Friday, July 03, 2020


The Grand Reopening of Texas Toli remix of Positivity by Prince...


Positivity (Yes)
Have you had your plus sign today?
And we had the best Covid results we've ever had all through May and the beginning of June, I mean positivity was low, the cases were low.

Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida May 26 2020
On this day of The Grand Reopening of Texas, it gives me no joy to note that, of the four countries my life's journey has taken in, Ghana is probably managing this covidious challenge the best even with the greatest constraints (closely followed by France - the less said about the UK and US responses, the better).

The Grand Reopening of Texas, Chief Toli Monger May 4 2020

Positivity (Yes)
"Fewer Texans test positive for COVID-19 than residents of any large state in the United States. — Greg Abbott (June 19 2020)"...

We rate this claim False.

Fact-checking Gov. Greg Abbott on coronavirus in Texas The Statesman June 19 2020
Do we mark you present, or do we mark you late?
Texas didn’t meet the guidelines laid out by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in May before moving to a phased reopening.

Austin has nation’s highest 7-day metro positivity rate of coronavirus tests June 27 2020
Is that a good man?
Walking down that street with that money in his hand
Is that a good man?
Positivity (Yes)
Have you had your plus sign today?
Positivity (Yes)
Do we mark you present, or do we mark you late?
Gov. Greg Abbott continued to tout Texas's hospital capacity as plentiful Tuesday as hospitalizations due to the new coronavirus hit new highs and the state presses forward with business reopenings.

Abbott, speaking during a news conference in Austin, called the state’s capacity “abundant” and said officials are “laser-focused” on maintaining that level.

Gov. Greg Abbott points to “abundant” hospital capacity as Texas continues with business reopenings June 16 2020
Is that all your gold?
Where did it come from?
What did you have to do?
(did you have to do?)

Can you sleep nights?
Do you dream straight up?
Just nine days ago, Abbott touted the state's "abundant" hospital capacity as the numbers of cases in the state were rising quickly.

Texas Governor Hits 'Pause' On Further Reopening Amid COVID-19 Surge June 25 2020
Or do you dream in W's?
"Hospitals have a lot of capacity...

So we are very well positioned to be able to handle what comes down the pike

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis: "We're not going back, closing things" press conference Anderson Cooper 360 June 30 2020
Positivity (Yes)
Have you had your plus sign today?

Randy Kaye (CNN): You heard there him say that the positivity rate in Florda is 10 to 15 percent. Anderson, that is just not true. In Lee County where Fort Myers is, they've seen a positivity rate of 20 percent, that's up from 13 percent. And in Miami-Dade county, the positivity rate for the last two weeks has averaged more than 17 percent. The county itself says it would like to be around 10 percent. And just finally, the hospitals, he says, he said today that the hospitals have plenty of capacity. Again Anderson, not true. The mayor of Miami, on CNN just last night, saying that some hospitals in Miami are either at or close to capacity, Anderson.

Anderson Cooper: Hmm.

Anderson Cooper 360 June 30 2020
Shall the court sing together?
"In every man's life there will be a hang-up
A whirlwind designed to slow you down
It cuts like a knife, it tries to get in you
This Spooky Electric sound
Give up if you want to and all is lost
Spooky Electric will be your boss"
the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick faced a backlash Tuesday for suggesting that fellow seniors should risk their health for the sake of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sacrifice the old to help the economy? Texas official’s remark prompts backlash March 24 2020
Call People magazine, Rolling Stone
Call your next of kin, cause your ass is gone
He's got a 57 mag with the price tag still on the side
Cussing when Spooky say dead, you better say died
Every life is valuable, but 500 people out of 29 million and we’re locked down, and we’re crushing the average worker. We’re crushing small business. We’re crushing the markets. We’re crushing this country. There are more important things than living

Texas Lt. Gov Dan Patrick: ‘There are more important things than living’ during pandemic April 22 2020
Don't kiss the beast
“And I don’t want to die, nobody wants to die, but man, we got to take some risks and get back in the game, and get this country back up and running."

Texas' Dan Patrick: 'There are more important things than living' April 22 2020
We need love and honesty
Peace and harmony
The bloc will allow visitors from 15 countries, but the United States, Brazil and Russia were among the notable absences from the safe list.

E.U. Formalizes Reopening, Barring Travelers From U.S. June 30 2020
Love and honesty
Peace and harmony

“In my view, the worst thing we can do is to lock down Texas again. That’s not what Gov. Abbott wants. That’s not what I want,” he said. “But we need help from the young people out there to help bring these number of cases down and free up hospital beds.”

Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick says Dr. Anthony Fauci “doesn’t know what he’s talking about” July 1 2020
I said, hold on to your soul
Texas reported its latest record-breaking daily increase in cases of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday, with 6,975 new infections identified. The number surpassed Italy's highest single-day jump in virus cases to date

Texas Daily COVID-19 Cases Top Italy's Record When It Was Global Epicenter June 30 2020
You got a long way to go
"Italy saw its highest single-day increase in cases of the novel virus on March 21, with 6,557 new diagnoses. Texas and Italy reported similar weekly average increases in cases surrounding their respective peaks, with both identifying at least 3,500 new infections per day. Italy's record increase came roughly two weeks into the country's national lockdown, which Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte originally implemented March 9. The country continued to diagnose several thousand new cases daily until early May

Texas Daily COVID-19 Cases Top Italy's Record When It Was Global Epicenter June 30 2020
Hold on to your soul
Abbott's order marks a major reversal. For over two months, he ignored calls by the Democratic leaders of Texas' metropolitan areas to mandate mask wearing.

He refused to allow leaders in Houston to enforce their own face-covering mandate with penalties, undercutting their ability to slow the spread of the virus. Hospital officials in Houston have said intensive care beds there are now in short supply.

We got a long way to go

American Exceptionalism on the Virus June 29 2020

Hold on to your soul

Fade out with increasingly stark Linn drum breakbeat...

II. Positivity Reprise (Some Covidious Poetry)

Positivity (Yes)

"I don't take responsibility" (Yes)
"Reopen the economy" (Yes)
Amateur epidemiology (Yes)
Profit mythology (Yes)
Faulty biology (Yes)
B-movie theory (Yes)
Capital monopoly (Yes)
Black Gold ideology (Yes)
Wicked wizardry (Yes)
"We are crushing the economy." (Yes)
"Hospitals have a lot of capacity." (Yes)
Let's ignore Doctor Fauci (Yes)

Positivity (Yes)

Cowboy tomfoolery (Yes)
Shameless mimicry (Yes)
Constitutional lootery (Yes)
Delay-Deny policy (Yes)
Dereliction of duty (Yes)
Entitled supremacy (Yes)
Sense of superiority (Yes)
Assumed invincibility (Yes)
Disgraceful poverty (Yes)
Unvarnished sociopathy (Yes)
Unbridled pathology (Yes)

Positivity (Yes)

Buyer's remorse suddenly (Yes)
Selective amnesia mentality (Yes)
In search of herd immunity (Yes)

Positivity (Yes)

The phantom thread of greed lies at the heart of the matter
Their liability certificates are being served on a platter
Calls for sacrifice while seeking to avoid blame
America's real herd immunity is to shame

Positivity (Yes)

See also:

Soundtrack for this note

Hearing the afrofuturist demo of Positivity has made my day, month and year. Youtube is the gift that keeps on giving and this time we have 5 different versions of the track. The album version gets the glossy sheen of the Lovesexy production to distinguish it from the Black album era, the others are minimalist funk masterpieces. There's also a live version with Patti Labelle and Mavis Staples's cover from The Voice.

Positivity, A Playlist

I did a quick juxtaposition of photos from the last time we saw Prince live, three weeks before our first child was born. The Welcome 2 America tour was a return to form, Larry Graham, Santana and Sheila E were in the house. He even did a cover of Amel Larrieux's No one Else. What more could one want. We'll see if the Prince estate allows this adaptation to live on, I suspect the Spooky Electric covidious implication might be a bridge too far. Hold on to your soul, we've got a long way to go.

Previously in the same vein

File under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Version Hell Revisited

A surprisingly large proportion of the issues a working software engineer deals with on a daily basis turn out to be cultural. My theory is that this is because software ultimately amounts to people problems, and that it's all about coordination costs and human factors, as I've written about previously. This is not to say that we don't deal with the hard problems, but perhaps the "soft" in software hints at the lingering craft aspect even as we try to escape from Deadwood and leap into our industrial revolution.

This is one reason that I've found that, similarly, a large proportion of the best software engineers I've encountered in my now 25 years experience have not been traditional computer scientists. The linguists, historians and even that rare anthropologist, some of whom picked up the profession on the side, or out of expedience as the web has allowed, have been the real dark matter of technology. The web with its radical simplicity, has allowed mass amateurization to prevail. Now mind you, you do need your stereotypical straight ahead just-the-facts engineers with blinkered and relentless nerdy application, and, increasingly as software becomes more professionalized, the guilds and dark factory mills have started appearing. But hold that thought for now, I have another story to tell, indeed you may call it a technology folktale.

Tower of Babel

I came across this memo written a long, long time ago, in a far faraway land, (to be truthful, it was a Friday afternoon and I was fed up). Certain names have been changed to protect the guilty, and don't assume the anachronistic references mean that it is of recent vintage. Consider it perhaps a glimpse at the way the software sausage is made and we all know the scandal of slaughterhouses although we now call them meatpacking plants in polite society.

The context is some wrangling where at least 6 teams were pointing fingers at each other about who was responsible for uploading some tools that The Company was using. The flow of data through the system had at length been established, and it was now a coordination problem more than a design and architecture problem. The problem was that different teams were responsible for different components. The email chain had been playing out for months it seemed. I was stuck in the middle making arbitrary decisions mainly by virtue of having written a core piece of the system. I kept asking and everyone kept dodging my increasingly pointed questions. And so I wrote the following:

Previously in the same vein: Version Hell

The Memo

From: Koranteng@Toli
To: A long list of interested parties
Date: Friday afternoon, a long, long time ago
Subject: Toolchain versioning Re: provide version number Re: Signing Re: [snip]

I want to tease out the various strands because I'm finding it hard to serve the competing masters here.

Let me pitch it as a folktale, it's a pandemic and we all need comforting narratives.

Master Johnson, my director, would be paraphrased as follows:

Our current process is the moral equivalent of taking a USB stick dropped by our Vendor in our parking lot, and placing that software in our august data centers to sign our Crown Jewels. Now this may be what we're reduced to, but don't blindly use any old tools we are given, let's at least make sure that we track and bless known versions of this toolchain.

There were stronger words said at the outset back when we had our deep dive on our last integration project late last year.

Master Security Team pitched in, again paraphrasing...

Well, in this sorry business, we've normally done integrations of these tools for a given year. We're already overtaxed and busy and we burn weekends to get the integration working. But once we've got it working, we've got clean hands. We don't touch it anymore unless there's an error using them. We're not happy with this but ye olde signing tools ultimately come from the Ministry of Information team. We're middlemen here and the Signing and Software Release teams are the ones that integrate these tools into The Company's IT solutions.

Master Ministry of Information Team is also in a pickle. He receives vendor builds and has to produce release builds with the help of Butler Jenkins. These blasted tools are just one piece of the overall puzzle (you should see what else is on his plate). His main requirement is to be able to reliably sign and update this software for the lifetime of The Product, a decades long quest.

His junior sister, Miss Android Team actually works closely with Messers Qualcomm, Broadcom and Intel, and gets periodic updates from Vendor Google who changes signing requirements at a pace of its own choosing, those Mountain View people move at the speed of the web.

I'll omit the other players who are also similarly overtaxed, although I should make special mention of Mistress Software Release Team who actually owns the official release process and is always playing catch up integrating with Information and with Signing and other things I'm not even aware of.

Tower of Babel

Meanwhile I'm sitting like Ananse the Spider tending to my farm in the land of Signing and perhaps you can see the roots of my dilemma:

Each build could have a new version of the dismal signing tools.

Per Master Johnson, I can't blindly just sign with any old version of the Signing tools I am presented with. That man signs off on my annual review, so I cross him at my peril.

Per Mistress Software Release Team, I have a frozen API in place which doesn't specify the toolchain version. In any case, there is a long chain between Android, Information, Software Release to Signing, and the lead time to change things is measured in the cost of "Projects". We are booked for months, nay years ahead and agility is a problem here at The Company - The Company's initiatives on agility and the cloud native adoption notwithstanding.

Anyway my solution, as it is, is that I will support "blessed" versions of the toolchain. All that is left is for someone to upload these versions.

Now I'm stuck in the middle of all this, and so far it has been yours truly that is arbitrarily uploading versions of the toolchain based on what I've seen coming through in our test environment. I actually don't know what is a significant version and I don't really want to be in this loop. Further I am making decisions above my pay grade without any domain knowledge of these dismal signing tools.

The details matter and someone needs to own this and solve my riddle.

  • Who is it that uploads the "blessed" versions of the toolchain to Signing?
  • More fundamentally, who decides what is a blessed version of the toolchain?
I'll end by invoking my friend Sam Ruby's Postulate
The accuracy of metadata is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between the data and the metadata.

I am clearly furthest from the data, so somebody closer needs to make the call. Perhaps I'm reading from the wrong playbook, but I'm merely trying to add value here.

Chief Toli Monger
The Company

[snip distressing long chain of emails going back 5 months of people passing the buck]

Tower of Babel


I'd like to think that my late Friday email did have the clarifying effect I intended with its visions of Ruby's Postulate and The Tower of Babel. There were certainly calls for action, and immediate action at that. I learned that I had underestimated the extent of the dysfunction at The Company. There were actually at least 8 other teams that I might have added to my folktale, and they each had their own sorry origin story. The list of people inside The Company who I learned had read my missive was impressive and growing.

There were ruffled feathers however. People who should have dealt with the underlying organizational and communication issue were upset that I had revealed it so starkly. Lots of meetings were called. Action items were issued and so forth. I was advised to let others handle things at this stage. I was also reminded of John Kenneth Galbraith writing in The Great Crash of 1929.

... the rite of the meeting which is called not to do business but to do no business...

One of the oldest, most important - and unhappily, one of the least understood - rites in American life.

Men meet together for many reasons in the course of business. They need to instruct or persuade each other. They must agree on a course of action. They find thinking in public more productive or less painful than thinking in private. But there are at least as many reasons for meetings to transact no business. Meetings are held because men seek companionship or, at a minimum, wish to escape the tedium of solitary duties. They yearn for prestige which accrues to the man who presides over meetings, and this leads them to convoke assemblages over which they can preside.

Finally there is the meeting which is called not because there is business to be done, but because it is necessary to create the impression that business is being done. Such meetings are more than a substitute for action. They are widely regarded as action.

Everyone remembers the story of The Emperor's New Clothes, I should note however that Hans Christian Andersen didn't write the sequel about what happened to that little boy and his family six months later when The Authorities could finally deal with them.

Slightly related, the Gambian proverb goes "Words are like bullets, once you release them you can't call them back.

It is said that a prophet is never recognized in his own country and the verdict was still out on if I was to become The Company's John the Baptist. I won't tempt fate and leave it to the historians to make that determination. In closing, I'll again turn to Belloc

It is always a relief to believe what is pleasant, but it is more important to believe what is true.

— Hilaire Belloc

Office Tales

I'd previously pointed to this juxtaposition, a survival guide to life in any workplace

Office life, office politics, the organization man, managing humans, the bad child's book of beasts

File under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Dear Mr Surgeon General Re: Meatpacking Plants

Dear Mr Surgeon General,

I note with interest that China's second wave of Covid-19 seems to have been kicked off by superspreading events in meat packing plants and markets. Frankly, I am tired of maintaining my Coronavirus Superspreading Events Timeline. Can we just acknowledge that this is a global disgrace?

Mr Surgeon General, couldn't you just declare that it is a matter of national, nay global, urgency, that we address the intolerable situation in meat packing plants? That a root-and-branch, and systematic reimagining of the meat packing industry and the entire food processing pipeline is in order?

A public declaration from the Surgeon General would carry a lot of weight. Your predecessor wouldn't have hesitated - I know, he's The Wife's classmate, and I take her at her word.


I know that Doctor Birx is a water carrier so I wouldn't expect an intensely political animal like her to weigh in, perhaps she's a distant relative of the Vicar of Bray - just speculating based on her sartorial choices. Similarly, kindly Doctor Fauci might be wavering, but he already has his hands full with The Grand Reopening of Texas, not to mention that I've already written 23 stanzas imploring him to do something. No luck with him, he's acting as if he doesn't already have the Presidential Medal of Freedom and has to pander, for whatever reason.

No, this is your call, Mr Surgeon General.

Oh I know, "We are still weighing the evidence", "The facts are still in dispute", "Our decision making will be guided by the best available science", "The enforcement of OSHA and FDA regulations is the province of a different department" etc.

Platitudinous laments.

How many more superspreading events in these kinds of places are we going to tolerate? The ongoing cost of inaction is being measured in blood and sin. I read that the strategy in Texas where I live and elsewhere in the USA was just to make sure we had the testing capacity to deal with these potential hotspots. Well, here's a suggestion: how about ensuring that they are not hotspots to begin with? Whether in Beijing, in South Dakota or in Tennessee? Why are the farms hotspots in the first place? Why are the hostels where our essential workers sleep hotspots? Why are the food processing and distribution plants hotspots? Why are the markets where we buy these essential goods hotspots?

Sensational Fruity Delights

I've heard that folks at the CDC have been sending out emails with links pointing to my layman's timeline for the past couple of weeks. I couldn't quite believe it when I heard it, yet, when I went to check, the clickstream, served up by Google Analytics, bears out that troubling anecdote. What kind of dysfunction is this? Don't they have a timeline internally at the CDC? What have they been doing since January? Or is that all those epidemiologists feel so disempowered and muzzled by Mike Pence, or whoever it is who has decided that your boss, Mister Trump, can't be made to look bad or get bad news? Is it that they need external validation to force the issue on their internal bureaucratic struggles? There is either incompetence or dysfunction at work, or perhaps both, which makes for the worst case scenario. This is a matter of considerable distress to me.

Relying on conveniently-timed leaks, and outside pressure, is no way to run the response to a global pandemic. No, I hope to be proved wrong, but we should not expect anything substantive from the CDC, it is sad to say. In any case, now Atlanta is burning, and so the CDC staffers there might be a touch preoccupied with other matters, and probably have their work cut out simply getting to work, or picking something up from Wendys. I don't envy them. Still, waiting for the CDC at this point is like Waiting for Godot in Khayelitsha.

No this in on you, Mr Surgeon General.

Waiting for Godot - Khayelitsha, South Africa

The economic interests of Tyson, Smithfield and the Big Meat Packing, Big Agribusines Industrial Complex matter for nought in this public health matter, campaign contributions and late night phone calls to the White House notwithstanding. Your boss's invocation of the Defense Production Act to keep these deathtraps open was a tell.

What exactly is the purpose of that ceremonial uniform you wear?

Oh, tell a lie, I did like your early invocation at the outset of the emergency of the fact that you were a walking, breathing risk factor - that your very DNA and concomittant underlying conditions, place you in the high risk category. I heard the urgency and your empathy then, and gave you virtual plaudits: I clicked several like buttons, truth be told. But you have been curiously silent since - almost an erasure even, in this sorry business. I would have thought the occasional savaging was just an occupational hazard, that you'd bounce back. For essential workers, OSHA regulations are a matter of life and death - mostly death.

Wikipedia has you down as "the leading spokesperson on matters of public health in the federal government of the United States". My ears have been wide open hoping for something, anything, from you. This disastrous spectacle has gone on too long.

It's a cheap shot but I'm going to go there, let me try the brother card. I'm an African in America so I may miss some of the nuance of the African American vernacular but I'm going to try. I'm 18 months older than you, so perhaps you should at least give me a listen. Hear me out, real talk now, Mister Surgeon General. Perhaps you're a visual person, so I'll give an illustration of what I mean:

At this point subsequent horrific events are still reversible - kodjo crobsen

That's from my man Kodjo Crobsen who made it his business to be the cultural intepreter during Ghana's lost decades, during our worst crises. If you read his book, Power to the People, Reflections on Retrogressive Politics, you'll see this angel periodically appear, as if a Greek chorus, amidst the poems and cartoons that mark the milestones of his history of our country's times. Conscious decisions could have been made at so many crucial junctures, but they weren't. There were so many men of integrity who had it in their power to act so that our society could be spared the worst. They failed to act, and we all paid the price, even those of us who managed to survive. We lost so much and remain the walking wounded decades later.

Anyway, perhaps you respond better to words, let me try again:
At this point, subsequent horrific events are still reversible

You know as well as I do that the reality show Actor-in-Chief in America's B-movie put you up, you along with Ben Carson, because you're straight out of central casting. Unlike Uncle Ben, who is indeed a surgeon, your current position is solely devoted to public health. That should count for something. Like all of us, you've been watching the spectable of the George Floyd protests - now 16 days and counting as I started this note. This will be unfortunate fodder for my coronavirus superspreading event timeline come early July since a crowd is anathema to social distancing and, in many places, the righteous protestors are not wearing masks and, crucially, they are chanting cries of outrage, the choral catastrophe as it were.. The wages of depraved indifference are punitive damages, made doubly worse in this instance by a covidious collateral damage.

My point is how can you breathe?

The Donald doesn't like hearing the calm entreaties of Tedros Adhanom, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) to "test, test, test". Being calmly advised by an Ethiopian reeks of the aversion he, and they, had to the professorial Mr Barack Obama, it's a visceral reaction, plain and simple. He is already threatening to withdraw and defund the WHO in the middle of a pandemic. Even mild-mannered and apolitical Bill Gates was moved to act to mitigate the damage. The WHO is a creation of the CDC, for God's sake. What kind of cognitive dissonance is this? Heck your boss set The ADP (Attack Dog Pompeo) on him and the WHO. When the former head of the CIA turns his attention to you, well, you don't have to be Salvador Allende to know how these things might end. Ergo, the WHO is going to tread very gingerly going forward as Fox News and worse will be trained on it to jump on any messaging missteps.

No, Mr Surgeon General. This is under your control, these things are entirely in your domain. The Donald's dismal debacle is happening under your watch, as are the accompanying deaths. You know as well as I do that, when he is looking for scapegoats to divert attention for his dereliction of duty, that you will be the first to go, optics be damned. What is the point of your office if you can't speak to the nation's health? You have the bully pulpit. What is it for if you decline to use it? For it is your choice, Mr Surgeon General. It is your decision alone how you use it.

How many outbreaks do I and so many others need to point you to?

Sure it is a political decision, and we know as well as you who pays your bills, and at whose pleasure you serve. At this point though, our covidious predicament is akin to a species event, and we're fiddling while Rome is burning.

No one is coming to protect our essential workers, no one in authority is at all interested.

Appealing to Mister Trump's better angel is like Charlie Brown lining up to kick Lucy's football; today is not the day he finally becomes presidential. That day is never coming. Robert Redfield, your pal, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines the phrase regulatory capture. With a straight face, he will start his Congressional testimony with "I guess I anticipated that the private sector would have engaged...". That guy will keep anticipating that meat packing plants and nursing homes will engage themselves out of this pandemic. It's Wolf Hall, bring out the bodies.

It's on you Mr Surgeon General. The buck stops with you. The most catastrophic public health response in history is happening on your watch. You should be leading the global effort and setting an example. Don't let it be German outrage that sets the worldwide example. America First was your boss's slogan.

It's a shell game, all remnants of a shame culture are vestigial in this country. The fix is in. This is a public health emergency, and the powers that be have decided on the pursuit of herd immunity. I'll keep saying it until I am proved wrong, and will gladly eat crow.

America's real herd immunity is to shame

Mister Surgeon General, I beseech you. Prove me wrong. Stand up and be counted.

Timing is everything
Observers are worried
Observers are very worried.

Yours truly,

Chief Toli Monger

Dear Mr Surgeon General, a playlist

A soundtrack for this open letter

  • Tennesee by Arrested Development
    This would have been your jam, Mr Surgeon General, back at university. I have golden memories of just getting down with the guys when the song came on. We didn't need the girlfriends around, we just got down when the drums dropped, and they dropped hard. Sidenote: Prince waited until it topped the charts before launching into negotiations about the uncleared sample from Alphabet Street.
    The Lord allowed me to drink some more
    He said what I am searching for are
    The answers to all which are in front of me
    The ultimate truth started to get blurry
    For some strange reason it had to be
    It was all a dream about Tennessee
    See also: Every Single Worker Has Covid at a Farm in Tennesee on Eve of Harvest
  • C.R.E.A.M. by Wu-Tang Clan
    Cash Rules Everything Around Me
    Get the money
    Dollar, dollar bill, y'all
    The phantom thread of greed lies at the heart of the matter.
  • Alphabet Street by Prince
    Another memory, it was Easter break in 1988. It was perhaps 3am at night and I'd just come home on the night bus from a night in a South London club. Derek B had been in the crowd that night and I was still buzzing with excitement. Jools Holland's show was on, and the Alphabet St video was given its British premiere. The reaction from Jools and the audience on the screen was priceless - they were as flabbergasted as was I at the musical inventivess of those 3 minutes. I know people say that the song's focus on "going down" meant that it was the most overt paen to carnal matters to play on commercial radio. I preferred the reading that it was a funky and infectious satire of USA for Africa. In this light, think of your acronym soup, Mr Surgeon General: CDC, WHO, FEMA, FDA, OSHA and all the others I'm urging you to wrangle together. As the Minneapolis genius sang
    We're going down, down, down,
    If that's the only way
    To make this cruel, cruel world
    Hear what we've got to say
    Put the right letters together
    And make a better day

    Yeah, yeah, yeah,
    Better days
Dear Mr Surgeon General, two comments from a reader named Anonymous (prolific writer this Anonymous fellow) suggest that perhaps you're a movie person and that I add two movie scenes to my advocacy - great additions to the playlist by the way.
  • The meatpacking scene in Rocky is probably the most iconic scene that sears that meat packing institution in the mind. Straight from the rough and tumble streets of Philadelphia. Also it's a lot more family friendly than the abattoir or slaughterhouse scene in The Long Good Friday. That gothic horror of the underbelly of London that Bob Hoskins prowled.

    Gonna Fly Now (Theme from Rocky) by Bill Conti is the most inspirational music we know.

    I prefer that miraculous first Rocky movie to the sequel Rocky II because even though he lost the fight, at least made the valiant effort and tried. I'm rooting for you Mr Surgeon General, I want you to be shouting Adrienne at the end.
  • Killer of Sheep, Charles Burnett's amazing movie never saw the widespread release it deserved. It's a masterpiece in short, a look at the life of essential workers who work at meat packing plants in Los Angeles.

    This Bitter Earth by Dinah Washington
    Dinah Washington should be part of any playlist. Her voice is the sound of wist.

Mr Surgeon General,

I know the nation's mental health is your current focus but my mental health can't handle the situation in meatpacking plants and the entire food processing pipeline.

Covidious priorities?

Bill of Particulars

And so forth, Dear Mr Surgeon General...

File under: , , , , , , , , , ,, , , , , , , , ,

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Dishwasher Situation

Here's a sign of these covidious times. After 25 years of living in houses equipped with them, I have started using a dishwasher with semi-regularity (now up to 53.125 percent of the time and rising - according to my rough calculations).

My previous aversion to the dishwasher has been a sore topic in my household. "You're washing dishes to avoid the issue" is a sentence that has been heard periodically, although the issue in question has changed with some regularity. Oops, am I revealing too much about marital life?

My wife beats me... She is macho

That last was a recycled joke (I know, I know - but 2006 was a rare vintage), which is still fitting because it's silly season which, as you might recall traditionally starts on the Bank Holiday at the end of May in Britain (Memorial Day in the United States). This year, along with the yearlong Winter in America, quoth Gil Scott-Heron, it has been a permanent silly season. We have a perfectly good English word to describe much of the behavior we are have been witnessing throughout the world during this pandemic: huhudious.

But back to The Dishwasher Situation...

Sheltering-in-place (that's American disaster bureaucratese for staying at home during a lockdown) has meant more meals and snacks at home, more dishes in short, and enough that the daily dish count has crossed a certain threshold where the normally mindless manual labour has moved past the soothing sensation of water and soap suds, and the occasionally-sensual applied fluid dynamics of dirt cleansing to actual annoyance. Sidenote: I pitched that description of hand dishwashing to the 7 and 9 year olds recently, and they were singularly unimpressed - kids these days...

Moving on... The thing these days is that I've started to appreciate what's actually important in life. In related news, Pandemic Eye Syndrome is a new disease affecting human beings that allows them to discern what is actually essential, and, like others afflicted with this new clear-eyed vision - a gift from a tiny clump of viral RNA from Planet SARS-CoV-2 in the Bat-Pangolin sector and the Mink quadrant of the galaxy, I'd rather minimize daily annoyance.

The British and American political response especially, lunacy in action, or should I say lunatic inaction, has left me triggered in that respect. Not that many others have covered themselves with glory, but I think my relatives in New Zealand and Taiwan are sitting pretty in comparison. The whole world can see who was just bluffing, and who failed Comparative Competence 101, and its follow-on course, Pain Mitigation Strategies 202 (Advance Credit). We can all see those who took the obverse class: Pain Inflicted on Populace 101

I worry, however, that this Serpentine Dishwasher Temptation - let's call it by its proper name, branded by perhaps by the Apple of Knowledge, may mean that the frequency of my hand washing may decrease. And, as we all know, until there is a cure for our covidious predicament, the only sane resort is to stay home if at all possible, wear masks when outside, and wash hands frequently with soap.

There's a lot of propaganda about the dishwasher and all these other timesaving devices. I took a peek at the manual just to get acquainted with the hype. Tremendous, tremendous hype. Dishwashers cure diseases it seems. As with any new technology - and dishwashers are relatively new (one needs reliable electricity and water to even contemplate them), there's an adoption curve and I am firmly a late adopter despite my authoring The Toli Technology Series

Call me a Luddite on most things, it was The Then-Fiancée who got me my first new cell phone (T-mobile, an early Samsung Galaxy Vibrant, the First Generation aka The Worst Generation). She put me on the family plan - you see, we were in the middle of planning a wedding, and I guess I haven't looked back since. Although I ought to complain that I am still treated as a minor at age 47 since I'm not the primary account holder. I have to ask The Wife's permission before I can do anything with the carrier. Who wears the trousers in this house?

There was an element of an intervention back then. She had heard about my comic woes during my trip to Catford Bridge, just weeks earlier, when the lack of a cell phone prompted an epic misadventure.

Also I used the word "new" above advisedly, for there was a huhudious tale about my first cell phone:

catford mobile phone

Ah Catford Bridge, London's Got Soul, and I fell into a brief encounter with its shadow economy

At the mobile phone shop where I bought my £50 LG mobile phone, my first. With a dodgy charger (you need to stand the phone upright otherwise it won't charge). Said phone died in the middle of my first call, to Orange customer service. Missing from this picture is the owner, a wheeler/dealer who is likely selling goods fallen from the back of a truck. Astute and street smart, he ran to the right, just behind the door when he saw me take my camera out. The Nigerian woman (fiancé in Atlanta) had just started working there. The Jamaican guy changes his phone every month, and shared stories about life in the US, Brazil (he'd die for the women), Jamaica and Africa (Ghana, Nigeria? - those people take your ID and want bribes). My phone was likely one of his castoffs.

As part of the house cleaning that I've had time to do during this self isolation period, a quasi-sabbatical for us still-employed non-essential workers - albeit with a 20 percent pay deferment as my employer tightened belts, I've gathered a box of vintage electronic gadgets, equipment and sundry wires and connectors. I reluctantly placed that old LG brick (and its dodgy charger), and its contemporary, that old Galaxy Vibrant in that box in the garage, to be donated to Goodwill, if and when they become part of The Grand Reopening of Texas. One wonders about the protocols for social distancing at Goodwill.

Well actually, there is a larger worry. There is no such thing as a safe workplace in these covidious times. From the White House, to the Kremlin, to Downing Street, let alone a manufacturing plant.

See also: Ford halts production at two plants after employees test positive for Covid-19 2 days after open

Okay, okay, I promise to get back to The Dishwasher Situation, no more digressions

Apparently the latest dishwashers are meant to be green and oh so energy efficient, The marketing materials cite Energy Star ratings and sundry appeals to environmental consciousness. Pshaw, I'm a Dishwasher Greenery Denier, and have long been skeptical about the claims made of reduced water and energy consumption. I've always been proud of the efficiency of my handwashing technique. Oh I might as well admit another sore topic: the way I stack dishes. I'm not a willy-nilly dish-in-sink dumper like The Wife, no, I'm a Serious Dish-in-Sink Stacker. Perhaps it's a compulsion of the nether regions, but it is what it is. When it's time to do dishes, this toli monger exhibits exemplary technique, all claims to the contrary.

Before we bought our present abode, our first piece of property, The Wife and I had always lived in homes with dodgy dishwashers. It was never a checklist item for me (oh, I really can't resist, I'll admit upfront that I'm the kind of person who, like his mother, actually likes ironing clothes. Well, don't you? Alright, alright, let's not get into the ironing business).

Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House

Pride of place on my bookshelf goes to Cheryl Mendelson's opus, Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House. I owe an eternal debt of gratitude to Ben Hyde for the recommendation, I found it as entrancing as a Robert Ludlum joint and treasured the four months I spent reading it intermittently. Home Comforts is my Bourne Identity. It's almost certainly in the Top 100 list of books I've ever read, and this is from someone who had 70 heavy boxes of books, mostly fiction, when we moved into our house a couple years ago. I still remember the look of shock on the movers' faces as they started dealing with my study. There was a visible pause in the entire moving operation. "You've actually read all of those?", I was asked separately three times.

"No", I answered, "Since parenthood has been my lot, there's three bookshelves that I haven't read", I pointed to those four boxes - they were medium-sized U-haul vintage, not the small box type we had been advised to use. I could have sworn I heard a Texan curse beneath one of the mover's breath as he leaned down to lift the first box - I'm still not used to the drawl, but it was impressively idiomatic. Anyway, I made a mental note to deduct 5 dollars from the eventual tip.

Arggh, lest you worry, I tip very well. I learned from my father to pay for service very generously, even if unearned, you never know who you'll need to call on when crisis strikes. The Wife used to say that I was spoiling the babysitter game with the outrageous (to her) rates I was paying. "Our neighbours in Hyde Park will hate your inflationary ways" - paraphrasing, the actual words were very strong, and this joint is a family affair. Especially with the no-drama young ones that we've spawned, a job at Chez Toli was a kind of sinecure that Martin Luther would have written one of his 95 Theses about. Still, that shell game of Toli Babysitters-R-Us has now been thoroughly spoiled with malice aforethought, and covidious intent.

In both our previous rentals, to return to the Dishwasher Situation, we had landlords too cheap to bring their electronic contraptions into the sleek modern era. The Wife complained of lacking bells and whistles, and even mold in one case. I was thoroughly unimpressed. I think I might have used a dishwasher thrice in almost 15 years of cohabitation. They were a waste of space and time to my mind, which is why I've been surprised by this latest coronavirus-induced turn of events. 53.125 percent is almost insane to my mind. Doing the rough math, my rate of dishwasher use has increased an order of roughly 100 fold (0.53 / (3 / (15 * 365)). 100 times of anything is a real shifting of the dial. These are Strange Days.

Slightly related, a couple of hallowed texts I return to regarding the Dishwasher Situation.
How to load the dishwasher GE gsd6900 by Joe Clark

Earlier in my bachelor life, I probably had 3 plates and 2 sets of cutlery. I then upgraded somewhat and got a full set. Corelle was my brand of choice like many immigrants. My supply of dishes has probably quadrupled by, first, marriage, and then parenthood. Marriage brought matters of aesthetics into my life, with all that it implies, and parenthood brought chaos and disorder. Sidenote: My Fair Lady was this past weekend's family movie night and I have renewd appreciation for Rex Harrison's rendition of Why Can't a Woman Be More Like a Man? - must remember to reread George Bernard Shaw...

There is a complication however with the current Dishwasher Situation, and it has to do with the choice of dishwashing detergent. You see there are chemical sensitivities in our household. One reason I used the dishwasher so seldom was that the preferred branding in some quarters was Seventh Generation, one of those eco-friendly, artisanally made, truffle inspired, feel good, no chemicals were hurt in this production brands. As I've quipped before (whoa that was back in 2011, this is a longstanding affront)

These green, eco-friendly products take too darn long to work. e.g. Seventh Generation "cleaner" takes 7 generations to clean. #WastingMyTime

Anyway that dispute has been overcome (I will not be moved in my domestic wars of attrition), and I've been granted leave to use Finish brand detergent. But there again, the spectre of The New Formula rears its ugly head. Should we be using the old Finish, Finish Powerball (we've had 3 different flavors of this one) or Finish Quantum (2 flavors so far), with all their claims about how thorougly they clean and their ability to remove stuck-on food, and the idea that one needn't pre-rinse anything before packing the dishwasher? It's uncertain terrain complicated further by the constant tinkering.

Longtime Readers of The Lost Toli would recall that curious artifact, the New Formula: the propensity of companies to tweak processes and often worsen their products in furtherance of the bottom line. This, I have diagnosed as a pathological hallmark of latter-day capitalism. They just can't leave well enough alone, and constantly give the New and Improved treatment to cherished products, juicing the books with capricious ease, if not disdain.

All my New Formula musings, and even the piece On the Loss of Smooth Mint Gel continue to get a surprising amount of traffic. Why do companies keep changing the formula? The ways of the modern world are already so chaotic that the trauma of changing these previous certainties is overkill.

The last time I went down that rabbit hole, I had to investigate the evolution of the price of soybean futures to explain why I suffered the grievous loss of my prized Oil of Olay Sensitive Skin body wash. Carefully dissecting the extraction of surplus value is what Karl Marx made his name on. There's surely a Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for someone mining the terrain of The New Formula.

soybean prices 1997 - 2007

And while on the dismal topic The New Formula, I'm down to the the last four bottles of Creme of Nature shampoo that I hoarded back in 2004 after that brand was discontinued. The subsequent rebranding with Argan oil doesn't fool me. My stocks run down quite precipitously when I was using it for the little ones but their hair has turned out more like their mother's so I no longer need to share my precious Black Gold hair products with them, more for me. They can have their Alaffia thingimijigs

Quoth Sartre, L'enfer, c'est les autres (that's Hell is other people). Normal married life raises all these small things in myriad ways (e.g. the way people squeeze the toothpaste tub). There'a a surprising spectrum of behaviours - pandemic living merely heightens the contradictions, as it were. I did have an epiphany last year however, ("before coronavirus time", as The 7 year old now labels that distant past) when I noticed The Fork in The Twistie, which has since become my litmus test and favourite classification scheme.

Which direction do you tie twisties? I just realized that I'm in clockwise tribe and that I may have a problem with those Others: the CounterClockwise and the Inconsistent. #SmallThings
See also: Frisson de Folksonomie and The Ziploc Factor

No tale of domesticity can be complete without discussing The Parents and The Children. Well I know, for one, that my parents would never have read past the title of this note. It's simply inconceivable that there could be a "dishwasher situation". It's a category error, plain and simple. After all, the primary reason people had children in the past - before the availability of birth control, was to get a surplus of of little hands to do things like tend to the farm or, in modern times to wash dishes and do sundry chores. Child labour has been the natural state of the world and it has taken vigorous campaigns to eradicate it - there are periodic exposés about the persistence of child labour in my own country. Think about it, would we have Dickens without child labour? What paradise have we lost when the youth of Bangladesh, or Ghana are no longer doing shifts in the textile factory, or planting yams and pineapples in the hills of Aburi? Our modern day Oliver Twists and Little Annie's no longer have the hard knock life, coddled as they are with this modernity, they have school not farms, and they are constantly demanding fondleslabs of mobile entertainment.

My Ghanaian parents would be eyeing, with no small amount of skepticism, the state of my household, and the palava I seem to be making. Sidenote: beyond the parent-child authority issue there would also be the gendered question - and traditional African culture is highly gendered. The division of labour in my affairs might be refreshing to some, but unconventional, and fraught to others... I actualy know that The Parents don't even care such things, but I know a certain Ghanaian contingent would be vaguely aghast at the spectacle of a 47 year old Ghanaian man, who is not a confirmed bachelor, mind you, and who is married to a Ghanaian-American, and has two young children who are not toddlers, doing 94.3675 percent of the dishes (again a rough estimate). Delegations would be sent, quiet words would be had etc. There's a paper to be written on changing gender expectations in the Ghanaian culture in the age of modernity. Anyway, moving on...

making a big success in marriage

Ah the children, yes let's turn to them - sidenote: Save the Children, the charitable organization, used to be the tenants in my dad's house in Accra. My children love watching videos of Rube Goldberg contraptions (more accurately, they like watching any Youtube video, but that's another sore topic, and I promised no further digression). I think that the seed of that love was watching Jacques Tati movies and his encounters with modernity. Mon Oncle went down very well in our house as did Playtime and Traffic. They are digital natives but I would like to instill a spirit of bricolage in them. Resilience and adaptability are going to be essential survival tools going forward, and it pays to start early and deal with deferred maintenance. This kitchen scene was a delight:

With this pandemic, all the great Houses have been affected by Covid-19, from Windsor and the House of Parliament, Monaco, Kremlin, the White House, Champs Elysee, Chechen rogues, Iranian cabinet members. The Wife speculates that Mike Pence's almost month-long disappearance from the public eye was related to a treatment for a mild case of the novel disease of the hour. I wouldn't go that far into conspiratorial thinking, suffice to repeat that principle: Mosquitos don't discriminate.

From what I've read, Crown Prince Mohammed Bone Saw Salman of Saudi Arabia has retreated to a private island along with the King. Apparently the Saudi royal family has been affected with Covid-19, and the heads of the House of Saud are paranoid about its spread. They simply are testing everyone in sight - their petrodollars outbid even the US's insatiable appetite for Personal Protective Equipment. This inquiring mind wants to know if MBS (and all those aforementioned huhudious leaders) is actually doing his own dishes at this time. I would dearly love this to be the case, enforced dishwashing in lieu of a lifetime sentence courtesy of a Special Court at The Hague - that last of course is a bridge too far, but one can dream. I would like further to know what model dishwasher they are using in case I ever need to upgrade, and their preferred brand of dishwashing detergent. I wonder if like the Windsors, they have an endorsement stamp like Louis Vuitton - "as used by the Bone Saw man on Bunker Island". Please leak it to the toli, surely I have some Bangladeshi essential workers among my Saudi Arabian readers.

Note: in case of retaliation, or a black bag delegation from the Saudi embassy I have my own bags packed at the ready. Ghana must go.

Ghana must go versus Louis Vuitton

MBS, The Donald, Mister Johnson of Downing Street, Bishop Cummings of Barnard Castle, Bungling Bolsonaro, and all those other huhudious leaders deserve to join Charles Taylor at the Special Court at The Hague on trial for covidious malpractice and other injurious assaults on decency and humanity. Whither Milosevic? Or perhaps like Napoleon, they need accomodation in the island of Elba. The blood on their hands speaks for itself.

From Napoleon to Charles Taylor - huhudious leaders

A closing quote

He liked his epiphanies American: brief and illusory.

— Colson Whitehead, Apex hides the hurt

A Soundtrack for this note

Rather than do a playist about dishes and washing, I thought I'd continue riffing on the underlying topic of whimsy (the discerning of which underlying conditions are risk factors is the most interesting facet of our encounter with this funny novel coronavirus, baldness? blood type? minks? tigers? pangolins? bats?) . This pandemic interlude has allowed me to complete to Toli remix of Derek B's Bullet from a Gun. The original liner notes and a hip-hop photo essay in the vein of South London's vibe are also available for your viewing pleasure: Bullet From a Gun. Enjoy.


See also in the Small Things series:

The muse wills what she wants, domestic toli was duly delivered.

Postscript the first

You would think that having just written a discursive tome on the Dishwasher Situation, that I would that same evening go ahead and load up the dishwasher, press that essential button, the 4 hour delay, and sit back and relax at night. And I was all set to do so tonight, I had even opened the dishwasher. But then muscle memory took over and there I found myself 7 minutes later in the middle of washing dishes by hand. It was a ludic behaviour and quite unconscious, I found my mind calmed by the washing, the occasional sound and touch of the water soothing and perhaps akin to taking a shower. My mind cleared. Then I started thinking about the things that still irk me about dishwashers: the fact that the dishes disappear for a couple of hours while washing and drying, with hand washing, clean dishes are immediately available for reuse, the noise they make - although, with that 4 hour delay button, you can postpone the troublesome white noise and run the wash at the most efficient time (off peak usage is greener and helps the power companies) - the downside of the delayed wash is that dishes that are encrusted are more prone to be dirty after the wash unless of course you have the right deterget), the occasional spots on glasse and the times when things are not as clean as the advertisements would have you believe. The fringe benefit of the mental relaxation and resetting of the slate, however was what lingered. I started having lots of ideas for future toli. Perhaps washing dishes is the siren call of my muses...

Postscript the second

I didn't know quite what to expect, but I'm enjoying the reactions. That's some domestic toli. Is he serious about all this? Does his wife really beat him? Does he really enjoy washing dishes by hand? Has he lost his mind? It's too much, Koranteng, you kind of lost me there. Don't tell anyone, but I too like ironing.

Keep them coming.

A confession: if you've read this far Dear Reader, you should know that you may have been a participant in a minor experiment of mine. I normally write multiple notes at the same time, switching between tabs in my editor as inspiration waxes and wanes. I wrote and completed this entry and the previous one, Herd Immunity at the same time, they merged into a whole while I wrote over a fevered 24 hours. The one was more in the vein of outright whimsy, while the other hewed closely to a more conceptual bent. A coin toss decided which one it would be that I would hit publish first. I'm curious about your reaction if you've read both pieces. It would be fodder for a follow up piece on crafts and entertainments, on arch concept versus unconstrained prose. Do read the other piece even if you don't care to comment, it is the other side of a coin. What say you? Penny for your thoughts.

One curiosity about writing or any craft is that one never knows what will connect with the reader. You toil away on some arch concept to the sound of crickets, yet your throwaway musings on swallowing pills (of all things), or say Ghana must go bags will be your lasting legacy.
File under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,