Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mini Rant and More Thoughts on Scotland

Tomorrow the Scots will have their chance to vote on the issue of Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. I've already said my piece on this, post is HERE. Reading around during the past few days, though, I've been shocked at the naked racism contained in much online commentary. Some commenters seem to assume that it's alright to malign the English in general, as a race - one blatant example from many:
Comment under a piece at Smirking Chimp:
Giving the Sassenachs a Big Scare by Eric Margolis:

from "oldeyank"
Well deserved split.....Fuck the English!
Nasty, vicious, arrogant, pompous ass, condescending, buck-toothed chinless wonders. Serves them right! And, about bloody time.
Would it be acceptable to make comparable comment about African Americans, Native Americans, Jewish people? Of course not. Because it's about the English people it's seen to be okay?
No it's not okay! Do some Americans actually understand what racism is? This reveals that there remains a need to nurture racism in the hearts of certain factions in the USA. When they are pilloried for hating this group of people or that group of people, they turn on a set about whom they know practically nothing and shed their vile hatred upon them with impunity (or so they assume).

I have never seen such a load of arrant bullshit, written by Americans in comment threads, as I've seen on this topic. I did come across one very good observation late yesterday, it's part of a weekly post at Avedon's Sideshow
I hope the blogger, Ms Carol, an American resident in London, will not object to my copying it here.

OK, the reason Scots want independence from Westminster is that Westminster is being run by a load of right-wing scum that seems to take special pleasure from screwing Scotland. (Well, Maggie sure did.) Of course those people are also screwing most of the people in England, which is now a runaway train, thanks in large part to the way the Labour Party membership has allowed their own party to be run by people who may not be capital-C Conservatives but are certainly Tories. Which sounds a lot like American politics, of course, except that there doesn't seem to be much threat of, say, California declaring itself an independent nation and taking it's Democratic votes in the Electoral College with it. A lot of people are fretting that without Scotland, England will be stuck with Conservative governments forever, but that is true only to the extent that everyone is happy to let neoliberal policies keep marching on without an argument. The question, judging from the kinds of arguments some of my friends are having, is whether the answer is a new generation of Labour members banding together to take back their party on behalf of real people, or whether creating a new party is the more feasible path to that end. Again, sounding familiar. In both cases, of course, nothing is going to work unless people are prepared to fight the right-wing rhetoric, as well as the policies, with something more than fevered angst.

Rant over.

Whatever the majority in Scotland decide tomorrow they will have to abide by it. Speaking of majorities, would it not have been a fairer basis to the referendum if a minimum percentage had been made a requirement in the Yes/No result, before a complete break from the UK were possible? I dunno exactly what percentage, but certainly nothing as close as most predict the result is going to be.

I hope the Scots do not forget, as they cast their votes, that the new boss will be "same as the old boss" (as sung long ago by English rock band The Who). As another commenter, elsewhere (edcaryl) observed, "This is Scotland's version of Obama's old "CHANGE" slogan - and "YES WE CAN!" It means all things to all people... and nothing".

I doubt anyone voting tomorrow will be reading this blog. Anyway, an interesting piece I found, written by Ewan Morrison, an award-winning Scottish author and screenwriter, is a good read for general interest. The experiences described can be related to many politically-related issues and attitudes. Something to bear in mind as, in the USA, congressional elections in November approach, and a General election in 2016 is being gambled upon already.
Title: YES: Why I Joined Yes and Why I Changed to No

Last words go to two other commenters from around the net, the first whose screen name I've accidentally lost:

Whether or not Alex Salmond gets his place in history as the man that destroyed the UK, he will still get his place in history as the man who divided and destroyed Scotland, inciting hatred and spite across Scotland and UK. Would hate to be in Scotland when the results come through. Could be a dangerous place to be.
And from "barrybethel", appropriate to a blog where astrology is frequently a topic:
Perhaps it's cyclical also. Students of markets such as Elliott, Kondratiev, Gann etc. have long noted that there are tides in the affairs of men (oh, and the Bard too it seems).

Sometimes we are harmonious, productive and all for closer union - the next, it's all going to hell and divorce and war are on the cards.

Maybe it's just in the stars.

Maybe so!!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When restaurants were restaurants, and chefs were chefs: Adolphe Dugléré

Continuing yesterday's theme of food and restaurants, let's take a look at a chef, from a time before chain restaurants, and when chefs were chefs and not TV stars: Adolphe Dugléré . He was born on 3 June 1805 in Bordeaux, France, died in 1884.

Dugléré was a pupil of Marie Antoine (Antonin) Carême, head chef of the Rothschild family. In 1866 Dugléré became head chef of a famous 19th century Paris restaurant, the Cafe Anglais. He is generally credited with creating the potato dish, Pommes Anna, said to have been named after actress Dame Judic (real name: Anna Damiens/Anna DesLions. He also created Germiny Soup, a cream of sorrel soup, dedicated to the head of the Banque de France, the Comte de Germiny.

It was at the Cafe Anglais that Duglere served the famous banquet, 'Dinner of the Three Emperors,' on 7 June 1867, for Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and King William I of Prussia. Opened in 1802, the restaurant was named in honor of the Treaty of Amiens, a peace accord signed between Britain and France. In the beginning, its clientele were coachmen and domestic servants but later became frequented by actors and patrons of the nearby Opera House. It was after the arrival of chef Adolphe Dugléré that the Café Anglais achieved its highest gastronomic reputation. It was then frequented by the wealthy and the aristocracy of Paris.

The Dinner of the Three Emperors was, acording to King William I of Prussia who frequented the cafe during the Exposition Universelle, to be a meal to be remembered and at which no expense was to be spared for himself and his guests, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, plus his son the tsarevitch (who later became Tsar Alexander III), and Prince Otto von Bismarck.

The banquet consisted of 16 courses with eight wines served over eight hours. Full details at Wikipedia HERE. The cost of the meal was, back then, 400 francs per person. When a chef of today tried to replicate the menu as far as possible in the 21st century, the cost turned out to be in the region of $7,500 per head , (another source calculated it at 9,000 Euros per head).

At 1 o'clock in the morning, Tsar Alexander is reported to have complained that the meal had not contained foie gras. Burdel explained that it was not the custom in French cuisine to eat foie gras in June. The Tsar was satisfied with the answer. Each emperor was sent a terrine of foie gras as a gift the following October.

TSK!!!!! (I shall limit myself to just that).

Adolphe Dugléré was described as a taciturn and serious person who demanded ingredients of the highest quality and abhorred drunkenness and smoking. He forbade his employees to smoke even outside of the workplace. Neither were customers allowed to smoke until dinner was over, at which time the maître d’hôtel went from table to table lighting cigars. Little more is known about him because he left no publications but he did leave some notebooks which are on permanent loan to the National Library in Paris.

This chef's natal chart, set for 12 noon as no time of birth is available:

Sun conjunct Venus in Gemini; if I didn't know this was the chart of a chef I'd have guessed at someone in the arts - writing, painting. Chefs are artists too - with food. I like to see some Taurus emphasis in a chef's chart, Taurus surely has to be the "foodiest" sign in the zodiac, and Mercury is there in Dugléré's chart.

Chef's Moon would have been in either early Virgo or late Leo. I'd bet on Virgo, bearing in mind the descriptions above: "taciturn", "serious", demanding of the best, fastidious in requirements of staff and customers. Moon was quite likely conjunct Mars in Leo too. Mars here could add touch of aggression to his demanding nature. I found, during my times working in hotel offices in my youth, that chefs on the whole were quite an aggressive species. I've seen more than one chef, brandishing a knife, pursuing a waiter around his kitchen. I guess working in constant heat and pressure could do that to a person.

Uranus conjunct Saturn in Libra; Neptune conjunct Jupiter in Scorpio. Uranus and Saturn, usually opposites, here perhaps reflect the chef's inventiveness (Uranus) in his work (Saturn) environment - new dishes and methods. Neptune and Jupiter conjoined in the Scorpio and Sagittarius cusp area: Jupiter in its own sign has to mean excess, with Neptune so close, perhaps even an addiction to excess. Maybe I'm being adversely influenced by that obscenely excessive menu described in the post though!

PS:There are some archived posts featuring chefs, accessible by - would ya believe - clicking on "chefs" in the label cloud in the sidebar.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Monday "in the middle of a chain reaction..."

The weekend brought news that Olive Garden cooks don't put salt in the water when cooking pasta. Trivial and inconsequential as that is, it offered a break from other available news diets: ISIS, Ukraine, miscellaneous sporting "celebs" who delight in giving their wives a good slapping around - or worse.

We don't eat out a lot, other than when away from home on one of our trippy explorations. Eating out then becomes part of the adventure. To those who've lived their lives in the USA, chain restaurants may seem, from what I read online, to be an anathema. To me, relatively new to the USA's version of "cuisine", American chain restaurants were, and still are, an interesting concept waiting to be explored.

I'm no foodie. I cannot be doing with effete and elitist crap on any front, including would-be food critics' ideas on "cuisine". I suspect that a good percentage of the derision aimed at US chain restaurants boils down to pure snobbery.

It all depends on whether one eats to live or lives to eat, I guess.

My main complaint about chain restaurants in the USA is the way they treat their staff. Ridiculously low pay rates, poor if any health insurance, leaving servers to rely on customers' tips. Yet, if we were to boycott chains, more people would lose their jobs. Catch 22 .... or something like it.

I grew up, as did most of my contemporaries in England, eating good plain home-cooked food. Typically English food is also a target of derision by effete and elite foodies. But that's another story.

Of the USA's major chain restaurants so far explored, my personal favourite is Cracker Barrel - spoiled only by a recent comment indicating that the chain is frequented mainly by Republican-loving folk. Much the same applies to country music - which used to be my favourite musical genre until sullied by a similar connection to Republicanism. Still though, Cracker Barrel's Haddock Dinner with home-style fries and some sides is the best fish dish, beautifully cooked, even if from frozen as it must be, that I've tasted since living in the USA.

Applebee's. Their menu these days isn't as good as it used to be a few years ago. A favourite Bruschetta Salad has disappeared, and their fish and chips leave much to be desired. Chili's is like Applepbee's younger sister. It's nice to be able to have a glass of beer or wine with a meal in these venues.

Olive Garden has never been a favorite of ours. In fact, I have never had a really good Italian meal since I arrived in the USA. I put this down to the fact that we've lived and travelled mainly in the mid-section of this vast land, and mostly outside of huge metropolises. Proper ingredients for Italian cuisine just are not available in these parts of the country, or if they were to be ordered in from Italy, would put meal prices through the roof. So what we get, at chains like Olive Garden, or privately-owned Italian-style restaurants, is "pretend" Italian food, of varying quality.

Mexican restaurants, whether chain or privately owned are likely to have similar, though less severe, problems to Italian restaurants. I've never been to Mexico so have nothing to compare Mexican food in mid-America, with food in Mexico. From what I can gather from others, there's a vast difference. I find most Tex-Mex a bit bland, but very occasionally have struck unexpectedly lucky in small, privately owned cafes.

Of the steakhouse or barbecue chains I've had little experience. We frequent these only when no alternative exists (quite often in small Texas towns). I'm not a meat eater by choice but not strict vegetarian; husband's not a steak enthusiast either, so if alternatives exist, then we go for them.

IHOP - I like IHOP, but this year their menu has gone through subtle changes. A favourite item - crepes filled with scrummy soft custardy stuff, then covered in fruit, has disappeared, with a much less delish alternative in its place. I think IHOP merged, or were taken over not long ago. This doesn't bode well! They're not as good as they were, but still quite acceptable.

Buffet type chains such as Golden Corral can be good or poor depending on the franchise holder. I find their salads sections most inviting. I think this style of restaurant will soon be a thing of the past, the branch in our town closed a couple of years ago, and another buffet-style restaurant closed in Lawton a year or so before that. I can imagine the reasons. To be profitable there'd have to be a constant stream of customers, otherwise waste involved would be huge. With so many other choices in most towns these days, customer volume would be bound to decline.

In our general area, within 50 or so miles, we're limited to Applebee's, Chili's, IHOP, Olive Garden, Red Lobster (been there only once - didn't enjoy), and Golden Corral. I know there are other chains out there, such as Ruby Tuesdays, TGI Fridays, Spaghetti Barn, and others, where we might, over the years, have sampled a single meal, but no lasting impression remains.

All in all, though most big chain restaurants don't inspire enthusiastic "ooohs" and "aahhs" when dishes are tasted, the establishments and their restrooms are always reliably clean, service is usually decent, and food good to acceptable - for the price - and that is no small consideration. So...what's to deride about chain restaurants, unless one hopes to appear as one of those insufferably sniffy food critics?

PS: The song in the post heading? Here it is: Chain Reaction, sung by Diana Ross backed by the Bee Gees, who wrote it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Another Rabbit Hole ~ Post techno decline, druid, astrology, geomancy...

I've wandered down an internet rabbit-hole again - easy to do is it not?! Reading a thread of commentary, on matters related to climate change, I followed a commenter's link to an article, Technological Superstitions, by one John Michael Greer, ("the Grand Archdruid of the Ancient Order of Druids in America and the author of more than thirty books on a wide range of subjects, including peak oil and the future of industrial society.") It's an excellent (and totally non-occult) read. As the commenter who recommended the piece wrote "[Greer] is honest, factual, documents his findings, is hopeful, but brutally succinct in his assessments that humanity is already well into it's post-technological decline". The piece is published at one of Mr Greer's blogs, The Archdruid Report. Another of his blogs, this with focus on the occult, is The Well of Galabes (Reflections on Druidry, Magic, and Occult Philosophy). In case anyone is wondering, like me, what or where is Galabes: it was a fountain or spring in Wales frequented by the legendary wizard, Merlin.

I pottered around some of JMG's articles on both blogs, read his book review headed Another Kind of Star Wars, relating to Ann Geneva's Astrology and the Seventeenth Century Mind: William Lilly and the Language of the Stars (1995). Then, curious to discover whether he'd written anything on astrology himself, did a brief search which threw up a page from his book, The Art and Practice of Geomancy.

JMG mentions that a 16th century geomancer called geomancy "daughter of astrology". I had no idea what geomancy involved, so wandered a little further down the rabbit hole to find a set of fairly brief pieces on Astrological Geomancy at Renaissance Astrology website. Also another good piece at HERE.

Those "figures" used in geomancy, made up of pairs or single dots rang a clear bell in my memory - still clear even though it comes from long, long ago. My maternal grandmother had an encyclopedia of... don't recall the exact title, but it boiled down to "strange stuff". It was a thick door stopper of a book which I loved to dip into whenever, as a child, I visited my grandparents. One of my favourite sections was devoted to what I only now realise was geomancy. I remember those patterns of dots very clearly. I think the book must have offered some simplified method of using them - maybe to answer a question; but at this point memory detail becomes foggy. I do remember that was section I'd first turn to; it always fascinated me, but until now I'd never stumbled upon those dot figures again, though often had wondered about them. The I-Ching reminded me of them a little, but seems to be far more complex. Grandma's book must have offered a very much simplified version of geomancy, in order for me to have understood it. So far, I'm not feeling much enthusiasm from what I've read online about geomancy.

If a passing reader has experience of using geomancy I'd be interested to hear about it.

On wandering back out of the rabbit hole again, passing by John Michael Greer, I wondered about his date of birth. He's secretive on this, it would seem. "1962" is the only clue we are given. One website states 1 January 1962, but I think this is because there's no other information available - I've come across this practice of using 1 January before, when only the birth year is known, and have been misled. Hmm... wasn't 1962 the year of the big Aquarius stellium - around February ? Yes it was! It'd be fun if JMG's birthdate fell during that span. Other natives, such as Garth Brooks, Clint Black, Axl Rose, Eddie Izzard might be very entertaining and successful but they don't really fit my idea of maxi-Aquarius-types. JMG might do so.

So...back to the surface again, until another rabbit-hole looks inviting enough to investigate.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ Joel-Peter Witkin....the horror of it all!

Wikipedia's page on Joel-Peter Witkin (born September 13, 1939, Brooklyn, NYC), an American photographer who lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, begins with this brief description:
His work often deals with such themes as death, corpses (and sometimes dismembered portions thereof), and various outsiders such as dwarves, transsexuals, hermaphrodites, and physically deformed people. Witkin's complex tableaux often recall religious episodes or classical paintings.
I'm not going to post any of his works here, apart from the two below - the only ones I found at all interesting and non-stomach-churning. For any passing reader with a strong stomach who'd be interested in seeing examples, do go HERE, HERE, or HERE (scroll down for the illustrations at third link).

 Night in a Small Town (2007)

Cupid and Centaur (1992)

There's a very good article by Cintra Wilson at Salon from 2000:

Joel-Peter Witkin
Is his darkly imaginative photography an intellectually camouflaged freak show or high art?

I'm going to take the liberty of borrowing a paragraph or two from it here.

My main reason for featuring this photographer/artist is because of his birth date. Sun and numerous other planets all in Virgo, seemed to me to be at odds with his choice of subject material.

Some pointers in random paragraphs from Cintra Wilson's piece:

His father was a Jewish glazier, his mother a Roman Catholic who worked in a DDT plant. His parents were unable to transcend their religious differences and the two divorced when Witkin was young, the boy remaining with his mother.

In his 1998 book “The Bone House,” Witkin claims that his unique visual sensibilities began to churn when, as a small child, he witnessed a terrible car accident in front of his home, in which a little girl was decapitated. He recalls her head rolling to his feet, her dead eyes staring upward. Witkin also cites urban crime photographer Weegee as an early influence.
(Note my Learning Curve OTE post on Weegee is HERE)

He has been the reigning king of deviant imagery — indeed, the thinking Goth’s favorite artist — since he came to public acclaim in the 1980s with his delicately posed corpses and bravely naked mutants, floridly arranged in beaten-silvertone, antique nightmare-scapes.
Over the years he’d developed an involved and zealous process for making his prints, which resulted in the silvery, found-antique quality his work became known for. Witkin scratches the negatives, then prints them through tissue paper to fuzz the texture of the image, giving the prints a specifically blurry, “timeless” quality. He then mounts the image on aluminum and applies pigments by hand. Finally, he covers the photographs with hot beeswax and reheats them, then cools and polishes. With this procedure, Witkin, a rabid perfectionist, produces an average of 10 of his coldly luxurious finished prints in a year.

Witkin’s subject matter is, in fact, atrocity itself, or anyone who looks like a victim of it, by accident or unfortunate birth. In 1985, he ran this advertisement to solicit models, asking the following people to contact him:
"Pinheads, dwarfs, giants, hunchbacks, pre-op transsexuals, bearded women, people with tails, horns, wings, reversed hands or feet, anyone born without arms, legs, eyes, breast, genitals, ears, nose, lips. All people with unusually large genitals. All manner of extreme visual perversion. Hermaphrodites and teratoids (alive and dead). Anyone bearing the wounds of Christ."
Witkin succeeded in reaching so many amputees, pre-operative transsexuals and other pinnacles of unseen society as modeling fodder that in 1989 he added to his original request: “women whose faces are covered with hair or large skin lesions willing to pose in evening gowns. People who live as comic-book heroes, boot, corset and bondage fetishists. Anyone claiming to be God. God.”

God is a big theme for Witkin. Like many good perverts, Witkin seems to suffer from what I like to call “Catholic burn.” As a practicing Roman Catholic, he appears to be obsessed with the fetishizing of everything nasty on the fringes of Jesus’ world, of all the “other” stuff ordinarily shunned by suburban philistines and the religiously repressed: freaks, violated corpses, fists up the ass, bondage, etc.

But Witkin routinely insists it’s not for prurient reasons. Oh, no. His work is a product of his higher religious leanings: “The images tended to repel and shock. Yet, I believe they possessed tender and enlightened qualities which were strangely moving … the figures were always isolated because the Sacred is always beyond nature, beyond existence.”

.... often claims to see himself as “loving the unloved, the damaged, the outcasts,” and such unconditional acceptance characterizes his work in general: like St. Francis of Assisi, who drank the pus of lepers in order to overcome his repulsion of them, Witkin is not a rubbernecker, an exploiter or a pessimist, but one who says Yes to everything questionable, even to the terrible. Why would you want to say Yes to death, dismemberment, or any of the other staples in Witkin’s banquet of the bizarre? It’s sort of like an extreme form of multiculturalism, a respect for that which is drastically foreign to you, even terrifying.

The work is beautiful enough to be “real art,” but it is still an intellectually camouflaged, carny peep show of the most debased and obvious water. You can put as many flowery wreaths and as much gorgeous photo technique as you want around a dead baby, and it will be art, yes, but it is still a dead baby. It is still a sideshow for the morbidly curious, regardless of how much Witkin may drone on about the deeply religious quality of his work.

For a slightly different take on Witkin and his work there's a piece by photographer Richard Emblin at Black Star Rising HERE.
Emblin describes Witkin;

...As a staunch “traditionalist” in his modus operandi, he has embraced Catholicism and a Jewish work ethic. While critics have employed many adjectives to describe his visual undertakings from “dark” to “morbid,” he is anything but; a man whose smile spans the Williamsburg bridge, can light up a conversation in seconds and whose eyes flicker like fully-charged strobes, whenever a joke is made.

I can find no time of birth, so chart is set for 12 noon on 15 September 1939, Brooklyn, NYC.

Sun, Mercury Venus, Neptune and, quite probably, Moon all in Virgo! He is described in Cintra Wilson's article as "a rabid perfectionist" (it was highlighted by me in the excerpt above).
That certainly describes a Virgo-type. Some of those Virgo planets are linked together in a Grand Trine in Earth signs (a kind of harmonious circuit), which links most of the Virgo planets to Mars and Uranus in the other Earth signs, Capricorn and Taurus respectively. As an everyday personality Witkin could well be the "feet- on-the-ground" guy I'd expect from an Earth Grand Trine, but somehow, once his muse kicks in, his feet are led to the darkness below ground. Venus, Neptune and Uranus are bound up in this Grand Trine, so his artistic impulses are led to the unusual, unexpected and highly creative. Not directly by Pluto, as might be expected though; Pluto is at 2 Leo, in trine to Jupiter in Aries. Perhaps Jupiter's reputation for excess, linked to Pluto's darkness and deathly implications, somehow play into Witkin's need for a kind of peculiar perfection.

All his natal planets are in Earth or Fire signs, no Water or Air, unless either element had been added via unknown sign on the ascendant angle. I'd hazard a guess at the obvious one: Scorpio, to add a bit of dark Watery passion into the mix.

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Remembering Again

Princess Di's death, JFK's assassination and 9/11, all spawned major conspiracy theories; a slew of other incidents, accidents and tragedies did too. In early instances theories travelled mainly via subversive magazines, some newspapers or TV programmes. With wider availability of the internet by 2001, conspiracy theories on the events of 9/11 spread ever wider, ever deeper.

Would an astrological configuration relate to conspiracy theories? C.E.O. Carter's Encyclopedia of Psychological Astrology is of no help in this; there's no entry under "conspiracy" or "conspiracy theory". I doubt that it was a term in common use when his book was first published in 1924. Something in the communal consciousness must have shifted between then and now - in line with the developments in technology and communications.

A generational quirk? A good bet for starters would be the Neptune in Scorpio generation. Neptune represents imagination and mystery. Scorpio represents secrets, paranoia and death. The generation born between 1957 and 1969 (now aged mid-40s to mid-50s) had it in them to dream up, or expand upon a creative idea with a touch of paranoia thrown in - the conspiracy theory - and have it (in today's terms) "go viral". This particular generation may be, or have been, instrumental in spreading the theories and nurturing them.

Back in 2014 now.... quoted at Counterpunch yesterday in a piece by Cesar Chelala: An Unlearned Lesson from 9/11
Rami G. Khouri, a contributing editor to the Beirut Daily Star, and a keen observer of international politics recently wrote, “Dear Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom: before you launch a new global war on terror and another coalition of countries to fight ISIS, please note that the last three decades of your global war on terror have sparked the greatest expansion of Islamist militancy and terrorism in modern history. This partly, maybe largely, because your military actions in Islamic lands usually destabilize those lands, allowing your enemies to organize and take root, and also provide the greatest magnet that attracts mostly fringe and lost young men to give meaning to their lives by joining what they see as a defensive jihad to save Islamic societies from your aggression.”
But the beat (of war drums) goes on...and on.