May 26, 2009

Pan African Film Festival 2010

From a PAFF mailer, the following call for submissions for the 2010 Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.

PAFF Announces Call For Submissions
Largest Black Film Festival Opens for Submissions May 15th

After a successful event in February, the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) America's largest and most prestigious Black film and arts festival, has announced beginning May 15 the festival will accept submissions for their 18th Annual signature event taking place February 11-21, 2010 in Los Angeles.

The PAFF will accept applications for films and videos made by and/or about people of African descent, although filmmaker needn't be of African descent. Films should preferably depict positive and realistic images and can be of any genre -- drama, comedy, horror, adventure, animation, romance, science fiction, experimental, etc.
PAFF accepts features and shorts; narratives and documentaries as well as works in progress; however, films and videos must be completed no later than December 15, 2009.

The deadline to submit films for consideration is September 30, 2009. Filmmakers will be notified by the PAFF of their acceptance beginning December 1, 2009.

May 15, 2009

Movie Premiere: SPADE

The versatile Oliver Mbamara's new movie, SPADE, premiers in New York on May 16. Since arriving in the USA in 2001, Mbamara has maintained a blistering schedule of work across several media, ranging from his work as an Administrative Judge in New York State to acting on Broadway, managing a significant media network and also acting in and producing films. He was lead actor in two previous films and SPADE, his new release continues his investigation of significant issues that affect Africans in Africa and the African Diaspora. The official email blast of his new film is listed below:


SPADE: The Last Assignment
(Directed By Oliver O. Mbamara-DGN)

ON: Saturday May 16th

(6-9PM) - Network Hour 6-7PM Screening starts at 7PM prompt

Abingdon Theater, 312 36th street, (B/w 8th and 9th Avenue)
Manhattan, New York

Eric - 917 628 3767, Charles-917 587 4966, Bethels, Felix
Oscar-917 332 7059

May 12, 2009

Partners Pledge $30 Million to Strengthen African Think Tanks

From Philanthropy News Digest:
The International Development Research Centre, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have announced $30 million in grants to support twenty-four think tanks in East and West Africa as part of the recently launched Think Tank Initiative.

The initiative, to which the three donors have committed a total of $90 million to date, is designed to provide at least a decade of support for independent policy think tanks in developing countries, enabling them to provide sound research that informs and influences national policy. IDRC has committed $10 million for the first five years of the initiative, while Hewlett and Gates have committed $40 million each.

The initiative will provide core funding to local think tanks, helping them produce high-quality research that leads to better policies and, ultimately, more equitable and prosperous societies. The grant recipients include think tanks in Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda. Later this year, IDRC will issue a call for proposals from groups in Latin America and South Asia.

"The value of providing think tanks with enduring, long-term support cannot be overstated," said Rohinton Medhora, IDRC's vice president for programs. "Predictable core funding gives institutions the certainty and continuity they need to build skills that can lead to path-breaking work and constructive public policy influence."

Nigeria's Hip Hop Industry Booming

From YouTube, this video of a CNN report that documents the explosion of Nigeria's music scene, part of a broad expansion of cultural initiatives in the country that includes the music industry, comedy and performance, the film industry (Nollywood) and broad-based cultural development projects funded by the government (Click on YouTube link and review "Related Videos").

May 8, 2009

Update on Jesusita Fire

As at 5am this morning, the Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara has destroyed more than 75 homes, burned through 2,750 acres, and compelled evacuation of more than 23,000 residents in a town of barely 90,000 people. The fire is about 10% contained and it has gained strength as it crested the Santa Ynez mountains to start feeding on the lush preserves of the Los Padres national forest. The rapidly expanding flames threaten 3500 homes and about 100 commercial structures and the brave firefighters battling the flame are beginning to suffer significant debilitation from the smoke and fury of the blaze.

Photograph: The Jesusita Fire Night 2: Big Flare Up in Rattlesnake Canyon, by Almost Native Son

May 7, 2009

Critique of Avaricious Reason: Exhibitions of African Art in the West

A reprint, from Modern Ghana website, of Kwame Opoku's 2008 review of an exhibition of African art from the Barbier Mueller collection held in Paris in 2008. It bears upon my earlier blog post about the Barbier-Mueller's controversial exhibition of African ceramics.

Kwame Opoku, 26 July 2008
“We Westerners are the ones who confer the quality of art to these objects. These statues should not return to Africa.” Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller (1)

Seldom have I been to an exhibition where almost everything seemed to have been so well-planned and very carefully considered as the exhibition at the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, entitled, Afrique - Oceanie, Les chef-d’oeuvres de la collection Barbier-Mueller,19 March - 24 August 2008.

To start with, the entrance to the exhibition premises in the very heart of Paris, in the eighth district, on the Boulevard Haussmann, a very busy area of Paris does not lead one to expect the calm and peace that reign in the premises once you have gone through the main gate. A slightly hilly driveway (used probably only for deliveries), with beautiful plants, leads you to the entrance of the exhibition building. You realize immediately that you are in the palace of a French noble. One can imagine open-air concerts and performances in the courtyard. Here is certainly an impressive ambience for exhibitions and other cultural activities.

The African objects shown in the exhibition are some of the best that the African Continent has produced. Many of them are icons of beauty, elegance and provide a demonstration of the fine artistry and skill that exist in Africa. Each of the works would be, by itself, a sufficient reason for visiting the exhibition. The objects shown include statues, reliquaries, masks, totems, headdresses, pendants, swords, and other objects. In looking at all these beautiful objects, one has to bear in mind the history of the relationship between Europe on the one hand, Africa and Oceania on the other. One has to presume that in the absence of evidence to the contrary, most of these objects must have been stolen at one time or other from the original owners.

The catalog and the useful booklet produced for the exhibition do not give much information about the mode of acquisition except that most of the African pieces were acquired in the second half of the XX Century. (2) The Oceanian pieces were acquired in the period of 1960-1980 from Eastern European institutions and as the pamphlet adds, with the blessing of the ministries of culture of the countries concerned. The information given is usually sketchy and relates only to time, for example, “XX Century”, “XIX Century” and “XIX-XX Century”. We would have appreciated getting information that is more precise on the mode of acquisition. It is also strange that at a time when many people are talking about the UNESCO and UNIDROIT Conventions, we are given little information in this respect and so we have no means of checking on the provenance of any of the various objects in the exhibition.

If one relates the citation that these objects should never return to Africa with the lack of information on the mode of acquisition, one starts wondering whether the contempt poured on Africa, Africans, and the rallying call to Europeans might not be a defense mechanism to prevent any inquiries about the method of acquisition(3). If an object has been legitimately acquired, why will the owner even think of the possibility of its being returned to the previous owner? Why will the legitimate acquirer despise the producer of the product he loves so much?

Another thought that accompanied me in viewing all these objects was the statement made by Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller in a radio interview with Radio France:
“Certain anthropologists claim that an African or Oceanian who’s deprived of his fetishes is a person who dies spiritually. Well, that’s not true! Man is much stronger than that! If you take away a Sicilian woman’s crucifix that she inherited from her grandmother, she doesn’t give up her Catholic faith! She doesn’t mope away in sadness. She goes to the next town, she buys a crucifix, she hangs it where the old one had been, and she returns to her prayers!” (4). This is a remarkable statement coming from an art dealer who, as a member of the acquisition committee of the musée du Quai Branly, had made huge profits from selling to the museum some “276 Nigerian works of art for the sum of 40 million francs”. (5) It will be very difficult to convince visitors to this exhibition that the exquisite objects displayed there, some very large, are easily found in Africa and that they can in anyway be compared to crucifixes worn by
people in Sicily and can be easily replaced by a visit to the next town in Africa.

I kept asking myself even a more fundamental question. Why show African and Oceanian arts together? Is Africa nearer to Oceania than to Europe? Alternatively, is this because of perceived similarities between the two different traditions in art and religion? It is true that Western art dealers and museums talk as if the two, Africa and Oceania were neighbours. Many museums group African art and Oceanian Art together. The French had a museum called Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie where most of the stolen arts from these areas were stored until the musée du Quai Branly was established in 2006 and the objects transferred there. The only reason for grouping African art and Oceanian art together is the deep-seated conviction of many Westerners that these arts are primitive and should therefore be put in the same category. We know of no other situation where arts from different parts of the world are presented together, without any thematic connection. We have never seen any museum or collection group European and Asian arts together or Australian and American arts together.

The classification of African and Oceanian arts as primitive is long established in European and American intellectual traditions but apart from the assumptions of primitivism, there is no justification for that. Any argument based on similarities can be easily shown not to be the basis of classification here. There is surely much similarity in style and material between a lot of French and German painters but have we ever seen an exhibition entitled “Arts from France and Germany” or a museum for German and French arts? Also, since the exhibition rooms, (we do not call them halls because they are somewhat small), are linked to another, it is not always easy to know whether one was looking at African art or Oceanian art. The uninitiated may come out thinking she or he has seen African objects when in fact they were Oceanian. True, the objects were clearly labelled and the explanations on the walls should help the visitor who reads carefully. However, why should one even have to ask the question whether one is looking at African or Oceanian art? An exhibition limited to one area would have made matters much clearer right from the entrance to the display. The collection has more than enough objects to devote an entire exhibition to one of the two areas.

Despite the above comments, we recommend the exhibition for the elegance, beauty, and the excellent craftsmanship that both the African and Oceanian objects display. The exhibition makes one realize that many valuable art works have been taken from Africa to Europe and that the struggle to recover at least some of these objects will be extremely long, with open and direct resistance from those who believe they have a duty to save African cultural objects from the Africans. The visitor’s guide to the exhibition states in its introduction as follows: “Private collectors, ethnologists, enthusiasts and those who wanted to protect these works from deterioration and destruction brought about by time and ethnic wars, on the one hand focussed on an in-depth study of utilitarian or ritual objects that have become masterpieces in their own right”. (6)

In the last couple of decades, many writers have stopped using the term “primitive art” because of its obvious derogative connotation but some still use it with inverted commas. Many have used substitutes such as “non-Western art”, some prefer “primary arts”. Although “arts premiers” has gained grounds, especially among academics and museum officials, many of the dealers in African art still use the old term, “art primitif”. It may well be that once you have made a fortune with “art primitif” you cannot easily abandon the terminology that may be useful to a dealer who also has art objects from Oceania and elsewhere. Barbier-Müller uses the old term “art primitif” without any embarrassment. (7) Indeed, in a video, which accompanies the announcement of the exhibition, Barbier-Mueller describes his first encounter with African art at the home of his future father-in-law. Barbier-Mueller refers to the “savage world” which fascinated him at the age of 22 and adds that he has not lost his fascination for this “savage world.” (“monde sauvage”). Should Africans understand “savage world” as a compliment to our ancestors whose memories are revered and enshrined in our statutes and other cultural objects? Should we reject the insult to our cultural icons which is an insult to all of us? What may have been permissible for a man of 22 years in the 20th Century is not necessarily acceptable for an elderly person in the 21st Century.

In an essay in the exhibition catalogue, entitled “Le musée sans territoire”, Laurent Wolf, refers to a previous exhibition “L’Homme et ses masques” in which masks from Africa, Oceania, Asia, North and South America and Europe were put together with very discrete information about their origin. (8) Laurent Wolf uses this to conclude that the average visitor to such exhibition needs not much information. This “deterritorialisation” as Wolf calls it falls into the same category as “decontextualization” as well as all the other theories that would make more information unnecessary in such exhibitions. They all aim at one objective: to make the origins and original functions of all these African cultural and religious objects irrelevant and to dispense with the need to explain the modes of acquisition utilized. Europeans are condemned to develop such theories so long as African peoples exist and claim the return of their cultural objects. By making the context of these objects irrelevant, many awkward questions are avoided. One for example, avoids discussions on the violence done both to the African peoples and to the very objects some Europeans claim to have saved from destruction. In many places such as in Benin, Asante and Dahomey there was actual violence accompanying or preceding the acquisition of cultural artefacts. In other cases, there was the structural violence in the colonial system that was not very far away when the colonial administration or its representatives sought some object. We recall that in France, the so-called Loi Griaule allowed members of the Djibouti-Dakar expedition to take from the French colonies whatever they thought was necessary for the advancement of knowledge. We know even more from the diaries of Michel Leiris, Afrique Fantôme how the members of the expedition went about collecting and stealing objects. Many of the collected objects are now in musée du Quai Branly but many are also on the private art market in Paris and elsewhere in Europe and America.

African cultural objects, which are mostly kept in the depots of American and European museums, were surely not made for that purpose. They were meant to be in the open and in the societies that produced them. Some would have been surrounded with great reverence and respect in their original societies. How does their sojourn in damp and dark European and American museum depots conform to the respect and affection that some pretend to have for our cultural objects? Some of these objects even had their dresses and other decorations on them removed. Violence to those objects that represent our gods, ancestors and our cherished ones is, with all due respect to the museum directors and private collectors, violence to us, the living ones. It is the continuation of the violence and humiliation that we knew in slavery and colonialism. Would there ever be an end to this?

The contempt displayed towards Africans and the disregard for their feelings and the desire to recover some of their stolen cultural objects is exemplified by the statement cited above that it is the Europeans who confer the quality of art on African cultural objects. It is not easy to reconcile the disparaging remark and the condescending attitude of Barbier-Mueller with the following statement by him in the preface to the book, African Masks - The Barbier-Mueller Collection: “An attitude of respect towards the sacred sculptures that embody the values of a society is the key to understanding them. These masks represent much more than objects capable of giving aesthetic pleasure.” (9)

How does one reconcile respect towards the sculptures with contempt for the peoples and societies that produced them? This self-serving ideology is shared also by many others such as those who signed the preface to the catalog to the exhibition, Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria, (ed.) Barbara Plankensteiner (10) when they wrote about “steady changes in the attribution of meaning and value” and “continuation of shifts in meaning”. In other words, the Benin bronzes, which had been stolen by the British Expedition force in 1897, had gained by being kept illegitimately in Europe. This is surely an interesting argument to present to people who have been violently deprived of their religious and ritual art objects and are now demanding their return.

Some of the supporters of the view that African objects only became art objects when the Europeans stole them, go so far as to argue that most African languages have no word or concept of art. However, does the designation or denomination of an object take primacy over the object or the concrete manifestation of the phenomenon? Can art exist without the objects that are included in the concept of art? Does the fact that some societies may not have words or concepts such as murder or manslaughter imply that such phenomena do not occur in those particular societies? How much do supporters of this line of reasoning know about African languages?

Could African art ever have existed without the societies and the artists that produced the art objects? Bargna has stated truly that the admiration for African art does not exclude racism and other forms of disparagement (11). Some of these dealers in African art admire the art objects but not the society and artists whose skills and artistry made them possible. Some of the dealers and collectors feel they have greater affinity to these objects than the Africans who produced them.

Many Europeans would agree that African art inspired Picasso, Juan Gris, Arman, Braque, Matisse, Vlaminck, Kandinsky, Kirchner, Modigliani, Paul Klee, Moore and Giacometti and others but they do not realize or take into account that some of these masterpieces now held in Europe could also inspire young African artists who now have no chance of seeing the masterpieces of their culture. These artists will not be given visa to enter Europe by European governments that are now instinctively allergic to Africans after they have exploited African countries for a long period, under slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonialism.

How long will the best of African art continue to be in the hands of Americans and Europeans? How long will African art be described with pejorative words by those who are holding them?

1). Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, “Ce sont nous, Occidentaux, qui conférons à ces oeuvres une valeur d’art. Ces statues ne doivent pas retourner en Afrique”
2) Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie: Fleurons du musée Barbier-Mueller,
Hazan, Paris, 2008.
3) See the mention of Barbier-Mueller in, Colin Renfrew, Loot, Legitimacy and Ownership, Duckworth, London, 2006, p. 55
4) Sally Price, Paris Primitive: Jacques Chirac's Museum on the Quai Branly, University of Chicago Press, October 2007, p.156
5) Sally Price, Ibid. p. 156.
6) The pages of the visitor’s guide are not numbered but this citation appears on the second page of the English introduction.
7) Iris Hahner, Maria Keckskési and Lázló Vadja, African Masks - The Barbier-Mueller Collection. Prestel Verlag, Munich, 2007, p.6.
8) African Masks - The Barbier-Mueller Collection, p. 6.
9) Arts d’Afrique et d’Océanie, pp. 29 - 41.
10) Barbara Plankensteiner (ed), Benin Kings and Rituals: Court Arts from Nigeria. Snoeck, Ghent, 2007
11) Ivan Bargna, Afrika: Kunst und Architektur, Michel Imhof Verlag, Petersberg, 2008, p.16 - 17.


Guest blogger Kwame Opoku brought to my attention, the ongoing row in Switzerland where art experts have accused the Barbier-Mueller museum in Geneva of exhibiting looted African cultural objects in the exhibition titled African Terra Cotta: a Millenary Heritage.

According to the Swiss Info website:
"Art experts have attacked the looting of African archaeological heritage on behalf of rich western collectors. A group of specialists has pointed an accusing finger at a new exhibition of ancient African ceramics held at the Barbier-Mueller Museum in Geneva. But those responsible for the exhibition reject the criticism. In a signed opinion column, entitled "Le pillage de l'histoire africaine" (The pillaging of African history) in the French-language newspaper Le Temps on Monday, Eric Huysecom, an archaeology professor at Geneva and Bamako universities, condemned the looting of African cultural heritage. His criticism is particularly directed at the "African Terra Cotta: a Millenary Heritage" exhibition, organised by well-known Geneva collector, Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, who specialises in ancient art from Africa, Asia and Oceania. The article was signed by a dozen cultural heritage experts, including Hamady Bocoun, director of Senegal's Cultural Heritage Department, his colleague from Niger, Oumarou Ide, and Marie-Claude Morand, president of the Swiss branch of the International Council of Museums"...
(click here to read the full story)

The art experts accuse the Barbier-Mueller museum of exhibiting artworks known to be looted from Africa, which under normal circumstances, should not be exhibited by any self-respecting museum or cultural institution. Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller, founder of the Barbier-Mueller museum and notable dealer in African artworks and antiquities, has over the years produced significant exhibitions of African art, but has also gotten extraordinarily wealthy from selling African artworks whose provenance are largely problematic. Many major dealers jealously protect their processes of acquisition which makes it difficult to determine whether they acquire these artworks legally or not. In any case, the collections of the Barbier-Mueller museum is tied to the problematic attitude of Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller who contends that it is only Western collectors who confer value of any kind on African artworks, thus asserting a claim to objects in his collection irrespective of whether these objects are of dubious provenance (see the following blog post critique of Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller by Kwame Opoku for clarification of his views).

I am caught between the protagonists in this ongoing row. The art experts who signed the letter condemning the Barbier-Mueller also criticized Boris Wastiau, director of Geneva's Ethnography Museum, for having contributed to and helped put together the exhibition catalogue. Wastiau is a friend and esteemed colleague who has done important work on African art history. Wastiau believes the catalog is completely transparent and I must assume that he also believes the constituent artworks were acquired legally. I respect my colleague but must respectfully suggest that his viewpoint in this matter is wrong. As an art historian whose current research engages the issue of ownership of African cultural patrimony, I have often pointed out that the looting of African cultural patrimony by European colonial institutions not only deprived Africa of many objects of value, it instituted a post-colonial structure in which African artworks are deemed valuable only if they are held in Western collections, which literally transfers African cultural capital to these Western collectors along with many artwork that they acquire, sometimes through egregiously dubious means.

Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller built the core African collection of African art currently in the Barbier-Mueller museum, using his considerable cache among Western art institutions to build and enhance the value of his collection through incestuous lending agreements that enable his collections to accumulate value and dominate discourse (the lavishly published exhibition catalogs that celebrate these collections are complicit, since they serve to present stolen objects as viable objects of discourse, which then allows them to be auctioned for very high prices. In the past, Jean Paul Barbier-Mueller sold a fraction of his collection (256 Nigerian artworks) to the Musee de Quai Branly for 40 million Francs, which made him very wealthy. I don't think it is wrong to ask the museum to make public their collection acquisition documents so we can get a proper idea of how they came to own the objects in their collection. The protest letter by the art experts mentioned above is a step in the right direction. It makes clear that there needs to be a reckoning of the fairness of a cultural process that allows African cultural resources to be expropriated without accountability from any Western museum or art collector.

It is ironic that this row is taking place in Switzerland without mention of the Swiss Government's complicity in the impoverishment of African countries. For the past six decades, African despots have looted their national treasuries and deposited the money in Switzerland, who served as an international nexus of legalized Swiss bank money laundering scheme that allowed these stolen funds to return to regular circulation. Basically, it works like this: an African despot solicits a loan from the IMF or World Bank and receives, say, $100 million dollars loan to support various development projects in his country, at 8% interest. He skims off $90million and deposits this in a numbered Swiss account at 3-5% interest. The Swiss banks lend out the money (now untraceable) at, say, 8% interest, thus making 3% interest on the money in addition to the finance changes imposed on the depositor for the bank's services (click here for an astonishing document on the intricacy of such money laundering protocols). Now suppose the depositor dies (and this was the case with Sanni Abacha, Nigeria's former dictator, who was thought to have deposited over $2.2billion in Swiss accounts), their heirs usually find it difficult to get access to the money since it is usually the despot who has the secret codes. In such cases, the Swiss banks simply keep the money. In cases where the governments of the despot make an effort to recover the money, they sometimes, after much struggle, manage to get back a fraction of the original deposits. In many instances, they don't get any part of this money back. This is how a nation whose primary export is wristwatches manages to have one of the highest standards of living in the world.

The Swiss banks of course fight all allegations of money laundering and deny such activities. They have even gone to court sometimes to shut down websites that publish secret documents proving their complicity in money laundering. But overall, Swiss banks have proved unaccountable to global financial regulations and they only settle when powerful countries have them at the throat. These banks sat on funds deposited in Swiss banks by victims of the Holocaust until legal threats from the USA caused them to settle with the descendants of Holocaust victims. To date, Swiss banks have refused to publish the names of their African depositors so that African countries can have a chance to reclaim the funds looted by these nefarious individuals.

There is a direct correlation between the activities the Barbier-Mueller museum is accused of and those of Swiss banks. Both institutions operate on the principle of finder's keeper's, which means they are happy to acquire artworks and funds of dubious origin and protect the offenders by imposing a wall of secrecy. It is true that African countries have been complicit in these crimes, and that the more progressive minded African governments lack the power or clout to compel these institutions to reveal their acquisition processes. However, there is a judgment coming and it is unlikely to favor institutions that don't immediately start to negotiate a solution to this persistent problem of the ownership of African cultural patrimony in the West. I will advise my friend and colleague, Boris Wastiau, to be careful in this regard, so that his excellent professional accomplishments are not tainted by his insistence on defending an untenable position. It is a central tenet of modern law that one cannot lay legitimate claim to a stolen object no matter how one acquires it. There is no doubt that many of the ceramics objects in the contested exhibition at the Barbier-Mueller exhibition were stolen. In time, we must begin to indict the scholars who give discursive legitimacy to these stolen objects, as well as the museums and art collectors who collect them.

The Jesusita Fire in Santa Barbara

View of the Jesusita Fire from Carpinteria, 12 miles south of Santa Barbara

Forest fires are sure signs of summer in Southern California. When I first moved to this region nine years ago, I was quite astounded by the frequency and destructiveness of these forest fires but more astonished by the manner in which this seemed accepted as part of life. Last year’s fire season was especially devastating. Fanned by howling dry Santa Ana winds gusting up to 75 miles an hour, these fires moved with impressive speed and usually outran efforts by fire fighters to contain them. On November 14, 2008, a fire in the exclusive Santa Barbara enclave of Montecito literally ate it way through 500 acres and destroyed over 120 homes, many of them multi-million dollar estates of the rich and famous. Around the same time, three other major fires were burning in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, where one of them, the Sylmar fire, reduced whole neighborhoods to charred cinders and forced evacuation of tens of thousands of people. I live about one mile from the Pacific Ocean so I usually hear of these fires on the evening news where they seem distant events that have no bearing on daily life. However, that perception is flawed since these fires happen with enough frequency and fury that they actually affect Southern California weather, and this in turn affects everyone. Compulsory evacuation of threatened neighborhoods clog up traffic and the concentration of municipal resources to combat these fires drain city coffers and snag up other services. But after each fire, life goes on. People rebuild in the same areas and wait for the next fire season, and the cycle continues.

The Jesusita fire in Santa Barbara is the first major conflagration in Santa Barbara County in the 2009 fire season. Unlike many fires that burn in the nearby Los Padres national forest, the Jesusita fire is burning acres and houses in the hills directly above the city of Santa Barbara, and fire fighters battling the blaze are trying to prevent it from spreading down into the city proper. I drove up to campus yesterday and when I went through Highway 101 in the morning, I could see the fire smoldering in the hills. It seemed pretty well contained to me and I didn’t give it any mind. By the time I was making my drive home in the afternoon, Highway101 was clogged and huge plumes of smoke were rising from the hills. All through the day, the heat was building and by noon, it was a blistering 85 degrees and climbing along the Pacific shoreline on the University of California Santa Barbara campus. Heat generated high winds rushed up the hills and reignited the fires, which by 4pm were literally burning out of control and claiming their first houses. I made my way through traffic and by 5.30pm, I was at home watching the fires on TV. Ten homes had been destroyed and many more were in smoldering in the shadow of the huge smoke plumes.

I stopped on the highway to take some pictures, right under the smoke plume directly opposite the flames. I stopped further along my drive home and took other pictures from different vantage points, from a bluff in Carpinteria, and from the waterfront in Seabreeze, twenty miles southward from Santa Barbara on the way to Oxnard. The rising smoke plume could be seen from Long Beach, almost 100 miles south of Santa Barbara, where they enhanced the already remarkable sunsets of Southern California. Firefighters worked through the night to control the blaze. By 9pm yesterday, the fire had consumed over 500 acres, burned 20 homes and forced evacuation of 8000 people. The Jesusita fire was still burning this morning, fanned by ferocious winds that show no sign of dying down. The fire has affected many UCSB faculty and staff, and Highway 101, a major link between Los Angeles and San Francisco (along the Pacific Coast) is seriously clogged. I am watching the fire from the safety of my home further south, and hoping Santa Barbara gets a respite from the rampaging flames. It is indeed heartbreaking to watch the houses of my friends going up in smoke.

Below (images 1-4), The Jesusita Fire photographed from Highway 101 in Santa Barbara. Bottom image: The Jesusita Fire from Highway 101 at Seabreeze, 21 miles south of Santa Barbara. Click on the pictures to enlarge them.

May 1, 2009

SUNCAST-TV Launches Nigeria Channel in the USA

From an official Suncast-TV press release, April 25, 2009:


NTA, (Nigerian Television Authority) Television programs from Nigeria, now available through IPTV! NTA: The Nigerian Television Authority, by the authority of Nigeria’s Federal Government has formed a partnership, and signed an agreement with Suncastv to broadcast NTA programming in the United States. Suncastv is the only authorized IPTV broadcaster of NTA programming in the United States.

NTA, The Nigerian Television Authority, is a National Television Network, which operates as a para state entity of the Nigerian Federal Government, supervised by the Federal Ministry of Information and Communications. NTA is a world-class television network, which provides independent and impartial programming in the interest of Nigeria. NTA’s programs broadcast the true African and Nigerian perspectives on the world. Suncastv will be developing the Nigerian Channel to create news and programs of interest to the Nigerian communities around the United States.

Dr. Nasir Zahradeen and Mrs.Thessy Nwaneri, from the corporate affairs department of Nigerian Television Authority came to Illinois on 30 March, to announce their official, Nigerian government mandated, strategic alliance partnership with Suncastv to broadcast NTA programming in the United States, via IPTV. The Nigerian Channel will become a voice for Nigerians in America to tell their true story to the world, and convey news from America back to their homeland of Nigeria. SuncasTV Network –will host its Newest Channel beginning MAY 1st – The Nigerian Channel with Nigerian Television Authority programming. All NTA programming is available on a subscription basis of $5 per month and an annual subscription of only $60 a year.

SuncasTV is an IP TV Service Provider, that is, it uses the broadband of the Internet to broadcast over laptop, desktop and on in-home TV, using set-up boxes, as do cable and Satellite TV.

For more information, please contact

2407 East Oakton Street
Arlington Heights, IL 60005
Office: 847-364-4008
Fax: 847-364-4027