Thursday, March 05, 2015

Cartoon Appreciation

I like the cartoons by John Atkinson at a blog called Wrong Hands - they have a flavour and style I enjoy, but don't find too often. Three examples, from previous years follow - but do, please, go spend a few minutes trawling through current and older offerings - lots of good stuff there.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Memorable Movie Moments

Oscar season may be over for another year, but here's a thought: at awards ceremonies prizes are presented for entire films or entire ingredients of, and contributions to, a film. Whatever the overall quality of a movie, of its ingredients and contributors as a whole, there's usually one scene, one moment even, that stands out in memorable excellence, even in movies never nominated for awards. I decided to make a list of the top half dozen scenes/moments which stand out, for me, as classic, from the hundreds or thousands of films I've seen during my life. These scenes needed no struggle at all to remember, even though the movies come from decades past.

My nominations for best moments (in no particular order):


Ben Hur - Out of all the drama and dozens of memorable scenes, the one I always recall first is a quiet moment, when Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston) takes his leave of Esther (Haya Harareet)-
"If you were not a bride, I would kiss you goodbye." She responds with:"If I were not a bride, there would be no goodbyes to be said". What makes the scene so extra special is Miklós Rózsa's wonderful
Love Theme playing in the background....
this is it

The Victors - The scene nobody who ever saw this movie will ever forget: Christmastime, snow on the ground, no dialogue - it's described by Wikipedia like this"
" ...the detour of one truckload of GIs out of a convoy, for the express purpose of supplying witnesses to the execution by firing squad of a GI deserter (a scene inspired by the real-life 1945 execution of Pvt. Eddie Slovik). Depicted in a huge, otherwise empty, snow-covered field near a chateau at Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines on Christmas Eve, while the film audience first hears Frank Sinatra singing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and then a chorus of "Hark the Herald Angels Sing", after the fatal shots are fired. This scene is remarkable for its stark, visually extreme imagery, and the non-combat stress and anguish foisted on GIs during a lull in combat.... The whole film is shot in black and white, and so the black regimented figures of the firing squad and witnesses face the lone man bound to a stake in the midst of a snow-covered plain."

Bridges of Madison County - The scene with Francesca (Meryl Streep) and her husband in their truck, it's raining; they are stopped at traffic lights, Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood) is in the vehicle ahead of them. Francesca is struggling with the temptation to leap out of the truck and go with Kincaid as he leaves.

Prince of Tides - The scene towards the end of the film where Tom (Nick Nolte) is driving home. He approaches a long bridge; we hear him narrate as follows:
"At the end of every day, I drive through the city of Charleston and I cross the bridge that will take me home. I feel the words building inside me, I can't stop them, or tell you why I say them, but as I reach the top of the bridge, these words come to me in a whisper.
I say these words as a prayer, as regret, as praise, I say: Lowenstein, Lowenstein"

Cool Hand Luke - Not the famous "failure to communicate" scene, but the scene where Luke (Paul Newman) sings "Get Yourself a Plastic Jesus."

From Here to Eternity - Not that famous beach scene, but the scene where Prewitt (Montgomery Clift) plays "Taps" after the death of Maggio (Frank Sinatra).

Any especially memorable movie moments for readers passing by?

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Stringing Along - Intuitively

What to write...what to write? When straining for inspiration some recommend following William Blake's "golden String":
"I give you the end of a golden string
Only wind it into a ball.
It will let you in at Heaven's gate
Built in Jerusalem's wall."

(Beginning Chapter 4 of Jerusalem (Erdman 231)

Over the years, all manner of interpretation has been proposed for these lines of Blake - religious, spiritual and non-religious. This may or may not have been the poet's intention, though on the face of it it wasn't - or was it?

Some say the poet and mystic was seeking to provide a golden string to help guide the reader through the labyrinth of experience - or perhaps through Blake's own poetry? Artists of all stripes, writers, poets, musicians have used these lines as advice on how best to navigate towards their individual "Heaven's gates" - creation of a piece of music, literature or artwork from inspiration arrived at by following the golden string of - what...intuition perhaps?

My own method of finding something to write about often favours stumbling down an internet "rabbit-hole". Blake's golden string is a more appealing metaphor, I guess - a lot prettier too, and less frequented by Mad Hatters!

Intuition - it does lend itself easily to the metaphor of a golden string. Wikipedia's definition of intuition -
Intuition (Mind), a phenomenon of the mind described as the ability to acquire knowledge without inference or the use of reason.

Intuition, or a sixth sense, is something many of us rely on for snap judgments and often life-altering decisions. But what exactly is it? A 2008 study in the British Journal of Psychology defined intuition as what happens when the brain draws on past experiences and external cues to make a decision -- but it happens so fast that the reaction is at an unconscious level. But that's only part of it, says Judith Orloff, MD, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA and author of Guide to Intuitive Healing: Five Steps to Physical, Emotional, and Sexual Wellness. "Just like the brain, there are neurotransmitters in the gut that can respond to environmental stimuli and emotions in the now -- it's not just about past experiences," she says. When those neurotransmitters fire, you may feel the sensation of "butterflies" or uneasiness in your stomach. Researchers theorize that "gut instinct," which sends signals to your brain, plays a large role in intuition.

My own thoughts (extracted from an archived post)
I suspect that there are various levels of intuition, ranging from a quite rational but rapid analysis of a situation or person, based on minute details subconsciously perceived by extremely sharp observation, processed in a nanosecond. That'd be at one end of the scale. At the other end of the scale, truly psychic insights arising from exceptional, almost clairvoyant skills. [Astrologically] Both levels, and all those inbetween, will involve Mercury, that's for sure. A strongly placed Mercury, challenged by few or no difficult aspects must surely be a basic requirement. After that, I'd say a lot depends on the sign/element placements of Sun and Moon, maybe ascendant too. Water or Air are going to be the easiest elements in which intuition can blossom well. Earth and Fire seem too direct and outwardly active. Yet the analytical skills of Virgo might be instrumental in that first level of intuition, the kind arising from minute, almost unrealised observations.

Chatting about this subject with husband brought the comment that females are generally more intuitive than males. He thinks this stems from a male dislike of being thought "limp-wristed" or overly-feminine. Intuitive ability can be masculine too, I pointed out. Think of jazz musicians improvising, they intuit what others in the group will play and how to complement it. And any sportsman in a sport involving others can, and probably does, gain considerable advantage by using intuition. Perhaps these men just don't call their intuition...intuition.

It's more than likely that we all have the potential within us to be intuitive, but some don't accept this, so fail to use it.

An old friend to this blog, Gian Paul, who lives in Brazil commented, back in 2010, as follows:
Intuition, be it in business or astrological consultation or sports (an excellent, earthbound comment you make) or religion and meditation is, I believe, always linked to destiny. Given that all is related to destiny, closely or not so closely, depending mostly on ones perception.

I state here my personal beliefs, tested so to say out of necessity. In no way can I today imagine that astrology could "function" without the reality of destiny or the small building blocks like intuition or faith or hope which make this all up.

Taking hope as an example: if it's illusionary, or totally unrealistic, it deserves not to lead to success (the "Tower" in the language of the Tarot). If on the contrary hope is linked to some intuition (your Halliburton post, Twilight), it can be a mighty energy leading to the fulfillment of somebody's destiny. This, easily with hindsight, may then be explained by astrological interpretation....................

Instinct - Intuition: If the frontiers there appear sometimes blurred, it's that our level of perception, or of consciousness is often quite low.

Instinct is "animal", serves survival. Physical and not much more than that.
Intuition and insight, both are related, have an inward orientation, non-material. A difficulty arises here for whom believes that Heaven is "up-there". Not so for whom conceives that Heaven might be within ourselves.

The astrological element of a given sign, under this perspective, has in my view little importance, other then to influence the way intuition may be recognized and expressed.

If Water appears more intuitive, it's that being more sensitive, it recognizes intuition probably in it's finer stages.

Earth (have to think of Moon in Virgo or Mercury in Taurus) may have very penetrating intuition/insights, much firmer than a water oriented person.

Fire no doubt has as many intuitions as the others, only it might "burn the signposts" instead of following them, particularly Aries (me).

Air oriented: Needs to listen to his/her intuitions and believe in them. Too much thinking or analysis is obstructive.

A favourite American poet, William Stafford (1914-1993) wrote this - I wonder, was he inspired by Blake's golden string?

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

Monday, March 02, 2015

SCOTUS, ACA, King v Burwell ...Here we go again...

This week, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court is to consider the case known as King v. Burwell — a challenge to that part of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare & ACA) which deals with subsidies.

The ACA created a subsidy system for low and some middle income families to help in the purchase of health insurance through insurance exchanges "established by the state". The law sets a cap on the amount of insurance premium that individuals and families will have to pay for the second cheapest Silver plan based upon that person/family's income in relation to the Federal Poverty Level.

States were given the option of establishing their own exchanges or allowing the Health and Human Services Department to run a state marketplace for them. The administration would argue that both types of exchange count as having been "established by the state" (i.e. a state with a federally run exchange having made their choice to "establish" that exchange in their state.) Lawyers will argue day and night on this point, I dare say!

The case turns, I think, on just those four words of the Act: "established by the state".

Plaintiffs attest that subsidies should be available only to people buying coverage on exchanges “established by the state,” i.e. state-run marketplaces. 34 states don’t have their own exchanges. Residents rely on federally run marketplaces - the course opted for by their state representatives. If the court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, subsidies in the form of tax credits would end in those 34 states. Subsidies have made insurance affordable for millions of people who would otherwise have remained uninsured.

The whole point of ACA was to make health care affordable to everybody, not simply to those in states where the state had opted to run their own exchange. If this had not been so, wording would have been clear on this point (or ought to have been!)

There's a somewhat dodgy argument by some lawyers that proposes the real reason for not making the subsidy available in relation to both types of exchange was a way of forcing reluctant states to get on board and establish their own exchanges - or lose availability of subsidies for residents of their state. I can easily imagine that some states would not have wished to get into the exchange/marketplace thing because of the extra worries and risks involved - so much easier to let the government deal with it all! The option and the decision on this did remain with each individual state. States' rights an' all that.

It doesn't seem likely, to me, that there was ever an intention to lock people out of subsidies depending on their type of health exchange. That would have been counterproductive. The aim was to bring in as many insured people as possible, to make the system work as intended.

If SCOTUS finds for the plaintiffs, outlaws subsidies in states with federally run exchanges, the people of those states who become unable to afford health insurance will be rightly incensed. Governors of such states should be under immediate pressure to establish state run exchanges tout de suite! Would they though? Would the people rise up and demand? Would the state representatives comply? Oh.... hmm...and could this possibly be a ploy to force states into running their own exchanges? No, that doesn't feel right....a bit conspiracy-ish for me.

I doubt that those potential eventualities will come about, unless the Justices are feeling particularly obtuse and bloody-minded, with intent to bring down the whole caboodle. Couldn't they have done that on the last opportunity - that time in 2012 when Chief Justice Roberts, for once, saved the day for ACA?(SEE HERE)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Mercedes de Acosta - Writer, Lesbian, Lover of the Stars.

While searching for, perhaps, a poet to feature on this February/March cuspy weekend, I came across mention of one Mercedes de Acosta. I'd never heard the name before, but read through a little of what's available about her on the net. Well...poet she was, and author of books of prose, and scriptwriter - but her gifts in those spheres must have paled in comparison to her sexual attraction - and to her own gender. She's remembered, these days, for her many passionate love affairs with some of the most celebrated and beautiful women of her generation, including Isadora Duncan, Marlene Dietrich, Eva Le Gallienne, and Greta Garbo. She was openly bisexual years before what has become known as the sexual revolution . In 1920, she married painter Abram Poole, the marriage survived for 15 years, though perhaps with husband and wife living apart for much of that time.

It is reported to have been a boast of Mercedes de Acosta that she could "get any woman from any man." I guess it could be said that Mercedes' sexual prowess was aided by her hot Latino bloodline. She was born into an affluent New York family , youngest of eight children, on 1 March 1893 in New York City. Her father, Ricardo de Acosta, was of Cuban and Spanish descent; her mother, Micaela Hernández de Alba y de Alba, was Spanish and reportedly a descendant of the Spanish Dukes of Alba. The family lived in a wealthy area of the city; the good and the great of those times were often entertained as family guests. Her sister, Rita Lydig, became a well-known, fashionable socialite.

During the 1920s, Mercedes was a well-known figure in New York's high society circles, but also in some of its lower dives - drag clubs and speakeasies. In her own words: “These were years guided by the spirit of the New. We were on fire with fire, with a passion to create and a daring to achieve.” She became a student of eastern religions, a strict vegetarian and an early feminist. Mercedes would have none of the era's uncomfortable female fashions - she quite often favoured trousers.

According to a source :
As a young child, Mercedes firmly believed she was a boy. She was raised Roman Catholic and tended toward the extremes. Mercedes played with boys, believing she was just like them, until age seven, when she realized her anatomy differed from her friends'. According to Hugo Victors, author of Loving Garbo, de Acosta recalled of that moment, "[E]verything in my young soul turned monstrous and terrible and dark." She was sent to a convent to adopt more feminine ways. She often ran away, claiming she could not be defined as either boy or girl but perhaps as both. This flexibility extended to her spirituality, whereby she proclaimed to have no belief or faith in dogma, but rather is reported as saying, "I believe in taking the essence from all religions and arriving at your own creed." Unfortunately, her confusion often led to bouts of depression.

Robert A. Schanke, Mercedes' most recent biographer, after extensive research, acknowledged that Mercedes was "flawed and imperfect, a complex woman who impaired several of her relationships and failed to achieve her professional and romantic aspirations." But the author also reveals her to have been an exceptionally lively, intelligent, and dynamic person who had many devoted friends. She was, he argues, a brave lesbian of her times and a person of integrity who remained kind and loyal to most everyone with whom she crossed paths. He suggests that the many denigrating portrayals of her may derive from the deep homophobia of her generation. (See here)

Mercedes spent her last years poor and lonely. Paying many medical bills resulting from various illnesses and surgeries, had impoverished her to the point where she'd even had to sell her diamonds. Her 1960 autobiography, Here Lies the Heart, alienated many of her friends, who claimed the book to be wildly exaggerated and even blatantly untrue.

Mercedes de Acosta died in May 1968, aged 75.

A very good website of biographer Robert Schanke has lots more detail in several sections, and many photographs.


Born on 1 March 1893 in New York City. No time of birth is known, chart is set for 12 noon.

Pisces Sun (self) was in harmonious trine to Uranus (avant garde) in Scorpio (sex, eroticism) - a clue!

Sun also sextile Mars (the masculine), with both planets linking via quincunx (150*) to Saturn - possibly indicates an innate but scratchy relationship of a female/masculine self funnelled through Saturn (work - her writing)? Saturn in Libra, the apex of that Yod, also links harmoniously to the generational Pluto/Neptune conjunction in Gemini, combining creativity and sexiness/darkness.

What else? We can't know Moon's position without a time of birth - was it Leo or Virgo? Leo seems most fitting, but Virgo is ruled by Mercury and Mercedes was a writer. So - take your pick!

Venus, planet of love and art in Aquarius links to her avant garde nature and Venus lay in helpful sextile to Jupiter in Aries, which, being translated = a whole lot(Jupiter) of love (Venus).

Friday, February 27, 2015

Arty Farty Friday ~ John Tenniel, Alice & Political Cartooning

(Sir)John Tenniel was born in Bayswater, London, England on 28 February in 1820. His father was a dance teacher, the family lived in what has been described by a biographer as "genteel poverty", a state which afforded John a minimum of early formal education. Aided by his father's tuition he learned and polished some athletic skills - fencing, dancing and riding. His fencing practice resulted in an accidental blinding of his right eye. He attended the Royal Academy but soon removed himself, unimpressed by the quality of teaching there. Some of his artwork was exhibited when John was about 16 years old, which led to early recognition of his talent. Commissions began to arrive, a significant one was to create a fresco for the House of Lords (a division of the British Parliament).

In 1850 Tenniel joined the staff of Punch magazine as principal political cartoonist, he held that post for some 50 years. His work drew the attention of Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) who approached the artist with a request that he should illustrate a book, Alice's Adventures Under Ground. The book was published, in 1865, as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, it contained 34 beautifully engraved line drawings, by John Tenniel, and became a classic. Tenniel later provided illustrations for Through the Looking-Glass(1872).

John Tenniel's work as cartoonist was always his natural preference, though his fame to this day, some 145 years later, stems from his "Alice" book illustrations. The reason being, I guess, that his political cartoons were "of that moment", and soon lost much of their relevance. They remain interesting, as pieces of history, though.

John Tenniel died on 25 February 1914.

A few examples of his cartoons, along with some of his best known illustrations.

In an arena formed of cotton bales, President Lincoln (still shown as clean-shaven) and the newly-elected President of the Confederate States, Jefferson Davis, square off as gladiators before an audience comprised of black slaves, one of whom sits in imperial state [cf. April 29, 1865]. The caption’s reference to “Emperor Caesar” may be ironically intended, as Caesar was a popular slave name.

The two combatants are armed with Bowie knives rather than the Roman gladius short swords. Each also has a pistol tucked into his belt, reflecting European perceptions about American violence and lawlessness (in many countries it was illegal for ordinary citizens to carry firearms). Lincoln holds a shield emblazoned with a representation of the national flag of the United States, while Davis’ shield bears the “Stars and Bars” flag. (See HERE)

  Widespread sympathy was felt in Britain for the grief  of the United States after Lincoln's assassination

 Father Neptune: Look here, my lass! You used to "Rule the Waves" but if you mis-rule 'em, as you've done lately, by jingo there'll be a row!!!
Britannia I'm sure I don't know who's to blame Papa dear!
Father Neptune: Don't know !!!  Then pipe all hands and find out!!!


Born in London on 28 February 1820. No time of birth available, chart set for 12 noon.

Sir John Tenniel had a natal Pisces/Aries blend - not as easy-going a blend as Pisces/Aquarius I'd have thought. Creative dreamer blended with enthusiastic initiator. His Aries bits must have felt like a regular alarm bell constantly waking him from dreaminess. In his early years he did train, under his father's tuition, in a variety of athletic activities - this relates well to the Aries flavour in his chart. I haven't read much about the kind of man he was - or was perceived to be. From his artwork we have to assume he had a continuing sharp interest in political matters, and put this to use via his undeniable talent for drawing. His "Alice" book illustrations, though they brought him fame, were not really what he was about. Cartooning and politics seem to have been his first loves.

Sun, Mercury and Jupiter lay in Pisces, sign ruled by Neptune, and reflect his creativity, whether via his drawings of Alice's adventures, or illustrating the vagaries of political life in 19th century Britain and elsewhere.

Natal Saturn (law, authorities etc.) at 0 Aries, degree known as The Aries Point, a powerful degree, might offer a clue to his keen interest in political matters and interpretation of them in satirical fashion. Neptune conjunct Uranus on the Capricorn/Sagittarius cusp, though in itself a generational aspect, because the conjunction lay in helpful sextile to Tenniel's natal Jupiter, which conjoined his Sun/Mercury, adds a touch of the unexpected (Uranus) to this artist's creative (Neptune) gifts.

Without a time of birth Moon's exact position isn't known, other than that it would have been in Leo or Virgo as he was born. I don't have a reasonable guess to offer!