A Journal of the Irrepressible

Archive for May, 2008

Something about the I Ching


Fortune Telling 000

The arrangement and interpretations of the I Ching’s hexagrams can be attributed to the astute analysis of human nature in many contexts by many contributors over many years. It’s much more difficult to account for the uncanny accuracy, reasonableness, and wisdom of the I Ching’s answers to one’s questions. That, at least, has been my experience.

The I Ching is the ancient Chinese book that accreted around a series of 64 hexagrams. A hexagram, in turn, is an arrangement of six lines. Each line is either solid or broken. Here are the first two hexagrams, the Creative and the Receptive:

Hexagram 1, the Creative          Hexagram 2, the Receptive

Hexagrams are formed by chance action (e.g., the rolling of three coins, and taking combinations of heads and tails for either a solid or broken line) from the bottom up. The lines are taken to represent a temporal sequence, the unfolding of change over time.

Lines themselves can change, and a changing line is indicated by chance action, as in the roll of three heads (a changing broken or yin line) or three tails (a changing solid or yang line). In the above example, if one tossed a set of three coins six times—once for each line in the Creative—and each roll came up three tails, each line would change into its opposite. The result would be two hexagrams: hexagram one, the Creative, would change to hexagram two, the Receptive.

The odds against a six-in-a-row coin toss are astronomical. But, then, what are the odds in favor of receiving a response that strikes one as both wise and a propos to the question?

Questions. Where do they come from? You, me, worrying the hems of our lives; John Cage, wondering what it really means to compose; and anybody, really, who engages in the act of breasting change with a story of self in mind. To put the previous question another way, What are the odds of a story emerging from apparently unconnected facts, experiences or observations?

As with most fortune telling systems, the odds favor making sense—if you can accept enigmatic replies as sense. For me, the difference between the I Ching and, say, the tarot (which has much sexier images), is perceptual: the I Ching responds in poetry, the tarot in cliché. One enlightens me, the other makes me vomit. It’s not the tarot’s fault; it’s cultural chance. The Romany, vectors of prognostication by chance action of card dealing, eschewed written language until relatively recent times (and then a palette of languages pattern Romany texts, rather than a national language); the Chinese, just as ancient, famously co-pioneered written language. The Romany poetry of the tarot is, at best, confined to a small group of disrespected people while the written texts of the Chinese have become venerated for their wisdom and verisimilitude. Read the rest of this entry »

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Written by Brian

May 31st, 2008 at 9:28 am

Utah Phillips Heads West


The great folk singer and American Utah Phillips died in his sleep Friday night at the age of 73 in his home n Nevada City, Calif. He struggled with heart disease for a long time and, as Chris, a friend of his said,

Utah has caught the westbound, and I am at a great loss.”

Here’s a snip from the family’s obituary:

Phillips served as an Army private during the Korean War, an experience he would later refer to as the turning point of his life. Deeply affected by the devastation and human misery he had witnessed, upon his return to the United States he began drifting, riding freight trains around the country. His struggle would be familiar today, when the difficulties of returning combat veterans are more widely understood, but in the late fifties Phillips was left to work them out for himself. Destitute and drinking, Phillips got off a freight train in Salt Lake City and wound up at the Joe Hill House, a homeless shelter operated by the anarchist Ammon Hennacy, a member of the Catholic Worker movement and associate of Dorothy Day.

Utah Phillips

Phillips credited Hennacy and other social reformers he referred to as his “elders” with having provided a philosophical framework around which he later constructed songs and stories he intended as a template his audiences could employ to understand their own political and working lives. They were often hilarious, sometimes sad, but never shallow.

“He made me understand that music must be more than cotton candy for the ears,” said John McCutcheon, a nationally-known folksingerand close friend.

In the creation of his performing persona and work, Phillips drew from influences as diverse as Borscht Belt comedian Myron Cohen, folksingers Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, and Country stars Hank Williams and T. Texas Tyler.

Utah ended a letter to his friends at KVMR in Nevada City with these words:

The future? I don’t know. But I have songs in a folder I’ve never paid attention to, and songs inside me waiting for me to bring them out. Through all of it, up and down, it’s the song. It’s always been the song.

For more on Utah, his life, his music, including podcasts and videos, visit utahphillips.org.

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Written by Brian

May 25th, 2008 at 2:02 pm

Posted in biography, music

Everywhere Is War

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Pete Guither has a great Salon-affiliated blog which aggregates and comments on drug war news. Americans’ weird and deeply twisted propensity to treat each other as guilty until proven innocent has resulted in the highest incarceration rate among “developed” countries. Fact: the U.S. is home to about five percent of the world’s population, and 25 percent of the world’s prison population. (Fat America: those figures are about the same for U.S. consumption of oil.)

In “Deep Thoughts about the Drug War,” Guither writes:

In regulated markets, disputes are handled by lawyers. In the black market, disputes are handled by guns. I have no love for lawyers, but I’d rather get hit by a stray brief than a stray bullet.

As anyone who has tried to quit smoking knows, dependence is hardest to overcome during difficult or stressful times. That must be why, when the government helps drug abusers quit, they arrest them and take away their job, possessions, and children.

And the line-drive question:

When a government uses military personnel, equipment, and tactics against its own citizens, is it time to call it a Civil War rather than a Drug War?

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Written by Brian

May 17th, 2008 at 10:20 am

Posted in drugs, politics

Spontaneously Self-assembling Eclectons

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Jayme Jacobson keeps finding these… things in her home. Here’s one now:

eclecton discovered by Jayme Jacobson

Eclectons, they’re called:

Eclectons spontaneously assemble out of everyday household products. If you pay close attention, you can catch them at the instance of assemblage (IA). After that, they fade from view, moving beyond the perceptual capacities of human beings.

But where, we wonder, do they do when they fade from view? We do, after all, live in a universe where energy is conserved. Jayme has some insight for us:

“Where do eclectons go?’ asked one of my young friends. It’s a good question because, as we know, they disappear from view shortly after IA (instance of assemblage). Evidence is a bit sketchy but one theory is that they are trying to get back to Eclectonia, a poorly understood galaxy about 450,000 light-years away that was recently picked up by the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

Check out more electons here.

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Written by Brian

May 13th, 2008 at 6:14 pm

Posted in art, science, the marvelous

GridShifter by Jolie Kaytes

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My colleague Jolie Kaytes is a professor of landscape architecture at Washington State University and is interested in sense of place, how place makes us who we are, both as individuals and as communities, and how creative and analytical thinking can be used in solving problems. Recently, she created The GridShiter, a souvenir origami kit for a gallery show in San Francisco. (The show is, or was, at City | Space in Noe Valley.) I was intrigued by the analogy of folding paper and faulting crust and asked her if we could create a video that would showcase not only her art project, but some of her ideas about sense of place, as well. The result was this five-minute video. We shot all the photographs, interviews and sound-over narration in one 90-minute session; Jolie is an amazingly fun and efficient person to work with. This was my first time doing stop-motion photography, so the still camera work is pretty rough. But I like it; it gives the folding demonstrations a nice earthquakey feel.

Unpacking Place

About a year ago, I used a bunch of still photos taken by Jolie and did a video reinterpretation of “Unpacking Place,” an installation in the Cougarland Motel in downtown Pullman. Along with 10 other artworks, “Unpacking Place” was available to the public for one day, March 2, 2007. The collection of installations was curated by Samantha DiRosa, assistant professor of digital media, and titled “In(n) and Out of Nowhere.”

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Written by Brian

May 5th, 2008 at 8:16 pm