Saturday, December 09, 2017

Saturday and Sundry Rant-worthy Thoughts

So many issues currently in the news are eminently rant-worthy - shall I count the ways? Brexit; Trump; Republicans; Democrats; monopolies; men who harass; comedians who are unnecessarily gross, not to mention unfunny; creeping crapification of - just about everything; "smart" stuff encouraging us to speak to inanimate objects as a way of life. Sigh.

There's yet another, more personal, irritant: people who, at the mention of the word 'astrology' pounce eagerly, ready to question the mental capacity of anyone who is, in their estimation, "irrational" enough to give astrology even an inch of headroom. This happened to me a few days ago at a blog which shall remain nameless; it has happened many times during past years on the net, and is tiresome - putting it mildly!

On most occasions, when an urge to intervene with any mild reference to astrology arises, I turn "chicken", shrink from mentioning it, or my interest in, and study of the ancient art. Among those people with no interest in astrology, and in some cases with a definite abhorrence of it, such an interest marks one as a gullible nitwit and totally irrational.

Do rationality and astrology mix? I contend that they can, given the right approach and a mind open enough to see serious failings in both camps, but failings which completely negate neither.

For many people astrology has no relevance at all. I do get that. Football, baseball, basketball and other sports have no relevance to me, but I don't go around denigrating fans of those pastimes. So...why can't astrological skeptics simply ignore astrology and any mention of it? It's almost as though they feel threatened by it!

I remember reading some relevant observations years ago, written by Darin Hayton (link is now defunct). Mr Hayton asked:

"And what really is at stake in this enduring battle between science and astrology? Are astronomers [for instance] afraid that their funding will suddenly go to astrologers? Does the fate of the free world or the rational mind or science depend on refuting astrology? Given the characterization of astrologers and believers in astrology as simple-minded, uneducated, irrational dupes, what threat do these people pose to astronomers and scientists? Does belief in astrology stand for a purported, societal-wide irrationality that threatens the entire practice of science? That seems a bit apocalyptic, but maybe. And what is served by the denigrating rhetoric typically used to brand astrologers frauds and charlatans? Surely it would be more effective to adopt a more conversational approach rather than labeling astrologers and their customers irrational, superstitious dupes..."

Ten years ago, in my early days of blogging - when, even then I found astrology skeptics to be rant-worthy, a commenter "Velvet Blade" wrote:
I used to love those people who would come into an astrology shop and say, "Prove it to me". Why? Because I was once that person. Skeptics are GREAT, as long as they have an open mind. Otherwise, they are not skeptics at all, just stubborn folks who believe that everyone should think the way they think... Hmmm... Ringing any bells in politics???

True skeptics believe what they have found to be true for themselves. The don't close their minds and shut down, with no hope of opening.

True skeptics always make the BEST astrologers. They won't accept anything as true until they have seen it for themselves.
To allow my BP to return to what passes as normal, a quiet ponder upon a couple of quotes:

“The world,” he said, “grows hourly more and more sceptical of all that lies beyond its own narrow radius; and our men of science foster the fatal tendency.
~ Amelia B. Edwards, ("The Phantom Coach").

And, from Sir Terry Pratchett:
Sometimes, if you pay real close attention to the pebbles you find out about the ocean. ("Lords and Ladies").

Friday, December 08, 2017

Arty Farty Friday...with goosebumps

Today, 8 December is the anniversary of the day John Lennon was murdered.

At around 10:50 p.m. (EST [Eastern Standard time]) on 8 December 1980, lone gunman Mark David Chapman shot Lennon in the back four times in the archway of the Dakota as Lennon and Ono returned to their Manhattan apartment from the Record Plant. Lennon was rushed in a police cruiser to the emergency room of nearby Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 11:00 p.m. (EST). Earlier that evening, Lennon had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for Chapman.

Chapman avoided going to trial when he ignored his attorney's advice and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 20-years-to-life. In 2016, he was denied parole for a ninth time.

Today is also Arty Farty Friday, so focus will go onto another talent of John Lennon. He loved to draw, and did possess a certain quirky cartoon-like talent in that direction (well... anything Lennon would be quirky by default, wouldn't it?) Some of his sketches remind me of James Thurber's work.

Oh my! I've just retrieved a link to an old post of mine with a few of Thurber's sketches included, for comparison, and see that....
James Thurber was born on 8 December (in 1894) in New York City. John Lennon was killed on 8 December 1980 in New York City. That brought forth a few goosebumps!

A few examples of John Lennon's artwork:

You Might Well Arsk

 Remember Love

 Sijin (poet)

 Come Together

Borrowed Time

 A Happy Life (John, Yoko, and their son Sean)

Two to match the coming season:

See more via Google Image 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, December 07, 2017

Pre-seasonal Lethargy

This is the part of December when I have to give myself a swift kick up the backside to summon enthusiasm enough to: go find the Christmas trimmings, find the address list for Christmas cards, find the Christmas cards I bought months ago and now can't remember where I put them (theory was to save last minute hassle!)

So far, amazingly, I have managed to find, write and address the handful of specially chosen cards due to fly over the ocean. Others, for more local recipients remain pristine in their box secreted somewhere "easy to remember". Our big Christmas wreath is out front - that was easy, but nothing else so far, because there are too many leaves on the strip of front garden, waiting to be cleared. Ahem!

We've never done the "Christmas lights" thing beloved of so many in the USA. This summer we did invest in some cheap solar lights to stick in the ground around said strip of garden, all year round. They work well, for a few hours anyway, not as well now as in the summertime though, far too many hours of darkness in December.

Update: I now know where the boxes of Christmas trimmings are stashed in the garage. Next step - open them up and try to remember what goes where. Later this week, perhaps.

A couple of cartoons with a pre-seasonal flavour to fill out this lean post - click to enlarge (cartoons not the post - and not you, I hope.)

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

It's a's a film...

It's a's a film...(it's not Charades - just another blog post!)


The Long Earth, the first novel of a sci-fi series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and my current reading matter when offline. I'm getting towards the end of the book, enjoying it, and intending to move on to the second in the series soon. The premise of a multi-dimensional world is the main theme of the series, and when I say multi-dimensional, I don't mean half a dozen, or even a hundred dimensions, I mean millions and millions of alternative worlds, versions of Earth in a never-ending variation of modes, states, levels of development and evolution. A means of travelling between these Earths has been discovered.

This novel isn't as "laugh aloud" funny as some of Terry Pratchett's novels are reputed to be, but there's gentle humour, a touch of allegory, a touch of satire, none of it is forced.

A quote or two:

So now, he hoped, here was a chance to bring mankind back into the book-loving fold. He gloated. There was still no electronics in the pioneer worlds, was there? Where was your internet? Hah! Where was Google? Where was your mother’s old Kindle? Your iPad 25? Where was Wickedpedia? (Very primly, he always called it that, just to show his disdain; very few people noticed.) All gone, unbelievers! All those fancy toy-gadgets stuffed in drawers, screens blank as the eyes of corpses, left behind. Books – oh yes, real books – were flying off his shelves. Out in the Long Earth humanity was starting again in the Stone Age.

He quite liked the English. They tended to say sorry a lot, which was quite understandable given their heritage and the crimes of their ancestors.

And Joshua felt oddly uncomfortable, once more. A slight feeling you get when everything is so right that it might have gone all the way around the universe and come back metamorphosed into wrong.

All creatures on Earth have been hammered on the anvil of its gravity, for example, which influences size and morphology. So I am sceptical about finding armoured reptiles who can fly and spout flames.

Few bad words were said – apart from ‘Republican’, which was an extremely bad word.

Mankind isn’t really evil. It hasn’t got enough dignity to be evil.


The Dinner, a 2017 movie curently available to stream via Netflix. It stars Richard Gere, Laura Linney, Steve Coogan, Rebecca Hall. In a word it was: disappointing. Wikipedia states: The Dinner is an American drama thriller film directed and written by Oren Moverman, based on the Dutch novel of the same name by Herman Koch.

Where to begin ? For me, there were too many irritants in this movie. Bare bones of its theme hinge upon two brothers: one is a congressman (Richard Gere, natch, in his best oily smooth silverness), the other a neurotic misanthropic school teacher (played, for some peculiar reason, by British actor/comedian Steve Coogan). The brothers meet, wives in tow, at a painfully "elite" restaurant. They intend to discuss the problem arising from their sons having committed murder. That fact is hinted, but detail is slow to come and awkwardly revealed.

That these people would choose to discuss such a problem in a public place is quite unbelievable and that is one continual irritant, which sets the scene for what might, in other hands, have been dark high farce with some moral message embedded. Perhaps that was the original intention, but, well... something went wrong.

If a pompous maitre d' reciting the ingredients of every dish and garnish on the quartet's menu in great detail was intended to provide humorous contrast to serious matters discussed at the table - it didn't, it was clunkily time-wasting and caused me to shout at the TV!

Steve Coogan imitating, or rather ripping off, Woody Allen's voice, tone and attitudes was another major irritant. The role of the schoolteacher brother would have been considered tailor-made for Woody Allen, were he a few decades younger, but that didn't give Coogan the right to copy.

The film is confusingly carved up into sets of flashbacks, supposedly related to the many courses of the dinner. Dinner? I didn't notice much actual chewing of food taking place, come to think of it.

The movie's ending, no doubt reflecting how things would have turned out in a comparable real life situation, was unsatisfying, and a further irritant.

Bearing in mind the movie is based on a respected Dutch novel, all in all, I have to assume that much was lost in translation. Husband and I sat through the movie rather than ditching it, mainly out of curiosity to see exactly where it was going. We agreed that it was a sad waste of a talented cast. Next day I skimmed a handful of reviews and found that half were positive, for reasons I had difficulty understanding, and half negative, outlining views similar to my own. Polarisation - it's par for the course these days!

Monday, December 04, 2017

Music Monday on National Cookie Day

It's National Cookie Day in the USA - who knew? Not me, not until I read it on Wikipedia's page for 4 December. See also here for more detail. It's Music Monday too - I was doubtful about being able to find a song about cookies, but lovely George Strait has one:

Saturday, December 02, 2017

WORDS ~ black swan; gaslighting.

Reaching, now, for an extra strong word magnifying glass to refresh memory about hidden meanings behind two terms used in modern journalism and commentary.

First: black swan.

Yes, any stray British readers might initially connect "The Black Swan" to something rather pleasant - a pub sign, common enough in the British Isles. The words, as used these days, have a more sinister meaning.

Swans are generally expected to be white, sight of a black swan would be surprising. A 2007 book by Lebanese American writer, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan explains use of the term "black swan" as a metaphor, to encapsulate the concept that a given, impactful, event came as a significant surprise, completely unexpacted by any known measure. The event, however, does usually become rationalized in hindsight, as if it could have been expected.

The term black swan derives from a Latin expression, its oldest known reference comes from the poet Juvenal's characterization of something being "rara avis in terris nigroque simillima cygno"- translated: "a rare bird in the lands, and very like a black swan." When the phrase was coined, the black swan was presumed not to exist. The importance of the simile lies in its analogy to the fragility of any system of thought. A set of conclusions is potentially undone once any of its fundamental postulates is disproved. In this case, the observation of a single black swan would be the undoing of the phrase's underlying logic, as well as any reasoning that followed from that underlying logic.

A few examples of what are, and are not, black swan events:
9/11 was; the Fukushima event was; sinking of the Titanic was; result of the Brexit referendum was not; Donald Trump becoming president of the USA was not. The last two events, while surprising to many, were hardly outside the realm of regular expectation - in both cases there was a 50/50 chance of their happening - before our very eyes!

Nassim Taleb stated that a black swan event is an outlier, because it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Additionally, it
carries an extreme 'impact' and in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.

AND, gaslighting, another term used metaphorically nowadays.

Gaslight, back in the 19th century and early 20th century before electric lighting was generally available, was light for street and domestic lighting was produced by the combustion of illuminating gas. There are probably not too many people still around who remember gas lighting in homes and streets. I do! I remember the lamplighter - a guy who, each winter evening, would walk along with a long-handled tool, lighting the wicks of street lamps powered by gas. I remember, too, that one of my parents' first homes had gas lamps in the downstairs rooms. I always felt wary of these, relieved when electricity replaced them.

The term gaslighting, now, is almost exclusively used metaphorically, to describe an insidious mind game. A method of intentional emotional and psychological manipulation, a form of mind control and intimidation used to confuse and debilitate the person targeted.

This metaphorical use of the term had its origins in a 1938 play Gas Light, in which a man seeks to convince his wife that her mind is unravelling. When she notices that he has dimmed the gaslights in the house, he tells her she is imagining things — but they are as bright as they were before. The British play became a 1944 American film starring Ingrid Bergman, with Charles Boyer as her abusive husband.

I guess it was inevitable that the metaphorical meaning of gaslighting might be in danger, over time, of becoming devalued or misunderstood. As Amy Glynn wrote at Paste magazine in a piece headed Zeitgeist by Gaslight
Gaslighting does not occur en masse. You cannot be gaslighted by the government, the media, the Koch Brothers or Monsanto. By definition, gaslighting is personal, intimate, and can only be done to you by someone you trust. A gaslighter is a specialty narcissist or sociopath who uses intimacy, personal approval, knowledge of the specific details of your life and personality, and importantly, isolation, to unhinge you If you think you’re being gaslighted by the government, the media, Big Pharma, the Pope or that guy on Twitter who said you were wrong and wouldn’t back down? You’re not.