Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Soul Insurance (Part 8 A Playlist)

Part 8 of Soul Insurance. Music is our policy...

The previous folktales under the banner of Soul Insurance could be read as the liner notes for this soundtrack of comfort food. My bags are all packed and I have my pandemic bubble playlist. Listen without prejudice. (spotify version)

Soul Insurance, a playlist

  • Soul Insurance by Angie Stone
    Angie sings for the real soul cat and sounds the cautionary note about those who bring out the Xerox.
    It's too many ya'll ridin' in the same boat
    It's getting too heavy and the boat can't float
    Here's a little something to make you think
    You goin' down under if the mother sinks
    She's got our back but will call out those faking the funk. This mellow groove is my pick me up, my great day in the morning, my wellspring of soul inspiration. It bounces along lazily, the harmonies are impeccable and the intent is fierce. I plan to be a believer everytime I hear it and, even if I seem to have taken its theme into a surreal folktale, it continues to make me happy. Nothing hits your heart like soul music.
  • Searchin' for my Soul by Amel Larrieux
    Rendered live, this is a crowd pleaser because she always reinvents this song with an outstanding scat coda, it'a an opportunity to let her voice fly, my favourite bravebird lets loose.
  • Gentlemen, I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid by Charlie Hunter
    The claims adjuster delivers the news without commentary. Just the facts, humanity. When I lived in the Bay Area, Charlie Hunter's Home for the Holidays concert was the highlight of the season. I always tried to catch as many shows as I could for soul insurance. The tour in support of that aptly named album, Gentlemen, I Neglected to Inform You You Will Not Be Getting Paid, was phenomenal, the horn section led by Curtis Fowlkes added to the customary jazz-funk guitar virtuosity. You're a good man, Charlie Hunter.
  • Lessons in Love by Level 42
    By the time the horns come in around the chorus I am already happy. Feel good sing-along soul music.
  • Contribution by Mica Paris and Rakim
    Initially this was going to be Should've Known Better, her confection with Omar but it's hard to argue with Rakim Allah, there is no competition. Like his duet with Jody Watley this collaboration is the perfect meeting of hip hop lyricism and conscious soul. Voices in their prime. One world united. All shades invited.
jo bag: ghana must go in South Africa

A reprise. In the end, all we need is Angie Stone's warm voice and soulful groove to fortify the soul. I guarantee it

Guide to Lagos 1975 023 royal exchange assurance nigeria

See also: The Second Wave and A Covidious Playlist

Soul Insurance (Index)

A covidious folktale
  1. Ananse and the Chief's Scribe
  2. Enter the Claims Adjuster
  3. An Audience with the Linguist
  4. Pity the Mink
  5. Short Sale
  6. Excessive Liabilities
  7. Premiums Due
  8. Soul Insurance, a playlist
  9. Indemnity Provisions
  10. Full Circle
  11. Enforcement Actions
  12. The Die is Cast

This soul food is part of a series: In a covidious time.

Next: Indemnity Provisions

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Writing log: Part 8 March 28, 2021

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Teddy Mink

Along came Teddy Mink, as usual, with the girls in tow
The Mink Quadrant was a tight unit, a hard act to follow

Sheila, Joyce, Melissa, and Stephanie came up in lockstep
The classic lineup, they danced as if they were doing it to death

But Teddy insisted, he laid down the funk rules of the beat
And Diana and Mary couldn't handle the supreme heat

They’d opted for Motown and greener pastures
Get down on the one, the groove was the master

The drum is a woman, The Duke had said it before
Teddy agreed with this aspect of Ellington's Law

He'd had a falling out with Cucumber Bones
Over the woman, and the song, Aretha is Home

Something about the credits and, as usual, the royalties
But, mostly, it was the oversight in the liner notes that he found petty

And now that he had something to prove on his hands
He was determined not to lose the battle of the bands

As a bandleader, he drilled the musicians harder then the Godfather
His work ethic approached Prince, truly, no one did it better

In the warehouse, the grooves and ideas flowed, the pace was unrelenting
And as for the dancers, he wouldn't let them quit - man, it was exhausting

His love language was a jam session, he lived for music, it was an obsession
But who the hell knew if they would defeat Cucumber Bones and Frankie Ocean?

A brief sketch, as told to me by the then 4 year old

The names of my son's imaginary friends have become more interesting. Who is this Cucumber Bones? And what is he singing with Frankie Ocean?

the bad tour by danso

Teddy Mink, a playlist

A soundtrack for this jam session. (spotify version)
See also Mingering Mike: The Amazing Career of an Imaginary Soul Superstar

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Writing log. Concept March 25, 2017. May 5, 2021

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Tony Toni Tone - Weary Sons of Soul

The Music Snobs were discussing Tony Toni Toné the other day - sterling as usual, covering the band's breakup, the legacy and the music. Still, they always leave an opening and I have some thoughts...

I was at university with a Wiggins cousin and like all of the Wiggins, he was a beautiful soul, insanely talented but famously prickly and always wary - he had seen some things. I later learned this friendly-but-guarded business is true of many black Bay Area folk.

He would speak of his cousins who were in a band and how they used to mess around at home and in talent shows, trying to find studio time. They were already doing well, The Revival had a serious impact the previous year. Musically minded, their family reunions had epic soundtracks.

Still, there was something a little frayed, a faint thread that ran beneath the smooth surface of these guys. It's in the music, in all their albums even as they became more confident performers. And maybe it's best to point to a lyric...

Lovin' You is arguably Tony Toni Toné's masterpiece. It stands in the pantheon of slow jams, an impeccable and lush ballad. And yet I'm drawn to a lyric that Raphael throws in: "This world is drunk and everybody's mad". How did that get into this seduction suite?

Skip forward to 2019 and Raphael Saadiq with nothing to prove to anyone, releases his most personal album, Jimmy Lee, a song suite musing about his uncle's addiction. And what do you see? Track 3: This World is Drunk

The driving chorus:

This world is drunk
And the people are mad
Lovin' You was their Adore perhaps, and just like Prince deflating things with "but maybe not the ride", Raphael drops "this world is drunk" to ground the beauty... They had moved beyond bubblegum by this stage. They could drop the mic and walk away. Grit was part of their legacy.


True story. Late at night. The mixtape is ready. Prince got us in the mood, then Maxwell's suite, the satin sheets are prepped, Meshell Ndegeocello, a declaration of intent, we're going to get freaky, D'Angelo, Brown Sugar baby! Then the Tony's come in, Lovin' You, to seal the deal.

Mood, low lighting, you're drawing close to steal a kiss, singing along "loving you..." Crooning. Let's sing together, it's on tonight... Then: "the world is drunk and everyone is mad" !!!

What? What did we just sing? That's like a reminder to use a condom, to make sure you have birth control measures in place... That is a warning.

I'd been thinking Let's get it on, not Brenda's got a Baby. I'd been thinking Turn off the Lights, I was suggesting Lay Your Head On My Pillow. Caveats and responsibilities were the furthest from my mind. Had I picked the wrong track?

These weary sons of soul put a parental advisory notice on the most sensual of moods. Rain check that night, I'm sad to say. I'd have to change the playlist going forward.

So... Tony Toni Tone put the contraception in baby-making music.

I started a family 15 years later...

If they were in finance instead of family planning, they'd have said sure go for the money but choose cement instead of crypto, choose dividends over dotcom dreams. Careful out there.


My introduction was Born Not to Know. A friend had brought the tape back from the States, I was hooked. But I stayed for Baby Doll (which had a Teddy Riley remix) and the songcraft. While Foster/McElroy were doing production duties on their first album, the Tonies were doing the writing and it was intriguing at that.

They were traditionalists, they had a band sound and were students of the greats. You heard that even in the first album, Who?. Their second, The Revival explicitly referenced their Oakland antecedents, Sly and the Family Stone, Santana etc. They had ties to Sheila E's band after all.

Sons of Soul and House of Music were further studies of the craft, hearkening to the different styles of the greats. But it wasn't just homage; they were modernizers, conscious of the legacy. Throughout, their soulful grooves came with real talk.

Little Walter was a little controversial for interpolating a spiritual. Sinbad appeared in the video - comic relief at the outset of their career, but there's no hiding that it was a cautionary tale that ends with "When Walter went to open it, he was blown to the floor".

261.5 features Dwayne singing about "falling in love with a minor" and risking breaking the eponymous California Penal code number. Playing for laughs and done with subtlety - PG-rated. It's an age old story and some later predators would ignore the warnings (say R Kelly)...

There's a lot of dysfunction in their songbook. Take Jo-Jo - Raphael singing about a family situation - Jo Jo who goes missing, or My Ex-Girlfriend - learning about infidelity and being cuckolded with the immortal chorus "My ex-girlfriend (girlfriend) is a hoe". Vicious fun.

Don't Fall in Love is up there:
Have you ever fell in love with a woman, that wasn't a woman?
I mean, all the time, you thought she had the things it takes to be a woman
That's the Eddie Murphy line: "I was just giving the person a ride", that's The Crying Game denouement sung with soul.

I know, I know, that's a poor interpretation of the song, he's really singing about picking the right woman and even sings "You better let God pick your one". But the ambiguity of great songwriters is to make you find layers in their musical world even as you sing along.

Or take Annie May - their stripper anthem.
"Annie May's gotta make up her mind
Is it a girl or is it a guy?"
Is it a love triangle, gender confusion, sexual ambivalence, a discourse on binary themes? Or just a fun thought piece about a dancer? Shut up and dance. "Let your hair down"

Sidenote: at a certain point they dropped the punctuation in the band name: Tony! Toni! Toné! became Tony Toni Toné. They didn't need the exclamation points perhaps. Or was it like The Jacksons being born out of The Jackson 5, contract negotiations? Industry shenanigans? (ducks)

Like Janet Jackson, if there were only faint traces of bubblegum at the outset, they very quickly leaned in to chart their own direction. Regardless, when they took over production duties, there was no need for any histrionics, the music spoke for itself and lingers. We still talk about them and play their well crafted albums years later.

I'm glad that they weren't absorbed into the Prince universe, that going to Paisley Park didn't work out. I'm glad they remained a band and charted their own course. Being soul men was not easy in that era. But the writing was on the wall as to their longevity.

Still, they did warn, listen to Tonyies! In The Wrong Key: "Sometimes I wonder how we stuck together / But I'm so glad and happy we did". On hearing that, I wasn't sure that there would be another album after Sons of Soul. In that sense, House of Music was a double blessing.


I saw Raphael Saadiq live at The Fillmore in San Francisco in 2009, he was touring The Way I See It. I think that he would have been happier playing in the East Bay. When he went into his gospel, revival mode, very few in the crowd followed. It seemed I was the only one whooping and singing hosannas.

I did my 8 years in the Bay Area, my children were born in Oakland, proper African Americans. I'd like to think that there's something of the East Bay that rubs off on you. To live a remove from the moneyed power centers but also where the Black Panthers were founded. But I digress...

To be black in the East Bay is not to be living out Medicine for Melancholy, or even The Last Black Man in San Francisco. It's more in the vein of Sorry To Bother You and Fruitvale Station (especially). Restless joy but with a weary edge, and Tony Toni Tone laid down the soundtrack. ...

Tony Toni Tone had been through a lot but they had a formula: they seduce you with lush soul but made sure there was grit underneath. That's the Oakland Stroke, that's The Blues, the necessary counterweight to It Never Rains and Lay your Head on my Pillow. Family friendly but never shying away from reality.

Their legacy is to be central to the conversation amidst the soul movements of their era. They proudly wore the mantle of The Isley Brothers, The O'Jays, Maze and The Ohio Players.

Their brand of soul was beautifully constructed, the sound of a band, danceable grown folks music. It feels good and is something that lingers. I'm conflicted that they went out on a high but glad they they gave us what they did.

"This world is drunk and everybody's mad"

Sons Of Soul

Tony Toni Tone, a playlist

A soundtrack for these weary sons of soul. Spend some time in their catalog, it's worth your time (spotify version)

(Orignally written for twitter)

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Writing log. November 11, 2022

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

The Plight of the Soccer Widow

Dilemmas and dysfunction, the plight of the soccer widow
Yet there's a curious periodicity to those moments of sorrow
The arc of estrangement, it is said, reaches its peak every four years
During the world cup, experimental evidence confirms the trail of tears

For the soccer widow wears a thick veil of invisibility
The absent spouse having discarded the burden of responsibility
Grudging grunts and head nods, barely even acknowledging
It's clear you'll have to fend for yourself and your offspring

Alienation of affection, or rather transference
For that month, football is his sole allegiance
True, the unbridled enthusiasm can sometimes be infectious
After a win, especially, the tribal cheers are precious

But it turns out that frustration is the lot of the soccer widow
And her sole consolation is that there's no game tomorrow
A temporary reprieve that day between rounds of the competition
Palliative relief, truth be told, for the husband's obsession

For instead it's the constant discussion of minor trivia
Speculation about the starting lineups and locker room drama
Lamenting bribery and corruption in the ranks of FIFA
Bemoaning those sheikhs that brought the game to Qatar

Bedraggled after the first two weeks, now he's looking rough
All conversations revolve around a draw that was markedly tough
The injustice of being drawn in the group of death
But also the upside of the situation on betting spreads

That it's now all about commerce, rank power, and globalization
Colonizers facing independent states, questions of possession
No time for the old thrills and sensations of the beautiful game
Total football is long gone, there's a sameness to the styles of play

Complaining about the commentary, he's going quite out of his mind
Expletives galore - shouting: "Can't you see? The referee is blind!"
The madness, the insanity, the chants, the screams
The color of memory, fully wrapped in this fever dream

Any hopes for discipline are fictitious, those costs are fully sunk
All schedules rearranged, it's a wonder that any work gets done
Your household in upheaval, leaving you to do all the pickups
You're left wondering when you'll see the end of this world cup

But there's also the morning after, the inevitable disappointment
Comes the letdown and recriminations when the dream comes to an end
Worse still is the glint in the eye, even after he's fully spent
He's already looking forward to the next one four years hence


"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I'm very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

— The Shankly Code (Shankly, Bill)

world cup brunch

world cup croissant bacon and eggs


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See previously: Dilemmas

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Writing log. December 10, 2022

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Gee Doctor Fauci (Revisited)

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
This strange life is such a mess
Look around, our streets are paved
With discarded rapid tests
Far too many think the pandemic's over
So cavalier and reckless
That we have staffing shortages galore, employee turnover
That's the price you pay for being feckless

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci, you know, I'm ailing
I'm really finding it hard to be a believer
The kid came home from school Friday, sniffling
Just hours later, we found out that he had a fever
What a life, even though the rapid test came back negative
We're all wearing N-95 masks just to be safe

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
In this minefield of mixed metaphors,
I'm forever drawing a blank
Or, to hearken to pirates of old,
It feels like I'm walking the plank
True, the virus sets the timeline for this crisis
But it's hard to keep living on the precipice

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
You know, I really can't cope
With this covidious business
Daily navigating the tightrope
We are canaries in the mine
Harried, our faces drained of hope
While outside, observers are worried
Waiting for the white puffs of smoke

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci,
They keep making the same mistakes
Behaving, for all intents and purposes,
As if their mind was a clean slate
When you act, without a care,
As if there's no community transmission
If you're lucky, in the best case,
You'll live to regret the decision

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
Please give me a break
A word to the wise:
Open your windows and ventilate
Wear a mask in crowded rooms
Get boosted, don't tempt fate
Lest you end up in the emergency room
Lying in state
And the doctor reminds your kin
That you said "Do not resuscitate"

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
We're really going through the wringer
The former president said it will all just go away by Easter
That we should shine ultraviolet light
And drink bleach; best of luck!
Sure, we voted him out and impeached him
But it's now two years later, what the fuck?

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
I think it's going to take a miracle
For humanity to abide, as it were,
With the mosquito principle
Those ghouls instantly latched on
To those fateful words: herd immunity
And continue to hold fast, despite the cost,
The very definition of insanity

Doctor Fauci, Pence, Trump coronavirus briefing April 10 2020

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
When will they come to their senses?
This plague has so many unintended consequences
On election day you thought you'd take a chance
Now the whole world is strangely out of balance
It's really a tragedy of the commons
When you submit to the rule of morons

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
The latest research confirms
That the plague's most common side effect
Is to make wives unhinged
And husbands truly reckless
Officials at the CDC
Now call these symptoms learning loss
The index case in the study?
The family of Justice Thomas

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci, we're living out Hollywood realities
If you go by how they're managing the pandemic
It's rather like being passengers on the Titanic
Every man for himself, we're not all on the same boat
And then the fat lady sang, "That's all", she wrote

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci I hate to take you to task
I hear you fell prey to the disease and dropped your mask
By lowering your guard at your college reunion
You forgot for a moment and were imprudent
But, as you know, the virus really doesn't care
Indeed, it spreads readily through tainted air

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci
At this point I'm so dispirited
The handling of the pandemic
Needs to be revisited
A postmortem on how our leaders botched it
So many infected, they lost it
Due to their incompetence and misrule
Now millions are lying six feet under
Because of these fools

Gee kindly Doctor Fauci, I counted
I'm now up to 60 stanzas, disenchanted
For we're no closer to finally
Finding, a cure for this cancer
Ambivalence, I keep going round in circles
The same themes, concentric
Dissonance, my rhyme scheme meandering
Heavy-handed and more eccentric

Dear kindly Doctor Fauci
Truth be told, I think it's really pathetic
To observe their preferred strategy
For dealing with the pandemic
I daresay that it's a sin and rather odd
Because it's plainly not effective
Indeed it's quite akin
To using the Rhythm Method
As a contraceptive

the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Soundtrack for this note

I give you three playlists that the Doctor and I have enjoyed over the pandemic See previously The Grand Reopening of Texas, Gee Doctor Fauci (Remixed) and Telemedicine Consultation

This lament with the good doctor is part of a series: In a covidious time.

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Writing log: September 3, 2022

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

The Chinese Ambassador

She'd normally do this kind of thing on her own
But fortunately I was back in Ghana visiting home
At the appointed time, we were scheduled to have dinner
And so off we went to meet the Chinese Ambassador

I didn't feel bound by the Chatham House rules, those we could surely ignore
For, indeed, neither I nor my mum were part of the diplomatic corps
The invitation was an opportunity for the Ambassador to meet and greet
And pick her brain, conversing in a setting that was quite intimate

The staff had done impeccable opposition research on my mother
But my very presence (improvised and unadvertised) was an X factor
That occasionally threw the Ambassador for a loop that was hard to measure
Like when I harrumphed, and made a point about the terms of my company's joint venture

Who was this Young Turk irreverently pointing out inconvenient truths
While quietly sipping his second glass of pineapple juice?
Who readily dug in to the more exotic fare, not your average dim sun
And mentioned the village of the chef of his favorite Chinatown restaurant

I'll admit, it was a lark, I was being provocative, it was indubitable
To see whether I could pierce the mask of the normally inscrutable
But there was a larger point, I suppose, we are a proud people
With a self confidence that can only abide being treated as equals

To his credit, the years of diplomatic training were so ingrained
That the Ambassador never came close to breaking the veil
He so deftly brought the conversation back onto his preferred topic
That I almost started to applaud his mastery of the arts diplomatic

The rest I'll leave to the mist of memory
Some details linger, the tea was legendary
The Ambassador's pragmatism about the fraught nature of the great game
And his respect for the small players who still beheld a culture of shame

The recognition of the ongoing perils of galamsey
Short term profiteering causing long term dismay
"But those kinds of things are private actions, not public policy, as you well know"
I couldn't resist the zinger: "It takes two to do the corruption tango"

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, that I must concede
This was very far from a symphony of deceit
An invitation to visit the motherland was duly extended to my mother
At the end of the evening, this lovely dinner with the Chinese Ambassador

Diplomacy means the art of nearly deceiving all your friends, but not quite deceiving all your enemies.

Kofi Abrefa Busia
hot summer by amos amit

The Chinese Ambassador, a playlist

A soundtrack for this embassy affair. We should all learn Chinese. (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: May 5, 2021

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Self Portrait In Verse

When asked what I do for a living, I tend to lead with
"Truth be told, I'm really just a failed pineapple farmer"
When pressed, I then add that the bio reads "Technologist,
Omnivorous reader, sometime writer, and music lover"

The leading volley normally never fails to disarm
It leaves an opening, and then I can turn on the charm
It softens me up, this mix of false modesty and imperfection
I'm a connoisseur of the strange architecture of misdirection

The backup option too, while accurate, is a diversion
It tells its own story but adds to the confusion
Truth be told (again), I favor words as protection
Fugitive glimpses of the self, the art of omission

The Akan conception of self will get invoked
Even if most of my life, I've been an exiled soul
But some are very keen on the curriculum vitae
Or that American innovation, the resume


I write books of toli covering life in the torrid zone
Occasionally self referential, one hopes they can stand alone
Densely linked manifestations of hypertext dreams
Focusing on small things, dark matters, and whimsy

Ask not what I do, but focus on what I write
Ask not what I hate, I only know what irks me
Ask not what I love, but behold what I praise
The normalcy project is what I try to navigate

These words are, again, a diversion from the heart of the matter
I'm a man of the hills, a word fugitive that's hard to capture
While these days, you'll find me tending to my pandemic garden
I'm happiest reading a book, not too far from Aburi Gardens

Something whimsical by way of Hilaire Belloc
Or Caribbean, say Zee Edgell or Derek Walcott
Some biting satire, think Evelyn Waugh or Saki
Kwesi Brew for soul insurance or Chinua Achebe

Perhaps some afrofuturist young turk, you know the names, but nothing too dark
I'm a sucker for genre pieces by Octavia Butler and Richard Stark
Or James Ellroy, give me American Tabloid, here's to bad men
Indiscriminate, really, so long as the writer knows how to wield the pen

And there'll be music, my enthusiasms are well known
The urban griot soundtrack: soul and jazz with funk undertones
The blues feature, all the African genres, and hip hop
Gospel too, basically all who use music as a weapon

Academia is long in the rear view mirror
I saw more than enough of that life from my father
The Wife, a historian, has access to a great university library
I live as an omnivorous reader and cause good trouble dispensing toli

And that's the natural extent of my ambition
To luxuriate in the safe harbor of deflection
That while I might present as chief toli monger
I'm really just a failed pineapple farmer

Aburi house view

Chief Toli Monger, a playlist

A self portrait in music. It coheres for me but your mileage might vary. We start and finish with Burning Spear's Man in the Hills album, the maroon soundtrack. (spotify version)


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: May 4, 2021

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Opacity and Revelation

There's a Akan proverb about knowledge that defines it
In a phrase roughly translated as "I have heard and kept it"
In our iconography, this is rendered as Mate Masie
The Adinkra symbol at the heart of Akan identity

Of the symbol, there are many different variations
It's a testament to our propensity for invention
That the designs proliferate among goldsmiths and jewelers
(For we of the Gold Coast appreciate both bling and philosophers)

Our conception of self involves the love of learning
We behold the world and cherish understanding
A respect for tradition and the surety it extends
And a studied regard for observed competence

It is said that knowledge, wisdom and prudence are the themes
At least those account for most of the conventional readings
The traditional focus is on acquisition, comprehension, and retention
But I prefer the other takes: disclosure, opacity and revelation

If I have learned something and retained it,
If doesn't follow that I should disclose it
The tension exists, on the one hand, between transparency and revelation
And, on the other hand, between concealment and evasion

So we have traditions of keeping knowledge close to one's chest
And there's opacity about how things get done, or the basis of knowledge
The through lines in our culture favor black boxes and trade secrecy
The alienation of labour from capital; what, after all, is property?

The longstanding stereotype the British beheld
   to those they termed oriental
Would be well repurposed to the Akan tradition
   which favors being inscrutable
The colonists would find it difficult dealing with the Ashantis,
   for they were prickly
As they heeded the proverb:
   Just because a lizard nods its head doesn't mean it's happy

In our modern world, there is a blurring of consumption and production
And an often fraught balancing of control against participation
Whenever I learn something and share it, the process reifies curation
At scale, we distill historical and institutional memory through conversation

Still waters run deep, appearances are deceptive
The metaphors suggest a challenging perspective
Short of a level field, on what basis do we fight life's competition?
He who controls knowledge navigates opacity and revelation

The sentence moved the Ashantis very visibly. Usually it is etiquette with them to receive all news, of whatever description, in the gravest and most unmoved indifference.

— The Downfall of Prempeh by Major-General Robert Baden-Powell (1896)

Without some dissimulation no business can be carried on at all.

— Philip Stanhope (1749)

The Ashantis had so completely succeeded in blinding the authorities to their real intentions that Colonel Harley was even now disinclined to believe that an Ashanti army had really entered the Protectorate, and... wasted valuable time

— A History of the Gold Coast and Ashanti by W. Walton Claridge 1915

mate masie

"Nyansa bon mu ne mate masie" (I have heard and kept it)

After a conversation between John Leeke and Jon Udell about craft and sharing knowledge in the internet age.

Knowledge, a playlist

I give you a playlist of mostly hip hop, mathematics and street philosophy, diving into poor righteous teachers and the like. More than four hours of often incendiary and political messages about knowledge, ignorance, power and control. Pump your fist. (spotify version)


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: Concept December 1, 2008; May 4, 2021

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Shady (or The Lottery Ticket)

Can someone explain this grift? I'm quite puzzled. So... Well, let me start at the beginning... Sunday afternoon at loose ends and needing to escape the pandemic and getting depressed at America gearing up to vote (again) for depraved indifference, I thought I'd go buy a Powerball ticket...

Now I'm an engineer, a devotee of Bayesian thinking, I weigh probabilities on almost every decision I make, risk averse is my middle name. Let alone the cautious immigrant, protestant/Quaker influence. So this business about gambling (even with a billion dollar jackpot) was a big step.

Earlier, I'd been discussing lotteries, gambling, and addiction with The 11 year old, pointing out that I was more likely to be struck by lightning walking to buy a lottery ticket than to win, that most saw lotteries as a tax on poor people or the statistically challenged etc.

I'd pointed out that what most people gain from playing the lottery is the psychic benefit of imagining what they would do if they won. Two dollars for a fantasy of affluence is cheaper than dinner and a movie (pandemic permitting) or a montly subscription for a Netflix and chill.

She'd heard all the cautionary tales of substance abuse, addiction and obsession - the black sheep of the family. She'd heard how my second semester at Harvard was almost derailed by those three weeks bingeing on Tetris (of all things) so that I immediately uninstall any games on any device I own.

The 11 year old was unconvinced, she knows about obsession. "Just don't go overboard, Daddy. Maybe just buy a couple of tickets". She also made me agree that I should share any winnings with her and her brother. This one is actually interested in money.

The only time I've won a game of chance was 10 pounds at the lottery in England in 2012, just before the Olympics. That was the trip where Theresa May's hostile environment welcomed me by withdrawing my residency to Her Majesty's lands. Call it My Windrush (or Indefinite Leave to Remain).

Tell a lie, I did also win the Green Card lottery in 1995 - the first time I applied. And the first (and only) time that bureaucracy had ever tilted in my direction.

Normally I am fated to run into a Never Never Man. Sigh...

Anyway, my US residency and the 10 pounds I had won were the consolation prizes when I returned from that disastrous trip to London. I wasn't deported, but I'd have to be dealing with lawyers to contest and regain my UK residency. My animus towards Theresa May is rather personal...

Incidentally, IBM's lawyers helped expedite my naturalization and I was able to submit the paperwork just days before the first Gingrich Federal government shutdown. Thank you Clinton-Gore for keeping things moving. Those 1995-1996 shutdowns really caused upheaval and backlogs.

My salary increased by $30,000 that year. A commentary on just how exploitative the H-1 visa process is. Much as I'd like to think that IBM thought I was a stellar employee, I know that the salary adjustment was a fraction of the money they'd save on legal fees for processing an H-1 visa

Anyway... I walked down to our local corner store. Four years in the neighborhood and I've never entered the place. The Wife had warned me off in the early days. Their stock was stale, rancid even, the one time she'd bought some bananas, "They were rotten!".

But mostly it's the corner that's the issue. We've been doing the African gentrification of East Austin but that pocket is the last holdout of the bad days. I guess you'd say it's an active scene. Not quite Hamsterdam, but it's not wholesome. If there is still a drug scene, it's around there.

The South East Asian lady behind the counter looked at me with jaded but anthropological interest - wearing a KN94 mask in these times seems to be a cultural signifier. The Grand Reopening of Texas was in May 2020.

I asked whether they sold lottery tickets, and asked for $20 worth of Powerball tickets - I haven't used cash since March 2020, so the bill that I pulled from my wallet looked quite the worse for wear. Dusty, but I plopped it down on the counter with alacrity. You have to look confident.

Eyebrows raised at the layers of pocket lint on the bill, she moved to the lottery machine. And then the puzzle starts. I expected a 30 second transaction. Press to select Powerball, press 2, press 0, press Enter ($20). Press Print to print the ticket.

Instead it sounded like a old dot-matrix printer was at work, and it was going on for an eternity it seemed. She kept punching numbers and she kept printing. What gives?

Anyway after a good 3 minutes she walked back brandishing a stack of tickets. Okay I thought, maybe it was an older machine and she couldn't print all the tickets on one slip. Still, it was a little suspect.

She then proceeded to count out the tickets ostentatiously. 1, 2... to 10. Handed the 10 tickets to me, and pocketed the other 3 at the bottom of the pile. She smiled and turned to the movie she was watching (a Bollywood joint).

"Thank you ma'am. Have a good day".

So as I walked out and took off my mask, I started to wonder about the nature of the grift that was being perpetrated here. I first checked that I indeed had my 10 tickets. I satisfied myself that I wasn't being directly stiffed but I felt used somehow - dirty, unclean.

Was she stiffing the lottery company? And how did the scam work? I know that there was a notional $6 excess that I'd last seen go into her pocket. Call it the bezzle. But how was it redeemed? Was it the $6 that mattered or the lottery ticket? Or were both the bonus she sought?

Double entry accounting. Where was this $6 surplus going? If she was reporting a $26 sale to the lottery, where was the other $6 coming from? Was she doing a Breaking Bad money laundering in a cash heavy business type of transaction?

Or was it just about the ticket? Was there a pool of extra tickets that the owners can distribute? Launder money while potentially increasing one's odds of winning? Tilting the scales of "It could happen to you!"

Can someone explain the likely mechanics of the grift? What is the nature of the bezzle? Who is getting shafted here other than us taxpayers? There's skimming going on, but how exactly?

grocery store art

Shady, a playlist

A soundtrack for this anecdote (spotify version)
Postscript: I obviously didn't win the lottery but gained 25 odd tweets and food for thought for my trouble

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Writing log. November 6, 2022

Tuesday, November 08, 2022


Signs in the gymnasium
Activists, I guess you'd call it, readying the early crowd
Scoping out the camera-friendly angles. Warm up band
Anecdotes to break the ice, cowboy boots
Hint of electricity among those gathered here
Victory had been a tall order for so long, a chimera
Cruel opponents, they had stacked the deck, heartless
But now there was a glimmer, now there was a candidate
Single name, recognition, frisson of charisma
Earnest, intense eyes. He looks the part

Police detail checking bags at the entrance
Tentatively asking as they inspect
"Not carrying any... weapons?" Hopeful
"Just umbrellas huh?" Relief.
Open carry state. State of the grassy knoll.
Echoes of Dallas and other slaughters
Up on the mic. "My music? … I call it Americhicana"
Warm voice, violin, bongo drums, acoustic guitar
Interpreter signing on the side of the stage
American sign language, dancing along

High visibility vests, volunteers, committed and energetic
Smiling, welcoming, well meaning, sign up sheets
Envelopes passed out, "There's still time to donate"
Signs distributed, we know what's expected
Slogans, short cuts, we know what's at stake
Raise them ritually, woo-hoo, stand on demand
Shake the signs, excitement for the video clip
It's been a long day. Last hours of early voting

Ode to Flying Ted draws cheers, crowd participation
Join in for the chorus, "Down in Cancun", chuckles
"Every little bit helps. This here... your phone is powerful"
Call all your contacts, scan the QR code, download the app
Mcfadden and Whitehead. Ain't no stoppin' us now
Fight the power, The Isley Brothers, oh yeah?
Family friendly, the DJ faded out the cuss word - expert
Stump speech, props, Toyota Tundra
Hit all the right notes, my boy wonder
Extra chairs are brought out, good turnout
Extra cheers, politics is a contact sport

rally for beto

Rally, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version) Bonus beats: Vote for Miles by Miles Davis when he went after Sly and the Family Stone. This rally was on the corner.

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log. November 4, 2022

Tuesday, November 01, 2022

Soul Insurance (Part 7 Premiums Due)

Between the collection agency and replacement cost... Part 7 of Soul Insurance (see previously)

VII. Premiums Due

The claims adjuster was about to unleash his latest creation, a new variant
Time was running out for the three tribes and he was getting impatient
As per the umbrella protocol, he'd made sure to duly advise the council
For he was rather set on properly adjudicating the dirty rotten scoundrels

They'd had fair warning, and humanity's continued obstinacy was astounding
Moreover, after the past year, they ought to have known that no one was coming.
So he quite expected the scrutiny
  of the judicial review to be merely pro-forma
Gathered at the council were the chief gods:
   Nyame, Nyankopon and Odomankoma

Just then Asase Yaa walked into the Supreme Court
   to make her representation
The others were startled, and plunged into a state of consternation
For, by her very presence, there was no denying the shameful implication
That divinity in all its forms had not been not making their contributions

"I see here that you are gathered
   with kangaroo outcomes envisaged for humanity
Even as a not inconsiderable number
  of their species bear soul insurance policies
Indeed, I myself have issued
  excessive liability certificates for some, I can attest
What kind of blind justice are you proposing at this stage?
  Wherefore due process?"

The claims adjuster snorted, this was a dubious argument of the sort
That a newly-appointed prosecutor would have seen thrown out of court
Yet, being delivered by Asase Yaa, with such eloquent simplicity
It seemed to be impressing on the gods a touch of vigilante hesitancy

At length they made to withdraw
  to confer privately in the Elysian chambers
Much to the disappointment of the claims adjuster,
   Asase Yaa had stolen his thunder
The sole human observer to the proceedings
   sat concerned, his face drained of hope
Meanwhile outside, observers were worried,
  waiting for the white puffs of smoke

While there were no minutes recorded, Dear Reader,
   of the gods' deliberation
It stands to reason that Nyankopon broke the tie,
   for it was a split decision
For all intents and purposes,
  future generations would behold it as a fudge
They'd settled the case on a technical provision
   like a Republican judge

"We will honor any and all soul insurance liability certificates
If all premiums are fully paid up, as per the auditor's designates
Blanket coverage will not be extended due to humanity's historic neglect
Delinquent accounts should be actively suspended with immediate effect"

"We recognize the temptations of the fruit of knowledge as an attractive nuisance
But recommend that, going forward,
   humanity's curriculum include honor and obeisance
We've even waived, in this instance,
   our usual scrutiny of the uninsured as a consensus
Asase Yaa held sway over strenuous objections by Nyame about the fate of the least of us"

The adjuster was not used to being stymied
  but, then, what could you do?
The only recourse to satisfaction was the detail
   that he beheld on page two
The ostensible soul insurance provider was a rank outsider
Who went by the name of The Incorrigible Ananse the Spider

No Problem by Lalelani

The elders of the three tribes had been alerted
   to the impending decision
That they would now have to pay the piper
  per the judgment was the obligation
The Wan tribe had been chastened
  by the initial burden of the plague they'd weathered
Their linguist held the position that the premiums
   were a small price to pay to be sheltered

"If a crop fails, it is part of the risk we assumed,
  it's not time for disbelief.
And with the kind of losses we've already faced,
   we are mindful of The Laws of Grief
Remember that the claims adjuster has threatened us with a season of migration
If he can find grounds on which we've welched
   on any terms and conditions"

The scribes from Agona in the torrid zone
   had seen the ballooning liability
"We ought to resist nostalgia,
  and find our soul insurance in community
And build a new world, cherish the day,
   and have love for one another"
They were mindful about living under the shadow of the claims adjuster

But there was deadlock, the linguists of the Usher tribe still believed,
Ignoring all evidence to the contrary that the rest had perceived,
That they could wiggle out from underneath the contract against all odds
And impress their opinion of the fine print in negotiation with the gods

ananse and the greedy lion

Ananse was playing the long game,
   he loved this type of two-sided market
Remember, you reap what you sow
  when it's time to collect the harvest
His favorite business model was toll collecting,
   he stressed its importance
Moreover he liked his shell games well rigged,
   he craved their indulgence

He preferred his dice duly loaded, his answers pre-rehearsed
Of their capitalist inclinations, he was, indeed, well versed
His intentions he kept well hidden, it paid to be discreet
But now was the moment of reckoning, he rose up to speak

Call me Captain Obvious but I'm no Goody Two Shoes
Of your Never Never Man tendencies,
  I see that you can't be disabused
But I, Ananse the Spider, am unmoved
  and, on this subject, will not relent
When the snake is in the house
  there's no need to discuss the matter at length

Buyer beware, how many warnings does it take?
You human beings keep making the same mistakes
Living in the torrid zone you should have been mindful of subtle hints
I gave you numerous chances, yet you failed to examine the fine print

Selective amnesia, short term hubris, and wishful thinking
Huhudious behavior all around, and copious palm wine drinking
Discarding the well-worn terrain of the mosquito principle
Acting, for all intents and purposes, as if you were invincible

I can save you from the claims adjuster's wrath,
   your insurance provider
The end is in sight for this covidious plague,
   you are soul survivors
I can take you higher, right here on earth, we can build Elysium
Payment is due, all that remains is the matter of your premiums

These trying times have been an object lesson
   in humanity's curriculum
Throughout, yours truly has been dispensing wisdom,
  such is my asylum
It's no use moping around now, asking
   what paradise have we lost?
My brand of soul insurance is fully yours,
   and at replacement cost

At this, the gathered tribes suddenly realized
  they were left with no other option
With the threat of the looming claims adjuster,
   they made to take up collection
After pocketing his fees, Ananse settled the matter
  , he was proud of his endurance
As usual he would have the last word:
   "This is the price you pay for soul insurance"

Henkes' Schnapps ad 1969 - beware of imitations

Premiums Due

A soundtrack to this collection notice. (spotify version)
Asase Yaa in fairy garden 2

Soul Insurance (Index)

A covidious folktale
  1. Ananse and the Chief's Scribe
  2. Enter the Claims Adjuster
  3. An Audience with the Linguist
  4. Pity the Mink
  5. Short Sale
  6. Excessive Liabilities
  7. Premiums Due
  8. Soul Insurance, a playlist
  9. Indemnity Provisions
  10. Full Circle
  11. Enforcement Actions
  12. The Die is Cast
All of the forgoing were written in a weeklong burst in March 2021. The original conception was a sonnet but after about 5,000 words, I gave up on brevity.

This bill of goods is part of a series: In a covidious time.

Next: Soul Insurance, a playlist

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Writing log: Part 7 March 27, 2021

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Champions League of Doom

I've been wondering what the later histories will label
   as the most catastrophic
In this ongoing shambles, beyond, say,
   Mister Johnson's herd immunity regime
Of delay, deny and dither in Her Majesty's land
And the US federal and (certain) state governments'
Response to the novel coronavirus pandemic
   from the start to the present

Early indicators pointed to Bolsonaro's bungling in Brazil
As a candidate to trump The Donald's dereliction of duty
Turns out he needn't have worried, albeit it was a bitter pill
For, enter stage right, came onto the scene, Premature Modi
Counting electoral chickens before the vaccine bounce would hatch
And now there's a surfeit, in India, of funeral pyres instead of roof thatches

And so I've been using my superspreading event timeline as prophylaxis
And, every night, dutifully checking the bookmarked tabs for the grim statistics
Sadly it is unlikely that anyone in this league of rogues will face justice
And if it is, it will be for some small thing, rather than for acts destructive

After a few months, I stopped updating my list,
   but there was no going back
For want of a bolt, humanity has been well and truly stuck
The virus sets the timeline, something many find hard to remember
It's really down to luck if, or when, your town becomes the new epicenter

Friends email me snippets;
   did you read about that fish processing factory?
The traveling salesman? Wrestling tournament?
   Or the cat's birthday party?
Heard about the ski resort? Nursing home?
   Farm? Yoga studio? Or the gym?
The meatpacking plant? The prison?
   Or the choir practice where they were singing hymns?

The Wife, a historian of medicine, religiously takes nightly screenshots
Documenting the waxing and waning of the coronavirus dashboards
And, on Facebook, she was quite the Cassandra, she was rather vocal
About the dangers people faced,
   but kept forgetting that everything is local

I know, I know, Trump probably caused far more casualties
On his watch. Try as he did, one can't hide so many dead bodies
It wasn't close, he's the clear winner of the Champions League of Doom
America First was his slogan, there's only one Alpha male in the room

The thing is that I take it personal with the Tories
J'accuse, for it really rankles
These miscreants, I charge, personally
Caused, by neglect, the death of my uncle

And I'm not even considering the shape of dread
It's the futility that makes one shake one's head
I can hardly handle all this unnecessary heartache
Grief unbounded, I'm still incandescent with rage

No, I already had their measure by April, just months into the pandemic
And nothing since has changed. If anything, the failure is systemic
The fish rots from the head down, it's a matter of common sense
The whole world is getting an education in observed competence

It is said that the legitimacy of the state
Derives from its ability to keep one safe
And say, per Max Weber, its monopoly on violence
That's, of course, when viewed with the sociological lens

You might prefer Thomas Jefferson's formulation:
"The first duty of government is the protection
Of life, not its destruction." He would add, if I recall,
"Abandon that, and you have abandoned all"

Out of this follows Caesar's Tax Collector Principle
But the duty of care relates to the Mosquito Principle
Duty abrogation has been seen in world-historic abundance
These men reneged on our fully paid up soul insurance

Political leaders come and go, we normally don't begrudge their authority
But the failure to protect is unforgivable, as is relying on herd immunity
Behold the Champions League of Doom: the Emperor has no clothes
I see you there, the winners in the corner: illegitimate and exposed

Despite a flattering supposition to the contrary, people come readily to terms with power. There is little reason to think that the power of the great bankers, while they were assumed to have it, was much resented. But as the ghosts of numerous tyrants, from Julius Caesar to Benito Mussolini will testify, people are very hard on those who, having had power, lose it or are destroyed. Then anger at past arrogance is joined with contempt for present weakness. The victim or his corpse is made to suffer all available indignities.

The Great Crash, 1929 by J.K. Galbraith
ghana usa

Champions League of Doom, a playlist

A soundtrack for this season's competition of woe. (spotify version)

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

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Writing log. Prose: May 19 2020, Poetry: May 2, 2021