Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Back There Yonder

"Back there yonder" goes a man in some distress
"He's messing with someone else", mental health can be such a mess
You wonder if he's also ripping up their flower bed
Or if his demons have since summoned different tactics instead

"I feel bad for guys like that... They go on a bender like that"
Your neighbor commiserated, then looked at the ruined patch of earth.
"But this...", he gestured, "sucks". A statement of fact.
He didn't need to elaborate, this gardener was feeling the hurt

Another neighbor had knocked on your door earlier, quick to alert
And you'd walked out to catch the vandal in furious motion
Pausing first, though, to don your face mask from the pile near the stairs
The necessary prelude these days to any social confrontation

You might have saved more plants but for your public health caution
Our covidious predicament has caused all manner of collateral damage.
A root and branch clearing, it appeared that that was his intention
This homeless man dutifully uprooting your flowers was hard to manage

His shorts fell down as he grabbed a cosmos flower with speed
Thankfully, modesty would save this one that you'd grown from seed
He made to cover up his privates; he dropped the stalk.
By then you had approached him, all the while yelling "Stop!"
He turned and backed off, now chastened perhaps.
Recriminations would surely ensue, he was caught in the act.

Still, he remained belligerent and was plainly not happy
That a tall black guy would be the one dressing him down,
However mildly, for his transgressions. Some folk are uppity.
He was in a fugue state, if not drunk or high, and dealing with demons
Of his own. Amidst the raving, the bloodshot eyes were what you focused on.

You must confess that you briefly contemplated wrath
And extravagant violence of some sort,
Stung, even as an amateur gardener,
Revenge, you wanted him to pay the cost.

You guess he expected a beating or something
For he seemed to shrivel up into a shell
So he was quite confused when you, instead, asked him
If he needed any help,
"Anything I could do for you, sir?
Can I be of any assistance?"
Those with your skin tone are used to navigating
Rage and civility with a fine balance

Modernity too, you took out your phone to record the floricultural crime
This your rectangular glass slab of digital android protection
You're not quite sure if he registered the directions that you gave him.
For his destination was surely the torrid zone, a far region of the mind

You know all about mental illness, sadly, more than you could mention
And you wondered who one could call for an psychiatric intervention
You used to spend time with your uncle in his office at Asylum Down
It takes a village, they say, and lots of behavior to get along.

As he walked off, still ranting and raving
You made to salvage your garden of Eden
The tallest and most glorious flowers,
Those wildflowers that had grown to five feet and more
Were done for, shredded and dug up from their bitter roots.
A few others too, you picked up the pieces off the earthly floor

Oh well, you now realized just how much this had been bringing you joy
Your amateur horticultural labor was the source of much delight.
Well, at least you'd taken photos of your pandemic garden
Preserved the digital memories, before this unfortunate abuse
But you held on to the thought and pithy insight:

"People are to be loved and things are to be used."

Sadly, too many people in this world seem to think the reverse
Well, you'll shower your antagonists with concern rather than a curse

It was no surprise, however,
That this lost soul continued on his bender
And someone else, a half hour later,
Was dealing with him "back there yonder"

flower garden

Back There Yonder, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note
me flower gardener

See also Pandemic Garden

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

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Friday, November 27, 2020

Sights in the City

We heard the drums as we turned the corner and came upon a gathering in the park. An awesome explosion of color, such are the sights in the city.

sights in the city

The first thought was that The Village People had mounted a revival in a covidious time but the rhythmic prowess of the drummer - or lack thereof, indicated otherwise

sights in the city

They wore masks but hearkened back to gladiators or carnivals of yore. One felt that some dragons would be surely be appearing shortly, given how they were festooned with spikes and feathers. We watched from the side of the trail.

causing a commotion

Many families with young children frequent the Boggy Creek trail, the morning walks are a good way to relieve the covidious monotony and get their energy spent. We do 2 hour walks on weekends. And so we settled to watch the strange happening with other passersby. It sounds better in French: cette histoire insolite.

sights in the city

The spell was broken when one of the warriors, the sun goddess as it turned out, stepped out of formation and approached the gathered onlookers. She uttered the dreaded and immortal spoiler: "Do you want to make a donation?"

sights in the city

The reaction was swift, it didn't need to be said out loud but it was a collective thought. "Don't come any closer, lady, it's a pandemic You may look other-worldly, cool and all, but do your pagan routine or photoshoot over there". The curious watchers started to disperse.

sights in the city

"Yeah, yeah... We'll look you up..." Head nods. "Instagram... Facebook... Twitter... Venmo... Yeah, yeah" Mutter, mutter. Some, the mask wearers - only about 50 percent, this is Texas after all - adjusted their own masks reflexively. Others simply took a few steps back or aside. We all perform modern masquerades.

sights in the city

And what of carnival life these days?

Now this winter of our discontent
Has gone on long past than the month of Lent
Mardi Gras in New Orleans this year was a superspreading event
We're measuring the cost in excess deaths - a great amount.
We also know that after the earlier Sermon on the Mount
Came the reaction from Judas Iscariot, the young disciple
Our own Caesars obviously think they are nigh invincible
Free to discard the cautionary warning of The Mosquito Principle

Herd Immunity

A sigh. The escape from our routine was over. The kids weren't impressed in any case, and had started walking away unbidden. We'd have to find something else to pass the time. We got back on the trail, we'd be home in half an hour. Back to life, back to reality.

Sights in the City, a playlist


A soundtrack to this note

Sights in the City

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

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Thursday, November 19, 2020

For Want Of A Bolt

For want of a bolt, I planted a flower garden
Packed up the push reel, no more mowing the lawn
Back to basics, I planted yams, herbs, flowers, and even tried corn
The zinnias, cosmos and basil took - it was an unexpected dividend

Some of the seeds had arrived in a dubious package
Labeled as wiring cable no doubt to pass through customs
Even though they claimed to be creeping thyme
Seeds and crossed wires an apt parable for globalization
Amazon has now brought this seed trade to a full stop
Buying into fearmongering about sowing the Wuhan crop

Regardless, I've been slowly digging up the grass in the yard
There was a temporary setback, a hail storm disposed of my seedlings
Almost nothing survived, I felt like I missed the growing season
We'll try again next year, nature, as ever, is a wild card

zinnias in effect

For want of ballast, it's been weeks of cooking in the near dark
The kitchen's lighting situation now reminiscent of a well shaded park
The prospect is of a rewiring job without a certified electrician
Circuit breaker peril, unlike Lord Finchley, you should reward the artisan

For want of a dryer, we've been hanging it all on the line
The mildew protocol, we're worried about the creeping signs
The cause was a rattling sound, a spinning mechanical disaster
Still, with the pandemic we've been afraid to call in a repairer
On the off chance that we'll invite into our house a superspreader
The paradox of these times is how to adjust to all this uncertainty
Sometimes you need a live human to exercise the terms of your home warranty

my glorious flowers that someone just walked away with

For want of a policy, we've had wishful thinking
Porous rules and regulations and magic realism
Many rulers don't want to consider social living
And ignore The Mosquito Principle in favor of solipsism

For want of a vaccine, they're pursuing herd immunity
And bristle when questioned on their lack of integrity
Quack cures suggested and curious distractions
From the matter at hand: public health interventions
We got presidential obfuscation, and sleight of hand so sublime
A surfeit of mixed metaphors in a covidious time
Still, the second wave is coming, as is the bread line
Rent is due, and what about those evictions?
Moratoria were mooted without income support provisions

zinnias

For want of a public health intervention, we've been painting the fence
Self isolation and social distancing our only defense
From the plague of incompetence from a parade of political actors
Instead of a plan, "We would have anticipated that the private sector..."

A mantra based on evidence-free ideology
As if viral RNA cared a whit about "the economy"
A curious narrative of inaction would then unfold
It was reminiscent of when Alice went down the rabbit hole
Certainties and wonders, all the rigged bets were off sadly
For we're in the terrain of the science called epidemiology.

Lockdowns couldn't be avoided even if delayed by dereliction
We heard firm pronouncements of control, there were hopeful predictions
But it was hard to reconcile the reality with the advertised glories
It was global narrative collapse, the tale of the lost stories

Still, for some it's been a tonic to embrace the new normalcy
All the while knowing that our frontline workers tread warily
Doing the essential work of fighting this grim disease.
That the virus sets the timeline is cause for much unease:

Not too virulent like Ebola or polio to cause sheer panic
But not too easily dismissed to be waved away by gaslighting magic
We've seen the incoming blows approaching but insouciance was a master
This covidious business has all the makings of a slow moving disaster

The contrast in human lives couldn't have been more stark
Wet work in meat packing plants or homebound in Noah's ark
Some have to deal with Tyson's reassurances or Smithfield's bromides
While others complain about the nuances of the mute button before zoom asides

The 5 year old brought the iPad over for you to "fix the internet connection"
While you were in the shower! 'Twas a flash of fleshy insight
You might have given her zoom classmates an early anatomy lesson
This modernity, first world problems can be hard to describe

me clearing garden

For want of integrity, you bear the country's leaders a deep seated grudge
What? The only order of business in the Senate was to appoint judges?
In the long game of thrones, all that matters was to pack the courts
To safeguard capital and reverse social welfare proposals
A few gambling debts paid off - blind justice, judicial votes can be bought
If you control the referees and the commentators, it's easy to assign blame
It's worth restating the contention: America's real herd immunity is to shame

The United States only has interests, and narrow ones at that
Her firm pronouncements of solidarity must be taken with a grain of salt
Cock and bull stories, Hollywood fictions sold with Madison Avenues' sheen
Are wearing off now, doused down by concoctions of hydroxychloroquine
But it's hard to market the lifestyles of the rich or operational excellence
When preserving human life doesn't appear to be a core competence

The parable of the sower was also a prescient tale from Octavia Butler
But even with the gift of prophecy, she was trumped by this kind of grim reaper
The bodies continue to drop, their burden barely helped by the ventilators
That a president dithered to even invoke the Defense Production Act to procure
His conception of his office, as throughout his life, was as a sinecure
Preferring sweetheart deals and monopoly rents
Instead of securing personal protective equipment
Say nice things about me and I'll grant you items from my "free" market
A distinction without a difference, call it by its name: a protection racket

It wouldn't hurt if, at least, lives were being saved in short order
But they're not and, goddamn, he dares mention law and order
There's no comfort to be living not a dream but a lie
At evening's end the daily toll unfailingly makes one cry
"It is what it is", but the sad fact is hard to deny:
For want of a conscience so many people have had to die

growing puna yam in my covidious backyard

And all for want of a bolt...


See previously: Nuts and Bolts

flower garden

Soundtrack for this note


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

A covidious folktale, call it the first draft of history...

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Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Truth and Reconciliation

The statues have been coming down of late
Their existence is at least contested these days
The shadows of impunity that were proudly erected by History
Are later seen as blind spots, per Auden's Archaeology
The legacies of men reexamined in a crisis's light
A change of perspective that provides newfound insight

That while one's forefathers may have looted and wielded the whip
It's no minor proportion of humanity that is descended from Genghis Khan
One needn't have been bloodthirsty to be a slaver in days of yore
We know foundational framers owned sour property on their sugar farms.
But wilful ignorance of sins past is quite the strange fruit
Turning your nose up at banana republics while forgetting your own crops
'Tis a blissful privilege to live, as the song goes, in unfinished sympathy
And to have to be actively taught about the importance of empathy

Recall that well before Winnie's husband had assumed the mantle,
Long before the ink was dry on South Africa's new constitution
Their spokesmen were already calling apartheid ancient history
And, well, de Klerk would later join Kissinger in the rogues' gallery
Call it, of cold blooded murderers that have won the Nobel Peace Prize
The three musketeers of fate: irony, infamy and goddamn lies

In my own life there was neither truth nor reconciliation
Our philosophy of survival meant that my countrymen rather embraced fictions
True, we always sought consensus and shared humanity
And our preferred political tactic was conversation
Yet this has meant a fraught and enforced civility
So even with my keen outrage - it comes with the territory
They're an open wound: those provisions of that amnesty
The depth of my feelings towards someone I used to call Uncle
The revulsion towards the Flight Lieutenant might prove to be a mistake
So while I view him as a sinner who drips blood in his wake
A living testament to unresolved matters of justice
His every utterance contemptible and scornful in practice,
That he still walks around unencumbered is too hard to handle

Still, I'm minded that my cousin once fell for one his daughters
The heart wills it wants, I heard the news and broke into kotokious laughter
Indeed, how could I even have forgotten? I was once her babysitter
It's just flesh and blood, hell, my mum was the woman's godmother
It just goes to show that social interplay is complicated
This is as it should be, harken back to Tristan and Iseult
Or Montagues and Capulets, wherefore art thou, Oduro
Inconvenient truths, and that modern saying, entanglement
Or rather that uneasy phrase, structural adjustment

The good professor would ask: is democracy of universal application?
The self-appointed general merely laughed at the quaint suggestion
An article of faith in the conqueror's catechism:
Impunity first, we'll loot to demonstrate dominance
The lessons of brute force, our country has learned in spades
We've been treated to imperialism, militarism, and even consciencism
The die was cast, I'll say we earned our lost decades
But those painful interludes were a temporary inconvenience
True, it wasn't easy living under rogue authoritarians
Yet history's arc would shift us away from those blows of providence

It all now falls to the next generation
To enact cultural revival and a quiet revolution
Yes, blood and sin remain at the heart of the matter
As, indeed, do cultural universals and particulars
The perils of greed and opportunism we'll have to suffer
And irony will linger as life's key register
The roots of our conflicts have always proven to be bitter
The search for a blanket of soul, a soothing balm for painful chapters
What profit a man? In this life, we're all political actors
Forgiveness and love, the anthem of Bloodbath, South Carolina


Containers: Bitters

Truth and Reconciliation, a playlist


A soundtrack to this note, a meditation on secrets and lies.


Photo credit: DK Osseo-Asare

I nominate this note for The Things Fall Apart Series under the banner of The Rough Beast, which asks: who is writing the script?


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Sunday, November 01, 2020

The Closing Ceremony

A covidious closing ceremony
For the mortgage game of thrones.
We needed her stamp of approval
To buy a loan for our current home.

In front of our house, we staged the chairs
And tables, and offered some face masks.
She said, "Come near, it's too hot,
I don't have the time to go back and forth"

Perplexed by the stance of this notary public:
Forgoing social distancing during a pandemic?
"I beg your pardon, Ma'am, I didn't catch that. What did you say?"
"I don't know about y'all but I have my temperature checked every day."

Suffice to say, there was visible unease
"It's not that we're anti-social, Ma'am, we're just anti-disease"

Also immuno-compromised, you see
Your daily temperature checks don't mean a thing
When asymptomatic transmission is key
And the source of much superspreading

"I teach the history of disease", said the Wife, "it's our duty of care"
"Well I had some nurses sign for me last week, and they didn't care"
"Well, we'll stay over here at a distance, we're happy to go back and forth
Right there on the table are our drivers licenses, the check, and the passports"

What's this? You're really threatening to leave in a huff?
About to dial the title company to call the whole thing off?
Packing the precious documents and unlocking your car
A performance worthy of a b-movie star

Enough already, that wouldn't solve a thing
And, really, you're uncomfortable with our social distancing?
Think, lady, you'd go home and lose your commission
And we'd merely rage at the micro aggression.

We're protecting not just each other
But also our loved ones, do consider:
Those two terrified kids up there looking down
From behind the bedroom window glass
I'm trying my darndest here to remain calm and to not frown
Thinking of a broken health system and The Grand Reopening of Texas.

At length, she relented and deigned to stay.
I think my level headed posture saved the day
Somehow the sparkle in my eyes was up to the task
Seeing as my usual smile was hidden by my face mask

But, still, as the signing proceeded there was no small amount of tension
With The Wife, strained and visibly upset, throughout the interaction
I took the pen she offered. The Wife brought out her own.
Ah to be a middleman in this business, I just needed a loan
Refinanced promptly, a house is not a home.

Poised between capital's representative and my lover
It was just a few weeks earlier, if you remember,
That we read about the incident with that bird watcher
Threatened on the nature trail: a tale of two Coopers
But the front of my home is not a park, it's quite a flight of fancy
To have to sit here and appease the whims of Notary Nancy

It was hard to break the ice, I hasten to mention
Quite a struggle to complete this real estate transaction
At times, I must confess, it was touch and go
Gruffly she barked, "Sign with full name and initial any typos"

But where The Wife was getting increasingly alarmed
I was rather focused on turning on the charm

I read the fine print and saw that I could walk away for any reason
"Ma'am, does anyone really go through with this... recission?"
"You'd be surprised, it's your right, that's what you sign on the line"
No wonder the mortgage company has you on speed dial.

The closing ceremony involves notarization and liens
The whole process can make you feel like an illegal alien
15 years a debtor, you harken back to the plight of some ancestors
But it's worth going through this business, they say it builds character
You sign your life away for want of a stamp, it's quite the show
I've packed my bags already, Ma'am, they call them Ghana must go

You had confused me at the outset with that other Ghanaian
You dealt with earlier in the week named Ofosu
What are the odds of this out here in central Texas?
The name's not too common back home, but there are quite a few
Well, I hope that his experience notarizing with you
Was better than mine for, straight out of the gate,
What we've had here was a failure to communicate.

There's a nagging thought at the back of the mind
That perhaps our interaction might have gone much smoother
If only our names had been Chuck and Julia
And looked a lighter shade of brown
But no matter, the deal is done
I'm sure you're happy to leave this open air station
Let's double or triple check to see if any papers were missed.
I had to call The Wife back to clear up a form before we were dismissed

Our rituals are in upheaval
What paradise have we lost?
I wonder if the two percent interest rate
Savings we got were quite worth this cost.

The Wife was done, she couldn't end this business fast enough
Couldn't feign your African nonchalance, she wasn't that tough
She wears her emotions on her sleeve, I feared she'd go beserk
For even with my patience, I'll say you were a piece of work

A historian, though, she was thinking about preserving the moment
And to protect herself in case you later escalated the argument
Thus she took a surreptitious photo to document
And even transcribed my parting comment:

"You know, Ma'am, I find your job quite interesting
I'm curious about how those in your profession do your magic.
I should also add, for the record, something that I bring
To the table: I have a patent disclosure on the digital notary public".

mortgage refinancing home closing with notary public

Soundtrack for this note


A closing ceremony playlist, notarized to make it official

Previously: America's social studies syllabus teaches some of us mandatory lessons in civility.

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


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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Wishful Thinking

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

— Hilaire Belloc, The Silence of the Sea

It's your day by Glen

The Sound of Anticipation


I guess I anticipated that the private sector would have engaged and helped develop it for the clinical side.

Robert Redfield, director of the CDC Congressional testimony (March 12 2020)

I keep coming back to this statement delivered, with a straight face, by Doctor Redfield in response to a rather sympathetic congressional audience. I assume that the congressmen and women's eyebrows arched violently at this verbal eruption. My eyebrows certainly assumed McDonalds' golden arch proportions when I read that soundbite.

Most American politicians only throw softballs - the business about scrutiny and oversight of the executive is mostly a fiction, and even the lawyers among them barely cross examine at the best of times. Even if you wing it and come unprepared, you should be able to dodge their inquiries. And yet this is the answer that a friendly congressman's pitch elicited: "I guess I anticipated that the private sector would have engaged..."

Slightly related: The Ayn Rand Institute bootstrapped its way to a PPP Loan of at least $350K. The institute's leadership had clearly done a close reading of their eponymous subject's The Virtue of Selfishness

In the hearings, there was not much more urgency, the outlines of the botched US federal response were already clear six weeks into the coronavirus pandemic. The main outrage in early March 2020 was that CDC did not have the testing capacity, nor indeed did it look as if there was a plan to increase it. This, of course, in stark comparison to the war footing that China, Taiwan, Vietnam and other countries had taken. And so, for example, the Democratic congresswomen were complaining that passengers on cruise ships were not being notified that they might have been exposed to the fast spreading clumps of viral RNA even weeks after exposure and so might have been unwittingly contributing to superspreading events.

If the leader of the public health response was freely signalling his belief that it was all a matter for private sector engagment, we were clearly in troubled waters. This seemed to be a foundational sin: the United States's public health response to our covidious predicament was flawed at conception.

Robert Redfield I guess I anticipated that the private sector would have engaged

Then I read the delicious sentence in the Financial Times that "Dr Anthony Fauci – the infectious disease expert and now household name – is widely known to loathe Redfield, and vice versa." I am up to 25 stanzas imploring Dear Kindly Doctor Fauci to step in and sort things out, but perhaps he might have had reason for his assumed assessment of Dr Redfield. With hindsight, when you watch the footage of Fauci and Redfield testifying while seated next to each other, you note that Redfield calls Fauci, Tony, whereas it is always "Doctor Redfield" in the other direction. Not to digress further, but one wonders if sharp-elbowed bureaucratic infighting is part of the reason for the dysfunction we have witnessed. Reading that CDC testing guidelines were relaxed only when the good Doctor Fauci was in surgery is of a piece with this pattern of neglect.

Still, one shouldn't personalize things since I am using "Redfield" as a shorthand for a kind of evidence-free, faith-based ideological thinking. It's a marker for a blindspot of sorts, an Anglosphere take on magical realism. Others have followed this line of thinking

Here were two men wondering aloud why reality had failed to conform to their ideology. Where was the private sector, exactly, during these eight weeks? How odd that these companies, whose only responsibility is to their shareholders, had failed to make up for the incompetence of this administration.

Redfield seems to have been selected to run the CDC not only because he was a prominent virologist, which made him appear qualified for the job, but also because of his hard-line politics, which made him qualified to serve in this Republican administration. Even at the time of his appointment, a few experts tried to warn the administration that, as concerning as his dodgy politics were, his complete lack of experience in public health administration was even more disturbing. His politics, as it turns out, matter much more than his expertise when it comes to making a vital agency function.

The adherents of this kind wishful thinking will always observe in a crisis that "the private sector was too slow". They are forever singing the Dazz Band's chorus: "do I hear the sound of anticipation?" in advance of the second wave.

The next day, Congresswoman Katie Porter had had enough and brought out the whiteboard while questioning Robert Redfield and eventually got him to commit to free coronavirus testing. Her basic point was that the good doctor had ample authority in the context of a public health emergency to actually regulate the health care system. But it took relentless questioning, and she had to frame it like a game of The Price is Right to get him to admit that it might be a touch difficult for an uninsured American to pay the then-estimated $1,331 out-of-pocket cost of a coronavirus test, and that perhaps this might be an impediment to the WHO's injunction to "test, test, test" in light of a highly contagious disease to which humanity had no immunity.

Queen Portia

Note: that it would take until September 1st for the full implications of actually exercising that regulatory authority to start to show. All of a sudden, we heard that the CDC could impose a moratorium on evictions, that it was well within its capacity to do so. There was no explanation on why it had taken more than 6 months to make that determination, and, as for all those lives that had been upended in the interim, the families put on the street, those made unemployed or forced to return to work in unsafe Smithfield plants for fear of the bread line, oh well c'est la vie. A blind man could see the need for even these half measures, as the Godfather of soul sang. Or perhaps, we can turn to Upton Sinclair

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
John Kenneth Galbraith was less cynical but no less piercing in outlining the workings of wishful thinking when he cast his eye on The Great Crash of 1929:
By affirming solemnly that prosperity will continue, it is believed that one can help insure that prosperity will in fact continue. Especially among businessmen the faith in the efficiency of such incantation is very great.

As with public health so with the economy. I've previously pointed to the figure of Alan Greenspan whose lifelong herculean efforts to tilt the playing field in the economy towards the rich were shown up to be similarly catastrophic in fomenting a modern Depression. Even his mea culpa has proven to be ephemeral

"I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organisations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms"

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Pardon my visceral reaction. GTFOHWTBS

It was a strategic retreat however, in light of the Great Recession and the housing bubble. Still, the rehabilitation campaign for this disastrous legacy was immediately launched and, more importantly, there was no restitution or move to address the fundamental inequality that Greenspan advocated and, indeed, enabled. The great cheerleader of unrestrained capitalism had set the system in place and the rigged game continues apace.

There is, of course, a difference between the theory and the practice of free markets. Charicatures of Adam Smith notwitstanding, Bagehot's caveats are always ignored as inconveniences. As I wrote at the outset of the pandemic:

We'll be hearing a lot about the "lend freely" aspect of Bagehot's premise in the coming bailouts. We'll conveniently hear less about the "at a high rate" or the "solvent merchants" qualifiers. But those are the rules for banks foremost, and for businesses writ large.

When it comes to bailouts for labor, moral hazard suddenly leaps to the front of the political arguments. The language is of handouts and welfare. Means testing inevitably raises its head. Social insurance has always needed better PR if not crises of power (Bismarck, FDR, Bevan)

A difficulty for the rest of us is determining whether the Redfield-Greenspan outlook was a sincere belief or a convenient cover story. It's a puzzle: are they in on the con or merely naive? Are they a mark or is it part of the long con? Should we consider them like the character played by Robert Redford in The Sting, actors in double and triple crosses? I do not mean to suggest Robert Redfield should be played by the Sundance Kid when the tales are told by Hollywood, but it's quite the ambiguous adventure.

Perhaps it doesn't matter, because the end result is the same grift, it's a shell game nonetheless, and one should protect oneself accordingly. We should fight the good fight against the soi-disant abstract magic of the market, even as one expresses one's outrage.

The pessimistic view is that we are dealing with gremlins, per Ezra Pound's Hugh Selwyn Mauberly

usury age-old and age-thick
and liars in public places.

The optimistic viewpoint is more charitable albeit that it is is a matter of routine greed. We can turn again to John Kenneth Galbraith for insight

The modern conservative is engaged in one of man's oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.
Returning to Belloc's thought about wishful thinking, we can hear its rhyme with Francis Bacon's aphorism:
Hope is a good breakfast, but it is a bad supper.

In any case, the die is cast, the pursuit of herd immunity was the chosen tactic and we are all paying the cost in flesh and blood. 'Tis quite the pity that, in this pandemic, wishful thinking has lead the public health intervention.

"I guess I anticipated that the private sector would have engaged and helped develop it for the [insert topic here]" should be the epitaph of the wishful thinkers.

don't mind your wife chop bar at the local market

Wishful Thinking


Wishful thinking has been revealed as the bottom line
Their font of magical realism in a covidious time
An age-old shell game full of mystical narratives
The rhetoric of pocket book common sense and tough love
Merely masked the underlying impunity and strife

Force majeure, they vouchsafed bailouts for finance
But look, all of a sudden, central bankers turn to doves
Then the quick turn, post-haste, to restore the balance
We started hearing of moral hazard and hard choices.

For businessmen with hard noses, it's called strategic default
For your ordinary Joe, it's eviction and the bread line
Rent is due, sucker, it's your fault, not mine
Public health can wait, let's have a grand reopening
Never mind The Mosquito Principle or social living

Individual choice will save us, communal thinking is in the tank
Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, there's always the food bank
Governments can socialize the losses, of course, for the bosses
Meanwhile you're on your own, the workers can pay the cost
There's the incantation of free enterprise almost to the point of rapture
When the abiding principle is really that of regulatory capture

Crush the unions, we worship at the altar of the free market
Still, the world is watching, the crisis is having a clarifying effect
It's proving hard to deny the phantom thread of greed
When our human infrastructure is shown to be in dire need
Everything must change, this is school of hard knocks
Essential workers and labor are shown to be in the dock
The spokesmen of capital momentarily in a state of shock
Revealingly, the operative phrase is "human capital stock".


by his grace

Soundtrack for this note


Let's have a soundtrack for this worldview. What to call it though? Regulatory Capture is argumentatative as well as being a mouthful. Free Markets doesn't get to my intent and Lightweight Regulation reeks of irony. It's not quite Social Darwinism and I already have a Manifest Destiny and a Shell Games playlist. Arggh let's go with Wishful Thinking. In the context of the US and UK responses to our covidious predicament, it clearly fits the bill.

Wishful Thinking, a playlist


The sounds of magical realism in the human marketplace

Further Reading


Amitav Ghosh's excellent Ibis trilogy spends some time musing about the traders of the East India Company and the Opium Wars in River of Smoke and especially in Flood of Fire. Indeed it ought to continue further just for the sheer exuberance of the linguistic invention. Why stop at three novels?

The logical endpoint of free market thinking is the hypocrisy of empire.

I realised this was the inaugural moment in the wars of what you might call Free Trade Imperialism. These merchants were the first generation of people for whom Adam Smith’s ideas were like a religion. They really thought they were laws of nature

"The profit motive has always existed, nowhere more so than in China and India, but Adam Smith created the idea that the economy is separate from human society and driven by its own internal forces. For the merchants, the market was not subject to any ethical constraints. Nobody in America [today] would suggest that Colombia has a right to push drugs in their country. But this was exactly what the Free Trade Fundamentalists were saying back then." In this, opium was uniquely suited to Smith’s purposes. “The whole point about capitalism is to try to persuade people to buy things that they don’t need," Ghosh argues. "It necessarily began with addictive substances. Tobacco, rum, tea, opium."

And the band played on...

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

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Monday, October 19, 2020

The Muse Wills What She Wants

The muse wills what she wants, I've found it pays to listen
Capricious as she is, she moves to her own tune
I daresay she's happiest dancing on stage by her lonesome
But I jump anytime she deigns to dalliance

Oh lucky man I am when her juices flow
Sweating, and nearly out of breath,
I'm consumed by the creative glow
Furiously scribbling the snatches she whispers
Fragments iridescent become scrolls of fanciful flight
Exhilaration at the fleeting steps in directions unexpected
The floor expands, the lights focus the mind
Pupils dilate and we continue gliding
Capillary action in these narrow spaces
Twirling in synchrony as if promised a return to Xanadu

There's only the dance, I move to draw closer
But it's not a tango, Spanish or Argentinian
There's a fundamental swagger and liquid consonance
The next movement, a dancehall from the islands
I can almost taste her essence, it's the nectar of the Gods
Her siren call is that of Mami Wata, a mid-Atlantic trance

The memory of the drought now firmly behind us
Butts shaking, you're released from writer's block
Ignore the panicked calls from the broker of your stocks
Market collapse be damned, you're with your Nubian Goldilocks
Her name, she says, doesn't really even matter
All the while you're hoping for a repeat encounter
We know that she remains a restless searcher
For now momentarily joined at the hip to this modern traveler

Enjoy the ride, give her a twirl,
Undrape the lace, and all those frilly sections
Dancing is expressing in the perpendicular your horizontal intentions
It's as if you've got no choice, you've got to move
The world can wait, don't disturb this groove

The muse wills what she wants, her intent cannot be missed
Before all this is over they'll be calling you afrofuturist
It's astonishing the directions she's taking you in
Leading you out of Babylon to God knows what section

Pushing you to explore all the boundaries
Of form, who knew that you had all these stories
Your folktales were written in the Ananse tradition
The Guvnor described them as crazed African magical realism

It's a matter of lineage and perhaps of ambitions
Allusions proliferate as you make intuitive connections
Glue layer people, conversation, your tribe's connective tissue

The muse wills what she wants, she's demanding compositions
At the back of your mind is Coleridge's interruption
Stay focused on the groove, release your inhibition
Her point of call is not that famed Atlantis
No, and not even the Gulf of Guinea
No, her essence can be found in the river Volta
Near Akosombo dam therein lies her still water
Sing the hymn of the big wheel or, rather, magic

The muse will what she wants, her intentions are stark
She loves being a girl, like the soul singer remarked
A Caribbean queen or Liberian girl
Friend, lover, sister, mother, wife
She's all of these, if only for one night
Sadly though, she ignores your plea to turn off the light
Still you're soul satisfied, that you cannot deny
Her shawl of shimmering lace and green kente simply out of sight

Mami Wata

The muse wills what she wants, you dare not question her.
She leads the way and takes you under
"Taste", she suggests a light repast
Smiling all the while with those subtle hints
You trust her in the moment, she knew how to give a kiss
Her raspberry beret and oh those lips
The prospect of a forbidden encounter
A fall from grace, you will not be denied
Between the sheets, a glimpse of paradise
Her concerns are earthy, romance be damned
If that's your girlfriend, she wasn't last night
The fallen idol who roams the land
Her moon is a harsh mistress
"Can I come up for air?"
Return to the land down under

The muse wills what she wants, every moment you should treasure
Her hands are invitations causing frantic gestures
She's only holding pieces of a man
You're in Eden, you'll never leave this place
Paradise lost, a trip on the Selective Amnesia Express
Parental guidance advised, this is adult business

The muse wills what she wants, she draws outside the lines
There's a craving for touch especially in these covidious times
Reach out for sensation denied by this baleful social distancing
Your strategy is empathy, and that old faithful, social living

Shall I compare thee to a Bukom beauty
All ebony curves jiggling yet toned with the strength of mahogany
Azumah Nelson's ring savvy, she strikes with fierce intent
And parries our opponent's jabs of adversity
Her fundament gives core strength to face blows to the body
Dodging the blows of providence at the ready
We trace the contours of her patterns but write our own stories

The muse wills what she wants, I too shall not want
You'll gladly be infected by her novel virus
The spring break party, Freaknik, without the hangover
Got your heart racing, what happens with her stays in her confidence
There's no walk of shame or frantic morning after
There's only the moment, capture it and share
Luxuriate in her coat of pink cashmere
Write divine folktales full of twists and turns
Reversals of fortunes, moments of disbelief
You see the shape of the narratives
Emerge fully formed, an instant conception
There's no labor or caesarean section
You may serve multiple masters
But there's only one muse and she demands action
She knows your name, the contours of your face, you feel stronger
After all, she billed you as the chief toli monger

The muse wills what she wants, you've become a dream weaver
Yours truly forever her partner in the dance
Her words loom large, "Leave nothing to chance"
The end of the affair or rather a brief encounter
Do not be presumptuous, there's only the dance
Her gifts, she bestowed freely and without concern
You've gained what you never had at conception
A taste of eternity, you belong to me.
If I ever lose this heaven, mercy, mercy me
The song begins to fade in the room.
You will the DJ to mix in another tune
Beat matched so she'll not skip a beat
Relax with pep, she's your lady mahogany

Mami Wata

The muse wills what she wants, you've inherited her chosen mantle
Draw closer, the last bars explain it all
The stories that will buoy you back to your kith and kin
The journey's reward is the real odyssey.
Her revelations the key to unlocking
Collapsing narratives or romans-a-clef
Like a highlife band that plays on all night
Eschewing slumber, such are her earthly delights

The muse wills what she wants, this is no swan song
Her pearls are not of received wisdom
Proverbial zingers and quintessential abstractions
Wist and nostalgia, grateful that you are tonight's selection
She leaves you like Tantalus,
Poised on the verge of getting it on
Her gateway drug was inspired direction
Your village moves and dancehall stylings bring forth a laugh
The book she wrote also includes forgetting
Was that a twerk? Now this is interesting.
Tonight it seems like there'll be no slim pickings.
But turns out it was really only a tease
There's no catching a social disease
Your muse is personal, your font of gratitude
For inspiration and her wild attitude

The muse wills what she wants, you accept her direction
Sign the liability waiver and accept any peril
However these early signs of a new dawn
Intimate the impending loss of your writing apparel
The ink is fading as you scribble in the margins
Still you daren't call it quits, the words are too few
Just be good to me. She turns to you.
Panicked, you fear the cold shoulder
Instead there's only one word: Darling.

The muse wills what she wants, enjoy this moment
You wonder if you'll ever get one more chance
To perhaps engage and build a romance
But you know your heart has been stolen
To be returned at a time of her choosing
Hold on to your soul, we've got a long way to go
'Twas an easy conversation and precious leisure
The long thief in the night, a hint of carnal pleasure.
The act of creation without the attendant fall from grace
A thought movement and taste of lyricism incarnate
The impending absence almost renders you disconsolate
But again, as if she senses your need
That word again gets a repeat: Darling. Indeed.

Mami Wata

The muse wills what she wants, and she's engaged your full attention
Intercourse by other means, your entire disposition
"I choose you", the chant comes from Paris
London's got soul, it's all in the function
Whimsical musings, like a bullet from a gun
Interstitials present themselves at all levels
Liminal spaces where she conducts modern travelers
Fellow immigrants and mid-Atlantic selves

Oh devil woman, like Mingus would have you be
Bewitching me with your sundry charms
Moving me to excess as you prance

I seek your embrace, bosoms worthy of Lake Bosomtwi
The ancestral heartland. The butt aesthetic
To revisit an earlier flirtation with google infamy
Like a tribe, my current quest is dedicated to art of moving butts

This joint, social interplay and words that make you
Get off the wall and turn this mutha out
Wordsmithing my craft for your own entertainment
I know it's a shell game, with your sleight of hand
And deft footwork, but I have no shame.
I come to you unvarnished and matter of fact
My loin cloths made out of dutch wax
And the occasional Chinese counterfeit prints
The sleep cloth my grandma gave me soft against your skin

The muse wills what she wants, it's becoming a mantra
Tantric and irresistible percussion, she's got street cred
The Low End Theory's here, let's sample some bass from Ron Carter
Or back to basics some Fela: Original Sufferhead
Amoulanga's groove cannot be denied even with the Casio keys
I'll take out my white handkerchief and follow you in the circle
We'll dance bobobor even after the zoom funeral
You've got me writing my own Ballad of Dorothy Parker
A fever dream oh muse, this fateful encounter

Ayikoo oh muse you'll give me trouble
Having me up at all hours composing grace notes at the double
I'm writing in the dark, I dare not wake this sleeping beauty
By my side, yet the prose poem you've conceived is my duty
Visions of grace, but I'm no Absalom
Pride and vanity, caught by the branches of fate
No rebellion for me, to be discovered by King David's men
Your willing servant instead, or, rather, faithful friend

The muse wills what she wants, you've packed your bags already
Got your passport stamped for the reception with Her Majesty
The tale you wrote was Ghana must go versus Louis Vuitton
Then that reporter surfed in with her roving ambition
You documented the case of plaids bags and plagiarism
When confronted, The Telegraph's blame was shifted to "our researcher"
Who came across your intricate patterns and their sensuous textures
Those others can copy your words, they are a gift from the Gods anyway
They write articles, books, all manner of publications
There's hardly a month without a new missive, it's a hustler tradition
You've lost count of the copies, it's a fatal attraction
The careful few cite, but most don't, and some have mercenary ends
Chalk it down to the ecstasy of influence
The virtue of a link, telling your story is a soothing balm
"Throw it away", she sang, hearkening back to Abbey Lincoln

Mami Wata

The muse wills what she wants, trust her proverbial wisdom
Writ large and dispensed in Adinkra symbolism
The ancestral messages encode African electronics
Messages passed via Talking Drums and lush fabrics
We have a different approach to mathematics

Our discourse is of cultural universals and particulars
Quoth that famed cosmopolitan and august philosopher
But that comes from a society that hews to consensus-oriented politics
Not like the United States where symbolism detracts from comfort narratives
Shell games instead of reconciliation is the American dream
And so mercenary disgrace trumps regret or shame, it seems
Paper over the cracks in the cement of society with the hard sell
Buy something you consumer, go back to work in this earthly hell.

The muse wills what she wants, it's a sensuous whisper like that diva sang
Little Stevie Wonder couldn't resist that vision named Chaka Khan
He forsook even Syreeta in musical pursuit
Of conversation peace and golden voices
We were gifted with winsome rare groove
And considerable comfort food
You know the words of the song, sing along with me,

Tell me something good
Tell me, tell me, tell me

Tell me that you love me, oh muse tell me

Back in that hallowed garden, I tasted the fruit of knowledge
It's about retention, all those books, long have I read
Mate masie: knowledge - I have heard and I have kept it.
Us Akans are known for proverbial thinking
An awoof conception, it takes two to do the corruption tango
The rough beast lies next to me as I awake on the beach at Beit Lahiya

The muse wills what she wants, you're flirting with danger
What with this sleeping beauty stirring from her slumber
She took you to Agotime on a weeklong visit
You talked with the kente weavers, their wares exquisite

She got you in a dispute with your paternal crew
Your house is also Aburi, you descend from chiefs in Akim Swedru
Gyasiwah's descendants should rather claim that it's all about Bonwire
Either house has narratives placing them at the origin
Don't get involved in the invention of tradition

The muse will what she wants, a conundrum like a driver of a taxi
In the morning you hope to decipher the words scribbled on the pad
Or etched out in Android words courtesy of a Samsung Galaxy
You prefer the paper with its tactile sensation
The forcing function of words written with intent
The transactional cost of crossing out idle thoughts
A Tobin tax on food for thought
Further, machine learning might cause dismay
You wrote an earlier trouble ticket
About this curious artifact of software modernity:
The occasional regret of auto-correct
Also: cultural sensitivity in technology

Mami Wata

The muse wills what she wants, she deserves all the credit
You shall not stray from the discovery
Her path and her wondering ways
The road to freedom, you cherish the day
Her caresses are those of night nurses in Crystal Palace
The mind escapes to Akim Swedru, you seek solace
The Asantehene considers us a friendly kingdom
The names of our Queen Mothers
Gyasiwah, Kumiwah, Ansaa, Abia
The names you pass on to your spawn
Unbroken chains that help you breathe
Even in the anomic land of red, white and blue
Rather you revel in the red, black and green
Your black gold of the sun, the treasure was found just off Cape Coast

"You're going through a prolific phase right now,
You might want to hold something back"
Thanks, you're well meaning, but that's what the gatekeepers,
Those who use the word "content", say
To keep you on their human capital track
The muse wills what she wants, she's no Buzzfeed content
She's no Vox optima explanation factory farm
Your views are yours alone, goes your employer's disclaimer
Their search engine optimization games reek of meat rendering
Render / Rendition, you coined the word erustication
There's joy in small things, never forget your mission

The muse wills what she wants, there's joy in repetition
Find the lost stories taken by that Pied Piper of RNA
As for global narrative collapse, the toli monger's antidote
For life in a covidious time, is written deep in your DNA
Africa's contribution to the pandemic
Is to add value, you can compose prose epics
It's the great game to them, they'll soon be assigning blame
When elephants fight, at ground level it's all the same
Voices inside, like Chinua Achebe wrote
Not background scenery, we're beyond the heart of darkness
Be like the prose king of Zanzibar, deftly transplanted to Sussex
Just because a lizard nods it's head doesn't mean it's happy
And so as you ponder your narratives, don't be idle
The tomes you write for the world weary
Herd Immunity and The Mosquito Principle
And make sure to complete The Chicken Bone Theory

The muse wills what she want, she drives me to excess
No Anglosaxon brevity for me, I put it all on the line
Our town criers are unconcerned with mere notions of time
The journey as you know is the urban griot's reward
So I disdain the constraints of your meter
Those measuring sticks cannot comprehend
The fluid dynamics of African material science
Our oxidation layer covers our inner steel
This second skin is our ultimate disguise
Our mystic brew confounds the bitter roots of our confection
Your bioprospecting aims to plunder our herbal ways
Tonic and bitters, the risk factors, and medicine for my pain

Mami Wata

The muse wills what she wants, she mentioned Chamoiseau
That word scratcher, the griot of Texaco
Well your slums are in Nima, the soul of Ayawaso
Your library books bestowed in honor of that lost librarian
Now expecting a child, it's hard to be living mediated by a Canadian
Or the ways of the porcupine, turn to Mabanckou
Tails of the blue bird, weaving through an open city
The art of omission, you too can embark on the normalcy project
The perils and power of your tribes, vibes and scribes
Incognito, you move as modal minorities
Some of us have long been exiled souls, unmoored as we write
Men and women of no country, oft branded with faint praise,
The labels neo-soul, afropolitan, as if we were rootless cosmopolitans
No, we remain firmly grounded in Nyame, Nyankopon plays our siren song

The muse wills what she wants and I shall not falter
No identity crisis is at the heart of the matter
Our roots go back further than flowers of May
The pot of wisdom collected mankind's stories
And so we dispense toli and sing your glories
Like the Gyrlz, talk about a love story
You find yourself writing love poems for your queen of sanity
Why you wanna, play these games on me?
Or would you have me perform the remake, return of the mack
We can sing ghetto anthems of the young, gifted and black
But no, you say, I think I can detect
The gray hairs looming and middle age spread

The muse wills what she wants and it's a jook joint party
Risqué double entendres, indeed you'll risk everything
Wager your black soul for the promise of her bliss
Frisson de folksonomie, let's be discreet about our affair
Liaisons dangereuses, revealing of one's character

The muse wills what she wants, she put you in a trance
Transported to Haiti by the stone that the builder refused
Toussaint L'Ouverture, there's grit in the maquis
Man in the hills, our borderlands we roam freely
Internally displaced, we feel deeply this modernity
Refugee hearts betrayed by capitalist uncertainty
You'll write the toli manifesto, a monger's article of faith

The muse wills what she wants, I hope you've enjoyed this play
Like your sister-in-law sang on that happy day
Remember your marital vows, as you dance come what may
Odo nyera fie kwan, as the elders say
Love always finds its way home, even after the last dance
When the party's over, there is no shame, it was no mistake
What is the tenor of a man that he leaves love in his wake

Mami Wata

Mami Wata, a playlist


If you see Mami Wata, never run away

The Muse Wills What She Wants, a playlist


A musical font of inspiration, an annotated prose poem. I give you six hours of comfort soul food, the foregoing thirty-odd stanzas deserve no less.

A Note


This note was written, as if in a fever trance, in six hours on the evening of June 6, 2020. My various computers were out of commision and my trusted moleskine notebook had disappeared. The laptop that The 7 year old normally uses was going through a Windows update, and the spyware that The Wife's university's IT department installs on hers was also being updated, hence I'd had to give up my normal writing implements to him after I wrote the first line. Instead I wrote that night on whatever loose sheet of paper I could find; envelopes, receipts, and mortgage bills played a part, although eventually I located a yellow pad. There were pauses for dinner, to put the children to bed, and to argue with The Wife. If I remember correctly, it was an argument I lost, and I was on probation that night, so I couldn't exactly leave the bedroom to continue writing as I wanted. Luckily, I noticed that The 9 year old had been doing some drawing in our room and a few more sheets of paper lay by my bedside - the back of her artworks would do. Once the beauty fell asleep, pen continued to meet paper, although, I admit, it was hard to scribble my words in a straight line without any light. I had caused enough marital trouble to risk the bedside light. I rather feared that I wouldn't be able to decipher this stream of thought when I awoke.

I was pleasantly surprised in the morning with the paper scraps and the pad that I assembled. I sat on what you have read above ever since, and just got around to transcribing and adding in the links - I'm a hypertext thinker. The visuals of Mami Wata are of Wangechi Mutu's Water Woman, a work we came across walking through The Contemporary in Austin, a few years back. I would normally edit ferociously for length and content - one could probably mine the many strands of the outpouring outlined here, and dole them out over time in bite-sized chunks. But, given the title and subject matter, I decided to simply publish the entire conception. I am minded of an encounter with Abbey Lincoln and her injunction to just do your own thing, write your own material, and simply get the work out. "Throw it away", like she sang, "for you can never lose a thing if it belongs to you".

That afternoon, I had reread two essays from my favorite book of essays, Hilaire Belloc's On Nothing and Kindred Subjects. The first was the opener, On The Pleasure Of Taking Up One's Pen, which provides simply luminous insight into the creative process - I aspire to one day reach those heights of lucidity. The other was On The Illness Of My Muse, which ends with what I still consider the greatest hatchet job on Rudyard Kipling, I recommend the whole book to you. A few hours later, the muse called and gave me the first and the last line. As for everything in between, I had to dance with her.

Postscript the second


There was a repeat encounter just days later. That time I was ready with the necessary notebook and computer. I published our conversation immediately; she called it Herd Immunity.


What is the tenor of a man that he leaves love in his wake
odo nyera fie kwan



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