Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Dear Mr Surgeon General Re: Meatpacking Plants

Dear Mr Surgeon General,

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

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

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


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

No, this is your call, Mr Surgeon General.

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

Platitudinous laments.

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

Sensational Fruity Delights

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

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

No this in on you, Mr Surgeon General.

Waiting for Godot - Khayelitsha, South Africa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My point is how can you breathe?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America's real herd immunity is to shame

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

Timing is everything
Observers are worried
Observers are very worried.

Yours truly,

Chief Toli Monger

Dear Mr Surgeon General, a playlist

A soundtrack for this open letter (spotify version)

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Surgeon General,

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

Covidious priorities?

Bill of Particulars

And so forth, Dear Mr Surgeon General...

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Monday, June 15, 2020

The Dishwasher Situation

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

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

My wife beats me... She is macho

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

But back to The Dishwasher Situation...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

catford mobile phone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

soybean prices 1997 - 2007

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

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

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

No tale of domesticity can be complete without discussing The Parents and The Children. Well I know, for one, that my parents would never have read past the title of this note. It's simply inconceivable that there could be a "dishwasher situation". It's a category error, plain and simple. After all, the primary reason people had children in the past - before the availability of birth control, was to get a surplus of of little hands to do things like tend to the farm or, in modern times to wash dishes and do sundry chores. Child labour has been the natural state of the world and it has taken vigorous campaigns to eradicate it - there are periodic exposés about the persistence of child labour in my own country.

Think about it, would we have Dickens without child labour? What paradise have we lost when the youth of Bangladesh, or Ghana are no longer doing shifts in the textile factory, or planting yams and pineapples in the hills of Aburi? Our modern day Oliver Twists and Little Annie's no longer have the hard knock life, coddled as they are with this modernity, they have school not farms, and they are constantly demanding fondleslabs of mobile entertainment.

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

making a big success in marriage

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

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

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

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

Ghana must go versus Louis Vuitton

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

From Napoleon to Charles Taylor - huhudious leaders

A closing quote

He liked his epiphanies American: brief and illusory.

— Colson Whitehead, Apex hides the hurt

A Soundtrack for this note

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


See also in the Small Things series:

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

Postscript the first

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

Postscript the second

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

Keep them coming.

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

One curiosity about writing or any craft is that one never knows what will connect with the reader. You toil away on some arch concept to the sound of crickets, yet your throwaway musings on swallowing pills (of all things), or say Ghana must go bags will be your lasting legacy.
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Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Herd Immunity

I, like most of humanity,
Do not have the gift of prophecy
I was rather steeped
In the scientific method
And taught to seek out
Testable propositions
And rough heuristics
The lot of an engineer's education

And so at the very outset of this note
I'll turn to the soul singer, and appropriate a quote

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

My notion is that we're all players in a shell game
But that shame and fear will ultimately force the required political change
My falsifiable contention, however, had a part that I found loathsome
I wrote it weeks ago, sheltering in place, all by my lonesome

Let's keep the following proposition
At the back of our mind
Per the avuncular Doctor Fauci:
It is the virus that sets the timeline

Consider the distinctions
Between the following precepts
And remember, internal displacements,
Are strictly human concepts.

There's a markedly different,
Some say, alien scheduling
In the mode of operation
Of coronavirus RNA.

All these ongoing efforts
To shift the Overton window
Of received and conventional
Wisdom in this great USA

The walk of shame is a Hollywood fiction
Those recent examples notwithstanding
The Jacob Frey exception
Only proves the inconvenient rule

Boycotts, protests
And marches out of school
Wearing surgical or cloth masks,
Some tried social distancing
We listened to the young and old
The activists speechifying
Assisted by the customary
Red and white megaphones
The thing that lingers however is this:
The others, those others, play hardball
In this rigged Game of Thrones

The City of Brotherly Love
Just last week was taken over
By peaceful crowds
Singing old spirituals
And chants for social justice.
Rousing, yet graceful,
It was quite the scene.
But it also pays to be mindful
Of the fervent bullets that struck
And brought a summary end
To an earlier, righteous dream

Back in their big white mansions
Or second homes and apartment blocks
They're watching the dismaying parade
Of their "human capital stock"
The Dow Jones index just staged a surprising rally
Aided by reassurances from the Treasury
After the earlier, historic market rout
"It's a temporary inconvenience, there's no doubt"
You see they've gamed the whole scenario out
Their armies of public relations consultants
Advised a change of course: swiftly backing down
From the old faithful threat
Of "tremendous" military clout

A research note, it was short and savage
Factotums of The Great Vampire Squid
Suggested using the Fed's leverage
And minor fiscal action to keep the lid
On things. But here's the rub of Scrooge
The Ghost of Looters past
"The impact's going to be huge!
Tremendous! A one-time twelve hundred dollar check!
It will certainly be more than enough
Great again, for everyone to last"

Still, the phantom thread of greed
Lies at the heart of the matter
It explains the strategic retreat
To the hastily fortified bunker
And panic rooms serviced
By the crew of essential workers
At least those who manage to pass
The suite of rigorous testing,
Temperature checks tuned to their class

There's also all those actuarial tables
Now being furiously recalculated
By deputies of the Sage of Omaha
"As the Ewe proverb says, oh my brother",
We were reminded by Ananse the Spider,
His voice sounding as if gripped by a fever dream

"He who tests the depth of a river with both feet must be prepared to swim"

Now this winter of our discontent
Has gone on long past 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
Which simply states, with no equivocation or debate,
A simple phrase:

"Mosquitos don't discriminate"
More important, neither do viral clumps of RNA
Even in God's blessed and anointed country: the almighty USA

And so we heard the cries raised at the rally
Against The System and The Colossus
They yelled "Rhodes must fall"
To unhearing ears in limousines
That passed the scene, driving right along
The loudspeakers were playing their own song

And now to the Charge of the Light Brigade
The honor guards dressed up in their finest
Paramilitary stylings
Boxy, futuristic zombie uniforms
Courtesy of designers and celebrity architects
Straight from the prison and military industrial complex
Water cannons and helmets readied,
They were "locked and loaded"
A fearsome sight it was,
There were even recent graduates
Of the School of the Americas
With some sternly perched
Up high on their mounted horses

Everyone tried to step aside,
The crowd suffered and scattered
But a few were manhandled,
Or rather trampled
And some simply faltered
A double wound, this wrathful injury
Additional cases of assault and battery
It was those behind black-tinted windows, they said,
It was those privileged lives that really mattered

Throughout this ceremony of blood
And continued police brutality
Displayed in the full view of all humanity
They were learning the wrong lessons
Of the tale of the Sword of Damocles
'Twas Uncle Ben, if I recall correctly,
My memory of superheros is hopeless,
Who earlier said to Ananse the Spider

"With great power comes great responsibility"
A controversial opinion, even in the Spiderverse
That elevator pitch to those Masters of the Universe
Fell flat; it was an audience of rogue authoritarians
And Bunker Boys, all waiting for the barbarians
They still couldn't quite comprehend all this furor
So we may all yet reap The Wages of Thermidor

And so on to my gallows humour
Writ in the face of a covidious Reaper
I really wish this jaundiced zinger
Doesn't end up being a keeper
The short term gains are clearly treasured,
I do love to see this grand community
With decision move one step forward
While members of the Cult of Nostalgia,
Heads bowed, yet firmly averted,
Stay in denial, and look squarely backward
A bet about what happens over the long durée
Predicting the outcome of societal interplay
It was an amusing statement, I thought, a paradox for a day
That narratives of change may well get burnt by the sun
I hope history proves me wrong about this one:
There'll surely be time enough to assign the blame:

America's real herd immunity is to shame

Lions attack the modern traveller - p.50

See previously: Shell Games (Part I. Shame Cultures) for fuller context.

Herd Immunity, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)

  • Mountain of When by Amel Larrieux
    Simple ingredients: drums, chimes and her ethereal voice. Yet the song excavates the terrain of shame cultures and buyer's remorse. I am continually lost in its hypnotic mantra, it unravels me at each listen.
  • White Mansion by Prince
    The Revolution was started in Minneapolis, Prince fashioned his unique sound. The album, a second coming, was titled Emancipation.
  • One Step Forward by Les Nubians
    An Afrofuturist groove from an album that also features "Temperature Rising"
  • Winter in America by Gil Scott-Heron
    This urban griot preached and prophesized our cultural soundtrack of televised revolution. He is sorely missed, but his legacy lives on. The music and his lyrics should have the last word.

The muse wills what she wants, I am her faithful servant

I nominate this note to the Things Fall Apart Series. Observers are worried.

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Friday, June 05, 2020

Another Zoom Funeral

Another zoom funeral
Grief unbounded
In unfamiliar settings
Burdened further by social distancing
Families in the diaspora
Dealt with all-too-familiar loss
Exiled souls and flowing tears
A beautiful soul now dearly lost
Flesh buried mid-Atlantic
We all one day will pay a similar cost

The spirit rests in cyberspace
Our rituals provide solace
In darkness we seek relief
Dirty pretty things arisen
After shifts working in care homes
Night nurses all, both young and old
We were in need of a merciful release
Ananse gathered all these burdened folk
To deliver us from unrelenting grief

And so we shared stories
Of laughter and peace
Of our brethren and sistren of yore
Storytelling, some call it folklore
Those precious memories of yesterday
The sour was overwhelmed by the sweet
Our culture and deft social interplay
Even amidst all this modernity
Meant we had riches untold
Tradition is not poverty
It remains our comfort suite

The faces linger, rectangular expressions of empathy
A worldwide gathering of chatroom sympathy
Mics muted and unmuted, a choral symphony
The background noise a nuisant reality
The funeral director, used to American brevity,
Could hardly handle Nigerian internet connectivity
We chuckled, us Ghanaians, with knowing Third World solidarity
We're dragging ourselves slowly into the First World polity

The sounds of uncontrolled sobs
An ingredient oft missing
In Western settings
Duly had to be injected
African customs persisting.
The cryer's mournful sounds
Provide a deserved sanctuary
Our final respects paid
Amidst the required mask wearing
All protocols observed
As we left the virtual mortuary
Our duty of care intact
We celebrated our mother's legacy
Even as we later clicked
To close the browser tab

For Auntie Ama

This dirge is a slight revision
Of the original spontaneous conception.
I can't bear the thought of editorial decision
Hence both are offered for your reading comprehension.

I simply felt I needed to add some more sweet to my concoction of grief soup.

See also: Funeral Minded, my first encounter with the new normalcy of virtual covidious grieving.

A day later...

It strikes me that the two recent covidious funerals I've attended had a missing ingredient beyond touch and presence, in the dearly departed's absence. Contra Western sterility, the African antidote is music and dance. Hence I give you

Celebration of Life, a playlist

The pity is that these would now be coronavirus superspreading events (a timeline).

Start with an Abutia clan funeral ceremony. It was a painful moment for all of us, we had lost Da but you can see the exact second when my Aunt's grief was sublimated and she lost herself in the dance, in fond remembrance of her mother.

I woke up to music this morning and I can safely say that the most exhilarating 9 minutes of recent memory was when The 7 year old and I took out our white handkerchief and comfort blanket respectively, and got down to our Bobobor song and dance circle. We were alone upstairs in the house, 6,000 miles away in time and space, sheltering in place in a pandemic across the Atlantic ocean, yet we were on the road to freedom. Music of the Gods

What paradise have we lost?

See also: African Ceremonies

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Thursday, June 04, 2020

June 4th

June 4th is a fraught day where I come from. It marks the 1979 coup that overthrew the Acheampong regime even as it was due to return the country to civilian rule. Here's a stamp issued just a few months earlier: Colonial Mentality or Paradise Lost?

ghana stamp 100th anniversary of death of sir rowland hill 1979 65 pesewas

I did some daylong musings on the the legacy of June 4th over on Twitter, in between bouts of working from home and sheltering in place as one does in a pandemic. Feel free to join in the conversation, we all need comfort.

Now I know some continue to be seduced by the glamour of the coup and the motley crew it ushered into Ghana's politics. I rather think I should dwell on the 100th anniversary of the death of Sir Rowland Hill who, after all, introduced the Uniform Penny Post, and indeed the postage stamp. Humanity owes him fond rememberance.

Ghana had already lost its innocence in 1966 when the then President-for-Life was removed in a coup and we learned that no one is indispensable.

Ghana without Nkrumah

Ghana without Nkrumah, the cover of Africa Report magazine 1966. People seem to prefer photos rather than reading these days. Ah well, different strokes for different folks

Compare with the first published photo of Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings on the front page of the Daily Graphic conducting the head of state, General Akuffo around the Guard of Honor on February 16 1979. It is known that he had asked for the photo to be taken and published.

stand up and be counted - Rawlings lead Akuffo February 16 1979
The long shadow of the military in Ghanaian politics.
The long shadow of the military in Ghanaian Politics Nkrumah Akuffo and Rawlings

The iconography writes itself by simply juxtaposing Nkrumah, Akuffo and Rawlings. Rogues, guns, violence, death, democracy, blood and sin.

The brief Second Republic never had enough time to stabilize things hence the 1970s ushered in our first lost decade. The June 4th eruption simply sealed the deal. Here's a 1972 stamp, The Ghana Mace

ghana stamp the ghana mace 2 new pesewas

The coup unleashed a spasm of unprecedented violence in the country. But we had fair warning. On trial for the earlier May 15 uprising, Rawlings said the solution lay in adopting the "Ethiopian way".

By the "Ethiopian way", Rawlings was referring to the Red Terror, the reign of unrelenting violence The Derg unleashed in Ethiopia. No Ethiopian would recommend that example. They, and all right-minded people, prefer bite-sized social grooming to vicious "cleansing" and terror.

Sidenote: the OAU had its main offices in Addis Ababa throughout the Red Terror when widespread torture and wholesale murder was taking place houses away. There was nary a peep from it during it all. Most African leaders were (are?) rogues, and our institutions follow the leaders.

Let's have a musical break: Follow the Leader by Eric B and Rakim. The militaristic percussion seems appropriate. Empty braggadocio was Rawlings's way when he was just my skinny Uncle Jerry in Soula Loop's gardens. Once empowered with the guns though...

Rawlings also mentioned the Ceylon example, the JVP insurrection in Sri Lanka of the early 70s. Messers Tsikata (Kojo and Tsatu) would talk of Sri Lanka to this young child's hearing. There is a direct line from the JVP to the horrors of the Tamil Tigers. Fellow travelers in blood.

"Rawlings also said there must be 'bloodshed' in order for the country to be cleaned and it must start from the Ghana army."

This last quote from a book I'll discuss later.

Many who cheered the blood then were later consumed by the revolution. Such are the wages of blood and sin.

Ghanaian market women still shudder to this day at the sight of khaki uniforms. The cheerleading chants of that era are as horrific as the acts the wrathful and misogynistic soldiers undertook: "Let the blood flow". "We no go let them pass".

We witnessed bloodlust and worse. Read Abena Asare's Truth Without Reconciliation: A Human Rights History of Ghana if you can bear to sample the raw material, even if digested for mostly bloodless reading

Truth Without Reconciliation: A Human Rights History of Ghana

I do have a quibble with Abena Asare - The Wife shares most of her names. My minor beef is not with her considerable and assiduous research. No, rather it's with the title which, as a first time author, she probably didn't control.

If you read closely, the import of her work is rather that there was Neither Truth nor Reconciliation in Ghana. I don't think her editors bore the strength of her convictions. The stronger title would be more accurate. Whadya think Abena?

I understand the need to sell books, but I prefer the embrace of inconvenient truths. One lesson of the June 4th revolt is that the ordinary Ghanaian is enamoured of fictions.

Perhaps it's a defence mechanism, a protective shield against incoming blows. Our premier poet, Kwesi Brew, called it Ghana's Philosophy of Survival

Storytelling however is also a potent weapon in our cultural arsenal. Not for nothing, but we are all Children of Ananse, to take the title of Peggy Appiah's modernist take on the Ananse tradition. She defined Afrofuturism long before we had the language.

Ananse the spider by Peggy Appiah

Death and Pain in Rawlings's Ghana was my Uncle Mike's account of those years. There's a lot of baggage in there but the facts, like the death and indeed the pain, are undeniable, however inconvenient they may be.

death and pain in rawlings ghana by mike adjei

I had my own reading here: believe me it's not pretty

June 4th introduced the country to such huhudious acronyms as AFRC, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council. Lazy journalists continue to reach for the obvious headlines: "The first coming of Rawlings". They use words like mercurial and charismatic. It's all political theater to them. The malign junta's acts were the most macabre theatre there was, sinister and horrific even.

Burnt by the Sun may be a Russian film but it carries a message that is a close companion to June 4th's legacy.

My good fried Naunihal wrote the book on coups, and June 4th, and the earlier May attempt form the centerpiece of Seizing Power: The Strategic Logic of Military Coups. Some read his book as a manual or guided counsel for rogues. I was an early reader and was part of the conversation that birthed it. For me, it's a cautionary tale in the best Ananse tradition. Naunihal, Ghanaian in spirit, loves folktales and uses them to make sense of the world

Naunihal had independently interviewed my parents for his research before putting together their relationship, and indeed that they were my parents. The four of us still chuckle about this serendipity.

My father was of interest because he had been head of Special Branch and ostensibly in charge of security in the Second Republic that fell to Kutu Acheampong's coup in 1972. I'm not sure he got much out of Dad. That coup's aftermath is an open wound on the paternal front. And more anon.

Here's a 1972 Ghanaian stamp, maize. The green of Ghana's flag refers to our fertile soil. These days we are fighting deforestation, and a 60+ year and ongoing USAID campaign to "open up our markets" to Big Corn and Big Agribusiness (Tyson, Tyson goes the chant). June 4th certainly didn't help matters. Our revolutions engendered near famine as our markets were ravaged, farmers were manhandled, market women were intimidated and all incentives lost. Political, economic and food precarity prevailed. These security men brought chaos and insecurity in every way.

ghana stamp maize 1 new pesewa

My mother was of note because she was firmly in the mix during this period. She was appointed Acting Editor of the Daily Graphic the day before the execution of the 6 generals and military officers on June 27 1979. She had been literary editor weeks earlier when we witnessed the firing squad publicly dealing with the former head of state Ignatius Kutu Acheampong (he had been replaced by General Akuffo in a palace coup the previous year), and Major General Utuka, former Border Guards Commander for the most bogus of reasons.

six executed by firing squad june 27 1979

She had to struggle to make the AFRC add Acting to her job title to signal that it was temporary and reviewable when constitutional rule returned. Capricious and arbitrary decisions were made by these rogues. They were inclined to remove or appoint people "with immediate effect". Obviously also, they weren't intending to leave, having tasted power.

Anyway, here's my visual antidote to the June 4th Revolt. My mum's book is my comfort suite.

Stand up and be counted by Elizabeth Ohene

Stand Up And Be Counted was the title of the editorial she published the next day. I recommend it to you

There have been public executions, public floggings of both men and women. Let all these organizations make their voices heard, surely a declaration of support would be a guide to our new rulers and so will a condemnation be also of help

After all, this entire house cleaning is done in all our names, as have all other previous actions and utterances by previous leaders been supposed to have been in our names.

It might be prudent to keep silent, but it will be the greatest gift ever given to Ghana if our opinion leaders will speak out

Right now it might look like it is a matter for "them"; the problem is that the distinction between a "them" and "us" does not always stay clear.

A quote from the poet John Donne puts is quite aptly: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;... any man's death diminishes me, because I am in mankind. And therefore never send to know from whom the bell tolls, for it tolls for thee".

Stand Up And Be Counted, the book, collects the editorials and columns she wrote in the aftermath of June 4th 1979. I bore her words proudly but, on the playground, I also learned that her's was not a wholy popular stance.

She had prime material to draw on for outrage in the aftermath of the June 4th coup. Take the following everyday caption:

Ordinary citizens receiving various forms of punishment for committing "economic crimes".

ordinary citizens punished for economic crimes branded as economic saboteurs

Above a "hoarder" receives an "identification haircut"; and below: A young man receives lashes from a soldier. Many people who attempted to flee such punishments were shot by armed soldiers like the one on the left holding the SMG sub-machine-gun.

market women and other economic saboteurs - June 4th revolt

One of countless women (second left in brassier with shaved head) abused by soldiers who claimed they were "economic saboteurs"

From Daily Graphic editorial: "Chivalry - Alive or Dead?", July 27 1979

Alfred Adu-Boahen, our foremost historian, would write in a later revolutionary time about the puzzle of The Ghanaian Sphinx. There were few overt acts of resistance, the voices that rose were snuffed out or shoved into exile. We looked inwards to our families and our churches.

I learned of the necessity of permanent outrage at my mother's feet and reading her columns at the Daily Graphic. Bad things were being done by bad men ostensibly in my name. I still cannot countenance the indifference to the onslaught of injustice anywhere. It's a visceral reaction for me.

There was of course a reaction: a considerable backlash from those in the grip by the revolutionary spirit. It was a perilous moment not just for Ghana, but for her and for us all. It was a dangerous thing to broadcast dissent as loudly and effectively as she did. Protests were summoned. I learned about courage in those days, even the playground was fraught when people knew your parents' names.

Sidenote: Some listening material. Witness: Ghana Coup. Amongst other things, this BBC piece tells the story of how Mum and I fled Ghana in 1982 after another coup.

The "E.O. Must Die" graffiti sprayed by the mobs near the Daily Graphic offices in July 1979 was still there when I returned to Ghana in 1986, and even in 1988. Ghanaians don't believe in maintenance whether painting walls or fixing broken windows. Deferred maintenance has been our norm. Here's hoping for change.

Tell a lie, there was a cleanup in advance of the 1992 elections. There was evidence of a fresh coat of paint on the Graphic's walls when I returned for my grandfather's funeral.

See also: How to hand over to yourself

Whoever said that rigged elections don't have fringe benefits? The Big Man puts money into people's pockets. Dusty roads suddenly get tarred, bags of rice magically appear in villages and neglected and rootless slum youth suddenly get employment.

An election, rigged or not, is a stimulus package.

It's not optimal economic policy, but it is policy nevertheless. I hear someone has been screaming "reopen the economy" around these parts looking forward to November. Heck, I was singing my protest anthem on The Grand Reopening of Texas just last month.

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci.

"Pot belly democracy" is the Ghanaian expression. "Stomach infrastructure" is the Kenyan term. African politicians know the deal.

Worth reading on this topic is A Dictionary of African Politics by Nic Cheeseman, Eloïse Bertrand, and Sa’eed Husaini. Observers are worried.

Incidentally Paul Nugent's Big Men Small Boys and Politics in Ghana is worth your while. Patronage politics runs deep, even with its revolutionary sheen in the Rawlings years. Tammany Hall was small fry compared to these rogues

There's a Dictionary of Revolutionary Justice to be written about the June 4th revolt. Choice terms that we all became familiar with include "economic saboteur" and "hoarder". The depraved champion was "identification haircut", wherein soldiers shaved recalcitrant saboteurs, often with blunt knives. The shaved head, often bloodied, was indeed their Ghanaian interpretation of the Scarlet Letter. The Mark of the Conquistador, as it were.

The thing is that June 4th 1979 was the antithesis of an election. These were conquerors who wanted a tabula rasa, a Year Zero, pace Pol Pot. The "Ethiopian way" is the most sinister thing I've ever heard. We had close encounters with the Heart of Darkness, it was brought to us by Rawlings and crew.

They had themselves a field day of blood and sin, and collateral damage, to our everlasting shame.

I once wrote, "You welcome the US to the fun of the Third World", but that was while discussing the West Nile Blues, an easier burden.

Americans enduring curfews, dismayed by unprovoked brutality and wrathful violence by men in uniform, and seeing tanks in the street might recognize some of what we Ghanaians went through after June 4th.

Per Will Self, there's a Quantity Theory of Insanity at work, and the quantum of insanity and violence from June 4th has been preserved and redistributed. It wasn't easy living and I don't envy those facing this kind of storm.

It helps to be prepared however, here's some more reading material, she had a gift for prophecy: The Coup Drill, a November 27 1979 editorial in The Daily Graphic

There is one thing, however, that has not and cannot change; the country is still agreed that coups d'etat have done more damage than what they set out to restore.

This is not simply a civilian sentiment as opposed to the military feeling. any soldiers, especially those who have any respect for their chosen profession, have said quite firmly that coups are not in the interest of the military.

No Government can ever get moving as we expect the Limann administration to do when there is talk everyday of coups...

The Graphic believes that this problem must be brought into the open and not spoken about in whispers. The country should make it quite clear to any future adventurers that might have such dreams that we are ready to face the situation.

The Coup Drill must be discussed openly until every citizen knows what is expected of him the next time anybody seizes Broadcasting House and tells us he has come to save us.

The Ghanaian equivalent of The Phoney War was the last 18 months of the Limann regime: the period from 1980 to 1981 when coup plots proliferated, and the whole country knew that the June 4th crew were itching to get back on the throne.

talking drums 1984-06-25 why Ghana is not stable - Nigerian journalist's trial Rotimi

Ultimately, not enough Ghanaians practiced the coup drill, and 31st December 1981 would enjoin another more disastrous coup - the 18 years of PNDC rule neatly matching my mother's hasty disposession and exile in her prime years. Naunihal would argue about the military-civilian dynamics, economic malaise, and throw in the X-Factor of Colonel Gaddafi's support into his coup model, explaining why that coup worked. Truth be told, though, it was still a close run thing.

Here's a Third Republic stamp from 1980. It features the Supreme Court that would get neutered by the PNDC after its coup. Revolutionary justice was in the offing

ghana stamp supreme court third republic 1980 65 pesewas

Still we have learned many lessons from the past. There has been some modicum of Truth and Reconciliation since as I've suggested.

Back in 1981, we had a government that was not doing well and was a little over halfway through its mandate. We were denied the opportunity to vote out that government as it was overthrown and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

It has been a long time coming, but we have come of age and Turkey can now come to us for some lessons in democracy.

Cultural Interpreters

Our great philosopher Kwasi Wiredu, had deep thoughts, book length even, about truth and reconciliation. As he puts it in Cultural Universals and Particulars:

Reconciliation is, in fact, a form of consensus. It is a restoration of goodwill through a reappraisal of the significance of the initial bones of contention. It does not necessarily involve a complete identity of moral or cognitive opinions.

It suffices that all parties are able to feel that adequate account has been taken of their points of view in any proposed scheme of future action or coexistence.

It seems to me that our traditional means of reconciliation were more effective than the modern commission that we instituted in this new millenium.

Whenever you discuss Wiredu, you have to discuss Kwame Gyekye, the twin towers of our philosophical thinking. Tradition and Modernity: Philosophical Reflections on the African Experience obliquely dealt with the cultural implications of the taboo breaking and wholesale impunity of the June 4th revolt. Gyekye did not favour a full frontal approach to rogue authority.

It stands to reason that both Gyekye and Wiredu are the "academic fathers" of that other cosmopolitan Kwame Anthony Appiah who I've found to be entirely too diplomatic to dive into the muddied soil of June 4th. Pity for him, there's fertile ground here, even if bloody.

My self image as a Child of Ananse is singularly helped by The Wife being Kwame Appiah's student. I'm married to Peggy Appiah's academic granddaughter by way of Wiredu. All that I'm missing is Kobina Sekyi, and I'll hit all the prominent Ghanaian cultural interpreters.

Instead of course, I have to be content to inviting these thinkers to my virtual dinner table to discuss toli and engage them on cultural observations and social interplay. I'd like them to weigh in on whether indeed Things Fall Apart beats Heart of Darkness in the School of Hard Knocks. We have to overcome the Shell Games of these gremlins and be mindful of Social Studies. It's a matter of lineage and social legacy, I'd ask Professor Busia if indeed democracy is of universal application and if conversational politics can survive contact with The Rough Beast.

I'd bring up the curfews, recalling the lasting effects of those earthquakes on our nightlife and cultural commons. I'd ask Kofi Annan, that global citizen, if we do stand tall at the center of humanity, or do we bow our heads in shame with the aftershocks on our psyche, soul tectonics. We ought to resist nostalgia and find our soul insurance in community and love for one another. It's my contention that our best response to these sinister depths is Social Living and abiding by the Mosquito Principle. And after all this weighty talk, our after dinner banter could continue with more light matters. Could participants join in on the importance of biting satire? We need our hatchet jobs for sure, as we tend to our polity, but ultimately is a country without whimsy worth worrying about?

I did the math, and I guess I was conceived in the aftermath of an earlier 1972 coup in Ghana, so perhaps, like former president Mahama (who made his bed and career with this baleful cohort, for shame), I could write a book on June 4th titled My First Coup.

But that would be derivative. Truth be told, I've already said my piece on that rotten lot, published right here in this joint. They don't call me Chief Toli monger for nothing.

Oh, you want links? Well, the titles tell the story:

And then I wrote about dark matters: It wasn't all grim, look them up, Google is your friend, just add toli

I guess the closest I've gotten to personal history is in a recent elegy for a man in full, my Uncle Mike. One day perhaps, I'll write my own coup drill. I am mindful that I have a hard act to follow.

Heart of Darkness a playlist

Dancing in the dark. Music to soothe the soul as we journey down the river in search of Kurtz. June 4th birthed a generation of weary sons and daughters of Conrad in Ghana. Liner notes will follow

June 4th 1979
Death and Pain in Rawlings's Ghana
Stand Up And Be Counted
June 4th 1979 Death and Pain in Rawlings Ghana Stand up and be counted

I did not have to wait
For the distance of history
In order to pronounce judgement.

The Wages of Thermidor


See also Truth and Reconciliation

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