Siasia, finally!

It didn't take me long after arriving in Nigeria as a schoolboy to learn the legend of Samson Siasia.  One of the best footballers among my classmates was immediately given "Siasia" as a nickname, and when I asked why, I would be regaled of the eponymous player's energetic style in the colors of Nigerian clubs Julius Berger and Flash Flamingoes, bombing forward to goal with pace and power.  I watched him in the Nigerian 1994 African Nations Cup winning side, and playing in the USA '94 World Cup, that exciting, raw team that entertained everybody, and only lost in that extra time heart-breaker against Italy.

I've also watched his stewardship of Nigerian youth national teams, and his great exploits managing some of the promising talent that's become the backbone of our current side.  For me, it should have been a no-brainer for Siasia to be promoted to national team coach, and I've said so again and again.


Well hallelujah! Finally it's come to pass.  SIasia was appointed head coach of the Super Eagles last month.  The heartwarming stuff started straightaway, with his celebrating with genune emotion, and singing Yoruba praise songs.  This is an institution that means to almost 200 million people so much more than just a bunch of footballers ("41. They aren't kidding when they talk about football as a unifying force.")  It's only proper for someone granted its custodianship to demonstrate what it really means to him, especially when that demonstration includes a bit of native Yoruba to reinforce the fact that we're keeping this business properly in the family.  Yes, yes Shaibu Amodu (National team coach in several stints between foreign coaches) before him was also Nigerian, but he always seemed as much bureaucrat as trainer, and rarely showed the passion and fire I think our boys need to show what they're capable of doing in that green strip.  In the past we've had great leaders in the field such as Yekini, Okocha, Olise, Amokachi and even Siasia.  Unfortunately we don't really have that any more, so we need a spark from the sidelines.  If Siasia can't provide that, no one can.

And now that the seemingly irredeemable NFF have astonished us by making the obvious move, I hope they have the good sense to be patient with Siasia.  He is already making the noises that the national side needs a complete change in mindset.  He is right, but it will not happen overnight.  The once exciting John Mikel Obi, for example, has been turned into a lumbering apparatchik of the ruthlessly efficient Chelsea juggernaut.  He has lost his soul.  We'll need to figure out how to deal with Obi and other players who've undergone reprogramming by their clubs, who do after all pay their wages, fair enough.  When they put on the green and white strip they need to rediscover the soul of Nigerian football, and there will be some trial and error while Siasia sets about leading them to that rediscovery.  Let's not go running back to some European coach the first time the Eagles make a tournament misstep.

Much is made of the need for an Englishman in the England manager job.  The same logic applies to African nations.  It's not that African coaches would necessarily be better right away, but how can we eventually groom a cadre of African coaches if we don't put our faith in our present, brightest prospects?  European coaches don't make it their business to build the local academies of coaches and players.  They don't care.  They just want their multi-million wages and matchday bonuses.  We need someone who will shed a few tears and show that his connection to the job runs deeper than the paycheck.  Enter Samson Siasia.  And It's about time.  "Oṣe oṣe ooh! Oṣe oooh! Oṣe baba!" Up Super Eagles!

Nigeria days on TNB

I've recently posted several Nigeria themed articles on The Nervous Breakdown.  I started writing up a series of scatter-shot observations, 50 in all, on the occasion of the country's golden jubilee.  The first part of "50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria," items 1 - 16,  touches on our staple food, fufu, military coups, parenting, machetes, the national anthem, Niger delta pollution, malaria, rainy season, "Ghana must go," Fela, and much more.  The second part runs from items 17 - 32, touching on the principal languages, street hawkers, economics, religion, colonization, okada, Dele Giwa, clothing, ogogoro, and includes a brief La Divina Commedia parody aimed against the scum who light gas flares.  The third part runs from items 33 - 50 and touches on Pidgin, Nollywood, masquerades, jaas, football, literature, the civil war and the cold war, serious oyinbo grammar, and of course partying.

My own interactions with the land of my birth have been complex, with so much time spent abroad, but so many crucial, formative years spent in Nigeria.  I admit there is so much of me that reflects the time spent in America, and I do have a significant bent towards Britain, but the Igbo and overall Nigerian consciousness within me is mountainous.  It's my utter foundation.  I think I speak about Nigeria with an unflinching eye to my experiences of its glories, its tragedies, and its absurdities, but regardless of context and mood, my hope and faith in Nigeria is unquenchable, and I hope that's plain in my series.


As a sort of epilogue to the series, I posted an interview with award winning Nigerian-American novelist Nnedi Okorafor, whose African themed fantasy and science fiction stories have always delighted me.  She was a good college friend of Chimezie, whom I met a few times while visiting my brother in University.  He brought my attention to Zahrah the Windseeker, and I was hooked, and I'm hardly alone in that.  Her work has been hoovering up prizes and acclaim, and she is incubating some very exciting projects in multiple media.  In the interview I ask her primarily about the "bubbling calabash of language stew" in her latest novel "Who Fears Death."

I also include a couple of gorgeous illustrations related to Nnedi's work, including the cover of Zahrah, and a pair of drawings by Ross Campbell, to whose work I was just introduced while preparing this interview.  I'm really struck by Campbell's skill and feeling drawing ethnically diverse characters.

It has been a busy period following the birth of my daughter, with many exciting developments at work, a scare for my father's health (to which Chimezie has alluded), a more hectic than expected holiday period, and much more.  I'm always grounded by my family, but it was very nice to be further grounded by so much contemplation of the past, present and future of that paragon of complexity, my native Nigeria.

Anne Rice on Faith, and Organized Religion

"Rice changed her own life when she devoted herself to Catholicism twelve years ago. She suddenly renounced organized religion last summer and left the church. A look at the role faith now plays in Rice's life and writing and how she made the transition from vampires and witches to writing about angels."

A very touching conversation with the author. In particular, she discusses in some detail (and very candidly) her issues with organized religion (all of which resonate strongly with me) and how she keeps separate the Church from her faith and the lack of any biblical basis for the role of the Church in the life of christians.

If her book touches on any of the themes she discusses in this conversation, I might read it. She apparently is very active on facebook. Too bad I no longer use facebook.

Finding URLs in plain text

John Gruber put in some good work to derive and test a regex to extract URLs from plain text.

"An Improved Liberal, Accurate Regex Pattern for Matching URLs"

I needed to use it today and found it needs a bit of care to translate for use in Python, especially with regard to its Unicode characters.  Here is my Python version, with a super-simple harness to use Gruber's test page:

I'm not entirely sure I've translated the original with 100% fidelity, but this has worked fine for my purposes.  I'm open to tweaks or suggestions, and will keep the Gist updated.

A Trip to the Big Apple and Escaping the Black Hole of Tragedy

The last few weeks have been pretty emotional and quite busy for our family.  I received a call from producers of The Nate Burkus Show who were looking to do a 'while you were sleeping' episode in our home where they refurbished or remade a room for a a spouse (or family) member while they were unawares and over night.  They wanted to do this for my wife and for the cleveland area audience.  So, for a whole week or so, I had to help them coordinate the logistics remotely so they could come in and out smoothly.

Now, the first thing I asked them was if it was going to be discreet.  For my family, our home is very sacred and there are rooms in it that are essentially hallowed ground despite the fact that it is very different from the home it was before the fire.  For one thing, the room that they chose only needed to be refurbished since - on account of an incredibly philanthropic community effort - that floor had already been reconstructed.

It was alot of fun, very emotional, and cathartic for me to close some of the loops in the narrative of surviving the violent ebbs and flows of life.  This was definitely more fun than I have had in a while.  It was a great opportunity for Roschelle to have a stage to talk about some of the themes that are important to the both of us (and Andrea): Patient advocacy (as it relates to technology and law), organ procurement advocacy, surviving the violence of life, etc.  

Andrea Stricker - community organizer and logistics manager extraordinaire - was instrumental in keeping us all sane.  She helped coordinate Roschelle's schedule so she was out of the house with the two tornadoes that are Nkiru (9 months) and Ngozi (2 years) and upstairs during the night.  I (and almost all of the crew) literally had no sleep that night as they moved in furniture and incredibly personal effects (such as family albums with pictures, etc.) into a space that has seen jubilant love, gut wrenching fear, bustling reconstruction by various local union members, neighbors and friends, etc. - the full anthropological range.

The room has been completely transformed in a personal way and we are still trying absorb the sum total of it all.  Some days, I wonder if thousands of years henceforth, how much of the history of the events of a house remain.  One of the items they moved into the living room was a pair of columns that (we were told) were build in the 18th century.  

I don't know anything about them, which house they were a part of, whether the house they were a part of suffered moments of tragedy similar to the house they have been moved into and (in particular) into the location they were moved into (a location where so much utter destruction occurred).  Given how old they are, they must have their own history and memories that others might have chosen to forget and that I may never come to know about and not knowing them might help in being able to appreciate them for the great work of art and architecture they are.

I don't think people should be so quick to relocate from a home where disasters (natural or otherwise) have occurred.  The fear of wandering specters and/or perpetually revisited memories is only as much of a problem as we let it and this is proven certain by the fact that we don't have any fear about being in that house (at least to that effect), despite the fact that there are many people we know who have great trepidation stepping into it.  So, being able to transform that room and facilitate the journey along the determination to not allow our house to be defined by the events that occurred in it was a special thing.

Soon after they shot the 'revealing' (as they call it), they returned to New York and we flew out on Wednesday and Thursday of last week.  That first shot is of Ngozi, who sat with me and I was lucky enough that she was sleepy just before boarding and - after having her ultimate pacifier (her "ba ba") - slept most of the way. 

On the way to the hotel, Roschelle convinced the driver to pass through the heart of the African American Harlem Renaissance, stopping by Silvia's, Central Park, and the Apollo.  I was doing too much contemplation and observation to take as many pictures as I wanted, but I did get a few in front of the Apollo.  

Given all the incredible history of the building, it seemed much smaller physically and belies its historical stature.  The hotel we stayed in is was in uptown Manhattan.  Soon after arriving, we turned the hotel rooms into a control center for a toddler and infant (as you can see in the picture of Nkiru rummaging through our things)

The last shot is of us heading to the CBS/BET studios in the Limo they were nice enough to pick us up in.  Outside the studios was this enormous line of people waiting to be in the audience of the BET taping where Cello was performing (we ran into him coming back from the on set taping at the elevators).

It was very interesting seeing the belly of the beast that carefully prepares the media that churns the vast entertainment engine of America.  Everything is carefully coordinated, and it reminds me slightly of The Truman Show.  I learned a few things that I found interesting:

  • The tapings of interview scenes are not continuous but can involve1-5 takes per 30 minutes
  • The framework of the narrative is stitched together with a priori editing work that is filled in with onset footage in a very coordinated way
  • Editing is a major part of how such things are put together

All in all, it was alot of fun but it was stark reminder of why I subscribe to the philosophy that once you understand that change is inevitable (and perceive its wave form), you learn to not become a slave of the amplitude of the wave.  Soon after we returned, my father became ill and had to come to the Heart and Vascular Institute.

The last few weeks, I have been reminded of my mortality and the mortality of the people I love in my life, of the wave form of change, and the importance of securing your family as insurance to the violent twists of life.  Keeping together the assemblage that is my family is hard work, but it is even harder to navigate without that foundation. 

Colorado are MLS East champs. I know, 'cause I was THERE!

I tried very hard to be a Colorado Rapids fan for a long time.  My family used to be season's ticket holders, we definitely had some good times, and I was ecstatic when the Rapids partnered with my beloved Arsenal (Kroenke is owner of The Rapids, and now owns a big chunk of the London club).  I had dreams of coaching and academy exchanges, raising the quality of the Rapids' game.

It's nice to have a local team to support, and many of my good friends with whom I play amateur football follow them; Marcelo Balboa, Rapids and US National team legend (to the extent that you can say "legend" in such modest context) is a stalwart of little Superior, where I live, and my oldest son has been a regular at his skills camps.  But the tickets became more and more expensive as the family grew and as they raised rates, and frankly the football on the pitch was just getting worse and worse, so we gave up a few years ago.  I've barely followed them since, though I do still go to games when one of my friends has a good deal on tickets, largely for the tailgating.

Well last night, for the first time in ages I was actually eager to go (I started out looking forward to the arrival of Thierry Henry's New York, but then I saw how Henry was looking a shadow of himself in MLS).  Rapids have had a rare good run in the playoffs, and last night was the Eastern conference championship against the San Jose Earthquake.  The fact that Colorado and San Jose can play an Eastern conference anything is just another marker of the MLS's penchant for silliness, but hey, they play the games they're assigned and I figured it was an experience not to be missed.

My friend Ariel got me a good deal on a ticket, and I bundled up for the cold night (right around 0°C all the while).  The game was dire.  If that is MLS quality with a trip to the cup final on the line, the league still has miles to go.  Everyone was static, and making half-hearted runs off the ball on both teams, and there was no dynamism of build-up.  But what matters is that Rapids scored the one goal that made the difference.  Here is the victorious home team's procession around the ground with the conference cup.

In the following video they make their way past me.  I was in a great seat: row 5 right about the half-way line in a full stadium; we we piled down to pitch-side for the victory procession.

Regardless of how lifeless the game had been, and my recent absence from the Rapids scene, I was yelling like crazy and thoroughly enjoying the moment.  I guess it's some sort of recompense for those years as a season's ticket holder when the product on the field was just as ugly (well I do remember fondly a 4-0 demolition of LA while Beckam was playing under coach Gullit) but the Rapids weren't winning anything.  Colorado went to the MLS Cup final in the inaugural MLS season, and it's about time we got back there.  I'll be sure to head to a bar with good atmosphere and a bunch of friends to watch the final broadcast from Toronto, and once again, I'll tolerate a dire game, as long as the boys bring the cup back to the Rockies.  In the words of the unimaginative fan chant, Let's go Rapids!  Let's go! CLAP! CLAP!

Right now, though, I'm turning my attention to the Gunners.  Win required from a tough fixture away at Everton.  Come on Captain Jesus!

Quotīdiē ❧ "Last Letter"

                                                My escape
Had become such a hunted thing
Sleepless, hopeless, all its dreams exhausted,
Only wanting to be recaptured, only
Wanting to drop, out of its vacuum.
Two days of dangling nothing.  Two days gratis.
Two days in no calendar, but stolen
From no world,
Beyond actuality, feeling, or name.

Last Letter manuscript

—from "Last Letter" by Ted Hughes

When I consider Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath I am not interested in drama, nor in the US versus the UK in arts, nor in feminism.  I am interested in poetry.  I said as much a couple of weeks ago when I discussed hearing about the newly discovered Hughes poem "Last Letter."  I have always been infuriated at how feminism and silly cultural rivalries have overshadowed the work of two great poets who happened to share a sort of archetypal tragedy.  As I said in "Slender Mitochondrial Strand" I am not connected to the Hughes or Plath families, and it seems only proper to leave their private lives alone.  That said, it has always seemed to me that the conjunction of those two poets enhanced both their work.  Plath's best work by far came after her marriage, and much of my favorite work from Hughes is in Wodwo and Lupercal, and as I gather dating from around the years of their tumultuous romance.  I don't know when Hughes picked up a tendency towards slack passages, but he certainly did at some point, and it has for me definitely affected much of his later work.  "Last Letter" is no exception.

According to my intention stated in the previous piece, I headed to the CU Boulder Library which according to WorldCat carries a subscription to  the New Statesman magazine, the exclusive publisher of "Last Letter."  I'd hoped to own the issue, so prior to my trip to the library I checked several newsstands, including the one at Barnes and Nobles, and the famous Eads of Boulder, but no one seemed to carry the British journal.  I was quite excited to find the issue in the CU shelves, and sat down to read it.

"Last Letter" is a decent poem, or if I am to be frank in characterizing it, a brilliant poem cut into bits which are sprinkled among passages of prosaic exposition.  You very quickly see in the poem what is carved in marble and what is knuckled into butter.  The head quote, above, is one of the larger bits of sculptured marble, and the thirteen lines that follow it.  So is the part that was quoted in one of the teasers for the new poem, and which I quoted in the last piece.

What happened that night, inside your hours
Is as unknown as if it never happened.
What accumulation of your whole life,
Like effort unconscious, like birth
Pushing through the membrane of each slow second
Into the next, happened
Only as if it could not happen
As if it was not happening.

It was a canny edit, that, in the middle of a line, as I found reading the whole poem, with the end of that same line losing the energy of what preceded it, continuing into a sighting of Plath's ghost, which slips between marble and butter, but ends solidly enough, concluding with the two lines:

Before midnight.  After midnight.  Again.
Again.  Again.  And, near dawn, again.

The stretch after that is the final bit of the poem, and is again a marble/butter hybrid.  Going back to the beginning of the poem (I count 154 lines in all), the first 40 lines are uneven, and then it explodes into the head quote, which begins at line 41.  That strong passage continues to line 62, but I only quoted a part of it out of respect for the publisher.  Lines 61 and 62 are:

Their obsessed in and out.  Two women
Each with her needle.

This immediately brought me to mind the "Prufrock" refrain:

In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.

I already mentioned how the passage starting with line 112 ("What happened that night, inside your hours,") reminded me of The Four Quartets, and this is striking because most of my favorite Hughes is nothing like Eliot.  Am I dipping into the soap opera nonsense when I ponder that Hughes might be mouthing echoes from Eliot's tortured relationship with Vivienne?

Line 63 begins the longest slack passage, which lasts until the hard shore of line 112.

I'm very glad I sought out the poem.  Even the prosaic parts are written by a master writer, and I can appreciate them for the connective exposition they are.  I don't know that the soap opera fans will find a lot of new dramatic ground here that was not covered in Birthday Letters, though I don't doubt that they'll pick out some juicy nuggets of gossip.  From a poetical perspective, "Last Letter" is a narrative that picks its moment to seize upon finely crafted poetry to share a keen sense of how time seems a wretched tapestry when considered around a moment of accident and loss.  The discovery is not just more hype in the Hughes/Plath line, but a genuine gain for poetry.

Fela in Calabar

First of all let me mention that I've just completed my second installment in my series "50 Observations on 50 years of Nigeria."  I'm giving it a day or two for a fresh-eye proofread, and I'll post it on The Nervous Breakdown probably tomorrow.  In part 1, item 9 I said "Fela Anikulapo Kuti. 'Nuff said. We've always known he's the man. Nice to see the world catch up."

I recently ran across video of a Fela performance in Calabar in 1971, shot by the legendary drummer Ginger Baker who recorded with Fela.

Calabar is where I was born, and this concert would have been taking place as I was perfecting my toddling technique a few miles away (though I did also spend a lot of time rather farther away in my maternal home town of Ikot Ana).  It's quite something to see that infectious energy of Fela.  This was in the early years of his superstardom, and you can still feel the raw edge to the band which would grind its way to such unbelievable chops.

The Darkside of Megaman

I used to be a big fan of the Megaman character from the early video games. I'm not sure what it was about the bulgy encasing on his upper arms that reminded me of Tron, AstroBoy, and the character from Metropolis. I always wondered what it would have been like to have a Manga based on him or a dark, animated series. I came across this image on devian art and it reminded me the days of Contra and Legend of Zelda on the original NES.