Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Game

Northwestern played its Spring Game yesterday, a traditional life-or-death exhibition struggle between the offense and the defense as they tune up, get ready for position battles, and allow Coach Fitzgerald to begin regaining his intense fist-pumping form after a winter lacking intense fist pumping opportunities.

Pat Fitzgerald can't keep his exuberance
bottled up on President's Day


The offense performed well in the Spring Game, with presumed starter Mike Kafka going 12-21 for 134 yards and an extra 18 on the ground. More importantly, converted wide receiver Jeravin Matthews rushed for 90 yards on 15 attempts, which puts him in a prime position to compete for the starting job over Stephen Simmons. The defense was missing four key starters including Corey Wootton and Brad Phillips. As everyone knows, the outcome of the Spring Game is extremely significant in college football, so I advise readers to either celebrate by overturning cars and setting them on fire in anticipation of an amazing season or panic by overturning cars and setting them on fire.


In other news, Northwestern and Illinois have finally come up with a replacement for the Sweet Sioux Tomahawk trophy for the rivalry game. Illinois cannot be trusted with anything resembling Native American imagery lest their pro-Chief sleeper cells emerge to unofficially don an embarrassing buckskin outfit in flagrant defiance of the NCAA, the Wildcats and Illini will play for the Land of Lincoln trophy. The trophy has not yet been designed, but naturally BYCTOM has a rational and workable suggestion.

At thepost-game ceremony, I encourage Lincoln-centric trash
talking such as "It shall take four score and seven years to
bring forth my foot from your ass"

Hopefully, both teams will be in contention to make the Land of Lincoln game a real annual rivalry game instead of the pointless Sweet Sioux game. At any rate, the trophy cannot possibly be as lame as the Land Grant Trophy between Penn State and Michigan State, which looks like the desk of a 1960s office worker.

Opening up the trophy reveals a
bottle of brandy, a carton of cigarettes,
and a reel-to-reel tape recorder
filled with conversations among
suspected communists


Although this blog has been favoring East Africa due to the pirate situation, it is now time to turn to West Africa and the plague of coups. Specifically, the failed attempt in 2004 to overthrow Obiang Nguema, the the President of Equatorial Guinea, a tiny nation in the Bight of Benin (Beware, beware the Bight of Benin, for few come out though many come in, claims the old saying) in what Adam Roberts decribes as the "armpit of Africa." Roberts is the Johannesburg bureau chief for The Economist who wrote The Wonga Coup, a fascinating account of the bungled coup attempt. He describes Equatorial Guinea:

Almost nobody has a good word for the place. If you see a man limping on both legs, quipped the American embassador, you know he has been to Equatorial Guinea. 'Devil Island', as it is sometimes known is unlike most of modern Africa. Senior churchmen and leaders talk of the 'magical powers' of the rulers; there are said to be regular witch-burnings. It is both sleepy and sinister, where the vicious rivalries of village politics are elevated to the national level.

Location of Equatorial Guinea on
Africa's West Coast

In 1973, Roberts describes a similar coup attempt, also led by British mercenaries, who wanted to oust Obiang's uncle Macias Nguema, the president who presided over Equatorial Guinea's colonial liberation from Spain and then became a brutal kelptocratic dictator, following the Mobutu playbook almost to the letter except also including an apparent fascination with the skulls of his enemies.

Mobutu bankrolled and hosted the Rumble in the Jungle, chronicled in the
excellent documentary When we were kings which combines Mobutu,
Ali, and a mustachioed, incoherent James Brown, the best of all possible
James Browns

The 1973 coup attempt was partially financed by author Frederick Forsyth, a thriller novelist perhaps best known for The day of the jackal, which was turned into a phenomenal movie and then butchered by Bruce Willis in The jackal, which inspired a phenomenal Ebert review: "The Jackal strikes me as the kind of overachiever who, assigned to kill a mosquito, would purchase contraband insecticides from Iraq and bring them into the United States by hot air balloon, distilling his drinking water from clouds and shooting birds for food."

Shortly after the coup failed, Forsyth wrote Dogs of war, a novel that was essentially a fictionalized version of the coup. Roberts interviewed Forsyth about his role in financing the coup; Forsyth admits that he donated a large sum and did meet with shady international mercenaries in planning, but only was out for research and information for his novel. Dogs of war became a movie in 1980 starring Christopher Walken and Tom Berenger.

After Dogs of war, Walken demonstrated that bleach blond hair is the hallmark
of a maniac

Though Roberts sympathizes with Forsyth's commitment to ending the lunatic reign of Macias Nguema (or, as one of his official titles labeled him, "Great Maestro of Popular Education, Science, and Traditional Culture"), he points to oil as the chief motivating force behind the 2004 coup attempt. The 2004 coup was led by Simon Mann, a British ex-SAS commando who went on to demonstrate that who dares occasionally ends up in Zimbabweyan prison. Mann headed a private security firm that served as a mercenary force in various African conflicts during the 1990s called Executive Outcomes in the chillingly bland style of mercenary firms that tend to have names such as Fulcrum Services or Business Ventures.

If the A-Team had been called Leveraged Solutions, they
would not have to constantly battle armies of rustic
hayseeds by pummeling them with produce-hurling
tractor equipment that makes pickup trucks harmlessly

Mann planned to lead a team of British and South African mercenaries (including a man named Victor Dracula because, as he put it, "I can only say this: I took blood!" You can verify this quote in Roberts' book by looking in the index under Dracula, Victor) into Equatorial Guinea on a 727, seize the palace, install the ex-priest and leading exile dissident Severo Moto as president, and seize control of oil revenues. The plot is actually vastly more complicated, and Roberts finds that, unlike most coup attempts, the Mann group actually left a significant paper trail stretching from Britain to South Africa, to Equatorial Guinea. The paper trail ensnared Sir Mark Thatcher as a financier, the son of the former British Prime Minister who had apparently been spending his time since the Iron Lady took office in various high-profile efforts to blight his family name.

The two words most associated with Thatcher (code
named "Scratcher" in the plot) seem to be dim and
incompetent, but on the other hand, the man can
wear a scarf.

The Wonga Coup is a very impressive piece of investigative reporting and disentangles a complex web into a compelling narrative, but it is most of all a bizarre insight into contemporary Africa. Of particular note is the role of South African, U.S., and Spanish intelligence services-- they clearly knew about the plot (mercenaries apparently enjoy getting drunk and revealing their plans to overthrow governments to hapless bar patrons), and Spain actually sent warships in the area (the government claimed it was doing training exercises), but then they disavowed all knowledge.

Coup mastermind Simon Mann went from
incarceration in Zimbabwe to being extradited to
Equatorial Guinea, a classic case of going from out
of the frying pan to the country where you
attempted to kill the maniacal head of state in an
ill-planned coup attempt


With the Spring Game finished, BYCTOM will turn to the NFL draft, looking at NU's crop of undrafted free agents and the Chicago Bears' slew of second day picks, where Angelos will attempt to prove that he is less bungling than Mark Thatcher and more cunning than a Nguema. Hopefully, the outcomes for all involved will be, for lack of a better term, executive.


Bob said...

This is your best post in my opinion. I've been at a conference in Cambridge. Guinea was brought up quite a lot. I think this would have gone over well there.

The day of the Jackal is an amazing film. It features Edward Fox, who is only capable of playing two roles: either he is a very clever British assassin or he is a sadistic British general (see the films Gandhi, A Bridge Too Far, and Oh! What A Lovely War). When he attempted to branch out, as in Never Say Never Again, the results were less than stellar.

I happen to be a fan of the Bruce Willis Jackal if for no other reason than seeing Jack Black killed in the most ridiculous manner. On the other hand, Richard Gere's Irish accent in that film is easily one of the worst things that has ever happened to the human race.

TC said...

Well done. Specifically, the bit "The 2004 coup was led by Simon Mann, a British ex-SAS commando who went on to demonstrate that who dares occasionally ends up in Zimbabweyan prison," which make me shoot coke out my nose.

El Kabong said...

"When asked to comment on their improbable escape after being left alone in a shed full of welding equipment, a spokesman for Leveraged Solutions declined to comment, due to their being 'On the Jazz'. However, they did release a statement late today that reads 'We love it when a plan comes together'."
I heard about your blog a few months ago, and I'm slowly catching up on the archives. Be well.
~El Kabong