Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Force Majeure

I like to think of good King Solomon as a claims adjuster
Whose renown came from the application of force majeure clauses
For the essence of his intervention in the famed custody dispute
   was none other
Than that how one reacts to sudden adversity
   determines whether we should get applause

It was Ananse the Spider who clean absconded with the pot of wisdom
When the tale of the lost stories became part of humanity's curriculum
Solomon's later strategic insight lay in the soul insurance he dispensed:
When the snake is in the house, there's no need to discuss the matter at length

Later, one can satisfy those with delicate sensibilities
Who would rudely cite due process, chapter and verse
But in the heat of the moment, borne of necessity
None can argue, decisive measures are of the essence

It is no wonder that a central banker,
In extremis, acts first to protect the rich
Ignore the cover story that the world was falling,
And all that business about systemic risk

Like a mother who instinctively gathers her brood
Hastening to escape a fire or avalanche
There's no time for observing the rules
Forget regulations, this is soul insurance

If I recall, it was the Sage of Omaha,
Warren Buffett, who once said
"Only when the tide goes out do you discover
Who's been swimming naked"

And Walter Bagehot in Lombard Street, it was that noted,
"Every great crisis reveals the excessive speculations
Of many houses which no one before suspected",
An altogether astute observation

We saw during the Great Recession,
Rules set aside, as if they were no longer in vogue
The haste with which the political system
Rushed to indemnify so many financial rogues

Scoundrels whose vulture capitalist behavior
Fomented wholesale casino Ponzi misdeeds
Not for nothing, many still made shocking profits,
Not the least of which the great vampire squid

Disasters, not least the covidious,
Reveal what societies are wont to value
They lay bare the fig leaves of consensus,
It's not what we say but what we do

Call it sharpening the contradictions
As the actions are often shown to be crude
These fugitive glimpses of the real world
And of those who were swimming in the nude

Oh the celebration at the outset,
   of the hordes, the brave essential workers
Yet some others formed betting pools
   on who would survive of their number
It was made fairly clear that if you worked in a meatpacking plant
You were an afterthought, for they only made to protect the banks

But back to our song of Solomon
And our erstwhile soul insurance agent
Who negotiated the terms and conditions
The policies and society's cost payments

Without shame we'll never reach herd immunity
Nay, for this policy there's no buyer's remorse
This pandemic is a signal moment of clarity
It's time to invoke the force majeure clause

Aburi mask

Force Majeure, a playlist

soundtrack for this note. (spotify version) See previously: Soul Insurance

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

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Writing log: April 29, 2021

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Quality of Life (Redux)

The volunteers carried litter sticks and plastic bags
They were out in force and seemed in rude health
One of them climbed down into the creek to pick up the trash
I thanked them, for I'd thought of cleaning the trail up myself
But always forgot, on our weekend walks, to bring a bag
To spend one's Saturday afternoon doing garbage collection
Is quite the antidote to our ongoing social isolation

And what do you know, just two weeks later
We passed, on the bridge, a couple of teenagers
With fishing poles at the ready dangling over the bridge
Lines dipping into this selfsame creek in search of fish
We thought back to those altruistic weekend warriors
Who tended the fabric of our commons in quiet sacrifice
I daresay, social living is the best. Quality of life.


rocks on creek bank


Perhaps it was the pandemic, and the phobia it elicited,
That caused me to stop frequenting places I normally visited
I succumbed somewhat to the caution of hygiene theater
The fear of fomites, the call for action of the gospel of germs
Like everyone, I wiped things religiously citing public health
A little overkill, wouldn't you think, for an airborne disease?
What it meant was that I'd stopped taking up those park seats

Turns out that there was also the small matter of comfort
For it's not very appealing when you lack lumbar support
Everything came into place when I noticed the new wooden slat
That added an extra cushion for when the weary traveler sat
Parks and Recs had budget, it seems; they fixed the bench, it was nice
Even without the green paint, it made all the difference. Quality of life.

quality of life


Don't call it a love letter, for it was merely appreciative
And kind, of this unknown neighbor to take the initiative
To pen, with loops and hearts adorning her I's, this grace note
"Hello Friend, I love your flowers!" was what she wrote
"You take very good care of the plants you share space with,
They look very happy!" Must be an expert on these things but who knows?
The letter concluded, "I wish that your love and care for each other grows"

Like the old man who lives in the park,
   she likes seeing me on my hands and knees
Slowly weeding and making a living home out front for the honeybees
The monarch butterflies and even hummingbird moths
   are all well served
Now that, with my seed infusion,
   I appear to have created a nature preserve
Surely, dear wife, you can't be jealous of such gracious folk?
Knowing full well this pandemic garden got its start for want of a bolt
You do know there's no alienation of affection, we can't have marital strife
The flower garden is a covidious dividend, isn't it? Quality of life.

hello friend I love your flowers

I'm Too Much, a playlist

A playlist is in order (spotify version) See previously: Quality of Life

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

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Writing log: April 28, 2021

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Faint Praise

Occasionally lyrical, and always whimsical,
   he writes with the verve of the modern traveler
Her aesthetic choices are always daring, as if to strike a nerve,
   the tension is unbearable
He raises new vistas in his work,
   pushing towards the outer edges of the craft
A remarkable debut, her striking voice emerges fully formed,
   prismatic and thoughtful

Finely written, his book grapples with the liminal interstices
   of tradition and modernity
She captures something of the languor of the immigrant's condition
   and its tragedy
Thus it was a surprise to behold the new directions he is pursuing,
   a testament to his ambitions
Now she has turned her keen lens on western idées fixes,
   she sites her work at an unquiet juncture

Favoring the edgy, the argument becomes a touch unrefined,
   it betrays his purpose
The pose of the insider has served her well,
   less incisive are her wrought portrayals
A close reading reveals the shortcomings
   of his troubling and combative approach
What are we to make, on the page,
   of her more experimental departures?

Tellingly, the initial promise and aplomb appear to have gone awry
   on this well worn terrain
It is when she strays into Austenite stylings
   that she loses the edge to her oft-biting satire
By pursuing the phantom thread of dislocation,
   he risks raising the tired tropes of mulatto identity
The Forster inclination doesn't serve her well,
   her gimlet quill ought to be reserved for life's incongruities

The subtext is clear, sure you can write, but next time stay in your lane
What the academy bestows freely, it also reserves the right to reframe
As flavor of the month, play the game wisely or you may come up short
The funk song was a fiction: All the critics love you in New York

bearing gifts

Faint Praise, a playlist

A soundtrack for this cautionary tale. (spotify)

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See previously: Flavor of the Month

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Writing log: April 28, 2021

Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Soul Insurance (Part 3 An Audience with the Linguist)

In which we behold the elevator pitch... Part 3 of Soul Insurance (see previously)

III. An Audience with the Linguist

Fifi was a little put out that he was the one
   chosen to take Ananse to the linguist
He had other business on his agenda,
   namely the big mango tree was bearing fruit
Also he'd spotted some yor-yee by the way
   and his yearning was quite acute
The taste of black velvet tamarind
   is a delight that is so distinguished

Instead, he'd have to cede ground to the other children
   and give his delicacies up
Also, now that he had a closer look,
   the spider didn't seem entirely on the up-and-up
He oozed the aura of a traveling salesman,
   jaded in affect, hardboiled even
A consummate purveyor of any product,
   it didn't matter what he was selling

Earlier the scribe had ordered him
   to use the back way to convey the visitor
Thus he had ample time en route to assess Ananse
   and chat with this smooth operator
In the event, Ananse immediately started to put
   the wheels of his shell game in motion
"Young man, draw near, you look like you have a promising future.
   I have a proposition..."

I need not trouble you with the details, Dear Reader,
   suffice to call them delinquent
Fifi was immediately taken in,
   it didn't take much to succumb to wishful thinking
For it was written in the good books
   that those who embraced the paradise of a mango
Would no doubt recognize that verity:
   it takes two to do the corruption tango

Ananse had them stop at a chop bar,
   he had a taste for guinea fowl and some roast duck
This was no diversion, he always sealed his foul deals
   with the pleasures of a full stomach
At length, they came upon the main complex,
   home of the Kingsway skyscrapers
The seat of power, the linguist's ministries
   lay in those six looming towers

by his grace

As it happened, the chief linguist was right there
   on the cusp of entering the building
Fifi, after collecting his honorarium,
   promptly made the introduction, it was fitting
But, very quickly, it appeared that
   there would be no time for pleasantries
The linguist had his game face on,
   stern, as if he was about to face adversaries

"You do realize that I'm a busy man, Mister Ananse, is it?",
   said the chief linguist
"Walk with me up the elevator,
   I can certainly give you a few minutes of my time if you insist
I'm sure a well practiced operator like yourself,
   Mister Ananse, can make a pitch
Your reputation precedes you,
   I certainly hope you do not plan to sell us a bridge"

Ananse didn't blink any of his eight eyes, but he had to think quick
He wouldn't be able to use his powerpoint slides and synchronized music
This was a case that clearly called for speaking with forked tongue
Not his usual fare but, by hook or crook, this deal had to be swung

Still he didn't take the linguist's bravado at face value,
   but with a grain of salt
He doubted that these Ushers
   would have reprogrammed the sensors from the defaults
He had noticed as they'd stepped into the elevator lobby
   that Otis was the manufacturer
There would be an extra minute of waiting.
   He marveled at the small things he remembered

In the event, he didn't need the extra time,
   it was a sellers market
The linguist was easily bamboozled,
   like a rube in a frothy stock market
The standard spiel:
   I'm not here to sell you a novel product and confusion
Rather, think of me, Ananse,
   as simply offering access to a proven solution

You've heard of life insurance, whole life, term life, and that jazz
It only pays out when you are beyond the grave, it doesn't last
Soul insurance is what I have to offer, a balm, a soothing remedy
The blows will be coming but, with it, you'll dodge any adversity

The linguist was entirely entranced,
   as if he'd seen stolen loot in a museum
Soul insurance, the mere concept glittered,
   that way lay the road to freedom
Once uttered, it was disruptive, look at the possibilities,
   a new paradigm for humanity
A surefire approach, the ancients would, no doubt,
   approve for the avoidance of uncertainty

Although he wouldn't begrudge
   a middleman and market maker their dues
Quibbling a la carte, all societies needed
  these originals and their muse
Still, he started to give thought
   to how to cut out the spider from the transaction
He bade the young man call up a cab,
   his favorite, the one branded with Determination

determination crop 2

Elevator Pitch, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note. Always be closing. (spotify version)
fairy garden 8

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

Next: Pity the Mink

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Writing log: Part 3 March 23, 2021

Saturday, July 02, 2022

Kenya Elections

2022 is an election year in Kenya. Africa is needing good news on the democratic front but it is fair to say that Kenya's political class has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. We hold our breath and pray for no drama.

60 years later some of the names are still in play. Kenyatta and Odinga are still relevant albeit of later generations.

Odinga visits Kenyatta in detention march 1961

— Odinga Odinga visiting Jomo Kenyatta in detention (March 1961)

African election campaigns can be a curious mix of crude and sophisticated. From bagmen distributing rice (or just t-shirts, votes can be cheap) to, say, consultants from Cambridge Analytica hawking their influencer wares as was attempted in 2016 in Ghana. There's a broad spectrum of approaches.

odinga odinga campaigning in eldoret Africa Report 1966

— Odinga Odinga campaigning in Eldoret in the 1966 election campaign.

kenyatta at kandara africa report 1966-10-059 kenya's little general election

— Jomo Kenyatta campaigning at Kandara in the 1966 election campaign.

Politics is a contact sport. Elections in a covidious time can be fraught affairs, needless to say, Observers are worried
An election, rigged or not, is a stimulus package.

Since I jotted down these thoughts in February, I have been pleasantly surprised that I haven't been hearing much from Kenya. I understand things are heating up and campaigning is ongoing, but thankfully there has been precious little of what we saw in the lead up to the last elections. The nomination process was bruising but civil society seems to be tempering the worst impulses of the politicians. No news is good news in this respect and normalcy is good for business.

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