Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Arms on Ghana Plane

I came across this clipping from the spy swap issue in Talking Drums magazine, published in December 1985 when Ghana and the US swapped spies. It's almost an afterthought from the rest of the issue but the story ticks off all my buttons.

The headline, tucked in the back pages, reads Arms on Ghana Plane. You would likely miss it if you focused on the cover story which was full of spy intrigue.

The plane that was found at Dublin airport last week with arms on board has been confirmed as a Ghana-registered plane owned by a Viennese company.

Irish police had been baffled about why equipment similar to that used by the IRA should be on a Ghana plane...

The Boeing 707... is owned by an import-export company called Penetex owned in turn by a Viennese conservative councillor Peter Neuman and registered in Ghana. He is said to have acquired the plane three years ago as payment of a debt.

The plane is said to be regularly used by the Libyan international show jumping team and had just returned from Libya. Police fear that Libya had started supplying arms to the IRA again.
Now, now, now. What do we have here? A small tale of strange bedfellows, arms dealers, rogues, terrorists, Ghanaian coup makers, Austrian politicians, the IRA, British and Irish police, and, of course, He of the Little Green Book

There's surely a novel or script to be written about the escapades of the Libyan show jumping team and their travels in the 1980s, John Le Carre had a surfeit of material to draw on and a cast of characters that couldn't be beaten.

Or perhaps consider this as a James Bond joint, for the mechanics of the affair are piquant. You can imagine the tradecraft at work, the setup of the shell company, the cutouts, the forged documentation and the vaguely plausible backstory. Throw in say Viktor Bout in the mix to heighten the tension. The background of a showjumping or polo competition would be highlighted, the thoroughbreds at work, the elites and the monied, the crates with hidden bottoms and so forth. Great heists have been made out of lesser material.

Ghanaians like to think they are at the periphery of world affairs and keep a low profile - we tend to go for opacity culturally, but the Rawlings-Tsikata crew were neck deep in all manner of dodgy dealings, being convinced ideologues and unafraid of blood. You can find their bloody fingerprints all over the continent. The most explicit was the support for Thomas Sankara's coup in Burkina Faso but elsewhere they were allies with many unsavoury regimes notably the Congo-Brazzaville lot, the Angola heavyweights and so forth. Here though, Ghana was featuring (and being used as a front) in the big leagues; Gaddafi and the IRA are about as high profile in infamy as one can get. The Semtex especially that wasn't intercepted by the British during this period - when Libyan assistance was at it most munificent, made a tangible difference to the terrrorists, and many paid the price with their lives in the ensuing years. Living in exile in London as I did at the time, I can testify to the baleful effect of the emboldened Irish terrorists.

For the longest time in the 1980s, the Ghana government made a quite lucrative trade in end-user certificates. Planes from Eastern Europe carrying weapons destined for hotspots like Angola would fly in to Ghana and briefly pause to satisfy the fraudulent paperwork and turn around to fly to their ultimate destination a few hours later. Episodes like this discovery on the Ghana plane would bring great scrutiny from the great powers.

Sidenote: if Ghanaian planes were used by Libyans to supply the IRA with weapons in 1985, we shouldn't be too shocked to learn that one of the Al Qaeda plotters passed through Ghana on his way to the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, and stayed overnight in a government safehouse. Once you entertain the company of rogues, indeed if you actively court their shenanigans, you open the door to deviousness that you can't control. The prospect of being a scapegoat or collateral damage in other people's wars is not something that most would seek out.

Anyway, I've been here before: He of the Little Green Book
Thus, ever since the Flight Lieutenant's arrival
We'd had to develop a new philosophy of survival

At markets, we would fight over corned beef and sardine tins
Throughout I kept asking myself: why are these men laughing?
I suppose this in keeping with the Excellent Discussions they were having.

The moral of course is be careful with the company you keep. Rawlings and company simply failed to heed the Ewe proverb, the goat does not pass the leopard's door.

talking drums 1985-12-02 The spy swap Sousoudis for 8 Ghanaians and families



In the cutthroat world of elite sports
Many go to great lengths to seek out advantages
A few grams shaved off here and there
Aerodynamic styling in Formula One cars
The steroidal cocktails - liquid gold at that,
That underlay the nutrition of East German athletes
Designer drugs, custom feeding regimens
All is fair to avoid defeat

He of the Little Green Book, for his part,
Hearkened all the way back to Buda's wagon
For he was quite minded for revenge
Plastic explosives would be his secret weapon
The show jumping team entered the competition
They would show the world that Libya was best
Albeit with the hidden cargo on the Ghana plane
They also delivered a load of Semtex

Arms on Ghana Plane, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version) Bonus beats: You Dropped a Bomb on Me by Gap Band


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

(We'll get to the spy swap in due course, that's another story ...)

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Writing log: May 30, 2021

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Coyote Point

It was a brief encounter, a coyote sighting in the urban jungle
Just the other day on our walk, it was quite exciting
It brought to mind a time of my life that I'd blocked from my memory
A time, long uninterrogated, that I've thought best left forgotten

But once the beast darted out, I could hardly help myself
The memories of those 18 months at Coyote Point returned
The whims of memory lead one to arbitrary endpoints
And so let me try to recall the tale of Coyote Point...

There's a long line of hotel-like establishments
In the mile stretch that leads to Coyote Point
They range from the upscale Holiday Inn hotel
To the lowest of the low, the by-the-hour motel

As to the motels, suffice to say, there were gradations
I guess you could call it a full spectrum of cockroaches
Thankfully providence lifted me out of the worst situations
I eventually settled on the Best Western Plus

A correction, the high end was a Holiday Inn and Suites
Let me not, on this point, Dear Reader, mislead
I lost my driver's license at one of them,
   was it the San Mateo SFO Airport Hotel?
Or rather America's Best Value Inn,
   where the pimps had so many stories to tell?

The Best Western Plus was quite swank in reality
But the first time I arrived, my eyes were rather bleary
The Nigerian hotel receptionist took one look at me
And assigned me to room 419. Well played, young lady

The Plus in the name makes quite a bit of difference
As our now 9 year old observed, a couple of years ago
We made the mistake, one weekend, in San Antonio
Of staying at a vanilla Best Western. Lesson learned

Those 18 months were trying, it was hard to understand
I was dealing with the whims of a Never Never Man
Who seemed to sabotage my every want and desire
And enjoyed raising the specter of me getting fired

He wanted me, he was adamant, to work in person
Said he absolutely needed me in the office
Yet I was working with people in India and Boston
Why couldn't I go with the remote option?

It was a strange kind of life if you ask me
But you make your own bed, your own destiny
I'd run headlong into an immovable object
And all I could do was protect my neck

Tuesday morning before dawn I'd get on the SuperShuttle
And head to Austin Bergstrom airport before the morning bustle
Four hours on the plane, find a rental car, drive to the office
Then, to add insult to injury, mostly attend teleconferences

I'd call it a day getting to five,
   and make my way to my provisional home
It was always a gamble,
   for I could never remember which was this week's abode
I hadn't expected this to be a permanent situation,
   I didn't plan this contingency
Nevertheless, living on a week by week basis,
   I kept pushing on grudgingly

What is there to say about those 100 days of dismay?
The traveling salesman life I lead, groundhog day
Leaving The Wife with infant and toddler in a new town
33 trips, I counted, before finally I threw in the towel

But back to Coyote Point, I only observed the place after work
After checking in, I'd find the Chinese restaurant
   where I got my roast duck
Because the motel food was little to non-existent
   and, quite frankly, sucked
Some rooms had a fridge, and a microwave for reheating,
   at others I was out of luck

The Mother-in-Law visited once,
   when she was passing through the Bay Area
Checking in on her wayward charge,
   seeing how I was dealing with this hysteria
That week I'd missed a booking,
   and was staying at a rather low rent joint
She might have been less alarmed
   if I'd shown her the best of Coyote Point

Ah right, the lost license, I shouldn't leave that dangling
It's another sad story that doesn't bear remembering
Ever walked up confidently to the TSA counter and opened your wallet
To pick out your license only to realize that it's lost.
   Woe is me, instant regret

Was it in the rental car? Or at the motel?
   Which one? Or was it at the office?
I checked my bags and pockets ten times,
   goddamn, I must have dropped it
The panicked calls to the rental company and the low rent motel
No time to get back to the rental and no ID even then. Well, hell

I'm still surprised that they let me get on that Thursday evening flight
With barely any identifying document, save my company badge,
   what a fright
It must have been the doctor's note that I carried, and my insurance card
Or was it that I looked so broken by that stage, man, times were hard

True they did give me the full TSA treatment
Examined me more closely than my wife after ten
Quadruple searched my bags, my clothes,
   and damn near every orifice
Yet I was so grateful this agent let me on the plane,
   I could have kissed him

Thankfully at the motel, America's Best Value Inn, the one with the pimps
They'd found my driver's license - phew I had escaped an identity crisis
But they were cheap, Mrs Singh and son, they were fixated on getting paid for its return
Man, I sweet talked her, gave a massive reward, paid for the Fedex courier, talk about heartburn

Oh, and after I totalled my car coming out of Walgreens
   in Hyde Park one night
I scrambled and managed to rent a Zipcar for the week
   to placate The Wife
And, at dawn the next day, it was back on the SuperShuttle
   to get on my flight
Praying that Never Never Man and the insurance company
   would do me right (He didn't)

With hindsight this was all plainly ridiculous, the kind of life I was leading
For the exiled soul and the immigrant, diffidence reigns,
   it's a self imposed precarity
Pride and vanity is all,
   we hold on to whatever scraps we hold of the American dream
There's none of the boldness of the American, born-and-raised,
   unafraid to cause a scene

I never once ventured to Coyote Point proper,
   my life was quite circumscribed
Now with Google Street View available,
   I can behold the luxuries I was denied
The motels were only a few blocks south from the edge of the golf course
Virtually browsing vicariously, I daresay I missed out on pleasant walks

It was all work and no play,
   the motels were the extent of my event horizon
Thus I missed out on a good location
   for aircraft spotting and birdwatching
But let me not continue in this vein, I assure you there was only trauma
A liminal life as a theater of the absurd piece,
   or something worthy of Kafka

For whatever reason, perhaps the poorly equipped minibar in those joints
I didn’t drown my sorrows. I remained equanimous, and never got drunk
The only photo I took in 18 months
   was in the hotel parking lot at Coyote Point
It was of a curious normally nocturnal visitor,
   I believe it was a civet, racoon or skunk

grilled fish

No Time, a playlist

A soundtrack for a strange kind of life (spotify version) Bonus beats: I Left My Wallet in El Segundo by A Tribe Called Quest


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: May 6, 2021

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

Proximate Cause

The proximate cause, the judgement noted, was a inherent flaw in humanity
And independent arbitration later confirmed the troubling lack of integrity
For the balance sheet of morality revealed a shortage of spines
Hence the application for blanket coverage was duly denied

Of course there was an immediate appeal, and call for a renewed appraisal
But what book value gives to the brave is but a fickle wind in their sail
That bears little resemblance, in the long run, to notional value
Leaving no protection even as incurred losses continue to accrue

The final auditor's report relied on the coordination of benefits
The surety bond's terms and conditions were adjusted on a valuation basis
Moral hazard observed on the rider raised the issue of contingent liability
The underwriters had stressed upfront this feature of the joint-life annuity

The proximate cause of the variety of perils, again, were those insatiable appetites
Statutory accounting noted negligence in the underlying interest on the surplus line
The risk profile belied the damage, this failure to protect the least of us
A lack of restraint and consideration; injurious exposure was the consensus

The force majeure clause was invoked due to the concurrent causation plainly evident
The claims adjuster rallied, and negotiated a structured settlement
The salvage agent came to terms on the matter of replacement cost
Quoth the soul insurance provider, "What paradise have we lost?"

observers are worried - red

Reasons, a playlist

A soundtrack for this note (spotify version) ...

Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See previously: Soul Insurance and Rhythm of Loss

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Writing log: May 5, 2021

Tuesday, March 07, 2023

Soul Insurance (Part 11 Enforcement Actions)

The view from the south... Part 11 of Soul Insurance (see previously)

XI. Enforcement Actions

The people of Agona in the torrid zone were the proverbial black sheep
Typically subject to regional blocks and forever last in the global heap
It was confounding, they were the cradle of mankind, they were that old
Yet always seemingly on the back foot,
   extractive industries pursued their black gold

In times past and present, they were sought after for their labor
Albeit the siren song of slavery was not sung by Mami Wata
No, the mantras of the carry trade and manifest destiny
   came from so-called explorers
Don Diego de Azambuja, for one,
   started a chapter not too far from Elmina

Gold, God and Glory
   - (backed by guns, if you want to be diplomatic)
Peonage in the Middle Passage,
   many were buried mid-Atlantic
But they'd made their peace with it,
   and had solidarity with some of the Ushers
Who faced some of the same legacies in Bloodbath, South Carolina

They'd seen what had happened in minor onslaughts
   at other erstwhile epicenters
And knew that, even if prepared,
   they didn't have the capacity to face the claims adjuster
They wanted to negotiate a settlement,
   for their brand was conversation
And draw on the defined benefit
   of Asase Yaa's excessive liability protection

But it was hard to follow the gospel of germs
   and keep the soul clean
All that washing of hands, that duty of care,
   let alone communal hygiene
Prone to take a few shortcuts,
   their societies loved funerals for whatever reason
They kept playing with fire,
   it takes just one superspreader to bring on grief season

Tedros of Who negotiated some leftover supplies,
   they could wait, they were young
It was a marshmallow test of character,
   of their ability to overcome
To stay the course,
   for restraint doesn't come easily to the human condition
The reverse of the coin however
   is to become subject to a severe enforcement action

prove jesus alive ministry at Dome/Atomic

Long experience dealing with cheerful rogues
   and their deceptions
They had the playlists ready:
   the corruption tango and an awoof conception
This is your daily bread, your reality, when you lack all infrastructure
You know that you are quite vulnerable indeed to the scheming trickster

Rogues of all sorts show up at your door
   to pitch all manner of dubious propositions
Gremlins and parasites will take their pound of flesh
   while peddling potions
Quack cures and get rich schemes are wont to proliferate in abundance
Not for those interlocutors, the safety of something like soul insurance

Unfortunately, the real issue was that
   it was hard to present a united front
The Ushers, prime among the three tribes,
   would never admit that they were wrong
Unlike the keen pragmatism of the Wan,
   and the abject survivalism of the Agonists
It normally took ten bites, rather than the one,
   before they heeded a cease and desist

Thus the dwellers of the torrid zone readied themselves for the Ushers to disappoint
A lion throwing a tantrum doesn't change anything from the antelope's viewpoint
If anything, the usual wariness of the latter turns to resignation
A poor man's son does not brag, they came to terms with the situation

this land not for sale

Enforcement Actions, a playlist

A soundtrack for this tall tale. (spotify version)

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 cautionary tale is part of a series: In a covidious time.

Next: The Die is Cast

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Writing log: Part 11 April 9, 2021

Thursday, March 02, 2023

Coyote Sighting

Quoth The 9 Year Old after the coyote passed us by,
Strolling down the middle of the street,
Imperious, and barely bothered by our presence:
"I saw the cat running away very quickly."

Indeed. We, all four of us, caught our breath at the near miss
The kids were not the only ones alarmed at the roving beast.
Added The Wife, "That's true. We didn't see the rabbits today."
Ask questions later, they followed nature's advice and ran away

After a pause (it felt like forever) to let the coyote disappear,
We continued down the road on our morning walk.
The kids held on tight to their mother, they stayed near.
For the next twenty minutes, none of us talked.

Later The 9 Year Old added, "I also didn't hear any chickens today".
When a proverbial fox approaches the henhouse, its intent is not to play
Observant child, she'd make a good witness on the stand
Her recall of the smallest detail showed a high command

The coyote had darted out of what we now call Coyote Alley
It is only a block away from Poison Ivy Lane, by that little valley
Where water collects when it floods just by Deadly Nightshade Corner
Where the Asbestos House lies unoccupied and derelict - catacorner

Throughout this pandemic, we've treasured our morning walks
Even as they've sometimes devolved into an urban obstacle course
We'd seen the sign at the start of the Boggy Creek trail: Coyote Warning
Back at the community garden, some ways off from this, our first sighting.

But this was our street, we thought we owned the town
Now we were seeing the effect of the pandemic lockdowns
That was returning wildlife to reign over their former haunts
The coyote might have been silent, but its very presence was a taunt


community garden

Beast of Burden, a playlist

A soundtrack for this wild thing. (spotify version)

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

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Writing log: Sighting: July 1, 2020; May 3, 2021