Sunday, June 04, 2006

Jaundiced Zingers

Further nuggets for the toli scrapbook... ala Dictionnaire des Idées Reçus (Dictionary of Received Ideas) from Gustave Flaubert.

Hatchet Jobs

Choosing Denis Sassou-Nguesso over President Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir of Sudan is sort of like passing up Idi Amin in favor of Moammar Kadafi.

— From an LA Times editorial, To lead Africa, commenting on the election of a new president of the African Union and how a gun-running rogue won out over the "slow genocide 'moderate' jihadist". The choices we have in Africa... God help us.

The anemic Mr. Shakespeare specializes in meaningful pauses and cryptic silences. A pastel watercolorist, a stylistic vegetarian, he is inadequate to the task.

William Grimes on Nicholas Shakespeare's In Tasmania

The God of Small Things is a hit with coffeehouse book clubs now for the same reason that To Kill A Mockingbird was a hit with Reader's Digest types fifty years ago. Both affirm the dim simplicities: Children are innocent; grownups are bad. Love is good; prejudice is bad.

— John Dolan on Arundhati Roy: The Goddess of Big Lies, part of the "Great Literary Frauds of Our Time" series.

Now, I know it’s customary in D.C. journalism to understand Harry Truman the way Joe Klein does: as a symbol, as a lovable, plain-spoken guy from the "heartland" largely unconnected to actual politics... So maybe it’s a little unfair of me to call attention to what Truman actually said. But Mr. Klein’s repetitive invocation of Truman, plus a little regional pride in the man, compelled me to look up the Turnip Day speech. Having listened to a recording of it, I think Mr. Klein is right in insisting that it be regarded as a model for Democratic candidates. I can also report that what Truman said in the speech is in almost every particular the precise opposite of what Joe Klein advises contemporary Democrats to say.

— Thomas Frank on Joe Klein's Turnip Day. A great piece on the fetishization of "authenticity" which apparently only Joe Klein is able to discern accurately.

Wherefore The Vicar of Bray?

I do love a good savaging of some of the blowhards that pass for public intellectuals, it keeps them on their toes - well it occasionally serves to reduce the chutzpah quotient. I am still gearing up to take on Thomas Friedman whose intellectual acrobatics, like those of David Brooks or Joe Klein, continue to be a source of wonder. When I think about the malleability of their rhetoric, I turn back to the poem and song in which the case was best laid out about willing chameleons and their agility in retooling their message for the talking point of the day, the Church of Rome and its authoritarian ways.
The Vicar of Bray

In good King Charles's golden days,
When Loyalty no harm meant;
A Furious High-Church man I was,
And so I gain'd Preferment.
Unto my Flock I daily Preach'd,
Kings are by God appointed,
And Damn'd are those who dare resist,
Or touch the Lord's Anointed.
Indulgences are many...

Cryptonomicon consisted of nerdish Mary Sues afloat in a sea of Cliffs Notes for popular science books. Angels and Demons retains the nerd protagonists but adds a layer of cack-handed James Bond stuff.

— Kieran Healy cast his jaundiced eye on Dan Brown's Angels and Demons; the result was succint and savage.

The modern Republican Party is the result of collusion between a movement to take U.S. jurisprudence to the pre-Depression era, and a movement to take culture back to the pre-Enlightenment era. It is doomed because the latter would like a theocratic state to regulate culture, and the former want to smoke dope and look at dirty pictures.

— Max Sawicky - Maxspeak Maxim IX. See also Maxim V.

Dada by way of Funkadelic

What is the source of food for thought?
Image doggie bags
A me burger with I sauce on it
A myself sandwich
A personal burger
And a glass of constricted cola
Out to lunch with lunch meat
The fear of being eaten by a sandwich

Low calorie logic
Muscle brain, skinny brain
Count the calories of your thoughts

— Funkadelic - Promentalshitbackwashpsychosis Enema Squad (The DooDoo Chasers) from their 1978 masterpiece One Nation Under a Groove.

Singing during a Carterian window (pre-malaise) and shrewdly antipicating a Reagan retrenchment, Star Wars, Iran/Contra, El Salvador and crack epidemics, Mike Hampton's guitar, Bootsy Collins's bass and Bernie Worrell's keyboards laid a musical soundscape that meshed with George Clinton's escapism and scatological insight. The band were at their peak and Doo Doo Chasers and Maggot Brains were on the menu. How I wish the P-Funk crew would provide a musical deconstruction of the current moment. An Emersonian transformation is sorely needed.

On Napoleon's Tooth

A priceless cab ride; you should read it all
"Funniest trip I ever had to make," said the taxi driver. "Now, you'll like this one . . ."

"So I gets a call on me wireless," he continued, "an' 'e says; 'Ere, I've got one for you.'

"I says, 'Oh, yeah,' and 'e says, 'Yeah, you're gonna like this one, I want you to go to this address, in Kensington, pick up Napoleon's tooth and take it to Swindon for auction.'

"I says, 'You what ?' 'E says, 'You 'eard. Napoleon's tooth. An' I 'ope you're insured 'cos it's worth 8,000 nicker.'

[snip further hilarity]

"Well yeah, still, I'll tell you somefin'. You gotta 'and it to his dentist, 'aven't you? 'E shoves that tooth to one side, an' e says, 'I'll 'ave that and I'll keep 'old of it till someone invents eBay.'"

Sentences I Loved Writing

You know too the stereotype about black men, that we have large... vocabularies.

The ballads alone might cause unwanted pregnancies and bring opportunist politicians into your bedroom.

I know my place in America: at the intersection of Tenuous St and Hired Immigrant Worker Alley.

Rendition also reminds one of the worst practices of the meat rendering industry which we know indubitably leads one down the path to Mad Cow Square.

A Title for Future Toli?

Being emotionally in your pajamas.
I'm not quite ready to write something that does does justice to that title hopefully that could be next year's project. In any case feel free to use it.

Delineating Dysfunction

From one of my favourite songs of the past few years that I rediscovered last Christmas.
I really love it when,
I love it when we make mistakes
Because once again,
It gives me reason to complain

I love the battle lines
The battle lines we draw and cross in the mud
I love it when we fight
Standing on the verge of breaking up or making love.

What would I do if we were perfect?
Where would I go for disappointment?

Love without pain would leave me wondering why I stay.

I think of saving myself
But with nothing to complain about up in heaven what would I do?
Saving myself, but I really want to work it out
Down here in hell (with you)

Van Hunt - Down Here in Hell (With You)
I view this beautiful song (discussed recently at Breath of Life, my Sunday morning guilty pleasure) as an update of what Prince has sung: "what's this strange relationship that we hold on to?". In troubled times, when we are all singing the inflation calypso, we are prone to anaesthetize ourselves in nostalgia. Still, artists and grifters will always find a fertile ground celebrating the dsyfunction of the B-movie theory especially in America. It is no surprise that Elijah Muhammed and Berry Gordy arose during the civil rights movement or that Iceberg Slim wrote during Vietnam and Nixonian larceny and so forth. In this vein, it stands to reason that Van Hunt's father was "a part-time painter and a pimp" as he recounts in his musical autobiography. From this springs forth his ground level view of dysfunction and the hard sell. His observations of the hustler ethic informs his music and it leaves him "curious about what it was that happened during the day that makes people do what they did at night". As he puts it, "it is the inner turmoil and struggle to remain sane that stimulates" him. A personal sign of the times and melodious music to boot. You can sample the acoustic version of the song for the next few days.

The Fluidity of Ideas

Circa 1988 or so, I could often be found saying
Dancing is expressing in the perpendicular your intentions for the horizontal.
as part of my teenage flirtation arsenal. It served to lower people's guard in parties and the occasional nightclubs. I continue to use the expression since I believe in sticking with formulas that work. I never quite figured out where I got the witticism from and, for a while, was quite chuffed at myself. Of course that was just intellectual laziness and Google being the great Oracle, it took 0.3 seconds to get the correct source, George Bernard Shaw, and formulation:
Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire.
I prefer the original to the toli remix but I'm tickled also by the derivation. It stands to reason that back in 1988 I directed a George Bernard Shaw play, Passion, Poison and Petrification or the Fatal Gazogene. I was even rereading said play last month and considering giving it a toli remix in the things fall apart series. The sampling of music and hyperlinking of snippets on the web are proxies for the fluidity of ideas in the modern world. We're all standing on the shoulders of giants and I wonder how many other notions are being reinvented and reinterpreted these days.

This Fanon Paddy

There aren't many who write on Ghana in the blogosphere but those that do always bring different perspectives to the conversation and with sometimes startling turns of language. I quite like this pidgin deconstruction of Fanon's ideas.
If we all start live like Americans aa, the earth no go fit handle am.

Apart from that, America too have in own problems. One of den problems be public squalor versus private opulence. Even though most parts be ok, more yards be nasty whereas some other posses dey live in fantastic neighborhoods.

That no shedaa be dangerous for a place where dema middle class be large. But transport such an idea to Ghana den trouble... Few obscenely rich people and many poor people. That just be the recipe for armed robberies and Ataa Ayis, no be so?
Be so, Paa Kwesi, it be so.

Further Proverbial Zingers

A Ghanaian proverb I discovered from a French blog now sadly disappeared from the ether. Said blog apparently doesn't believe that permalinks should be permanent - this brittle web of ours.
Si tu transpire c'est qu'il y a un motif.
roughly translated as
There must be a reason that you find yourself sweating.
If anything the proverb is reminiscent of
where there is smoke there is fire.
It sounds quite nice when rendered in French, I wonder if 5 years from now the French will be claiming it as their font of wisdom. I hope therefore that someone can fill me in on the wording in the original language (is it twi?) I don't remember running across it previously.

I recently pointed out this one
Trust God implicitly but always tie your camel up at night - proverb from Northern Ghana
Nothern Ghanaians have a quite fatalistic outlook on the world as exemplified their proverbial sayings.

[Update] It turns out that the Prophet Mohammed as noted by Al-Tirmidhi was the origin of the above saying, the fluidity of ideas again. The story is that
One day Prophet Muhammad, noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it. He asked the Bedouin, "Why don't you tie down your camel?" The Bedouin answered, "I put my trust in Allah." The Prophet then said, "Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah"
If I recall correctly, Ali Mazrui has a bit about how Mohammed was the only one of the great semitic prophets (following the Rule of Four Mazrui meant Jesus, Mohammed, Marx and Freud) who experienced upward mobility during his lifetime and how it coloured the resulting outlook on life. Hence the practicality and some say dogma of Islam. One of my biggest blindspots in my reading of Africa is that I discount the Islamic influences. Well Mazrui is a good starting point to rectify that and Amazon will be getting more of my money...
If God breaks your leg he will teach you how to limp - Dagbani proverb, Ghana
It stands to reason that they deal with conflict in ways that mystify their fellow countrymen.

On my maternal side, in the Volta region, they are concerned with being prepared and using the right tool
When you have a club, you don't kill a snake with bare hands - Ewe proverb, Ghana
I wonder if the nail and hammer trope sprung forth from this notion or if it is the other way around? Cultural interplay is the order of the day.

Mobile Phone Wisdom

Mobile phones have taken off in a big way in Ghana in the past five years (I am due for some musings on the topic) and, as elsewhere, they are affecting our vocabulary. Thus:
"Out of coverage area."
That was the reply to a question about whether a friend back home currently had a boyfriend. I knew exactly what she meant.

There is much in my life that is out of coverage area, we need some soothing balms for these huhudious times. As it turns out, it is a simple matter of erecting cell phone towers everwhere and building redundancy into the system. But then there's the matter of getting over the "not in my backyard" business. Someone needs to build these metaphorical infrastructural edifices to preserve the commons. I know I'm trying to build a few in this joint. Your contributions are welcome...

See earlier wistful and proverbial zingers.

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Kwasi said...

On cellphones in Ghana:

I was planning to write something too. Its truly amazing to me how widespread they have become. And how the criminal industry has shifted in response.

Oh, thanks for the live version of 'Down here in hell with you' That is a great song

Fred said...

Trust in Allah but tie your camel is attributed to the prophet Mohammed, I believe.