Oh! Timbuktu – An elegy

Oh! Timbuktu
How they desecrated you
Land of Knowledge and heritage
Oasis of enlightenment

 

Oh! Timbuktu
They burned and pillaged you
Crossroad of trade and history
Strength of the Mansas

 Oh! Timbuktu
How they destroyed you
Fountain of learning and study
Inspiration of the griots

 Oh! Timbuktu
They flee, they flee you
Peace may well be
And scholarship renewed

Oh! Timbuktu

Composed as a centuries old library was set ablaze by retreating fighters in the face of superior French firepower.

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Beyonce and The Spaghetti Western

beyonce_759245So did Beyonce lip-sync or not at Barack Obama’s inauguration? That is a not so important story. Certainly not as important as the woeful performance of the Americans at the Australian Open. As far as I am concerned Beyonce can lip-sync as much as she likes and even President Obama doesn’t seem to mind at all. And he is the Commander-in Chief.

Back at the Aussie Open, the former “Commander-in-Chief” of Tennis, Roger Federer, at 31, seems to have handed over the baton finally. Once again, as has become routine lately, he has fallen to a much younger, and it pains me to now say, better opponent. At the 2013 Aussie Open, it was British number one, Andy Murray. Making a commentator to tweet emphatically that Murray is now better that Roger. Maybe one day they will make a movie about Roger Federer, the classiest and best tennis player of all time, who gave me plenty of joy as I watched him grow from a sobbing Wimbledon champ to the greatest and most sublime of them all.

Talking of movies – Hollywood that is –  Argo, which I just saw, was a visual historical lecture on the hostage taking of American embassy staff during the Iranian Revolution. The movie was able to vigorously paint a reflection of the tensions and the crises facing those directly involved in the hostage situation and the subsequent Canadian Caper. But for me the best moments where the portraits of the mythical “Arab Street,” captured in the market scene, when the six ‘filmmakers’ went to scout location, and the airport interrogation with the wily Revolutionary Guards. Will it get the golden fleece of Best Picture at the Oscars? I doubt it. But it was a poignant journey.

A film that might snag the award of Best Picture is the Quentin Tarantino, “spaghetti-western” themed movie: Django, with a “D.” The blood spattering, full blown action- packed, classic Tarantino no-holds-barred-graphic-gore is riveting. Set two years before the American civil war, when a black man on a horse was a sight to behold and Mandingo fighting was allowed, the people from the time of the movie – both black and white – would never believe that the top news story from January, 2013, is whether Beyonce, a black pop star, lip-synced at the presidential inauguration of a black president. As Django would say, “I am positive.”

@sirwebs

I DARED TO DREAM

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I dared to dream

I dared to dream:
Building castles in the air
Not unlike Nebuchadnezzer
And his hanging garden
For the fickle lover who desired flowering scents
On the seventh floor.
I dared to dream:
Thinking up nonsensical schemes
Not unlike Alice down the rabbit hole
In the land of wonder
Where the Hatter kept the teacup full
To keep up the fool’s charade.

I dared to dream:
That I was on the yellow brick road
Not unlike the girl from Kansas
And her band of caricatures
Seeking the man behind the curtain
For the magic he would wrought.
And when the morn broke
With the ruinous rays of light
Not unlike the ‘eternal’ shine
From the Land beyond the Silver Sea
The illusion shattered desperately
I dared…..to dream.

@sirwebs

Lance Armstrong: Paris to Perdition.

In the 2002 Sam Mendes Hollywood crime thriller, Road to Perdition, starring Tom Hanks, Daniel Craig and Paul Newman, the Hanks character, on the run from the mob and fleeing to Perdition, a town on the shore of Lake Michigan, to get his son to safety there failed literarily as he was killed in that town with the ominous name. For Lance Armstrong, the one-time, seven times Tour de France champion, his trip to infamy and perdition was atop a bicycle – via the Pyrenees, up the L’Alpe d’Huez and the Mont Ventoux (windy mountain), where Lance once slowed down at the stage finish allowing Marco Pantani to win eliciting antagonism from Pantani, all the way to seven ‘Tour championships’ fuelled, as has been alleged, by a cocktail of EPO, Cortisone, steroids, growth hormones, testosterone and all what not.

Come Thursday, 17th January, 2013, the world will watch Lance take his place on the famous Oprah Winfrey “couch” – though the meeting was reportedly held in a hotel room – to give an interview which Oprah has told US television Armstrong came prepared. Prepared in what way, I wonder? Is it to confess to the world of his doping? Is it to apologize to fellow cancer survivors and cancer sufferers around the world? Is it to blow the whistle on the entire Tour de France? Or to continue to vehemently deny any wrong doing even though he has refused to appeal the stripping of his seven Tour titles?

The Lance Armstrong doping case has arguably become the greatest in athletic history, surpassing the Ben Johnson and Marion Jones sagas. Definitely, because of the emotive nature of the story: A cancer survivor who beat necrosis, surmounted the Col du Galibier and finishes best of the Peloton not once, not twice but seven times. He became an inspiration to the world, an inspiration to cancer sufferers world-wide and an example of the indefatigable nature of the human spirit.

The Tour de France is indisputably the toughest competition in the world. Armstrong himself once called it “purposeless suffering” and in another breath “the most gallant athletic endeavour in the world.” Observers have portrayed it as running a marathon everyday for three weeks straight. From its early days the Tour has been dogged by doping allegations so much so that some believe that nearly all the cyclists engage in some form of doping. Some have even suggested that doping be legalized in the Tour. Until that is done, if ever it is done, Lance remains steeped in infamy.

Growing up watching Armstrong winning his Tours, idolized and celebrated, I still find it difficult to wrap my head around the fact that it was all a lie – and the road through Sestriere, up the Pyrenees, down the Champs-Elysees with the yellow jersey on his back was indeed the road to perdition.

Follow the writer on Twitter @sirwebs

AARON SWARTZ: who the Gods want to kill, they first make smart

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And so the Web is up in arms over the death of the genius, inventor of the RSS and co-founder of Reddit, Aaron Swartz, who took his own life in his Brooklyn apartment last Friday. 26 year old Aaron, a veteran of the start-up scene, astute programmer and web campaigner, became famous even at a much younger age than Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. And like a shooting star, he exited speedily, leaving a streak of light shimmering in the dark clouds.

His well documented life and heavy online presence has been severally catalouged. His fracas with the US judicial system, which has been attributed as the cause of his suicide, is public knowledge; but it seems that like most geniuses, like the demi-gods of Greek lore, Aaron Swartz was flawed. Inspite of his successes, one of which was playing a major part in defeating SOPA, Swartz seemed to grapple with depression, with a condition he said made “you feel as if streaks of pain are running though your head, you thrash your body, you search for some escape and find none…” Referred to as a “complicated prodigy” by Prof. Crawford, according to the New York Times, one wonders why masterminds always come flawed. As if the gods, like the Olympians of Homer, are up there playing Russian roulette with the destinies of men.

As exchange of words fly to and fro: and internet protests against his death begin with the postings of PDF articles on Twitter, I stay at my keyboard and ask, why? why? Why? Why didn’t the Timekeeper assign him a longer period? But instead gave him a name that sounds like that of a watchmaker – Swartz. And an ever-ticking brain to boot. Adieu Aaron.

@sirwebs

Free Ivy League education anyone?

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I had always dreamed of having an American style, Ivy League education. But being an African, it was one tall order; massively tall order. Or so I thought, until the advent of the MOOC, the revolution sweeping through tertiary education.

My certificate just came in for successfully completing my very first MOOC – Massive Open Online Course. Simply, MOOCs refer to the idea of offering university courses freely to anyone interested from anywhere in the world via the internet (that is the World Wide Web). It’s an innovation that that is designed to make higher education accessible, affordable and available to the mass of people. And like wildfire, the MOOC spark has caught on and is flaming across the world, redefining education and questioning traditional models of tertiary studies.

The MOOC I took was a class on Organisational Analysis from the prestigious Stanford University on the MOOC providing portal Coursera. Other such portals include Udacity and VentureLab. The Organisational Analysis course was taught by a tenured Stanford professor who also teaches same course to students face-to face on the Stanford campus. I signed up out of curiousity with about sixty thousand other students from all over the world, and, together for ten weeks we studied and chatted and learnt about different organisations and the theories and models that guide organisational behavior. Classes were delivered via weekly videos which the student streamed or downloaded, while reading materials where sourced via the web and came in the form of PDFs and Word Docs of books and journal papers. In-video quizzes came with the instruction videos and class discussions took place on the course forums with essays and papers being peer reviewed due to the large class numbers.

After 10 weeks of instructions, including a week’s break for the American holiday of Thanksgiving, examinations arrived. 104 multiple choice questions in three hours, the open book exam started with the exam link emailed to our inboxes. Once activated, the student will have a three hour clock counting down. I took mine on a tablet pc sitting on my bed.

All in all it was a unique experience. The amount of knowledge transferred was massive –that word again. In true Stanford style, it was tedious, inspiring and needed plenty of hardwork. We generally did about 100 pages of reading every week and even though it was designed to be part time, it was nonetheless intensive. But I enjoyed it and gladly grabbed with both hands the opportunity to receive Ivy League, well virtual Ivy League, instruction. And I have signed up for more courses in this year. So, Stanford done. Next stop, Harvard, Edinburgh…you name it.

And my grade I hear you ask? Trust me, in the nineties.

You may follow the writer on twitter: @sirwebs

ABE LINCOLN AND THE UNITED SHIRE

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On the day when the 113th Congress of the United States was sworn in, I had the rare privilege of seeing a cinematic representation of Congress in the 19th century and its titanic struggle to pass the 13th amendment, end the American civil war and etch their names in the runes of time, all with the unrelenting push of arguably the greatest American president of all time, Abraham ‘Abe’ Lincoln. This story, dramatized in the Steven Spielberg epic, Lincoln, shows that the Jaws director, a master of big lights and stunts, is also a guru of dramatic aerobatics. I totally and thoroughly enjoyed the film and was most impressed by Daniel Day-Lewis’ height, made more striking by the impressive 19th century gentleman’s hat. All in all Lincoln is a proper movie, a candidate for the Oscars, and an enduring portrait of the early days of American democracy and of the men who played their part willingly or unwittingly in the abolition of slavery.

From the Capitol, I switched to the Shire and the grand story of the “Bagginses” who takes an unexpected journey with Thorin, son of Thrain, King under the mountain, and his band of dwarves in a quest to re-take their mountain home from a dragon. Once again Peter Jackson does great service to bring to the screen Tolkien’s classic, The Hobbit. I have enjoyed the recent Hollywood screen adaptations of some of my favourite books like The Help and The Hunger Games, though I have inexplicably refused to see the TV series of Game of Thrones as I refuse to dilute the “little movie” playing in my head from reading the books. At least until George R. R. Martin – the American Tolkien – completes his A Song of Ice and Fire catalogue.

And while the world awaits the last book from George R., I resolve to try and read more this year. Now that’s a pretty easy new year resolution to keep. Or is it?

@sirwebs