Wednesday, July 31, 2013





(Post on Bradley Manning from June this year: Pour Encourager Les Autres)

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Season 2 of The Weiner Saga

Whenever, at the weekend, we switched on the TV in the motel room to see what the weather forecast was promising us, what did we see? On any channel? Various combinations of talking heads talking about.....Anthony Weiner and his escapades in cyber land.

This real life mini-series and distraction du jour is currently in its second season. In its pilot and first season's run the guy showed his abominable lack of judgement and good taste, but heck - politicians display abominable powers of judgement and lack of good taste all the time. Most politicians, because of other valuable skills and talents can ride out a single error of judgement and bounce back into the public's tentatively good books. We all do daft things at times, for a variety of reasons not always apparent to others, nor should they be. Where Anthony Weiner really "jumped the shark" (as they say) was in deciding to run as a candidate for the position of Mayor of New York, then doing a second season of the same daft things! His powers of judgement are proving to be not just weak but non-existent, or drowned out by another potent power: addiction.

Looking back among my archived posts I found a mention of Anthony Weiner in February 2010 in vastly different tone and circumstances. I even wrote, of one of his debate exchanges when he spoke up, firmly on the side of ordinary people: "This is what the USA desperately needs more of!" I pointed out then that he has Uranus (planet of the unexpected) conjunct natal Sun and other planets.

I wonder whether there's anything further astrological to be gleaned from this sorry tale? Is Pluto, or maybe Uranus, transiting a sensitive point or planet in Weiner's chart? Several astrologers have already investigated his natal chart in depth; typing "Ant. Weiner astrology" in the Google search box will bring up a selection of articles on the topic. But let's take another wee peek here at his chart, set for 12 noon as time of birth isn't known.

Transiting Pluto at 9 Capricorn is in harmonious trine to planets in his Virgo cluster; transiting Neptune at 4 Pisces has been in the vicinity of his 00 degree Pisces Saturn
for some time. Is Pluto loosening up Virgo via this trine? Is Neptune throwing a dreamy cloak of illusion around a normally level-headed Saturn? Remembering, too, that Neptune also represents addiction in astrology.

I'm puzzled. I somehow doubt that Weiner has always been prey to this type of addiction. Would he have progressed as far as he had done in his profession without discovery? He was a congress critter before season one, remember. The kind of behaviour we've seen recently from someone with heavy emphasis on the sign of Virgo runs exactly opposite to what astrology would usually lead us to expect, even for someone with natal Moon in showy ol' Leo.

If Weiner remains in the mayoral race, the final verdict on his career path will rest with the voters of New York - and their powers of judgement.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Bluesy & Artsy Interlude

We've been away from home for a couple of nights - travelled with husband's daughter and son-in-law to Salina, Kansas, husband's old hometown, a four to five hour drive from our current abode. We went, mainly, to see Boz Scaggs in concert, Friday, but did lots of other stuff too.

The concert venue was the lovely Stiefel Theater. This is a renovated art deco era movie theater, perfect size for a concert, much nicer than those awful cavernous arenas which hold what seem like billions and billions, you can't really see the artists without binoculars, and even when you can hear the music above the screams and whistles of a hyperbolic audience, it doesn't sound right.

Boz Scaggs, singer/guitar player who started out as part of the Steve Miller Band is still in good shape and good voice, now aged 69. A superb band is touring with him too - even have a saxophone player - can't go wrong when there's a sax around I always think. The many blues-tinged songs he performed came from his newest album, Memphis, including a gentle cover version of Rainy Night in Georgia, and some of what husband whispered to me were his old hits. I wasn't familiar with these rocky styled songs though.

This was my favourite - Sierra

I don't recall Boz Scaggs doing much in England back in the day (or if he did I missed it - rock wasn't my thang). I knew of Boz Scaggs only from one of his more recent CDs I have -But Beautiful - a set of songs from The Great American Songbook. He didn't sing anything from that CD on Friday evening though.

Any vocalist or musician who can sing and play from The Great American Songbook, and do it credibly these days, has to be a true artist. Scaggs, from his But Beautiful CD, did seem to have a feel for the genre, though in the blurb handed out at the concert he's reported as having this to say on the subject:
"I'm not a jazz musician or singer, but it showed me a whole new world of vocal expression. It was important to me in the way that I perceive music, in terms of harmonics and in using my voice as an instrument. These records were incredibly challenging, like nothing I'd ever done before."
Several older rock and pop stars have tried their hand (or voice) with varying success on the Great American Songbook, which contains, in my opinion, some of the greatest songs and melodies ever written. George Michael did, I think, one of the best of such albums, his Songs of the 20th Century. Dang, but he should have been one of the all-time greats. Rod Stewart's versions of Great American Songbook numbers are so-so; Robbie Williams should really have waited a few more years before launching into that genre but did a reasonable job on his Swing When You're Winning, he didn't exactly disgrace himself.

As well as attending the concert we did other artsy stuff too: on Thursday evening we saw a movie at Salina's tiny Arts Movie Theater: the film showing was "The East". It's not as arty as their usual fare, but a decent enough tale along broad Karen Silkwood-ish lines. We visited three different galleries/art museums on Friday: one in Salina showing a rather weird set of modern art installations which we pondered and wondered over; and two venues in the Swedish-flavoured cute little town of Lindsborg, half an hour's drive from Salina.

Lindsborg is proud of their local art luminary Birger Sandzén, the town has a very good memorial gallery of his works.

We also ventured into The Red Barn Studio which, we discovered, stands as a memorial to another local artist and all-round craftsman, Lester Raymer. We approached the old house in which it's based through an overgrown shady leafy garden, not knowing exactly what to expect. We were welcomed and given an interesting tour of the house and lots of the amazingly versatile artist's work.

As well as being a talented artist in oils and woodcuts, he did beautiful, intricate quilting, embroidery, sculpture, toy-making, furniture making, iron-work, using lots of re-cycled materials. He had worked through the depression era, using whatever he could find to create his arts and crafts. The Red Barn also provides studio space for visiting artists. There were four or five in residence on Friday, all busily working, but more than willing to stop and chat to us about their work.

We did a lot of stuff in a short time - thoroughly enjoyed all of it!

Thursday, July 25, 2013


This is something I dreamed up years ago. I've posted it in the past, but it has remained filed away in the dark and dusty archives; it's ready for another hit of fresh air and daylight. The photographs seem a little fuzzier than they used to be - probably something to do with Blogger's change of user interface last year. Never mind, the birds are still recognisable.
PS: Next post will be on Monday.

After moving into the house where we now live in 2005, we became fascinated by the variety of birds visiting our feeders in the back yard, spent a lot of time watching them, husband taking photographs. I noticed that they DO seem to have distinctive personalities. I tried, just for fun, to relate them to the 12 zodiac signs. The photographs included were taken by my husband, mainly in our backyard.

The Red-bellied Woodpecker - quick and decisive in his movements, impulsive in his choice
of materials on which to "drum". He will drum on a metal gutter for the sheer enjoyment of hearing the noise - like music to his ears, or perhaps it's a mating call ? His scarlet head and pinkish tummy indicate the fiery element of Aries.

The chubby American Robin is typical Taurus. He stays close to the earth, walking around on the grass or soil, digging for food - he consumes a large amount. This bird is different from the little English Robin. Early settlers named him because of his Robin-like habits and his russet-coloured
chest. He is actually a type of Thrush.

The Goldfinch displays many typically Geminian traits. These tiny birds are very sociable,
move around in flocks, descending upon bird feeders en-masse. They are quick, fluttery, twittery, and appear unafraid of other birds 3-times their size. Golden and Mercurial!


The Mourning Dove represents the gentle nature of Cancer.
Her rather sad cooing call seems typically Cancerian. She looks dignified and a little old-fashioned when compared with more exuberant cousins. She doesn’t often mix with other birds, appearing shyly aloof.

Who would argue against the Cardinal being designated Leo ? With his flashy scarlet feathers, almost fluorescent, and his regal bearing he stands out from the crowd - however big the
crowd. Eyes are irresistibly drawn to him. He is devoted to his mate (evidence of his fixed Leo nature). They usually appear together. Madam Cardinal is more soberly dressed in a variable light brown, but still attractive - her beak is a nice shade of lipstick pink!

The Junco displays many of Virgo’s virtues. Sleek and neat, no flashy plumage here. The Junco, like the robin, stays on the ground to feed - evidence of his earthy nature.
These tidy little birds are quiet and industrious, finding all the food they need for themselves and their young. They never cause squabbles mix quietly with whatever other birds are around. One might at first consider them boring, but with patient observation their admirable traits become clear.

Perhaps the Mocking Bird represents Libra ? This classy bird, quietly but elegantly dressed in subtle shades of grey, white and black, with brilliant white stripe appearing on each wing when in flight. Sings beautiful songs sometimes throughout the night. The song is repeated 4 times, then he/she changes its mind (typically Libran) and starts a different ditty - repeating 4 times then changing again!

Traditionally the Eagle is one of the two symbols of Scorpio, but eagles do not frequent backyards - something less rare can carry the Scorpio banner. The American Crow is much maligned and misunderstood, like some Scorpio-heavy humans. He is, in fact, quite majestic, highly intelligent and very resilient. Humans have slaughtered many of his kind, but still they flourish. His glossy black feathers are mirror-bright as he strides around in the grass.

The wise old Owl would have been appropriate, but since the
author has yet to see one locally, another side of
Sagittarius is represented - the rover. The Brown-headed Cowbird fits the bill - often looked on as something of a vagabond or prairie tramp. They don't build nests , but deposit eggs in nests built by other birds - having no use for a home of their own! These birds once followed buffalo and cattle through the plains .


The third Earth sign is represented by the lovely Eastern Meadowlark, who is actually not a Lark, but related to the Starling. The Meadowlark has very similar
feeding habits to the American Robin - walking around in fields and open spaces looking for insects, grubs, worms etc. From the back he's a stripey grey and rather uninteresting, but when he turns, the sight of his brilliant yellow breast comes as a surprise, and, like the sense of fun often present in Capricorn humans - it brings a smile to the observer.


Looking now for the oddball of Birdland ! The Blue Jay. Some people love him, others hate him because he doesn’t conform to their views of how a bird should act or look. He is stunning in his bright
blue plumage with random markings of black and white, and a rakish top-knot. His call is either Crow-like (he is cousin to that bird) or a beautiful bell-like sound when he wishes to impress. These birds are curious and intelligent, like their cousin the Crow, not usually inclined to mix. They can appear at times to be imperious or bossy, and are certainly unique.

I'm nominating this group of juvenile Eastern Bluebirds to represent Pisces, they used to visit our birdbath regularly last summer - they loved the water like good Neptunians!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Royal Innocent

Royal baby? I wish the wee thing no ill and hope he will live a long, happy and healthy life. It'll take a while before he discovers what a world of potential hurt he has launched himself into.

That's just about all I have to say on the matter. I have no interest in what name the baby will be given. I'm not a fan of The Royals or the huge clan of aristocracy, hangers on and social climbers attached to them. The whole idea of monarchy and aristocracy gives me the shivers, but they are what they are, and Britain, for now, is stuck with 'em.

For any passing reader who's a fan of The Royals there are four posts in the archives relating to various members of the elite gang. All can be quickly accessed by clicking on the tag "royal family" in the Label Cloud in the sidebar. I'll copy the oldest of those archived posts here - it's brief and does have a vague relevance to The Royal Baby's chances of accessing the British throne before senility. The post is from 2007 :
The Prince of Wales and the British Throne

I've noticed a few predictions recently relating to the heir to the British throne.
The most recent, from astrologer Andrew J. Bevan states that it's likely Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, will shortly renounce his claim to the throne in favour of his elder son Prince William. The astrologer surmises that if this does not occur in the near future, then an announcement is still likely before the end of the year (2007). I recall some discussion along similar lines in Noel Tyl's forum, and elsewhere, in recent months.

Way back in the 1950s and 60s when Prince Charles was young, astrologers or psychics were predicting that he "would never be king". Such predictions have surfaced from time to time, ever since. It'll be very interesting to see whether these long-standing predictions will come true. If they are ever to do so, then the next year or two is a likely time, bearing in mind the Queen's age, Prince Charles' marriage, and the fact that Prince William is approaching an age when it would be reasonable for him to take on the responsibility.

Those predictions bit the dust didn't they? That should serve as a a warning to psychics and astrologers not to push their luck!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Gary Hart had a good level-headed piece up at HuffPo at the weekend: Diplomacy where it is Needed Most:

We currently have differences with Russia over Syria, Iran, missile defense, and, to some degree, arms reduction. There is also that pesky leaker, Snowden, hiding out in the transit section of the Moscow airport.

Some say, because of these differences, President Obama should not meet with President Putin in Moscow following the September meeting of the G-20, basically Europe plus Russia, in St. Petersburg. One opposition party Senator has even said that President Obama should not go to the G-20 meeting unless it's moved out of Russia. So much for diplomacy... and statesmanship.

The excessive anti-Russian sentiment within U.S. foreign policy circles remains a mystery. Left over Cold War resentments, more than 20 years later? Old grievances even before the Cold War? Failure of Russia to do what we want it to? Who knows. No one is saying.

I don't understand why many retain such hatred of Russia. Isn't it long past time that people of the USA began to realise that the only real enemies out there are the people leading: governments (any governments), military industrial complex, corporate power and big business, aided and abetted by complicit media ? People, ordinary people, all over the world are really just like the rest of us. Their priorities, as most of ours: to live as peaceful and contented a life as possible, care for family, meet whatever challenges come along, hopefully with good grace. Ordinary people are not interested in being part of an empire, they do not, left to their own devices, hate each other for any perceived freedoms, or for their different lifestyles.

I get that Joe McCarthy scared the living daylights out of y'all in the US regarding Russia, but that was long, long ago, in the 1950s. Not many who remember that time in any detail will still be around.

This built-in hatred, not only for Russia, but also for Islamic countries, China, and others - and for anything not fully understood - is fostered, encouraged, fabricated even, in order to provide dichotomies, stir up fear and confusion. All the while The Powers That Be are keeping the money flowing to the military and to the ultra-wealthy 1%, while the rest of the people are kept busily distracted, hating.

“... in a cycle as old as tribalism, ignorance of the Other engenders fear; fear engenders hatred; hatred engenders violence; violence engenders further violence until the only "rights", the only law, are whatever is willed by the most powerful.”
― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Lines from an old post of mine (2009):
When we were in South Dakota last week, enjoying one of the many sights there, I heard a nearby group of tourists discussing the political situation. One of the group said "all Muslims are terrorists, and now we have one in the White House". On another occasion, in an antiques mall in Nebraska, another group of people stood discussing health care, and though I didn't hover too long, as I passed by them I couldn't help hearing just one sentence deriding what is, in the USA seriously misunderstood and looked on as a dirty word: "socialism".

From Rogers & Hammerstein's "South Pacific":
You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Protest Songs - Gone But Not Forgotten ?

Protest/political songs are fast becoming things of the past. A recent piece by Madeline Ostrander at Common Dreams: Dar Williams: Why the Music of Protest Is Still Worth Defending: "We can’t change the world if we can’t even sing together—a star folk singer on what happens if political music dies...." The essay brings up this topic once again.

Commenter Michael Leone hit the nail on the head for me:
As the author said, its not as simple as "political" music being dead. For one thing, the industry intentionally tried to KILL all political music. If you read commentaries and memoirs of some of the more mainstream acts, who at least had a reasonable conscience, whenever they tried to do something political there was pressure from the labels, if not the producers themselves. People like Eddie Vedder or take Springsteen, even though he's not very politically literate at least has his heart in the right place, have had to insert political commentary through "the back door" and it either pisses off the powers or they misunderstand it "BORN IN THE USA" YEAH!!!

Then there's the Billy Braggs of the music world, good, honest stuff, but mostly marginalized by the industry (though not completely, I mean, there's also the fact that people like what they like.) Most would like to remain relevant and get their stuff out to as many people as possible and that means walking a fine line in the climate the past 30 years............I could go on about this for hours, but it really comes down to corporate power and has nothing to do with the last few generations of artists. There are as many engaged, decent and even radical people writing and playing music as ever, its just that the corporations now have more power and more of a free hand to crush what they don't like than they did..............
An article from April this year by Luis Rivas was also relevant: Political music was once mainstream, so what happened?

Peaking in the ’60s and ’70s, protest music, music based on social justice, a call to change, a righteous condemnation of the Vietnam War, a ballad in support of Nelson Mandela and against the apartheid government of South Africa, songs about overcoming racism, sexism, division—all this, all of it, was here in the U.S. And it was mainstream. It wasn’t some underground movement where DJ’s were rounded up and arrested for broadcasting subversive verse. Or a marginalized style of music that only appealed to a handful of people.

No, we’re talking about top 40 hits. Music that, even currently, is still listened to, their records are still being purchased (or downloaded as pirated mp3s). No, we’re talking about The Mammas and the Poppas, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Byrds, Phil Ochs, John Lennon, The Beatles, Pete Seeger, The Doors and a list long enough to bring any contemporary musician to his or her knees in shame and embarrassment.

So what happened? How did the Billboard top 40 of 1967—and well into the 70s, really — go from featuring groups that were known for their social commentary songs, such as The Beatles, the Mamas and the Poppas (three times), the Doors (twice) and Buffalo Springfield to the Billboard top 100 of 2012 including Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, One Direction, Drake and something called a Justin Bieber......
I've long found this issue disappointing too. Three of my posts from 2007 on the topic prove it:
Why So Subtle (August 2007).
Music In the News - Venus/Saturn. (Sept 2007).
John Fogerty's Revival (Oct 2007).

Once more, from the comment quoted above:
" really comes down to corporate power and has nothing to do with the last few generations of artists. There are as many engaged, decent and even radical people writing and playing music as ever, its just that the corporations now have more power and more of a free hand to crush what they don't like than they did."
Yet another way the people of the USA are being controlled and manipulated!

A reminder:

For What It's Worth written by Stephen Stills, performed by Buffalo Springfield and released as a single in January 1967:

And, from Pink Floyd: On the Turning Away written by David Gilmour and Anthony Moore, from Pink Floyd's 1987 album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. Read the lovely lyrics HERE.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


RIP Helen Thomas, who died, aged 92 yesterday - a long life, well-lived, I'd say. She was an author and former news service reporter, member of the White House press corps for many years.

My two archived posts about Ms Thomas, including her natal chart, are at:

Saturday/Sunday Superwomen (2008)
Helen Thomas, the President & Old Friend Neptune (Feb.2009)

I had to wince upon re-reading some lines from the 2009 post at the second of those links.
And our new President? I reckon he's doing just fine in the abysmal circumstances facing this country and the world. He inspires confidence. I very happily take back any suspicions I had early in the primaries that his lack of experience would be a detriment, and that a constant Neptunian vibe I got from him was A Bad Thing. I was reminded of that Neptunian vibe again the other day when I noticed the title of an article by John V. Santore at Huffington Post: "Obama Isn't Who I Didn't Think He Was. But He Might Be."
Doesn't that title reflect Neptune so very well?

Perhaps nobody can yet see President Obama without a wisp or two of fog around him. That's not an entirely bad thing though. It keeps us alert. Alert enough to note any mis-steps. The President is a human being, he'll make a few of those. Anyone who thinks otherwise is in a Neptunian fog far denser than those wispy clouds around President Obama.

Whaaaaat? Did I feel like that - then? "He inspires confidence" ? What a difference four years can make!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

SMALL TALK~ Polly Prattle and Literature Legacy

Glancing down Wikipedia's list of comings/goings and events relevant to today, 20 July, I noticed mention that the day (other sources quote 23 July and the reason for this is explained by Wiki) is Christian Feast Day in honour of St. Apollinaris of Ravenna. While I'm neither Roman Catholic nor into any organised religion, the name did flick a switch in my memory banks: I was a young 20-year old hotel receptionist again, in a rather Victorian styled hotel in Penrith, Cumberland in England's Lake District. Around once a week an elderly gentleman of military bearing and appearance would wander through the hall, prop his elbows on the office counter, wink and say, in wonderfully swirly fruity upper-clarse accent: Get me a Scotch an' polly would you m'dear? On first encounter I was confused, had to hustle around to find some more experienced member of staff to ask what the heck the gentleman meant by "polly". He meant Apollinaris, a German naturally sparkling mineral water, which those in the know would take with their Scotch whisky.

The spring from which the water is reputed to come was discovered by chance in 1852 in Georg Kreuzberg’s vineyard, in Bad Neuenahr, Germany. He named it after St Apollinaris of Ravenna, a patron saint of wine. The red triangle symbol and the slogan "The Queen of Table Waters" were adopted as trademarks in 1895. By 1913 the company was producing 40 million bottles a year, 90% of which were exported worldwide. Since 2006 the firm has been owned by Coca-Cola, acquired from Cadbury-Schweppes.
Other tidbits at Wiki include:
In the UK and Ireland, Apollinaris was sold in small bottles, which were marketed as "The Baby 'Polly". The poem "Sun and Fun" by Sir John Betjeman, published in 1954, includes the stanza:

I pulled aside the thick magenta curtains
– So Regency, so Regency, my dear –
And a host of little spiders
Ran a race across the ciders
To a box of baby 'pollies by the beer.

As for the Saint whose name this fabled water bears:
According to tradition, St. Peter sent Apollinaris to Ravenna, Italy, as its first bishop. His preaching of the Good News was so successful that the pagans there beat him and drove him from the city. He returned, however, and was exiled a second time. After preaching in the area surrounding Ravenna, he entered the city again. After being cruelly tortured, he was put on a ship heading to Greece. Pagans there caused him to be expelled to Italy, where he went to Ravenna for a fourth time. He died from wounds received during a savage beating at Classis, a suburb of Ravenna. A beautiful basilica honoring him was built in the 6th century.

Searching for a quote on another topic I stumbled upon this, from the late, still much lamented Carl Sagan:
“What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic.”
Will humans really lose this particular type of magic, the paper and print kind? Will these books disappear from their lives, in favour of the dreaded Kindle and suchlike; or in future years will even newer technology supersede current contraptions? Books would be a huge, huge loss. We must hope that there will never come any great book-burning, there must always remain a residue of magic for those willing to seek it out.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Arty Farty Friday ~ Chinese Artist Xu Beihong

A Chinese artist whose work could well be more familiar than his name was born today, 19 July, in 1895: Xu Beihong. I searched to discover how his name should be pronounced, and found the information here:Xu Beihong - pronounced "shoe bay-hoong".

On a Chinese government scholarship Beihong studied art in Paris, France. He spent several years in Europe touring and studying in the museums of France, Berlin, Brussels, Italy and Switzerland; he was inspired by many of the West's great masters, but especially by the styles of Rembrandt and Rubens. In 1949 he became president of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, was elected chairman of the National Union of Chinese Artists. He died, far too soon, of a stroke, at the age of 58 in 1953.

Beihong excelled painting in both oils and traditional Chinese ink. He integrated the styles of ancient art with modern technique, combined Chinese brush and ink work with Western realism. His lovely ink paintings of horses are those people in the West will find most familiar, but he painted figures, portraits, birds, animals, plants and landscapes too.

Xu Beihong 's painting "The Foolish Old Man Who Removed the Mountains" (1940), an almost 18-foot-wide, ink painting is based on the Chinese legend of a man who persisted in trying to move a mountain which stood in his way. He argued that if he did not finish the task his children, and then his grandchildren, would eventually have to do so. In depicting the old legend, the artist had hoped to encourage the Chinese people to persist in the face of adversity.

The fable of The Old Man Who Removed the Mountains can be read HERE. (For a bigger version of the painting click on the image).

Chinese art, like Chinese literature, spans many centuries.

Snip from HERE:
Early themes were developed from religious and supernatural beliefs or from the natural environment and landscape. One of the oldest and most basic forms of Chinese art is calligraphy, the painting of the Chinese characters with a brush. Calligraphy has developed as a pure art form with its own standards of excellence. Building on the tradition of calligraphy, Chinese painting developed a distinctive style that differs greatly from Western painting. It is more efficient in terms of brushstrokes and appears more abstract. Landscapes have always been a popular theme, and sometimes these appear bizarre to the Western eye. To the Chinese painter, they may represent a figurative view painted with a few swift strokes of the artist's brush.

With their stress on simplicity and economy, Chinese calligraphy, painting, and poetry are closely related. In all of them, the artist seeks to express both inner harmony and harmony with the natural surroundings. Chinese poets and painters often have sought inspiration by withdrawing to isolated, mountainous areas, and these landscapes have become conventional themes of Chinese art. Similarly, Chinese architecture has traditionally aimed to convey harmony with society and nature.

A few more examples of the work of Xu Beihong - these should enlarge by clicking on them:

Tian Heng and His Five Hundred Followers (1928-30)

Located in Hengmen Bay in the east of Jimo, Tianheng Island has been listed as one of the 26 islands for experimental development. In the late Qin and early Han Dynasties, there were 500 warriors who were loyal to the Qi king named Tian Heng.

When Liu Bang became the first Han emperor, they refused to surrender and committed suicide together on the island.  In its western part, there is a 2.5-meter-high gravestone for the 500 martyrs.  The epitaph on the monument records the heroic deeds of Tianheng and his 500 men.(Here)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Beyond Reasonable Doubt?

The internet has overflowed with news and comment on the trial and jury's verdict on George Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon Martin. I guess, though I haven't seen or heard any other media on the topic, that TV and radio will have overflowed too.

I haven't felt qualified to comment, let alone to judge, so haven't mentioned the matter before now. From what I read at the time of the incident, it appeared there would be great difficulty at the trial in deciding exactly what had happened, what were the the attitudes and motives of both individuals involved, one of them being dead, so unable to present his own evidence. How could any jury come to a certain conclusion "beyond reasonable doubt" in a case such as this?

The best piece I've read this week is written by Arthur Silber at the blog Once Upon a Time: Stop Doing the Vicious Work of the Ruling Class. Mr Silber minces no words, ever, on any topic. If, until now a passing reader has come to their own conclusion on the Zimmerman verdict, Silber's piece might supplement and modify their views way or t'other. His final paragraphs :

The Zimmerman case is yet another in an endless series of distractions. It is another bauble to be tossed around by the ever-busy writers and "activists" of this country's political factions. It is a means of fragmenting and splitting the people's political power, which would be far more meaningful -- and far more powerful -- if the warring factions could only be motivated to form strategic alliances. All those energies are safely directed into a non-threatening pathway -- while the ruling class continues to consolidate and expand its power over every one of us. To the extent the right and left play their parts with such enthusiasm, they do the ruling class's bidding. Most of those on the right and the left have enthusiastically placed themselves in service to the State, and the majority of them have no understanding whatsoever of their grievous failing.

At this point, I almost feel it's beside the point to blame the ruling class for this kind of thing. (Note: I continue to blame and condemn the ruling class without mercy.) What appalls me is how easy it is to distract the American public with incidents like this. Most Americans have been trained very thoroughly. The bell is rung, and they eagerly run to their designated positions. While they are entirely consumed with playing their meaningless roles in the affair of the moment, they pay no heed to the hell that is rising around them.

They'll finally recognize that hell soon enough, but only when it is far too late to do anything to stop it. From that perspective, I can certainly agree that the Trayvon Martin case is a terrible tragedy. But it not only the tragedy of one life ended far too soon. It is the ongoing tragedy of this nation, as it plummets into the nightmare from which there is no awakening.

HBO quite often is on the ball, ready at the drop of a hat to present old movies relevant to current events. On Monday evening they showed American History X. This 1998 film had an award winning performance by Edward Norton. It is the story of a young neo-Nazi, and his...erm... re-education. The film's storyline reminded me a little of another movie I've mentioned here in the past, Steel Toes , the post's title was Hatred: "the madness of the heart." Steel Toes (2006) was, for me, a much classier movie than American History X; it co-starred David Strathairn one of my favourite actors. Dialogue in both films, at times, made my skin crawl with the horror of such intense hatred carried by what appeared to have been otherwise intelligent individuals. I guess it's necessary to have one's nose rubbed into such horror to fully appreciate just how evil such hatred can be. I wish everyone could see these two movies - once a year perhaps - as dire reminders.

Whether some lesser, dilute, or modified version of the kind of intense hatred described in those two films was present in George Zimmerman must not have been clear to the jury members during his trial. In truth, only Zimmerman himself knows the answer.

I don't know how much of the neo-Nazi mindset is still around in the USA, whether it has, perhaps, morphed to a slightly different guise with different targets. I suspect a version of it remains in pockets of certain areas. Discussing this with my husband, he made the point that it's a different type of racism from that known only too well in The Deep South. It does seem that way to me too.....(sigh) though we need two varieties of this rotten disease of mankind.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Argus Panoptes & The Surveillance State

A phrase used in an essay by Alfred W. McCoy, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, featured at Common Dreams yesterday: Surveillance Blowback: The Making of the U.S. Surveillance State, 1898-2020 prompted several good comments, one especially caught my eye, when the commenter quoted a phrase from these brief paragraphs of Prof McCoy's long essay:
Writing for TomDispatch four years ago during Obama’s first months in office, I suggested that the War on Terror has “proven remarkably effective in building a technological template that could be just a few tweaks away from creating a domestic surveillance state -- with omnipresent cameras, deep data-mining, nano-second biometric identification, and drone aircraft patrolling ‘the homeland.’"
That prediction has become our present reality - and with stunning speed. Americans now live under the Argus-eyed gaze of a digital surveillance state, while increasing numbers of surveillance drones fill American skies. In addition, the NSA’s net now reaches far beyond our borders, sweeping up the personal messages of many millions of people worldwide and penetrating the confidential official communications of at least 30 allied nations. The past has indeed proven prologue. The future is now.
Commenter "Aleph Null" said:
The author's phrase "Argus-eyed gaze of a digital surveillance state" raises the hope that the digital surveillance state can be defeated, as was Argus, the hundred-eyed giant appointed by Juno to keep watch over her rival Io (temporarily inhabiting the body of a cow). Jove sent Mercury, the trickster, to lull Argus to sleep with a magic wand and a story about panpipes. Mercury's next trick was to lop off Argus' head, which went rolling down the hillside. Juno caught it and arranged Argus' eyes into the tail of her favorite bird, the peacock.

Perhaps this myth pertains to our time. Argus' job was keeping track of Io, which today connotes the Input and Output of computer systems. Snowden is the magic wand of courage, and Greenwald is telling the story. The fact that the surveillance state is sleepwalking explains the idiotic antics over Evo Morales' flight, which have further alienated most of Latin America. The demise of Argus arises from the enduring suspicion world citizens retain for the US and all its national and corporate minions. The modern totalitarian Argus can only see in the darkness of concealment, and now the jig is up.

Another commenter ("theoldgoat") responded and expanded on the myth and analogy:

Wonderful post! Taking a look at Wikipedia on Argos, one finds that Argos was Hera's servant and guardian of Io (seduced by god-husband-Zeus who turned her into a heifer to escape detection!). Io is situated within the symbolic dynamics of the natural world and directly connected to the dimensions of Gaia.

I'd expand on your interpretation of Io connoting the binomial reductionistic vision of life to input-output of the computer information dynamic - to the commodification of life: everything measured as relativistic resource for "consumption".

There is a reciprocal mortification (rendering lifeless) in conceptualization and resulting usury, setting up a cycle of devolution. We tend to limit the concept of usury to a monetary transaction. But before any transaction is the mortification of living dimensions rendering them 'invisible' to be reduced to the monetary.

Notable is Hera functioning within the possessory scope of the patriarchal god-symbol of Zeus. Is it any wonder womens' rights are such a target right now!

Depictions of the Argus Panoptes myth can be found on Greek pottery, as above. There's a modern painting of the myth by Andre Durand at his website.

Back to real life, and the essay linked at the top of this post. The last three paragraphs are especially spooky - even if you don't have the time, or inclination, to read the whole essay, please read these.

Daniel Ellsberg in a recent talk said:"There's the infrastructure for a police state here that has never existed in the history of the world................You may think you have nothing to hide, but how sure are you that your congressman has nothing to hide?"

The executive branch has access to blackmail leverage over the legislature, the judiciary, and the media, subverting the structure envisioned by the US constitution. The Carlyle Group (parent of Booz Allen where Edward Snowden was last employed) will have blackmail leverage over the executive branch. Something to keep in mind from now on, because this isn't going away any time soon, or any time at all, without a long and determined fight. Hermes isn't on hand to do the deed these days, sad to say.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Blazer - arguing with the dictionary

I hesitate to argue with the good old Oxford Dictionary, or with any other online dictionary, but I'm going to argue - just this once.

The article/review setting me off on this tack is titled Pattern Recognition....The swoosh, the golden arches, the chevron, and a million other logos your hindbrain can recognize before you Seth Stevenson, published at Slate this weekend. Mr Stevenson refers to a book: In Marks of Excellence: The History and Taxonomy of Trademarks by Per Mollerup who surmises that the first trademarks “probably marked ownership - a simple sign to show that a weapon belonged to a particular man.”

Per Mollerup, in his book further says :
Today’s logos find their forebears in coats of arms and royal monograms. Marks of Excellence wonderfully contextualizes these building blocks of graphic identity. You’ll learn the rules of heraldry, and will soon be sorting invected lines of partition from embattled or dovetailed ones. You’ll spot the difference between chevrons, gyrons, inescutcheons, and double quatrefoils.
It's an interesting study: logos, trademarks, their derivation, history and use. From that article I re-visited an old post of my own from 2009:
Astrology and Heraldry

I casually searched the word heraldry and the term blazon. Also here.

Getting there......

No huge leap from blazon to blazer is there?

What is a blazer? It's a jacket which, in its original form, carried some kind of badge denoting membership of a club, group, military regiment, school etc. Sometimes - often - the badge was in heraldic form, sometimes shield-like in shape it carried more of a logo. Our school badge was an example, and was carried in miniature on all pieces of our dark green uniform, but in larger format on our green/white/black striped blazers (see right).

Over the decades the term blazer has been hijacked by the fashion industry and has come to describe a particular type of formal jacket, for males or females, nowadays no badge is needed for a jacket to be described as a blazer.

I propose that the term blazer was a derivation of the term "blazon".

However, dictionaries tell us:

Origin of blazer:

Late 19th century: from blaze + -er. The original general sense was 'a thing that blazes or shines' (mid 17th century), giving rise to the term for a brightly coloured sporting jacket.


Blazer (n.) "bright-colored jacket," 1880, British university slang, from blaze (n.), in reference to the red flannel jackets worn by the Lady Margaret, St. John College, Cambridge, boating club. Earlier it had been used in American English in the sense "something which attracts attention" (1845).

I beg, humbly (or not) to differ.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Bastille Day, France, National Characteristics, Personality Types....and Chocolate Cake.

"The Storming of the Bastille" by Bernard Rene Jourdan, 1789.
In France this weekend they'll be celebrating Bastille Day - 14 July . On July 14, 1789, an angry armed mob took the Bastille, a medieval Paris fort, stronghold and prison where enemies of King Louis XVI were held. The Bastille was, to the people, a symbol of the despotism of the ruling Bourbon monarchy. This event became the opening salvo of the French Revolution. Louis XVI had ascended to the throne in 1774, facing a debt-ridden government, partly brought about by France's involvement in the American Revolutionary War. The population faced rising food costs, unjust work conditions, and an oppressive nobility and clergy. Widespread crop failures had resulted in famine. The people had every reason to revolt!

Some uncomplimentary stereotypes of the French national personality (if such a thing could possibly exist) have become embedded in the consciousness of people of the UK and USA. While I've never felt much affinity to France in general, I do admire that innate orneriness the French have, or at least had back in the 18th century.

Which thoughts led me to search a while on the matter of national characteristics and stereotypes. Just as there's a grain of truth in Sun sign stereotypes in astrology, there's going to be a grain of truth in national stereotypes. Italians = romantic, artistic, volatile. English = phlegmatic, sturdily independent. Scottish = dour, careful with money. Irish = gregarious, fond of a tipple. Germans = authoritarian, cold, industrious. French = aloof, arrogant, food-loving, artistic, lazy, give up easily.. USA = friendly, acquisitive, loud, full of themselves. Best stop there! Those are characteristics off the top of my head, by the way - others will have different ideas.

I came across a fun post on a blog called Taken by the Wind: Which Country Best Matches Your Personality. The blogger, takes information from Brent Massey's book Where in the World Do I Belong?

Which Country’s Culture Fits Your Myers Briggs Personality Type? There's a link to a shortened version of the long personality type test in the post. I took the test and came out as "INFJ".
Introvert(67%) iNtuitive(38%) Feeling(62%) Judging(22%)

You have distinctive preference of Introversion over Extraversion (67%)
You have moderate preference of Intuition over Sensing (38%)
You have distinctive preference of Feeling over Thinking (62%)
You have slight preference of Judging over Perceiving (22%)

Looking down the list to find in which country my INFJ credentials would fit most harmoniously I found, to my consternation, that I do not fit in anywhere - along with the INTJs. Wouldn't ya just know that an Aquarius Sun wouldn't fit in? So, I'm an outcast on Earth - maybe I'll fit in on a planet in a galaxy far, far away.

Anyway - back to France, where we started: the personality type said to find France (or Jordan) a good fit is ENTJ – The Executive : confident, opinionated, competitive, ambitious and analytical, which is what makes them ideal personalities for leadership roles. They have a natural ability to absorb and analyze large amounts of information and then make quick, often accurate assessments. They have a low tolerance for inefficiency or for people who don’t share their same perspective. Sometimes they can come across as overbearing or aggressive but they genuinely love people, are excellent conversationalists and can be quite sentimental.

On another level:

“He showed the words “chocolate cake” to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. “Guilt” was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: “celebration.”
― Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto

Show chocolate cake to me and I'd say - who made it? If it were one of my grandma's I'd say YUM! If it were one from Walmart or other US supermarket I'd say - YUK! That must be where the "J" in INTJ comes in: judgement!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Re-inventing the Wheel - or Ourselves?

The friends that have it I do wrong
When ever I remake a song,
Should know what issue is at stake:
It is myself that I remake.

( William Butler Yeats)

So....Walt Disney Studios have dredged up and dusted down the Lone Ranger and Tonto ? They have, quite rightly, faced some criticism for casting Johnny Depp as Tonto . If they'd wanted a big name star to "put bums on seats", why didn't they cast Depp as the Lone Ranger, for goodness sake, and choose from hundreds of available bona fide Native American actors to play Tonto?

I recall reading in a local newspaper, some time before the movie was released, that Johnny Depp had visited a town here in Oklahoma, about a half hour drive from us, and had met with some Comanche tribe leaders. They gave him, his makeup and costumes their approval, I understand. Whether they were being polite and kind as most Okies naturally are - and didn't want to upset their visitor isn't clear.

I wonder whether kids of today will enjoy the film as much as kids of yesteryear enjoyed the tales of Lone Ranger and Tonto? I somehow doubt it, but suspect many cinema seats will be filled by parents and grandparents enjoying a spot of nostalgia.

Remakes: love 'em or hate 'em, they're with us always. There's another on the horizon now : John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath.

Stephen Spielberg is attempting to secure the rights to produce a remake of the 1940 movie, though he has said he would not be directing a remake. I'm not sure what to think about this. Part of me wants the old classic left alone, but part of me realises that younger generations, used to top class cinematography, CGI etc. may not wish to watch a creaky old film from 1940. It's a story which deserves - demands - telling and re-telling long as it's done properly, with the right actors. Unknown or little-known actors would be best, I think - big starry names could kill it, or worse, draw ridicule towards it.

No movie, however well-made could ever equal the pull of emotion found on the page in the words of John Steinbeck:

The two men squat on their hams and the women and children listen. Here is the node, you who hate change and fear revolution. Keep these two squatting men apart; make them hate, fear, suspect each other. Here is the anlarge of the thing you fear. This is the zygote. For here "I lost my land" is changed; a cell is split and from its splitting grows the thing you hate--"We lost our land." The danger is here, for two men are not as lonely and perplexed as one. And from this first "we" there grows a still more dangerous thing: "I have a little food" plus "I have none." If from this problem the sum is "We have a little food," the thing is on its way, the movement has direction.

Only a little multiplication now, and this land, this tractor are ours. The two men squatting in a ditch, the little fire, the side-meat stewing in a single pot, the silent, stone-eyed women; behind, the children listening with their souls to words their minds do not understand. The night draws down. The baby has a cold. Here, take this blanket. It's wool. It was my mother's blanket - take it for the baby. This is the thing to bomb.This is the beginning--from "I" to "we."

If you who own the things people must have could understand this, you might preserve yourself. If you could separate causes from results, if you could know Paine, Marx, Jefferson, Lenin, were results, not causes, you might survive.But that you cannot know. For the quality of owning freezesyou forever into "I," and cuts you off forever from the "we."


“A large drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath