Buffalo buffalo? Sure, Sure

by on March 9, 2011




That is scholar and polymath Zhao Yuanren’s 92 character poem, Lion-eating Poet in the Stone Den. Visually, it makes sense since the characters are different and the poem appears be be able to be parsed through reading.

Here it is in pinyin, with the accents indicating the tone (neutral, rising, falling then rising, falling).  

« Shī Shì shí shī shǐ »
Shíshì shīshì Shī Shì, shì shī, shì shí shí shī.
Shì shíshí shì shì shì shī.
Shí shí, shì shí shī shì shì.
Shì shí, shì Shī Shì shì shì.
Shì shì shì shí shī, shì shǐ shì, shǐ shì shí shī shìshì.
Shì shí shì shí shī shī, shì shíshì.
Shíshì shī, Shì shǐ shì shì shíshì.
Shíshì shì, Shì shǐ shì shí shì shí shī.
Shí shí, shǐ shí shì shí shī, shí shí shí shī shī.
Shì shì shì shì.

It is unintelligible, more a tone poem , only much more confusing because they are actual words –  and illustrative of the problem that people  (me) have learning a tonal language.

English has similar problems  too, only a little less frequently.  Here is the delightful ‘buffalo’ sentence, which is so much fun to say:

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo.

Go here for an explanation.

One reason I don’t believe Chinese will ever become as powerful as English is  because characters are difficult – mash your head, toss your dictionary in frustrated stupidity difficult. And not just for non-natives. Chinese have trouble with them, too.  I’ve heard many conversations in which one person asks another which ‘shi’ or ‘xing’ they mean, or how to write a certain character, particularly the rare ones or the ones with many strokes (like the ‘wan’ in ‘Taiwan’). Now that there are two different character sets – traditional in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and others, and  simplified in the PRC – it’s worse. But this poem makes it clear that simply replacing them with pinyin doesn’t work either.  

Guess that’s good for English.

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It’s 2011, where are my Alien friends? Charlie Sheen won’t do

by on March 8, 2011

On the cusp of 2010, I eagerly anticipated what Arthur C. Clarke hopefully called “the year we make contact”. No such luck. Clarke himself passed away in 2008 after 90 revolutions around the Sun, never knowing if one of his foremost wishes for humanity would come true.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field

Over at SEED Magazine Geoffrey Miller proposes an intriguing hypothesis on why we haven’t met any aliens yet: they, like us, are too busy following the evolutionary impulses of self-stimulation (what he terms brain “fitness-faking”) to concentrate on lofty, physical goals like space travel.

The great temptation for any advanced, technological species is to spend the bulk of our time shaping reality to mimic the cues of survival and reproductive success, sans the substance. Hence: Wii exercise, introspective non-stop reporting on the minute-to-minute ramblings of mentally ill celebrities (winning!), etc.

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Dept of Bond Girls

by on March 8, 2011

In which Pussy Galore does Dick Johnson. Many of their songs are so bristling with tin-can rattle and shrieking guitar harpy-pokes-in-the-eye that I can’t stand them – this one, however, I love.

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Georgia–Tax Cuts for Coca-Cola, Tax Hikes for Girl Scouts.

by on March 8, 2011

A Taxable "Special Interest"

You know, I just love my state.  Georgia just lays bare the heart of the modern day right wing.  This is the state, remember, which has a legislator proposing that all miscarriages be treated as a crime scene.  That taxes be paid in gold or silver (not gold or silver backed currency but gold and silver specie–so get out those cartoon bags of dough marked $).  The state that could think of no better solution to a drought than having the Governor do a rain prayer (sans feather bonnet) on the lawn of the state house.  Now, the legislature is proposing to increase taxes on food and gasoline to cut the corporate tax rate from 6 to 4 percent.  Interestingly, it is the Girl Scouts who have issued the first warning on this policy’s regressive impact by noting that taxes on their cookies will mean closing camps.  Such consumption taxes are, of course, very very regressive and indicate that Republicans are not for “tax cuts”–they are for tax cuts on the wealthy and powerful.  Raising taxes on the working and middle classes, even brownies, well, that’s cool.  So, here you have it, the moral priorities of the Republicans set out pretty starkly–take from Girl Scouts so that foreign corporations (yes foreign, not just domestic) can pocket millions.  Banana Republicans.

h/t Think Progress which links to an older study of the regressive nature of such taxation from the  Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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God Bless Alan Lomax

by on March 8, 2011

Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World

Alan Lomax was one of the great field collectors of folk music of all time. He got his start in the 1930’s while a teenager working alongside his father, John Lomax (who discovered Leadbelly at the Angola Prison Farm) traveling the cotton fields and work farms of Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas in search of blues laments, chain gang chants, field hollers, and murder ballads to record, catalog and preserve (and to send into outer space on the 1977 Voyager Spacecraft).

Listen now to four inmates of the Parchman Farm cutting down a large tree while maintaining fairly sophisticated vocal arrangements:

John Szwed of Columbia University, and long time Lomax associate has produced the biography Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World (Viking, 2010). You can hear Szwed interviewed about his book on NPR here.

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International Women’s Day: With Nina Power

by on March 8, 2011

Author of the highly recommended One-Dimensional Woman (“a tiny but deadly bullet of a book”), philosophy professor, editor, blogger, translator, activist, and feminist, Nina Power has a take-no-prisoners Women’s Day commentary in today’s (online) Guardian: “They’re Angry and Unafraid — And Terrify Middle England.”

When young women feel they are no longer held back by their gender […] one outcome is an increase in political confidence. If you tell women they can be and can do anything they want, and then let them down – by taking away their education maintenance allowance, by making university prohibitively expensive, by forcing them to stay in poverty – they, along with their male peers, will make you pay for your lies and hypocrisies.

If you’re unfamiliar with Power’s incisive critique of consumer-feminism, a great place to start is her interview from last year on the excellent Australian radio program Women On the Line, in which she presents the basic arguments of One-Dimensional Woman (update: episode no longer available, it seems). Or try the short article “Capitalism, Consumerism, and Feminism.” And then there’s also this:

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Shine On

by on March 8, 2011


It’s interview the filmmakers day here at PS. And it’s the anniversary of the death of Stanley Kubrick, who fittingly left behind a controversial film.  Here’s an interview with the man in Rolling Stone from 1987, and Kim Morgan discusses Eyes Wide Shut at her blog, Sunset Gun*.

*hey, wow, I can access it through the firewall. The whimsy of the governments (who controls what is a mystery). Crazy kids.

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More on Mildred

by on March 8, 2011

At Artforum you can read Amy Taubin’s interview with Todd Haynes about his upcoming Mildred Pierce (again, HBO, March 27).  Her book on Taxi Driver is excellent (hoo, will we get to see the new digitally restored version of that film?) and I gushed about it when I met her at Sundance, taking her aback, I think. 

I met Jim Sinclair*, who was working at the Pacific Cinematheque,  at a screening of Organ (ugh!) at TIFF and we were most excited that J Hoberman had signed in and was in the audience. We looked around in the dim trying to guess which of the 10 people he was.  Film nerds.

Maybe he was the one who left before we did. Like I said, ugh, that movie.

* Of the  8 or 9 people in my 20th Century Russian lit. in translation class way back in the eighties, three of us ended up involved with Metro Cinema in one way or another: Jim, Bill Evans, and myself.  Weird.

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Mr. President–Kafka on Line 2

by on March 7, 2011

UPDATE: Glenn Greenwald talks about the ruling here.  What is so predictable is his twitter feed is full of dems saying that it’s ok if Obama does it, even though it was the hight of depravity under CheneyBush.  Because, you know, indefinite detention without charge (life imprisonment on the principle of lese majeste) and drumhead military tribunals are ok if they take place in Gitmo NorthIllinois. 

Guess that stuff about “rule of law” and “closing Gitmo” was the usual bullshit.   Should be useful, however.  First off, anyone who supports Barack for re-election has given up any right to be considered a decent human being.  We’re all allowed to be snookered, we’re not allowed to be voters for a guy like this and claim, “he’s the lesser of two evils.”  (which, by the way, makes him an evil).  Second, you can tell who’s a liberal hypocrite by how they respond to this news.  If they loathe it and send a check to the ACLU, well, there’s someone whose hatred of the Gulag is not a partisan convenience.  If they yawn, tell us about the “important things” (like pretend health care reform) that the President needs to do without the “distraction” of open and fair trials, then they are  not liberals at all.  Simply partisans.  Who I am sure are different from conservative Republicans but at this point I don’t know how.

And, by the way, as Dahlia Lithwick makes quite clear here, there is absolutely no rule of law in this depraved once republic.  Clearly, if the state security organs decide to torture an innocent citizen (who they know is innocent!) just for shits and giggles, why, that is their prerogative.  Great.  I’m sure I have to go find out what Charlie Sheen said today, or something.

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I dare you….

by on March 7, 2011

on a Monday night (or whenever you read this) to show me a man in his forties who embodies straight-up no-bullshit American rock-n-roll and brings me more pleasure to watch play guitar than this American son of a Portuguese fisherman: namely, John Reis, formerly of Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu, Rocket From the Crypt, and Hot Snakes, among other projects, and here with current outfit The Night Marchers, whom I’ve seen rip it up in small venues–the only venues for my dollar–in both Chicago and Vancouver.

If the kids are in bed, you live with your decrepit conservative grandmother, you’re reading this on your iphone, your lousy boyfriend hates loud music, etc, stuff your silly little earbuds into those ear-holes and turn up that volume for “Fisting the Fanbase.” (May this hasten the spring and summer–I’m done with this winter crap.)

Trajectory of Ashes

by on March 6, 2011

Errol Morris at last has another series at the Opinionator blog at the NY Times  on photography. From this first post I am not sure where he is going, but it’s off to a rocking start:

It was April, 1972. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N. J. The home in the 1950s of Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel. Thomas Kuhn, the author of “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and the father of the paradigm shift, threw an ashtray at my head.

The bio on the left states that not only does Morris have another movie due in the fall but he has  book of essays on photography coming out, many of which are from the blog.

Read the blog here.

Mirror Market

by on March 6, 2011

Guangzhou has hundreds of markets and they are a constant surprise.

This Saturday we went to the Fangcun pet market near our house: we saw fish, chickens, rabbits, frogs, snakes and pigeons in various containers. Some were carried away by happy pet owners.

Sunday we went to the local market next to our house: we saw fish, chickens, rabbits, frogs, snakes and pigeons in various containers. Some were carried away by happy hungry people.

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