Monday, September 01, 2014

Monday Movie on Labor Day ~ "I'm Alright Jack"

As it's Labor Day, a memory of a British movie touching on the topic of "the workers" from back in the the late 1950s. I'm Alright Jack. It was produced and directed by the Boulting Brothers.

Back then the British film industry was just beginning to find its metaphorical feet, after World War 2. The Boultings gave us many a satirical look at life. In I'm Alright Jack, a brilliantly funny depiction of both the excesses of trade unionism and the corruptness of the captains of industry. Messages from the storyline are still appropriate today in Britain, even more so in the USA.

Corrupt corporations have taken the place of corrupt individual bosses from the ranks of the aristocracy and upper classes. Trades unions, though, have been de-fanged over the years, by conservative governments, leaving the people, the workers, without recourse to right wrongs perpetrated upon them.

In I'm Alright Jack Ian Carmichael played Sidney Windrush, returning from military service, forced to work on the shop floor of his uncle Bertram's missile factory. The controversial appointment was part of an elaborate scheme hatched with partner Sidney Cox (played by the late Richard Attenborough) to secure a lucrative Arab arms deal. But while the pair are confident Windrush's presence will upset the unions, Peter Sellers' character, shop steward Fred Kite, gives them more than they were hoping for.

I found myself feeling miffed when, watching the movie, some time ago, my husband muttered scornfully, "That was exactly the problem - trades unions!" He was duly corrected!

What other avenue did we "the people" ever have? What power do ordinary people now hold? None, except for their votes at election time, votes which can be manipulated by the power of money, and don't seem to mean a whole lot these days.

I found myself envying people of the 1950s, when ordinary folk found their strength in the union movement. Eventually, they did take things too far - human nature once again. It led to their downfall at the hands of the Margaret the Dreadful (Thatcher) in Britain, and various conservative administrations in the USA.

Unions were the tool of the workers. Now they have no tool at all. In the USA, even more so than in Britain, "the people" need to reclaim their power and attempt to de-fang the corporations. But how could that come about?

Sunday, August 31, 2014


For the book, see HERE.

From D.J. Rivenburgh's review of the book:

Jonathon Porritt's fascinating book takes us on a journey looking back from the year 2050 to paint vivid images of what we got right, what we missed and how different life can (and will) be in the future. "The World We Made" is written as if from the perspective of 50 year old Alex McKay, a community college history teacher describing the changes he's seen in the world over the previous 30 plus years. (McKay would be in middle school today.) Far from science fiction, this book tells of innovations, experiences, successes and failures built on systems, discoveries and power structures in existence today. Images throughout the book help us visualize possibilities. The interconnectedness of global economic, environmental, social, religious and political forces cannot be denied.

One of my favorite parts was reading about the 2018 Enough! movement, where young people throughout the world rise up to rebel against high unemployment, climate-induced disasters, war, poverty and the growing wealth gap to demand change and create "A Manifesto for Tomorrow." There isn't a country or industry left untouched by the future. This book should be read by executives, teachers, students, advocates, community leaders and politicians.

While some might be quick to label this book in a "green" category, I see it as being highly useful for business, governments, education and leaders in all sectors. Porritt's examples, made personal through a college professor's story, explore banking, agriculture, water, energy, wellbeing, health, education, democracy, capitalism, religion, population growth, innovation, communities and more.
(About Jonathon Porritt)
Also HERE.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Stars and Hermits

Robert Frost's poem Choose Something Like A Star will probably appeal to poetry lovers who also love astrology. The poet appeals to the star, "Say something to us we can learn by heart....", a plea an astrologer might make when contemplating an astrological chart! I'm particularly fond of the last five lines of the poem.
(Illustration: The Hermit card from The Ancestral Path Tarot . Artist: Julie Cuccia-Watts)

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud --
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says "I burn."
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats' Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.

"Keats' Eremite"... ?

Eremite is another word for hermit. This is, I understand, a reference to an excerpt from a poem (Bright Star) by John Keats. Keats wanted to take a blissful moment with his lover and store it way like a hermit hides from civilization, to make it last forever. So when Robert Frost says "and steadfast as Keats' Eremite/ not even stooping from its sphere", in the poem Choose Something Like a Star, he's describing the star's constant place in the sky for us to focus on in difficult times. (HERE)

The poem by Keats:
Bright Star
By John Keats

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors—
No—yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever—or else swoon to death.

Back to THE HERMIT of the Tarot deck, card # 9 of Major Arcana:

Astrologically Hermit links to Saturn, Aquarius and Virgo & the Earth element. Numerically Hermit connects to its card number: 9 (produced by 3 engaging with itself: 3 x 3).

Generally interpreted as a withdrawal into solitude, or retreat from the everyday world, seeking wisdom, self-reflection, introspection, hopefully finding guidance. Negatively, a running away from people or things, leading to loneliness.

In art, a hermit:

 St Anthony the Hermit by  Albrecht Durer

More about St Anthony - several of them in fact, HERE.
I rather like Anthony the Great, but I guess the image above is, as titled,
Anthony the Hermit (c.468–c.520).
I suspect legends of all Saints, St. Anthony included, become entangled over time.

Temptation of St Anthony (or one of 'em) was a popular subject for painters of centuries long gone. Here's an example, this by Bernardino Parenzano (c.1494). Click on image for bigger version.

 The Temptations of St Anthony

Finally: last lines of a poem, Hermits, by James Galvin. The full poem is at
Poetry Foundation, here.
When hermits die
They close their eyes. They never hear
The parson sermonize how somewhere
There is hope where no hope was.

A chance to be alone for a chance to be abandoned,
Everything is lost or given.

Hermits never know they’re dead till the roof falls in.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ Syd Hoff

I took the long way around when deciding which artist to feature today. Should it be Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (born 29 August 1780) French portrait painter and sketcher of the great and good - and bad - and wealthy tourists in 19th century Rome? Or Paul Kane (3 September 1810), Irish-born Canadian artist and intrepid traveller of the frozen wastes of Canada, sketching and recording indigenous peoples of the area, then, back at home producing paintings from his sketches, containing information which might otherwise have been lost for ever? Or should it be another street photographer, similar to last weeks' Henri Cartier-Bresson: Helen Levitt (31 August 1913) American photographer - she photographed the streets of New York?

Much as I have to admire all of these, I wasn't really feeling 'em, for one reason or another. Then I found Syd Hoff, born September 4, 1912 in New York City, a Jewish-American children’s book author and cartoonist. He died in 2004.

The name didn't ring a bell for me, but husband recognised it immediately and handed me a volume of cartoons from The New Yorker (1950-55), pointing to a couple of examples of Hoff's work.

While in high school, Milt Gross, a popular 1930s cartoonist, told Syd Hoff that "Kid, someday you'll be a great cartoonist!" At 16 he enrolled at New York's National Academy of Design. At 18 The New Yorker first bought one of his cartoons. He would eventually, from 1931 to 1975, sell a total of 571 of them to the New Yorker.

Americans are likely to be familiar, also, with his 150 plus children's books (such titles as Sammy the Seal and Danny and the Dinosaur), now also translated into many different languages. His comic strips and cartoons were featured in all the top magazines of the 20th century; his comic strip Tuffy, about a little girl who did funny stuff, was declared essential for national morale during WWII by William Randolph Hearst.

Hoff worked in other genres too. He was associated with Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen as a contributor of short fiction writing; was awarded national advertising commissions for large companies ( Chevrolet, Maxwell House Coffee and others). He even had his own TV show, Tales of Hoff on CBS. He traveled the world as entertainment on cruise ships and entertained children and teachers in schools and libraries .

Syd Hoff's official website HERE covers all facets of his work.

What particularly endeared Hoff to me? His work under a pseudonym A. Redfield. While contributing to The New Yorker magazine and other mainstream publications as Syd Hoff, he was also contributing to the Daily Worker and New Masses as A. Redfield, the pseudonym adopted for his radical work during the 1930s. The Ruling Clawss (1935) is a compilation of over 150 cartoons originally published in the Communist Daily.
In “Social Satire,” an essay by Hoff (as Redfield) included as an afterword, the artist argues that most contemporary satirists are not sharp enough: “Today we have a new group of satirists who, at the same time that they bite the bourgeoisie, use only their lips, but not their teeth” ...He praises only Art Young, “the greatest satirist of his day.” Everyone else falls short. They “are talented and funny, but . . . their comedy is all too often a whitewash for people and conditions that, in reality, are not funny” (See Nine Kinds of Pie blog HERE)

More at the Redfield website HERE.

Some of his Redfield cartoons are as apposite today as they were when he drew them:

Hoff's niece, Carol Edmonston has remarked that:

"Syd often said that ‘Society is divided into two classes: the oppressed and the class of the oppressors — [the] bourgeoisie,’"

His main astro signature, I think, in relation to his work, would be:
Venus (planet for the arts) conjunct Mars (somewhat energetically challenging) in helpful sextile to Jupiter in its own sign Sagittarius (humour, publication, philosophical). All aided and abetted by Sun in Virgo and Moon somewhere in Gemini - both ruled by communications planet Mercury.

NOTE ~ Apologies for errors and/or omissions - this post was completed away from home, using lap top and iffy connection.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Up Mystery Creek ...with a table and no paddle

Your heart's desire is to be told some mystery. The mystery is that there is no mystery.
~ Cormac McCarthy, "Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West".

Husband, during a chat about his grandparents, whom he hardly knew, described a stray memory he has retained, involving his grandmother - and his mother. In his childhood, one evening, they took him along to a family gathering; it'd have been sometime in the mid to late-1940s. The gathering took place in a long room lit by rows of old fashioned camping lamps. About a dozen relatives were there, seated around a very large circular wooden table - of the style with one huge central "stem" holding up the tabletop. Husband, and the rest of his relatives were asked to place their finger-tips of both hands on the table top. His mother told him he must think hard on the words, "Table lift !...Table lift!" He still recalls that he squeezed his eyes closed and concentrated very hard on those words of command.

The table lifted.

Coming from husband, I found this a strange story. He has, and as far as he knew his mother had, no interest whatsoever in such things as spiritualism, the mysteries, psychic phenomena...even astrology (pshaw!)

After typing that, I searched and found a video depicting one such experiment. This one was conducted by a professional magician. A few commenters on this video have the trick solved, it appears. If a similar thing had happened in the case of husband's childhood experience, he must have had a magician and assistant among his relatives!

I have no such tabular experience to relate, though I've always had an interest in mysteries of all kinds.

Excerpt from a June 2008 post:
In my younger years, in the UK, I experimented with spiritualism, attended several different spiritualist churches and meetings. I was moderately interested in it all, but not sufficiently so to continue the experiment for more than a year or two. I do understand its attraction, but it just wasn't right for me. One side of me was drawn to it while the other side remained too doubtful to accept it.

I remember an occasion, when working in a previously unvisited part of the UK, I sought out a spiritualist church, attended an evening meeting. Several of the congregation eyed me with suspicion, making me feel decidedly uncomfortable. After the meeting members approached me and asked if I was representing some monitoring or "watchdog" body from a governing association. I immediately set them straight. The incident did bring home to me how insecure the people felt. I doubt that established traditional churches have watchdogs monitoring their proceedings. It's an example of how people who follow ideas and beliefs outside the mainstream can feel vulnerable. I guess this kind of thing can happen to professional astrologers too.

And, from 2012, which was part of a re-posted item from 2007
(blogs have cycles too!):

Any evidence to prove to me that certain areas of mystery, such as clairvoyance, using crystal ball, tarot, spirit world, etc. have actual validity, has been scant, but there have been a few scattered experiences of that nature - albeit spanning a very long period. These have been just sufficient that I can't quite close the door, and my mind, on the idea that there is something mysterious going on, other than human wishful thinking and vivid imaginations. For instance, I can find no logical explanation for any of these:

1 ~~~ A tarot reader, who was probably also a medium in the 1960s, in Devonshire, UK, told me that someone was speaking to her, and that he had a peculiar way of using the expression "it was real" in his conversation (meaning that something was very good). I immediately recognised this person. He wasn't anyone close, simply an acquaintance, but his idiosyncratic way of using the word "real" always used to amuse me. He had died in a car accident some years before. I hadn't even thought about this person much, but was very surprised to recognise him immediately from the reader's description.

2 ~~~ Many years ago (1970s), I persuaded my late partner to accompany me to a spirtualist meeting. The speaker there pointed to him during the meeting and said, "Do you know Peter, wearing RAF uniform?" He gasped, "Yes". "Well, he is saluting you", the speaker said. I knew already that my late partner had had a close friend called Peter, in his youth, during WW2, in the Royal Airforce. Their plane was shot down over France and they escaped together. Sadly, Peter's wife had been unfaithful while he was away in the forces, and he commited suicide just after the war ended.

3 ~~~ Many Moons ago, when I was still a young teenager, a fortune-teller told my mother that I would marry someone "from over the sea, and end my days abroad". That wouldn't sound too unusual nowadays, but in the 1950s before air travel was common, computers still unheard of, it was extraordinary! Anyway, the prediction has been vindicated three times. The second time wasn't a marriage, but a 33 year relationship. # 1 husband was from Italy. # 2 from Northern Ireland. # 3 current husband is American. And here I am, ending my days abroad (hopefully not too quickly). I'm pretty sure that this wasn't what's known as "a self-fulfilling prophecy". I did harbour thoughts of retiring to Spain, which might have been seen as such, I guess. I never could have envisioned what actually did happen!

4 ~~~ A fortune teller told me, back in 1973 or thereabouts, that there would be 3 men in my life. I was already aware of two - an ex-husband and a current partner. This prediction worried me for a long time. I took it as a sign that I'd somehow lose my partner. I did, but not for another 30 years! Then # 3 appeared.
Nature, at times leaves footprints of its inverted sense of humor leaving only hope to laugh at its mysterious humor.
~ Rangam Thoitak Chiru

NOTE ~~~ Our air conditioning system bit the dust yesterday - hottest day of the year too: 100* and likely to stay that way for at least 2 or 3 more days! Posts could be intermittent for a while, until we can get system replaced (Yikes!) We will probably de-camp to a motel shortly, my northern blood protests too much, can't think straight! Perhaps we'll take a wee trip while husband's A/C expert son does the necessary for us. Haven't decided yet where or when. We'll have a laptop with us, so maybe I'll scribble something here and there.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Monday Movie ~ Code 46

I can never resist a dystopian tale, I haven't seen or read 'em all yet, but I'm getting there. Code 46 , released in 2004, was a new one to me. I picked up the VHS tape in a junk store for $1 recently, we watched it on Friday evening. It's different overall, but still with a few similarities to other movies of its genre, and with a weird echo of a well-known Greek tragedy embedded.

Code 46 is a British written and directed movie, but doesn't come over as British in any way.

Michael Winterbottom directed, Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote the screenplay. They are both northern English guys, born in Blackburn and Liverpool respectively. (She chuckles)... the Beatles, from Liverpool, wrote about Blackburn, Lancashire once, remember:
I read the news today, oh boy
Four thousand holes in Blackburn, Lancashire
And though the holes were rather small
They had to count them all
Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall

But I digress.

I enjoyed Code 46 but was left with numerous questions. I wish it had been a novel adaptation, so I could go read the detail I felt was missing in the film. As one reviewer wrote, "For at least half the movie, you need a code book a few inches thick to decipher Code 46." That's exactly how I felt, but a novel would suffice.

Code 46 is set, we are led to believe, in the "near future". The impression I got was that the setting had to be much further ahead than "near" - at least 50 years or so ahead, maybe more. Budget restrictions probably dictated that background scenarios couldn't be CGI'd to appear much different from today - so what we have is the perception of simply more of the same, more of everything in cityscapes, less of everything outside of those.

The film's theme uses current issues, current fears, extrapolating them into a futuristic scenario which still looks uncomfortably familiar, but sounds odd. Dialogue is a mix of English with liberal splatterings of Spanish, French, Arabic and other languages. It's as though characters had swallowed several tourist phrase books!

Writer and director use the Code 46 version of dystopia to highlight our well-known class struggles, cultural boundaries, personal identity crises and various "freedoms" or lack of them. It's clever and thought provoking - much more so than some other, high budget CGI-filled offerings.

In Code 46's dystopic world cities are heavily controlled, accessible only through checkpoints. Outside of the cities we see only miles of desert wasteland and ragged struggling refugees eeking out an existence in shanty towns - people without papelles. "Papelles", a futuristic version of the passport/visa are essential for travel. Counterfeiting of these valuable items has been discovered and is the focus of an investigator's trip to Shanghai from the USA.

William, the investigator (Tim Robbins), has the advantage of using an "empathy virus" to enhance psychic insight and emotional sensitivities - and perhaps also, in the process, breaking down his learned societal inhibitions. He investigates a corporation, "Sphinx", where papelles are produced. He is able to identify the counterfeiter, Maria (Samantha Morton) quickly, then proceeds to have a love affair with her. He provides cover for Maria's crimes on his return to Seattle. Later, ordered to return to Shanghai, he discovers Maria has disappeared. He uses his authority to locate her in a medical facility, only to find that her memory of him, and their affair, has been "wiped".

Greek tragedy element coming up!

Maria had been pregnant, following the pair's brief affair. She had undergone a forced abortion and memory removal because, unknown to both of them, they are genetically related. Maria is a genetic clone of the investigator's mother, one of a set of 24 (I read this later in a synopsis). But why, I asked myself, would this future civilisation be cloning humans when the habitable areas of the planet seemed already overburdened with the natural variety? Anyway, Code 46 is the rule, or law, which states that genetically related humans must not be allowed to reproduce together, or even conduct relationships. That has been informal rule in our world for centuries. We, though, have always (or almost always) known exactly who are our close genetic relatives, thus avoiding problems arising from in-breeding. Cloning, especially if carried out in secret, could open a veritable Pandora's Box on this front.

The love story between William and Maria is the film's main theme. William is married, by the way, back in Seattle, with a young son. There was never going to be a happy ending for all. For more detail of the film's plot see Wikipedia's page linked at the top of the post.

Whether wholesale cloning, viruses designed to infect humans with such things as empathy or (another one mentioned in the film) rapid learning of a language, will be part of humanity's future remains to be seen by our youngest generation, or their kids and grandchildren. Life on a planet whose habitable surface has shrunk to a fraction of that we know, through climate change or war damage, or bio-hazards, yet still with technological know-how, lends itself to many scenarios, some of which have been explored already in novel and film. It's a never-ending source of fascination to me.

In closing, I feel like harking back to the Beatles. They were already mentioned, earlier, as the film screen-writer's fellow Liverpudlian Merseysiders. With no need for an empathy virus in 2014, most (not all) of us understand the deep-rooted truth which can soothe some weird and increasing feelings of dis-ease. The Beatles sang it for us, years ago:
"All you need is love".

RIP ~ Richard Attenborough. He died Sunday, aged 90. Below, in his part from one of my favouite movies The Great Escape. I think all the Great Escapers are gone now - the greatest escape of all, one could say; some went long ago, some more recently.