday, May 07, 2024

Sensualist

Sensualist by avocation
Every touch is significant
Leading, probing, teasing, lingering
Every look weighted with flirtation
Promises of escape and fulfillment
A prelude to restless joy

Paying close attention to the sounds
The sound of names, repeated
Names, again and again
Effortless this mantra
Then a high note punctuates the trance
So good, so good, repetition

Together, surrounded by pleasure
Together, covered by a blanket of soul
Singing softly, we compose a new song
Look, listen, feel, dream
Breathless, the sensations
A momentary taste of paradise
All that remains is the heat


kbaka waterfall



Sensualist, a playlist


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

Writing log. April 16, 2022

Saturday, May 04, 2024

Ebony 1978

Serendipity. I'd been listening to José James's new album, 1978, on repeat all week and came across all the issues of Ebony magazine from that year at the library. Let's take a look at the year through that lens

Ebony 1978, an album
Starting at the middle of the year, June 1978 was the music issue.

Ebony June 1978 hottest of hot groups Chaka Khan Maurice White Bootsy Collins


On the cover, The Hottest of the Hot Groups in all their glory:
  • Rufus & Chaka Khan
  • Maurice White, Earth Wind & Fire
  • Bootsy Collins, Bootsy's Rubber Band
The lead article actually focuses on five of the top groups then making waves

Ebony June 1978 hottest of the hot groups Chaka Khan Maurice White Bootsy Collins


Would have thought The Commodores would be sure to feature, what with Lionel Richie and their origin story (meeting as freshmen at Tuskegee University). Ebony bait if there ever was such a thing. (they do get an inside photo)

Ebony June 1978 hottest of hot groups the commodores lionel richie and company


Bootsy Collins was stretching out the funk with his Rubber Band. They had a great live reputation

Note the assertion in the ad: "Jamaica is more than a beach. It's a country". When you market yourself to black Americans, there's less of an emphasis on Jamaica as bacchanalia.

Ebony June 1978 hottest of hot groups bootsy collins


I note the interesting editorial decision that the body of the text discusses Parliament/Funkadelic and quotes George Clinton extensively, but they doesn't print any photos of them. Methinks P-Funk were too edgy for the straightlaced Johnson publishers.

Maurice White and Earth Wind & Fire were more wholesome and perhaps at their artistic peak. They released The Best Of Earth, Wind & Fire during the year. Mics were dropped.

This is Ebony so they only cover mainstream groups - no mention of say Cameo, Ohio Players, Brass Construction, Con Funk Shun, Bar-Kays, War, Mandrill or even Kool & The Gang even though all of them were in the mix in 1978.

The specter of disco is not mentioned here, the focus is on the bands with a reputation for their live shows and instrumentation. Albeit, Donna Summer had her Ebony cover the previous year. In 1978, she was working on Bad Girls. Hot Stuff and all that.

Ebony October 1977 Donna Summer


Earlier in 1978, the January cover was Richard Pryor. Sidenote: the more interesting feature is about "Black women - white men, the 'other' mixed marriage". Loving v. Virginia was only a decade in the past.

ebony january 1978 richard pryor


Hey! Cars of 1978 (disclaimer I now work at a car company so I've started to pay more attention to such things)

ebony january 1978 cars of 1978


One of the pleasures of reading Ebony in those years was just how big the magazine was. The full tactile sensation turning those pages was unmatched. Typical issues were 160 pages, packed with advertisements, the style, the hair products etc. Call it the bourgeois id of black America.

ebony february 1978 what i love about my beautiful black man


Hey a Chevy, now that's more like it

the new chevrolet


March 1978 asked: Who is the greatest heavyweight champion of all time? Muhammad Ali or Jack Johnson? Ali was an evergreen topic for all media outlets throughout his life; any mentions boosted circulation.

ebony march 1978 Muhammad ali


The US Army was a big advertiser (after the final draft in 1972 as the Vietnam war wound down), the black community was heavily recruited by the military. All branches of the military placed enticing ads. (opposite The Pips)

ebony march 1978 army recruiting maybe you can be one of us


March 1978 - readers respond to the Ebony class and style poll

The usual suspects win: Lena Horne, Sidney Poitier, Count Basie, Bill Cosby and Harry Belafonte. Black royalty.

ebony march 1978 readers respond to class and style poll


Winners of the style poll: Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Richard Pryor, O.J. Simpson, Redd Foxx, Aretha Franklin, Billy Dee Williams, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Eartha Kitt and Ben Vereen (of Jesus Christ Superstar fame).

ebony march 1978 style poll


Ebony April 1978 black colleges choose campus queens. Ebony was a society magazine.

Note: the special report on "Detroit - Motor City makes a comeback" seemed a bit premature. How many comebacks has Detroit made?

ebony april 1978 black colleges choose campus queens


Andrew Young had been made UN Ambassador under Jimmy Carter's administration. Great in prestige but still a servant to power. I wonder how say Linda Thomas-Greenfield's reputation will fare after the display of the past year shielding Israeli warmongering.

ebony april 1978 a close encounter with andrew young


Natalie Cole was luminous as ever (May 1978 cover). Not quite sure that the feature about Older women - young men applied to her. Interesting juxtaposition though.

ebony may 1978 natalie cole talks about her career, marriage and child


June 1978 focues on What's Happening!! the teenage comedy that was a big tv success, drawing on Cooley High

ebony june 1978 what's happening teenage comedy is tv success


The fashion fair issue includes a spread: dress up for summer evenings. I can see my mother's flowing robes

ebony june 1978 dressing up for summer evenings


Ebony July 1978 considers the new generation. I do wonder, did they leave a mark?

Ebony July 1978 the new generation


Ebony July 1978 sports a feature on Soul Train, The Outrageous Waack Dancers, Kirt Washington, Tyrone Procter, Cleveland Moses Jr, Jeffrey Daniel, Jody Watley, and others. The latter two spawned Shalamar

Ebony July 1978 soul train the outrageous waack dansers


Ebony September 1978 again wondered Can old man Ali accomplish the impossible?

Ebony september 1978 can old man ali accomplish the impossible?


Muhammad Ali prepares for the rematch with Leon Spinks to regain his heavyweight title at the Superdome in New Orleans.

Ebony september 1978 can old man ali accomplish the impossible?


Note: Lou Rawls' Budweiser ad was doing numbers

Ebony september 1978 can old man ali accomplish the impossible?


Sidenote the second: the ads for mentol cigarettes and liquor are some of the more inventive

Ebony October 1978. Hollywood - how to survive between gigs. The feast and famine of creative types endures. It's the same old story

Ebony october 1978 hollywood how to survive between gigs


Ebony November 1978 Diana Ross debuts The Wiz (no mention of Michael Jackson who would steal the show). All I remember of her album of that year was the cigarette cover and, I guess, Reach out I'll be there. Nothing else stuck

Ebony november 1978 diana ross the wiz


Finally, Ebony December 1978 asked: is it true what they say about twins? Inquiring minds want to know

Ebony december 1978 is it true what they say about twins


Going back to the first image, Ebony did hit on some touchstones in 1978:
  • Earth, Wind & Fire released their greatest hits album and unleashed September. There were showing off by this stage
  • Chaka Khan released her debut album although she wasn't done with Rufus by any means. She said it all with her anthem: I'm every Woman
  • Bootsy Collins continued to made hay, touring on the strength of Ahh...The Name Is Bootsy, Baby!
  • The Commodores came out with Natural High, Lionel Richie gifted us Three Times a Lady
  • Parliament released Motor-Booty Affair and their live shows were the stuff of legend
I did mention the specter of disco that would decimate the funk bands in short order. Some adapted, but many didn't. e.g. Boogie Wonderland was a success, but James Brown didn't handle the transition. Indeed 1978 was the first time that JB didn't have a response to the music that was in the mix.

Not to be too reflective, but I should note that 1978 would mark a high-water mark for blacks and much of the working class in the US for a generation. They might have been grooving to Good Times by Chic or Y.M.C.A. by The Village People but the Reagan retrenchment was just around the corner. Eyes wide open.

The relative leveling of society and the real economic and civil rights gains would take a back seat. The gains that accrued over the next 40 years were unevenly distributed to say the least. It was Baby Huey's Hard Times or Gil Scott-Heron's Winter in America that ensued. But I digress.

On the brighter side, I had no agenda here other than to soak in those images and read up about those times. You had to be there I guess. Kudos to José James for the revival of music that mattered.

And for good measure, here's a massive playlist - the music of 1978. My own albums of the year were Golden Time of Day by Maze, Cool Ruler by Gregory Isaacs and Social Living by Burning Spear. Your mileage may vary...

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Writing log: April 26, 2024

Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Vox Optima

The best minds of my generation devoted to optimizing clicks
With an insight a minute they can overwhelm you with their tweets
It was a shrewd bet after watching the inexorable rise of Wikipedia
To fall in wholesale with the new and emerging commentariat

You might have attended the same schools
   as some of these members of the new media
Roamed the same halls
   studying lessons with the same cosmopolitan professors
Surprisingly, their main takeaway
   was a studied pose of technocratic neutrality
They may appear reasonable and sensible,
   but are handicapped by their incuriosity

Jack of all trades, their concerns are cross cutting
Sad that it seems they've chosen to launder attention
The paradox is that they are often on the right side of things
But choose to squander insight pursuing the wonkish instinct

If you follow their careers closely,
   you'll find the skein of careful punditry
Albeit with fetishized concerns,
   they are ever ready to pronounce reflexively
Sweeping arguments even when it's not their area of expertise
Wars, education, immigration, housing, how hard could it be?

Specialists on policy, whether foreign or domestic
Making claims to insightful views on economics
To opine is an inalienable right to them, if not an obligation
To scratch the surface of the discourse is their avowed inclination

Blind spots in abundance, historical amnesia is their lot
They give a free pass, the benefit of the doubt,
  to patent scoundrels
A repeated assumption of good faith of obvious rogues,
   mea culpas galore
They roam from think thanks, to podcasts and columns,
   it's a revolving door

But is there a there there?
   Does Vox Optima have lasting value?
Is this curious brand of earnest ersatz journalism simply filler?
When you play, as they do, the shell game of the media
One can only fail upwards in this celebrity culture

With their pose of arch seriousness and mask of the anxious
It's hard to locate them in the taxonomy of useful idiots
Some would place them between those who should know better
   and the ignorant
Methinks, though, that they're professionals,
   either opportunists or contrarians

cubist painting at pompidou metz


Vox Optima, a playlist


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

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

...

After some bright young things who came of age with the web. Middle age looms, you know, might be worth leaving a mark...

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Writing log. April 15, 2022

Friday, April 26, 2024

Ammunition Analysts

Once again, the bean counters are having a field day
Ever since the tanks started rolling across the border
Every bullet, every missile, even if wayward, must be tallied
Every drone, every tank, every bomb matters in this accounting

Overflow flights, satellites pressed into service
High resolution images, surveillance analysis
Logistics is all in reality, feel free to talk strategy
Paying lip service to achievable political objectives

Ammunition analysts expound on dogma and distress
Manpower conservation and combat effectiveness
The fool's paradise of precision munition
The ultimate hubris of force projection

The subtle difference between annihilation
And the term of art, the war of attrition
Distinctions raised between regrouping and retreating
Sustained gains by ground forces and unit cohesion

Summoning tallies of the losses and casualty rates
Execution with poor coordination amidst endless debates
Fuel shortages and the care of the supporting cast
Envelopment of forces along the axis of advance

Armies need to be fed, there's the danger of diffusion of effort
The arrayment of infantry troops and their artillery support
Planning salient offensives and platoon positions
Competing priorities of squads, their bounds of operation

A crying shame, as ever,
   That we have normalized the machinery of death
Even the global pause was only temporary
   Viz the return of this madness
Futility, the marshaling of doctrine
   In service of chimeric victories
For when it comes to blood and sin
   There can only be routs and defeats


Jonas Savimbi angola tank


War, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note (spotify version) A nice coda with reflective piano is The War of Northern Aggression by Van Hunt but sadly that isn't available on streaming services. Nina does the honors here to close things out, isn't it a pity?

congo military africa report 1966-11-041 mobutu reign


...

I wrote this piece in 2022, it strikes me as perhaps even more timely today as I check the headlines. Isn't it a pity?

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Writing log: April 3, 2022

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Flash Purposes and Pocket Litter

The documents "are not utilized in themselves"
   Is the official word per the agency,
They are used for flash purposes and pocket litter
Entire identities created out of whole cloth,
   Cover for operatives, the memo emphasizes,
The agents never actually charge credit card purchases

Alias document is the term of art,
   Worthy of the expense and effort
To create fake birth certificates,
   Driver's licenses and so forth
Strict controls are in place,
   They merely corroborate identifying documents
The burden of intelligence services
   Who carry out the dirty work of government

Sufficient audit trail.
   Rest assured, we follow rules and regulations
Believable stories we manage to create,
   The essence of misdirection
In bureaucratic prose
   That elevates deeds from their squalid ground
We lay out a potted history
   Of this organ of the executive branch

In tradecraft and intelligence,
   Forgery is a core competency
Pay no attention to occasional slips,
   We manufacture our own reality
The art of understatement,
   Prima facie law violations
Comes with the territory,
   Essential to underlie the fiction

We may traffic in the dark arts,
   But we are the good shepherds
Take us at our word,
   Our budgets are not unlimited
While technically accurate,
  We prefer not to mention blood and sin,
And always leave unspoken
  The source and extent of our funding

Obfuscation is our daily bread,
   We invented plausible deniability
Dabbling in drugs for creative financing
   And even run banana republics
Come to think of it, it is a singular virtue
   of this delayed disclosure
That it could, in itself,
  Serve as flash purposes and pocket litter


pompidou metz exterior 02


Spy, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)
After reading through the bureaucratic trail spawned by the CIA'S family jewels (pdf), those papers that were deemed so dangerous they were buried in for years. Classified skeletons and sanitized misdeeds, a few short phrases concealing a mountain of crime.

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Writing log. April 15, 2022