Out of body experience, hard to explain
Like the pyramids and gods I remain
I know pain, like Kurt Cobain,
Or hate. Or AI playing hurt the whole game.
Dig into the Earth's brain for worse gain;
Focused like Young Blood on his first chain.
I used to write shit to please niggas:
Now I write shit to freeze niggas.
Whether iced out, or American Pie sliced out,
I sit in the room with the lights out.
Whether diced out, or with the hair spiked out,
I sit alone in the room with the lights out,
Electric! Wire! Hustle! Flower!
Electric! Wire! Hustle! Flower!

--Common--from "Electric Wire Hustle Flower"--Electric Circus

There's something about Erykah Badu. Not only is she a former teen rapper turned the most soulful and expressive singer of our generation, but she also has the Earth Mother quality of being to be able to inject that soul and expressiveness into others. She dated André 3000 of the brilliant hip-hop duo OutKast and it wasn't long before he was experimenting wildly in music, helping bring about the commercial and critical phenomenon of the group's Speakerboxxx/The Love Below. album.

After Badu and André broke up, an event that led to the sublime emotional event of Badu's Mama's Gun, she took up with Common, who could already make a fair claim to be the best lyricist in Hip-Hop (and the sort of mind a lot of today's insipid literary poets could learn from). The result was Electric Circus, a truly daring and musically inspired album. I hope no one thinks I'm using a disrespectful terms term if I echo what someone said on (I think) OkayPlayer: Badu reverse thugged both Common and André in the sense that she catalyzed their transformation from intelligent hard-core to the multidimensional.

"Electric Wire Hustle Flower", for example, is a very well crafted collaboration with hard rock band P.O.D.. Too often in Rap/Rock collabos the energy of the instrumentation overwhelms the lyrics. No such problem when Common is the lyricist. It's refreshing for someone of Common's caliber to admit:

I used to write shit to please niggas

And this song is arresting proof of his boast:

Now I write shit to freeze niggas

Building on Black Power imagery, and touching on the famous Grunge icon, he flips it smoothly into appreciation of Allen Iverson's ankle-breaking skills (or is that a reference to increasingly smart computer game AI)? He keeps working in this way until he closes the verse with the vivid image "Whether diced out, or with the hair spiked out, I sit alone in the room with the lights out,

Wicked stuff if you can see beyond the next DJ Kay Slay tape, but the problem was that Common's fan base had always been the hard-core underground crowd, and they were not amused at this transformation. See Art of Rhyme's interview with Common:

[AOR]: Out of your body of work, fans were most divided by Electric Circus, how would you personally rank that amongst your albums?

[Common]: I feel it was the most diverse and out-there album, I can't say it's one of the best or weakest. It got the weakest response, but that don't necessarily make it the weakest. Later on people may respond and say that was some creative stuff, we just weren't there at that time. I may have taken them too far at that time. I would say that it's still a good album to me. It wasn't one of my best if I look at it right now, but it may eventually be something that people say is very, very good. How I feel, it's still an expression of me at that time. It's hard for me to say it's one of my best, but I know this album is one of my best.

Apparently he was too far ahead of some of his fans, but I'm grateful for his daring, and I know that Chimezie is, too. It gets the Copia stamp of approval. We're definitely looking forward to Common's new album BE, especially given his hot single "The Corner" and the other advance song, "The Food".

More on Common later on today.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


Sugar can cure everything, so Kindness says.
Sugar is a necessary fluid,

Its crystals a little poultice.
O kindness, kindness
Sweetly picking up pieces!
My Japanese silks, desperate butterflies,
May be pinned any minute, anesthetized.

And here you come, with a cup of tea
Wreathed in steam.
The blood jet is poetry,
There is no stopping it.
You hand me two children, two roses.

--Sylvia Plath--from "Kindness"

I've been reading Expansive Poetry ("Essays on the New Narrative and the New Formalism"), and I've been surprised by several things. I'm in strong agreement with the central point of the essays: that the state of modern poetry is miserable because of institutionalized scorn of form and narrative in poetry. But there are also some worrisome claims in the essays that hint at an unfortunate backlash against free-verse lyric, regardless of quality. No less a critical mind than Richard Moore in "Tristram's Rhapsody" sallies forth swinging in every which direction. In one particular stroke he disparages the cult that has surrounded the suicide-poets of the 20th century, naming Plath, Sexton and Berryman.

From a critical point of view, it's pretty silly to lump in Plath with the other two. Plath is one of the great poetical geniuses of the 20th century, and the other two wrote verse that turns your ear to tin and your eye to wax. John Berryman especially is so woeful that I boggle at his popularity within the establishment. Are there really no critics who can sense that there is no music, no keenness with diction, and no intelligence of theme in, say the celebrated 77 Dream songs? Do they really see him as heir to Pound and Carlos Williams? As for Anne Sexton, at least her work is not palpably offensive to the poetic taste, but it is dull and devoid of craft.

In "The Other Long poem" Frederick Fierstein, also the book's editor, says:

After a while the total work of such poets as Plath and Sexton seems an endless monologue spoken by a character with little insight, who never grows, who is bathetic rather than tragic.

Strangely, I've never felt tragedy in Plath's work. Rather, I've always felt an intense practicality. She gives a sense of taking life as it comes, good and bad, and inserting it directly into her poems without losing much of the quick. It's hard to find any bathos in such perceptiveness. Her suicide was certainly tragic from a biographical point of view, but that impending tragedy hardly oppresses her work.

I don't know the details of the Sexton and Berryman suicides, except that they came in the 70's, after Plath's, but I have trouble seeing what suicide has to do with poetic achievement. Moore seems to argue that the entire mood of "confessional poetry" impels the writer to prove his demons in the ultimate way. Even if one admits this rather backward reasoning, I don't see how it concerns the reader. What concerns the reader is the quality of the work.

Plath had a key poetic quality which I believe is innate, rather than learned: instinct for apt words. She put a lot of effort into the key poetic quality which I believe is learned rather than innate: mastery of form. She wrote a lot of well-measured poetry throughout her career, much of which she later wrote off as "juvenilia", but still had the sense to publish. I think she was impelled towards insistence of free verse by the prevailing winds in poetry at the time, not least coming from her husband Ted Hughes, another great poetical genius who was capable of horticulture in that infertile ground. It does feel to me, reading her work, that she was nearing a reconciliation of her expressive genius with the boundaries that she mistakenly saw in form. I think that if she had lived to publish another book's worth of work, she would have risen to the stature of Eliot and Pound in that work. In the end, she limited herself too severely.

This brings me to the passage I quote above. It has a very odd structure, where approximation of iambic pentameter breaks down to shorter, unformed lines, and then back to the blank verse, and then back to the unformed lines. It seems to me that she uses the blank verse where she is being declarative in what she is saying, and breaks from form where she wants to be fragmentary, and stereotypically imagistic. I think this is on purpose, even if subconsciously so, but it is a dangerous game. Plath has confined herself to a narrow road with failure on either side, yet in the end she is brilliant enough to pull it off. We as readers find ourselves sympathetic to the correspondence of music and sense, even when both music and sense lurch to the dissonant.

The remarkable thing is how little Plath's self-imposed limitations subtract from the great legacy of her work. It does present her with a small problem in consistency. She has one or two score great poems, and a much larger number of poems of much lesser quality. But a poet's success always derives from his great works, and not from the rest, regardless of how voluminous. It doesn't matter that Nerval wrote a lot of drudge since he did manage to squeeze out Les chimères, from which, for example, "Delfica", subject of an earlier "Quotidie". Plath will be appreciated, and her work will influence later poets long after the poeticules Sexton and Berryman are forgotten (which won't take long). She cannot be lumped in with the other two just because they all committed suicide, or because they were all known for free-verse lyric.

Moore also launched an attack on Pound and Eliot, and I think he falls even wider of the mark in those cases, but that's a subject for another note.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Of BisonGen

For a while now we've been hosting what I consider to be quite the hidden gem in the infrastructure of the 4Suite project: BisonGen.

BisonGen is a Python tool that reads in an input file in a simple XML format based on Bison's text format, and creates LALR parsers in both pure Python and as a Python/C extension. This way the resulting parsers have a fast version and a more portable version, for maximum flexibility.

In this article I provide information on BisonGen, in preparation for more complete packaging to come later (probably by the next 4Suite release).

The latest version of BisonGen can always be downloaded from the FTP site. The most recent release was 0.8.0b1 in mid April. See Jeremy's announcement.

See the simple, built-in example to get a picture of what BisonGen expects for input. More sophisticated examples are in 4Suite: in Ft/Xml/XPath, Ft/Xml/XSLT and Ft/Rdf/Parsers/Versa. Martin v. Löwis presented "Towards a Standard Parser Generator" at IPC10. His overview of BisonGen is very useful. He did note the big performance advantage of BisonGen parsers over pure Python counterparts (assuming, of course, that you use the resulting C parser from BisonGen).

Some other useful resources on BisonGen:

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia


I've coined the word "Scrolliosis" to describe an affliction that has been thriving in the ecosystem of my e-mail inbox for years.

I get a lot of e-mail. Some of it makes up "hot items", which I'm obliged to tackle right away. These are usually revenue generating activities such as client communications. There are also "warm items", which are non-spam messages that come directly to me or from high-priority mailing lists (only the 4Suite ML in my case). The volume of warm mail alone is overwhelming, and it falls into one of two categories:

  1. It comes at a moment when the time I happen to have available exceeds the time that it appears to require, at first glance.

  2. It comes at a moment when the time I happen to have available falls short of the time that it appears to require.

Eventually I get a free moment and start on all the stuff that falls into category 2, starting from the most recent and working backwards. Unfortunately, at present I have 366 warm items in my inbox (never mind the 150 or so "cool" items in my pending folder which are basically a matter of get-to-it-in-the-very-unlikely-chance-that-I-ever-can).

This means that once a warm item has scrolled sufficiently far up in my inbox, the chances start to dwindle that I'll get to it in reasonable time. In that case that item has been afflicted by scrolliosis. Today I happen to have set myself a goal of cutting my inbox to 300 messages, so I'll see how much I can rescue from scrolliosis.

The real message is that if you've sent correspondence, and I've not always been prompt, please don't take offense. I'm harried, but probably not trying to be rude. I do also respond to polite reminders. I'm sure many of my colleagues have the same problem.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Zap Zap Zap Mama

Wow. Last night Zap Mama ripped the lid off the Boulder Theater in support of Ancestry in Progress. As I said,, I'd been looking forward to the concert, but I had no idea what I was in for.

First thing that needs saying: I don't care what your musical predilection is. If you have the merest hint of eclecticism about you, and you love a good show, do not miss Zap Mama when they come your way. I can't think of a single other person for whom I'd give such a universal recommendation, but I'd be amazed if anyone was unmoved in a Zap Mama concert. They jaunt through Japan, India, both Americas, Europe, and, of course, West Africa in a pretty impressive sweep of musical style. But don't call it "world music", as some reductionist critics do. This is no patch-up of the alien mediocre. Zap Mama are sheer virtuosity by any standard.

I've heard a lot of people talk about Bobby McFerrin's vocal range and skill. Marie Daulne, Zap Mama band leader, is easily a match (Zap/McFerrin would be a killer collabo). Marie has no earthly right to be able to make some of the sounds that came out of her mouth. If you have/get the album, listen carefully. I think I can safely say that any sound that was not obviously made by drums, bass guitar, bass upright, electric guitar or keyboard (plain organ voice, mostly) or turntable cut it probably came from a voice, either Marie or one of the other singers. And Marie's voice: plaintive, assured, earthen, ethereal, reedy, robust, she affects it all.

And she is one of the most striking women you'll come across. Not just lissome and beautiful, but also cultured, artful, expressive, energetic and very playful (she closed the concert with some classic hip-hop moves, including the reverse worm). She bounced effortlessly around the stage while exercising that shape-shifting voice in a panoply of languages. At one point I was thinking to myself "this woman has more of The Goddess in her than anyone else I've encountered", and soon thereafter, a CU Boulder coed-looking chick turned to me and said "Oh my god. She's a goddess. I've like, never had a goddess so close I could almost touch her" (we were in the front row). I nodded. I can quite feel where she was coming from.

Boulder Theatre was packed, and as usual, the Boulder crowd ate it up like suya on Id el-Fitri. I barely had space to shake like Bandy Bandy. And speaking of "Bandy Bandy", that was the song that immediately followed the encore, and pretty much the entire crowd try fi wind up them waist. If you go to Zap Mama's Web site, the sinuous bass chord progression that greets you is from "Bandy Bandy", and it's as infectious as it comes. Closing with an extended version of Follow Me, Marie gave the whole band in turn a chance to amp up the crowd. They'd already taken us all over the musical map, from India ("namaste" as Marie modestly said, with proper soft voicing on the "t"); through Europe, playing songs such as "Ça Varie Varie"; through her native Zaïre (now "Congo" again), adding to several of the songs a strong Soukous flavor not present on the album, and acknowledging each explosion of the crowd with a very melodious "mmmmeeeeerci beaucoup"; Japan, playing "Alright" (and yes, she does both onnagata and aragoto in the extended, Kabuki-like intro); South America, playing songs such as "Vivre"; and New York City, with a few brief demos of old-school Hip-Hop. Zap Mama didn't spare any opportunity for crowd participation, and the crows was very willing. It wasn't just the standard call-and response--I nearly lost my keys when she had us shake them in the air as makeshift maracas during "Show me the Way".

The only sad note of the night was that Lori didn't come. She hasn't heard much Zap Mama, and I didn't realize how universal the concert would be in its appeal. The funny thig is that my good friend Tony had been inviting me to catch Zap Mama at his Aggie Theater for years, but I never got around to it. We shall not make such a mistake again. When we saw Erykah Badu last year in Denver, we were all riding the high for months, including the kids, who imitated our imitation of Eryka's overhead hand slide through her extended set of "Woo". Zap Mama is at least as powerful an experience, and we'll catch her together next time.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Care with rel="nofollow"

"More on passive aggressive linking with nofollow" -- Jay Fienberg, via comment on Joi Ito's blog

Interesting what trails lead through blogs sometimes. I found this while reading more about SMS.ac, which it seems you should avoid.

Jay makes some very good points about being precise with the semantics of Google's rel="nofollow" trick. One reason I find this so interesting is that when Google came up with this good idea, a lot of people got a little over-excited and were making noises to the effect of "see, never mind all that semantic metacrap stuff. Uncle Google gives us all the semantics we need". But Jay's note demonstrates that at best what Google gave us is a weak approximation of the sorts of nuance rich linking requires. And the fact that Google had to come up with this trick is evidence that we do need rich linking in the first place. Yes, XLink overdid things with the bewildering array of link annotation options (among other sins), but we can't just overload rel="nofollow" and expect not to be heading into our own hypocritical purgatory of metacrap. At the very least, people should be thinking of what other rel="*" conventions we can settle on in the community.

BTW, Bob DuCharme was one of the few people with sensible commentary when Google debuted rel="nofollow". See "Big week for the a/@rel attribute". But then again, what's new? Bob's the best commentator I know on linking. Full stop.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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What's SMS.ac really all about? [updated]

I keep getting invitations from friends to sms.ac. The friends are the sort of people I'm certainly happy to communicate with, but I'm always suspicious of joining such on-line clubs because who knows what the real agenda is? I was certainly not surprised when meetup.com went C.R.E.A.M.y and started shaking down granny-tea-cosy get-togethers for dues.

Anyway, do any other savvy techies use it? Is it worth the (apparently free) registration? Do they seem like just the next generation of scum who happen to have taken some of my friends, or are they legit? I tried a few google searches but didn't find anything helpful.

Disclaimer: I have no problem with sites charging for services, and indeed, I'm happy to pay for several of my on-line services, but I can't stand bait-and-switch. B&Sers deserve keel-hauling, matey.

Updated Thanks to Mark Baker for pointing me to good reason to stay well away from SMS.ac.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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Tu crois que le monde est à toi,
Qu'il t'appartient;
C'est ta chose, tu en disposes,
Sans qu'il ne reste rien

--Les Nubians--Demain--Princesses Nubiennes

My generic pass at translation:

You believe the world is yours
That it belongs to you
It's your thing, it's at your disposal
Without which [without you?] there's nothing left

O-ou yes, Hélène et Célia Faussart, Les Nubians. Les soeurs chantant. Les soeurs sexy.

As I recall, I heard "Makeda" in a Boulder record store, and, besotted, ran to faire le connaissance of whomever had produced such gorgeous music. I saw Les Nubians at the Fox Theater in Boulder a couple of years ago. Comme d'habitude, the Boulder crowd was well up on their music, and the energy was amazing. Their encore was a sublime tribute to African music, followed by a crowd-participation version of Stevie Wonder's "Master Blaster". It strikes me how consistently wonderful my concert experiences in Boulder are. It may be a white bread town in all demographic reality, but in spirit, Boulder doesn't fake the funk. I'm looking forward to seeing Zap Mama at the Boulder Theatre tomorrow. Oui. Soi-même Zap Mama. Quelle chance pour moi.

C'est mardi, which means the day for La Table Francophone of Boulder. I've been going most Tuesday evenings for the last few months. I go to work on my spoken French, and to hang out with my friends, many of whom these days are francophones. Une soirée avec mes amis. Quelle chance pour moi.

[Uche Ogbuji]

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