Saturday, May 30, 2015

TV Maturing Well ?

When we started watching Grace and Frankie, Netflix's own new series, without having read any reviews I was expecting a comedy - mainly due to Lily Tomlin's inclusion in the cast. Husband did laugh out loud a few times during the first couple of episodes - I didn't. I really disliked the show's pilot and second episode. Maybe it's due to my non-American background. Maybe due to ....oh, I don't aversion to certain sitcoms about a certain "class" of Americans. They always live in big houses with pools and a view of the ocean, they are lawyers, surgeons, always wealthy, clever, successful etc. etc. Such situations might have been just the thing to attract an audience a few decades back. TV viewers in the USA, then, might have been anticipating their own rise to such opulence. Now - not so much!

Basic storyline of Grace and Frankie is that "Grace" and "Frankie" (Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, respectively) women in their 70s, have been long married to lawyers who are business partners, Robert (Martin Sheen) and Sol (Sam Waterston). The husbands announce to their wives, over a communal dinner, that they've been in love with each other for 20 years, and intend leaving their wives to set up home together and marry. The guys hope to live out the rest of their lives in tune with their natural instincts. Both couples have grown-up families, bringing in four more regular cast members.

Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are probably the only two actresses, of the right age group, who could have carried off the parts of Grace and Frankie. They're a classic "odd couple" thrown together by circumstance. There are other, lesser known TV faces who could have played the parts of the husbands to much better effect though. Martin Sheen remains Jed Bartlett (West Wing) to me for all time. Sam Waterston's Law and Order character loomed large for me over his characterisation of an ultra-sensitive, soft and gentle gay guy.

The show did grow on me some during the 13 episodes of its first season. It still isn't, for me, what it ought to be, and could be. Maybe Season 2 will improve it still further. In any case, it is good to see another show with its focus on characters of an older generation, and not portraying them like doddering old fools. In tandem with its more mature characters the show approaches what had been "a sensitive subject": being married to a heterosexual partner while gay. For those factors alone I should give Grace and Frankie a gold star!

Another show we saw early on in our Roku-owning time, was Amazon's Transparent, starring Jeffrey Tambor as a guy who dared to came out as transgender in later life. I much preferred the general tenor of that series to that of Grace and Frankie. The humour was less forced, more natural; the characters warmer, and far more believable.

An excellent British TV drama series we found, I think also on Amazon Prime during our free month's trial a while back: Last Tango in Halifax. It's another drama mixing love stories of an elderly couple (played by Anne Reid and Derek Jacobi), with an interwoven theme of a lesbian relationship of one of their daughters (played by Sarah Lancashire). Characters in this series were totally believable; there was humour and pain mixed with delicate deftness, skilled writing and acting. Maybe I'm a wee bit prejudiced because the action took place in my native county of Yorkshire!

Thank goodness some writers and producers are at last cottoning on to the fact that there is an audience out here made up of more than teens, twenties, thirties and forty-somethings! We have time to watch too, and we have been starved of decent drama and comedy to which we can easily relate. I don't want to watch nothing but "oldie" stories, I enjoy films and shows featuring younger people, as long as their themes are interesting, funny, witty, clever or science-fiction related - so few of them are though. Writers of such shows will often throw in a token "oldie" to keep things, as Fox News puts it "fair and balanced", but those token characters are usually portrayed in such a way that is anything but fair and balanced - just like Fox News!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Arty Farty Friday ~ Abbott Handerson Thayer's Angels and Camouflage

Abbott Handerson Thayer, I'd never heard or read the name before. Even had I encountered one of his paintings in a museum or gallery I'd have passed by quickly I suspect, as most of his best known works depict angelic winged figures - not my tha-a ng!

I noticed this artist's name among a list of deaths for today, 29 May, in 1921. He was born on
August 12, 1849 in Boston, Massachusetts.

I skimmed a few articles online to discover more about him. It turns out that he should be remembered for more than his angel figures (which, by the way he insisted were not meant to be angels, as angels are usually perceived). He was no follower of organised religion, but was a "spiritual" type, a follower of his generation's
"in thing": transcendentalism.

First of many of Thayer's paintings of chaste, lovely young women, usually winged, sometimes with halos was the painting below of his 11-year-old daughter Mary as personification of virginal, spiritual beauty, giving her a pair of wings and calling the canvas "Angel". The wings, he said, were only there to create “an exalted atmosphere” — to make the maidens timeless. Other of Thayer's winged female paintings, as well as some of his portraits and landscapes, can be seen via Google Image.

Digressing! The other, quite different, facet of Thayer links to his early interest in birds and nature in general. He and his family lived for many years near Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire, an area with which he fell deeply in love. Thayer's love of the countryside, wildlife and nature was what gave him an early idea - possibly the earliest - to point out that, as a form of camouflage is present in much of nature, something similar could be used in wartime for military personnel and for equipment, as protection, disguising their position, confusing the enemy.
He is credited with being the first to write about disruptive patterning (he called it 'razzle-dazzle'), which breaks up an animal's outlines; about masquerade, as when a creature mimics something in its environment; and about countershading, such as the white undersides of animals that make them seem less round and less solid. He became obsessed with the idea that all animals are camouflaged.
(New England Historical Society, here)
Thayer's ideas on camouflage (a good piece on this is at Order Rhythm and Pattern, here) were not initially well-received. Eventually, though, they were taken up as experimental, and in some cases improved upon during World War I.
Camouflage, patterns are now familiar to everyone, from military combat uniform, as well as from similar patterns transferred to items of casual clothing and accessories, embraced mostly by young people as a way of standing out as "cool" (though the irony probably escapes 'em!)

Abbott Handerson Thayer suffered from what's now labelled "bi-polar disorder". He described the affliction himself as "the Abbott pendulum," two extremes: "all-wellity" and "sick disgust." He also suffered from “oceans of hypochondria,” blamed on his mother, and from an “irritability” he claimed to be inherited from his father. Plagued by sleeplessness, exhaustion, anxiety, petty illness, bad eyes and headaches, he struggled constantly. Loss of his wife, Kate, at a young age to a lung infection affected him, and his work, greatly. Left with three children, he soon married again, to a family friend, Emma Beach, who had been helping to care for the children.

Personality-wise, Thayer is described in this Smithsonian piece as
Impractical, erratic, improvident, Thayer described himself as “a jumper from extreme to extreme.” He confessed to his father that his brain only “takes care of itself for my main function, painting.” Later he would compose letters to Freer in his head and then be surprised that his patron had not actually received them. Though Thayer earned a fortune, selling paintings for as much as $10,000, an enormous sum in those days, money was often a problem. With wheedling charm he would pester Freer for loans and advance payments.
Thayer cut a singular figure. A smallish man, 5 feet 7 inches tall, lean and muscular, he moved with a quick vitality. His narrow, bony face, with its mustache and aquiline nose, was topped by a broad forehead permanently furrowed by frown lines from concentration. He began the winter in long woolen underwear, and as the weather warmed, he gradually cut off the legs till by summer he had shorts. Winter and summer he wore knickers, knee-high leather boots and a paint-splotched Norfolk jacket.


I think the artist's extremes of temperament mentioned above must be reflected here in Neptune's loose fogginess intensified by its position, in its own sign Pisces, opposed by Jupiter in organised meticulous Virgo. The configuration astrologers call a T-square shown in the small chart links the opposition to Mars and/or Moon in Gemini intensifying an ongoing challenge to balance that pesky opposition.

Venus, planet of the arts, is in a nicely harmonious trine aspect to creative Neptune, as well as in helpful sextile to Jupiter. Jupiter links to the religious/spiritual, which links back to Thayer's signature angelic-seeming figures.

Thayer's interest in camouflage - where might that be found in his natal chart? In the square aspect Neptune makes to Mars, maybe Moon too? Neptune's cloaking fog challenges Mars, planet of aggression and war? Saturn in Mars-ruled Aries squaring arty Venus in gentle Cancer could also be seen as a co-ordinating reflection.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Good & Not So Old Days

Looking back in time, not too far - a few decades only - have we lost something important without fully realising it? Two articles below offer food for thought:

Ten polite things people just don't seem to do anymore
(E.g. 2 of them: writing thank you notes; giving your undivided attention to your company, rather than your phone.)

Does the digital era herald the end of history?
"But anyone who's seen their photo or music collections wiped out, knows how easily digital files can be lost".

"And in an increasingly networked digital world, the same catastrophic result could be achieved by a particularly virulent piece of malware or through state-sponsored cyber-warfare. The loss of this data could plunge the world into a "digital dark age", warns "father of the internet" Vint Cerf - one of the inventors of the net's language and architecture."

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


Global warming is making hot days hotter, rainfall and flooding heavier, hurricanes stronger and droughts more severe. This intensification of weather and climate extremes will be the most visible impact of global warming in our everyday lives. It is also causing dangerous changes to the landscape of our world, adding stress to wildlife species and their habitat.
(See here).

While some regions of the USA have been experiencing more extreme weather, it's nothing like the extremes experienced in other parts of the world. In India, for instance, soaring temperatures are killing many hundreds of inhabitants - and people there are not unused to extreme heat.
(See here).

Oklahoma has never been short of some level of weather extremes, but the pendulum has been swinging ever more widely during the past few years, noticeable even during the relatively short time I've lived here (since late 2004). Our local newspaper's headline today was apt: "From the Driest to the Wettest". Texas, our neighbour to the south, is experiencing much the same, and worse in some areas. (See here).

This year's long, colder than usual winter followed a few very dry summer seasons. The state experienced ongoing severe drought conditions. These are suddenly ending with weeks of regular violent storms and torrential rains. I'll not even mention the attendant tornadic activity because that comes with the territory, always has.

In 2015 the annual rainy tornado season is lasting longer, with regular daily storms, heavy rainfall bringing flash floods. Rivers and lakes are filling rapidly, some overflowing. In many ways we are thankful - this is beneficial, much needed.

Yet, one does wonder.

What if this is part of a new pattern? Could the region cope with a regular mini-monsoon season? I doubt it. Drainage systems here have always seemed primitive to me, coming as I did from oft rain-soaked England where they have the drainage issue down to a fine art. Even there, though, flooding occasionally does cause problems.

Will local Okie and Texas politicians ever deign to accept that climate change is actually happening? If they do, eventually accept as much, will they have the gumption to do something about trying to slow down the rate of change?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Airy Ideas: Gemini etc.

By David Palladini
We're into Airy Gemini times once again. There are a few posts on Gemini stashed in the archive, accessible by clicking on "Gemini" in the label cloud in the sidebar. Apart from what's written in those posts, what more to say?

Louis MacNeice, in his book titled simply, Astrology, writes:
"All astrologers agree that the Gemini type enjoys argument; after all this comes naturally to a double man, born under a double sign.
[André] Barbault stresses this "bipolarity" and points out that Gemini rules the lungs with their double process of breathing in and breathing out. He adds that if Aries symbolizes the original fire at the source of life, and Taurus the condensation of this life in a material form (as it were, an egg) it is when the process arrives at the stage of Gemini that this egg is polarized and we meet the differentiation into the masculine and feminine principles."

Carrying the idea of a process of development through the signs, one could assess development of the zodiac's three mentally-oriented Air signs, Gemini, Libra and Aquarius in that way. Gemini could be seen as youthful Air - an impulsive, exuberant and flexible mentality. Libra, having learned a few lessons during the onward journey, matures to emerge in a more careful, deeply thoughtful state of mind. Aquarius has matured still further, to become more determined and stringently analytical and logical - in some ways mirroring its traditional ruler, Saturn.

So... the light gusty, playful winds of springtime Air, become the sweet, warm languid breezes of late summer, then finally, the more demanding chill winds of winter.

Ivy Goldstein-Jacobson, in Here and There in Astrology, wrote this:
In Air Signs, the Sun develops the individuality through logic, reason and keen insight into basic or underlying principles. It is therefore the most impersonal approach to the most personal development. In Libra, judiciously and calmly, sure of the laws and regulations he leans upon; in Gemini, with an open and inquiring mind, probing for what is factual; and in Aquarius, by depending on universal principles that he knows can ultimately be proven scientifically: an individuality at once remarkably human and godlike.

Back to Gemini!
Liz Greene, in her Mythic Astrology:
"Gemini is a fascinating sign, it presents a profound insight into life's diversity. In Gemini's world no truth is the whole truth, and nothing exists without its opposite...........For those with a strongly Geminian nature, there is often a sense of being several different people. Walt Whitman, the 19th century American poet, was born with Sun in Gemini, and wrote that he contained "multitudes".

Monday, May 25, 2015

Music Monday's Relationship Issues ("don't you love farce?")

Y'all know about iffy relationship issues, one way or another I'm sure. Many common ones have been put to words and music. For instance:

I still miss Jake Thackray and his fun songs, after all these years (he died much too soon in 2002). Here he is with a bit of La-di-dah on the in-law issue:

Sample lyrics:
....I'll be nice to your mother,
I'll come all over lah-di-dah,
Although she always gets up me nose.
(I love you very much.)
And so I'll smile and I'll acquiesce
When she invites me to caress
Her scabby cat;
I'll sit still while she knits
And witters, cross my heart,
And I shan't lay a finger on the crabby old batface.

I'll be polite to your daddy,
Frightfully lah-di-dah,
Although he always bores me to my boots.
(I love you very much.)
And so I won't boo and hiss
When he starts to reminisce

Then there's the general feeling of disappointment issue:

Sample lyrics:
Flowers and wine
is what I thought I would find,
when I came home from working tonight.
Well, now here I stand
over this fryin' pan,
and you want a cold one again.

I bought these new heels,
did my nails, had my hair done just right.
I thought this new dress was a sure bet
for romance tonight.
Well it's perfectly clear,
between the TV and beer,
I won't get so much as a kiss.
As I head for the door,
I turn around to be sure,
did I shave my legs for this?

And much the same issue from the male viewpoint:

He's been working all week he's got mental fatigue and that old couch sure looks fine
All week he's been gone she's been sitting alone slowly going out of her mind
As he kicks off his shoes for the six o’clock news she's getting all prettied up
Oh she's wanting to boogie he's wanting to lay there she's got the Friday night blues

And the Friday night blues they get in your shoes and they work to get you down
Oh and there ain't a lady that I ever knew who didn't need her a night on the town
But the hills and the bills and a week's worth of deals has got him feeling more than used
Oh, he's kicking his shoes off she's putting hers on she's got the Friday night blues

Then, as mentioned in the post's title, there's the timing issue:

Just when I'd stopped opening doors
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours
Making my entrance again with my usual flair
Sure of my lines, no one is there.
Don't you love farce? My fault, I fear
I thought that you'd want what I want, sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns, send in the clowns
Don't bother, they're here.

Isn't it rich? Isn't it queer?
Losing my timing this late in my career
But where are the clowns? There ought to be clowns
Well, maybe next year.

  She wears it well  - 1995 above, 2010 below.

Any more iffy relationship songs to add?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

BLUES in the charts?

Dr. Cornel West, in his book Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, A Memoir, wrote:

“I'm a bluesman moving through a blues-soaked America, a blues-soaked world, a planet where catastrophe and celebration- joy and pain sit side by side. The blues started off in some field, some plantation, in some mind, in some imagination, in some heart. The blues blew over to the next plantation, and then the next state. The blues went south to north, got electrified and even sanctified. The blues got mixed up with jazz and gospel and rock and roll.”

Iconic blues singer B.B. King died recently. His passing prompted me to seek out a post about some blues singers, including B.B. King, that I wrote in 2008. I've taken parts of that old post, edited, updated them and re-posted below.

Blues music is such a well defined genre, I had wondered if some of its best known stars might have something in common astrologically. As Ed Kopp wrote in "A Brief History of the Blues" :
"When you think of the blues, you think about misfortune, betrayal and regret. You lose your job, you get the blues. Your mate falls out of love with you, you get the blues. Your dog dies, you get the blues.

While blues lyrics often deal with personal adversity, the music itself goes far beyond self-pity. The blues is also about overcoming hard luck, saying what you feel, ridding yourself of frustration, letting your hair down, and simply having fun. The best blues is visceral, cathartic, and starkly emotional. From unbridled joy to deep sadness, no form of music communicates more genuine emotion.

The blues has deep roots in American history, particularly African-American history. The blues originated on Southern plantations in the 19th Century. Its inventors were slaves, ex-slaves and the descendants of slaves - African-American sharecroppers who sang as they toiled in the cotton and vegetable fields. It's generally accepted that the music evolved from African spirituals, African chants, work songs, field hollers, rural fife and drum music, revivalist hymns, and country dance music."
What astrological factors spring to mind? Saturn aspects, mainly with Mercury (communication - which includes singing). Saturn says angst, difficult times, limits, barriers. Next, some emotional depth: Moon and its aspects, Water signs, perhaps a lot of negative (Yin) polarity.
(Wikipedia: "Yin - shady place, cloudy, overcast; the dark element: it is passive, dark, feminine, negative, downward-seeking, consuming and corresponds to the night.")

I picked the first three names my husband suggested as being quintessential blues singers: B.B. King, Robert Johnson, and Muddy Waters. No times of birth are available for any of them, which limits search for Moon aspects and house positions, so I looked at their natal charts mainly for Saturn aspects, Water, and polarity.

B.B. King, born 16 September 1925, Berclair, Mississippi. has a rectified time of birth for him but I'll stick with a noon chart for this purpose.

Saturn sextiles Mercury and possibly Moon, (which could be anywhere from 1 to 12 Virgo). Jupiter trines Mercury. There's a loose Grand Trine in Water linking Pluto, Uranus and Saturn. Negative (Yin) polarity dominates 9 to 1!

Robert Johnson, born 8 May, 1911, Hazlehurst, Mississippi.

Saturn conjunct Mercury and 7 degrees from Sun, Saturn opposes Jupiter and sextiles Mars.Moon would be in Virgo and possibly in trine to Sun/Mercury/Saturn if born before 10pm.Grand Trine in Water, Jupiter/Mars/Neptune. Negative (Yin) polarity dominates 8 to 2.

Muddy Waters (birth name McKinley Morganfield) born 4 April in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, in either 1913 or 1915...or? (Note: Wikipedia and other websites have his birth year as 1913, some biographies state 1915, as does his gravestone.) From Wikipedia's page:
Although in his later years Muddy usually said that he was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, in 1915, he was most likely born at Jug's Corner in neighboring Issaquena County in 1913. Recent research has uncovered documentation showing that in the 1930s and 1940s, before his rise to fame, he reported his birth year as 1913 on his marriage license, recording notes and musicians' union card. A 1955 interview in the Chicago Defender is the earliest claim of 1915 as his year of birth, which he continued to use in interviews from that point onward. The 1920 census lists him as five years old as of March 6, 1920, suggesting that his birth year may have been 1914. The Social Security Death Index, relying on the Social Security card application submitted after his move to Chicago in the mid-1940s, lists him as being born April 4, 1913. Muddy's gravestone gives his birth year as 1915.

Doubt surrounding his year of birth is as muddy as his chosen name! An alternative place of birth, within a short distance, won't make much difference, but the year of birth will. I'll post charts for 1913, 1914 and 1915, maybe a clue will emerge.

4 April 1915
Saturn squares Mercury/Mars. Moon in Sagittarius (degree uncertain) might well be opposed by Saturn in Gemini. Stellium in Watery Pisces. Water predominates, negative (Yin) beats positive polarity 6 to 4.

Alternative chart #1
4 April 1913
Polarity is equally balanced negative with positive here (Yin/Yang), and elements are well balanced also.

Alternative chart #2
4 April 1914
Polarity favours positive (Yang) here, 6 to 4, and elementally Air and Water are balanced.

The chart for 1915 does best fit the pattern of the other two legendary blues singers, and one would expect his gravestone to be correct, but.... We'll never know why 1913 inexplicably changed to 1915 - or even whether either year was the correct year of birth.

Conclusion (if Muddy Waters' year of birth is taken as 1915): Saturn aspects Mercury in all three charts. Negative polarity dominates in all cases. The element of Water is a big factor in all three charts, via Grand Trine or stellium.

The blues these men sang, are traditional in style, blues singers from later years have expanded the range and flavour of the genre a little, but I think the three artists above illustrate the blues genre's very core.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Arty Farty Friday ~ Philip Pearlstein

Philip Pearlstein is an American painter, born
on 24 May 1924 in Pittsburgh, PA. He's known best for reinventing figure painting, a definite diversion at a time when Abstract Expressionism was the
"in thing".

Instead of writing more, or snipping sections from online pieces, I can do no better than post the following 10 minute YouTube video about Philip Pearlstein and his work. It tells us most of what we really need to know, in a nutshell, and offers a look at some of his paintings. Lots more of his work can be seen via Google Image.

His natal chart, set for 12 noon as no birth time is available.
Born on 24 May 1924 in Pittsburgh, PA

This is a chart where time of birth would be especially helpful. Rising sign and exact position of Moon can't be pinpointed.

Sun in Airy Gemini seems to be without aspect according to what there is to work with, but it does blend, broadly, with Moon which is likely to be somewhere in Aquarius - another Air sign. A Gemini/Aquarius blend signifies a mentally oriented personality, likely to be versatile and fluently communicative.

Venus, planet of the arts is conjunct Pluto in Cancer and sextile Mercury in Taurus, also forming part of a Yod with its apex at Jupiter in Sagittarius (see left). Jupiter also sextiles Mars in Aquarius and forms another Yod with apex at the Venus/Pluto conjunction (left below). So, Jupiter, in its sign of rulership, Sagittarius, is fairly significantly highlighted, but I can't link it especially to the artist's major choice of subject matter: the naked body. Perhaps that choice relates to the Venus conjunction with Pluto? Though I don't see his paintings (at least as far as they appear on a computer screen) as erotic - that would be a Pluto "influence". They seem, to me, to be too matter of fact to be intentionally erotic.

Natal Moon, if in late-ish Aquarius, could make a semi-sextile aspect to Aquarius' modern ruler, Uranus in Pisces, indicating a rather unusual set of sensitivities.

Finally, just one of his many paintings - I especially like those which include some choice objects along with the body, as in this case.

Hat-tip HERE

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Astrologer's Words of Wisdom ~ On the topic of aspects

A few years ago I would do the occasional post under the heading Astrologer's (or Astrologers') Words of Wisdom: pertinent quotes from astrologers' books, articles or print-outs of their lectures. I haven't posted one of these for a while, but on reading once again the introduction to an old book I have on my astrology shelf, I decided to revive that Words of Wisdom idea, once more. The points made are a fairly obvious, once given a bit of thought, but do bear repeating.

From The Astrological Aspects by C.E.O. Carter (published 1930 - 1969)

From the book's Introduction:
 Hat-tip for image to  Astro-wiki
The difficulties of writing anything reliable and capable of helping the practical student are great. For, while we can understand the abstract significance of the planets and so form a conception of the theoretical meaning of each aspect, it still remains true that when we descend from these abstractions to the effects of the aspects in actual life we find ourselves confronted with a very intricate task. That which is unitary above becomes many below; the trend of manifestation is always towards increased diversity. Thus, even in terms of character, the same aspect exhibits great differences in manifestation according to the almost innumerable possible concurrent circumstances that may arise. When we seek to determine the probable external form of the aspects in the affairs of life, we meet yet greater variation. What is more absurd than to suppose that the same aspect (whether radical or progressed) will manifest in the same way in the case of a convict serving a life-sentence, a millionaire financier, a Bohemian artist, or a soldier on active service?
A little further on in the Introduction he writes (or scolds a wee bit):

I must frankly say that I doubt if anything has done sane Astrology more harm than our constant prating about "good" and "bad" aspects, like children talking of "lovely sweets" and "nasty medicine". Such a point of view is debilitating and unworthy, and it implies that astrologers are people whose chief concern in life is to find ease and comfort and avoid hardships. I do not mean that astrologers are of this frame of mind, but our language leads others to this conclusion. We must indeed employ the terms of ordinary language, but there is no need to speak as if comfort were the one good thing, and discomfort the one evil.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Letterman's Last Stand

Tonight will be David Letterman's last live appearance on The Late Show on CBS, the show hosted by him for the past 33 years. A string of his favourite guests have graced his show for the past week or two. Of Letterman’s final show, tonight, CBS hints that it will be an hour "filled with surprises and memorable highlights".

We've watched The Late Show intermittently during my years in the USA. Though Johnny Carson was husband's true favourite late show host, Letterman seems to have been, for him, the next best thing.

As Letterman's show tonight will be filled with "memorable highlights", might as well link to three posts of mine featuring David Letterman which will have to stand in for Letterman's "highlights" on this humble blog.

Letterman and Guess Who (2007)
Letterman's Unfunny Palin Jokes (2009)
Letterman etc. (2009)

It appears Letterman's successor, Stephen Colbert, will not be taking over the show until September, until then I don't know what's to happen; guest presenters perhaps, and/or lots and lots of repeats.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Conceits - Concepts of the Mind

Opening C.E.O. Carter's Encyclopaedia of Psychological Astrology at random, I landed on the page containing his thoughts on "Conceit". I'll begin with those, but conceit is a tricky word, there's more to be investigated.
Intellectual conceit is most often found under a Virgo ascendant. Although generally retiring, in a physical sense, the natives of this sign are generally blessed with "a good conceit of themselves" - to do them justice, not often without grounds, so far as mentality goes. This conceit is probably at bottom compensatory in nature, i.e. the native is conscious of his shyness (which is an instinctive fear of others) and compensates himself with an inner conviction of superiority. Further, Virgo, as a general rule, does not reap in material things the success to which its intellect would appear to entitle it, and again conceit arises as an inner compensation for outward failure.

Jupiter square Sun in mutable signs often bestows mental conceit. The same aspect in fixed signs gives rise to a feeling of general self-laudation, and this finds clearest expression if Leo rises. Falling in cardinal signs there is generally too great self-confidence and a conceited belief in one's own powers of doing things, and this is most clearly seen if Aries rises.

Sun weak in Pisces often gives vanity and too great self-satisfaction, and Moon weak in Leo often has the same effect.

It is probable that in those respects Neptune acts much as Jupiter does, but more subtly, often through forms of imaginative self-flattery and self-glorifying daydreams.
I'll make no comment on the above, other than that I suspect the position of Mercury and aspects to it must have a big part to play, conceit being a concept of the mind about oneself. I can't think, immediately, of anyone with whom I've been closely associated who I considered to be conceited, so I'm unable to decide how accurate Mr Carter's assessments were. A passing reader with relevant experience might have other ideas.

The word conceit, wearing another hat, has meanings not always as immediately clear-cut as when wearing its better-known hat of "excessive pride in oneself".
Oxford dictionary:
conceit :: noun
1. excessive pride in oneself : he was puffed up with conceit. See notes at egotism, pride.
2. a fanciful expression in writing or speech; an elaborate metaphor : the idea of the wind’s singing is a prime romantic conceit.
• an artistic effect or device : the director’s brilliant conceit was to film this tale in black and white.
• a fanciful notion : he is alarmed by the widespread conceit that he spent most of the 1980s drunk.
I always look for a word's origin to assist in its understanding. Conceit, the noun, comes from a Latin verb meaning "to conceive", it works on a pattern similar to the words deceive/deceit, receive/receipt. So, when wearing its other hat (or both hats really, I guess) conceit relates broadly to something conceived by the mind - a conceit: a conception, an idea, an opinion, an imagination, a device, a fanciful invention. Stretched somewhat in this way, its meaning hasn't always been crystal clear to me.

Skimming through Google links I picked up a few uses of the word wearing its secondary hat:

the conceit of self-loathing (HERE)

Could be taken two ways - is it conceit as in a kind of inverted pride, or conceit as an idea?

That show, titled, suitably enough, ‘The Apparent Author’, adhered strenuously to a single conceit, albeit with subtle variations. Every sentence had been plucked from the Oxford English Dictionary, composed for the very purpose of illustrating – exemplifying – the given meaning of a listed word. Ringborg had then taken each sentence and dislocated it from its original intent, wedging it into a new context where it was made to perform differently, and made to mean something else. (HERE)

It is no mere conceit that poets have long attributed their craft to something akin to a mystic trance brought about by their Muse.......... So it takes more than a facility with language, a good memory, and the gentle conceit that we would like to share our cleverness with an admiring public. (HERE)

Both hats in use there!

Part of the unspoken contract we make as members of an audience is putting aside our knowledge that these are actors playing roles, and accept the conceit that we are seeing the characters. It's called suspension of disbelief, and it is something we choose to do. (HERE)

Hawking's Fatal Conceit: Is science even capable of showing that God is out of a job? (HERE)

It's one of the great gifts of having so little money that you are able to make these kinds of radical conceits that you could never afford to do had you had a reasonable budget. (Quote by - Todd Solondz. HERE)

Monday, May 18, 2015

Music Monday ~ Songs about Workers

There were a couple of songs about the lives of workers in last Monday's post - those on the trucker and the lineman. Here's another good workers' song, written and sung by the late Rita MacNeil.

From the Rita MacNeil Wikipedia page linked above:
"Working Man" is a song that sparked from a visit to the Princess Colliery in Sydney Mines. For Rita MacNeil it was the stories of hardships the miners had faced on a daily basis, the prompted her to write this song. In her autobiography she notes that the tour guide was suffering from Throat Cancer, and she had remembered her mother's struggles with it, and as he talked the melody for the song began in her head, complete with lyrics. The song would eventually become a world wide sensation, peaking at number 11 in the UK charts, and the unofficial anthem for coal miners everywhere.

Thinking on that song, and the photographs in the video, reminded me of another video I featured in an archived post about a lovely semi-classical piece, Concierto de Aranjuez HERE

SNIP from that post:
Of all the beautiful renditions of Aranjuez available on video, from classical through middle-of-the-road to jazz-inspired, I've picked the one that made me weep as I listened and watched the images. Reading comments afterwards, it appears that I wasn't the only one. It's the "Orange Juice" version by Yorkshire's Grimethorpe Colliery Band, featured in the movie
Brassed Off, with images of Yorkshire and from the British miners' strikes in 1984/5. Dark days. Many in Britain will never forget them. A way of life for a generation of brave men was lost then, as the Conservatives' economic policies closed coal mines around the country in favor of nuclear power. Our strong support for the miners meant exactly nothing to demon Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. I still cringe at the thought of her - to this day! Nowadays coal mines are not the way ahead, but for decades we depended on what those men risked their lives to provide.

I believe Rodrigo would be pleased that this music can still help to evoke strong emotion.
Are there songs about workers that you find especially memorable?

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Netflixing ~ The Homesman

We Netflixed into the movie The Homesman one night this week. Tommy Lee Jones is always good value, and in this case he not only took a leading part in the film, he directed it, and co-wrote the screenplay. The film is an adaptation of Glendon Swarthout's novel of the same name, a novel that has, I understand, been waiting for years for its transition to film. Originally the rights were owned by Paul Newman, then Sam Shepard, but neither was able to gave it the push it needed. If Newman or Shepard had intended taking the leading male role, much as I admire(d) both actors, in my opinion they'd not have made as good a "George Briggs" as did Tommy Lee Jones.

The film is one of those "warts an' all" stories of how the west - or west-ish - territories of the US were trying to be "won" by intrepid 19th century pioneers. The Homesman tale begins in the wild empty expanse of Nebraska territory in the 1850s. A small community of settlers has sprung up in Loup, near the Loup River. A few families are trying to survive amid devastating conditions, high winds, snow, ice, dust, poverty, on small farms, a long distance from the next small town.

In Loup we meet Mary Bee Cuddy, a farmer, she's living alone, unmarried, a former teacher from New York. She is relatively successfully farming her own small spread. Not all the females of Loup are coping as successfully as Cuddy though. Three (four in the novel, I think) have completely lost their sanity from trying to cope with the harsh conditions, loss of multiple children from disease (diphtheria), loss of love for their husbands many of whom have grown coarse and unfeeling, and ultimately loss of all hope. The townspeople, under advice from their church minister, have decided that the three women must be escorted back eastward to Iowa, where another minister's wife has established a help centre for the mentally unstable.

The men refuse the task of homesman (escorting immigrants back to their previous homes, or to another location). Mary Bee Cuddy (played by Hilary Swank) volunteers for the job. Cuddy has, not so secretly, wanted to marry, has even proposed marriage to single male neighbours, but has been turned down more than once due to her perceived bossy nature and plain appearance. She's not pretty-pretty, but she certainly ain't exactly plain to my eye. Ironically, the guy we see turning her proposal down is plug-ugly (as they used to say) himself, but that didn't matter, did it? Maybe they didn't have mirrors!

Cuddy realises almost immediately after setting out on her homesman duties that she'll need help. Fate or fortune brings her onto a path where a claim jumper, seated on a mule, has been left to hang. Cuddy persuades him that if she rescues him he must accompany and help her. "George Briggs" as the claim jumper calls himself is played by Tommy Lee Jones, of course, and is at his surly best.

I'll not give away the continuing storyline. There are lots of good reviews, of varied opinions, on line for anyone interested and unlikely to read the book or see the film.

The film reminded me of several others. First off I thought of Lonesome Dove, due mainly to the fact that both stories involve a long journey across wild territory, both with Tommy Lee Jones involved. Then, the unlikely mix of personalities portrayed in The Homesman: educated, bordering on sophisticated Mary Bee Cuddy and unruly, unprincipled, wild-eyed George Briggs simply had to bring to mind the pair of characters in that classic movie African Queen. Another "warts an' all" western, of more recent years, Unforgiven - a Clint Eastwood film - came to mind also.

The harshness of life for women pioneers was never properly addressed in all those sentimental, comfortable early western movies with which we grew familiar in the 1950/60s, and even later than that. There's a lovely statue/sculpture up in Ponca City, Oklahoma titled "Pioneer Woman", erected in honour of such women, but even the woman in the statue looks well-fed and prosperous compared to the women of The Homesman.

As we watched the movie I recalled a tiny group of marked graves we came across several years ago beside Talimena Drive, on the border of Oklahoma and Arkansas. Someone had left a plastic covered note on one of the small graves telling how it marked the resting place of a child of 6 years who had been killed by wolves, after her parents, pioneer settlers, had died. I've never forgotten that telling marker.

In The Homesman a nice point is made about civilisation in general. Harsh and crude as conditions were for early settlers, who themselves often descended into hardness and crudeness, there was still a kind of unspoken code of ethics and morality going on. People would help each other, come to aid of anyone when in difficulty, for instance. But, in an oddly out-of-place segment of The Homesman story, Tommy Lee Jones' character, transporting the three deranged women, comes upon a rather fancy hotel in the middle of nowhere (quite literally middle of nowhere).

A snazzily dressed would-be nobleman, in charge of the hotel (Irish accent clunkily affected by the otherwise wonderful James Spader) refuses food and rest to the starving travellers who haven't eaten for three days. The reason, he offers: he awaits a group of investors who will fill the hotel, speculators aiming to build a new "civilisation" in this wilderness. A huge spread of good food is awaiting the expected guests. After gentle, and not so gentle, begging by George Briggs, for at least some food for the women, Spader's character remains unmoved and refuses. So this is going to be the flavour of new "civilisation": cold, unfeeling, grasping. (This thought must have crossed Tommy Lee Jones' mind as director, and that of his fictional character, George Briggs).

It's not a great movie, but it's a good one for anyone interested in US history - the quiet, unsung history, not the well-known razzmatazz variety. Even if not historically-minded though, there are interesting relationship issues, civilisation issues, personality issues, redemption (or not) issues, women's issues to be discovered and pondered upon, all barely under the story's surface.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Arty Farty Friday ~ Ralph Steadman & Gerald Scarfe

 Ralph Steadman self portrait
I set out to post about a cartoonist whose birthday is today, 15 May: Ralph Steadman, born in 1936.

Pondering on some of his work shown at Google Image I was reminded, very strongly, of another English cartoonist's work I'd often seen in newspapers back in the "old country". That cartoonist: Gerald Scarfe. I was never a huge fan of Scarfe's work, his brutal depictions of politicians and "celebs" often made me cringe. His subjects were, in real life, cringe-worthy enough sans embellishment! Ralph Steadman's cartoons have that same savage look and feel. It was interesting to find, therefore, that these two cartoonists came into the world just 15 days and some 225 miles

 Gerald Scarfe self portrait
Steadman's work is probably a little better known in the USA due to his collaborations with American writer Hunter S. Thompson. Scarfe is known for his work on Pink Floyd's "The Wall" album and subsequent movie, some plays, books, ballet, theatre, opera, and as a Sunday Times and New Yorker magazine illustrator.

Reading around I found that, early on in their careers, Steadman and Scarfe were friends. (While paragraph upon paragraph could be written about their relative childhood experiences, education and so forth, I'm concentrating in this post simply on their relationship, falling-out, their similarities and differences.)

While working for the Kemsley Newspaper Group, Steadman became involved with Gerald Scarfe. The two men first met at an early meeting of the Cartoonists' Club of Great Britain, which was founded in 1960. “He said, ‘I like your line; I’d like to come see you’”, Steadman recalled: “So he came up one day in his car and he brought his drawings with him and they were awful...commercial art drawings...he showed me these things and said, ‘Can you help?’ I said, ‘I’ll introduce you to my teacher Leslie Richardson.’”

Steadman and Scarfe worked very closely together. As one interviewer noted soon afterwards, Richardson "used to send them to the Victoria and Albert Museum where they would sit sketching statues and suits of armour": "They spent hours together, pacing the streets long into the night, talking about art and the future, and discussing ways of putting the world right." Soon, as Steadman later acknowledged, they had developed “an interchangeability about our styles”: “I know where lots of things came from and he knows where lots of things came from...Neither of us liked to accuse the other that we were copying each other, but you can’t help it when your styles are somehow similar.”

Steadman is happy to be thought of as being in the same line as Gillray and Hogarth. "I feel a part of that tradition - that's what we did, and I say 'we' because I mention Gerald Scarfe quite happily, though he'd never mention me." Why not? "We fell out years ago. We both started out at the same time, and we spent so much time together and what we did was so similar that in a way it was frightening - some people thought we were the same person." Scarfe, it turns out, was godfather to the eldest of Steadman's five children, but he is reluctant to go further into their falling out. Ralph Steadman obviously doesn't like falling out with people.

Detail of the disagreements leading to the break-up of friendship is in a piece HERE. It's a longer quote than I prefer to post, but in the interests of better understanding these two artists, and maybe their astrology.....perhaps the copyright police will be kind:
Steadman and Scarfe had a tacit agreement that they would submit drawings to publications together, and Steadman recalled that "we went to Punch together with our cartoons”. Then, in 1962, Steadman decided to submit a drawing to the newly-launched Private Eye, although Scarfe didn’t have anything ready. “Gerry sort of got upset”, Steadman recalled, “and said, ‘I don’t see why; we said we weren’t going to do anything unless we did it together.’ So I said, ‘Do something.’ He said, ‘No, I can’t.’” Steadman submitted a drawing to Private Eye entitled "Plastic People", for which Richard Ingrams sent him £5 and a note saying "More power to your elbow." "I was the first outsider to get in it", Steadman recalled: "they published it with a double page spread in issue number 11."

“I was thrilled to get into this new weird paper”, Steadman admitted, but the episode caused problems with Scarfe. “I’m really fed up with you”, he reportedly told Steadman, before secretly submitting his own work to Private Eye. It was accepted, and it became clear, as Steadman later acknowledged, that “something had started”. The eventual break came when Steadman’s wife sent Scarfe a letter, accusing him, in Steadman’s words, “of copying and faking everything from me, and now preventing me from submitting my own work”. “I wish she hadn’t sent it”, he remembered: “She asked me, ‘Should I send it?’ I said, ‘I wouldn’t send it, but it’s your letter.’” Scarfe was deply hurt, and the two men “fell out.”

Scarfe’s commercial career took off, whilst Steadman recalled that, in his own career, he “kind of took a side track and started doing my own serious work in a little more esoteric way”. From 1961 to 1965, with Richardson's encouragement, he studied at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts. "I don't make a lot of money", he told an interviewer in 1965: "But I don't mind, I think I'm doing the right thing." He left East Ham Technical College in 1966.

In 1966 Scarfe was recruited by the Daily Mail for a large salary and an E-type Jaguar, and he and Steadman were further estranged. Asked to draw his friend for an article later that year, Steadman produced an image that was half saint and half Superman, but with a disconnected heart. "Scarfe owes his success to me and me to him", he explained, but he refused to say more, adding bitterly that "everything I have to say was in my original drawing of Scarfe being crucified": "Unfortunately that drawing has been censored and replaced with the one you see here." In 1967 Steadman became Artist-in-residence at Sussex University.
In 2013 Steadman explained to an interviewer: "People have said, 'I thought you’d be a nasty piece of work because you’re so dark and trenchant', and I’ve said, 'No I’m not, I’ve got rid of it - it’s all on paper.'" Perhaps the same applies to Gerald Scarfe.

In the brief videos below, surface differences between the two men, personality-wise, become apparent. Steadman comes over, to me, as the more approachable, easy-going fun guy, though not nearly as fluently articulate as Scarfe. Steadman is a northerner, born not far from Liverpool, Scarfe a Londoner. Brits might be able to discern subtle differences from that difference alone. I liked what I heard from both men, in different ways and for different reasons. Deep down, as their astrology attests, there are many similarities.


Ralph Steadman, born 15 May 1936 in Wallesey, Cheshire, UK. Set for 12 noon - time of birth not known.

Gerald Scarfe, born 1 June 1936 in London, UK - set for 12 noon. time of birth not known.

While Steadman's prominent planets straddle the Taurus/Gemini cusp, blending a "feet on the ground" attitude with an innate urge to communicate. Scarfe is all about Gemini, natal Sun, Mercury, Venus and Mars all there, close together.

Their natal Moons' positions can't be established exactly without times of birth, but it's safe to say that whatever his time of birth, Ralph Steadman's natal Moon would have been in gentle, imaginative Pisces, while Gerald Scarfe's Moon sign remains less certain, positioned in either Libra or Scorpio.

Both men have natal Jupiter in its sign of rulership, Sagittarius. Planet and sign connect to travel and wide publication. Steadman's work with American writer Hunter S. Thompson, and Scarfe's work for Disney and US publications reflect this placement well.

The outer planets are, of course, in much the same positions for both men. Interesting to note, though, that Uranus in Taurus is conjunct natal Venus and trine Neptune in Steadman's case - blending his occasionally outrageous imaginings, through art, with basic common sense messages. Uranus is still trine Neptune for Scarfe but is semi-sextile Venus and all of his Gemini cluster. A subtle difference here, this is a blend not always as easy and smooth for Scarfe perhaps.

Steadman and Scarfe have Saturn (work/career) harmoniously trining Pluto (hints of darkness) in emotional Water signs. I wonder if this common link is also the source of their falling out?

Without times of birth we can't see the planets' positions as regards important chart angles, ascendant, midheaven and opposite points.

Examples of their work - there is simply too much choice! Google Image will provide more than anyone could possibly digest or desire. I'll post a few examples from each - those which especially appeal to me.
The artists' own websites are well worth a visit.
Ralph Steadman's website

Gerald Scarfe's website

Maggie Thatcher by Ralph Steadman

 Nixon by Steadman

The Pessimists by Ralph Steadman

 By Ralph Steadman, one of many from his book "I Leonardo"
See here - Ralph Steadman's incredible study of Leonardo da Vinci, one of his personal heroes, is full of breath-taking images which turn the artists life into a visual voyage of discovery.

Steadman's take on key moments of Leonardo's life are filled with the genius of his uncontrollable imagination. Humour and pathos, grit and passion fill the pictures.

 Thatcher by Scarfe

 Bush by Scarfe

Scarfe for Pink Floyd's "The Wall"

A Gerald Scarfe magazine cover

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s).