Thursday, October 01, 2020

Uneasy Phrases

"Human capital stock" is such an uneasy phrase
It comes out of the mouth of wolves rather than that of babes
Ananse cast a jaundiced eye and careful gaze
At their White Houses and gleaming palaces

Nuts and Bolts

"Excess mortality" is another such uneasy phrase
The death toll above normalcy is the faintest of praise
A well worn way to hide cold bodies lost through neglect or dereliction
A fond strategy in the strange architecture of misdirection

There is a thin line between proffering words intended to obscure
And speakers fumbling in their attempt to communicate with clarity
The latter struggle with genuine conflict, for comprehension is poor
The former combine inspired coinages into phrases that mangle reality

"Constructive engagement" was Reagan and Thatcher's favored bromide
Some consultant suggested that message in light of their strong support for apartheid
Sanctions were a bridge too far for them, 'twas ancient history or an allergic reaction
Being forever branded on the wrong side of history was, I believe, a just compensation

Structural adjustment stands in the pantheon of uneasy phrases
It was itself eventually adjusted to end "with a human face"
The authors had no initial compunction at the inflicted miseries
Nor indeed did the authoritarians that carried out said policies

Collateral damage, in this business, holds pride of place
It's a time tested fallback for bloodthirsty mistakes
Buy them from us, use our weapon systems, there'll be no near misses
Our Predator drones and double tap attacks can erase any witnesses

Resorting to turns like "plausible deniability" really ought to be beneath us
The phrase is long favored by CIA trainers at The School of the Americas
I'm minded of the torture, and all the blood that their graduates spilled
It doesn't matter how smart the weasel words sound when victims are maimed or killed

The patron saint of uneasy phrases was named Eugene Ionesco
I know some claim Beckett, but I go with He of The Bald Soprano
That translation is itself contested, and subject of academic fodder
The purists of absurdity seem to prefer The Bald Prima Donna

"Stress position" betrays its roots as post-facto justification
Of agency authorization for routine, but bureaucratic, suffocation
We'll no doubt be hearing about how rarely these tactics are deployed
Pinned down on the ground, it doesn't matter if your name is Floyd

"Coercive interrogation techniques" is quite the linguistic distortion
Like extraordinary rendition, it mutilates truth in favor of fiction
Three letter agencies are empowered to shift the blame
America's real herd immunity is to shame

Identification haircut was a Ghanaian paramilitary innovation
Later to be eclipsed in infamy by Liberian and Sierra Leonean
Small Boy Units, what with their notorious, summary amputations
Bloodlust went to their head, their condition was all too human
Years later, they're still trying to brand it as revolutionary fervor
Even as we all know they were simply reaping The Wages of Thermidor

That American favorite, "extreme prejudice", is no exaggeration
For murder, no matter how couched, is about blood and sin
The words, by necessity, an attempt at damage mitigation
A preemptive laundering of conscience and reputation scrubbing


I once envisioned a society where outrage was banned,
And bootleg outrage was traded on the black market
A entire world, built on the possibility of illicit outrage
Notebook pages filled out, depicting people wearing masks of contentment.

It was a stark scenario,
The reflection of a cracked mirror
Of a strange kind of life
Lived in the shadows of deceit
Not unlike modern America
By way of Orwell, Atwood, or
[Insert your favourite dystopia]
The paradox is that our current world is not too dissimilar
We have Happy Valleys served by sundry tribes of essential workers
Those migrant souls who work for Tyson in meat packing plants
In daytime shifts and compete to snatch a few labored hours
At distribution warehouses or post-industrial farms
They take public transportation to sleep akimbo atop bunk beds
Dodging bed bugs in slum housing in Elysium's favelas
It is what lies beneath that matters, it is said,
And only occasionally the subject of a fugitive glimpse
The cement of society is thus oft ignored
But is eventually revealed, in its absence, as core infrastructure

In a covidious time
We have ample reason to ponder the new normalcy
Everything must change
Their wishful thinking cannot deny viral realities
It starts with words and phrases
That should be immediately contested
Language matters, no matter the actor
And we are often faced with none-too-subtle misdirection
So I've now become a student of platitudes and prevarications
And their close companions, daily distortions and dissimulations

Who was it, at length, I wondered,
In my notional land that would have the courage
To stand up and be counted,
In the face of oppression and societal damage,
Most would rather like, or tweet often
The comforting tools of the age
For many, sadly, have forgotten
The necessity of permanent outrage

Further Reading

It seems uneasy phrases are a longtime topic in my writing. See previously:

tag cloud: bush

tag cloud: USA

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

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Writing log: Concept: August 20, 2020

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