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Normalcy Prohibition

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our host had earlier quoted Publius Terentius Afer, better known as Terence,
That Afro-Roman Senator of yore, a paragon of uncommon wit and sense
And his enduring aphorism and motto
Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto
I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me
I left it there, there was no need to go further, you see

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

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

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

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

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

I am human I think nothing human alien to me

Normalcy Prohibition, a playlist

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

See previously: Internally Displaced

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Writing log: March 10, 2021

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6 days ago
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FAQ About Your CSA

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Welcome to the Rockcrop Farms Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Thank you once again for supporting your local farm. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

Q. How local is this local farm, exactly?
A. Well, you live in a place where land is scarce, the property taxes are exorbitantly high, and most of the former farms have been turned into condos. But local-ish! We are only about seventy-five miles away, so please visit any time! You can take public transportation or drive on some one-lane roads, and it’ll only be three hours each way.

Q. How much food will I get every week?
A. A typical share of produce will feed a family of four, assuming all four members are vegetarians with extremely large appetites and are not averse to strange-looking tubers. Otherwise, one share will feed twelve people.

Q. What kind of vegetables can I expect every week?
A. We planted five thousand lettuce plants, so for the first few weeks of your CSA you will be getting nothing but lettuce. You will be eating lettuce for breakfast (yes, breakfast lettuce is a thing!), lunch, and dinner. Just when you have made peace with eating more lettuce than your childhood rabbit, Mr. Peepers, the lettuce will abruptly stop coming in your CSA boxes because we are, frankly, over it. But not to worry! There are plenty of other exciting vegetables coming in your weekly share—like kohlrabi, rutabagas, and some super-fun mystery greens!

Q. What the hell am I supposed to do with all these turnips?
A. Pickle them? Honestly, we don’t know. Everyone usually just throws them out.

Q. How much does it cost?
A. A full share is $600 (not including the optional fruit share, mushroom share, coffee share, or bean share). This might sound expensive, but it’s twenty-four weeks of really high-quality produce, which translates to some excellent bowel movements.

You can also split a share with another family. This will cut your cost in half, but will require you to coordinate every week about who is picking up the CSA box and when it’s getting dropped off at someone’s house and who is getting how much of each item in the box, and then talking about things like how you could hate basil, everyone loves basil! Then repeat the next week with plums, etc.

Q. When do I pick up my share?
A. You can pick up your share on Monday afternoons between 4:45 and 5:22 p.m., which also happens to be when your son has soccer practice, so we wish you the best of luck in figuring out how to get there on time. We can’t stay late, sorry; we have a beet-growing cooperative meeting to attend.

Also, we need you to bring the produce box back every week, so please dedicate a space in your house to storing a large box six days a week.

Q. What am I supposed to do with the ten pounds of tomatoes I am bound to get in August?
A. Try canning! Here is a link to a tutorial on how to avoid botulism.

Q. What kinds of fruit can I expect?
A. The fruit we give you will be seasonal, but will almost always be underripe or overripe when you actually want to eat it, especially if you took it to work with you and it’s your only snack. As Jerry Seinfeld once said, “Fruit is a gamble,” That’s why casinos use fruits as symbols on slot machines.

Q. Do I need to volunteer?
A. Yes! Somehow we expect you to be able to volunteer on a Tuesday at 11 a.m. while still being able to pay $600-plus for fruit and vegetables.

Thank you once again for supporting your community CSA. It’s like the farmer’s market, but less convenient and more expensive. However, you will get to feel morally superior when you make kale smoothies with fresh, local organic kale, even though the kale will be riddled with aphids (by the way, aphids are actually totally edible!). Make sure to post it on Instagram and tag us!

Your local(ish) farmers

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

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


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

dance by wiz

A Debt Foretold, a playlist

See previously:

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

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Writing log: March 20, 2021

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10 days ago
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Internally Displaced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

masks of civility

Home, a playlist

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

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

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

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

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

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

the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2

Soundtrack for the Note


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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

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Writing log: September 5, 2021

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24 days ago
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This traveler hews to the joy of small things
The comfort suites of everyday routines
The invention of tradition and sundry rituals
I'm one who delights in whimsy and the ephemeral

This is a reaction to our fraught and fractured modernity
And the reversals of fortune that come with the territory
In the torrid zone, where the wages are paid in blood and sin
Hard won experience teaches that protection comes from within

For violence, in all its forms, can be disarmed by laughter
As to oppression, the absurd will surely be its master
Contra greed and the arbitrary, I seek out levity
Wounds can always be salved by an aphorism's brevity

The forms are many, for even when the situation is dire
There is no end to the uses of irony and deft satire
What remains then, is facing down injustice and despair
When all else fails sadly, our only weapon is the stare

village huts by K. Baka

Soundtrack for this note


Timing is everything
Observers are worried

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Writing log: March 21, 2021

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26 days ago
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