Saturday, March 30, 2013


Belief is the psychological state in which an individual holds a proposition or premise to be true.

Long and scholarly dissertations on the topic of belief can, and have been written by those far better equipped than I am to do so. The subject has come up in a couple of movies I've watched recently though. A blog post on that level might just be within my scope. Before I get to the two films, I coincidentally came across an article at Salon the other day about five religious leaders who have lost their belief and have become outspoken atheists. That article led me to recall reading of an astrologer who, when interviewed for Garry Phillipson's book Astrology in the Year Zero (2000) described his feelings when retreating from his professional capacity, due to loss of belief. (See HERE) It does appear, however, that much later on the astrologer in question, David Hamblin, did decide to give astrology another spin - see his website HERE. Another lapsed astrologer was mentioned in a post of mine in February 2011: Rudolf Smit.

It would seem that any belief, however strongly held, is capable of being reversed. Conversely any disbelief, however strong, is capable of being transformed into belief. That is at the the crux of the two movies I've mentioned: K-PAX (2001) and The Man from Earth (2007). K-PAX was adapted from a novel by Gene Brewer; The Man from Earth has a screenplay co-written by science fiction novelist Jerome Bixby (his last piece of writing before he died, in fact.)

In K-PAX a psychiatric patient, after claiming he is an extraterrestrial from the planet 'K-PAX', 1,000 light years away in the Lyra constellation. His name is prot (uncapitalized and rhyming with "goat"). He is committed to the Psychiatric Institute of Manhattan. There, psychiatrist Dr. Mark Powell attempts to cure him of his apparent delusions. However, prot shows himself able to provide cogent answers to questions about himself, K-PAX his home planet and its civilization. Dr. Powell introduces him to a group of astrophysicists, to whom prot displays a level of knowledge that leaves them aghast. Prot also exhibits easy influence over the other patients at the Institute. They each come to believe that he is indeed from K-PAX. Prot, who claims to have journeyed to Earth by means of "light-travel", explains that he can take one person with him when he instantaneously returns on a pre-selected date.

That brief synopsis based on Wiki's page is all I'll add, so as not to spoil the movie should anyone who reads this wish to see it. The film leaves one still wondering, should the characters have believed; would I, could I, have believed his amazing story?

The same question came up after watching The Man from Earth. This is a wordier, more deeply thought-provoking film than K-PAX, but in much the same "ballpark". Here a group of university academics gather in a country cabin to say farewell to a colleague (John Oldman) who has unexpectedly decided to up-sticks and move on. The cabin is the only setting we see, scenes moving only from a single room and fireside to just outside the door once or twice. The film was very quickly and cheaply made, but is certainly none the worse for that. It could quite easily be performed on stage, and has been.

Again, so as not to spoil things for others, only a brief synopsis: some lines from Wiki:
As John's colleagues continue to pressure him for the reason for his departure, John slowly, and somewhat reluctantly, reveals that he is a prehistoric "caveman" who has lived for more than 14 millennia and that he relocates every 10 years to keep others from realizing that he does not age. He begins his story under the guise of a possible science-fiction story, but he eventually stops speaking in hypotheticals and begins answering questions from a first-person perspective. His colleagues refuse to believe his story. John continues his tale, stating that he was once a Sumerian for 2000 years, then a Babylonian under Hammurabi, then a disciple of Gautama Buddha. He claims to have known Christopher Columbus, Van Gogh (he owns a painting which was a gift from the artist), and other famous historical figures. John's colleagues question his story according to their specialties: Harry, the biologist, discusses the possibility of a human living for so long. Art, the archaeologist, questions John about events in prehistory; he exclaims that John's answers, though correct, could have come from any textbook, to which John points out the nature of knowledge, as he can only put his memories together with modern science after he learnt the new ideas with the rest of humanity. When the discussion turns to the topic of religion, John mentions that he is not a follower of a particular religion; though he does not necessarily believe in an omnipotent God, he does not discount the possibility of such a being's existence................................
No more!

So, was K-PAX's prot really a delusional psychiatric patient with a savant-like level of knowledge, or.........? What about John Oldman? He, being a university professor had plenty of brain power, sufficient to answer all queries about a 14,000 year life span, and deflect any confrontational argument. He had a certain charisma too, gentle yet persuasive, never bombastic. What could his motive have been to so deceive his friends? Was he simply, what in today's parlance might be termed, "an attention whore"? He didn't come across that way - but do they ever?

I particularly enjoyed the part of the conversation relating to religion, but can say no more about that without revealing too much.

Though I could find myself wishing otherwise, it has to be kept in mind that this was all pure fiction. Both authors had nifty, if frustrating, endings up their sleeves too.

I'll say thank you, here, to commenter "DC" for recommending The Man from Earth to me in a comment a short time ago. I enjoyed the movie a lot, shall probably watch it again.

Friday, March 29, 2013


Three views of Good Friday, from William Wyler via Lew Wallace; from English author G.K. Chesterton, sometimes called "the prince of paradox"; and from English painter L.S.Lowry.

Lew Wallace's novel Ben Hur, A Tale of the Christ (1880) was to become William Wyler's movie Ben Hur almost 80 years later, in 1959. The movie adaptation strayed from the novel in a few places, it was less "A Tale of the Christ" than "A Tale of the Adventures of Judah Ben Hur" - and, really, none the worse for that. In the movie the scene where Judah Ben Hur first encounters Jesus occurs when Ben Hur was being taken, with a band of other slaves, across the desert. He was desperately in need of water, cruel Roman guards cynically refused it to him. In a village the slaves pass by an onlooker, Jesus, who sees Ben Hur's distress and offers him some water. This scene links to another, later in the movie, when BenHur encounters Jesus and the two thieves hauling their crosses to the place where they are to be crucified. Jesus stumbles and falls, a bystander helps him and BenHur offers him a cup of water....reflecting a reversal of the earlier scene. The crucifixion scene follows later.

In G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man (1925) the author had this to say about the events of the original Good Friday:

All the great groups that stood about the Cross represent in one way or another the great historical truth of the time; that the world could not save itself. Man could do no more. Rome and Jerusalem and Athens and everything else were going down like a sea turned into a slow cataract. Externally indeed the ancient world was still at its strongest; it is always at that moment that the inmost weakness begins. But in order to understand that weakness we must repeat what has been said more than once; that it was not the weakness of a thing originally weak. It was emphatically the strength of the world that was turned to weakness and the wisdom of the world that was turned to folly.

In this story of Good Friday it is the best things in the world that are at their worst. That is what really shows us the world at its worst. It was, for instance, the priests of a true monotheism and the soldiers of an international civilisation. Rome, the legend, founded upon fallen Troy and triumphant over fallen Carthage, had stood for a heroism which was the nearest that any pagan ever came to chivalry. Rome had defended the household gods and the human decencies against the ogres of Africa and the hermaphrodite monstrosities of Greece. But in the lightning flash of this incident, we see great Rome, the imperial republic, going downward under her Lucretian doom. Scepticism has eaten away even the confident sanity of the conquerors of the world. He who is enthroned to say what is justice can only ask:

‘What is truth?’ So in that drama which decided the whole fate of antiquity, one of the central figures is fixed in what seems the reverse of his true role. Rome was almost another name for responsibility. Yet he stands for ever as a sort of rocking statue of the irresponsible. Man could do no more. Even the practical had become the impracticable. Standing between the pillars of his own judgement-seat, a Roman had washed his hands of the world.

Lastly a northern English painter, L.S. Lowry, in 1946 painted a very different Good Friday scene: Good Friday, Daisy Nook. On 8th June 2007 it was sold for £3,772,000, the highest price paid for one of Lowry's paintings at auction.

Daisy Nook, near Oldham, in Lancashire, has hosted an annual Easter Fair since the 19th century - and possibly even earlier. Traditionally, Lancashire cotton mill workers of the region were confined to just two statutory days of holiday every year, Good Friday and Christmas Day. The fair attracted huge numbers of people. The painting depicts this annual fair in 1946, the year after the end of the hostilities of the Second World War. A local newspaper had reported at the time that there were "Record crowds at Daisy Nook", as people celebrated a return to the fair, which had not taken place for the duration of the war, and a return to normal life. The painting reflects post-war cheer and relief.
(See HERE)

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Thursday, March 28, 2013

"I read the news today - oh boy!"

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

And now we'll soon know how many dollars it takes to acquire a signed album containing the song from which that quote comes.

A "pristine" copy of The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, released in 1967, autographed by John, Paul, George and Ringo on the gatefold above their photographs is to be auctioned this Saturday, 30 March. Dallas (Texas) based Heritage Auctions have said that advance bidding for the album passed $110,000 some days ago, and could surpass $150,000 by the time bidding is closed.
(AP Photo/Heritage Auctions)

Am I the only one who sees this amount of money for such an item as kind of obscene? What would John Lennon think? I'd guess he'd be disgusted unless, of course, the money were going to some charitable cause.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Gay Marriage

The topic of gay marriage is in the news yet again with the Supreme Court's deliberations on the issue proceeding this week. Personally, I cannot see what people can find to complain about if two gay people wish to marry. It affects nobody but the two parties involved. Laws against smoking in public places, sale and use of alcohol and drugs, especially when driving, or texting when driving are different - those activities affect others detrimentally - sometimes fatally. Gay marriage doesn't affect others. So......?

I also agree though, from a slightly different perspective, with what Norman Pollack wrote yesterday at Counterpunch in a piece headed Gay Marriage: A Contrarian's View :

..........But let’s put the issue of gay marriage into context, i.e., prioritizing national goals. At this time, the issue is a diversion and trivialization, in the face of large-scale poverty, the vast gulf in wealth-and-power differentials, militarism run amuck, the nation in steep decline with respect to its social safety net, etc. Frankly, compared with the civil rights struggle, which NYT raises as analogous, and in which in the 1950s-60s I was active, I find proponents and affected parties of gay marriage self-indulgent and flaunting their preferences as though that form of discrimination raises to the plane of deprivation experienced by others in America’s long history of oppression and repression.........
There are far more urgent issues facing the country, and the planet - those mentioned above, and the old elephant in the room: climate change - but not many out there seem at all interested in seriously addressing them.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Talk of the Devil.......

In some recent "news" History Channel's current series "The Bible" has been criticised for their depiction of Satan. Apparently the actor involved has a passing resemblance to President Obama. Alright.....I'll stop myself from expanding upon that thought just now, and instead will wander along the secondary pathway it opened up: where did commonly held ideas of the physical appearance of Satan / the Devil originate?

An immediate thought shot me back to a novel I read last year: Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End. Oddly the part of the book which has most clearly remained in memory was the explanation of why humans have kept the commonly accepted picture of "the devil" or demons embedded in communal memory - the winged horned cleft-footed nasty - you know the one. Towards the closing chapters of Childhood's End it is explained by Rashaverak (one of the alien Overlords) to Jan, a character who has spend many years away from Earth and arrives back to find it much changed, and not much longer for the universe. The average Overlord, by the way, is much taller and more strongly built than a human, with large wings, horns on its head, and a barbed tail. Their appearance had, for many centuries, remained hidden from humans. Rashaverak revealed why the Overlords look so much like the Devil to the human eye. The reason is not, as many humans had guessed, that the Overlords had visited Earth in the past. Instead, it was a kind of collective precognition: the human race had a vague premonition, a foreshadowing, of its ultimate demise, and a creature looking like the Devil would be involved. That creature, it turned out, was Karellen, the Overlord.

The real explanation (or is it?) is that the horns and tail are derived from pagan lore which had, in turn, come about via Greek and Roman mythology: the Satyr, the god Pan provided horns, hooves and tail; the pitchfork he's often depicted carrying likely came from the two-pronged sceptre of Pluto, the King of Hell. Pagan gods were routinely demonised by the early Christian church in an effort to entice new converts, as well as restraining those already within "the flock" from falling back into the old ways.

Hat tip to Book Drum for the illustration.

Reverting to that mentioned in the first paragraph: this isn't the first time, actually it's probably one of many times, a President/Prime Minister has been linked to thoughts of Satan. In a rather different thought pattern Frankie Boyle, a Scottish comedian, once said of Britain's then Prime Minister: "For 3 million pounds you could give everyone in Scotland a shovel, and we could dig a hole so deep we could hand her over to Satan in person".

The Devil pulls the strings which make us dance;
We find delight in the most loathsome things;
Some furtherance of Hell each new day brings,
And yet we feel no horror in that rank advance.

~ Charles Baudelaire.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Spontaneously Speaking - on the Long View......

We enjoyed our long weekend in Texas; stayed in Longview in the East of the Lone Star state, a city of some 80,000+ souls, lots of traffic, lots (and I do mean lots) of churches, and lots of eating out. Restaurants in Longview were always jam-packed whatever the time of day. We asked the receptionist at our motel why this is. He said that it surprised him when he moved to Longview, it seems that everybody eats out all the time, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Very odd! We picked around any antique stores there then drove out to Gladewater, 15 minutes away, known as "The Antique Capital of East Texas". Maybe so - but as the previous town was "The Pancake Capital of East Texas", one does wonder if there isn't a wee bit of hyperbole goin' on.

We were lucky enough to get a table one evening at The Genghis Grill Mongolian Stir Fry restaurant close to our motel. That was a first for us - the style of meal, I mean. Customers are given a stainless steel bowl in a little stand with a small bowl attached for sauce, then pointed in the direction of the raw buffet where all manner of raw meats, fish, and vegetables are displayed, along with a goodly array of spices and sauces. This being new to us we floundered around a bit deciding what to fill our bowls with. When filled the bowl is taken to a counter where several chefs are hard at work on a huge hotplate with special tools stir frying the customers' food before adding the choice of starches (3 kinds of rice, noodles or something I can't recall) customers can choose two from the list. It was a good meal - we'd have done a return visit but the place was packed next evening when we looked in, with a queue waiting.

This is how the concept is described in the "blurb"

It's actually not a cuisine, but an INTERACTIVE style of exhibition cooking modeled after a centuries-old legend.According to this legend, 12th century Mongol warriors, led by the mighty warrior,GENGHIS KHAN heated their shields over open fires to grill food in the fields of battle!

It was a good weekend, and Birthday Boy was happy with my planning.

My husband sometimes laughs at my predilection for planning. He believes in spontaneity. Well, Sun in Aries - he would, wouldn't he? I reckon it's a moot point in life as to whether spontaneity is preferable to planning. Does a spontaneous risk taker have a better time than a planner? Spontaneity sounds good, sounds cool and exciting: The
Why don't we do it in the road?
No one will be watching us
Why don't we do it in the road?

kind of approach.

That'd be a wee bit too spontaneous for most, but over-planning, over-thinking and strictly structured living is definitely not a good thing.

Being spontaneous eliminates planning, unless one is planning to be spontaneous that is, for as Oscar Wilde said "Spontaneity is a meticulously prepared art".

Some people really do enjoy planning. I do. It's not always a matter of wanting to feel in control, it's simply a way of expanding the pleasure of... whatever, by adding anticipation to the mix. Speaking of mixes, the very best recipe is to have a mixture of planned and unplanned stuff in one's agenda, unless an agenda is to be outlawed as too control-freakish?

I find it exciting to plan, then to do something different, either from the start or during - at mid-plan stage. That way you get to enjoy both worlds! I never mind if a plan of mine goes wrong, because then the adventure begins.

In relationships of any kind control freak and spontaneous random risk-taker can be a viable combination - workable provided there is love and/or respect in the mix. One party will fill in blind spots for the other. The risk-taker will look askance at the planner from time to time, and the planner will have to get used to frequently rolling their eyes to heaven - but that's all in the game!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Long Weekend

It's my husband's birthday on Friday, hot on the heels of Spring Equinox. We shall celebrate with a long weekend away, a change of scene. Nothing exotic mind you, unless Texas counts as exotic!

Apt words of Bill Bryson - one of my favourite authors:

I mused for a few moments on the question of which was worse, to lead a life so boring that you are easily enchanted, or a life so full of stimulus that you are easily bored.
~ Lost Continent: Travels In Small-Town America

I am quite easily enchanted, as it happens, and I'm with Bill Bryson when he says:

I love everything about motels. I can't help myself. I still get excited every time I slip a key into a motel room door and fling it open.
~ I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After 20 Years Away.

Back next week.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Movies and Messages ~ Million $ Baby, Crash, In the Valley of Elah

It was by chance rather than good management that we've watched three movies in the past couple of weeks in which Canadian director, producer and screenwriter, Paul Haggis had involvement. Two of the films were shown on HBO the other I'd picked up on DVD, in a junk store:
Million Dollar Baby,
In the Valley of Elah.

Haggis was screenwriter and producer of two of the films which were also consecutive Best Picture award winners in 2004/5, Million Dollar Baby, and Crash, which he also directed. In the Valley of Elah (2007) had Paul Haggis as screenwriter (adaptation), director and producer.

I've nothing much to say about Million Dollar Baby, other than it was a well-acted, and an oddly engaging tale of a female who had the strange obsession to become a prize-winning boxer. I felt let down by the ending, but I guess it stands as a dire warning to those who might be nurturing similar obessions.

The other two movies had a lot more general relevance to life in the 21st century.

Crash, set in Los Angeles, puts the focus squarely on racism in the USA. The embedded message applies equally elsewhere, of course. Crash uses what I think of as "the tangled net" method of story-telling. A number of totally unconnected characters are introduced, and by the end of the movie we find they are linked in some way to at least one of the other characters, often to several. The Crash characters all have different ethnic backgrounds: African American, Middle-Eastern, Asian-American, Mexican, Caucasian, Latin-American (hope I didn't forget any). There is heavy stereotyping, and that is a drawback, but in this film it was necessary to get a point across in limited time. Each incident and reaction is drawn in extreme terms - cartoonish in fact. After I'd watched the film my first reaction was that it wasn't at all true to life, it was more like distilled version, keeping only the strongest flavours intact. It reminded me a bit of the way people sometimes train a puppy not to soil the living room carpet by rubbing its nose in the mess. Our noses were rubbed in the mess we sometimes make of relationships with others of different background from ourselves.

So as not to end on a completely negative note, Paul Haggis made sure that he did show that most characters though their bad traits were horrendous, had a decent, or even heroic, side too. Whether this was a cop out to stop audiences hating the movie I cannot say. I saw only one truly decent guy in the film - a Mexican locksmith.

I was glad to have seen the movie, but it left me part-irritated by the hyperbole, part glad that someone was at least attempting to point out how destructive racism can be.

In the Valley of Elah had a message too: war de-sensitises, war de-humanises.

The Last scene of In the Valley of Elah sees Tommy Lee Jones asking a guy to fly a worn and tattered Stars and Stripes in upside down position. His dead soldier son had sent him the flag. I had to look up the meaning of flying the US flag upside down; it means: "we are in distress".

We watched the movie on HBO, but had missed the first 15 minutes. I'd avoided this film when shown in the past, even though Tommy Lee Jones stars and is one of my favourite actors. I'd assumed it to be a war movie set in Iraq. We decided to give it a spin for half an hour or so to see whether it was as bad as I'd feared. It wasn't - and I'm very glad to have seen it at last. It's a story, based on real events, of a soldier's father seeking answers about his son's death, not in Iraq, but after his return to a military base in New Mexico.

Rather than recite the storyline here, Peter Bradshaw's 2008 review in The Guardian was a good one. My own takeaway from the movie was an underlining of something of which I was already aware: military action and war can brutalise and de-humanise even the best intentioned of humans. How many young soldiers come home alive but destroyed inside? How many commit suicide? How many come back with changed personalities - and not for the better?

Tommy Lee Jones' understated acting style, in the father's role was exactly right for an ex-Military Police officer with service in Vietnam, who has now lost the lives of his two sons to the army - one way or another. While watching the film I recalled another, from the past, in which Tommy Lee Jones played a character, a marine blighted by the war in Vietnam who, in the end, committed suicide: Heaven and Earth.

Crash and In the Valley of Elah are Two movies with messages that are important, very hard to miss and equally hard to disagree with. Paul Haggis did a good job!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ashley Judd for The Senate?

Ashley Judd is considering running as Democratic candidate in Kentucky for a US Senate seat. This was a little surprising to me until I looked at her natal chart. (data from Astrodatabank). Her quadruple Aries (fearless pioneer), including Sun in that sign, and Moon in Aquarius (the socially aware, politically focused), with spotlight-loving Leo rising makes it almost a given that at some point Ms Judd would put herself into an even brighter glare of the spotlight than her successful acting career has afforded.

It does seem a huge first step though - from Hollywood to the Senate. There might need to be an intermediate step for Ms Judd - a mayoral appointment or governorship perhaps. Democratic party leaders, from what I've read, are unlikely to have enough confidence that she could beat Republican Senator Mitch McConnell. Given the low point of the Republican Party's reputation just now, I guess Democratic party leaders feel that the seat might be vulnerable - with the right Democratic candidate. Apart from being a huge first step into politics for Ms Judd, it's a step into politics in a strongly, one might even say rabidly, conservative state. Ashley Judd grew up in Kentucky though, she lives in Tennessee, works in California. Kentucky's political atmosphere isn't alien to her, she has to be well aware of what she'd be up against. Her family background and name recognition could be of some help. Her mother Naomi, and sister Wynonna are well-known country vocalists, country music goes down very well in Kentucky!

Ashley Judd is well-enough qualified academically for the job of Senator, it's experience she lacks. She has a Mid-career Masters in Public Administration degree from Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government, and a bachelor's degree in French from the University of Kentucky, with minors in cultural anthropology, art history, theater and women's studies. She has been an outspoken supporter of women's rights on many occasions.

Does astrology offer any indication of significant change for Ashley Judd in the near future? Well, yes it does. Uranus, planet of change, often unexpected change is currently transiting Aries, and is at around 7 degrees just now, heading towards her cluster of personal planets. Mars (energy, dynamism and ruler of Aries) is also transiting the sign, currently a few degrees behind Uranus. Astrology cannot tell us exactly what these transits will signify for Ashley Judd. Even if Democratic leaders do lack confidence in her at this point, and decline to give her the nomination, she has given them clear indication of her interest, and no doubt her future intention, to become involved in politics - if not in Kentucky, then elsewhere. She's a star already in one arena, I suspect that over the next few years we'll be watching her star rise in another.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

New Pope and Two Pieces

I don't have anything nice to say about the new Pope.

The husband occasionally remarks to me "You're a piece of work, do you know that?" I'll respnd with "What does that mean?" All I get next is a wry grin. So I looked it up. Hmmm. Knowing him....knowing me....he's teasing - mainly - but it seems there's no cut and dried definition of the idiom. Some think it's another way of saying "You're an asshole", others think it just refers to a person who's being a little obtuse, obscure, obnoxious or difficult - I'll put my hand up to the first two ob...s, not the last two - as if!

"A piece of work", I was later able to enlighten Himself, comes originally from Will Shakespeare's Hamlet - Act 2:

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me—
nor woman neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so.

My lord, there was no such stuff in my thoughts.

The Bard was putting a touch of irony into Hamlet's words I believe.

How about that second "piece" : a piece of cake? It's less ambiguous, easily interpreted. It refers to something that has proved, or is expected to prove, to be an easy task.

Origin of the phrase is less clear. Most sources quote a line from one of Ogden Nash's poems in a book, The Primrose Path, published in 1936. I haven't yet identified the exact poem, but the line goes: "Her picture's in the papers now, And life's a piece of cake." Did Nash invent the phrase himself, or was it culled from elsewhere? He was certainly no slouch when it came to inventing words! The phrase was rapidly picked up, or so it seemed, by British airmen in World War II. In 1943, author of Spitfires over Malta wrote: "The mass raids promised to be a 'piece of cake' and we expected to take a heavy toll." The phrase, possibly from that source, gained popular usage in Britain even faster than in the USA, but did the author of that book read Ogden Nash ?

Other possibilities for the origin of "a piece of cake", beyond Ogden Nash's use of it are: from ancient Greece, when a "cake" was a toasted cereal bound together with honey. It was given to the most vigilant man on night watch. Aristotle is quoted as having written in "The Knights": "if you surpass him in impudence, then we take the cake".

The idea of cake being "easy" seems to originate in the late 19th century. Cakes were given out as prizes for winning competitions. There was a tradition in the US South, the slavery states, where slaves would circle around a cake performing a kind of strutting dance step. The most outstanding pair would win the cake the in middle. The term "cake walk" came from this, also meaning that something was easy to in "it'll be a cake walk".

There is an equivalent French phrase for "piece of cake": c'est du gâteau; in Latin America also: "como un queque" meaning very easy - queque = cake. The first recorded use of "c'est du gâteau" was around 1952, according to Le Robert's Dictionnaire des expressions et locutions, so doesn't pre-date Ogden Nash's use of the phrase.

Although Ogden Nash's "piece of cake" is the first printed use of the phrase, it could well have been in oral use before that; or, Ogden Nash being Ogden Nash, a real piece of work one might say - he could have combined the traditions of Greece with traditions of the Southern States of his own land, and come up with the now common idiom. Piece of cake!

See also

Friday, March 15, 2013

Arty Farty Friday 15 March

15 March 44 BC : Julius Caesar was murdered on the Ides of March.
Typogravure of a 19th century painting by Karl von Piloty:

Julius Caesar, the "dictator for life" of the Roman Empire, murdered by his own senators at a meeting in a hall next to Pompey's Theatre. The conspiracy against Caesar encompassed as many as sixty noblemen, including Caesar's own protege, Marcus Brutus. Caesar was scheduled to leave Rome to fight in a war on March 18 and had appointed loyal members of his army to rule the Empire in his absence. The Republican senators, already chafing at having to abide by Caesar's decrees, were particularly angry about the prospect of taking orders from Caesar's underlings. Cassius Longinus started the plot against the dictator, quickly getting his brother-in-law Marcus Brutus to join.

Caesar should have been well aware that many of the senators hated him, but he dismissed his security force not long before his assassination. Reportedly, Caesar was handed a warning note as he entered the senate meeting that day but did not read it. After he entered the hall, Caesar was surrounded by senators holding daggers. Servilius Casca struck the first blow, hitting Caesar in the neck and drawing blood. The other senators all joined in, stabbing him repeatedly about the head. Marcus Brutus wounded Caesar in the groin and Caesar is said to have remarked in Greek, "You, too, my child?
From This Day in History.

Nearer to our own time:

Janet Leach was born 15 March 1918 in Grand Saline, Texas, USA died 12 September 1997. She was a studio potter working in later life at St Ives, Cornwall in England. In 1956 she married Bernard Leach, a famous British studio potter. Janet was a potter in her own right before meeting Bernard and her independent spirit ensured that her work was quite different from much of her husband's in style. She never felt the need to pay reverence to her husband's work, was sometimes even critical of it. In return her own work was not always valued within the St Ives Studio, much of it remained hidden. David, Bernard Leach's son from one of his previous marriages, stated before his father's death: "Janet must be the one person who has worked closely with him for a number of years without being visibly influenced. She is so strong in herself that she has maintained more independence than anyone else who has been as close to that dangerous fire, my father!"

See more about Janet Leach HERE and HERE

Aldo Giorgini, artist and scientist, pioneer in computer graphics, was born in Voghera, Italy on 15 March 1934. He was one of the first computer artists to combine software writing with early printing technologies, leaving an aesthetic legacy in the field of the digital arts. He died in 1994.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg United States Supreme Court Justice was born on
15 March 1933, in Brooklyn, New York. Simmie Knox, under commission of the United States Supreme Court painted this portrait of her. She is the second female justice (after Sandra Day O'Connor) and the first Jewish female justice. She is generally viewed as belonging to the liberal wing of the Court. Before becoming a judge, Ginsburg spent a considerable portion of her legal career as an advocate for the advancement of women's rights as a constitutional principle. (Wikipedia)

Finally - another link to the date, and - stretching things a bit to achieve arty-fartyness - a famous ceiling painting by Caravaggio (the only ceiling painting by him).

The date:

Every 248 years Pluto moves inside Neptune's orbit for about 20 years. The period January 23, 1979 to March 15, 1999 was the last time Pluto's very eccentric orbit carried it inside the orbit of Neptune. During that time, Neptune became the outermost planet in the solar system.

For 35 interesting facts about Pluto, see Random Facts, HERE

The painting:

The fresco, features Jupiter, Pluto and Neptune as allegorical representations of alchemy. The artist used his own body and facial features as model for the figures. Jupiter stands for sulphur and air, Neptune for mercury and water, and Pluto for salt and earth. The fresco was commissioned by Cardinal Francesco Maria Del Monte for the ceiling of a small second-floor alchemy lab of his hunting lodge in 1597.

On his eagle, Jupiter swoops down towards Neptune and Pluto, who are standing at the opposite edge of the ceiling, as if he were making the sky light up with a crystal ball. Any interpretation of the gathering of the gods, seen, unusually, from below, must shift between mythology (the gods, identified by the animal associated with each: an eagle for Jupiter, a sea stallion for Neptune and the three-headed dog Cerberus for Pluto); astrology (zodiac signs can be seen on the globe), and alchemy.
Hat tip to Guia Bargigli at THIS BLOG for clear representations, information and interpretation of the painting.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

"The handing over of all power"

I can only imagine how the people of the USA must have felt in the aftermath of 9/11. With hindsight it's easy to see that measures taken by the then president and administration were draconian and have led to, so far, 12 years of conflict known as "the war on terror" - not a war in the traditional sense, since Congress did not declare war on either Afghanistan or Iraq. The atmosphere in the USA after 9/11 must have been akin to a rolling boil, so I can kind of understand how the people, led by their representatives, mostly agreed to the invasion of Afghanistan. There was more protest to the invasion of Iraq if I recall correctly. However, legislation dating from those dramatic years, the AUMF (The Authorization for Use of Military Force) and The Patriot Act are pillars upon which President Obama relies to authorise drone assassinations from the skies of several nations, often resulting in the murder of innocents and children.

The threat of terrorism hasn't disappeared, it will never disappear. Terrorism, of one kind or another, has been part of human experience since the dawn of history. Countries need to be prepared to deal with terrorist threats, that's accepted, but the way the USA is acting currently is more akin to stirring up a hornets' nest. Al Quaeda isn't Nazi Germany, its strength is puny compared with that of the USA - or even the UK. The whole scenario reminds me of an elephant twitchy and paranoid trying to stamp on an ant.

The use of drones, now they have been developed, will be part of life from now on, drones in ever more sophisticated forms too. The argument that the damage, collateral and to US military personnel, is less than that which would be brought about by conventional bombing methods, might hold true. I could not argue against that in times of declared war. In current circumstances, though, the US would be unlikely to be using other styles of bombing where drones are being used as attack weapons in countries such as Yemen, Pakistan and others.

Drones will, in any case, continue to be of benefit in reconnaissance and surveillance during times of conflict and disturbance. Their use beyond that, except in times of declared war, declared by Congress against a nation state, ought to be a matter for new legislation written to address present day situations, not those present in the period immediately following September 2001 - legislation containing strict limitations on, and mandated accountability for, the use of drones, military or civilian.

There's another aspect to drone use which will surely become apparent over time: further de-sensitisation and de-humanisation of the operators. War will become little more than a video game, that is until drones from some source carry and drop powerful nuclear bombs, then it'll be "game over" for humanity.
From George Orwell's "1984":

"The social atmosphere is that of a besieged city. And at the same time the consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival."

"...the average citizen of Oceania never sets eyes on a citizen of either Eurasia or Eastasia, and he is forbidden the knowledge of foreign languages. If he were allowed contact with foreigners he would discover that they are creatures similar to himself and that most of what he has been told about them is lies."

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Pluto's Peregrinations Tropical and Sidereal

Reaching a clear conclusion about whether the sidereal or tropical zodiac gives more accurate results isn't easy. Using natal charts as a yardstick doesn't often provide sufficient difference, when the whole chart is considered. Using mundane astrology (how the world at large is affected) might prove more fruitful. Pluto, a far distant body interpreted by astrologers as representing transformation, often following a type of cleansing or upheaval, completes its cycle of areas of the 12 zodiac signs around the ecliptic in around 248 years. Pluto's transits provide a good focus point from which to get a bird's eye view of "atmospheres" on planet Earth as Pluto traversed each zodiac sign - using both tropical and sidereal calculations. Will transformations noted, transit by transit, more closely resemble the qualities of the tropical zodiac sign involved, or the sidereal ?

Hat-tip to Planet Waves for the diagram below:

Many astrologers have written about the tropical "eras" of Pluto. There's a concise assessment by Adrian Ross Duncan HERE, for quick reference. I'll contrast those findings using sidereal calculation. It has to be borne in mind that the two other outer planets, Uranus and Neptune, also have their own "eras" and their own areas of relevance; their cycles vary from Pluto's, clear-cut indications of combined eras are questionable. I guess it'd be a matter of layering, and deciding which layer is the strongest influence at any given point of time.

Using extracts (in italics below) from Adrian Ross Duncan's linked article as a guide, I've added my notes on sidereal contrast in blue. Dates used may not be not exact to the month, I don't have a sidereal ephemeris for reference, and my mathematical ability is negligible!

"The Pluto in Cancer period, from 1913 (just prior to World War 1) to 1939 (as World War 2 started) brought the upheaval of hierarchies and families, as a great levelling factor transformed society. Men in Europe were slaughtered in their millions in the initial phase of this transit, elevating the role of women and preparing the ground for the beginning of political equality. Similarly the privileged classes lost much of their influence – no more so of course than in Russia , where they were eradicated."

Pluto in sidereal Gemini covered the years between (approx.) 1908 to 1934, most of the same middle ground as above, with adjustment at start and finish. Without contradicting any of Mr. Duncan's tropical assessment, we could say that during the period of Pluto in sidereal Gemini, communication blossomed and was transformed in every way, from economical mass reproduction of magazines, illustration, and books, to the rise and mass production of the automobile, a very important development, enabling wider travel and, consequently, transforming communication and life in general.

This is rather like looking into a multiple-sided mirror in a clothing store's changing room: look straight ahead and you see one view, turn to a mirror at the side or behind, and see a different version, equally valid.

On we go:

"Pluto in Leo from 1939 to 1957/8 brought the rise of the superpower, based on the destructive power of the bomb. Schoolchildren practiced hiding under their desks, as the spectre of intercontinental ballistic missiles brought the possibility of destruction to each individual on earth. On the other hand this was the time when colonial powers lost their power, as individual countries asserted their right to be independent. The Pluto in Leo generation is obsessed with youth and self-indulgence. This first generation to grow up under the shadow of the bomb was the first to confront the fact that humanity really could be destroyed, that Armageddon could be a reality, and therefore they seized life with all their power."

Pluto in sidereal Cancer covered years 1934 to 1954/5, again the same middle-ground with adjustment at both ends. World War 2 is the most important, transforming, event included in both eras. I could argue that during this time Pluto radically transformed the home (represented by Cancer). Children were left without fathers for years, sometimes for ever. As Mr.Duncan mentioned, children "hid under desks". The whole population of my homeland, Britain, hid at some point during the war in bomb shelters. Hiding in fear under a tough protective layer brings Cancer the Crab clearly to mind! There was an abiding fear that life in the home would be forever transformed in a disastrous way, stripped of freedom and all warmth. Because of heroic action by military forces from Britain, Europe and the USA , mercifully this didn't happen. Towards the end of this period, home-life resumed for those lucky enough to have survived. For most, wherever they lived, a transformation of some kind had occurred.

"Pluto in Virgo from 1957 to 1971/2 brought the transformation of work, medicine, agriculture and the service industry. With the introduction of the first computerised robots, employees performing nightmarish tasks in heavy industry were released (into traumatic unemployment) and service industries began their rise. Farms became automated, pigs and chickens became production units, so we could have egg and bacon every day. The Pill enabled women to gain control over their biology – sex was on the rise, but, for the first time, birth rates started falling. Pluto has its own medical solution to the so-called population explosion."

I find that Pluto in sidereal Leo from around 1954/5 to the end of the 1960s much better describes the period than Pluto in tropical Virgo. It was as though the sun (Leo) had begun to shine once again after the dark years of fear, depression and war. The youth of Europe and America found a voice, and in the 1960s we heard it loud and clear. The hippie era seems now almost like a stage musical (very Leo), the fashions and fads, even the long manes of hair common at that time seem to me to fit Leo's image far better than Virgo's.

Thus far, I think an argument could be made for both tropical and sidereal viewpoints. One could cherry-pick items from any era to support almost any argument though, and there's the problem of mixed influences from Uranus and Neptune to consider. It's a matter of how we each see the overall flavour of a particular, well-defined era.

"For those to whom marriage was sacred, Pluto had a very special surprise when in transited Libra from 1971 to 1983/4. Aesthetics and femininity were transformed, as bras were burned, and equal rights insisted on. Roles were reversed as men renounced masculinity, and women demonstrated that they could manage very well without the opposite sex. Men loved men, and women loved women – leaving the Pluto in Libra children to ponder about love and relationships... and to create the single culture of today. This was the era of MAD – mutually assured destruction – the nuclear balance of power between the Soviet Union and USA . "

Sidereally Pluto was in Virgo for much of the same period as above, actual sidereal period was nearer to 1969 - 1980. The overall feel of that era certainly included the beginnings of equality for women and gays in Europe and the USA. Britain had its first woman Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. Virgo is represented traditionally by a female figure, so symbolically there is a correspondence here, in the slowly moving transformation relating to gender equality and perception. There was an energy crisis, too, requiring restrictions and rationing, and in Britain strikes cost millions of working days. In the USA Richard Nixon rose and fell ignominiously, perhaps causing a transformation in the way Americans were to view their leaders in future years - more critically, with less passivity. The aftermath of the Vietnam war left many injured, mentally and physically. These instances equate more to transformation in Virgo's realms of economy, critical reaction and health concerns than to Libran diplomacy, and emphasis on relationships, in my view. And the beginnings of environmental awareness arose in this era - in 1970 the first Earth Day was celebrated - in keeping with Virgo, an Earth sign.

"After so much sexual experimentation, Pluto in Scorpio from 1983 to 1995 brought the spectre of AIDS. Now even the most natural act in the world could result in death. Back in its home sign, Pluto focussed paranoia on sex itself, and this led to a drastic change in sexual habits, not least in a new openness amongst governments regarding sexual health. Condoms were everywhere. Economically this was the time of the yuppie, of junk bonds and how to get rich by screwing others – happy times for Reaganites and Thatcherites. Banks crashed, then merged to create huge financial entities."

Roughly the same era (give or take a few years at each end) is covered by sidereal Libra.
Fall of the Berlin Wall, Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in China, a gradual transition into the computer age, the Reagan era in the USA. These could all connect to Libra rather than Scorpio, in my view. Libra, an Air sign, symbolised by the scales, representing balance, a striving for justice, love of peace. Libra is an Air sign, with mental focus, aiding transition into an increasingly computerised era. Pluto in Libra could be seen to relate to all of these.

"Pluto in Sagittarius from 1995 to 2008 has of course evoked the spectre of international terror and religious fundamentalism. As a mutable sign Sagittarius creates polarity, and today we have the idea of a war of civilizations. The root cause of terror is probably injustice, which Pluto in Sagittarius seeks to redress by its own methods, but the terror of Muslim extremists is also about fighting the Great Satan of America, and the sexual flagrancy and material indulgence of the West... a last-ditch attempt to save an outdated worldview."

Not exactly the same period - actually around 1993 to 2006, Pluto lay in sidereal Scorpio. The over-riding aspect of this period was terrorism, as mentioned in the tropical assessment, terrorism and the Iraq war/occupation. As I see it, terrorism equates more to the passion and fixedness of Scorpio, ruled by Mars and Pluto, than the extremes and expansiveness of Sagittarius, ruled by benign Jupiter. Let's not forget that Pluto is very much at home in Scorpio. It's possible, though, to view this from both perspectives.

And now we are watching the future unfold as tropical astrologers consider that Pluto is transiting Capricorn, sidereal astrologers consider that Pluto is transiting Sagittarius. Transformation in business and established institutions (Capricorn) : a work in progress, I guess! Transformation relating to religion (Sagittarius): Roman Catholic priestly scandals, Pope retiring. Transformation (to come?) in the curbing of excesses (Sagittarius).

I don't see a clear overall bias to either tropical or sidereal, past or the present. That could be partly because the two zodiacs do run in tandem for part of the time, so in taking a bird's eye, long distance, view there's bound to be a blending of the qualities and traits of the two signs involved. So this exercise didn't really clarify things any more than does comparing sidereal and tropical natal charts. Any thoughts?

Monday, March 11, 2013

Story of a '60s Radical

Another of our cheapo junk store DVDs - watched it the other night. The title had attracted me, and, with Cissy Spacek and Henry Winkler starring, how bad could it be? It turned out to be quite good, for a 1975 TV movie. It afforded a look at the USA during the 1960s and early 70s through the eyes of the lead character, Katy/Katherine. A little Google action threw up the fact that this TV film has been alternatively titled, and was known originally as Katherine - that title wouldn't have attracted this buyer nearly as much!

The story is factually based on the experiences of Diana Oughton, a girl from an old-established, very well-heeled, well-connected Michigan family. She was a stereotypical upper-class conservative-leaning university student in the beginning, turning sharp left in her loyalties after experiences teaching abroad. Back in the USA she eventually became part of The Weathermen, a violent revolutionary group. She was dead by age 28 after blowing herself up while constructing a bomb. That was the real character - more on her at Wikipedia and a good essay from 1970 at UPI Stories.

Interestingly (to me), Diana Oughton's birthdate was 26 January 1942. (Astrodatabank entry.) She was a far, far more extreme Aquarius Sun than yours truly (27 January different year, but close). She had three personal planets and ascendant in Aquarius, and three in Gemini: very Airy power-house of an intellect. She could've done, and been, just about anything she wished. It was a sad waste, but the times were wild and unpredictable, and she fit right in, sad to say.

A sidelight: I noticed on a couple of websites ( one here) indications that Diana Oughton was the girl friend of Bill Ayers who had connection to the writing of one of Barack Obama's books of memoirs (ghost-written some would have it). There is speculation that Diana was a large part of a composite of female characters described, in the book Dreams From My Father, as Obama's "New York girl friend".

The film, made for TV, strayed only slightly from the facts - mainly in the exact way the leading character died. It was rather odd in format, but it worked. There were frequent flashbacks and occasional faux interviews. Acting was good - I failed to recognise Henry Winkler, even though I'd seen his name on the DVD cover. I'm not sure whether his character, who fled to Canada to avoid being drafted to Vietnam, was meant to relate to anyone in real life.

We enjoyed the film. I'm always fascinated to discover what went on in the USA in the 1960s. Across the Universe, a favourite of mine, afforded a view of events, but from the perspective of an English lad, during a similar time span in the USA (with the added attraction of Beatles' music). I was in England, mostly unaware of dramatic, often tragic, turns of events in the USA. I had no TV, didn't read the newspapers much, and was going through dramas of my own, first from a bad marriage, then from jobs which entailed moving around the country every six months or so. It's only recently that I've fully caught up! Events in the US during that amazing period were more dramatic than many works of fiction from the same decade.

If a passing reader should happen upon a copy of The Radical or Katherine as it's titled in some cases, I can confirm that it'd be well worth a dollar, or even two.