“Thou knowest my years entire, my life,
(My long and crowded life of active work—not adoration merely;)
Thou knowest the prayers and vigils of my youth;
Thou knowest my manhood’s solemn and visionary meditations;
Thou knowest how, before I commenced, I devoted all to come to Thee;
Thou knowest I have in age ratified all those vows, and strictly kept them;
Thou knowest I have not once lost nor faith nor ecstasy in Thee;
(In shackles, prison’d, in disgrace, repining not,
Accepting all from Thee—as duly come from Thee.)”
— Walt Whitman, Prayer of Columbus

Forty years ago, during a four year stint as a submarine diesel mechanic (among other things) I was exposed to pendulum motion. What, one might ask, does pendulum motion have to do with diesel operation? OK. So you have these cylinders (the Fairbanks Morse machines we ran had two opposing rows of twelve cylinders) that go up and down, hence reciprocating. Then there is this rocker arm assembly that connects and transfers the reciprocating action of the cylinders to rotating action of a main shaft, and it is that rotating action, inside a magnetic field that generates electricity. Still with me?

So what is the pendulum connection? Well, these cylinders are timed to fire sequentially in a way to smoothly turn the shaft, mimicking a pendulum in that the piston starts at the cylinder top (one extreme) pushes down to the bottom (opposite extreme) compression ignites the fuel, the piston is driven back to the top, passing an imaginary point in its travel called top dead center. Same as the swing of a pendulum, far to one side, midpoint, far opposite side, back to the mid point, and so forth, covering the whole range of the pendulum swing.

(It’s been forty years, mind you, so the experts can correct me if required, but that’s what I recall of the basic motion.)

So what? What does this have to do, say, with the price of tea in China? (A rather fitting analogy for another time, but demand and supply curves shift on an oscillating plane, setting the price, or as the old black preacher used to say, “da Sun do move.”)

This is becoming a longer status post than I originally intended.

Political “things,” movements, changes occur on a spectrum that is “pendulumatic,” i.e. from one extreme, past the middle, to the opposite extreme, back past the middle, and on and on. Social “things” move on the same pendulum, a sort of oscillation. Even businesses operate on a business cycle. It actually makes things predictable. And history can be viewed on the same alternating spectrum.

But in the political realm, you have to be careful. Entrenched interests seek to prevent the pendulum swing, to keep themselves or their party in power. But the pendulum is not just a nice thing to think about, it is actually physical law. We see a sort of contrived political alternation in the election of “opposite” parties for executive and legislative office, and correspondingly for judicial appointments. I say contrived because increasingly, in the two party system, the “opposing parties” begin to look so much alike as to become hardly indistinguishable, which basically means there is no pendulum motion at all. Ah, but as the old preacher, Rev John Jasper used to say, “da Sun do move,” and the pendulum action is in effect, sooner or later. Of course, folks ridiculed Rev. Jasper because they thought he was saying the Sun revolved around the earth in a geocentric way described by Ptolemy of Alexandria, debunked by Copernicus and Galileo long ago. Now we know that the Sun moves through the galaxy, orbiting around the center of the Milky Way. (Now that’s a poem begging to be written.)

Those on the bottom will someday swing to the top. “Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home.” And those at the top will eventually descend to the bottom. In an analogy, yesterday’s slave will be tomorrow’s master, a frightening consideration for some but a necessary prospect for all parties. They used to say “be careful who you step on on your way up because you might see them again when you come back down.”


A “catching up” email on a similar subject:

It’s been a busy summer, even though the lockdown has us teleworking 99% at the memory factory (but I’ll get to that later).

50 years ago this summer I was girding up for what would become the signature experience of my life, the integration of Woodberry Forest School. Here’s the interesting story in a nutshell. Ex-Confederate Captain Robert Walker acquired a mansion and a large plot of land in central Virginia from President James Madison’s ne-er do well baby brother, Willey, designed and architected by Madison’s partner in crime, Thomas Jefferson (though we now forgive them all). Walker started a school to educate his sons, pulling his oldest son out of UVA law school and installing him as headmaster, a post he held until his death 50 years later. (p.s. James Madison was a leading proponent of Negro repatriation, and we have Liberia (Americans), Sierra Leone (British) and Nigeria (Brazilians) to show for that brain fart.)

In the 60’s, the great white fathers of Woodberry decided that their boys needed a more “multi-cultured” exposure because the world, she was a-changing. They called up an alum who ran a foundation in North Carolina to dispose of the fortune of another alum who had been huge in North Carolina textiles and said, “We need to integrate. Find us some worthy colored students.”  But not yet. Wait until after the capital fund-raising project in 1968 so as not to scare off big donors. In 1969 the school also admitted their first Asian student, their first Jewish student, and their first known Native-American.

Greensboro, Durham, Fayetteville, Houston, and Washington, DC would provide that black human fodder. And off we marched.

This year we lost one of the original crew to ALS. That event has served to reconnect the remaining few. My re-entry to the Woodberry orbit came in 2013, when, you guessed it, one of my classmates made the connection between me and that guy involved in that Benghazi mess. Good guy, did a stint in the Marine Corps and returned home to run the family pipe business, found me and called me up. “Ray, are you that guy? What can we do to help?”  Small world.

Impossible to make this all up, I am turning my hand to fiction-writing after penning a two-act play I buried and over a thousand pages of poetry my grand nephew has been instructed to publish posthumously.

And the memory factory. While on extended admin leave, I started taking classes in the Library and Information Science program at Catholic U. After finishing it i worked a series of librarian and archivist jobs, settling on archiving as my calling. While serving as town archivist in the tony Maryland suburb of Garrett Park, I got a call from Howard University’s famed Moorland Spingarn Research Center, where I have been for the past two years. Y’all would not believe the stuff they have. But I am fairly certain that after the vandals take down all the statues, they’ll be coming after the libraries, archives and museums next. America’s Cultural Revolution. So, as we speak, I’m planning my next caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis.

Afterthoughts becoming Prologue

Posted on by Raymond Maxwell

(Note: this blog post will change as memories come back to me and i seek to fill the spaces. You may want to check back after a few days.)

Today’s American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) Daily Media Digest (July 8, 2020) is teasing us in a fascinating way. Scroll down, past the News and Articles and past Opinions and Blogs and there is a section called Odds and Ends. What’s this? Is my friend Diplopundit now editing the Daily Media Digest? She’s known for playing tricks like this from her hideaway at that consulate in Australia.

So what’s the trick? There is a very subtle juxtaposition of almost poetic dimensions there at the bottom of the page. The first submission, from the 25-Year Apprentice website, is an article/interview by/with T. Pickering, the Grand Old Man of the Department of State who has weathered storms and blasts, and yes, scandals, and lived to tell about it. The second submission, by T. Spears (note the parallelity! Is that a word? Yes!) is a missive and a blog post that should have been in the upper Blogs and Opinions section, a letter from a potential careerist drummed out of the service way too early. Wrong sex, wrong race, wrong state of mind to serve in this hallowed and highly sought after apprenticeship. You see where I’m going, so I really don’t even need to go into too much detail. It’s just another tautology. Like Black Lives Matter. (I know, but I couldn’t resist!)

OK, I’ll not spoil it for you. But there is obviously a higher intelligence and a creative design at work at AFSA Daily Media Digest. I follow it religiously.

Different plate. My series of blog posts on my career transition is crying out for a prologue, in the classic Greek drama Euripidean sense, and perhaps a witty piece of verse that serves as a scene setter, a note from the playwright. That would be me!

The prologue might include an account of the fourteen years of my life before I got shipped off for the integration experiment. Life in my village. Life in the tribe, among my kinsmen, a fitting prelude to the Section #10 Epilogue and beyond. We will see. Apparently time is on my side.


Woodberry Forest Experiment
Shabazz Bakery the lost years
Return to Greensboro and NCA&T
Navy Memories I: Enlistment and Training
Navy Memories II: USS Hammerhead
Navy Memories III: USS Michigan
Navy Memories IV: FAMU NROTC
Navy Memories V: USS Luce
Pre-Foreign Service
Orientation and Pre-assignment training
Embassy Bissau – the first year
Embassy Bissau – the second year

Embassy London
Domestic Assignment: The Operations Center
Embassy Luanda, Angola
Embassy Accra, Ghana
Domestic Assignment: AF/EX
The Final Eight Years – The Islamic Trifecta
Domestic Assignment – The Near East Bureau

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