Chez Labbé, au-delà de la terre

Je vis, je meurs: je me brule et me noye, 
J’ay chaut estreme en endurant froidure: 
La vie m'est et trop molle et trop dure. 
J'ay grans ennuis entremeslez de joye: 

Tout à un coup je ris et je larmoye, 
Et en plaisir maint grief tourment n'endure: 
Mon bien s'en va, et à jamais il dure: 
Tout en un coup je seiche et je verdoye. 

Ainsi Amour inconstamment me meine: 
Et quand je pense avoir plus de douleur, 
Sans y penser je me treuve hors de peine.

Puis quand je croy ma joye estre certeine, 
Et estre au haut de mon desiré heur, 
Il me remet en mon premier malheur.
—Sonnet VIII by Louise Labbé (I found an English guide to the poem.)

The first time I heard Morcheeba's Au-delà, featuring Manda, the french fan who became a lead singer for a brief spell, I was at a Morcheeba concert in Denver, just before the album Dive Deep came out.  When she started singing the lyrics, I started jumping up and down yelling "C'est Louise Labbé!" I guess half-hoping Manda could hear me.  Yeah, wifey thought I'd gone mad.  She would have thought so even more if she'd realized, as I did quickly, that the lyrics that started with Labbé quickly went its own way.

Morcheeba-DiveDeep.jpg

Je vis, je meurs; je ris, je pleure.
Je vis de la mer; je vis de la terre.
Je le dis aux fleurs; au lac de vapeur.

Au ciel de toutes les couleurs,
Ton soleil réchauffe mon cœur.

Je vis, j'ai peur; je crie de douleurs.
En secret je m'enterre: je cherche la chaleur.
Je m'enfuis dans les airs; au delà de la terre.

Au ciel de toutes les couleurs,
Ton soleil réchauffe mon cœur.
—"Au-delà" by Morcheeba

I live, I die; I laugh, I cry.
I live of the sea; I live of the ground.
I say it to the flowers; to the lake of steam.

In the all-colored sky,
Your sun warms my heart.

I live, I die; I scream of pain.
I bury myself secretly: I am seeking heat.
I abscond into the air; beyond the earth.

In the all-colored sky,
Your sun warms my heart.
—translation by Uche Ogbuji

BTW the last time I mentioned Morcheeba on Copia I was anticipating the new album after Skye Edwards had rejoined them.  "Blood Like Lemonade" came out last year and is I think worth the wait.  If you've been sleeping, wake up and check it out.

vitrail_louise_labbe_gd.jpg


Labbé's sonnet famously brings Petrarca's style of antithetical tropes into French.  Just this morning Au-delà came up in my shuffled playlist and I remembered I'd resolved to translate it, to see if I could preserve some of its music, which has eluded translations I've seen so far.  Here is an excerpt from my attempt:

All at a stroke I laugh and I lament,

And suffer many torments in my pleasures:

They live forever, my absconding treasures:

All at a stroke I wither and augment.

—from "Je vis, je meurs" a translation of Sonnet VIII by Uche Ogbuji

re: lament/augment, you can either accept it as rime riche, or consider the "g" borrowed into its following syllable, as it does sound in my pronounciation.

Notes on my Sappho translation

Last week I suggested to my fellow TNB poetry editors a lark: I would post a Sappho poem for the week's feature, and a faux-self-interview as the poetess.  April Fool's week might have been best for that, but I figured, what the heck, and my other editors liked the idea, so I set to work.

I had decided from the start that I would work on my own translation, and I thought it would be best to take on the Tithonus lyric, woefully incomplete until archaeologists found that famous strip from an Egyptian mummy wrapping in 2004.  Based on the translations I'd seen so far, I thought it was perhaps worth it to go for a fresh take.

I spent some time feverishly revising my Homeric Greek, knowing full well that even brushed-up Homeric or Attic comprehension would struggle with Sappho's Aeolic, but I had the Perseus on-line word study tool to get me further, and Google when I really needed a sniper shot.  The result is "Sappho and Old Age".

The meter gave me a good bit of pause.  The poem is not in her eponymous sapphics, but a hexameter with some Aeolic flourishes, including usually a couple of choriambs per line, and her typical art of teasing us with shifting caesura.  It's a very lively music, and very difficult to get into English, of course.  Considering my own love of form, I wanted to try rendering it into a variation of metrical feet, but that tended to wash out the tautness of Sapphos expressions, so I let it flow, and ended up with what's been coming most naturally to me lately: an accentual line influenced by sprung rhythm, but relaxing the requirement to spring from stress.  I suppose I'd call it a sequence of hendeca-accentual stanzas, but such supposed freedom left me with a lot of work in fine-tuning natural speech quantity and other metrical cues.

Of course the work of translation and my research took me into fairly deep classicist territory, and sometimes perhaps rather too deep for safety.  Prof. West reconstructed the bit about Eos's capture of Tithonus as "ερωι  φ..αθεισαν", an elaboration of what I rendered as "love-struck." I've seen at least one commentator who suggests this might be better reconstructed as "ἔρῳ δέπα θεῖσαν", or in his words, "placing / dedicating cups to Eros."  I'm hardly qualified to wade into such an arch-classicist conundrum, so I instead claimed exigency of the poetry of the translation.  The "cups to Eros" metaphor would have been clumsy in my treatment.
 
On another, more well-known dispute, I claimed a bit more poetic authority.  I went with the "ο κόλπον" of Prof. West's own reconstruction, rather than the "ο πλόκων" or "violet-wreathed" that West swapped in for his translation.  The latter is a more conventional epithet, but as others have pointed out with the famous modulation of the Homeric "Ἠὼς ῥοδοδάκτυλος" ("rosy-fingered Eos/dawn") to the Sapphic "βροδοδάκτυλος σελάννα", ("rosy-fingered Selene/moon",) Sappho has always infused such allusions with her own originality.

Like everyone, I've heard before that Plato lauded Sappho the tenth Muse, but I went looking for the citation, and all I could find was the mention I already knew, put by Plato into Socrates mouth in Phaedrus 235c.

νῦν μὲν οὕτως οὐκ ἔχω εἰπεῖν: δῆλον δὲ ὅτι τινῶν ἀκήκοα, ἤ που Σαπφοῦς τῆς καλῆς ἢ Ἀνακρέοντος τοῦ σοφοῦ...

I cannot say, just at this moment; but I certainly must have heard something, either from the lovely Sappho or the wise Anacreon... (Fowler translation)


It was fun revising that bit, though, as it led me to Prof. Pender's Sappho and Anacreon in Plato’s Phaedrus, but that can't be it.  Can anyone shed better light on the "tenth Muse" laud?

I also put together a faux-self-Interview with Sappho to meet TNB feature convention.  The second and third question (on general preference for women), and the last two (on "lyric" versus "poetry") were contributed, with answers by Milo Martin, which I edited for flow, and to match the voice I'd established for Sappho.  The question "So which contemporary woman best embodies the idea of love, and why?" and the two following that were contributed by Rich Ferguson, to which I wrote the answers.

I go chop ya dollar

[Originally posted on uche.posterous.com]

This is a dual-language blog entry. Nigerian Pidgin first, then the translation to en-US. 

Dem get dis show for radio "This American Life". I been hear small small part of de show wey dem gist about 419-eaters. Some oyinbo dey make wuru-wuru for de yeye people wey dey send that e-mail. When the show finish dem play Osuofia "I go chop ya dollar", but dem say na de song wey popular among all de 419 people. I think say them go make people confuse. That song popular throughout Africa, and no be guy say we dey make cunning for Oyinbo. Make I tell you truth, O! 

OK, I lied. I'm switching to en-US all the rest of the way. First I'll translate the above, and then I'll continue... 

cue sound of ghetto blaster tape rewinding

There's this radio show "This American Life". I caught a bit of a recent episode which included a tale of 419 baiters, basically westerners who look to tun the tables on the e-mail scammers. At the end of the show they played Osuofia's "I go chop ya dollar", saying it's a song popular among 419 scam artists. This might be true, but it's misleading. The song is popular throughout Africa and the diaspora, and not because people are celebrating e-mail scams. I think it's worth clearing up the record a bit, but first of all, here's Osuofia. 



Poverty no good at all, oh
Na him make I join this business 
419 no be thief, its just a game 
Everybody dey play am 
If anybody fall mugu, Ha! my brother, I go chop am 

Translation: Poverty sucks, so I joined this business. 419 isn't stealing--it's just a game. Everybody does it. If anyone is stupid enough to fall for it, I'll get away with what I can. 

National Airport na me get am 
National Stadium na me build am 
President na my sister brother 
You be the mugu, I be the master 
Oyinbo I go chop your dollar, I go take your money disappear 
you are the loser I am the winner 

Probably no translation needed except to mention that Oyinbo means white man. 

Osuofia is a character from a few popular Nollywood comedy films, and really what this song is doing is two-fold. It's providing some fictional escape from the too real problem of poverty in Nigeria, among honest people and dishonest alike. It's also skewering the outrageous claims of 419 scam artists, along with the outrageous gullibility of those who fall for such claims. 

Think of it: you walk up to a man on a small town Nigerian street (say Okigwe, where I went to secondary school). You tell him "hey, if you were to send Americans an e-mail telling them you're the widow of the President, and that if they can get you $10,000 you'll get them $1,000,000 the president stole from his people." You might expect his reaction to be: "I can't imagine who would fall for such a silly story, but if they did, I don't feel sorry for them, because why should they want to help in theft from people who can so ill afford to lose anything?" You could also imagine this man wandering back to work with no lunch (he has to skip that meal to save money) dreaming of what he could do with $10,000 from a greedy, gullible hand overseas. 

Then a year later you go back to that same man and you tell him "Remember that scam I told you about? Well it's been going gangbusters, and there have been a lot of victims, and now people look at all Nigerians as just a bunch of spammer/scammers." Imagine his combination of bemusement, bewilderment and contempt for both the scammers and the vics. Most Nigerians handle such nonsense with black irony, and this is precisely the spirit of "I go chop ya dollar". I'd say that's obvious to any Nigerian who hears it, and the festive tone of the song is just the broadest clue. 419ers who enjoy the song probably employ intentional double irony. 

Which means, of course that the use of the song in the close of "This American Life" represents a triple irony. Which is pretty cool, even if they unwittingly gave the wrong impression about the song's audience.

The Architectural Style of a Simple Interlingua

It just occurred to me that there is a strong correlation between the hardest nuance to get (or grok, as the saying goes) about REST and RDF.

With RDF, there is the pervasive Clay Shirky misconception that the semantic web is about one large-ontology-to rule-them-all. I've made it a point to start every semantic web-related presentation with some background information about Knowledge Representation (yes, that snow-covered relic of the AI winter). Knowledge Representation Triangle My favorite initial read on the subject is "How To Tell Stuff To A Computer - The Enigmatic Art of Knowledge Representation". As a follow-up, I'd suggest "What is a Knowledge Representation?" .

The thing that we miss (or forget) most often is that formal knowledge representations are first about a common syntax (and their interpretation: semantics) and then about the vocabularies you build with the common syntax. A brief read on the history of knowledge representation emphasizes this subtle point. At each point in the progression, the knowledge representation becomes more expressive or sophisticated but the masonry is the same.

With RDF, first there is the RDF abstract syntax, and then there are the vocabularies (RDFS,OWL,FOAF,DC,SKOS,etc..). Similarly (but more recursively), a variety of grammars can each be written to define a distinct class of XML documents all via the same language (RELAX NG, for instance). An Application Programming Interface (API) defines a common dialect for a variety applications to communicate with. And, finally, the REST architectural style defines a uniform interface for services, to which a variety of messages (HTTP messages) conform.

In each case, it is simplicity that is the secret catalyst. The RDF abstract syntax is nowhere as expressive as Horn Logic or Description Logic (this is the original motivation for DAML+OIL and OWL), but it is this limitation that makes it useful as a simple metadata framework. RELAX NG is (deceptively) much simpler than W3C XML Schema (syntactically), but its simple syntax makes it much more malleable for XML grammar contortions and easier to understand. The REST architectural style is dumbfounding in its simplicity (compared to WS-*) but it is this simple uniformity that scales so well to accommodate every nature of messaging between remote components. In addition, classes of such messages are trivial to describe.

So then, the various best practices in the Semantic Web canon (content negotiated vocabulary addresses, http-range14, linked data, etc..) and those in the REST architectural style are really manifestations of the same principle in two different arenas: knowledge representation and network protocols?

Chimezie Ogbuji

via Copia

Kambili? O bia la ozo?

No, Kambili is not back, but the genius behind that wonderful character has obviously not been resting on her laurels. The buzz about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's sublime novel Purple Hibiscus finally compelled me to find an (alas!) rare spot in my schedule to read a novel last year. I won't soon forget the rewards. Not only does Adichie possess rare craft in prose, but her characters are vivid and sympathetic. Even the antagonist figure, Kambili's father, was rendered with the sensitivity you would expect from a seasoned storyteller. This was a first novel? Almost impossible to believe. Throw in the fact that the descriptive prose evoked so many wonderful memories of South-Eastern Nigeria, and especially of Nsukka, where I spent three years in University, engaged in a frenzy of intellectual, social, and even political activity. On a sad note she describes the terrible decomposition of the town and University of Nsukka, a process of which I've heard plenty from other Great Lions and Lionesses. I'm hardly the only one to marvel at Adichie's accomplishment. Her reviews have been effusive, and her novel won or was short-listed for an armful of awards. More importantly, it did a respectable trade, which is rare for a book of literary merit in this day. Furthermore:

Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus may soon become Nigeria’s most widely translated work after Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. The author told Sunday Sun that the book which won both the Hurston Wrights and Commonwealth Prizes and made the Orange Prize shortlist and the Booker Prize long list has been translated into nine European languages -- French, German, Lithuanian, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Polish, Dutch and of course Hebrew.

--Nigeria's Daily Sun tabloid

Imagine, then, how my ears perked up when I was listening to the Foley Flap show (a.k.a. today's All Things Considered on NPR) and I caught in a story relieving the political firestorm a reporter trying gingerly to pronounce Adichie's name. It turns out she has a new novel. It's not more from Kambili, which is in a way too bad, because Kambili is a character I hope to encounter once more. Then again every writer deserves the emancipation of their choice from their own characters, who can sometimes act as jailers. Besides, this time, Adichie has taken on quite a setting: the War for Biafra. This war is as important in the minds of most Igbos as the six-day war is in the minds of most Israelis, despite the fact that we did not enjoy the same successful outcome. (Indeed the fact that Israel was one of the only nations to support Biafra is one of the reason so many South-Eastern Nigerians have a strong pro-Israeli tendency, although some of the unfortunate recent power politics in the Middle East is beginning to test that loyalty among Igbos I know). I've read my share of novels and memoirs of those times, but as I've remarked to my father (who was an officer in the Biafran army), I think it won't be until my generation takes up the story that the episode will receive the literary and historical treatment it deserves. I'll definitely start on Half of a Yellow Sun as soon as I can, to see if Adichie is the one to prove me right.

p.s. It was fun to hear the NPR reporter pronounce "Igbo" as "Ig-boh", with the "g" and "b" clearly pronounced in separate syllables. No labial-velar plosives in the NPR pronunciation cheat-sheet, I guess.

p.p.s. I also recently bought Helen Oyeyemi's Icarus Girl, about which I've heard wonderful things. I surprise myself in the degree of possessiveness with which I eye my Nigerian middle-class peers. I'm not surprised that all the intellectual belligerence, curious creativity and dogged resourcefulness I remember from my teens is fueling a new generation of Nigerian literary accomplishment.

p.p.p.s. I also ran across an interview with Adichie in Nigeria Village Square , from which:

...religion in Nigeria has become insular, self-indulgent, self-absorbed, self-congratulatory. Churches spring up day after day while corruption thrives as much as ever and God becomes the watchman standing behind you while you seek your self-interest at all cost. God loves you more than others. God wants you to be rich. God wants you to buy that new car.

Boy did I feel that in my recent trip back home. It's rather creepy.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Buzzword bullying

I've lately noticed a tendency of technical folks to use "buzzword" as somewhat of a reflex epithet. We all love nudge-nudge jokes at business folks' expense, playing buzzword bingo at a particularly stultifying presentation, and the like, but I sometimes think that the practice drifts unnecessarily into serious discourse as a cheap way to shut down an opposing point.

A term is a buzzword when its use does not convey any meaning, but is meant to lend a false weight to some claim. People usually think of words and phrases such as "synergy" and "push the envelope" as buzzwords. I have almost never seen these two examples used other than as buzzwords, but certainly any regular word can become a buzzword in particular context. Words such as "value", "quality", "enterprise", "success", "architecture", "metrics" and "middleware" have their important uses, and are also sometimes used as buzzwords. I'd always thought this was simple common sense, but I've come across recent instances where I've seen anyone using these words, even in obviously meaningful ways, dismissed with the "b" word.

Certainly some suspect words are more suspicious than others, and some words have the misfortune of being popular components of buzzword phrases. "value", "success" and "business" are definitely in this category, becoming "value added", "success factors" and "business benefit", with "business value" coming off as a beacon of buzz. This does not condemn even such suspicious words to the dustbin. It's all about context. Here are a couple of words I've seen that are perfectly legitimate, but that some people seem bent on eliminating from the language (not that there is any chance in hell that they'll succeed).

  • Middleware. Used properly it stems from several computing disciplines such as model/value/controller and client/server that sought to articulate a separation of software into the part that stores and manages data, and the part that presents information to the user. Middleware is just a general term for software that is not really suited to either partition, but tends to sit in between these. It is a pretty neutral term, and you certainly don't end up notching up points for a piece of software just by calling it "middleware", so it would seem a rather poor buzzword. Then again, I have seen it used as a mumbo-jumbo term for software for which the speaker has trouble articulating a role. I think that's rare, but it would count in the buzz column.

  • Enterprise. The word simply describes a particular subset of organizations, in general ones that are closely bound by some fiduciary pressure, such as a corporation's responsibility to shareholders. The special needs of such environments does provide unique challenges to software, and thus I think "enterprise" is as often a useful distinguishing term as a mindless buzzword. A good example of a compound here is "enterprise architecture". This is a useful term that describes systems that are put together such that they work well across the departmental divisions of an enterprise, which is difficult because such divisions usually involve severe changes in focus, from research to operations to marketing to legal affairs, for example. Of course I've also seen "enterprise architecture" used by vendors as a way of saying "this is isn't your hippie open-source, Web jockey, script-and-glue technology, buddies". That definitely warrants a good scoring of the bingo card.

It's far more refreshing when debaters create and play on words rather than trying to stifle them. While I think it's silly to yell "bingo" every time someone says "enterprise", I quite approve of the snarky term "enterprisey". And anyway, I think that such tactics work a lot better than automatic buzzword bashing. I'm reading Nunberg's Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show and it strikes me that the right wing's success with setting the terms of linguistic discourse suggests that buzzword bashing is a losing tactic, anyway.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

"Whaddayamean 'racist'"? What indeed?

I figured my sour note on Aragonés would bring along some line-fudging, and I was right. A commenter said:

Hell, Spain and Europe are full of racist people, sure, but Aragonés is not one of them. Ask Samuel Etoo or any of the black players he had under his orders.
Calling someone "black" is being racist as much as calling someone "blonde" is being racist, and Aragonés said just that to Henry, black.

I understand where he's coming from, but unfortunately I think that like a lot of discussion of racism, whether by alleged victims or alleged perpetrators of the practice, it looks for unequivocal boundaries at the expense of common sense.

First of all my "lazy, thick nigger" bit came from Ron Atkinson, not Aragonés (remember I admitted I had no idea what the latter was saying during the sideline blow-up). In that celebrated case (I couldn't find the whole brouhaha all well explained in one place, but here's Wikipedia FWIW), the TV analyst abused Desailly with the unfortunate phrase when he thought he was off-air. My whole sour bit of dialogue was just one of those "eternal braids of football intrigue" I mentioned. Aragonés had popped off in similar fashion on Henry, probably when he thought no one else would hear him, and here he was playing France, their eternal nemesis, and land of Desailly-the-national-football hero. But do you know one of the things Atkinson said to claim his indiscretion didn't make him a racist? He pointed out that he as a manager (of West Bromwich Albion) was one of the first to employ black players, and that he'd always treated those players well. That rather puts ironic paid to the first defense of Aragonés in the above quote.

It brings me to mind of my cousin, now about to graduate from Med school in London. He was a brilliant footballer in high school. His team went so far in a national youth tournament as to play their finals at Wembley stadium. By his account, his coaches were quite kind to him, as far as football went, but had no patience for his academic ambitions. In effect they told him that a black kid like he was much better off pursuing his football talent than giving himself airs about becoming a doctor. Even his teachers exhorted him towards professional football. I'd readily admit those coaches and teachers were just offering kindly advice, but I expect it doesn't take a lot of pondering to realize that their attitudes were also racist. From what I hear, such cases are very common in England. Luckily for my cousin, his parents, typical immigrants, raised him to think better of exclusively pursuing anything that didn't come with a double-or-triple-barrel degree.

So back to Atkinson and Aragonés. They've probably in practice helped more black players than they've abused. Are they racists? That's a ridiculous question. You can't do a 10-billion person line-up and file into neat boxes who is or who is not a racist. We've all done and said racist things because discrimination is written into our very nature as a defense mechanism. It's actually a miracle of civilization (not only European civilization, BTW) that we are able to mingle together as much as we do with so little incident, relatively.

Movies such as Monsters Ball and Crash like to try stirring us up with the deep insight: "look: that terrible racist is really just human after all". I just roll my eyes every time. Is anyone under any deluded impression that persistent racists are some species apart? On the other extreme a movie like A Time to Kill sets up a scene where an audience is supposed to cheer that a KKK kook has been set on fire. The (mostly white) movie audience with whom I saw the movie happily obliged. I'll never forget that moment. I was astonished. I guess it's quotidian to assume that membership in the KKK warrants summary immolation? That's supposed to be better than the idea that interracial sex warrants lynching? In that movie theater it was obvious to me that those same unthinking passions (typically of a manipulated mob) is the instrument of genocide as surely as of comic book social justice.

Anyway, my point is that Aragonés may be a perfectly fine fellow, but that the Henry episode showed him in a very foul light, and his better nature should have prompted more contrition than he's ever shown. And never mind Aragonés. What of the Spanish FA? They know they are facing a deluge of football-related racism (a lot of it of the truly violent and terrifying sort, not just salty language from old men), and so how could their response be such a ludicrous slap on Aragonés' wrist? Aragonés' comment was be deeply offensive to some, and probably constituted incitement of some others, and the official response was far worse than the original offense. Speaking of incitement, I like many others believe that the Aragonés incident helped fuel the despicable treatment of black English players by the host Spanish crowd in a "friendly" a little while later (of course that's why I brought up Shaun Wright-Phillips, who was subjected to particular abuse). This shows how the wrong words in the wrong mouth can incite far worse than casual insult. Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe has atrocious racist incidents every week, such that it has become a commonplace. And the respective official associations have made it a routine to fine clubs $1000 here and there in supposed punishment. This is the real problem, not that Aragonés had a moment of poor judgment.

There is plenty of racism in England, but after some particular horrors in the 80s, I give the English FA, under--Oh the irony--huge pressure from Thatcher's government, much credit for cracking down with ruthless efficiency on the problem. For this reason, football is one of the areas where the English can be more confident of not encountering serious racism. There is precious little will to tackle the problem as thoroughly in too many other European countries. The problem goes all the way up to FIFA (have I mentioned how much I hate FIFA?). Just before the World Cup Sepp Blatter led a grandiose resolution that FIFA must use the power of football to "help make the world a better place". Of course taking action in some of the worse places is a bit too much of a reach beyond mere proclamation. In 2004 Blatter's response to the abuse of the English players in Spain was that he wouldn't have thought ill of the English team had they abandoned the game. Gee thanks sir. You're such a help. What of actually putting pressure on the Spanish FA to clean up its act? FIFA likes to argue in such instances that they're helpless to interfere in the internal concerns of a national FA. Right. But Blatter now has the bit in his teeth to prevail upon the FA to reduce the Premiership from 20 to 18 teams. Oh that's not interference in an national FA's matters. Whatever makes me think that?

And so I'll move to maybe the most interesting point in my correspondent's argument--that Aragonés just called Henry a "black shit". I think the implication meant is that so abusing a person is not racist. I've heard reasoning like this before, and again I wonder what's happened to common sense. The fact that calling someone "black" and calling someone a "shit" separately could possibly not be considered racist does not suddenly put a halo on the epithet "black shit". When Aragonés says "don't let that black shit beat you" it is precisely as racist as if he'd said "don't let that nigger beat you". Context is more important than precise words will ever be. Even if you've only seen what Aragonés says in print, the impact of the words should be obvious. If you actually see the tape, it's even more chilling. Sure, Aragonés is just trying to do what he can to get into Reyes' head. After all Reyes is Henry's club team-mate, and the coach has to make it clear to him that with the national strip on Henry is now the enemy. I get that. But in using the words he did, Aragonés was obviously trying to trigger a visceral response in Reyes to Henry's color. If Henry had been white he wouldn't have said "don't let that white shit beat you", because he wouldn't have expected the fact that Henry was white to have meant anything to Reyes. Explanations that Aragonés was just using salty language to motivate are so self-servingly simplistic that I think they're disingenuous.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia

Extension Functionality and Set Manipulation in RDF Query Languages

A recent bit by Andy Seaborne (on Property Functions in ARQ – Jena's query engine) got me thinking about general extension mechanisms for RDF querying languages.
In particular, he mentions two extensions that provide functionality for processing RDF lists and collections which (ironically) coincide with functions I had requested be considered for later generations of Versa.

The difference, in my case, was that the suggestions were for functions that cast RDF lists into Versa lists (or sets) – which are data structures native to Versa that can be processed with certain built-in functions.

Two other extensions I use quite often in Versa (and mentioned briefly in my XML.com article) are scope, and scoped-subquery. These have to do with identifying the context of a resource and limiting the evaluation of a query to within a named graph, respectively. Currently, the scoped function returns a list of the names of all graphs in which the resource is asserted as a member of any class (via rdf:type). I could imagine this being expanded to include the names of any graph in which statements about the resource are asserted. scoped-subquery doesn't present much value for a host language that can express queries as limited to a named context.

I also had some thoughts about an extension function mechanism that allowed an undefined function reference (for functions of arity 1 – i.e. functions that take only a single argument) to be interpreted as a request for all the objects of statements where the predicate is the function URI and the subject is the argument

I recently finished writing a SPARQL grammar for BisonGen and hope to conclude that effort (at some point) once I get over a few hurdles. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the grammar for function invocation is pretty much identical for both query languages. Which suggests that there is room for some thought about a common mechanism (or just a common set of extension functionality – similar to the EXSLT effort) for RDF querying or general processing.

CWM has a rich, and well documented set of RDF extensions. The caveat is that the method signatures are restricted to dual input (subject and object) since the built-ins are expressed as RDF triples where the predicate is the name of the function and the subject and object are arguments to is. Nevertheless, it is a good source from which an ERDF specification could be drafted.

My short wish-list of extension functions in such an effort would include:

  • List comprehension (intersection, union, difference, membership, indexing, etc.)
  • Resolving the context for a given node: context(rdfNode) => URI (or BNode?)
  • an is-a(resource) function (equivalent to Versa's type function without the entailment hooks)
  • a class(resource) which is an inverse of is-a
  • Functions for transitive closures and/or traversals (at the very least)
  • A fallback mechanism for undefined functions that allowed them to be interpreted as unary 'predicate functions'

Of course, functions which return lists instead of single resources would be problematic for any host language that can't process lists, but it's just some food for thought.

Chimezie Ogbuji

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"Ogbuji": those good ol' labial-velar plosives

I read in Serendipity about the new IPA phonetic symbol (first new one in twelve years).

It is a phoneme in several African languages, among which Mono.

This got me to thinking that I didn't know how to put my own name in IPA. I learned how to use IPA in various adventures in language-related Usenet newsgroups ten years or so ago, but for some reason I don't remember having hunted down the various sounds in Igbo that are fairly rare in other languages.

A good example is my own last name (and Chimezie's, of course): "Ogbuji". I tell most people to just treat it like a silent "g", but that's really a bit of an ugly approximation. As an example of how different "b" and "gb" are in igbo, the word "ebe" with high tone on both syllables means "where" (as subordinating conjunction or interrogative). The word "egbe" means "kite" (as in hawk-like bird). You probably don't want to mix those two up. There are many other such cases.

When people really do want to try to say it rightly, (so, for example when Lori wanted to be sure she was getting her new last name rightly), I tell them that the "gb" sounds a bit as if you filled your mouth with air and forced out the air suddenly, as if saying "b", while at the same time making the "g" sound in the back of your throat. Hmm. Surely linguists have to have a better description.

After some very enjoyable browsing through the Wikipedia's IPA section (which is very well done), I quickly found Igbo "gb" filed under "voiced labial-velar plosive" (/g͡b/). The description in Wikipedia of how to pronounce it is like mine, but more terse:

The voiceless labial-velar plosive is commonly found in West and Central Africa. To pronounce it, try saying [g], but simultaneously close your lips as you would for [b].

"voiceless" above is a typo for "voiced". There is a voiceless variant, more about that in a bit. Many phonetic symbol entries in Wikipedia have audio clips so you can hear the sound spoken, but not this one.

So the IPA for my last name is /oˑg͡buˑdʒiˑ/ (all the vowels are half-long).

A related Igbo sound is "kp" ("okpo" with low then high tone = "shrine", "opo" = "leprosy") which is the "voiceless labial-velar plosive" (/k͡p/)

The voiceless labial-velar plosive is commonly found in West and Central Africa. To pronounce it, try saying [k], but simultaneously close your lips as you would for [p].

There are other Igbo sounds that don't really exist in English, such as the uvular nasal "n" (/ɴ/) and the closed (and nasal) forms of i (/ɨ/) and u (/ɤ/).

Uche Ogbuji

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Fancy Web

OK, so in the past week Dare has flipped the bozo bit on the "Web 2.0" term. Chime has put the term in front of the firing squad. I get the point, already. I've always thought that it's a silly term, but beyond the hype I do think it's useful to have a term for all those emerging aspects of the Web that we did not see a lot of, say, three years ago. Let's be real, a lot about the Web is changing, not necessarily all for the better, but the phenomenon does still need to be described. So for my part, I'll ditch the "Web 2.0" moniker and adopt something more appropriately tongue-in-cheek—"Fancy Web". (I have to stop myself from extrapolating to "Antsy Web", "Chancy Web", "Dancy Web" or the not-very-P.C. "Nancy Web").

BTW, the first person to suggest that it should instead be "FancyWeb" gets the gas-face (n/m).

[Uche Ogbuji]

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