The Hexacoto

Listening to the sound of one hand clapping

Tag: reblog

On Art and Cultural Appropriation

Someone shared with me this delightful bit from McSweeney’s titled “A Short Description of Cultural Appropriation for Non-Believers” by Rajeev Balasubramanyam.

1. Your new friends Bob and Rita come to lunch and you serve them idlis, like your grandmother used to make.

2. They love your south Indian cooking and ask for the recipe.

3. You never hear from Rita and Bob again.

4. You read in the Style section of the Guardian about Rita and Bob’s new Idli bar in Covent Garden… called ‘Idli.’

5. You visit Idli. The food tastes nothing like your grandmother’s.

6. Your grandmother dies.

7. Rita and Bob’s children inherit the Idli chain, and open several franchises in America.

8. Your children find work as short order chefs… at Idli.

9. Your children visit you in a nursing home and cook you idlis, which taste nothing like the ones you remember from your youth.

10. You compliment their cooking and ask for the recipe.

11. You die.

It’s simple and effective in getting the point across. The line between appreciation and appropriation is thin and blurry, but the concept of profiting seems to suggest when it falls into the latter category, especially when the originator is uncredited. Worse still, is if the appropriation is hailed as the innovator and the originator languishes, and is subjugated in some sense.

I often worry whether I cross into appropriation territory. At one point, I was reading up on bharatanatyam and was very inspired by its history and spirituality. It also reminded me of back when I was in primary school, where to celebrate Indian dance and culture, my school’s Indian dance club would perform it and I was mesmerised by it aesthetically but also how different it was from my own culture. I never really sought to learn more about it growing up, until when I came to be reacquainted with bharatanatyam.

I wondered if I could incorporate elements of it into my own circus performing. I read up on texts and watch videos of the classical dance. I learned about the karanas and what each was suppose to portray, and pondered if I could portray the message of performance the way karanas do. At the end of my study, I tried to record a video of my efforts in integrating circus performing with the concepts of bharatanatyam. When I was done, there came a surge of worry: Oh no, have I simply adopted a different culture to elevate myself and made a mockery of the dance with the video? Despite coming from what I felt to be a genuine case of admiration of Tamil Indian music, dance, spirituality and culture, I still felt a twinge of guilt from appropriation.

Given the intensity of racial discussions here in America back home in recent weeks/months/years, such concerns are necessary: how does one respectfully engage with elements from another culture, especially if that culture is systemically in a minority dynamic and subjugated? We seem to have entered a time where having the ethnic majority merely reproducing the minority’s culture as appreciation is insufficient — more needs to be done. But what?

I don’t think I can be the one to answer that question — I think that has to be a process involving a conversation between the appropriator and the appropriated. That’s an interesting situation for me since I exist as a racial/cultural minority in America, but am a majority in Singapore. This is certainly a unique situation where I get to participate in discussing with people what I feel are appropriations of my culture in one place, but have to listen to the same conversation from the other side.

In the meanwhile, I can only hope that as I go about my life and art, I don’t accidentally take other cultures’ idlis and pass them off for my own.


Interesting related reading: Rich Chigga and the Difficulties of Keeping It Real [New Yorker]

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All Men In North Korea Are Now Reportedly Required to Get the Same Haircut as Kim Jong Un

This is way too funny not to reblog. At least the “undercut” was popular in North Korea before it even hit the States!

TIME

Until now, everyone in North Korea had to choose their haircuts from a list of state-approved styles. But now, all men in the hermit kingdom will be required to sport the same hairstyle as supreme leader Kim Jong Un, the BBC reports.

Pyongyang introduced the new law two weeks ago but is now rolling it out across the country. Unfortunately, many North Koreans don’t seem too thrilled about it since it could be rather unflattering for many men. Plus, according to a former Pyongyang resident now living in China, the Kim Jong Un cut is unpopular because it apparently resembles the style of Chinese smugglers. “Until the mid-2000s, we called it the ‘Chinese smuggler haircut,” the source told the Korea Times.

For now, it seems women will still be able to choose one of the several state-approved styles. Though if Kim Jong Un is a Friends fan…

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Reblog: This suave chap is apparently a girl! Don’t believe us? We don’t believe our eyes either

I swooned

SoraNews24

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We’ve seen way too many beautiful guys who look like girls. Hell, some of them even look prettier than real girls. We know some of you are starting to get bored with looking at “traps” all the time, so here, the tables are turned this time! This handsome face belongs to a girl! It’s still some time before April Fool’s Day so you can be assured that we’re not kidding you!

View original post 270 more words

In this freezing weather, blow bubbles

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From Komo News:

What to do when you’ve got a creative mind, a knack for photography, and temperatures are hovering near single digits?

Go blow bubbles! Then take pictures of what happens next.

Arlington’s Angela Kelly of Kelly Images and Photography has been featured in this blog before for her beautiful natural displays of dew drops and melting frost.

But when she heard we were about to be invaded by a chilly arctic wind, she decided to try her hand at something new: Frozen bubbles.

“When I learned that we were expecting to see our coldest temperatures last week since last February, I knew I had to try to capture the ice we were bound to see it in its best (and most interesting) form,” she told me.

So she and her 7-year-old son ventured out on some very frigid mornings last week when the temperatures ranged from 9 to 12 degrees.

Then, using a homemade solution from a recipe that she found on the Internet that combined dish soap, karo syrup and water, they gave Jack Frost several individual easels for him to paint his magic.

“We blew the bubbles across the top of our frozen patio table and also upon the hood of my car and then we watched in awe as each individual bubble froze with their own unique patterns,” Kelly said. “We noted how they would freeze completely before the sun rose but that once the sun was in view they would defrost along the tops or cease freezing altogether. We also noted how they would begin to deflate and implode in on themselves making them look like alien shapes or in some cases shatter completely leaving them to look like a cracked egg.”

She said it was so cold that some of the smaller bubbles would freeze mid-air and drop like stones to the ground.

“Are we ever too old to play with bubbles?” she asked, rhetorically. “I really think that this is the most fun, unique and beautiful series I’ve done yet!”

You can see more of her amazing natural photography — frozen bubbles, melted frost and others, on her Facebook page.

How do cows moo in a British accent?

A listener to the podcast “How to Do Everything” named Rachel asked: “How would a person moo in a British accent?” The listener is from Nevada, and professes to moo with an American accent.

What better way to find out than to ask someone close to the source? The kind folks at the show invited Sir Patrick Stewart to answer Rachel’s question, which has been on her mind for a couple of months. Patrick Stewart answers:

It’s not a straightforward, simple answer. Unlike, probably, many other countries, where a cow’s moo is a cow’s moo, in England, you understand, we are dominated by class, by social status, and by location. So, for example, a cow that’s in a field  next to my house in West Oxfordshire would moo in one kind of way, and cow in the field in the semi-industrial town I grew up in in the north of England would moo in another kind of way.

Patrick Stewart then goes on to demonstrate how the different cows would sound at home by bellowing himself. He describes the moo’s of the cows near his home, a long protracted low, as “very conservative.” He goes on to explain why:

You must understand that I live in the constituency of David Cameron, our Prime Minister, who is a Tory (the Conservative Party). And I assume these cows voted for him. I don’t actually vote there, I vote in another place, in London.

If I’m at my home in Yorkshire, where I grew up, and not that there are many fields left where I grew up but I would find one and I would find some cows, what you hear would be something like this: mehhhhhhh. Well, this has all to do with environmental and cultural conditioning.

He emphasises that moos vary by location, and recommends that travellers talk to cows all over the country in any country, because “cows have a great deal to tell us.”

The hosts at the show offered a bit of a culture exchange and offered to show Patrick Stewart what a Nevada cow sounds like, but Stewart suprises them all by saying that his wife is also from Nevada, and he has experience with Nevada cattle, and did his best impression of a Nevada cow. His Nevada cow is high-pitched and nasal, because “that’s the way you people (the hosts) talk. The cows are influenced by how you talk, as you are influenced by the cows.”

The hosts went on to ask, “How a Cockney cow would moo?” Stewart replies:

You understand, Cockney cows are pretty rare these days. I mean, Shakespeare’s days, there were cattle in the middle of London. But nowadays, generally speaking, the city of London doesn’t feel too good about having cattle in Picadilly Circus for example. But I can you an idea of a Cockney cow — I’m old enough to remember when there were Cockney cows.

The resulting impersonation (incowation?) sounds like a mehh-aye! which Stewart describes as “more like a sheep than a cow.” The hosts points out that in Stewart’s walk-through of English cows so far, not only are there different cow accents, it seems that there are also different cow attitudes throughout the country. Stewarts extrapolates:

You are absolutely right. What you just heard just now was an urban cow. All of us who live in big cities, we have to be watchful, we have to be on our guard. We have to be prepared for fight-or-flight at any moment, and it is the same with cattle.

Breeding is of utmost important in humans, as it is in cattle. How would a well-bred cow sound like?

We had a Prime Minister many, many years ago called Alec Douglas-Home (pronounced hyoom) and one of the wonderful things about Alec Douglas-Home — including his name by the way, and you’d think that his name is probably spelled “H-double O-M-E” or “H-U-M-L” or something like that, his name was actually spelled “H-O-M-E” — home, but it was pronounced “hume,” and we do that mostly to confuse Americans, like Leicester Square and Lye-cester.

Anyway, the thing about Alec Douglas-Home was that he didn’t move his lips when he talked, (unintelligible mumble because Stewart is mimicking talking without his lips but the words sounds like: “and here’s an example, this is how he always talks. He didn’t actually move the lips.”) Because moving your lips is terribly bad taste. So, if Alec Douglas-Home had cattle, and I’m sure he did; he must have been a landowner because I think he was actually Scottish, his cows would mooed something like this: hrmmmmmm. Very refined, very sophisticated, very cultured. These cows had gone to Eton or Harrow (prestigious boarding schools), or at least the cow equivalent.

There you go, how British cows moo, and like humans, how they speak is also  affected by social ecownomics.

I’ll see myself out now.

Listen to the full podcast here, if not for the knowledge, then at least to hear Sir Patrick Steward moo like a cow!

Wow this is doge

So you know, the doge meme that has been pervading on the internet?

Well guess what? The original doges have been found!

From The Verge:

doge

When 51-year-old Japanese kindergarten teacher Atsuko Sato started seeing strange pictures of her eight-year-old Shiba Inu dog Kabosu popping up on the internet this past August, she was a little freaked out. “I was taken aback,” Sato, an elegant, brown-haired woman given to wide smiles, recalled. “It felt very strange to see her face there. It was a Kabosu that I didn’t know.”

What Sato didn’t realize was that Kabosu had unwittingly become the face of “doge,” the white-hot internet meme that plasters photos of Shiba Inu with fractured phrases written in rainbow-colored Comic Sans type. The images often feature a “wow” in one corner, then a series of intensifiers, like “so” and “such,” paired with nouns relevant to the picture. “So scare,” “such dapper,” “many skill,” some examples read, like a surreal narrative of the dog’s inner monologue.

A snapshot of Kabosu perched on a couch, glancing sidelong at Sato’s camera with tan eyebrows raised, paws warily crossed and mouth pulled back, was suddenly Photoshopped onto a Twinkie, a giant rock, a Canadian landscape, and a Christmas sweater. The dog’s face was used as the symbol of Dogecoin, a flash-in-the-pan Bitcoin alternative popular enough to be targeted in a recent heist. Kabosu was used to mock politicians in the United States and Canada. And though she had seen some of the images online, until just a week ago Sato had no idea what the doge meme actually was.

She had just wanted to share some cute pictures of her pets on the internet.

Read the full feature article on the Verge here! You’ll get to see the other pictures of the doge in it too!

Insert: Code Poetry

First Stanford code poetry slam reveals the literary side of computer code

The high-tech poetry competition, which explored how computer code can be read as poetic language, is accepting submissions for the next competition.

By Mariana Lage
The Humanities at Stanford

Leslie Wu presents her code poem
Leslie Wu, a Stanford graduate student in computer science, presents her code poem, ‘Say 23,’ which won first place in the Stanford Code Poetry Slam. Image: Mariana Lage

Leslie Wu, a doctoral student in computer science at Stanford, took an appropriately high-tech approach to presenting her poem “Say 23” at the first Stanford Code Poetry Slam.

Wu wore Google Glass as she typed 16 lines of computer code that were projected onto a screen while she simultaneously recited the code aloud. She then stopped speaking and ran the script, which prompted the computer program to read a stream of words from Psalm 23 out loud three times, each one in a different pre-recorded-computer voice.

Wu, whose multimedia presentation earned her first place, was one of eight finalists to present at the Code Poetry Slam. Organized by Melissa Kagen, a graduate student in German studies, and Kurt James Werner, a graduate student in computer-based music theory and acoustics, the event was designed to explore the creative aspects of computer programming.

With presentations that ranged from poems written in a computer language format to those that incorporated digital media, the slam demonstrated the entrants’ broad interpretation of the definition of “code poetry.”

Kagen and Werner developed the code poetry slam as a means of investigating the poetic potentials of computer-programming languages.

“Code poetry has been around a while, at least in programming circles, but the conjunction of oral presentation and performance sounded really interesting to us,” said Werner. Added Kagen, “What we are interested is in the poetic aspect of code used as language to program a computer.”

Ian Holmes explored Java language in a Haiku format

Ian Holmes, a Stanford undergraduate studying computer science and materials and science engineering, explored Java language in a Haiku format. Image: Mariana Lage

Sponsored by the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, the slam drew online submissions from Stanford and beyond.

High school students and professors, graduate students and undergraduates from engineering, computer science, music, language and literature incorporated programming concepts into poem-like forms. Some of the works were written entirely in executable code, such as Ruby and C++ languages, while others were presented in multimedia formats. The works of all eight finalists can be viewed on the Code Poetry Slam website.

With so much interest in the genre, Werner and Kagen hope to make the slam a quarterly event. Submissions for the second slam are open now through Feb. 12, 2014, with the date of the competition to be announced later.

Giving voice to the code

Kagen, Werner and Wu agree that code poetry requires some knowledge of programming from the spectators.

“I feel it’s like trying to read a poem in a language with which you are not comfortable. You get the basics, but to really get into the intricacies you really need to know that language,” said Kagen, who studies the traversal of musical space in Wagner and Schoenberg.

Wu noted that when she was typing the code most people didn’t know what she was doing. “They were probably confused and curious. But when I executed the poem, the program interpreted the code and they could hear words,” she said, adding that her presentation “gave voice to the code.”

“The code itself had its own synthesized voice, and its own poetics of computer code and singsong spoken word,” Wu said.

One of the contenders showed a poem that was “misread” by the computer.

“There was a bug in his poem, but more interestingly, there was the notion of a correct interpretation which is somewhat unique to computer code. Compared to human language, code generally has few interpretations or, in most cases, just one,” Wu said.

Coding as a creative act

So what exactly is code poetry? According to Kagen, “Code poetry can mean a lot of different things depending on whom you ask.

“It can be a piece of text that can be read as code and run as program, but also read as poetry. It can mean a human language poetry that has mathematical elements and codes in it, or even code that aims for elegant expression within severe constraints, like a haiku or a sonnet, or code that generates automatic poetry. Poems that are readable to humans and readable to computers perform a kind of cyborg double coding.”

Werner noted that “Wu’s poem incorporated a lot of different concepts, languages and tools. It had Ruby language, Japanese and English, was short, compact and elegant. It did a lot for a little code.” Werner served as one of the four judges along with Kagen; Caroline Egan, a doctoral student in comparative literature; and Mayank Sanganeria, a master’s student at the Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics (CCRMA).

Kagen and Werner got some expert advice on judging from Michael Widner, the academic technology specialist for the Division of Literatures, Cultures and Languages.

Widner, who reviewed all of the submissions, noted that the slam allowed scholars and the public to “probe the connections between the act of writing poetry and the act of writing code, which as anyone who has done both can tell you are oddly similar enterprises.”

A scholar who specializes in the study of both medieval and machine languages, Widner said that “when we realize that coding is a creative act, we not only value that part of the coder’s labor, but we also realize that the technologies in which we swim have assumptions and ideologies behind them that, perhaps, we should challenge.”

Mariana Lage is a visiting doctoral student in the Department of Comparative Literature.

When I was younger, I scoffed at the idea of programming language being a real language. “It is an efficient language, but lacks the capability for beauty,” I thought back then. That’s why we can achieve poetry with living languages and not programming.

Turns out people have been trying to prove that wrong. The folks at Stanford created a code poetry slam that attempts to bridge the gap between a language I (and many others) long-derided for being incapable of beauty, with poetry, the very art of turning language beautiful. It’s interesting to see how one takes a language with “stripped-out” syntax, one void of auxiliaries and other linguistic features, and tries to work with its sparseness to turn it into poetry.

This begs the question of “What is beauty? What makes word poetry beautiful?”

We find beauty in poetry in a number of ways: Some find the words used per se beautiful — word-image evocation. Some find the conjured images from metaphors beautiful — visual/thematic image evocation. Some even find the structures used to arrange the words beautiful — structural inspiration. The bottom-line is, there is some sort of inspiration or reaction drawn from the reader by the poem, and this reaction is essentially what we call the “beauty” we find in poetry.

When I shared this article on Facebook, a friend, who does programming, says that code can be beautiful too. He says, to him, an efficient code is a beautiful code; if an algorithm can figure out the solution to a problem in 10 lines where it takes him 50, the code is beautiful to him. While there exist similarities between the two, in that he is inspired by the efficiency of the “beautiful code,” that beauty is not the same sense of beauty that exists in natural language poetry, and the people at Stanford are trying to bridge that difference.

Where my friend equates the idea of efficiency to be beauty, “code poetry” tries to go beyond mere efficiency. Efficient “beautiful code” is just efficient code, and I think those at Stanford are trying go beyond just “beautiful code,” and trying for the same sense of “beautiful” that people find in imprecise written word with the precise structure of coding. The creativity from code poetry isn’t in the creative licence common to written poetry or in the ingenuity of finding a way to make the code more efficient, but possibly using a code that lies in-between.

In that, a code poet might end up with a slightly unwieldy, bulky code that programmers might think to be “ugly,” but appreciated beyond its efficiency, and applying the image-evocation processes of natural language poetry that traditional poetry beauty can be seen in code. At times, the code need not even solve anything, and in programming, that is just redundant code. But redundancy is very important in natural language, and by breaking away from the strictures of what makes good code, and eschewing snobbish ideas of natural language poetry superiority, can we begin to see the start of a novel way of understanding how beauty and structure can co-exist hand in hand.

Of course, as highlighted in the article, there’s the problem of access: those who do not understand programming cannot understand code poetry. Would this be a short-coming? Who would then be the arbiters of what makes good code poetry? Would we need masters of both the computing and natural language to dictate which poem highlights the sensibilities of both sides? I think not, actually. Take the Java haiku in the article above. I don’t understand Java, but I think there’s an element of beauty in that. I think anyone, as long as they’re willing to abandon what traditionally defines good code or good poetry, and listen to what inspires, what is beautiful to the mind, can appreciate good code poetry.