The supreme court, stupid

So Sandra Day O'Connor has resigned. Woeful, woeful day. Bush, even though his political clout is starting to ebb, still has enough left over to ram a crimson ideologue into the court, perhaps even Alberto Gonzalez (wouldn't that be a rich joke on the Bill of Rights). And the Democrats, who have never had enough character to take advantage of Bush's difficulties, have nor spine nor heart to press the necessary fight all the way. I just shudder think of how this will play out.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Those despicable gas flares

The Beeb reports that there is increasing pressure the Nigerian government to stop burning gas flares ("Nigeria court action on flaring"). You see crude oil is so much more profitable than natural gas for petrol companies in Nigeria that rather than install facilities for developing gas, they pipe it up in stacks for burning in the open air.

My father taught at the University of Port Harcourt for a time in the late eighties, and I spent a good amount of time there (though I was a student at the University of Nigeria further North in Nsukka then). You could see several gas flares around just from the campus, especially at night, and it wasn't too far a drive to hear their loud hiss and crackle. It was a horrible sight, but one that one unfortunately became used to. I can't imagine how much environmental damage has been wasted over the years the flares have been burning, how much waste of potential resource. It's just a disgrace. And it doesn't just affect those of us who have some connection to the area.

Nigeria flares the most gas in the world. Campaigners say it creates more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in Sub-Saharan Africa combined.

I hope that some of the renewed pressure will force the government and its crony Western petrol companies to stop this practice. If the Nigeria gov is looking for a good way to spend the 18 bill it just scored, or its chunk of the Big Bucks for Africa that American presidents have come into the habit of supporting (1, 2), it could hardly do better than research and development related to avoiding waste of natural resources as exemplified by burning natural gas away into the hot West African troposphere.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Flickr, creative commons and "borrowing" works

I happened to stumble across a very interesting thread on the Flickr board: "HELP: Somebody's using MY pictures in HIS Photostream!!!". The thread opens up all sorts of pitfalls I'd never even thought of with Weblogging, shared photos, Creative Commons, etc.

As best I can summarize the situation, the most salient facts are:

  1. UserA complained that UserB uploaded a couple of UserA's photos into UserB's account ("photostream") without UserA's permission.
  2. UserA has placed the photos under Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs
  3. UserB did not provide attribution to UserA
  4. UserA does not want UserB to host these pictures under UserB's account regardless of attribution
  5. If UserB were to provide attribution, because of the many ways people can link to or embed Flickr photos, it's possible that the attribution will not be apparent in certain normal usage

Some less salient, but interesting facts:

  • 10) UserA is distressed and asked for help, officially and unofficially, in part how to deal with the unwanted usage, and for better understanding of policy and convention
  • 11) UserA says that English is not his first language, and he doesn't necessarily understand everything that's going on
  • 12) UserA feels that UserB is being "a bit of a jerk" about the entire situation but UserB has consented to update with attribution [Note drifting from fact to characterization: based on UserB's own comments (he appears in the thread later on), I think the problem is misunderstanding followed by standard flame war social dynamics]

The most striking thing here is the contradiction between Fact (3) and (4). It seems that UserA does not understand that in using this particular CC license, he loses control over (4), providing that licensees adhere to terms (which according to (12) should be the case by now). Is there a problem with licensors nonchalantly choosing CC licenses without considering or understanding all the ramifications of thee licenses? (I'm sure there is always going to be some degree of such problems, but how widespread are they among the many people who are not used to thinking in terms of Copyright licensing?)

Is there a problem with the fact that Flickr makes it easy to tag with attribution-required licenses, even though the way the service is structured cannot really enforce or ensure attribution (5)?

To what extent are CC licenses applied using technological metadata tagging means legally trumped by separately and explicitly stated means of the licensor? In this case, UserA has tagged his photos with a license, but has also informally expressed a desire for more stringent restrictions than those expressed in the tags. What restrictions are legally enforceable in this case?

One matter that came up is pretty much an entirely separate discussion on its own. It seems that Flickr purposely does not allow people to specify photos as public domain, for reasons that really seem a bit fuzzy to me.

Based on reading Flickr staff responses in this thread, they really don't know answers to such questions any more than I do. Some seemed remarkably muddled in their responses, and some gave responses that I think are plain wrong. Most of these discrepancies do get hashed out in the thread, though, and I hasten to add that Flickr staff seem to be genuinely concerned about sorting this all out based on what I read. I suspect that the entire situation just dredges up a ton of issues regarding the intellectual commons that no one really fully understands yet.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Il avait des richess de cœur,
L'est né pour jouer son accordéon
L'a donné la chemis' de son dos
C'était un grand bonhomm', monsieur [Buckwheat Zydeco]

—Michael Doucet (final flourish mine)—from "Freeman's Zydeco". Original "grand bonhomm'" is "Freeman Fontenot". My translation:

He has riches of the heart
He was born to play his accordion
He's given away the shirt on his back
He's a great free spirit, Mr. Buckwheat Zydeco

Hé toi! (that's Cajun, not French, y'all)

Last night Lori and I went to Buckwheat Zydeco at the Boulder Theater. Yes yes Lori is over eight months pregnant, but when did that sort of thing ever stop her from doing anything? As soon as we got to the theater, we were a bit dismayed. I've never had a problem with the mass of Boulder's grey hippies, but it was immediately apparent that there wouldn't be all that much atmosphere with the crowd we saw. Buckwheat was one of the first concert Lori and I went to, in Milwaukee, (after Digable Planets, though) and we danced our ever-loving asses off. Catching him at New Orleans Jazz Fest in 1996 was also a big treat (you gotta love it when Wayne Toups and the ZydeCajuns are the opening act). Boulder 2005 was clearly not going to be epic. A much smaller and older crowd than, say, Zap Mama at the same venue. It didn't help that I'd played soccer twice yesterday and I was feeling a bit fagged.

Things did quite look up when I went to get Lori some water and ran into our friend Lynette. Lynette, you see, is all Cajun, and you don't have to know her last name's Hebert to figure that out. In earlier encounters she taught me a few variations on the Zydeco two-step. I'd already learned the basics by watching the very impressively two-stepping crowd at N.O. Jazz Fest. (You don't get far in the social graces of a Nigerian university without being able to pick up even fairly complex dance steps fairly quickly). Anyway, Lynette and her friend joined us at the front, and that added considerably to the energy as Lori, Lynette and I threw out some two-step variations (OK, really Lynette and I: Lori was dancing as best one can bien enceinte) and responded loudly to Buckwheat's Cajun muttering.

Ça marche! ça marche!
Yeah! Ça roule, Buckwheat! Bien sûr!
Nous sommes partis!
Avec vous! Au Bayou!

The set was heavy on songs from the band's newest CD Jackpot!. The new songs are very good, but It's too bad he didn't get to play some of his classic repertoire such as "Ya Ya", "Hey Good Looking" and especially the Chenier classic "Hot Tamale Baby". Still, it was fun in the end. Buckwheat, as always, played the accordion as if he had twenty fingers. If you haven't gone to a Buckwheat concert, I highly recommend it, while you can—the great man is not getting any younger by any means (though Lori tells me the man on the frottoir (washboard and spoons) is his son, and Lynette surmised that the drummer might be, as well—p'raps breeding will out?). Everyone can do with a little glimpse of the Bayou in their life.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Toli skewers Reagan

Now the deification of Reagan is one thing (although there was a little shock on my part in reading the ensuing pablum about Ronnie's supposed prescience), but that deserves a separate post and I've long promised The Governor of Redmonk something on that front. Per Ignatieff, Reagan is supposedly responsible for "the emergence of democracy promotion as a central goal of United States foreign policy". The repeated misadventures in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and almost everywhere else are conveniently skipped over. The dissonance of soaring cowboy rhetoric, garden-variety Iran/Contra criminality, defence industry sinecures, or Savings and Loan cronyism and plain hypocrisy in the Realpolitik that Reagan's cohorts practiced are not commented upon, nor is it anywhere acknowledged that those swarthy developing world types incurred consideral collateral damage when they served as battlegrounds and proxies in that awful Cold War.

Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah

Hot damn! That needed to be said. I've been long winding up to a rant on Reagan, and being able to quote Koranteng helps relieve a bit of the pressure.

Why do Americans and some Brits venerate such a despicable character? I suppose they ask why so many others revile him. Never mind Reaganomics. His legacy would never be so awful for merely damaging the macroeconomics of his own country (national leaders, unfortunately, do this all the time). What Reagan did that, I'm convinced, will have him stomped into history's dustbin once people get the right amount of perspective is to set back the development of large swathes of the world by at least two decades. As if that wasn't bad enough, he and his cronies did so with a cowboy cavalier insouciance that is nothing short of breathtaking.

Some of the veneration of Reagan comes from the abject myth that he ended the cold war, made even more laughable by the puerile notion that once The Reagan had flung down the awesome term "Evil Empire" the enemy capital immediately began quaking to its sudden demise. In the real world it was Thatcher who had to whap Reagan upside his head with her handbag before he took any sort of meaningful action against the Soviet Union (he originally preferred to restrict his belligerence to socialist regimes that did not bristle with enough ICBMs to pulverize the moon), and it was the audacious tandem of Walesa and Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II) who truly catalyzed the tumble. And even so, all that would all have been for naught without Gorbachev's even more audacious revolution from within the very Kremlin. Those figures, and not Reagan are rightly associated with the collapse of the USSR, if we insist on pin-pointing individuals. But why do we so insist, anyway? Clearly we saw an inevitable unraveling of the ludicrous economics of communism, stretched thin by the need to manage a huge war machine and an even bigger machine for promotion of communism abroad.

Thatcher is an interesting character. Her economics were brutal, but they were just what Britain needed. People often liken it to Reaganomics, and that boggles my mind. Reaganomics was an entirely capricious beast forged by all the tools of operators such as the Coors family (yes, an embarrassing amount of the poison sprang from this wonderful state of Colorado) towards the establishment of oligarchy. It was and is never necessary and always destructive. At low resolution some of the implements of Thatcher's and Reagan's policies were the same, but even where there was such partial correspondence their impetus and effect were very different. I admire Thatcher as a very resolute figure: she didn't do any favors to the developing world, but she at least was clear and forthright about what she was up to. We could see the blows as they arrived, and respond as best we could. Reagan preferred slinking, cowardly action, with the occasional, strategic sally, such as the incredibly gallant assault on tiny little Grenada.


That same laudable Reagan was for breaking sanctions on the apartheid regime in the name of not encouraging that dastardly communist Nelson Mandela who was busy breaking rocks on Robben Island. Indeed if I remember correctly even the democratic institutions of the US need looking after and some of us are monitoring the situation here with alarm.

That's the sort of point we should never lose sight of. The only thing Reagan means to anyone who has had to live through a thuggish regime in Africa is a redefinition of "freedom" so cynical that I suspect it outdid even the propaganda-driven policy of the "Evil Empire" itself.

Oh. And, as usual, Koranteng's soundtrack to his rant (see the end of his posting) is right on.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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The substance of her sex
Follows gravity, not groove
But flank: Gauguin goggle
Swell to the current's remove.
Persuasion for closed eyes, close
Quarters, alert fingertips, clutch class.

Syrup sussurus of
sweat-wick winding sarong—
Tremors from rhythmic, spasmed
Slap-clap of bare heel on thong
Hips, immediate, broadly surpass
All science worked into ogled pose.

—Uche Ogbuji—from "Hips"

I've noticed that Madison Ave might have their own idea of female beauty, but on the streets, within the generation currently in their sexual prime, there is a very different convention, whether in Boulder, San Francisco, Amsterdam or London (sorry, haven't traveled all that broadly lately). A convention that, surprisingly, I as an African can quite appreciate. Hips aren't the only thing, but they do master several forms of impression.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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...I've stood at Auschwitz, where millions were massacred. Then I read about in Darfur, where hundreds of thousands are dying in the Sudan.... ...I look at civilizations that have collapsed: Rome, Greece, China, the Aztecs, the Mayas. And then I look around at our pretensions and our beliefs -- that we are somehow permanent -- and I am reminded that it is the quality of leaders, the courage of a people, the ability to solve problems that enables us to continue for one more year, and then one more year, until our children and our grandchildren have had this freedom, this safety, this health and this prosperity.....

Newt Gingrich on "This I believe" (All Things Considered)

I've long since come to believe that Newt Gingrich as virulent reagent was never more than political affectation. No one ever doubted he was brilliant, but since his tumble from political grace, he has surprised me with an unexpected level of discernment and sensibility in his commentary. Yesterday's audio file on NPR takes the cake for me, though. He brought me up full short. I heard the creed of a man who is genuinely concerned for his civilization, and considers solutions based in humanity and humility, rather than bluster and belligerence. Apparently Gingrich extemporized the entire comment, and I was impressed by its coherence, but much more so by its tenor.

It's too bad that Gingrich decided against such equanimity at the time he was in a position to actually make a difference. Then again, if he had done at that time, his colleagues would likely never have allowed him to ascend to such a position. Such is realpolitik today, and especially so in the cartoon halls of American government.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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YiJing SVG Plotter

About a year or more ago I had an idea that a simple python/SVG library could be written to aid the drawing of the very rudementary components of the yijing in modular fashion upon which the more complex diagrams could be very easily drawn (programatically). Philosophically, it can be thought of extending the concepts within the text into a program that represents the ideas in it. A little beatnick-ish? Well, using SVG, binary numerics and an understanding of the more fundamental arrangements of the trigrams I was able to write such a library: It takes advantage of the translation of the trigrams to their binary values (see earlier post) in order to draw them in 2 dimensional coordinate space (leveraging SVG for this purpose). And in 218 lines of code I was able to write the library as well as 2 utility functions that produced the two most (arguably) fundamental / useful arrangements of the trigrams in SVG:

FuXi's circular arrangement

Shao Yung's square diagram

Once again I would embed the SVG diagrams, but alas there is still (apparently) no browser-agnostic way to do this (someone inform me if there is)

The library (written in python) relies on:

I tried to comment as heavily as possible for anyone interested in using the library to generate other diagrams. Comments from the second of the two utility functions are below:

Another demonstration of a classic arrangement drawn using the gua/trigram plotting functions. This is ShaoYong's Square. Probably the most useful (in my opinion) arrangement for observing the relationships between the fully developed 64 gua. Within each row, the lower trigrams are all of the same kind (he refered to them as the 'palace' of earth, mountain, etc..) and within each column the upper trigrams are also of the same kind. So, essentially it is a 2 dimensional plot of the 64 gua where the X coordinate is the upper gua and the Y coordinate is the lower gua. This incredible numeric symmetry comes from simply drawing the gua in ascending binary order from 0 - 63, 8 per line! I've added the english names of the corresponding coordinates so a student can match up the lower/upper gua (by name) to find the gua formed.

Note: I'm still unsure of the proper spelling of Shao Yung's name (Wikipedia has it as Shao Yung, however I've seen various references to Shao Yong)

Chimezie Ogbuji

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