The decline of the bee


At the Spelling Bee, a New Word Is M-O-N-E-Y – Elite spellers now can pay to get a spot in the national event. For this generation of zealous competitors, it just means another chance to shine:

An extra factor driving the stakes for this generation of spellers is a concerted effort by non-U.S.-born parents, particularly Indian-Americans, to make a mark on the competition. In 1985, Balu Natarajan was the first child of immigrants to win the Scripps bee. Of the 33 contests since then, fellow Indian-Americans have won 17 more, including the last 11 straight.

Indian-Americans, just 1% of the U.S. population, have established their own minor-league spelling bee circuit that adds opportunities to hone on-stage performance. They have led the way in paying for coaching, buying or developing proprietary study software and traveling to participate in more bees. Many spellers’ parents came to the U.S. via the Immigration Act of 1990 that admitted exceptionally skilled immigrants who specialize in STEM topics. It is no mystery that they would value education—and recognition of it—above all else; it is the very thing that gave them access to this country.

Reminds me of the stuff in Jerry Muller’s The Tyranny of Metrics. Now that the national bee is going in this direction it will be impossible to reverse the trend and make it a test of childhood exuberance and passion, as it was until recently. Rather, it will be just another part of the meritocratic conveyer belt, another notch in one’s resume or c.v.

And, unfortunately, it illustrates one of the effects of the rise of Asian American immigrant parents, who come from extremely competitive societies, and so bring the same ethos to the United States. Childhood in the old sense is disappearing, as people begin to prepare their children for adult roles in the economy before they enter elementary school.

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Triumph of the Gujarati

Election 2019 reflects a victory of the Gujarat model. But not the model you are thinking of. Not even that other, more sinister model. It is something very fundamental, rooted deeply in economic ecologies.

Human beings are shaped fundamentally by the networks they find themselves embedded in. In India, these networks overwhelmingly take the shape of caste groups marked by an occupational role, social status and marital rules.

For the North Indian peasant, with an economy driven by land and service to an imperial power, caste identity emphasizes kinship and honor. Biradari literally means brotherhood, and membership is conditioned on izzat.

For the Gujarati merchant, in a dry region of relatively unproductive land, caste identity emphasizes pooled resources, adherence to fiscal norms and shared interests. Even for the peasant Patels, caste is today fundamentally an economic union, channelized into farming and dairy cooperatives.

2019 might well be the year that the North Indian peasant realizes the futility of imbibing a kinship and honor based caste identity. On the one hand, these networks simply do not provide the resources to grow and thrive in a post-agrarian world. And even if optimally politicized, the sheer number of caste groups makes the gains from achieving political power limited and concentrated.

The North Indian does realize the need for new kinds of networks. And Modi’s opening up of North India to the world, via a liberal visa policy, river transport from the Bay of Bengal all the way upto Noida and big ticket global engagement platforms like the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shinkansen would not have escaped the eye of the sharp Yadav and Jat, who realize that they will have to reach out to the world to grow.

After all, previous engagements with foreigners in the recent past have given Indians globally important automobile and IT industries.

India today is more open to the world than ever before. Everybody from Peru to Russia to Ghana to Indonesia can come in after submitting a simple electronic form. Less than 7 million people visited India in 2013, by 2016 that number more than doubled to 15 million. Modi’s Gujarati mind grasps the decisive role of networks in the growth of individual, and he might have well coaxed the North Indian to look beyond his caste tunnel.

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Aladdin!

Disney’s Aladdin is likely to be a hit. And Naomi Scott is likely to be the break-out star. The half-English and half-Guju British chatterbox is also going to play Elena Houghlin in this fall’s reboot of Charlie’s Angels.

The casting of the mixed Scott, of white and Indian ancestry, as Jasmine created some silly backlash online. But one thing that strikes me about the Jasmine she depicts is that her sartorial style has a definite South Asian rather than Near Eastern tincture.

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As India Saffronises, 9 Questions on her Za’faran sister (IranZamin) with Professor Foltz-

A degree of uncertainty surrounds the origin of the English word “saffron“. It might stem from the 12th-century Old French term safran, which comes from the Latin word safranum, from the Arabic za’farān,[13] which comes from the Persian word zarparan meaning “flower with golden petals”.[14]
As an aside I pilfered this interesting piece from Kabir’s facebook

Continue reading “As India Saffronises, 9 Questions on her Za’faran sister (IranZamin) with Professor Foltz-“

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Magic and advertising

This is to alert BrownPundit readers to a series I’ve begun on Zenpundit, my other punditry-posting place. It’s about Ioan Couliano’s argument in his book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance that the Renaissance art of Magic was essentially a matter of conjuring desire in the recipient by means of visual imagery, and that the Art has been revived with great success in the present day, in the form of commercial advertising.

Roughly speaking, then, Magic is the defendant, modernity-secularity-technology is the prosecution team — who don’t bother to call witnesses because, m’lord, it’s plain obvious that magical thinking is superstitious nonsense — and a bucket-load of TV commercials form the evidence presented by the defense.

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But wait a minute — here’s magic:

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Whether you’re secular or a devotee, that photographic image is magical in that a simple hand-gesture conjures up a flute. The flute isn’t there, objectively speaking — and yet there’s a flute, Krishna is quite obviously playing it, and indeed its mellifluous power of enchantment has drawn the lovely Radha to his side.

About Krishna’s flute — you may know far more than I, but at least I can point to Denise Levertov and Edward C Dimmock’s poem in Songs in Praise of Krishna — from the Bengali:
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Radha is terrified on her way to the forest

O Madhava, how shall I tell you of my terror?
I could not describe my coming here
if I had a million tongues.
When I left my room and saw the darkness
I trembled:
I could not see the path,
there were snakes that writhed round my ankles!

I was alone, a woman; the night was so dark,
the forest so dense and gloomy,
and I had so far to go.
The rain was pouring down —
which path should I take?
My feet were muddy
and burning where thorns had scratched them.
But I had the hope of seeing you, none of it mattered,
and now my terror seems far away. . . .
When the sound of your flute reaches my ears
it compels me to leave my home, my friends,
it draws me into the dark toward you.

I no longer count the pain of coming here,
says Govinda-dasa

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And what does all this have to do with advertising?

My response is that the Krishna and Radha in this photo were captured, and Krishna’s flute conjured, by the eye of a pro commercial guy:

JEREMY HUNTER began his career in advertising – as a television creative, working for Young and Rubicam, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy and Bates, along the way winning a number of international awards in Cannes, Venice, New York and Los Angeles. During this time he worked with some of Britain’s most iconic film directors – John Schlesinger, Ken Russell, Tony Scott, Dick Lester, Nic Roeg, Richard Loncraine as well as Oscar-winning Editor Jim Clark and photographer Terence Donovan.

That’s the resume of a contemporary magician.

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In case you’re interested, the posts in my Magic and Commercials series on Zenpundit to date are:

Advertising series 01: Music
Eros, the Renaissance and advertising
Authentic, spiritual magic!
The magic of advertising or the commercialization of magic?
Here’s magic!
The magic of miniatures

I imagine there will eventually be about twenty posts in the series — but more and more evidence keeps turning up in favor of the defense.

Magic, court observers seem to think, is likely to be vindicated.

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Moves in the Glass Bead Game

I came across two images recently which seemed closely parallel, and yet distinctly different.

When I saw this image:

it immediately reminded me of this one, which I’d seen a few hours earlier:

That’s the first clue as to how to play the Glass Bead Game: it’s as simple as this reminded me of that.

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The two images are very different, yet very similar.

Each is an image with a strong Catholic resonance — one image is of a statue of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, the other is an image of a chalice, the cup which Jesus passed to his followers on the night before his crucifixion, and which Christians to this day drink in their various communion services, remembering him.

And both images are very visibly shattered — the shattered statue representing the devastating impact of jihadist suicide-bomber attacks on churches across Sri Lanka, the shattered chalice representing the Catholic Church, “broken” by priestly sexual abuses, and in urgent need of reformation.

In playing Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, at least in the variants that I have devised and which I call the HipBone family of games, the move from one of those images to the other is a move. And the nature of the move is their resemblance across a cognitive distance.

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Hesse’s book was written in 1943, a time when elite thinkers — and Hesse was certainly elite — were more comfortable than we are today with sheer erudition — and he gives as an example of a move in the game, a player who had been studying —

…the rhythmic structure of Julius Caesar’s Latin and discovered the most striking congruences with the results of well-known studies of the intervals in Byzantine hymns…

— and here’s another move for you, one of my own. Little did Hesse know it, but I myself was studying up on Church music one day, and dis=covered a book by a nun, Jane-Marie Luecke OSB, entitled:

Measuring Old English Rhythm: an Application of the Principles of Gregorian Chant Rhythm to the Meter of Beowulf

Not only is Sister Jane-Marie’s book itself a monograph length move, buy my association of Hesse’s move in his book and the good Sister’s monograph — one reminded me of the other — is also a move, and a most fortuitous one, starting in the pages of the book I devoted ten or more years of my life to, and ending in a discovery in an area of my own scholarly interest — and now, in my proud ownership of Sister Jane-Marie’s slim blue volume.

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Remember, mnthe scope of the game allows moves to be made from the whole range of human intellectual production:

The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

If you can think it, imagine it, jot it down, sketch it, hum it, or represent it as an equation, you can make a move of it, linking it to some other move already in play, or proposing it for others to link to.

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Music is notated in a score, and in the music of ideas which Hesse’s game proposes and my HipBone Games attempt to make playable, my suggestion is to notate such moves as simple graphs — in the form of two named nodes with an edge connecting them.

Here’s a board I’ve devised to allow you to notate a move with two concepts and a linkage between them. I call it my DoubleQuotes Board, and it represents the smallest board on which a HipBone Game can be played — either solo or with a friend:

You can then assign your move to to a node in your game, and link it to another in a way that is rich in content at both ends, and which features rich connections between them, across some conceptual distance — perhaps across distinctly separate disciplines.

Here’s a DoubleQuote between Theodor von Kármán’s Vortex Street, and Van Gogh’s painting of the night sky:

From the dynamics of flow nto post-impressionist modern art — that’s quite a leap! And yet the two are so close, they might as well be twins!

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So — the challenge:

What memory-leap — what associative leap, what creative leap can you come up with that most neatly and beautifully links two conceptually distant but richly associated concepts? If you feel like it, you can identify them in the Comments section, or email me at my gmail address — my handle there is hipbonegamer.
You’ll be playing one of my playable variants of Hermann Hesse’s Nobel-winning Glass Bead Game. And if you have the skill-set to drop your move onto my DoubleQuote board and post it, so much the better.

Here’s that game board again:

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Oh, and for Ali Minai in particular, given that self-referential paradox must be an issue in AGI — here’s a board for the self-referential one-move game, with one of my poems in it:

Wanna try?

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Enough — until next time..

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Contemplating the weave of the world

    [ exploring various versions of how the world of concepts can itself be conceptualized ]

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Have patience with me: Omar Ali has invited me to post here, an honor I greatly appreciate, and I am introducing myself.

I’m an outsider. I’m your guest, and I only just arrived.. To be precise, I’m a Brit, resident in the United States:

If I’m to write on BrownPundits, I need to you know how ignorant I am in many respects, before I shed some of what knowledge I do possess — and also to focus myself in the Brown direction, because this place is devoted to “a discussion of things brown” — and while I’ll no doubt wander far afield as I post, I want to acknowledge and honor the purpose of this blog as I introduce myself here.

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My interest, my fascination, my obsession even, is with the weave of the world. And indeed, if my friends Omar Ali, Ali Minai, and Hasan Asif can be any indication, the Punditry of Brown extends intellectually across all of history, geography and genius, to encompass the world of ideas and the world world to which the ideas refer in their combined entirety..

And thus the weave of the thing. That’s how the Kathasaritsagara, or Ocean of the Streams of Story, comes in to my story. Somadeva Bhatta’s concept of the oceanic streams of story caught Salman Rushdie’s eye, and Rushdie reference to it —

He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead, but alive.

— it’s a universal mapping of the sort that enchants the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco, librarians both, encompassing the realm of human thought in narrative terms. And it’s one subcontinewntal form of the universal map, or model, or metaphor — the Net of Indra in the Avataṃsaka Sutra would be another.

Outside the subcontinent — but well within the compass of Brown Punditry– there are other such metaphors for the whole of the whole. Teilhard de Chardin’s oosphere is another, as is Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s >World Wide Web, in which complex weave of thoughts we now find ourselves.

But for my own purposes, the most interesting figure of the whole, the universe as we are able to think and name it, conceptually speaking, is the Glass Bead Game as described by Hermann Hesse in his Nobel-winning novel of that name

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My own personal predilections run from cultural anthropology through comparative religion to depth psychology, and from violence to peace-making. But that’s a huge sprawl at best, and to bring all that into some kind of focus, to learn how to map that immense territory, and the vaster universe beyond it, I turn not just to strong>Hesse’s novel, but particularly to the Game which he describes in that book:

The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.

You’ll see how that description covers much the same ground as Rushdie’s description of the Kathasaritsagara, and Edward Tufte’s image of the Ocean of Story which I’ve placed at the top of this post could also be a depiction of Hesse’s great Game.

There are many voices in the Ocean, and many voices in the Game, and they are interwoven: they form which a musician would recognize as a polyphony — their concepts and narratives at times clashing as in musical counterpoint, at times resolving, at least temporarily, in a refreshing harmony.

And what better model of the world can we contemplate at this moment, that one in which a multitude of at times discordant voices wind their ways to concord?

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[ above: conventional score, bar-graph score and keyboard recordings of JS Bach, contrapunctus ix

Johann Sebastian Bach is the master of contrapuntal music, and, be it noted, a great composer for and improviser on the organ. And it is Bach whose music I listen to as I approach the business of modeling the world of ideas.

My mantram ca 1999/2000 was:<To hold the mind of Bach..

Where Bach devises and holds in mind melodies that collide and cohere, I want us to hold thoughts in mind — at times clashing thoughts — and learn to weave them into a coherent whole..

That’s my approach to making the Glass Bead Game which Hesse conceptualized, playable. And my playable variants on Hesse’s Game, the HipBone family of games, will be the topic of my next few posts — thanks to the kind inquiries of my BrownPundit friends, and Omar’s generous invitation to me to post here.

And perhaps, if you’re interested, we’ll play a few rounds of my games, or explore across the world of ideas and your and my interests, what I’ve come to think of as the HipBone style of thinking..

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Charles Cameron is a poet and game designer, managing editor of the Zenpundit blog, and now an invited guest at BrownPundits. You can hear a discussion of the overlap between the Glass Bead Game and Artificial Intelligence featuring Omar Ali, Ali Minai and myself on this BrownPundits podcast — with an appreciative bow to Razib Khan.

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The many ways of being Brown Diasporic

An admission: I have no idea what half of Zach’s posts are about. More clearly, they’re written in English, but there are so many references to Indian/South Asian pop-culture and drop-ins of Hindi-Urdu words that I have no idea what he’s talking about. It might as well be Greek. Often after 30 minutes of Google, I get it, but it’s pretty funny because technically we’re both English-speaking brown people living in Anglo countries.

There are different kinds of brown people. Some of them are well talked about. For example, ABCD vs. “FOB” culture. But it’s way more subtle and diverse than that.

For example, I have a friend who grew up in Canada, who is from a South Indian Brahmin background. But, it turns out that the only Indian language she knows is Hindi, because of the people she grew up with. I am not good with languages. I have primitive fluency with Bengali, though I can’t read it, and absolutely no firsthand knowledge of Hindi or Urdu. A lot of Diasporic South Asians though drop-in in Hindi-Urdu words into their speech and a lot of us have no idea what you are talking about (I share this reaction with a lot of people of South Indian background raised in the USA, who don’t know Hindi).

Zach is a “Third Culture” person in a traditional sense. I really am not…my parents left Bangladesh in 1980, and did not raise me among many Bengalis or even South Asian people. Better to describe me as American culture + an accent/perspective of something very different.

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Is Bollywood “whitening” Indian beauty standards?

Since Vidhi’s passing remarks seem to generate so much controversy on BP; I thought I would share a statement she made to me earlier (I usually send her the links when I’m quoting her but she’s too busy to read them).

But she was pointing me towards this latest starlet:

View this post on Instagram

Many moons ago 🦋 @sashajairam

A post shared by TARA💫 (@tarasutaria) on

V was saying that she could look Spanish or Italian and the first person who came to my mind was Natalie Portman. V was then comparing Tara to Madhubala or Meena Kumari who had much more “Indian looks.”

Image result for meena kumari Continue reading “Is Bollywood “whitening” Indian beauty standards?”

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Self-respect starts at home, Mr Kohli..

I don’t want to detract from the intensely sad news emerging out of Sri Lanka however I came across this ad on instagram and I found it rather amusing. Anyone who has read my views over the years, will know my thoughts on this so there is no need to repeat them.

Virat Kohli is known to have an “arrogant” streak (I can’t confirm either way) but him doing this ad demonstrates the same judgement SRK had when doing Zero, When Harry met Sejal or RAone.

Perhaps I’m being overly critical but a little tact and a lot of taste will go a very long way in building an International Reputation for both himself and Brownitude (if such a thing exists) abroad.. Continue reading “Self-respect starts at home, Mr Kohli..”

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