Segmenting and Merging Domain-specific Ontology Modules for Clinical Informatics (Presentation)

A significant set of challenges to the use of large, source ontologies in the medical domain include: automated translation, customization of source ontologies, and performance issues associated with the use of logical reasoning systems to interpret the meaning of a domain captured in a formal knowledge representation. SNOMED-CT and FMA are two reference ontologies that cover much of the domain of clinical informatics and motivate a better means for re-use. In this paper, we present a method for segmenting and merging modules from these ontologies for a specific domain that preserve the meaning of the anatomy terms they have in common.

Our presentation for this FOIS 2010 paper is below.

Quotīdiē ❧ A too-often understated perspective on reparations for slavery

The African role in the slave trade was fully understood and openly acknowledged by many African-Americans even before the Civil War. For Frederick Douglass, it was an argument against repatriation schemes for the freed slaves. “The savage chiefs of the western coasts of Africa, who for ages have been accustomed to selling their captives into bondage and pocketing the ready cash for them, will not more readily accept our moral and economical ideas than the slave traders of Maryland and Virginia,” he warned. “We are, therefore, less inclined to go to Africa to work against the slave trade than to stay here to work against it.”

—Henry Louis Gates Jr.—"Ending the Slavery Blame-Game"

I really don't know much about Henry Louis Gates Jr. except that I got a good laugh out of reports of his response to the police officer who asked him to step outside his own house.  I did find very interesting his article about some of the inconvenient reality regarding reparations the destination countries of slavery to the descendants of those slaves.  Frederick Douglass's argument against repatriation schemes echoes into debate about reparation schemes.  I've been making a similar argument for ages, but then again it's probably easier for me to say, considering I'm the insouciant type whose 'forbear was not the one shuffled off in a coffle to Calabar for a ghastly journey and a ghastlier existence abroad.'

OK, to be sure we don't treat the history of the slave trade as gingerly in Nigeria as we do in the U.S. An old girlfriend of mine was from Arochukwu, and when I wanted to tease her (which was often) I called her "slave trader". She'd call me "bushman" It's all good. Of course I didn't dwell on the fact that my Mom is from near Calabar, where the Aros would typically sell all the slaves they'd captured in their raids on the Igbo interior (where my Dad is from).

—me—"Want a Slave Trade tour? Don't miss Arochukwu."

Certainly any talk of reparations for any historical evil is a mater of politics, and nothing that could be considered balanced convention or regular law.  You could certainly make a reasonable argument that descendants of slaves deserve reparations across the board, from descendants of plantation owners as well as descendants of the damnable potentates who started off the chain of commerce.  It might be a tricky one to identify the guilty parties in the latter case since I doubt there was much record keeping in the Guinea hinterlands, not even in Nsibiri annals of Arochukwu secret societies.  I'd personally work with our family lawyer to get us off because our name 'Ogbuji' clearly indicates that yams were our stock-in-trade, not heads.  But just as US discussion of reparations is more about government compensation schemes than inter-family vendettas, I suspect the way to go for Africa would be hand over a bunch of oil rights to the reparees.  I'm for that.  "Good riddance," I'd say, and maybe given the Deepwater Horizon, the US might be a teensy bit less jealous of mineral rights as well.

(Photo from 'A Breakthrough in Yam Breeding')

Politics and not law.  Jewish families have received reparations for slave labor in Nazi camps, and some people consider the favorable economic zoning given as a sort of ersatz autonomy to Aboriginal American groups a form of reparations.  But I don't think precedents work in such a sociological pea soup.  Maybe one day Palestinians will be able to command reparations for Israeli occupation, with funding provided through compensation for Russian Pogroms, and for the long process of disenfranchisement that led to the Warsaw Ghetto.  Maybe one day Armenians will send a bill to Turkey, and Instanbul/Constantinople can set up an electronic exchange.  Or heck, the Ibibio might send a bill to the Arochukwu, and a good number of North African and Middle Eastern countries might expect to cough up for those swept up in the Trans-Saharan slave trade.  Going back a bit further, I'd find pretty poetic the idea of a dispatch to Rome from Addis Ababa for all that Carthago delenda est business.  Sociological pea soup, I said.

I did, however, find a central lesson for all this in Gates's piece.

But the sad truth is that the conquest and capture of Africans and their sale to Europeans was one of the main sources of foreign exchange for several African kingdoms for a very long time. Slaves were the main export of the kingdom of Kongo; the Asante Empire in Ghana exported slaves and used the profits to import gold. Queen Njinga, the brilliant 17th-century monarch of the Mbundu, waged wars of resistance against the Portuguese but also conquered polities as far as 500 miles inland and sold her captives to the Portuguese. When Njinga converted to Christianity, she sold African traditional religious leaders into slavery, claiming they had violated her new Christian precepts.

Yes, that does sound quite Christian of her.  It's the wide and well-traveled gate in contrast to Wilberforce's skinny porthole, so go figure that when 'President Mathieu Kerekou [sic] of Benin astonished an all-black congregation in Baltimore by falling to his knees and begging African-Americans’ forgiveness for the "shameful” and “abominable” role Africans played in the trade,' he did so in church.  Oh well.  Never mind trying to make sense of it all.  I'll just hang out waiting for my own bill.  If they come for me for any sins of my forbears, they should expect me to make payment from my ancestral yam barn.

Coarser Grain Linked CRUD Data

Coarser Grain Linked Data

I've written before about my thoughts about the Linked Data movement and my concerns with its mandate regarding the kinds of URIs you use in your RDF.  I think, though well intentioned, that particular constraint is a bit too tight and doesn't consider the (hidden) expense  and distraction of forcing a producer of RDF content to ensure that all his or her URIs have a web presence. 

However, i've been thinking about what a RESTful protocol for interacting with an RDF dataset would look like, Maybe requiring HTTP URIs works better at a differernt level of granularity.

The Semantic Web is meant to be an extension of the Web.  The architecture of the web is abstracted in the REST style. 

The REST interface is designed to be efficient for large-grain hypermedia data. 

So, if the Semantic Web is an extension of the Web, then a RESTful focus of protocol interactions with RDF content should also occur at a large grain.  An abundance of dereferencable URIs as the terms of the RDF statements in a graph and the random outbound traversal along  them can lead to an unnecessary (and very redundant) load on the origin server if the consumer of the graph assumes all RDF vocabulary tokens denote things with a web presence.  The cache-ability of the REST style (due to its statelessness) does offset some of this burden, but consider the hypertext analogy of (fine grained) Linked Data.  Imagine if a browser were to automatically load all the outbound a/@href links in an (X)HTML document independent of which ones the user choses to click.  Even with the ability to cache responses to those requests, it still is an unnecessary burden on the browser (and origin server).

Now consider applying the same principle at a coarser, larger grain: the URIs of the named graphs in an RDF dataset.  The relationship between an RDF graph in an RDF dataset, the RDF document that serializes that RDF graph, and the referent (the thing identified by) of the graph URI is confusing.  However, it can be better understood if you think of the relationship between the RDF graph (a knowledge representation) and its mathematical interpretations.

The RDF document, the concrete syntax representation of an RDF graph, is what is passed around over HTTP.  The graph denotes some semantic web knowledge (interpreted via mathematical logic) and we might want to manipulate that knowledge through the request for and dispatching of RDF documents in various formats: N3, Turtle, NT, Trix, Trig, RDF/XML over HTTP.

If I wanted to implement a Facebook social network as a semantic web, I would store all the knowledge / information about a person in an RDF graph so it can be managed over the hypermedia protocol of the web.  Higher-order RDF vocabularies such as OWL2-RL, RDFS, OWL2-DL, etc. can be used to describe Facebook content as a complex domain.  The domain can describe what a Facebook account holder would store about the things he has asserted knows, and likes relationships against for instance.  So, I'd definitely want to be able to get useful information from requests and responses over HTTP against Facebook account identifiers.  The transitive (Web) closure of such a facebook graph up to a certain recursion depth would be useful to have along a fb:knows predicate.  This is an example of a graph link that is useful to a web agent capable of interpreting RDF content: a semantic web agent.

The hypertext analogy of coarse-grained Linked Data would basically be your current experience browsing Facebook content in your browser: you (for the most part) see updates regarding only the people you know alone, not everything that was said by anybody in the complete facebook dataset.  However, the RDF people known by those you know, and RDF things described by friends of yours and their friends, are useful and worth an attempt to 'interpret' in order to determine (for instance) how to display them in the browser or other such entailments from description of content. 

The Painting Fool - About Me

Hello. I'm the painting fool. I'm a computer program that aspires to be an artist. I've been taught to sketch, draw and paint by my teacher, Dr. Simon Colton, since 2001. I differ from other graphics software by trying to simulate the painting process rather than just the results of the painting process. Painting is a highly cognitive activity which requires skill, appreciation and imagination. Programs such as Photoshop have some skill in being able to rapidly turn a digital photo into an image which looks like it might have been painted in, say, an impressionistic style. But the software is merely a tool to enable humans to be more creative. This is very useful, but Photoshop is not creative, because it is neither appreciative nor imaginative, so it will never be thought of as an artist in its own right. Having said all that, I'm not sure I'm creative myself yet. I've been engaging in a few projects which enable me to express skill, appreciation and imagination, as described below.


Currently, I mainly work from digital images to produce artworks. My skill lies in being able to look at an image as a collection of paint regions, determine which colours would work for painting the regions, then simulating the usage of all sorts of art materials to produce the picture on a simulated canvas.

During the Workshop on Modular Ontologies at  FOIS 2010, I attended the invited talk by Simon Colton ("Towards Ontology Use, Re-use and Abuse in a Computational Creativity Collective"). He discussed what is probably the most interesting and unique application of AI that I've ever seen: Computational Creativity. He talked about how the turing test was not useful to gauge the effectiveness of an AI to produce creative artifacts. It was the only session I saw in that workshop, but it was one of the most insightful presentations I saw at FOIS.

I had a chance to talk with him later that evening and he pointed me to some slides on Visual Grammars in general and for learning Context Free Design Grammar and the Context Free Art program (which I always wanted to learn but didn't have to time to dig in).

The Painting Fool is a result of the research of him and his team. Some of the work it creates and the parameters they can use to tweak the emotive aspects of the results is incredibly impressive.

Quotīdiē ❧ Milton, Graves, Eliot and Ars Versificandi

He scarce had ceas't when the superior Fiend
Was moving toward the shoar; his ponderous shield
Ethereal temper, massy, large, and round
Behind him cast; the broad circumferance
Hung on his shoulders like the Moon, whose Orb
Through Optic Glass the Tuscan Artist views
At Ev'ning from the top of Fesole,
Or in Valdarno, to descry new Lands,
Rivers or Mountains in her spotty Globe.
His Spear, to equal which the tallest Pine
Hewn on Norwegian hills, to be the
Mast Of some great Ammiral, were but a wand,
He walkd with to support uneasie steps,
Over the burning Marle, not like those steps
On Heavns Azure, and the torrid Clime
Smote on him sore besides, vaulted with Fire;
Nathless he so endur'd, till on the Beach
Of that inflamed Sea, he stood and call'd
His Legions, angel Forms, who lay intrans't
Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks
In Vallombrosa, where th'Etrurian shades
High overarcht imbowr;…

—John Milton—from Book 1, Paradise Lost, quoted in "Eliot & Milton Studies", Sherry, Beverley, Versification 5 (2010)

I finally caught up with the new edition of Versification, (presently the front page of the site) a bit of Sunday morning therapy through prosody.  The first article, on the possibly exaggerated modernist credentials of Emily Dickinson, is a bizarre thing that seems to want to be edgy and cool, spending time comparing Dickinson to a visual poet who played at Möbius strip-mining with Eikon Basilike (a bit of a look-forward to the later Milton piece), and with whom there is no conceivable connection.  It also does go on about an apparent saw that you can sing all Dickinson's poems to the theme of Gilligan's Island, an rather sophomoric bit of pablum.  The second article is a punctilious, frequently baffling, over-argued, and generally dreary exposition of pervasive syllabic verse in W.H. Auden.

Luckily I persevered because the last two pieces were true delights.  The last article is a review of Latin Word Order: Structured Meaning and Information, by Devine and Stephens (Oxford University Press, 2006).  It sounds like a wonderful volume, and I've added it to my Amazon wish list for whenever I can afford the $85.  Any book that dwells with insight over the contrasting word order of socerum tuae filiae versus filiae tuae socerum is irresistible to a language geek.

The third article, "The Legacy of T.S. Eliot to Milton Studies" discusses "the Milton controversy" of the twentieth century, triggered by Eliot's early attacks on Milton.  I've never seen the controversy as a big deal.  In my own taste I go from enjoying Milton's earlier "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso" to admiring but not at all enjoying his magnum opus "Paradise Lost."  I certainly understand the urge by Eliot and cohort to elevate Donne and the Metaphysics, cavalier spirits of rotund urbanity, compared to the dour asceticism of old Roundhead Milton (and yes, I know The New Critics would have shied away from such biographical tinting, but I'm not really one of them), but many of their specific criticisms have never really been credible, and this article presents a useful survey of the vigorous response to the anti-Milton camp.

One flaw I found is in Sherry's lumping in with the New Critics Robert Graves's own anti-Miltonism, best known from his novel Wife to Mr Milton.  It's important to separate Grave's objections, which were more on moral grounds tha n on prosodic, from Eliot, whose objections focused on his poetics.  The Graves who wrote the "These be thy Gods, O Israel!" lecture would be furious to find himself lumped in with the agenda of "the 'most 'significant' modern writers."  Mr. Triple Goddess Graves could never tolerate any betrayal of the women in a poet's life, despite the fact that his own relationship with Laura Riding included every usual human frailty.  As far as he was concerned, Eliot's sins were even more foetid than Milton's.

Graves's own words, in "The Ghost of Milton," which he wrote in response to criticism of his treatment of Milton in Wife to Mr Milton:

My attitude to Milton must not be misunderstood.  A man may rebel against the current morality of his age and still be a true poet, because a higher morality than the current is entailed upon all poets whenever and wherever they live: the morality of love.  Though the quality of love in a painter's work, o a musician's, will endear him to his public, he can be a true painter or musician even if his incapacity for love has turned him into a devil.  But without love he cannot be a poet in the final sense.  Shakespeare sinned greatly against current morality, but he loved greatly.  Milton's sins were petty by comparison, but his lack of love, for all his rhetorical championship of love against lust, makes him detestable.

With all possible deference to his admirers, Milton was not a great poet,  in the sense in which Shakespeare was great.  He was a minor poet with a remarkable ear for music, before diabolic ambition impelled him to renounce the true Muse and bloat himself up, like Virgil (another minor poet with the same musical gift) into a towering, rugged major poet.  There is strong evidence that he consciously composed only a part of Paradise Lost; the rest was communicated to him by what he regarded a supernatural agency.

The effect of Paradise Lost on sensitive readers is, of course, overpowering. But is the function of poetry to overpower? To be overpowered is to accept spiritual defeat. Shakespeare never overpowers: he raises up. To put the matter in simple terms, so as not to get involved in the language of the morbid psychologist: it was not the Holy Ghost that dictated Paradise Lost—the poem which has caused more unhappiness, to the young especially, than any other in the language—but Satan the protagonist, demon of pride. The majesty of certain passages is superhuman, but their effect is finally depressing and therefore evil Parts of the poem, as for example his accounts of the rebel angels' military tactics with concealed artillery, and of the architecture of Hell, are downright vulgar: vulgarity and classical vapidity are characteristic of the passages which intervene between the high flights, the communicated diabolisms.

This underscores the moral nature of Grave's objections.  Graves admits Milton's "remarkabl e ear for music," which Eliot accepted only much later, when he famously took back much of his anti-Miltonism.  They may both have scorned Milton, but their motivations and arguments were entirely different.

In fairness I should point out that later in the above Essay Graves says, with regard to Lycidas:

the sound of the poem is  magnificent; only the sense is deficient.

Which seems to echo Eliot's objections, but Graves goes on to clarify his quarrel with the sense, and it turns out to be a Pagan Celtic sanctimony every bit as fulsome as the Christian sanctimony of his quarrel with Paradise Lost.  Again nothing to corroborate Eliot's points in substance.

Eliot's points always carried on far too much of Pope's nonsense in "An Essay on Criticism," a reasonably enjoyable poem as long as you never make the mistake of thinking it has any instructive value for actual criticism (another area in which I depart from Graves, who insists that a poem must be true and apt in order to be enjoyable).  Eliot seems to have slavishly applied Pope's petty standards for marking sound against sense, and became thoroughly misled.  Sherry uses the main quote of this post to debunk Eliot's claim, and I think she makes a decisive point, except that even she cannot excuse the sheer drudgery of Paradise Lost in the large, which, if you ignore the moral overtones, I think Graves covers in his charge that it is "the poem which has caused more unhappiness, to the young especially, than any other in the language."

It's also worth pointing out the undue attention Sherry as well as Eliot and other critics before her, pay to the influence of Milton's blindness on his poetic faculties, which is more of that infuriating 20th century habit of conflating the nature of language, the senses and experience in ridiculously simplistic ways.  Graves is far more sensible on the matter, accusing Milton himself, if anything, of making too vulgar a use of his blindness as a device to encourage approbation.  You would expect a tidy New Critic such as Eliot to know better than to hypothesize extravagantly about that anatomical detail.

I suppose the upshot of today's reading is that I'll be spending a bit more time revisiting Milton's actual text, but unless I suddenly find him much less soporific than I did when I made a serious attempt to appreciate him in the past, I'm not going to pretend I have the stamina for much of his work.  The point of escaping into poetry is to enjoy the amenities of the alcove, a notion I would have thought was obvious, but which I've had to suggest to others several times, recently.

Thanks very much to those responsible for Versification for having giving me these hours of enjoyment and reflection.  It must be a truly thankless task to produce a journal on Prosody these days.

✄ ✄ ✄

Editorial note: You might have noticed I expanded the title of this post beyond the customary "Quotīdiē."  I plan to continue doing so.

Pictures of Niagra Falls from Canadian Side

On the way back from Toronto, we stopped at the Niagra Falls. Originally, I didn't want to stop. The last time I was there, Ubu Ana was there as well. I always had pleasant memories of going there with family from the U.K. and wasn't looking forward to possibly revisiting the loss of 2007 from being there. However, it was very therapeutic, and (as I had been told) it truly is much more beautiful from the Canadian side. I only had 7 shots left (my camera was in RAW mode), so I had to take a few over again but took the opportunity to get better at low lighting, wide aperture shots where the flash was not feasible to use and I didn't have a tripod. The results are below. Enjoy


So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.

Sylvia Plath — "Daddy"

I quoted this poem when prompted for influences in the comment board for "Growing up Misfit." It has been a favorite since I was a teen because it does something that the best poetry does—it immerses me completely in a separate experience.  I've been lucky enough to have a happy marriage, but I now know from experiences with others close to me, and cultural observation all around, that I still may never have been exposed to a greater description of a miserable union than "Daddy".  Quite possibly it has contributed to my determination not to have an unhappy marriage.

A friend recently criticized the poem for Plath's comparison of her suffering to that of Jews in the Holocaust, calling the tactic "incredibly over the top and melodramatic."

An engine, an engine,
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gypsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been sacred of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You----

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.


And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.

In considering the charge against this device, I separate aesthetic grounds from moral grounds.  Some people have a strong moral objection to making any comparison against the Holocaust.  I reject that objection just as I reject all sacred oxen.  Every experience, regardless of how horrible, is open to us as a device for self-expression.  That is a fundamental basis for empathy.  We can and should argue degrees in action and suffering, but we should never be forbidden to enter into such arguments in the first place.  There is also my wariness of convention that confines the Holocaust to Jewish experience.  Not for nothing does Plath mention her "gypsy ancestress", and I read the line "I may be a bit of a Jew" entirely as a metaphor.

That brings me to aesthetic grounds.  I agree with the argument that Plath's comparisons tend towards the the grotesque, and it is only her immense expressive skill that rescues it.  In general, Plath cannot escape the charge of egotism that goes hand in hand with the confessional movement.  What redeems Plath is that her craft and command of words overwhelms and infact elevates her regular meanness to something that escapes escape the trivial quality of her peers.  Her poetic faculties expand her work beyond the microscopically narrow paysage in which she threatens to trap the reader, who thus ends up with entire worlds of insight at his unexpected disposal.  It's tempting to wonder what Plath might have accomplished had she not fallen so deeply into the school of confessional poets.  If she had elevated her themes, as even her husband and tormentor generally attempted; could she have been as definitive in expressing her times as, say, Sappho?  Then again that might be ridiculous speculation, because it's quite likely that her style suited the mean more than the large.

"Daddy" is indeed over the top, but it is hard to imagine a better way to express the overwhelming extent to which marriage to Ted Hughes suffocated her in a coffin telescoping at its long polygon to her father, and at its short polygon to her suicide.  In reading it even as an impressionable teen, I never thought for a moment that her personal tribulations came close to the sufferings of Hitler's genocide victims (Jews and otherwise).  Yet the savage insistence of the metaphors did bring to a gut level her overwhelming despair with an intensity so extraordinarily difficult to accomplish through any other means. I think that is what poetry must deliver, even if it sometimes strains natural correspondences in the effort.

I find it interesting to compare Plath to another poem about a broken marriage, one widely admired, and by no less than E.A. Robinson, "Eros Turannos."

She fears him, and will always ask
      What fated her to choose him;
She meets in his engaging mask
      All reasons to refuse him;
But what she meets and what she fears
Are less than are the downward years,
Drawn slowly to the foamless weirs
      Of age, were she to lose him.

The failing leaf inaugurates
      The reign of her confusion:
The pounding wave reverberates
      The dirge of her illusion;
And home, where passion lived and died,
Becomes a place where she can hide,
While all the town and harbour side
      Vibrate with her seclusion.

I respect Robinson's effort, and the tidiness of his verse is almost heroic, with each line refusing enjambment and perpetuating a series of small finalities.  I have a soft spot for such virtuosity, but I think that "Daddy" demonstrates by contrast the power of immediacy at all costs.

Plath's influence on me is very profound.  It was really study of Plath that allowed me to grow into acceptance of free verse.  So many of the other high priests of free verse, in English and French, including Whitman, Ginsberg and Kahn, left me utterly cold, though recently I've been able to appreciate these a little more.  I never believed that LaForgue, Eliot and Pound took as much freedom many claim, and it was Plath, who really showed me that craft and free verse were not incompatible.  She made it possible for me to listen properly to the great African poets such as Senghor, Césaire, Okigbo and Brutus for the first time.  I wander through my own Journey in Plath (and Hughes), and how it relates to my family in "Slender Mitochondrial Strand".  "Morning Song" for Udoka and "Metaphors" for his mother are my touchstones upon the birth of my third child.
Having said all that, I think it's perfectly fair for someone to find "Daddy" too grotesque for their taste, and in such cases, I tend to recommend "Mushrooms" instead.


Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,

Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,

Perfectly voiceless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We

Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!
Our kind multiplies:

We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door.

Pondering "World Literature"

I came across "Tips on How to Read World Literature for Personal Enrichment" by Susan Abraham, which she plans to turn into a weekly series.  Her perspective seems to suggest it might be a series worth following, even though I've always been a bit churlish about the increasing popularity of "World Literature", which is a very narrow vein of literature in the world.  I have a similar ambivalence as lovers of novels had to the emergence pop culture commentators such as Oprah.  On one hand they appreciated the expansion of markets for their dear works.  On the other hand they grew wary of a homogenizing influence from the popular machinery.

I'm no lover of novels, but I also look askance towards the tendency of the popular machinery to find fodder in exotic places.  I can't really complain about anything that brings millions into better awareness of other cultures, but for the most part I find a great deal of homogenization of these books. They all elaborate Western traditional (and often tedious) plot devices, character development and such, careful to confine any adventure to the realm of setting.

You can almost hear these masses of novelists sitting as foreign exchange students at Western university workshops, being beaten by ex-hippie professors into clones of expository form, while getting a pat on the head to the effect of: "oh but you have something special to offer; talk about that exciting war you had in your home country. And by the way, Western audiences will eat it up if you pour to the brim with tales of women triumphing over ancient tribal oppressions."

Admirable stuff, for all I know, but for my taste it is hard to read more than two or three of the resulting species.  They all blend together after a while.  I suppose that is the way of the world itself.  But perhaps someone will show me an unimpeachable crop of so-called "World Literature".  Perhaps Susan Abraham.

PBS's timeline of Nigeria's presidents

In the wake of Yar'Adua's death, The PBS NewsHour published an outline of Nigeria's leaders, under the rubric "Nigeria's Post-Colonial Political Turmoil."  Fair enough, and ever since archetypical man-of-action Nzeogwu* decided he wasn't messing about, it really has been a turbulent cascade, and sobering to re-read even in the drab copy of foreign service wonks.  Stories of the many intrigues that have characterized Nigeria to date were always the midnight snack of my mates and I defying curfew in school, and many of these names are vivid folk heroes and villains to me.  In a recent visit to my parents' they and my Uncles and family friends had even more lurid tales of the machinations surrounding the turnover of power from Yar'Adua to Goodluck Jonathan, and I do wonder where these will fetch up in the endless drama of the Stumbling Giant of Afica.

* Nzeogwu is an extraordinary person whose Wikipedia page does him no real justice.  I recommend to anyone interested in African politics to find one of the several books about him, and about the seismic events he set in motion.  You can hardly do better than the volume by later twice head of state Olusegun Obasanjo himself, if you can find it in print in the West.

Anyway, in their chart is a surprising omission.  Nigerians will spot it in an instant.
  • 1960-66
    • Tafawa Balewa (Northern People's Congress)
  • 1966
    • J.T.U. Aguiyi Ironsi (Military)
  • 1966-75
    • Yakubu Gowon (Military)
  • 1976-79
    • Olusegun Obasanjo (Military)
  • 1979-83
    • Shehu Shagari (National Party of Nigeria)
  • 1984-85
    • Muhamaddu Buhari (Military)
  • 1985-93
    • Ibahim Babangida (Military)
  • 1993
    • Ernest Shonekan (Military)
  • 1993-98
    • Abdulsalami Abubakar (Military)
  • 1999-2007
    • Olusegun Obasanjo (People's Democratic Party)
  • 2007-2010 
    • Umaru Yar'Adua (People's Democratic Party)
  • 2010-present 
    • Goodluck Jonathan (People's Democratic Party)

So where the heck is Murtala Mohammed, whose 1975-1976 regime any Nigerian recognizes as a pivot point in so many ways, in national terms as well as international terms?  You'll rarely find one as much a simultaneous hero and villain to so many.  He was one of those larger-than-life figures in a Nation that could have done with far fewer larger-than-life figures.  PBS hides him in the Gowon section, and briefly mentions him in the Obasanjo (Military) section, even though Obasanjo probably only became head of state because Mohammed had clearly marked him as his second, in the Mohammed/Obasanjo/Danjuma troika.  Danjuma, based on his military influence, could easily have been Mohammed's successor, but even the dead Mohammed's shadow was long enough to set the succession, and eventually the path to the second republic of Shehu Shagari, a drunken orgy of corrupt civilian rule that probably made inevitable the whipsaw sequence of military regimes that followed.

It's more technically correct to have buried M.K.O. Abiola in the Babangida section, although it is the plain reality that Abiola never went from President-Elect to President.

Another observation is the procession from the "(Military)" to the "(PDP)."  If Nigeria is to be a nation where ideas shine as brightly as individuals, then perhaps it's fitting that one of the brighter individuals who stands for some of the more "bottom-up" ideas for Nigeria's future, Donald Duke, publicly ditched the PDP.  (Yeah, and I'm not sure what kind of statement it makes that Facebook is probably the best source for an event that has caused quite a few ripples among Nigerians everywhere).

The PBS timeline does make for interesting reflection, not least upon hope that Nigeria is in for times rather less defined by the drama of personages than have been since 1960.

Just learned Skye Edwards is back with Morcheeba, and they're working on a new album

Lori and I were just listening to Dive Deep, and reminiscing about a memorable series of concerts we attended in Denver a couple of years ago, including Morcheeba, which was fantastic, even though they had a French singer substituting for Skye, and serving as a somewhat pale shadow.

I was curious what Morcheeba is up to lately and came across this article with the good news that Skye Edwards has rejoined the group, and that they're working on a new album for release this summer. I'm well stoked for that because Dive Deep is a beautiful soundscape, but just short of its full potential without Skye's luxurious voice, and Skye's solo album was really just no fun. They needed to get back together, so here's to a new, proper Morcheeba album and a new tour stop in Denver, I hope.