I go chop ya dollar

This is a dual-language blog entry. Nigerian Pidgin first, then the translation to en-US. 

Dem get dis show for radio "This American Life". I been hear small small part of de show wey dem gist about 419-eaters. Some oyinbo dey make wuru-wuru for de yeye people wey dey send that e-mail. When the show finish dem play Osuofia "I go chop ya dollar", but dem say na de song wey popular among all de 419 people. I think say them go make people confuse. That song popular throughout Africa, and no be guy say we dey make cunning for Oyinbo. Make I tell you truth, O! 

OK, I lied. I'm switching to en-US all the rest of the way. First I'll translate the above, and then I'll continue... 

cue sound of ghetto blaster tape rewinding

There's this radio show "This American Life". I caught a bit of a recent episode which included a tale of 419 baiters, basically westerners who look to tun the tables on the e-mail scammers. At the end of the show they played Osuofia's "I go chop ya dollar", saying it's a song popular among 419 scam artists. This might be true, but it's misleading. The song is popular throughout Africa and the diaspora, and not because people are celebrating e-mail scams. I think it's worth clearing up the record a bit, but first of all, here's Osuofia. 

Poverty no good at all, oh
Na him make I join this business 
419 no be thief, its just a game 
Everybody dey play am 
If anybody fall mugu, Ha! my brother, I go chop am 

Translation: Poverty sucks, so I joined this business. 419 isn't stealing--it's just a game. Everybody does it. If anyone is stupid enough to fall for it, I'll get away with what I can. 

National Airport na me get am 
National Stadium na me build am 
President na my sister brother 
You be the mugu, I be the master 
Oyinbo I go chop your dollar, I go take your money disappear 
you are the loser I am the winner 

Probably no translation needed except to mention that Oyinbo means white man. 

Osuofia is a character from a few popular Nollywood comedy films, and really what this song is doing is two-fold. It's providing some fictional escape from the too real problem of poverty in Nigeria, among honest people and dishonest alike. It's also skewering the outrageous claims of 419 scam artists, along with the outrageous gullibility of those who fall for such claims. 

Think of it: you walk up to a man on a small town Nigerian street (say Okigwe, where I went to secondary school). You tell him "hey, if you were to send Americans an e-mail telling them you're the widow of the President, and that if they can get you $10,000 you'll get them $1,000,000 the president stole from his people." You might expect his reaction to be: "I can't imagine who would fall for such a silly story, but if they did, I don't feel sorry for them, because why should they want to help in theft from people who can so ill afford to lose anything?" You could also imagine this man wandering back to work with no lunch (he has to skip that meal to save money) dreaming of what he could do with $10,000 from a greedy, gullible hand overseas. 

Then a year later you go back to that same man and you tell him "Remember that scam I told you about? Well it's been going gangbusters, and there have been a lot of victims, and now people look at all Nigerians as just a bunch of spammer/scammers." Imagine his combination of bemusement, bewilderment and contempt for both the scammers and the vics. Most Nigerians handle such nonsense with black irony, and this is precisely the spirit of "I go chop ya dollar". I'd say that's obvious to any Nigerian who hears it, and the festive tone of the song is just the broadest clue. 419ers who enjoy the song probably employ intentional double irony. 

Which means, of course that the use of the song in the close of "This American Life" represents a triple irony. Which is pretty cool, even if they unwittingly gave the wrong impression about the song's audience.


At least this holiday I can get some small satisfaction from our wannabe Gestapo's having suffered a setback. When paranoid policy meets inept IT. I'm still tempted to an act of vandalism every time I see a stupid US VISIT sign at the airport, even more so now that in response to the unsurprising news that they are driving away innocent visitors (and thus business), they added a banner at the bottom of each sign saying "thank you thank you thank you". Nothing like heaping condescension upon insult.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Voting. Responsibiity. Sucks.

So I carried mi rumpe to my local poll for the desultory vote. Politics are especially foul right now, and I just cannot energize myself for any vote. Never mind the constant campaign phone calls and relentless attack ads. I ignore those. (I did really enjoy NPR's clever take on the matterJohn Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. His name is my name too. Whenever we go out. The people always shout: "Hey! What about Iraq?"). It's all more fundamental than that.

The number one political issue for me is the alarming grab of executive power by the Bush administration. I could talk at length about this one issue, but I'll save that for another time (others have expounded on this as well as I can, but the problem is that no one is really listening). My vote can't do very much to make a difference there. I can vote to bring about a congressional (but not Senate, this year) majority in opposition to Bush, but I don't know if that works in an atmosphere where politicians on both sides seem to be cowed by Bush's claims that not giving him a king's grip on liberty will threaten us all with annihilation at the hands of terrorists. Heck, even Ken Salazar, whom I generally like, and who is a Juris Doctor, and so should understand the implications, voted in favor of the landmark Military Commissions Act. Honestly, if Bush manoeuvered to suspend presidential elections in 2008 in the name of national security, I'd be only mildly surprised. And I'm not confident we have an opposition party with the character to check such excess.

And party is the touchstone of discontent in U.S. politics. I presently lean Democratic, despite being in many ways what Americans call a "conservative" (and what everyone else calls a liberal). It's less of an ideological matter than a matter of being appalled at the conduct and policy of those in power right now. We desperately need a credible opposition to keep the brigands more honest. We have two truly bad political parties at present. Bad for different reasons. I don't know what worries me more, the prospect that Republicans might hold on to the house, or that Nancy Pelosi of all clumsy figures might become Speaker. I actually like Pelosi's voting record (there are some demerits, but there are such for most congress-peeps). She's not as left wing as her enemies make her out to be, but she is often far from her own most effective advocate, and I think she's as capable of hurting the opposition cause as her predecessor Gephardt. It's the same problem with Hillary Clinton, who is not as left wing as she is made out to be by the right wing, but who would nevertheless possibly create a hazard for the key goal of changing the order of the executive branch so that some of the might be reversed. Then again, I do wonder if even a Democrat, finding himself in the presidency, would have the integrity to shrink the government's power.

And who would that Democrat be? The only figure in that party I think I could get excited on as a presidential candidate is Barack Obama. On the other hand, there are two Republicans I would easily back for presidency: John McCain and Colin Powell. I would have supported McCain over Gore in 2000 (not that I was then eligible to vote), despite the fact that I thought Clinton was our best president since Roosevelt. I think McCain would have been more likely to carry on that excellence than Gore. Yet McCain is lacking honor even in his own party because they don't consider him right sufficiently right wing. Powell, of course has done the sane if unfortunate thing in removing himself from the fray. I am sooooo not looking forward to 2008.

Meanwhile most of our ballot here in Colorado is dominated by constitutional amendments. People here just don't seem to get that a constitution is the foundation, not the edifice of laws. Well, to be fair, they probably get that, but they also know that such ballot initiatives are the most effective way to run an end around the legislature. I petty much struck everything down (except for a provision to remove obsolete clauses), even stuff I agree with in principle. If we want all these laws we should properly elect representatives who will enact them. I signed up for representative democracy, not mob rule.

Callooh! Callay! I voted. How fricking frabjous.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Phoenician Crimson (or more prosaically: Utter madness in the Middle East)

But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
—Matthew 11:22 (KJV Bible)

[Disclaimer: No, I'm quite agnostic, but I went through several denominations of religious education, and some passages from the Bible still rise unbidden to my mind in times of stress, such as this is.]

The situation in Lebanon just boggles the mind. What on earth is Israel thinking? What are the U.S. and U.K. thinking? Are they even thinking at all? Or are they wrapped up in a frenzy of emotion? The latter possibility might explain what's going on. Make no mistake about it. Israel was sorely, sorely provoked. No sovereign nation can stand by while its cities are being shelled. Israel had to respond, and to respond forcefully. But what of that response? Israel seems to be killing everyone but their enemy. They are killing Lebanese civilians by the hundreds, blasting infrastructure back to the stone age, and even taking out U.N. observers. All the while they are making no dent in Hezbollah's operations, despite the chest-pounding of their generals. It's surely unacceptable that Northern Israelis have to cower in fear of constant rocket attacks; nevertheless, the devastation that Israel is handing out to Lebanon can hardly be considered anything short of indiscriminate and even criminal reprisal.

The U.S. is irrelevant in this whole affair. It's interesting to see how an ally's unstinting support even in the face of obvious breakdown in morals has the perverse effect of making the supporter somewhat irrelevant. Britain under Blair has learned that their obsequiousness has gained them kind words, yet real contempt from the Bush administration, and the Bush administration is subject to no less contempt by Israel, and for no less reason. Bush and co. wouldn't dare criticize Israel anyway because the response would probably involve deep embarrassment. The only reason I'll mention the U.S.'s hands-off approach to the Lebanon crisis is to point out their certain hypocrisy.

Turkey is also at present suffering attack from militants across its borders. In this case it's Kurdish separatists (of the PKK) holed up in the hills of Northern Iraq. Now make no mistake: I am sympathetic to Kurdish separatist aspirations (Turkey has been quite oppressive of its Kurds), but in the simplest terms, a response from Turkey equivalent to that of Israel would involve Turkish bombing and shelling of Kirkuk, while also destroying most of Northern Iraq's oil infrastructure. Needless to say the U.S. would never allow that, and this is just one measure of the staggering hypocrisy that underlies the bombing of Beruit.

Ho hum, hypocrisy is the grease of foreign affairs, and has always been. What truly amazes me is the suicidal nature of Israel's devastation of Beruit. Yes. I said "suicidal". But what does Israel, one of the world's preeminent military powers, have to fear from tiny little Lebanon? Nothing directly, unless you take a step back to history's lesson book to see that no military might has ever been able to defeat the force of demographics. Israelis are badly outnumbered in their little corner of the world, and their survival depends on the fragmentation of their hostile neighbors. Israel has historically been very skilful at encouraging this fragmentation, and this has been more of an asset than its military might. Unfortunately, in recent red mist it has dumped all such subtlety and practicality, and is in the process of not only deepening the radicalism of the region, but of uniting it as well. It's a very ugly irony that when Lebanese families are rendered homeless by Israeli warplanes, and their children killed, it is usually Hezbollah's charitable wing that has been coming to their aid. This is no different from how Israel's devastation of the West Bank and Gaza strip a few years ago led inexorably to the rise of Hamas to power.

Lebanon's Hezbollah and Hamas are not historically likely strike partners: The Shi'a/Sunni divide in the region is almost as deep as the national divides, but Israel's recent fits are uniting the radicals, and their sponsors, and when innocent families helplessly watch the loss of loved ones and property, they often end up joining the ranks of the radicals. Israel cannot afford swelling numbers of militants, as the simple mathematics of the Lebanon war illustrate. For every 10 Lebanese casualies there has been one Israeli. There's no reason to believe that sheer military might will improve that ratio. The problem is that Hồ Chí Minh's famous boast could just as easily come from Israel's enemies:

You can kill ten of our men for every one we kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and we will win.

Over time Israel's population, which is essentially at a plateau, will lose the demographic war unless it can find peace among the growing populations immediately beyond its borders. Israelis like to say "yeah! We do want peace! It's everyone else who wants war." Their government's near-sighted decision-making process far too often gives the lie to those claims.

Two things I have learned from my many encounters and friendships with Lebanese people is that (1) they are perhaps the most resourceful people on Earth (2) they are perhaps the most pragmatic people on Earth. I think they have the wherewithal to rebuild once Israel's fit has passed (to be blunt, I don't expect their institutions to crumble as hopelessly as those of the Palestinians), and I do think that their population will end up much less radicalized than one could expect under the circumstances. That is the only basis for a faint glimmer of hope, for Israel, the region, and the world. There may be no soothing the moral outrage of Israel's present, apalling brutality, but perhaps if they can be shamed into moderation the slow agency of time will prevent a spiraling escalation through which there will be winner (most certainly not Israel).

Oh, and at some point someone still has to uproot Hezbollah from the border regions, so there is some containment of the effects of their murderous recklessness. I suppose the fact that Israel would rather bomb civillians than meet Hezbollah head-on is no different from the U.S.'s preference for invading Iraq rather than focusing on the elimination of Bin Laden and his henchmen. I just wish I could apprehend their logic. On the other hand, perhaps it's a healthy thing I can't.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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EULA this!

<DmncAtrny> And then hurl it through the window of a Sony officer
<DmncAtrny> and run like hell

via Quote Database

Disclaimer: I sure as hell don't condone cinder-block hurling (except perhaps as part of kinematics experiments performed in abandoned parking lots), EULA or no.

But isn't Sony's stupidity a marvel to behold?

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Hip-Hop in its essence is Palestinian

This is a hunting season the prey is one more home
Of a dove trying to survive under the hawk’s regime
(page ripped) lets try something more optimistic:
each day I wake up and see like a 1000 cops
maybe they came to arrest a dealer…(he’s ever here, over here, oh no
they came to destroy his neighbor’s home)
what is happening here? A hate bubble surrounding the ghetto
why is it hard for him? And who’s going to answer him? Anywhere
I go, excuses are there to greet me
I broke the law? No no the law broke me
enough, enough (enough, enough) gentlemen (gentlemen)
I was born here, my grandparents were also born here, you will not sever me
From my roots (you will not sever me from my roots) understand, even if
I have faith in this “if you wish it is not a legend” regime
You still haven’t allowed me to build a porch to stand on and express it

—Tamer Nafar of DAM—"Born Here" translated lyrics

When explaining Hip-Hop to people my motto has always been: "Hip-Hop in its essence is regional", based, of course, on the word play at the heart of one of Hip-Hop's greatest songs, Common's "I Used to Love H.E.R.". I'm always blown away at how kids the world over take the basic art form, and make it so emphatically theirs. The quickest way to get clowned in many countries is to try to rap just like 50 Cent, or even just like Talib Kweli. Same goes for DJing and the other elements. It's already been the case in Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, Illinois, East Great Lakes, Los Angeles, the Bay area and more places within the U.S. Hip Hop was born in New York (with much courtesy from Jamaican immigrants), but anywhere it's picked up, it takes on an instant regional flavor. This is the strength of Hip-Hop.

I personally look out for the different Hip-Hop flavors of Paris, Lyon Zürich, Toronto, Dakar, Lagos, Havana, Tokyo, and many such places. It looks as if I'll have to add the West Bank to that listing.

Via Ethan Zuckerman I learned about a precious blossoming of Hip-Hop in Palestine. I've listened to a bunch of the linked tracks and watched a bunch of the videos. This shit is mad hot. The kids are articulate, angry and yet extraordinarily circumspect. Like many very sad observers of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I've found too little distinction made between Israeli, hard-line Zionist, Palestinian, terrorist, refugee, etc. These Palestinian rappers vent their frustration with the heavy-handed tactics of Israeli security forces without succumbing completely to the "annihilate Israel" logic of extremists. Sure there are parts of the Israeli side of the story that you're never going to get a fair hearing from in Palestinian rap, but no one could reasonably expect any more in such a polarized situation.

I personally believe that it's the "keep it real" ethic of Hip-Hop that makes it possible and even essential in such horrible conflicts for people to speak their mind without losing their minds. "Keep it real" is the same ethic that allows Hip-Hop to adapt so completely in wide-ranging locales. It can have negative consequences, from glorifying violence and sexism to causing smaller-scale conflict such as the Tupac/Biggie feud, but you rarely have to strain your ears before you find the culture quite willingly criticizing itself. And there is plenty of karma to balance out the negatives. Just last month (1) (2) there was a U.S. release of an amazing hip-hop collaboration between a Emmanuel Jal, a Sudanese Christian former child soldier and Abdel Gadir Salim, a Sudanese Muslim bandleader. This is a conflict that has risen to levels of total war and genocide. I don't expect the release of Ceasefire will end the very deep-seated Sudanese strife, but it is just another example of how Hip-Hop brings people and cultures together even while it thrives on authentic cultural identity. Hip-Hop in its essence is Sudanese.

Sidebar. I went to watch Mos Def (purportedly), Talib Kweli, Pharoahe Monch and Jean Grae at the Ogden Theater in Denver on Thursday. Mos Def was a no-show due to illness, but Talib Kweli is the one I wanted to see the most, anyway, and it would be my first time watching Pharoahe in concert. All the performers held it down solid, and as often happens when I go to such ensemble concerts, I had a pleasant surprise. K'naan, front man of The Dustyfoot Philospher, is a Toronto-based Somali rapper I'd never heard of. He did a superlative set rapping and singing while playing a traditional drum, with two other drummers working beside backup strings, organ, and a DJ. It was all-out boom-bap with unmistakable East African flavor. He moved the crowd to near hysteria (not bad for the act with leftover billing). He didn't get much into the simmering disputes between Somalia and Eritrea, but he definitely waxed eloquent about how real it is just to keep life and limb together in so much of his Motherland, and the many international and home-grown outrages that fuel the tragedies (keeping it real: he's as hard on Black warlords as he is on White colonists). Yeah. Hip-Hop in its essence is also Somalian.

As my peeps used to say in the early 90s: "Peace in the Middle East".

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Peace, Rosa

So anyone vaguely aware of the world around them would have heard that Civil Rights hero Rosa Parks died Monday. Enough superlatives have been lavished on her courage and conviction in providing the spark for MLK's campaign of non-violent civil disobedience.

That's all well, but I cannot help that the main thing that comes to my mind when I contemplate Rosa Parks is that she is also a symbol of how some remaining members of that movement insist on fawning appreciation of their legacy. Getting lectured by the Jesse Jacksons and Bill Cosbys of the world is annoying enough even for those who, like me, freely admit their gratitude towards the Civil Rights movement, but a particularly galling stroke was Mrs. Parks's lawsuit against OutKast for their hit song "Rosa Parks". Watch out for the hook:

Ah ha, hush that fuss
Everybody move to the back of the bus
Do you wanna bump and slump with us
We the type of people make the club get crunk

So the hook was a little irreverent, but besides the title, there was very little in the song connecting to the Parks story. Maybe that was the crime: any song referencing a Civil Rights hero must be a somber appreciation of their struggle (see "A Song for Assata"). Does it really serve the memory of the Civil Rights movement to be so incredibly petty?

But wait. There's a twist, of course. It seems it's likely that Mrs. Parks wasn't really behind the lawsuit, but rather attorneys and hangers-on who saw the supposed affront to her name as an opportunity to cash in. Some of her family have mnade comments distancing themselves from the lawsuit. I prefer to believe that Mrs. Parks indeed had nothing to do with the suit, but that still leaves the interesting phenomenon of the disconnect between the generations on this matter.

I think one group of young Black Americans today either are happy to enjoy what their forbears fought so hard for in the 60s and get on with their lives and careers. Another group faces many of the hardships caused by inequities in education and other social services, and find it hard to dwell on the achievements of the 60s considering their present day realities. Popular Black culture reflects both attitudes. When Cedric the Entertainer's character in Barbershop said "All Rosa Parks did was sit her ass down!", like it or not, he was voicing the same irreverent attitude of many young Black Americans. It's not so much that anyone really resent Rosa Parks or any of the other figures skewered in the same scene, but that people tend to laugh perversely when they witness the goring of sacred cows, and in the communities targeted by that movie, there are no sacred cows quite like Civil Rights heros. And of course the hierophant class reacted exactly on cue when Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton promptly launched a noisy boycott of the movie.

Rosa Parks did much more than just sit down where she was not supposed to, and I don't expect this fact will ever truly be forgotten. Her status as a hero is established rather than undermined by the fact that the youth enjoy spraying graffiti on her pedestal, especially when those who are most ostentatiously serious about her person carry the smell of monetary and political self-interest. For my part, the only thing I've got to say with my Krylon is "Peace, Rosa, and thanks".

[Uche Ogbuji]

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The only reason I'm influential is that I say what's on my mind.... Think about it. I make [movies]. You couldn't possibly be worrying about a film career and sit up and be saying the stuff I say on radio. You'd be like: Oh wow, what if they don't put me on the next movie... I don't care. I don't care about these records, these movies. I don't care. I've have to live my life from point A to point B and saying what's on my mind. That's what I care about: being in tune with myself, and people respect that. That's why I'm on a college lecture tour. I'm on my way to Harvard or some place, to teach people how to be real. Isn't that stupid?

—Ice T—Fresh Air interview, originally 1992, re-aired on hip-hop week 2005

Ice-T in that quote, provides one of the best definitions of hip-hop I've heard. Overall, this is a great interview for anyone who wants to break through all the media circus that has ever surrounded Ice-T and get a sense of what the man is really about. In fact, for anyone who really wants to get a sense of Hip-Hop's essence, whether you're down like Foxy Brown, or one of the many who has no earthly idea how a genre as horrible as Rap has flourished for three decades, you need to check out Fresh Air's Hip-Hop week . (Click the "Listen" then "Next Story" links until you've heard Monday through Friday. One hour each, all trimmed to the choicest segments). I do wish she'd had more on grafitti, break-dancing and even beat-boxing, which are among the core elements of Hip-Hop culture, but MCing and DJing are well covered.

I like the bit at the end about Ice-T taking it to college campuses to teach some realness. From what I gather, US Academia needs a heavy dose of realness. There are attacks on academic freedom coming from all directions, with sanctions and threats taking the place of debate. Whether they're fundamentalist Christian/Muslim/Jewish, atheist, gay, straight, white supremacist, black revolutionary, Communist, Neocon, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or whatever, it's all about students and faculty choosing to be conventional, surprising, or even shocking in their ideas. Universities only thrive under Hip-Hop's first principles: "speak your clout"; "show and prove". Sad that it takes a sometime controversial rapper to put it down like that.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Election district Google/Yahoo/whatever maps mashup?

I was looking for a mapping resource for U.S. electoral districts recently, a resource that would provide maps or map overlays for congressional or state assembly election districts. I could find nothing like. Out of curiosity I checked into how hard it is to find maps of my own districts. It turned out to be quite difficult. I did find some fuzzy maps at the Boulder Clerk and Recorder Elections site, but you would really have to know your county's geography like the front of your hand to get a lot from those. Also, it seemed difficult to raise that site by going through any of the major search engines using likely search terms. Finally, I assumed that knowing how to get the district maps from Boulder would be useless for other counties, and I tested that assumption by visiting a few neighboring counties such as Weld. I could always find the maps, but it took very different site navigation, and the resulting maps differed hugely in format (embedded image vs PDF download) and detail.

With all the talk of Web mash-ups, I wonder whether anyone has any sort of site or tool for overlaying elections district information over mapping services. I suppose one big problem is that there isn't much commercial prospect for such a service, but surely this would be a prime candidate civic service mashups, funded by government or philanthropes. Another question is whether districting information is available in computer-readable form regular enough for inexpensive implementation of such overlays.

I still don't know why the U.S. insists of complicating its nation/state/county/municipality breakdown with a Klee-canvas of congressional, state assembly (and sometimes even educational) districts. Why aren't town or county the basic units? If we want more house reps than there are counties, why not have multiple per overall country, much as we have two senators per state? Wouldn't it reduce gerrymandering and save resources to not invent temporary bantustans every ten years as electoral units? Anyway, these last naïve thoughts are topic for another entry another day.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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