Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Normalcy Prohibition

We'd gathered after the cosmopolitan professor's lecture
At the round table, there was a little wine and conversation
In the Green Room at the Headliners Club, idle chat about its architecture
Members only, believe me, the joint was swank, you couldn't beat the location

Breathtaking views, it felt like floating, there, on the top floor of the Chase Tower
We were enjoying this dinner in honor of the renowned philosopher
Prime cuts of steak with all the trimmings, not your standard buffet
And for those otherwise minded, dinner options included a vegan entrée

The ethicist speaks of identity was the stated title of the talk
Typically lucid, he was promoting his latest book, he'd kept it short
A Cambridge man, he deftly navigated the day's fraught politics
No pointed commentary about the mogul-turned-President's antics

One of the participants at the round table was an august professor
You know the type, long praised for his robust classical philosophy
He started to expound on the quality of rage throughout Western history
The uses of wrath and its unfortunate modern suppression despite its validity

From my seat at the table, I could see all too clearly where this was going
Emeritus, the man had a lifetime of captive audiences he was used to lecturing
He could build-up a full head of steam and, at length, carry on pontificating
All the while pretending to never notice the slack mouths of those listening

A frisson of danger would carry his argument to its preordained conclusion
He brought up the droit de seigneur or some such grandeur and delusion
The lack of care for conventional wisdom and liberal pieties
He was used to pushing people's buttons and defying boundaries

I pondered the question, perhaps there was a subtlety I was missing
With an audience of academics who speak in code it pays to listen
In any case, I was there as a plus one, The Wife had Prof as her mentor
Which made me not a deep thinker but a mere spousal contributor

My own work, I'd offered earlier, explored the issue of neutrality in technology
And how recommendation systems could be brought to bear on society
Whether social platforms, and those who control them, could act out of spite
And how to design networks with transparency in mind to be forthright

By the time I mentioned the work on self driving vehicles
That was the recent part of my software practice
I rather feared I'd lost the audience with talk of miracles
And that they would pigeonhole me as an afrofuturist

Still, I don't know what possessed me, in the moment, to forgo quiescence
My usual strategy is to remain silent when confronted with arrant nonsense
Perhaps it was the fine wine on hand that loosened my normal reticence
I prepared to fortify my tongue to address the implied violence

With a smile as I sipped my red wine, I decided to engage in light criticism
I find it to be the strategy of choice in the face of misguided contrarianism
I have long experience dealing with those should have known better
My recommended action is to disarm with a choice proverbial zinger

It is a real privilege, I noted, to be able to afford rage
Not everyone in our societies is granted the honor of escaping the cage
Indeed, some people get quickly branded as uppity at the slightest umbrage
In my field, the concept is akin to the principle of least privilege

The least of us, it seems to me, deserve consideration now and again
The freedom of action, by definition, is granted to free men
But at the outset of the road to freedom, there was a touch of dismay
The constitutional settlement for slaves was to be counted as three-fifths
Partial personhood implies partial freedoms that come into play
When you are wrongly accosted on Texas streets by the sheriff

Our host had earlier quoted Publius Terentius Afer, better known as Terence,
That Afro-Roman Senator of yore, a paragon of uncommon wit and sense
And his enduring aphorism and motto

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto
I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me
I left it there, there was no need to go further, you see

The old professor, finally silent, simply seethed
Daggers in his furious eyes were pointed at me
It was a wonder, given his discourse, that he could repress his rage
Thankfully, those norms of politeness came into play at this stage

I worried that there would be a response, and had prepared my rejoinder
Forgiveness and love was my own take, forbearance in social behavior
I held my fire, if he was to continue with his noxious agenda item,
As a software engineer, I've frequently solved the dining philosophers problem

The guest of honor was more practiced at these matters and promptly
Changed the topic, and brought up further examples in history
Honor codes were an example he'd covered in one of his books
Those duels and other misguided traditions that we now forsook

He conceded my point, but had nicely recovered the tenor of the dinner
With characteristic wit, he'd brought things down from a boil to a simmer
Whereas the lies that bind was his preferred framing of matters of identity
I favored truth and reconciliation, poetry as cultural memory

The notion is clear for those who have long borne masks of civility
Of the fool's paradise of considering philosophy detached from equity
Albeit internal displacement is my tribe's underlying condition
I'd like to one day escape from the state of normalcy prohibition

I am human I think nothing human alien to me

Normalcy Prohibition, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note. Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See previously: Internally Displaced

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Writing log: March 10, 2021

Thursday, October 14, 2021

What Paradise Have We Lost? (Song and Dance Edition)

I woke up to music just the other morning and I can safely
Say that the most exhilarating nine minutes of recent memory
Was when The Seven Year Old and I took out our white handkerchief
And comfort blanket respectively and got down to our song and dance circle
Call it the musical antidote to the previous day's zoom funeral
Even as I was paying penance in this ongoing season of grief
Borborbor dances and other Abutia clan traditions soothe as remedies
Then I recalled the moment after we had lost Da, when my Auntie
Briefly sublimated her pain and sorrow and lost herself in the dance
A few seconds of pleasure in fond remembrance of her mother
In a covidious time we live with the fear of the superspreader
The web gave a glimpse of African ceremonies of yore
This was the music of the Gods, what paradise have we lost?

...

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
As a boy, I used to enjoy choir practice
That is, until my voice cracked
And hormones made my intentions mixed
These days, however, the danger is stacked
Singing in mixed choirs has been decidedly nixed
Until this pandemic's ended, we are well and truly stuck

dance by wiz

A Debt Foretold, a playlist


See previously:

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


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Writing log: March 20, 2021

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Internally Displaced

Internally displaced is a phrase I find myself drawn to
This modern traveler bears the deadweight of an exiled soul
The phrase carries with it a burden of dislocation
The succinct expression of the taint of alienation

Conventionally, it's the removal from one's home and native land
That is, a physical distancing, that can leave one unmanned
But there's also the worrying spectre of a psychic affliction
Unbalanced, the separation can present as a mental eviction

A matter of scale, it belies an embedded contradiction
For how can displacement be internal after all?
Perhaps it is a matter of perspective, this reduction
With the narrowing of horizons, the sufferer's prospects appall

Tantalus must be the patron saint of the internally displaced
Always on the verge, so close as they are to a comfort suite
Their song: the nearness of you, an ode to their erstwhile paradise replaced
A life of the unfamiliar, and the attendant sense of wist

Presumably the internally displaced haven't crossed any external borders
That are seen to matter in the eyes of international lawyers
Yet the clear implication is that boundaries have been transgressed
However, by being personal, not legal, these last count for less

In this reckoning, the internally displaced
At first glance, must still be within the vicinity
Of their former homes and abodes they left in haste
A surely maddening circumstance, this notional proximity

This points to the distinction that ostensibly exists
Albeit the same deprivation persists
Between the internally displaced and the refugee
Still, you can't say that either cohort have it easy

Mankind, when they departed Eden, were seen as refugees - up to no good
Thus it was written in those early chapters of what we know as the good book
But their postmodern predicament, call it their bereft outlook
Is that of the internally displaced, forever off the hook

The immediate problem is a practical one when rendered homeless
Previous certainties are upended, the essence of being dispossessed
Even if it's merely psychological, the trauma affects one's identity
The internally displaced quickly become aficionados of precarity

Unwillingly itinerant, internal displacement is forced movement
The road of distressed fellow travelers in a season of discontent
Fundamental freedoms denied to those now subject to the great longing
An intimation of futility and the sense that no one is coming

Uneasy lies the head that wears the frayed hat of the internally displaced
Resigned in contemplation, each meal unsatisfactory with that sour aftertaste
Holding fast to mementos grasped in a rush in the instants before leaving
The few trinkets, the salvaged memories, those prized belongings

From your own nest, you find yourself summarily chased
A stillness is time amid fevered attempts to locate a new home base
Off kilter, the internally displaced are favored scions of unease
They roam maladjusted, as if infected with a deficiency disease

Repatriation is not an option, not with your personal history
As the days progress you realize that this state is not temporary
You collected your bags and stamps - sadly the latter were revoked abruptly
Thus you joined the ranks of the sans papier, branded as men of no country

Many in America bear the trait as an underlying condition
The balm the internally displaced seek is leave for homesteading
Pride of place in this endeavor goes to those of my skintone
Our migration was to a perpetual life in the torrid zone

masks of civility

Home, a playlist


A soundtrack for the great longing
The sense of wist can be all consuming
Music therefore to settle the soul
Aural pointers to the comforts of home
Timing is everything
Observers are worried

This internal displacement is part of a series: In a covidious time.


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Writing log: December 2, 2017, March 24, 2021

Friday, October 01, 2021

Sirens

Last summer's soundtrack, the ambulance sirens courtesy of the plague
Was repeated around the New Year, they called it the Second Wave
Those purists - branded as epidemiologists, were ignored as naysayers
And now those darned ambulance sirens are topping the charts this September

The early lessons learned in those streets in Wuhan and Lombardy
Were repeated last April in the streets of New York City
I daresay the current situation in my home in Austin, Texas is not so dire
But it is only a fool who does not worry when his neighbour's house is on fire

Long experience shows that humanity gets accustomed to anything
Survival is the imperative, the mind is accomodating
I hold on to the thought that the system still functions and is not woebegone
Beyond a point, the ambulance drivers will simply not bother turning the sirens on

the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Soundtrack for the Note


...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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


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Writing log: September 5, 2021