Thursday, May 14, 2020

Shell Games (Part I. Shame Cultures)

A brief cultural history... of shame.

I was struggling with what to call this, I've already used Observers are Worried for earlier musings on the theme, and Buyer's Remorse didn't quite seem to work. I'm going with Shell Games, do let me know if it fits...

There's a lot of Sturm und Drang in US and British politics about whether They (the They of the political class) will do the right thing (for whatever one's values of the right thing may be) or if, and how, they will have to be kicked and dragged (by pitchfork wielding mobs) to it.

From this toli monger's viewpoint, it's all just bogus posturing. The fix is in.

With that out of the way, let's have a game of toli

Join me if you will in a shell game, a discursive bit of misdirection. I'll try to do this first bit, a brief cultural survey of shame, in one breath as some twitter toli. Then collect the result back here at this lowly joint. Alright, here goes...

Dick Fuld (for shame) versus Pakistani slum

Let's start with a vaguely relevant quote:
"I have yet to meet a liberal who can withstand the attrition of prolonged discussion of the unessentials."

That's a dyspeptic Tom Sharpe in Porterhouse Blue

In the UK, it will be shame and fear that ultimately force the required political change.

(And things are already in motion, even if grudgingly)

The fear part is to be expected (I have yet to meet a politician that doesn't want to get reelected).

Also: the word shambles still means something in British society.

The shame part is the most surprising development. After all it was glorious shamelessness that won December's snap election in Her Majesty's kingdom.

The novel coronavirus has somehow managed to tickle the funny bone of shame that had long been considered the Lord Lucan of Westminster.

Another case solved by Covidious Holmes, Watson.

Boris Johnson, albeit post ICU, even recently claimed "there is such a thing as society". Cue Road to Damascus editorializing by lazy Fleet Street hacks, even though it was, rather, a case of Bojo on Raqqa Street, post-Caliphate that is.

I've been writing a series on Social Living, so I'm rather attuned to these things. I can wax eloquent and at length on the nature of shame. Indeed shame has been my close companion since long before puberty (and its attendant excess [snip] - Oops, I almost overshared)

The Ghana I grew up in, during its lost decades, still retained significant aspects of a shame culture. This, despite being ruled by some of the most shameless rogues and dictators.

Shame and respect cultures of course have many downsides especially in their repression of all kinds of freedoms in favor of conformity and submission (expression, lifestyle etc.)

Societies and economies pay a tangible price for these constraints. I see you there Saudi Arabia. And you in the corner, yes you, you there subjugating half or more of your society to peonage. For shame.

The forcing function of shame can be a great moderator. Hypocrisy observed and widely broadcast is the essential mechanism. A prime example from 2,000 years ago:

"He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her".

All artists of course hold up a mirror to society. The great satirists have long pointed out the incongruities of the world, wielding shame as their prime weapon. Consider satire as a slightly distorted and cracked mirror directed at the soul of mankind.

I should clarify for the careless reader that I never wrote that Jesus was a mere artist or satirist. Per contra, one might argue that he was the greatest of artists and satirists that has ever... lived. Tremendous range our Christo.

Sidenote: was recently re-reading E.P. Sanders' highly lucid The Historical Figure of Jesus. Arguments about authenticity, legitimacy and historical memory resonate whenever one considers tradition and modernity, shame cultures, and the culture of shame. But I digress...

The Emperor's New Clothes is a timeless and radical commentary on the shamelessness of rogue authoritarians. Hans Christian Andersen hearkened all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the mythology of Fallen Angels.

If the original sin was knowledge, shame was our first glimpse of consciousness, if not self awareness. Confoundingly however, humanity quickly moved on from shame (The curse of Ham perhaps?).

Descartes would never get to write "I'm ashamed, therefore I am".

downfall of satan

Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal about the nutritional value of chubby Irish children was meant to shock the conscience. And it did, and it continues to shame. Read his biography, however, and you'll notice the uphill challenge he would face. Shame only goes so far.

Of course, centuries later, a prescient Malcolm Bradbury would write Eating People is Wrong basically hitting people over the head in this respect. Rupert Murdoch's career-long asset stripping of Western shame had just began as Bradbury put pen to paper.

All this to say that, from what I've observed in my years in France, England and especially the US, the restraints of a shame culture have long been vestigial organs in the West.

The United States has of course been post-shame, and for an extended period of time too. Tissue rejection is an certainty at this stage, and, although many have tried, all have basically failed in their surgical attempts to graft shame back onto the nation's conscience, let alone its body politic.

Just ask some Iraqis about their experience of the praxis of American shame (before ducking their thrown shoes - mind the I.E.D. over there). Anyway...

America's real herd immunity is to shame.

Pick your favorite outrage. Mine are the shocking levels of inequality in the US. The greed and rapacity is unfathomable and I'm a connaisseur of the misrule of African despots.

The whole American healthcare shell game is another one for Captain Obvious. Where do we start on that front? For shame, it's taken an apocalyptic pandemic to settle the public health debate (and we're still hearing from straggling naysayers equipped with Koch-donated megaphones).

Sidenote: The broader healthcare debate hit uncomfortably close to home recently.

On Christmas Eve, our 6 year old swallowed a coin and had to be taken to the emergency room for x-rays and then surgery to remove it. He was back home 5 hours later. Thankfully he was back to normal by Boxing Day.

I just saw the hospital bill: $25,959.75

The penny dropped

Of course you, Dear Reader, must be taking advantage of all those great tax-advantaged savings vehicles right? All signed up for those simple silver or bronze healthcare exchange plans? We all need to have skin in the game, those wonks keep saying. COBRA health plan? Your solvent employer's plan? You are employed, right?

Oh yeah. The "right to bear arms". From Colombine, through Sandy Hook, to the Las Vegas shooter in recent memory. The Scarlet Letter "A" stands for arms.

As a 6 year old, I was reading my mum's columns in the Daily Graphic about The Coup Drill. By contrast, my 6 year old son is a seasoned veteran of active shooter drills. Living in America sang James Brown.

The incapacity of the US political system to challenge the NRA and stop the ongoing wholesale carnage speaks to a society steeped in shell games. It's taken a pandemic and enforced social distancing to protect US schools from the weekly slaughter. Unintended consequences...

As a father of two children who are darker than blue, I am finely attuned to the shameful precarity of the lives of those of their hue in America. Every step, every moment, outside of our home could turn into disaster.

My children like playing. They play with sticks and all manner of toys.

Sometimes they fight and throw tantrums. Man, they even scream. (I'm a shameful parent, I know, I never read the mindfulness chapter). They're literal minor threats, these ones.

These children like walking and talking.

And they like jogging.

They even like reading. Books have been known to be lethal weapons in this here land according to righteous police officers.

Also: my children like breathing. For shame, these United States.

We're getting a rigorous education in the school of hard knocks. Social Studies is our core curriculum.

Ghana vrs USA

The one thing that all the developed countries in the world insist upon is that they have the right to sell you weapons systems. They'll disagree about aid, their protective tariffs or debt relief, but if your poor country needs guns, by God, it's your right to find a supplier (and preferably ours).

They leaked the transcript:
Negroponte: Death squads in Honduras.
Gaddafi: Death squads in Liberia.
Negroponte: Massacres in El Salvador.
Gaddafi: Small boy units. Charles Taylor. 'Nuff said.

[both men seem to relax... become expansive in their gestures]

Conan Doyle's The Adventure of Silver Blaze hinged on "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time".

We are all Gregory noting: "There was no shame in the American night-time".

As Covidious Holmes would quip: "That was the curious incident".

This quality of shame aversion is confounding to the rest of the world. Not that Americans do much introspection even in the night-time. See also: Greene, Graham, The Quiet American.

Quoth that rogue who won the Nobel Prize: "America has no permanent friends or enemies, only interests". Some Vietnamese and Cambodians, let alone those Colombians who suffered the earlier September 11th, the 1973 edition, can testify about the virtues of the American gaze.

Still, my favourite recent Profiles of Shamelessness in the USA (POSIT USA): Paul Wolfowitz winning the Presidential Citizen's Medal and George Tenet winning the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Dubya's Mission Accomplished gruesome-twosome wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Still ongoing...

Digression: this is a point my soul brother Teju Cole once made, and vividly so

I deeply respect American sentimentality, the way one respects a wounded hippo. You must keep an eye on it, for you know it is deadly.

Which leads me to ask, why don't you come back to these blogging, twittering trenches? We need you, man. This is the web, all you need is an idea and a link. I'm not privy, but surely you can briefly escape the ivory tower - call it a covidious sabbatical?

Wetin you carry?

Also: fun. End of digression...

Like most teenagers however, the 400+ year old America never looks back even with the hangover of a good bacchanalian night out. The walk of shame is a Hollywood fiction, the Game of Thrones notwithstanding.

You can read Kevin Young's tome Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News to try to pinpoint the year America's shame virginity was lost.

Let's posit, if you will, that America's loss of shame virginity occurred sometime in the 19th century, when first Manifest Destiny, and then Social Darwinism became explicit official ideology.

Sidenote: some cynics say that it was much earlier that United States' shame virginity was lost, say sometime between the Declaration of Independence with its lofty aspirations that "all men are created equal" and the Three-Fifths Compromise at the 1787 constitutional convention.

My favorite quote on this is the opening lines of the preface of one of my favorite books, James Ellroy's American Tabloid. Hard-boiled and concise:

America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets.

It's perhaps apt to invoke Ellroy since the through-line of his entire oeuvre is destabilizing the world of rogue authoritarians. He hasn't ventured from the historical novel, but the contemporary rogues now leading the UK and US and other countries would be his kind of fallen angels

Per Demon Dog Ellroy's historical research, we should pinpoint the American loss of shame to a mass orgy on the lower decks of the Mayflower (I certainly hope it took place on the lower decks). That would make it sometime in 1620. Puts Pocahontas in another light, but I digress.

The word shame is not mentioned in the US constitution. The originalists know this too well in their shell game, pace Antonin Scalia and his surviving compere, Justice Thomas.

In any case, to recap, shame is, and has been, missing in action in America. The United States has been post-shame in living memory. Send in John Rambo (Ducks)

The current US leadership is indubitably post-shame. The Donald's entire life has been an existence proof of the possibility of inoculation at birth to the notion of shame. Birth of the Nation?

The mythology of the Puritan (work ethic and all) on the one, and the grifter on the other, and the spectre of the cowboy on the frontier are part and parcel of the same nexus of shame, or lack thereof.

Another mythological creature in America, certified by hastily drafted precedents in the Roberts Court as a person, is the almighty Corporation. The hydra-headed creature's Achilles shame heel was located in a polyp in the medulla of the appendix. Ergo invisible to the naked eye.

Karl Marx never met the full flowering of the late era capitalist corporation, but, like their contemporaneous ancestors, modern corporations are devoid of shame almost by definition.

It's a puzzle, the corporation relies on effective information flows for its operations. The contract is trust, responsibility, and loss of status. You would think Exit, Voice, Loyalty would be the frame. Rather, it's The Organization Man laying off troublesome essential workers.

Some office readings, juxtaposed.

No one in the United States has ever resigned in living memory if they've made a hash of anything. Resignation is a quite laughable suggestion. The normal practice is for people to fail upwards, see most CEO's statements as they announce layoffs just before the quarterly analyst call.

I have my own experience of these things. At Big Blue, they called it A Resource Action

No executive resigned in shame at the gross misallocation of capital and outright fraud of the Great Recession. I trust Dick Fuld has consultants planning his comeback in this covidious season.

Dick Fuld For Shame

The Donald pardoned Michael Milken just the other day. Just saying...

Tell a lie, Wells Fargo's Chairwoman, Betsy Duke and another of their directors did resign on March 8 2020 for gross neglect of their fiduciary duty.

Crucially, however, not a single penny of the compensation Duke and Quigley amassed for the years of graft they presided over has ever been returned.

Nor ever will.

It may feel like piling on good old Betsy (she's a Duke not a Devos after all). I should note that most grifters have traditionally been male. The patriarchy is strong on the grift.

Still, wasn't there a series? Oh yeah, the Dukes of Hazzard? We loved watching it growing up in Ghana. Before the second Rawlings coup that is. Then we only got martial music on GBC.

Well Fargo's original logo was a stagecoach. Suckers never realized that it was galloping away with their hard-earned money. Quick, call the cavalry. They've since rebranded of course.

For what it's worth, I still have a Wells Fargo account - the proceeds of my severance from Big Blue (back when they still gave severance). Proof of the great inertia that grifters bank on.

Per most free market critiques, every single Wells Fargo customer should have long since closed their accounts. Capitalism is supposed to be a brutal marketplace. The reality is of socialism for the oligarchs.

America's application of the death penalty is highly selective at the best of time. The unspoken rule is that corporations need not apply. Who is writing the script?

On a personal note, I would never advocate for the death penalty. My father spent the first 6 years of my life on death row in Kutu Acheampong's Ghana. My first glimpses of him were through visiting screens. I pay my tithes to Amnesty International etc.

Yet I'm now looking at some corporations with wist.

A little creative destruction is a temptation, said the union organizer as she readied her pitchfork, but I've got essential work to do at the nursing home before my night shift at the fish processing plant.

Last summer my dad disclosed, matter-of-factedly, that my mum had flown on the last flight that the doomed Boeing 737 MAX had taken to Ethiopia. She had noted "how the plane had that new plane smell". Mum is poker faced and still hasn't brought that episode up. The corporate death penalty seems apt.

I withdraw that last comment. One shouldn't pick fights with the military industrial complex - their shell game is strong. Even toli mongers know to advise themselves. I won't begrudge a bailout for Boeing.

The airline companies however... Those bean counters who literally removed peanuts from the "beverage service", padding their bank accounts while making the flying experience as intolerable as possible. Left to me the conditions on their bailout, well...

Never let a good crisis go to waste, said a Churchillian drunkard (victims of the Bengal famine of 1943 might differ). I'm thinking we should revisit the meat and food processing industrial complex, the nursing and care home situation, and the whole essential worker pipeline. Bailout conditions galore and a thorough reimagining of their form and function. This covidious pandemic has clarified that these segments are not fit for purpose. The prison industrial complex is in the same category.

Dean Baker has deep thoughts about Corruption and the Pandemic Bailout. It takes two to do The Corruption Tango.
Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right

The Cross by Prince

Musical interlude: we need Prayer by D'Angelo

pyramid of capitalist system

The paradox is that friction and opacity is necessary for the smooth operation of capitalism. We don't "really" want to know how the sausage is made, we just want it on the breakfast table. It's a hard knock life for the essential workers at the meat plant of capitalism.

Slightly related (moving from friction to fiction):
The best book of fiction I've read all year is IBM's 2019 Annual report. Not normally a fan of the fantasy genre, but, well...

Let's call the Duke of Wells Fargo affair the exception that proves the rule. One wonders if there were any Dukes or Quigleys on the Mayflower.

The caveat is that the Duke of Wells Fargo's resignation occurred after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. I contend that my essential point still stands even if Sam Cooke's change has now come.

This is a society that never looks back, with a ruling class that employs journalists (and the occasional historian) as house stenographers.

Case in point, The Donald has long worn his numerous bankruptcies as a badge of honor. It's a matter of character. National character (elections have consequences).

The rest of the world is watching, open-mouthed, in the manner of a slow motion scene in disaster movie. "We have to manage, oh", as they say where I come from.

Summarizing our research thus far: American shame was lost around 1620 on the Atlantic ocean but was briefly rediscovered in March 2020 by a covidious attack of conscience. 400 years. Blood, sweat and tears. The 1619 project's prescience.

Observers are worried

Observers are worried

How is it, then, that this novel coronavirus can cut through the great political inertia of the moment, as it were, and as I claim?

I'll handwave and go with the Rule of Four to propose some Toli Foundational Ironclad Laws of Americana (FILA).

  1. Shame Cultures
  2. Buyer's Remorse

Arggh the last two will have something to do with rhetorical drift and ye olde capitalist contradictions. I can't lay out all my cards yet.

In the USA, it will be the lawyers and the insurance companies who will ultimately call the political shots.

In the United States, the saying goes that nothing ever is completed until the lawyers get their cut. That's way the corruption tango works over here. As the song goes, it takes two, baby

Lawyers get a bad wrap in their role as the Bret Stephens bedbugs of this litigious society. It's a two-sided market and they provide much needed liquidity as all market makers do.

Sidenote: my father is a lawyer who made sure to steer me away from his profession so I'm well aware about legal reputations, libel and liability and so forth

Sidenote the second: my journalist mother also sat me down and forbade me her profession, and in that same conversation. This is why you get free toli from me.

Sidenote the third: when my cousin and I were Vibing with Abbey Lincoln, she told us to be bold and forgo misgivings of shame. "Throw it away" like she sang.

The thing is that lawyers are mere agents of capitalism, Marx would likely have labeled lawyers as the greater part of the lumpenbourgeoisie. Sophisticated apparatchiks to capital.

No. Insurance is where the real action is. And let's take a closer look at the fine print, as you have to do with all things to do with insurance.

The earliest shot across the bow in the US was the first acknowledged Tyson chicken meat processing plant outbreak

The Smithfield lawsuit, which simply asks that a meat packing workplace not be a death sentence irrespective of how menial one's job is, tipped the scale. The Smithfied pork factory in Sioux City will be the locus of the social justice fight.

Missouri Pork Plant Workers Say They Can’t Cover Mouths to Cough
"A lawsuit filed against a Smithfield Foods plant claims it has created a public nuisance by failing to protect workers from coronavirus infection."

The Donald promptly invoked the Defense Production Act on Smithfield and Tyson Foods' behest.

The tell is that this is the same Defense Production Act he'd refused to use for months to provide much needed Personal Protective Equipment or testing resources. His claim was that he only needed to talk, to wield the bully pulpit to get those other industries to do his bidding.

A few phone calls from food executives and he's now a True Believer in executive action instead of talking?

I recall that season three of True Detective centered on a Tyson Foods subtext; Nic Pizzolatto studied at the altar of James Ellroy especially in season two. They excavate the buried bones of American capitalism. Also David Simon

In his role as Chief Scientist on TV, Trump's Emmy-nominated scene was about the physics of shame liquefaction.

I expect some Tyson or Smithfied executive quoted him the immortal words of George W. Bush from 2008 as another world historic catastrophe was taking place on a Republican's watch, "This sucker could go down"

So we got a Trumpian illustration of pork barrel politics that would put Tammany Hall to shame.

Correction: we've previously established that this last is metaphorical license: there was no shame in Tammany Hall. Forgive me all ye descendants of Boss Tweed.

wheel patent cartoon

The issue is this: a plain reading of the language of 95 percent of OSHA regulations will be hard to square with the reality of a covidious workplace.

And don't get me started with HIPAA, the American with Disabilities Act, let alone the Equal Protection Amendment. You couldn't suborn every Federal judge (argh, Attorney General Barr may well try, but still)

A rewrite of the law couldn't pass Congress - @AOC is just itching for The Donald and the Republicans to try. And The Squad? Forget about it.

Hell, even mild Chuck Schumer had a malicious glint in his eye in a recent PBS interview when Mitch McConnell's trial balloon about "addressing corporate liability" was launched. That shell game is up.

Similarly, the Roberts Court, no matter how shameless it has been (and talk about world historic shamelessness), has found it hard to square most circles. I predict the same with this covidious conundrum, although the Chief Justice will surely die trying (and before Ginsburg I presume)

Then there's the Executive Branch. You simply can't apply the Defense Production Act (which is only meant for emergencies and for the industries explicitly specified when the act is promulgated) by fiat to the entire economy.

And if there is even one lawsuit that goes through, the spectre of class action lawsuits will raise its head. The law moves slowly but at that stage, the shell game is over.

Enter a lowly actuary as your friendly neigbourhood cop. The insurance companies will simply raise their rates for all business activity. What? You really think Warren Buffett doesn't have contingency plans?

From universities through car companies like my own employer, to daycare facilities, to sports events and restaurants, the revised insurance premiums will be astronomical. There's no vaccine against premium hikes.

Supply and demand will operate and the rigged market will find its equilibrium as it must. The free market will be said to have spoken. Prohibitive insurance will have made its mark.

The forcing function that will be driving political change in the United States is paradoxically not going to be the red hot heat of a pandemic Great Depression. The plan to sacrifice units of essential workers notwithstanding.

Rather it is the spectre of the actuary in some anonymous insurance back office who is the cowboy in the white hat. The mundane claims adjuster gearing up to crunch the numbers about this covidious scenario and dispassionately dispense justice, and in cold blood as it were

gil scott-heron ronald reagan and john wayne - b movie american selective amnesia

The legal eagles got the Hollywood films and all the press. From LA Law to Law and Order, there is built-in drama in their narratives. How come we never get the human interest epics about the lowly insurance broker?

Bureaucratic conflict just doesn't get its due. When the scripts are finalized, you'll start hearing "We're only following the science, we were only following the best available data and scientific advice". Mind you, we've known from the start that there's no vaccine, that no one has any immunity, that this is a new disease, that we don't know anything about it, how it works, its seasonality, its long term effects, side effects and so forth.

Soul insurance is the gig. Perhaps we should all rewatch The Adjustment Bureau as we shelter in place.

To summarize, soul insurance for America's covidious masses will be delivered by actual insurance companies, aided by the liability intimations of a few emboldened lawyers.

We are living in a state of global narrative collapse. The saviour and blame narratives are being readied and will be retrofitted post-hoc.

In the interim America's political class will follow the lead of the insurers. I'm looking very closely at the noises the insurers are making, reading their trade journals. That's where the action is.

I can already hear the politicians: "It's infrastructure week". The pivot is going to be shameless and, well, maybe there will be some genuine relief. The bodies will keep piling up in the interim though... the bodies...

The political blathering in the interim is just posturing and positioning for future advantage. The pity is that the posturing is at the cost of real lives. Currently around 3,000 daily in the USA. But all's fair in a shell game.

The perception of depraved indifference, and the prospect of punitive damages are the nuclear weapons of American jurisprudence.

American businessmen read the tea leaves and are no fools. Even the most cold-hearted can see the headlines in Europe e.g. Bosses risk criminal prosecution if they try to force employees to work without adequate protection

There's probably a joke about the Geico lizard in there somewhere. I did mention Bret Stephens earlier, didn't I?

So what we have here is a privatization of policy. Surely the delegation of essential decisions about public health, economics and politics to claims adjusters is a puzzling development. It's a highly inefficient way to organize society, well, but that seems to be the American way.

"These natives are crazy" to quote Asterix (or was it Obelix?). Still in mourning for Albert Uderzo

tag cloud: bush
Case in point Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expressed the ingenuous puzzlement of a true believer:
"I guess I anticipated that the private sector would have engaged and helped develop it for the clinical side"

The dictionary definition of the naiveté of a mark. Doctor Redfield was self isolating last I heard.

Switching perspectives from mark to grifter, the best historical antecedent was Alan Greespan coming to terms with the contradictions of his life's work, the Ayn Rand-inspired, Greenspan Put at the onset of The Great Recession:
"I have found a flaw. I don't know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact."
This one is good too:
"You know, that's precisely the reason I was shocked, because I have been going for 40 years or more with very considerable evidence that it was working exceptionally well".

Where to start with the target rich environment that is Alan Greenspan's legacy?

Bernie Madoff too was working "exceptionally well" with his Ponzi scheme for almost 50 years. Grifters tend to get Presidential Medal of Freedom in America as Chairman Greenspan well knows all too well from personal experience.

Our Donald wrapped a Presidential Medal of Freedom in America around Rush Limbaugh's neck just the other day.

Greenspan again:
"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

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.

— John Kenneth Galbraith
A hypocrite

It all boils down to The Mosquito Principle if you don't mind my saying so

Mosquitos don't discriminate.

Some call it globalization; I know it as The Mosquito Principle.

The Grifters is one of my favorite Jim Thompson joints and I highly recommend it if you'd like some further reading about the prevailing aesthetic in Anytown, USA.

Outsiders underestimate the prevalence of grift in American society at their financial peril. There are tremendous levels here, to quote Dear Leader. Please note too that I live in Texas, to give some context for my comments. Watch your pockets.

I recommend The Grifters movie mostly for Donald Westlake's screenplay. My only quibble: Westlake cleaned up Jim Thompson's story for John Cusack, and removed the most disturbing bits about the Anjelica Huston character. Anyway Hollywood? Shell Game? Connect the dots.

I've often wondered if Bill Gates's philanthropic impulse stems from having the self awareness to see how his testimony in the Microsoft antitrust depositions made him appear (defensive, grasping and petty) to the world.

(I trust of course that his impulse was unbidden, genuine and long predated his brush with being branded as a garden variety oligarch)

It would be a convenient narrative, however, if it was indeed the shame of his exposure by David Boies, the very public dissembling about his monopolistic tactics that drove the philanthropic impulse. Shame as a forcing function.

From Carnegie's libraries through Alfred Nobel's prizes, there is a long tradition of soul salving by legacy and reputation scrubbing. As Rockefeller towers go up, Rhodes scholars must fall.

But back to the topic of Shame Virginity...

How about a new financial product: Insurance Certificates for Shame Virginity?

That great vampire squid, rhymes with Old Man Lacks a conscience, can securitize these and sell to some Finnish pensioner.

(I have a cousin who works there so I shouldn't spoil his game, treading carefully here...)

Wasn't there a rapper (or was it an NBA player) who claimed he got his teen daughter's hymen checked every so often? The Patriarchy is strong with T.I.

Marsha Ambrosius had a joint called Hope She Cheats On You (With A Basketball Player). I knew it was a revenge job, but I didn't know that her curse spanned generations. I'm doubly scared of her floetic powers.

In that vein, I propose we periodically inspect the USA for evidence of the continued existence of shame. AIG can underwrite our findings.

What? A mandatory probe of a society's shame membrane is uncomfortable to you? The patriarchy has had millennia of actual uncomfortable probes into half of humanities' nether regions.

Sidenote: for the avoidance of doubt, I was tweeting metaphorically in the previous tweets. Much like Bret Stephens before he bailed on Twitter. But I digress...

Still, there's an interesting question here, when exactly did certain societies lose their sense of shame?

The UK case is perhaps easiest, I think I've suggested a timeline between the rise of Rupert Murdoch (he bought the News of the World in 1969) and the disappearance of Lord Lucan (which would be 1974). The trivia that I hold in my head...

British shame was restored from the reign of shameless usurpers sometime in March 2020. The fifty-odd year period would be labeled by later historians as The Interregnum of Shame. Thatcher was their Cromwell. Bring out the bodies... (from the nursing homes)

I will deliver the requisite Toli Shame Certification to my nephews in Kent by Royal Mail. They have just passed the age of consent and, with the money they might save from Rishi Sunak's furlough scheme, should be able to come up with the dowry in deflationary pounds.

Queen Portia

Oh, never mind, I just read that our man Sunak and Mister Johnson wanted to stop supporting their taxpayers come July. But what about the coronavirus? For shame, they must have heard about The Grand Reopening of Texas or something

Sunak relented and extended the furlough through October, albeit less generously come August. He can smell the Premiership coming his way. Next he'll be doing his best Gordon Brown impression.

The problem for the Tories is that their smiles of concern for the common folk are never convincing, it's the reflection of the blades they conceal in their mouths.

It's so much easier when you can shout "Business. The economy. Responsibility. Hard choices". A turn to social justice is jarring.

"All of a sudden, the man who called
For a blood bath on our college campuses
Is supposed to be Dudley "God-damn" Do-Right?"

— extract from The B-movie Theory. Gil Scott-Heron's band was called the Amnesia Express at one point

Austerity with a human face is a hard one to pull off. The Washington Consensus never managed that with structural adjustment. Their model pupils were chimera, rogues and dictators all. See also Generals Babangida, Abacha and so forth. The disaster capitalism shell game.

Speaking of Structural Adjustments. Soul insurance, some poetry

The face of incredulity Listening to Boris Johnson dissemble has that effect. Observers are worried. (Sorry, I like recycling jokes)

The face of incredulity

The Pope agreed recently that you could ask God directly for forgiveness for shame and other failings. Makes you wonder if Martin Luther really needed to write 95 Theses when all that was really needed for Protestantism was a covidious bundle of RNA. More pandemic, less ink.

Before I forget, one should check one's privilege and hearken back to that long ago episode on the Mayflower. In this era of #MeToo and intersectionality, we need to interrogate that historical moment with jaundiced eyes.

Chief Monger, Toli Associates will take on the defense, pro bono. It's a matter of empathy - something in short supply in Justice Roberts' Disaster Capitalism Court. Objection, Your Culture.

The first issue is this: was there informed consent? Did America's loss of shame take place in a closed room as I've presumed, or was it out in the open glare of the mid-Atlantic sun, with seagulls overhead as the shoreline beckoned? Historians should supply us with floorplans.

With all due respect, Your Culture, even if the lovely young lady, America - look at her, yes, even if she was willing back then on the Mayflower, she's barely 400 years old now. There is such a thing as marital shame, despite what the covidious Prosecutor contends.

I know my counterpart asked if the young lady was willing and, granted, she since has been quite the bloodthirsty warmonger, but that was after the act in question Your Honor. The prosecution blames America first. It's the old stab in the back routine, sir.

The obvious question comes to mind: was the Ghost of Weinsteins Past on the Mayflower?

Note: I hope our man Weinstein has recovered from his case of COVID-19. Per Saki, Harvey would be much improved by being able to appeal his prison sentence. His lawyers need the dough. Let's advocate for a Weinstein pandemic stimulus.

Was there some kind of suborning or a quid pro quo at play on the lower decks of the Mayflower? Shame in exchange for the considerable self regard of Manifest Destiny? Promotional rebates for branding one's self as God's greatest country. Tremendous, tremendous exceptionalism.

Was it a partouze, a free-for-all? Was it A Midsummer Night's Dream per Old Billy Shakespeare or a Doctor Strangelove Kubrickious affair, Eyes Wide Shut? Assailants unknown. Cold case. The whole crew was in on it. Like Clint Eastwood's High Plains drifter, let's paint the town red.

Oh no. Wither R. Kelly? Does Miss Shame "remind me of my Jeep". America has always loved SUVs. God forbid. Or was it a Bill Cosby type joint? The mind wonders and wanders doesn't it?

Again was Jeffrey Ep[redacted because my alma mater deserves a few errors of judgement, let's not cast the first stone at our benefactors. Such are the youthful indiscretions of an institution that was a contemporary of those on Mayflower.]?

Let's interrogate things further. Why is shame presumed to be a lady? Why take the Lady Eve framing and Garden of Eden antecedent? What so heteronormative? Why so cis-gendered in our analysis?

What if America was actually willing? What if there was a Reversal of Fortune? What if it was a Gone Girl script? What if all this shameful behavior was willed? What if the US was the Keyser Söze of nations?

Here's a shameful episode. The very first thing I did when I got a whiff of the impending lockdown was to go get my car inspected to renew my registration. I didn't want to take my chances driving on Texas streets with an expired registration even during a pandemic.

My last trip to the grocery store on March 31st was preceded by the visit to University Car Wash. They throw in a coupon for a free car wash when you do a state vehicle inspection. Strapping young essential workers over there. Fringe benefits for the ladies.

The phantom thread, a river runs through it.

The thread. The thread. I'm losing the thread to bad taste. The pandemic has me lost like Columbus navigating the ocean for the East Indies. God, Gold and Glory

Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #96

Burning Spear has a reggae hottake on Columbus. The chorus goes "Christopher Columbus is a damn blasted liar". Gets straight to the point, doesn't he? But then he's the poet laureate of Social Living

Erykah Badu has an infection chorus in Certainly that goes "Turned my back and then he slipped me a Mickey". I've always wondered if that was written out of painful experience or if it was just artistic invention.

Oh hai, it's the internet, I can simply ask her. Per Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody, it's branded as mass amateurization and all that. No middlemen these days. Record Industry Rule Number 4080 has been rendered moot.

Hey @fatbellybella, did you intend Certainly as a funk remix of A Tribe Called Quest's The Infamous Date Rape?

Arggh, I prefer not to get too close to the source of the creative process. I withdraw the previous tweet. This one should remain an unanswered question, right?

Perhaps the moment is lost in time. Let sleeping dogs lie, as with all things to do with original sins. The culture of shame is what it is.

Let's round out this first effort by invoking James Ellroy's American Tabloid again.
"You can't ascribe our fall from grace to any single event or set of circumstances. You can't lose what you lacked at conception."

I remixed Ellroy with a Ronald Reagan speech a while back. I called it Angola. It was about the B-movie Theory

What, you really have something better to do in this covidious era? It's the coronavirus pandemic, surely you can read some arch concept toli?

Dolph Lundgren even makes a guest appearance in Angola, as does Jonas Savimbi, Mobutu and other assorted rogues. Manifest Destiny revisited as farce.

His had been an intellectual decision founded on his conviction that if a little knowledge was a dangerous thing, a lot was lethal.

Tom Sharpe - Porterhouse Blue
porterhouse blue

Shell Games - A Playlist

Turn to music, let's atone by curating a few tracks as a soundtrack for this part of the shell game: a pandemic playlist of shame. (spotify version)

Oh wait, I previously pointed folks to A Lamentable Playlist. Listen without prejudice Anyway a shameless remix never hurt anybody, "just ask Puff Daddy".

Throw it Away by Abbey Lincoln
One night I found these magic words
In a magic book

Throw it away
Throw it away
Give your love, live your life
Each and every day

And keep your hand wide open
Let the sun shine through
'Cause you can never lose a thing
If it belongs to you

There's One Born Every Minute (I'm A Sucker For You) by Jonathan Butler From the More than Friends album. His melodies take me home, to use another song title

Donald Trump, Black Version by The Time from the aptly name Pandemonium album. The Purple one and the baddest band went for delicacy. See also: Gigolos get lonely too

Continue with Character by Van Hunt, from his most Prince-imbued outing, he left nothing on the jungle floor.
Who are you?
When heavy weather is blowing?
Where is your character?
The one who keeps you going?

Huh, America? @VanHunt

Skeletons by Stevie Wonder. Mr Morris took on apartheid, Reagan, and Thatcher. With panache too, a welcome return to form

The Observers are Worried series kicked off with Stevie's look at what was in the closet and is now apparently ancient history: apartheid and its enablers. The funky sound of selective amnesia

Take a Look at Yourself by Guru deserves a look. Braggadocio in full flight
Take a look at yourself
Take one big look
Take a look at yourself (you dig ?)

The Wife mostly indulges my enthusiasms for these kinds of shell games, she's my Queen of Sanity per Bilal. Astonishing vocals from the Airtight Kid. I hear all of the soul music greats in his vocal runs.

Doctor Soul by Foster McElroy featuring MC Lyte. MC Lyte is my soul insurance. We need Doctor Soul in our lives if not Doctor Fauci. We can't remain marks in this shell game

Mountain of When by Amel Larrieux. Lyrically her strongest work. I get lost in this song every time.
Predicting the loss
before I begin
So it don't cut too deep
when I don't win
I hate it when I'm right
Much rather be wrong
I'd rather be wrong

A prime feature on any playlist, a track produced by Jam and Lewis for The Man with the Golden Voice, my soul insurance: Shame by Alexander O'Neal

Shell Games - A Playlist

Curated for your one-click pleasure (spotify version)

Gee Doctor Fauci (Remixed)

Oh what the hell, let's throw in a remix of Gee Doctor Fauci. Some show tunes from West Side Story. Excessive perhaps? Cut the fat, you verbose toli monger? Well, it's my entertainment for this pandemic. Partying like it's 2019.

See also:

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.

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
Ya gotta give me a chance
Cos Shame, remember? My old lady
Skipped town, a hasty disappearance
"There's no such thing as society
It's a shell game, ya bum
Wise Dame, done made a runner, see
Pay up those healthcare premiums
Sucker, reopen the great US Economy"

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
Wontcha give us a break
There's all these grifters out here
They're really on the make
It's hard to make a living
When you're surrounded by snakes.
Quick fast organize a posse
We need a bailout. Not the breaks.

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
Can't a fella go for a lark?
Pandemic's got me stuck and seething
Right up here in Noah's ark
You know, it's hard to keep breathing
Still, I'm kinda looking fondly out there at the sharks
This damned self isolation's been preventing me from swimming

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
Claims Adjuster came round
From the insurance
They're skimping on the bailout
And wanna check
I'm giving all the creditors
That old song and dance
My light verse quickly
Devolving into dreck
Got trouble with the meter
Argh, don't look askance

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
Look at me I'm still homebound
Man it's hard to get some privacy
When you're dodging The Real Inspector Hound
Tell him to go inspect some meat plants
These days can't be too careful,
Nary a fist bump, look straight, no sideways glance

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
This plague is more than I can take
After that high yella Obama
I figured we lowered the stakes
Any idiot could be Top Gunner
Like a drunken bet on a wrong horse
That vote for Trump could be a fatal mistake
Got a serious case of buyer's remorse

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
Pandemic's got me going insane
The usual suspects are evading the blame
This covidious horror
Carnage in our house of pain
Take a look at the man in the mirror
What I wouldn't do to exchange
Fates. Sing with that awesome tenor
"Make that change"

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
You're getting really lame
Tonto, call in the cavalry
Or drifters from the high plains
The guy in the white hat
Came to the rescue in vain
He died with his boots on
'Tis a quite a pity that!
I surely maintain
We would have rather had John Wayne

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
'Twas a painful family affair
They treat me like a juvenile
And they keep saying "fair is fair"
Instead of this rank denial
How about we pull back from despair
And stop misbehaving?
This pandemic is a trial
I'd suggest we try some Social Living

The above to the tune of Gee Officer Krupke and with apologies to Leonard Bernstein. I loved that showtune we practiced in that English boarding school. It resurfaced as I was contemplated The Grand Reopening of Texas, you see

Oh Christ, what have I done? I actually promised four Games of Toli and, 200-odd tweets later, I've barely gotten to the bottom of the first bit of filler. Shaking my head at the culture of shame, plumbing the depths, as it were

I hope this doesn't turn out to be like my Things Fall Apart series, 60 or so variations on the eternal theme and going. That joint was meant to be a weeklong affair. 14 years later, I still haven't clicked publish on 3 of those initial 7 pieces.

Anyway let's call it quits, fin, fini, Dear Reader. Pandemic's got me a bout de souffle, This has been Shell Games (Part I. Shame Cultures). Next up in Part II: The Skeptic's Credo. In Part III, A Taxonomy of Useful Idiots. We'll do Buyer's Remorse to conclude the series.

Feel free to join in on the blog or in real time on the pandemic Twitter toli joint

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