Friday, December 19, 2014

Arty Farty Friday ~ The Santa Side of Thomas Nast

I can't let this Arty Farty Friday - last one before Christmas - go by without taking a look at 19th century illustrator and cartoonist Thomas Nast. As well as being one of the USA's first influential (and controversial) political cartoonists he was the true originator of the image of Santa Claus we've grown used to seeing all our lives. Some people contend that Haddon Sundblom should be credited with the creation of today's best-known Santa image. His version is the one Coca Cola still uses. Sundblom was born more than 50 years after Nast though - he was not the originator, but was clearly inspired by Nast's Christmas illustrations.

Thomas Nast was born in Landau, Germany, on
27 September 1840, relocated to New York with his family six yeas later. His natural talent for drawing showed up early, by age 16 he was a draftsman for The Illustrated Newspaper. Three years later his work appeared in Harper's Weekly where he illustrated a report exposing police corruption. He soon became famous for cartoons castigating dishonest politicians, the Klu Klux Klan, and anarchists, while supporting the rights of Native Americans, African Americans, and conservation of wildlife.

Another of Nast's creations was the Democrat donkey, it appeared in an 1870 Harper's Weekly cartoon and was intended to represent an anti-war faction with whom he disagreed. The donkey symbol caught the public's imagination so the cartoonist continued using it to indicate some Democratic editors and newspapers.

His Christmas-time illustrations of Santa Claus, inspired by Clement Moore's well-known poem, The Night Before Christmas, must have provided Nast with a much-needed breather from constant political angst! His love for his wife and family show through in his Christmas drawings, his children appear in some of them, and settings reflect Nast's home in Morristown, New Jersey. It is thought that tales of St. Nicholas heard in Germany as a child also inspired his perception of Santa Claus, a perception that changed and developed as time passed. One of his early drawings of Santa depicted a small, almost elfin, character dressed in brown; another, from Civil War days is below. (Click on any image for a larger, clearer view.)

Thomas Nast: born in Landau, Germany on 27 September 1840. Chart set for 12 noon as no time of birth is known.

With Sun, Mercury, Venus (art) and very possibly Moon in Venus-ruled Libra; also Neptune in socially conscious Aquarius harmoniously trining the planets in Libra, it's no surprise to find a socially conscious artist emerge! Where's his Santa-vibe though? Is it quirky Uranus in dreamy Pisces in trine to expansive, generous Jupiter in secretive Scorpio? I think so! Santa can be the world's best kept secret.

A few more examples of Thomas Nast's Santa side:

He illustrated books published by McLoughlin Brothers such as A Visit From St. Nicholas, Santa Claus and His Works, and provided Harper's Weekly with annual Christmas drawings until 1886. In 1889 his popular Christmas drawings from Harper's were published in a book: Christmas Drawings for the Human Race.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Watching Freebies

We haven't been to the cinema this week. A couple of weeks ago husband inadvertently clicked on something at Amazon and received a free month of Amazon Prime, which includes access to their library of films and TV shows (similar set up to Netflix). We've been exploring the freebie opportunity, using Roku, and have found lots to entertain us. We've binge-watched a season each of The Good Wife and Justified (starting from season where previous rental DVDs ended). We've just begun watching season 1 of Warehouse 13 - new to us. It's a fun sci-fi/fantasy series with echoes of The X-Files, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. We also found a couple of decent movies, as well as one we considered not so decent and decided it did not deserve the acclaim it had received.

One of the most enjoyable films was Hachi- A Dog's Tale. A tale about a dog? I can never resist one of those, never have been able to since first seeing Lassie Come Home, long ago and far away when I was very young. Hachi was a new one to me. It's based on a Japanese true story of a lost puppy, found and cherished, with much doggy loyalty in return. The story reminded me a lot of an old Scottish doggy story, Greyfriars Bobby.

Tears are almost always par for the course in doggy movies - a foregone conclusion. Gratuitous sentimentality abounds, tissues will be to hand, and were essential for Hachi!

The movie we didn't much like, but struggled complainingly through because, well, "Scorsese can't be too bad can he?" (Yes!) : The Wolf of Wall Street with Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort. Talk about gratuitous - not sentimentality this time - soft-porn-ish sex scenes, one every few minutes it seemed like. Boring repetitious bad language, the word "fuck" loses all impact when repeated again and again... and again as part of every sentence uttered. The film is based on Jordan Belfort's memoir, so presumably it is at least partly true. Even with Scorsese at the helm, The Wolf of Wall Street, for us, didn't come anywhere near the quality of Oliver Stone's 1987 film Wall Street, with Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko.

On we go then, there are lots of freebies still to sample!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Saturn versus Saturnalia

17 December, in the Roman calendar, marked the beginning of Saturnalia, a two-week festival celebrating the god Saturn. Because, in traditional astrology, Saturn the planet has been labelled a malefic - the "greatest malefic" in fact, one might find it puzzling that Romans celebrated so enthusiastically the god after whom the planet has been named. Or, conversely, why the farthest visible planet from Earth was so named, and accredited as malefic when its godly namesake had been so obviously revered.

In her book Mythic Astrology, astrologer Liz Greene began a chapter on Saturn thus:
The Golden Age is an ancient and indestructible human dream. Not only the bible, but the myths of the Sumerians, Babylonians, Greeks and Romans describe it, each with its own story of a Fall when divine law was transgressed by erring humans. And we conjure up the dream of the Golden Age now, whenever we turn to the past and glimpse the shining vision of a time of law and order, when human beings lived in harmony with the cycles of nature and had not yet degenerated into violence and corruption. In Hesiod's Cosmogony this Golden Age was under benign rule of the stern but just Greek deity, Kronos, whom the Romans called Saturn. He was god of earth, not of heaven, and he governed the orderly cycles of the seasons, the irrevocable passage of time, and the laws by which men and women might live in accordance with nature and their own mortality. As patron of agriculture and lord of the harvest, he symbolized the fertility of the tilled earth and conferred the rewards of honest effort. He was a working god and a wise king, who taught men and women how to press the olive and cultivate the vine. To those who obeyed his laws of discipline, time and mortality, he was a generous ruler who offered peace and abundance. To those who sought to impose their own will on the laws of life itself, he was a merciless and implacable judge. The Romans worshiped his friendly face at the year's end through the two-week carnival of the Saturnalia, which even Rio, in Brazil, has never succeeded in surpassing. It has been suggested that the name Saturn comes from the Latin 'sator', meaning to sow; and on the most profound level this god symbolized the dictum that as we sow, so shall we reap.

In Louis MacNeice's book, Astrology, I found the illustration below - click on it for a sharper image:
15th-century German allegorical picture of Saturn and some of the types of people associated with this planet. Saturn, depicted as aa horseman, rides in the sky above his two Zodiac signs, Capricorn and Aquarius. To astrologers, Saturn's influence is mostly malignant, causing misfortune, disease and death - indicated here by the criminals in the stocks and on the gallows and the hobbling cripple. Some less unfortunate Saturn types portrayed are the farmer (plowing), the gardener (digging), and the tanner (skinning a horse).

Saturnalia was in no way malignant, apart perhaps from a few nasty hangovers after days of carousing. During the long festival all social hierarchies and obligations were temporarily suspended, creating a period of chaos, a world upside down, symbol of renewal.

From Winter Solstice Traditions. Hat tip HERE
The Romans called it Dies Natalis Invicti Solis, the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun. The Roman midwinter holiday, Saturnalia, was both a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. Riotous merry-making took place, and the halls of houses were decked with boughs of laurel and evergreen trees. Lamps were kept burning to ward off the spirits of darkness. Schools were closed, the army rested, and no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewellery, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens symbolizing life's continuity, and processions of people with masked or blackened faces and fantastic hats danced through the streets...... Roman masters feasted with slaves, who were given the freedom to do and say what they liked (the medieval custom of all the inhabitants of the manor, including servants and lords alike, sitting down together for a great Christmas feast, came from this tradition). A Mock King was appointed to take charge of the revels (the Lord of Misrule of medieval Christmas festivities had his origin here).
So... Saturnalia was a reverse of the Saturnian norm, an annual loosening of daily demands, bonds and customs. Sounds like a good idea! As Mick Jagger is credited as having said though, "It’s okay to let yourself go, just as long as you let yourself back." That is a fairly Saturnian statement to my mind. Hmmm. Well, well, well, whad'ya know? Jagger has Saturn in his first house, could be quite close to his ascending degree. (See HERE.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Perfectly Ideal

In C.E.O. Carter's Encyclopaedia of Psychological Astrology paragraphs headed "Idealistic Temperament" had me agreeing, then puzzling -
"The idealistic temperament has least affinity with Saturn and the earthy element, and most with the fiery (especially Sagittarius) and with Libra and Aquarius. At the same time idealism cannot be limited to one type, nor can we say that any sign invariably produces it. ...."
Nothing to argue with so far, except perhaps to point out that Saturn can be Airy as well; it was traditional ruler of Aquarius, a sign often linked to idealistic tendencies.

This, at first glance, was more surprising:
"Possibly Virgo and Taurus are the least idealistic and most matter-of-fact, but exceptions can undoubtedly be found even under them........"
Virgo-types, I'd have though were most likely of any to strive for the ideal...or is their tendency to perfectionism something different? Do perfectionists aim for THE ideal, as opposed to AN ideal?


Perfectionism relates to practical matters rather than airy fairy philosophical ideas and ideals. So yes, while some Virgo-types could be both perfectionists and idealists, that is not likely to be found in the majority of cases. Meticulousness, precision, practicality and attention to detail are commonly associated with Virgo, all are ingredients of perfectionism.

Perfection does not exist in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.--Angelique Arnauld

Conversely, while Sagittarius-types, Libra-types and Aquarius-types could be both idealists and perfectionists - it's not going to be the norm for them. They tend to live in their minds, or within their own philosophies of life and visions of an, often unrealistic ideal world, where fastidiousness about practical details fades into the background.

“Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one”

― John Lennon, Imagine

When investigating a particular facet of personality, the whole chart has to be taken into consideration, Sun sign alone doesn't tell the whole story, nor does a combination of Sun/Moon/ascendant. In the case of idealists especially, the position of Neptune could merit attention. Neptune's reputation for illusion or delusion could contribute to some overly idealistic visions, especially if closely linked by aspect to a personal planet.

Perfectionism and idealism can both be veritable pains in the ass; I lean more towards the latter than the former, but a fragile strand of perfectionism within me tells me that any ideals I embrace are fairly unrealistic...still, it costs nothing to embrace 'em.

Leonard Cohen says it best:

The birds they sang
At the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
Has passed away
Or what is yet to be

Ah the wars they will
Be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
Bought and sold
And bought again
The dove is never free

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

We asked for signs
The signs were sent:
The birth betrayed
The marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
Of every government
Signs for all to see

I can't run no more
With that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places
Say their prayers out loud
But they've summoned up, they've summoned up
A thundercloud
And they're going to hear from me

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

You can add up the parts
But you won't have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
Every heart, every heart
To love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
That's how the light gets in
That's how the light gets in

Monday, December 15, 2014

Music Monday ~ Evolution of A Merry Little.....

Christmas songs or seasonally-flavoured music begin to get old quickly when radio, TV, internet start pushing them through our ears even before the dishes from Thanksgiving are washed and dried. It is mid- December now, maybe I can safely mention one well-known Christmas-time ditty - I discovered a new fact about it this time around.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - yeah - that one!

Most people older than, say 45, will know the song originated in a 1944 movie starring Judy Garland: Meet Me in St Louis. The song was written by Hugh Martin and (possibly) Ralph Blane. The version written for the movie, to fit the film's storyline, was never used, it was thought by Judy Garland to be too depressing; it was, take a look!

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
It may be your last
Next year we may all be living in the past
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Pop that champagne cork
Next year we may all be living in New York
No good times like the olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us no more
But at least we all will be together
If the Lord allows
From now on, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Judy Garland felt the lyrics were too dismal for the scene in which it was to be used - she was to sing the song to a little girl (played by Margaret O'Brien).

Hugh Martin obliged with some alternative words:

Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
Next year all our troubles will be out of sight
Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Make the yuletide gay
Next year all our troubles will be miles away
Once again as in olden days
Happy golden days of yore
Faithful friends who were dear to us
Will be near to us once more
Someday soon we all will be together
If the fates allow
Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow
So have yourself a merry little Christmas now.

Even that much uplift wasn't enough for Frank Sinatra's Sagittarian soul though, when he came to record the song. He didn't even want to "muddle through somehow", so had the line adjusted to

Hang a shining star upon the highest bough.

Awww Frank!

Among the many old and newer recordings you'll come across both adjusted versions, and maybe the odd hybrid.

That's not the end of the story. Hugh Martin later on, after moving from New York to Hollywood, had difficulties which led him to "get religion". He wrote a version of his song reflecting this - lyrics to Have Yourself A Blessed Little Christmas are HERE.

The song, with its varied lyrics, will be done to death between now
and December 25th, so it's nice to listen to a really good instrumental version for a change. Here's the best one I've found: Grover Washington.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Fad, Fun, Fashion, Irony and Taste.

Yesterday morning I spent a pleasant half hour, chuckling, as I read this piece at Lawyers Guns & Money: Lumbersexuality and a Crisis of Masculinity by Erik Loomis, and its thread of fun comments. That piece had been inspired by an article by Willa Brown in The Atlantic.

In nutshell mode, what it's all about is some current male fad to grow beards and wear flannel plaid, lumberjack style  (plaid being the American term for any old check-pattern, not proper Scottish plaid as in kilt).

As I see it, such a fad, assuming it is actually a fad and not just a practical avoidance of the regular need to shave, whilst keeping warm in winter temperatures,  may be just another way of trying to "belong" or conform to a group who think of themselves as "hipsters".  That'd be somewhat ironic though, because hipsters proper are not supposed to conform to anything.  Or, as the article's title suggests,  is this an indication that more males are feeling the need to crank up their masculine side?

Living as I do, close to the Oklahoma-Texas border, the sight of men in beards and plaid shirts is an everyday experience when out and about (not around the house though; husband will not, under any circumstance, wear a checked flannel shirt. Why this is I haven't yet discovered.) In Texoma the sight of beards and plaid definitely does not indicate an influx of hipsters to the region, nor, I suspect does it mean that Okie males need  ways of proving their cojones.

If so-called hipsters in more north-eastern urban areas find amusement in aping rural or working-class garb, while embracing "indie" music and movies, along with anything else but "the norm", then I have to feel a little sorry for them. The fact that they are conforming anyway, to a group, seems to have flown over the tops of their deliberately unkempt heads.

I don't like the "ironic" in its fashion translation. One of the nastiest  examples was/is the sight of multi-millionaire "celebrities" wearing designer jeans bought already torn and frayed, and designer teeshirts created with "moth-eaten" holes and worn edgings. I don't call that ironic, I call it bad taste - especially as said garments probably cost far more than a year's food ration for a person who is forced to wear naturally tattered clothing from necessity.

Still on the topic of taste - of the bad variety, how about Seth Rogen's new movie, The Interview, due out this weekend? The film's theme is assassination of Kim Jong-un - this described as "humorous". Really? Nobody in the West has much time for Kim J-u, but murder is murder. It's no use wringing one's hands about the murder of black men by American police if you're going to laud and enjoy a depiction of murder of some, admittedly nasty, person in North Korea - and for fun. The ticket price will ensure that multi-millionaires make even more multi-millions of $$$$$$$$ from it! And - by the by - how funny would it be if the target of this schoolboy-type humour were to arrange for a weaponised drone or two to be aimed in this direction?