Engineers of the Copia family

It's St. Patrick's day. While most people go about wearing the odd green, drink excessive amounts of beer, try to get lucky (and not in the Leprechaun sense) while figuring out how to pronounce "Éirinn go Brách", I've always had a very different view of the holiday. I come from a household of engineers and was also at least nominally raised Catholic, so for me St. Patrick's day is all about his patronage of engineering, which became a tradition among US Engineering schools about the turn of the 20th century.

And this is where my father, Dr. Thomas-Ogbuji, came in 1976 to earn his Ph.D. in Materials Engineering at Case Western Reserve University. After the Nigerian Civil War the flagship university of the east, UNN, where I later started my own engineering studies, was in complete disrepair, and students from the defeated Biafra were being shunned by other Nigerian universities.  My father took his best available option: an Association of African Universities scholarship to the American University at Cairo to study Materials Engineering, studying on the crowded boundary of Tahrir Square. It was a winding journey that took us all from Egypt to Cleveland.

He was on a superstar trajectory among Engineering Ceramics and Metallurgy societies because of his prolific papers and pioneering work with electron microscopy in that field, but eventually he decided to take his career in a more pedestrian direction by heading to Nigeria to lecture. I suspect he must sometimes feel he fell a bit short of his potential, but I'm personally very grateful for his detour because it resulted in my spending almost ten years in my home country, during my crucial teenage years.

My father's work in putting engineering into African context has another angle. He has long studied the bronze and gold casting techniques of the exquisite smiths of West Africa from Igbo territory and Benin City all the way to Ghana and beyond. The "Lost Wax method" of casting apparently invented in Benin is, as my father points out, "a technique still preferred for the precision casting of aircraft engine parts, bioengineering prostheses and other components for exacting applications."

Inline image 2

Of course my father was my main inspiration for becoming an engineer, and he similarly inspired others in our family, including my brother and co-Copian Chimezie, and a cousin Brian Nnolim. That brings me to another dear cousin Ubu Ana. Her younger siblings both eventually became doctors, like their father Dr. Ana, but she had spoken to my father a great deal about his work, and decided to also study Materials Engineering. Sadly, she died of an acute illness soon after receiving her Ph.D. at Loughborough University. None of us who knew her doubted what a bright future she had in her profession, but recently her doctoral supervisor, Dr Gary Critchlow, Chairman of the Society for Adhesion & Adhesives, has been explaining to her extended family just how groundbreaking some of her work had been, even as a student.

Ubu’s work has, in part, been published. The attached paper is from her research. This will one day be regarded as a very important paper IMHO as it turns one of the theories of adhesion on its head. It shows weak adhesives give better strength in bonded structures than strong ones which is very counter-intuitive!

....Her work though on the reaction kinetics of silicone-based adhesives is still World-leading to this day. I really should find time to publish more! Out of interest her work has been presented at major conferences as far away as China so her theories of why things adhere and, importantly, why they fail have been quite widely circulated and discussed.

The paper is "The attainment of controlled adhesion by incorporation of low level additives in a PDMS-based adhesive"  and from what I can tell, it offers findings that contradict prior assumptions with respect to how stearate compounds might operate as lubricants through interference at the molecular, surface level, even in the presence of strong adhesives. I've learned from my father how such subtle, esoteric distinctions can affect issues such as (from his research) preventing the space shuttle from burning up in reentry or (from Ubu's) improving molding and manufacture in the rubber industries which result in so many everyday products.

My father has always complained that engineers deserve a Nobel Prize every bit as much as scientists, and especially Economists, whose representation among the prizes is probably as much due to their influence on financial matters as any merit in fundamental contribution to humanity. Maybe one day my father's dream will be fulfilled and engineers will receive he recognition they deserve, but for now, on this day that we'll adopt for our profession, I have my own awards in regard for the fellow engineers of my family.

Who's Gonna Take The Weight?

As for the second point, I say what our faith says, and the truth of the matter. At a certain time a motion begins which is not precipitated by another motion and this occurs in this very manner: that there has been eternally a first mover, although there was not eternally a first moved; but at a certain time the first moved began, and then motion began.
—Albert of Saxony, Questions on the Physics (Questiones et decisiones physicales insignum virorum). Uche Ogbuji's translation. Latin original as follows:

Quantum ad secundum, dico quod secundum fidem nostram et rei veritatem. Aliquando incepit motus quem non precessit aliquis motus et hoc per istum modum quod eternaliter fuit primum motor, licet no eternaliter fuerit primum mobile; sed aliquando inceperit, et tunc incepit motus.

For some reason I've been sparring with the notion of the Prime Mover a lot this year.  In my poems and other writings I've taken on the idea playfully, angrily, and sometimes in sheer bafflement. The idea comes from the tortured efforts to reconcile Platonism and Aristotelianism, received by medieval scholars with such reverence once re-discovered in contact with the Islamic civilizations, with Christian dogma. I think this struggle still dominates modern science and philosophy, though no serious enquirer outside the Bible Belt, except maybe Peter Geach, would dare plead directly to Christian principles in such discussion, and not many would directly invoke Aristotle. Despite this coyness a great deal of thinking behind Western civilization is bogged down in two theoretic systems which seem to betray utter ignorance of the natural world.

Daniel Huntington—Philosophy and Christian Art

Albert of Saxony was one of those medieval natural philosophers instrumental in marrying Aristotle with St. Augustine; I believe I ran into his quote at the library of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and I managed to dig it up again in God and reason in the Middle Ages by Edward Grant.  As I've grown older I've become very sympathetic with Epicurianism, respectful of Sophism and hostile towards Socratism, the great enemy of both.  Unfortunately Socratism won out in post-Classical times, with its insistence on impossible absolutes and false humility in style. I won't go so far as to claim that looking back more to Epicurus (who in turn looked back to Democritus, subject of savage attacks by Plato) would have prevented the religious distortions, cultural chauvanism and geopolitical distortion that characterize the West's material triumphs, but I do think Platonism served as a heavy, clumsy stick swung wildly about the world by Europe.
I must admit that it was not Plato and Aristotle who gave the Europeans that chilling formula "dico quod fidem nostram et rei veritatem", "according to faith and the truth of the matter," which so polluted Medieval natural philosophy with divinity studies.  Ibn Rushd ("Averroës" in the West) had already compiled a herculean defence of Aristotle against some agents of Islamic dogma, having to cover much the same ground as Christians did centuries later. Since they were getting their Aristotle from the schools of Ibn Rushd, the Christian philosophers had to deal not only with the Greek, but also with the brilliant (though fundamentally flawed) elucidations of the Spanish Moor. In the end they pretty much just cut Ibn Rushd out with the neat scalpel of church dogma. Back to superstition square one. The dogma of six-day creation sixteen hundred years before the great flood could not withstand the empirical idea from the natural world that nothing suggests any beginning to the chain of causality. Things are in motion because things have always been in motion. The church needed to silence this heresy to make room for Yahweh and they did so with the garrotte rather than with fair debate.
The lasting effects of this strangulating threat occurred to me once again a few days ago when listening to Kool and the Gang's soaring, aching composition, "Who's Gonna Take the Weight." What lyrics there are to this song are eye opening:

People! The world today is in a very difficult situation,
And we all know it because we're the ones who created it;
We're gonna have to be the ones to clean it up;
We're gonna have to learn to live together 
And love each other.
Because I believe one day someone or something
Is gonna wanna judge 
Who's creating all this corruption and death and pollution,
All these difficult situations on earth.

And he's gonna wanna know:
Who's gonna take the weight?

So the world is screwed up, and we're the ones who have to sort it out, but why? Not because it's our world to sort out, but because it's a world belonging to some Daddy Abstract hanging out in the sky who's going to come along some day to judge what we've done. What's the point of so much soul if all were doing is renting it, anyway?
Under the Aristotelian shadow of Ptolemy both Islamic and Christian natural philosophers wound themselves into ridiculous contortions until Copernicus and Galileo. The primum mobile, the first or empyrean sphere was equated to utter goodness in gratification of Christian doctrine and was accounted by Sacro Bosco in his seminal De Sphaera the only sphere of "motus rationalis" (i.e. rational motion by which they meant the rotation any idiot can see by observing the sun) and then by complete hocus-pocus the idea came about that all other spheres were of "motus irrationalis sive sensualis" ("irrational or sensual motion"; take that, Aristotle!). So now suddenly the church had not only the keys to goodness, but also to reason. How convenient!


Sadly, I'll close with one of the more lurid illustrations I've seen of how all this nonsense addled even the most brilliant minds in the West. "Good-friday, 1613, Riding Westward"
by John Donne is a poem of his usual technical virtuosity, but is full of the sloppy, slavish sentiments that leave me so scornful.

LET man's soul be a sphere, and then, in this, 
Th' intelligence that moves, devotion is ; 
And as the other spheres, by being grown 
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own, 
And being by others hurried every day, 
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ; 
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit 
For their first mover, and are whirl'd by it.
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul's form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.

This is about the half-way point of the poem, and marks the heave of theme from a philosophical to a devotional bent. The church was all about facilitating such arcs, and The Dean of St. Pauls well illustrates how they got their wish for so long. I like to think the 21th century will mark another turning point in which we throw all that twaddle into the vaults of history, and actually look upon the universe with our own eyes. I personally have no truck with waiting out to determine Who's Gonna Take the Weight.

King David's Nkrumah Salute

The first leader of a newly independent Ghana
Faced many a challenge to visions of utopia;
The vision is based on science and agriculture;
Here come the vultures shitting like pigeons on a sculpture.
Nobody's perfect, yo! he's got faults you can list them...

Dr. Nkrumah's intentions were the best
Why it's all a mess cause we still needed lots of help from the West...

Kennedy and his foreign aid
During the cold war turning Ghana into economic slaves...

Military coup after coup it's appaling
Seventh time a charm: enter Jerry Rawlings...

There once lived a great man with a geat vision, great plan,
A great dreamer determined to realize what he'd seen for Africa
Things fell apart at the seams in Ghana...

We salute ya, we salute ya,
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah
—from "Nkrumah Salute" by King David

My cousin and sound producer extraordinaire released this clear-eyed tribute to the great man who spearheaded the African independence movements of the 50s, including that of Nigeria, whose independence came a few years after Ghana's.  Nkrumah was the father among pan-African visionary leaders from Nyerere to Azikiwe who did succeed in the most visible successes of independence, but whose energy and charisma were not quite enough to counter the complex manipulations engineered by colonial powers within the field of influence of the globally influential cold war poles in Washington and Moscow.

What I like about this Nkrumah salute is that it doesn't shy away from calling out the disaster of Nkrumah's Volta river project, which also pioneered errors repeated across Africa where ambition for foreign exchange and rapid industrialization led governments into economic patterns that extended the hegemony of Western powers while decimating indigenous industries.  These errors led to corruption, which led to erosion of the most important human resources and caused perilous internal strains.  In Ghana the false gold was bauxite, which inspired the Volta river project.  In Nigeria it was and still is petroleum.  Such projects required strong central control, which bred autocracy, in which Nkrumah was also an unfortunate pioneer, and eventually this led to a wave of military coups across Africa, and made it easier for the CIA and KGB to conduct their proxy wears across the continent.

Despite all that we rightly salute Nkrumah.  if these have been harsh lessons for Africans to learn, it has been essential that we learn them ourselves, and Nkrumah led the way to such self-determination.  It is also for us to address the problems over time.  We should be wary of quick fixes.  Everyone salutes Mandela for his greatness, but I'm sure he paid careful attention to his African history, and learned the right lessons.  Even Mandela had his elders, among whom Nkrumah was a leading light.

I've always personally enjoyed the fact that Nkrumah took his pan-Africanism even as far as matters of the heart, marrying an elagent Coptic Egyptian lady Fathia, whom he impressed as a fiery African nationalist in the spirit of Nasser.  The marriage fell apart with the strains of Nkrumah's later years in power and Fathia returned to Cairo even before Nkrumah went into exile in Guinea, but after Fathia's death a few years ago she was flown according to her wishes to be buried beside her husband in Ghana.


We are the punch bag of fate
on whom the hands of destiny wearies
and the show of blows gradually lose
their viciousness on our patience
until they become caresses of admiration
and time that heals all wounds
comes with a balm and without tears,
soothes the bruises on our spirits.
—from "Ghana's Philosophy of Survival" by Kwesi Brew, richly discussed in "Poetry as Cultural Memory", by Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah.  It's also well worth reading "Africa, 1966" on the same Weblog.

Aged aged man, old old school

The season turned like the page of a glossy fashion magazine.
In the park the daffodils came up
and in the parking lot, the new car models were on parade.

Sometimes I think that nothing really changes -

The young girls show the latest crop of tummies,
and the new president proves that he's a dummy.
from "The Change" by Tony Hoagland

Came upon this poem like a doctor's dropsy poster.
In the streets the hot pants glittered
and on the corner pimps color-flagged that ass parade.

Sometimes I dress inane in the outrageous.

Those young girls call in robbers on their dummies
and when I need a rhyme I turn to mummy.
from "Shitstrum" by Uche Ogbuji

I'll mention that my "Quotīdiē" quotes generally derive from admiration, but now and then I pick them for more negative reasons, such as: "How does such a god-awful poem even draw enough attention to be controversial?  I'm never quite au fait on the poetry scene, but even I heard of the commotion Hoagland's poem made at a recent AWP conference.  A "shitstorm" my friend Wendy termed it.  I read the poem and wondered whether it was a prank by an idle sophomore.  I understand the trend towards plainspoken poetry, though I disagree with it.  I think the language of poetry should be special, almost by definition (the language of Williams and Sandburg is much more special than many of their would-be imitators seem to think.)  But there is plain speaking and there is random collage of the inane.  Hoagland's poem sounds like a found poem from scraps overheard at a grocery store.  I myself am not much for plain speaking, whether in poetry or in everyday conversation.  I revel in words perhaps too much for my own good, so I couldn't do much justice to that aspect of "The Change" in my parody.

After the extraordinary productivity I enjoyed participating in Heather Fowler's poem-a-day project last June, I decided to pay attention to National Poetry Month this year, to the extent of joining the National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) tradition.  I considered following prompts, but I couldn't find a prompter of Heather's quality, so I decided to just keep it old school.  Read a lot of poems every day and thus shore up inspiration to write.  The kick-off, of course, is April Fool's Day, so I re-read a few favorite comic poems and parodies, including Lewis Carroll's "The White Knight's Song" (or "Haddock's Eyes" or "The Aged Aged Man" or "Ways and Means" or "A-Sitting On A Gate").

He said "I look for butterflies 
That sleep among the wheat; 
I make them into mutton-pies, 
And sell them in the street. 
I sell them unto men," he said, 
"Who sail on stormy seas; 
And that's the way I get my bread -- 
A trifle, if you please." 

But I was thinking of a plan 
To dye one's whiskers green, 
And always use so large a fan 
That it could not be seen. 
So, having no reply to give 
To what the old man said, 
I cried, "Come, tell me how you live!" 
And thumped him on the head. 

This delight is a spoof of a Wordsworth poem, and decided me to write my own spoof; "The Change" came to my mind as a poem ripe for the treatment.

and because that cracker
had a fucking Les Paul and a bottle of Jack,
not giving a damn

strumming those wires like he was Andrew Jackson
putting the Sioux crew on the trail of tears
all like "this land is MY land, bitch!"

Now and then manifest destiny
asks you to lean in and check whether
it's got something on its teeth
and you could just stretch a bit
and box its epiglottis

and I know squat about chess
but that day felt like "Uno, pardners!"
from "Shitstrum"
Really Hoagland's poem is more of an offense to my literary sense than for its supposed race-baiting.  I think it's entirely fair game for a white person to express some ambivalence at how Serena and Venus Williams, the all-but-certain players to whom Hoagland alludes, a pair of girls straight outta Compton like N.W.A., come on to the country club scene of tennis to ruthlessly batter their competition.  I find Serena's "to-hell-with-everybody stare" a wonder of sport, but I can see how some would take it as a blunt challenge to their cherished idols.  And why should a poet not frankly express such ambivalence?  That's why my spoof does not only parody the Hoagland poem, but it also jabs at the responses to the poem.  The very first comment on the Weblog where I found the poem posted is as follows:

This is the most offensive poem I have ever read. With respect, TS Eliot's anti-semitism has nothing on the bigotry expressed in this poem.

You would think he'd laced his work with racist terms and judgments, but I think that would be overstating the case.  I'd say the closest he came was the contemptuous generalization of "Zulu bangles on her arms" but again why should a poet not be free to express the sorts of deep, tortured thoughts that real people do?  If anything, I think he held back.  I decided to do somewhat less of that.  If folks want something to shock their publicly good-mannered faces, why not do it with some gusto?  At first I made the underdog banjo player a black guy, but I figured maybe it was a bit too easy for me as a black guy to take chances with that sort of taboo language.  I thought there was more bite to making him Native American, especially as it plays with contrasts of which "tribes" are the underdogs, and what changes when one such tribe finds a champion, looking back not just to the end of the 20th century, but also the end of the 19th, and the pain and injustice that attended that change in the fortunes of the original population.
Writing "Shitstrum" was a ton of fun, and gave me my first NaPoWriMo entry rather painlessly, for which I'm grateful, but I expect that for the rest of the month I'll address my pen towards the glories of poetry, rather than its silly asides.  I'd consider myself blessed beyond belief if I can write as Serena plays.

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.

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.

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.

Why FuXi?

So, I updated the cheeseshop entry for FuXi (should that be a capital 'X'?). This is the freeware I forced myself to write in order to better express myself (I don't always do a good job of that in person), and engage people, generally. It is very fast (so, I use it wherever I need to do any OWL/N3 inference ). I hope to port its serialize/parse capabilities to use (in addition): SWRL, the "new" Rule Interchange Format, and CycML (since this is trivial with 4Suite and OpenCyc is, well, "open")

I host it on Google Code because I like their combined service: um, it's free, the use of Subversion, a mailing list component, a Wiki, and other community services. In addition, I can synchronize my license(s) - in this case Fuxi's license is bare-bones BSD (I wonder if I should switch to an Apache license?). I link my cheeseshop entry to the Google Code page, and this is the primary "entry point" for package management. Cheeseshop + easyinstall + Python = very painless. I'm planning on setting up triclops this way (a WSGI-based SPARQL service).

Update: I added a google group for Fuxi: All discussion on Fuxi

Doing this brought me back to the question of why I gave this piece of software a name (see: origin) which conventional wisdom might consider "odd". I named it after a very coherent philosophy written a very loong time ago. Sometime in 2004, I started reading alot of text from that canon and then did some experimentation with 1) capturing the trigrams in OWL 2) generating SVG diagrams of them as an additional serialization. These were some of my older Copia entries.

The text is very mathematical, in fact it is based (almost entirely) on the binary numerical system. My formal "study" was Computer Engineering, which emphasized microprocessor theory (all of which is based on the binary numerical system as well), so my interest was not just "spiritual" but also very practical as I have come to a better appreciation of microprocessor theory many years after graduating from the University of Champaign Urbana.

My interest is also very historical. I believe that the theory that these text are based on represent some of the oldest human analysis of semiotics, binary numerics, psychology, and ontology. I have heard that the oldest ontology is purported to be Aristotle's, but I think this is very much mistaken if you consider the more mathematical aspects of "classic" semiotics. This was why I thought it would be interesting (at the time) to capture the trigrams in OWL (i.e., the formal theory) with annotations that consist of the better English translations of the original text (the Yijing) as well as SVG diagram exports.

This could serve as a good tool for older generations that study these text via conventional methods (consider the nature of the more oral traditions). Igbo tradition (my tradition) is very much "oral". I had thought at the time that a tool which relied on inference to interpret this ancient theory (for students of this ancient theory) would make for a good demonstration of "a" value proposition for Semantic Web technologies in a (very) unintended way. In many ways, the "philosophies" of open source/communities/standards echo a contemporary manifestation of this older way of life. It gives me some relief amidst a modern society obsessed with military expenditure (one of the oldest human archetypes).

However, at that point, my day job picked up. Even though I use Fuxi every day to do inference for reasons other than the original intent, I decided to keep the original name as motivation to (someday) go back to that particular "project", at least as a way to excercise my self-expression (which, as I said earlier, I normally do a poor job of this).

Chimezie Ogbuji

via Copia

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

Excuse me, please, but I need a moment of pidgin.

Na wah oh! E be like say ndi-Arochukwu don vex well well. Them say "all the Akata dey go Ghana, dey take their dollar go Ghana, say na slavery history tour". We, nko? We no get slavery? We get am plenty. I beg bring your dollar come make slavery tour". Ah beg. Dis one don pass man.

I read it in Naija Blog:

The Nigerian Tourist Development Commission's website has a page on an hypothetical slave tour for Nigeria. They write that "Arochukwu has a distinguished reputation as a source for the supply of slaves." I wonder if the good people of this town would like to be considered in this way. I'm not sure its quite something to be that proud of.

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).

But even for those of us who can be that relaxed about it all (easy enough when your forbear was not the one shuffled off in a coffle to Calabar for a ghastly journey and a ghastlier existence abroad) the idea of building a tourism industry around all that sounds potty. Then again, I remember once traveling to New Orleans with a bunch of my Norwegian friends. They were dead set on going to see a plantation museum (I rememeber the flyer laid it on thick about "witnessing the slave's experience"). I recoiled from the idea and excused myself from the expedition, preferring to sleep in the car, but they came back all a-twitter. I guess there might be some logic to the whole thing. The same logic that keeps Mme Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors and the Torture Museum in Amsterdam going. I also hear that many Black Americans visit Goree in Senegal and Ghana's coastal slaving fortresses, and that such tourism is supposedly Ghana's largest source of hard currency.

It's all about the Benjamins. Especially when Benjamin used to be named "Baneji".

And oh by the way... Whoever designed that Nigerian Tourism site? And whoever paid for it? I got something fo' dat ass. I don't remember the last time I saw anything that garish on the Web. It needs to be in a bad design competition.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Yo soy Joaquín Murrieta?

A typically effervescent performance on Def Poetry Jam (love that show) tipped me into checking out the tale of Joaquín Murrieta. Thus I came across "Joaquin Murrieta: Literary Fiction or Historical Fact?", by William Mero. From the conclusion:

The tradition in Latin cultures of the bandit as a social revolutionary is well known. Eric Hobsbawm in his classic, Bandits, discusses the social implications of the Joaquin Murrieta legend and how it fits into the traditional Hispanic view of rural banditry. In fact the Chicano movement of the 1970’s adopted Murrieta as a symbol of the fight against “Anglo” oppression. Sadly, because of protests from a few in the Mexican- American community, Harry Love’s burial site has been denied a proper historical marker while Tiburcio Vasquez, convicted leader of the infamous Tres Pinos massacre, in a nearby graveyard has his final resting place marked by an elaborate monument.

Joaquin Murrieta along with Jesse James and Billy the Kid is one of America’s most interesting examples of myth creation. In contrast to the original Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest fame, enough written material remains to enable scholars to trace the evolution of a short lived, violent outlaw into a defender of the oppressed and downtrodden. A scholarly investigation of this phenomenon probably tells us more about ourselves than it does about the real Joaquin Murrieta.

The Murrieta controversy does contain another lesson for us all. Historical truths are often elusive. The general public usually prefers a good story over verifiable facts from primary sources. Most popular histories are commonly viewed through the lens of current social and political prejudices. Perhaps that is another good reason why history should be studied and analyzed with as much care as any of the physical sciences.

But this is just wonderful. The slam poetry piece on Def Poetry Jam wove it all into a very tight and compelling piece (I'll have to hunt down the text for that performance some day). Sprinkled into the entire romantic arc were elements of Robin Hood, The Count of Monte Cristo, and even Spartacus. I expect that if this story is given another few centuries to percolate it will come to rival the hero tales of Jason and Theseus. Or is it the quoted article that exaggerates? Looking in other secondary sources, it seems everyone agrees that here has been some embellishment in the Murrieta legend, but Mero is the only one I've seen to claim such a complete divergence from historical fact.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia