Thursday, April 21, 2005

Proverbial Zingers

Further nuggets for the Toli Scrapbook... ala Flaubert's Dictionnaire des Idées Reçus (Dictionary of Received Ideas).

This month's zingers post covers a lot of ground. There has been a veritable effusiveness of jaundiced (and flowery - as my MIT-educated co-worker put it) prose and commentary from this joint on all sorts of topics over the past 6 weeks. I hope these proverbial zingers provide a concise counterpoint or explanation of the threads that weave all of it together.

A skewed outlook on life

He liked his women freshly jilted.

Martin Amis - Heavy Water and other Stories (2000)

See also: Inman Square Still Life

On the advisability (or lack thereof) of sending out withering emails to one's team I just did this past week, and having to deal with the consequent fallout (consignment to the most menial sytem administration duties). Note to self: being right without being judicious is a fool's paradise.
Words are like bullets. When you release them, you can't call them back.

Gambian proverb

An insolent tongue is a bad weapon.

Senegalese proverb

The tongue weighs practically nothing, but so few people can hold it.

Ghanaian proverb

It is a stupid dog that barks at an elephant.

Ugandan proverb

On why I search

Minds are like parachutes, they only function when they are open.

Nigerian proverb

A touch of quasi-religious optimism perhaps

The sun will shine on those who are standing before it shines on those who are sitting.

Liberian proverb

And perhaps a desire for no regrets

The stone that lies at the bottom of the riverbed, cannot complain about feeling cold.

This one from my mother who had a little too much cognac (Christmas day 2003)

On being careful

If you want to improve your memory, lend someone money.

Zimbabwean proverb

When you are surrounded by vultures, try not to die.

Proverb from Cote D'Ivoire

On journalism in Africa

For after all our business is not only to discover wrongdoing, it is our business to expose lies, to expose smears. Not only the lies that public officials tell but the lies that are told about public officials. Much of the instability that has dogged Africa has its roots in the inability of the press to clearly tell the public which of the many rumours are true and which are not true. There is this idea that has taken root that getting access to the facts and making them public will hinder and undermine government, I have heard the argument that much of government is so complicated and so delicate that it is impossible to portray all the intricacies in a newspaper article or radio programme. In an area where democratic practices are yet to take root, I will suggest that it is in the interest of government that things are exposed.

There is a saying in my language that it is difficult for head lice to prosper on a bald man's head. If one were to take the saying further, even though I acknowledge it is dangerous to try to improve upon the sayings of the elders, head lice prosper the most in thick grown hair. Or to coin another phrase, the mould grows where the sun rays don't get to.

In the Public Eye (November 1998) - Thoughts on the difficulties faced by African journalists in obtaining public information

On The Importance Of Biting Satire

I like my satire savage. It should be vicious, biting and deeply heartfelt. The targets should feel a sharp wound.

The whimsical and comic artefacts of the best satirists are side-benefits; their purpose is really to serve as social barometers and canaries in the mineshafts of our communities.

See also Bolton's Hair: No Brush With Greatness
And 3 days later: Is John Bolton Going Down?

On the prescience of the best satirists

With apologies to Michael Froomkin, this is what I meant...

Sir Edward cheered up... It was worth decanting a really good claret. Besides he had a theory to explain why Lady Thatcher was such a passionate advocate of arming the Bosnian Muslims. Her son was an arms dealer and by backing the Muslims so openly she was bound to help dear little Markie's standing in Saudi Arabia. It was in the discovery of real motivation in politics that Sir Edward Gilmott-Gwyre found his greatest pleasure.

Tom Sharpe, The Midden (1996)


Sir Mark Thatcher has pleaded guilty in South Africa to being negligent in investing in an aircraft said to have been used by people allegedly plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea.

Equatorial Guinea 'coup plot' (January 2005)

Ergo Strange Bedfellows and the Journalistic Impulse

The Midden

On language

Asankasa: noun.

1. a radio. From the Ewe language of Ghana, literally rendered it means "The bird who sings"; circa 1930s

2. a later sub-sense, circa 1960-63, in which the words from the radio should not be trusted; said new meaning arising when Kwame Nkrumah's true colours were shown e.g. the propaganda of a one-party state

Inept excess

If you no for chop fufu before, you no sabi the sweeticity of life.

Self circa 2000 - my licence to practice pidgin was thereby revoked

Celebrating the beauty of the oral tradition and of the Griot

Il était devenu le Maître de la parole incontestable, non par décret de quelque autorité ou d'action culturelle (seuls lieux où l'on célèbre encore l'oral) mais par son goût du mot, du discours sans virgule. Il parlait voilà... S'il y rencontrait une commère folle a la langue, disponible et inutile, manman! quelle rafale de blabla...

Solibo parlait, il parlait sans arrêt, it parlait aux kermessess, it parlait aux maneges, et plus encore aux fêtes. Mail il n'était pas un évadé d'hôpital psychiatrique, de ces déréglés qui secouent la parole comme on se bat une douce...

On s'assemblait pour l'écouter ... un silence accueillait l'ouverture de sa bouche: par ici, c'est cela qui signale et consacre le Maître.

Solibo Magnifique, by Patrick Chamoiseau

solibo magnifique

For the french and creole-challenged, here's the english version, slightly less musical to my ears...

He had become a Master of the Unanswerable Word, not by decree of some folkloric institute (the only place where they still celebrate the oral tradition), but by his taste for the word, for speech without commas. He talked, voilà... He talked to everyone, to a woman tattling tongue-crazy, available and useless, oh mama! what a gust of blah-blah..

Solibo talked, he talked ceaslessly, he talked at fairs, talked by the ridges, and even more at parties. But he was not some runaway from a psychatric ward, one of those loons who jerk out words as casually as they put their feet up.

We gathered to listen to him... a silence welcomed the opening of his mouth; around here it is this that signals and anoints a Master.

Solibo Magnificent, by Patrick Chamoiseau as translated by Rose-Myriam Réjouis and Val Vinokurov (with an adaption by me: ward rather than hospital)

Solibo Magnificent

A Manifesto of sorts

We people who are darker than blue
Are we gonna stand around this town
and let what others say come true:
we're just good for nothing they all figure,
a boyish, grown-up, shiftless jigger.
Now we can't hardly stand for that
Or is that really where it's at?

Curtis Mayfield - We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue - Curtis 1970

See also: Lights Out

Coalition of the Willing

Le recensement de la coalition censée accompagner les Etats-Unis et la Grande-Bretagne a atteint, dans le discours que M. Bush a prononcé à Tampa, le nombre de 48 pays, dont les archipels doublement pacifiques de la Micronésie, des îles Marshall et de Palau, qui n'ont pas d'armée.

Again for the french-challenged... Le Monde's 2003 survey of the members of the Coalition of the Willing that embarked on the Iraq escapade simply noted that such prominent members, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands for example, actually don't have armies.

Existential Defiance and Assertiveness

Just because a lizard nods its head doesn't mean it's happy.

Old Ghanaian proverb

Again that Journalistic Impulse I'm following.

Ghana Lizard

From The Wire

Quotes from Season 2 and 3 of HBO's The Wire which thankfully will return next year. Hooray.
"Damn Calvin! You know I got the bingo tomorrow!" - Caroline

"N---a is you taking notes in the middle of a f---- criminal conspiracy!?!"
- Stringer Bell (wonderfully played by Idris Elba)

"Bring me a Shrek2 slushie an' some Krispy Kreme!"
- Squeek

"Shine that up and put $7.50 on it... Shame to let a good toaster go to waste over a frayed cord"
- Proposition Joe

See also On The Wire a blogospheric parable of sorts...

How to get a feature deferred in the software world

The state of the art is passive-agressive equivocation. I have only reached for those heights once:
Bob and I discussed/brainstormed what we thought were the issues that the current approach that we have started working on needed to address. As to the issue of cost of some of these issues, I think others with greater experience in the Freelance architecture would be better qualified to say.

On the other hand, with some measure of handwaving, we are reasonably confident to be able to get the feature to at least "demo quality" in a timeframe close to our current feature freeze date.

I have listed below the new areas of code we need to write, the issues that we need to address and, if relevant, how our approach would deal with it. I also point out some of the potential risk. In essence this is the incremental cost that is incurred with going from a text-only approach ... to the current proposed scheme.

From a missive to co-workers circa 1997.

See also: "Sharp-elbowed bureaucratic maneuvering".

Psychic Insights

A look at the psyche of a people under stress, the Nigerians, as they took baby steps to emerge from 30 years of military rule - a life of depradations by Unknown Soldiers and the Coffins for Head of State they leave in their wake:
Whatever happened then, I thought to the central Nigerian belief in CAN DO.

The exploits of various preacher men and the extraordinary hold they seem to exercise on the lives of people was to amaze me throughout the three months or so that I spent travelling around the country. I am therefore not too surprised now that the whole of Nigeria has been seized by the "predictions" of another of these preacher men, who has pronounced that the hand over of power from the military to the elected government on May 29th will not take place. According to this particular Pastor, a certain Tunde Bakore of the Latter Rain Assembly, God had spoken to him that not only is General Olusegun Obasanjo the elected president, not Nigeria's Messiah, "he is a ram being kept for slaughter". This prophet speaks in particularly gory details about his vision. According to him, the axe will come down on Obasanjo's head and he will be hewed into pieces, right before our eyes. Two weeks ago, rumours swept the country that the General had died/been killed under strange circumstances.

There were riots in Lagos, property was destroyed and many people were injured when youths took the streets because according to them, "they" have done it again... Who are the "they"? The same "they" that killed Chief Moshood Abiola had done it again. General Obasanjo had to go on television to assure the country that he was still very much alive. In the meantime, it appears the General is not taking any chances, he has gone on a fast and a prayer for good health and success in the job he is about to take on. The General who is said to have become a born-again Christian during his incarceration for alleged coup plotting under the late unlamented General Sani Abacha has not treated all these reports of visions about his impending death with the nonchalance one suspects he would have done some twenty years ago. For the past two months his farm has been the site of constant praying by various groups trying to neutralise Pastor Tunde Akore's vision.

Everybody appears to be a believer. The difficulty comes when you try to pin down exactly what it is that people actually believe in.

The Nigerian Elections - A matter of confidence (1998)

See also: Tradition and Modernity

See further wistful and jaundiced zingers.

See other toli zingers

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