zw3.04: pulchritudinous pandas

Intrepid journalist Hank Talbot continues his exposé of the disturbing political agenda behind the zoo world facebook propaganda blitz.

Although most folks are familiar with the taoist taijitu (lit. “diagram of the supreme ultimate”) as representative of the yin-yang concept, that’s about as far as the understanding goes. I don’t run in taoist circles (which, I’m told, is the only way taoists like to run), but I’ve most frequently encountered the word “yin yang” in the western colloquialism “up the yin yang.”

pulchritudinous pandas

how to sustain your dragon

part 4

If we learned anything from the last post, it’s that “bean-curd tiger” is decidedly inferior to “paper tiger” when it comes to catch-phraseology. I hope you took away more than that from part three, but I’ve learned to temper my expectations as a journalist—especially when dealing with nuanced propaganda pieces like Mao’s little red book. It would be fantastic if you, my dear reader, had come away from part three with a better sense of the maoist mindset, the deceptive doublethink that characterises chinese communism. It would be similarly fantastic if you, my dear reader, had come away from part three with a keener awareness of the compatability of two seemingly-unlikely bedfellows: maoist anti-imperialism and the topless live show. It would be even more fantastic if you, my dear reader, had come away from part three with a basic understanding of the law of the unity of opposites and a readiness to learn more about the whole yin-yang thing.

But “bean-curd tiger” is stupid funny. So that’s probably what you’ll remember.

up the supreme ultimate

We’ll use a brief discussion of the law of unity of opposites as a segue back to the zoo world ad this is suppost to be about.

taijitu (yin yang symbol)

taijitu (yin yang symbol)

Although most folks are familiar with the taoist taijitu (lit. “diagram of the supreme ultimate”) as representative of the yin-yang concept, that’s about as far as the understanding goes. I don’t run in taoist circles (which, I’m told, is the only way taoists like to run), but I’ve most frequently encountered the word “yin yang” in the western colloquialism “up the yin yang.” As always, when in search of the meaning of slang saying, I turn to the definitive drivel-driver: Regrettably, the best definition for this idiom cites the phrase as “Up The Ying Yang.” Contributed by urban etymologist “Jay Denson,” this entry smacks of poor taste from start to finish. Consider, for example, the crass capitalisation of every word. These capital letters are not necessary. Neither is the “g” on “yin.” A semicolon would serve well within the definition proper, and a period at the end of the example phrase is sorely lacking. Nevertheless, the gist of the definition itself is more-or-less concordant with my understanding of the phrase “up the yin yang.”

Up The Ying Yang

1) To be overwhelmed, overloaded. Anytime your hands are full.

I got work up the ying yang

If you like, click on the definitions provided for “up the yin yang” and you will see why I opted to include the Denson definition instead.

Regardless of which urbandictionary definition you prefer, I’m sure that the average reader of fantastic drivel—if such a creature exists—will not be surprised to learn that there is a good deal more to the whole yin-yang concept than this western colloquialism might indicate. Interestingly enough, there are a few appearances of the taijitu (the yin yang symbol) that predate the first recorded eastern appearances. Celtic iconography includes similar symbols, often at the center of a larger whorl pattern.

Instances also appear in Etruscan iconography, but the most intriguing example is from the Roman Empire, c. AD 430. The taijitu symbol appears as a shield design, recorded in the Notitia Dignitatum (a unique document of the Roman imperial chanceries). Click for a larger view.

This shield design is especially interesting for two reasons: (1) it shows up in magister peditum—the index of shield designs from the western roman empire; and (2) it shows up around the fourth or fifth century AD. The first extant taoist taijitu, on the other hand, appeared in (1) China during the (2) eleventh century AD. Iconographically speaking, this means the roman symbol shows up nearly seven centuries too early and about five thousand miles too far west. Whoa.

monkeying around the clock

The Army-of-the-Twelve-Monkeys crowd would surely love to take this anomaly and run with it. I should point out, however, that the taoist principles of yin and yang date appear in chinese philosophy as early as the fourth or fifth century BC—about a thousand years before the taijitus maximus. It took the better part of two millenia, but it was the chinese who associated the yin-yang philosophy with the taijitu symbol.

Furthermore, I’d suggest that those of the Twelve Monkeys persuasion reign in their love of time-travel conspiracism long enough to consider the potential of a much, much larger number of monkeys. According to a common variation of the famous “infinite monkey theorem,” the entire collected works of William Shakespeare could be reproduced with sufficient quantities of monkeys, typewriters, and time.

I’ll refrain from making any jokes about the monk-ey business that might have gone on in the roman imperial chancellories, but I will point out that those shield-painters were a prolific lot. The plethora of shield designs on the six pages of the magister peditum (shown in the taijitus maximus diagram above) represents only a fraction of the dazzling display available in the grand shield-painting catalog, the notitia dignatum. The diversity is impressive, but in the end there are only so many ways to paint a shield. The ying yang was bound to show up eventually.

dactylographic chimp

A quick progress report before we leave the subject of the hard-working “dactylographic” [i.e., typewriting] monkeys. Although mathematicians and zookeepers alike have discussed the idea for nearly a century, proving the infinite monkey theorem with real monkeys remains, to this day, one of the elusive holy grails of modern science. Consider, for example, this well-intentioned 2002 study, covered by the BBC:

No words to describe monkeys’ play

A bizarre experiment by a group of students has found monkeys cannot write Shakespeare.

Lecturers and students from the University of Plymouth wanted to test the claim that an infinite number of monkeys given typewriters would create the works of The Bard.

A single computer was placed in a monkey enclosure at Paignton Zoo to monitor the literary output of six primates.

But after a month, the Sulawesi crested macaques had only succeeded in partially destroying the machine, using it as a lavatory, and mostly typing the letter “s”.

The project, by students from the university’s MediaLab Arts course, received £2,000 from the Arts Council. . . .

That was their problem: lack of adequate funding.

. . . The six monkeys – Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan – produced five pages of text which consisted mainly of the letter “s”. . . towards the end of the experiment, their output slightly improved, with the letters A, J, L and M also appearing. However, they failed to come up with anything that remotely resembled a word.

The results of the experiment formed part of a larger project developed by i-DAT.

They have been published in a limited edition book entitled Notes Towards The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

Notes Towards the Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Notes Towards the Complete Works of William Shakespeare

Now that’s what I call making lemonade. (note: my deft use of the complete-the-idiom technique)

Notes Towards The Complete Works of Shakespeare was sold with a companion DVD for the bargain price of £25. I did not search exhaustively for the tome; with a first run of only 100 copies, however, it is more likely than not that the title is out of print. HOWEVER:

a pdf version of the publication is available online, free of charge.

extensive documentation of the experiment is also available.

While “Notes Towards” makes for a delighful read, it only served as a warning to future researchers regarding the perils of testing the infinite monkey theorem with real monkeys. Computer simulations have met with slightly more success—although none have resulted in an actual publication like “Notes Towards.” A summary of the results from wikipedia:

One computer program run by Dan Oliver of Scottsdale, Arizona, according to an article in The New Yorker, came up with a result on August 4, 2004: After the group had worked for 42,162,500,000 billion billion monkey-years, one of the “monkeys” typed, “VALENTINE. Cease toIdor:eFLP0FRjWK78aXzVOwm)-‘;8.t” The first 19 letters of this sequence can be found in “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”. Other teams have reproduced 18 characters from “Timon of Athens”, 17 from “Troilus and Cressida”, and 16 from “Richard II”.

A website entitled The Monkey Shakespeare Simulator, launched on July 1, 2003, contained a Java applet that simulates a large population of monkeys typing randomly, with the stated intention of seeing how long it takes the virtual monkeys to produce a complete Shakespearean play from beginning to end. For example, it produced this partial line from Henry IV, Part 2, reporting that it took “2,737,850 million billion billion billion monkey-years” to reach 24 matching characters:

RUMOUR. Open your ears; 9r”5j5&?OWTY Z0d…


Regrettably, I have run the length of this post without ever completing the promised “segue” to the zoo world article this is suppost to be about. With so much fantastic drivel along the way, sometimes these things take a little longer to develop than we might like.

If you’re still reading, for some reason, I bid you: come back for part five.

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