Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Least of Us

For most of history, it has been left to sovereign nations
To raise concern about the plight of refugees
But it was Matthew, from his gospel writer's station,
Who best reported on how to treat the least of these

The laments of note throughout history have been of the great migrations
The tales of exodus, grit, and survival that prevail in our mythmaking
Think back, if you will, to the great origin stories that take pride of place
Much less, however, is made about the fate of the internally displaced

This semantic framing glosses over the very real trauma for those others
How can it be left to insurance actuaries and international lawyers
To assess the level of pain of a wound, even psychic, in human beings?
A temporary inconvenience is their prized, arbitrary reading of things

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
Goes the third proposition of Newtonian physics
On the human scale, and in the realm of human affairs,
The notion is couched as blowback that damns the spirit

And the counter effects are known to resound with appalling severity
That hurt fosters revenge, is the brutal lesson of cultural memory
In the good book it was written that justice is in the eye of the beholder
The ellipses will be filled, history's silent treatment is a mere placeholder

A word to the wise, discard social living at your peril
The mosquito principle teaches that man can be feral
Buyer beware, take heed of the treatment meted out to the least of us
First they came for others, but you may well be the next one deemed treasonous

There is no worse feeling than alienation,
   it leaves the most bitter residue
To walk among people who actively celebrate the hurt inflicted on you
Wrath and ignorance, the mob brings out the worst aspects of our culture
As goes the proverb, try not to die when you are surrounded by vultures

A marshmallow test of sorts is posed in humanity's curriculum
About the interplay in society to gain equilibrium
Whether to exercise restraint or give in to insatiable appetites
The message from your leader:
   a duty of care, tolerance, and equal rights

equality rosewood park


No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.

— Devotions upon Emergent Occasions by John Donne

The Least of Us, a playlist

A soundtrack for the least of us. (spotify version) I'm conflicted about how to place this internal displacement, originally conceived for a covidious series as it could well fall under the banner of Social Living, do let me know what works better.

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Writing log: March 6, 2021

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Defensive Accounting

I know my place in America
(At the intersection of Tenuous Street
And Hired Immigrant Worker Alley)
And accordingly keep a low profile

A modern traveler on the inside,
I keep my bags packed and not too heavy
With stamped passport at the ready
Settled roots foregone, I travel light

The burden of this mask of civility
Weighs heavily on the mind. I'm so weary.
But whenever I deign to remove it
This country serves me a cease and desist

It's all unpaid labor, this emotional homework
The mental accounting performed by this intern clerk
When faced with these periodic restructuring activities
How to balance the books with so many liabilities?

Aburi mask

Defensive Posture, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. Musical protection. (spotify version)
Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log. Concept: June 09, 2005; March 26, 2021

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Symphony of Deceit

There are those who act like they don't know what is at issue
And allow the beholder to proceed with their conceit
Sometimes it is best to allow a fool to continue
This is part and parcel of the symphony of deceit

There are those who altogether pretend not to understand
Gnomic, they deflect scrutiny with knowing humor or opacity
Notice that when it comes time for the decision, and the change of plans
They'd sowed the seeds that allowed them to escape from the difficulty

There are those thoroughly comfortable with the terrain of uncertainty
Grounded in the art of duplicity, they are badged with masks of civility
Try to pin them down, or confront them as to their appalling neglect
Watch and learn as you are left disarmed as they promptly change the subject

Aburi mask

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

Kofi Abrefa Busia
All warfare is based on deception.

— Sun Tzu

Symphony of Deceit, a playlist

A soundtrack for this evasion. (spotify version)

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

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Writing log: April 6, 2021

Monday, February 07, 2022

The Corruption Tango (Part 4 The World's Lawyer)

Part 4 of The Corruption Tango (see previously)

IV. The World's Lawyer

My dear uncle, of blessed memory, used to work at the World Bank
He had a seat at the table, he'd risen to a high rank

With world movers and shakers, many said to be covered in glory
From his vantage point, up close and personal, he saw the backstory

Of many of the headlines that we would later read in the daily news
He was intimately familiar with the ways in which due process was abused

The haste with which the bounds of propriety
   would be promptly set aside
And the board's directors would say the magic words: let's override

It often happened to coincide happily
   with what the American president wants
The fig leaves of accountability
   that were forsaken in light of such demands

A lawyer, he rose in the profession
   to become the bank's top legal counsel
Jokingly, he referred to his job as the restraint of the world's scoundrels

For even though he constantly sided "with the ninety nine percent"
His very salary and position placed him firmly in the one percent

He saw through those demanding structural adjustment and reforms
Shifting the blame to Third World cultural traditions and lax norms

For much of the impetus came from these selfsame First World rogues
Who would emphasize whatever fine words happened to be in vogue

The hubris of people in glass houses and all that
He chose his moments to bring up inconvenient facts

What with his work on matters of compliance in the banking sector
Conversations with him were always revelatory chapters

He was quite jaded, if not cynical, about human fallibility
Hard-boiled even, such are the wages of observing venality

I imagine it was like shooting the breeze with a vice cop
He'd seen it all, try as I could, there was nothing that could shock

The media accounts always focus on
   the weak country and the bribe taker
Scapegoats: the low trust culture, and the willingly suborned insider

Thus it was written, that huhudious drama of the cease and desist
Almost always turned out in practice to amount to a mere slap on the wrist

It makes you wonder who is writing the script
About these scandals and dirty politics

While there would later be an almanac of political corruption
His contribution was to write the book on combating corruption

Human beings were not too far removed from the garden of Eden
When it became second nature for some to deceive and scheme

Lying for money is akin to original sin
Envy, greed, all these can pave the way to embezzling

There's always the other side to these affairs and imbroglios
Recall the old song, it takes two to do the corruption tango

combatting corruption

The Corruption Tango: A Playlist

A soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)

The Corruption Tango

A dance in four movements.
  1. A Touch of Sleaze
  2. Cease and Desist
  3. The Temptation of Black Gold
  4. The World's Lawyer
I nominate this internal displacement for The Things Fall Apart series. It's a family tradition to call out Fallen Angels.

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Writing log: Concept: July 7, 2005; March 11, 2021

Saturday, February 05, 2022

The Corruption Tango (Part 3 The Temptation of Black Gold)

Part 3 of The Corruption Tango (see previously)

III. The Temptation of Black Gold

Meanwhile, this century has seen a number of elections in Nigeria
Our West African brethren, branded poster child for chaos and disorder

And the conventional wisdom from, say, The Economist was hardly honorable
Sample headline: Nigeria's elections - Big men, big fraud and big trouble

Home of the hustle, the country is continually in the headlines
Tales of shenanigans galore and the entrenched climate of the 419

You'll read things like "rotten at the core", fodder for scoundrels
But doesn't that also describe the options backdating scandal?

Western media hardly covers the good news in the darkest continent
Would that they would apply the same scrutiny to shell games on their end

I actually think it's miraculous for such a large country to keep moving
And even take more than baby steps after decades of misrule and killing

Everyone wants things to move fast,
   corruption is surely a tax on the common man
But every complex ecosystem has parasites,
   that shouldn't be hard to understand

So there will always be the temptation of black gold
It's human nature, a golden target will never get old

Then there are stories like "Saudi prince received arms cash"
That focus on the recipient, the venal prince with the stash

And not on the British multinational arms company
That so happily disbursed those fistfuls of golden money

Observers are worried, how doth the little crocodile?
It seems as if many prefer to affect denial

There seems to be something rather structural at hand
For perverse incentives, seem to be part of the plan

It doesn't seem to matter that the shadow looms of the regulator
The threat of enforcement actions and severe sanctions hardly matter

High profile companies are unbothered
   by the specter of the compliance officer
Ignored, and written off, with a touch of sleaze
   and the workings of the human factor

Or, more formally, the temptations are an inherent part of the process
In this light, bribery is viewed as part of the cost of doing business

There are two sides to this social disease, it just goes to show
That it takes two to do the corruption tango

Queen Portia

Black Gold, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note(spotify version)

See also: The Corruption Tango: A Playlist

The Corruption Tango

A dance in four movements.
  1. A Touch of Sleaze
  2. Cease and Desist
  3. The Temptation of Black Gold
  4. The World's Lawyer
I nominate this internal displacement for The Things Fall Apart series under the banner of Fallen Angels.

Next: Part 4 The World's Lawyer

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Writing log. Concept: July 7, 2005; March 10, 2021

Thursday, February 03, 2022

The Corruption Tango (Part 2 Cease and Desist)

Part 2 of The Corruption Tango

II. Cease and Desist

I was piqued by a little commented-upon story the other day
Well it was a while ago, a little illustration of the games people play

It happened in the shadow of a tragedy you might have heard in the news
It concerned the dealings of a company that rhymes with Baker Hughes

Baker Hughes then being the world's third-largest oilfield services company
You'd no doubt hear its name in the same breath as other high flying somebodies

Like the more notorious Chevron, Exxon, or say Haliburton
Oil and gas services icons and so forth, etcetera, anon

The company's slogan they extol, I must say, is quite endearing:
Core values of integrity, teamwork, performance and learning

Indeed Baker Hughes completed 100 years of corporate history in 2007
It's a wonderful company, Texas-raised, Katrina relief, volunteer heaven

It couldn't have been good to be front and center in the New York Times
Luckily for them, a couple of fallen towers had changed the headlines

The following passage has to be one of my favourite illustrations
Of the corruption tango's reach, and enduring vexations

In an action that was filed on September 12, 2001,
And received little attention at the time, (imagine that?)
Baker Hughes agreed to a cease-and-desist order
Issued by the Securities and Exchange Commision, which said that
It had (repeatedly) violated the Corrupt Practices Act
By bribing an official in Indonesia.

That cease-and-desist order appeared to have had little impact
On the company's behavior, (they stayed on the wrong track)
The S.E.C. action filed Wednesday indicated
It said the payments in Kazakhstan and Angola
Went on from 1998 to 2003, while those to an agent
Involved in securing business in Russia
And Uzbekistan went on from 1998 to 2004, and payments in Indonesia
Went on from 2000 to 2003. Payments in Nigeria
Were made from 2001 to 2005, the S.E.C. said.

In 2003, the company initiated an investigation,
But, the S.E.C. said, it did not uncover some of the violations,
Which allowed them to continue. (End of digression)

Now we shouldn't tar the company with a broad brush for the sins of bad apples
As we surely know that there are rogue elements in the wild, at any level

We need to tread carefully with allegations of insider trading
The bezzle takes a plethora of forms, not least self dealing

It's a matter of concern that culture can undermine the sinews
Far be it to attack the company that rhymes with Baker Hughes

There is a serious commitment to governance, audit, ethics and the environment
I need not say more, there are vast quantities of material on their web site

And, of course, all companies are made out of people in reality
And there are only people behaving, and sometimes, behaving badly

Go back to the founders, Howard Hughes senior's name adds color to the dance
James Ellroy made American Tabloid pulp out of the sleaze of the son

Heck I know some of those characters, the company's storied alumni include Red Adair
Good old John Wayne depicted him in a great b-movie as a prized hellfighter

So distinguished is the composition of its board, it isn't funny
I guess it's plainly obvious that Big Oil attracts Big Money

Check the resumes: Big Banks, Big Real Estate, and Big Property
Curriculum vitae: Imperial Tobacco, Big Insurance, Big Industry

Big Politics, former U.S. Ambassadors to Israel, Syria, the Pentagon
Big Men, Generals and Comptrollers of the U.S. Army, Federal Credit Unions

Needless to say the lineup of shareholders and executives are storied
How then could they possibly be out of compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley?

With that kind of oversight, no one should ever question their integrity
I only mention the story to highlight the interplay, the weakness of humanity

The logic of capitalism: the perverse incentives for those in the know
It is no secret, after all, that it takes two to do the corruption tango

J. Kofi Aryee dance

Cease and Desist: A Playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version)
See also: The Corruption Tango: A Playlist

The Corruption Tango

A dance in four movements.
  1. A Touch of Sleaze
  2. Cease and Desist
  3. The Temptation of Black Gold
  4. The World's Lawyer
I nominate this internal displacement for The Things Fall Apart series under the banner of Fallen Angels.

Next: Part 3 The Temptation of Black Gold

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Writing log: Concept: July 7, 2005; March 9, 2021

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

The Corruption Tango

A dance in four movements.

I. A Touch of Sleaze

I know, I know, an oil company bribing in Kazakhstan,
Angola, Indonesia, Nigeria, Russia and Uzbekistan?

Captain Obvious, who would have thought it? Why bother, very passé
Or, alternatively for the more world weary, isn't that so blasé?

It's the very definition of oil barons everywhere in the wild west
That's how robber barons and monopolists amass their treasure chests

So nineteenth century, so railroad tycoon, so captain of industry
So very Portuguese explorer, so very East India Company

And truth be told, it's really no big thing,
A bit of imperialism or monopolistic trading

To make a such a fetish out of a few bribing actions
In a world of rampant stock market manipulation

Where we celebrate ruthless and unscrupulous business practices
On a frequency and scale worthy of a swaggering industrialist

It's not like rubber farming in Liberia by way of the Dunlop family
It's not like a banana republic run by the United Fruit Company

It's a small thing, just a temporary lapse in ethics
That found ordinary Joes caught looting in a crisis

The post-facto rationalization of age old greed is termed mercantilism
Humbug, as Marx might have remarked, it's the thin veneer of capitalism

Fortune favors the bold, the lure of black gold makes brave men take chances
Well... yes and no. Bear with me if you will, as I invite you to a dance.

We aren't talking of eccentric moguls in wonky health
Using exploitative strategies to amass wealth

Profit making for those with an aversion to shame
Pure pricing power for winners of the great game

Rapacious, these highway bandits, to the third degree
The simple secret of their success is a touch of sleaze

There will be blood, if not exploitation, by these canny merchants
There's always a shortcut when you encounter Never Never Man

The preferred tactic of this nouveau aristocracy
Best exemplified by Rockefeller and Carnegie

Is to scrub reputations with overdue philanthropy
Extravagant gestures, museums and public libraries

Serenely unrepentant in his lifetime was the colossus named Rhodes
Even since, the legacy scrubbing has taken on colleges and scholarships

So manifest was his destiny - his confession of faith doth nakedly appall
That centuries later, the cries continue to ring out that Rhodes must Fall

The biographers can argue about his complicated legacy, of course
But unlike Alfred Nobel's example, there was no buyer's remorse

Fallen angels like him and King Leopold
   practiced the conqueror's catechism
What many forget is that, during their lifetimes,
   they faced the charge of racism

But these are merely the opening steps,
   as when the dancers gather for the show
The intimate legacies of men,
   it takes two to do the corruption tango

dance by wiz

The Corruption Tango: A Playlist

A soundtrack for this note. (spotify version)

The Corruption Tango

A dance in four movements.
  1. A Touch of Sleaze
  2. Cease and Desist
  3. The Temptation of Black Gold
  4. The World's Lawyer
I nominate this internal displacement for The Things Fall Apart series under the banner of Fallen Angels.

Next: Part 2: Cease and Desist

File under: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Writing log. Concept: July 7, 2005; March 8, 2021