Astrology & the Financial Markets

Over the weekend, I was lucky enough to join a 90-minute Zoom presentation, Markets & Mundane Astrology. It was given by Gianni Di Poce, a financial astrologer based in the United States, and hosted by Astrology University.


The following is under no circumstances to taken as financial advice either from myself or Gianni. It is offered only in the spirit of exploring the effect the planets have on the markets. 

PlanetMarket Rulership
SunGold and business executives
MoonSilver & real estate
MercuryMedia, autos, and transportation
MarsSteel, weapons industry, defence, and irons (smelting)
Saturn Real estate (infrastructure), agriculture (equipment), commercial real estate, construction, and labour
UranusTechnology & the Internet
NeptuneCrude oil, pharmaceuticals, and drugs
PlutoBonds/debts (especially debt restructuring), the black market, taxes, and back-room deals
JupiterRefined oil, banks, airlines, and international commerce

Interest Rates & Inflation

A key indicator of overall market momentum is bond prices, which usually have an inverse relationship to interest rates: when interest rates fall, bond prices increase and vice versa. 

In tracking bond prices concentrate on 10-year US Treasury Notes as they are the least effected by actions taken by the American Federal Reserve Bank (‘the Fed’). Keep in mind that the Fed has always dominated the short-term American bond market. It also worth noting that globally, most central banks like the Fed have recently been engaged in Quantitative Easing (QE), a process by which they purchase predetermined amounts of government bonds and other financial assets to inject cash into the economic system. This means the Fed is now a major player in the long-term bond market.

For the Fed, this began in November 2008. But by the early 2010’s the Fed had commenced a tapering program (thereby acknowledging the dangers of inflation), whereby they began to ease of their QE plan. Will this continue as planned?  Quite possibly not. Watch what happens when Venus turns retrograde in mid-December 2021. 

Gianni reminds us that interest rates are basically a function of (1) inflation, (2) demand for money (i.e. people are willing to borrow to buy now to avoid higher future prices), and (3) risk premium faction (lenders charge higher interest rates for weaker borrowers).  It is worth noting that like many other central banks the Fed has been engaged in a Zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) following the Great Recession (2007-2009). This has affected both inflation and bond prices, leaving us currently with a steepening Yield Curve (longer-term bonds yield higher return) suggesting investors expect rising inflation and stronger economic growth in the near future. 

With the planet Jupiter coming into conjunction with Neptune in April 2022, inflation is most certainly in the cards. Also note that after deflation, necessarily comes inflation and the Saturn/Pluto cycle is a huge indicator of this. When the planetary pair were both in Capricorn (2018-2020), it was no accident that we experienced hyper deflation and just now we are coming out of this. Gianni anticipates that inflation will be on the rise from April 2022 perhaps all the way through 2024/25, when Jupiter enters Gemini.

Take away: in the coming months, we can expect interest rates and inflation to be on the rise. Pay attention to the bond markets to see how this will be received by investors. In general, as the price of bonds fall, the equity markets benefit and share prices rise. 

Geopolitical Instability & the US Dollar

With higher inflation, comes the danger of hyper-inflation, which could negatively impact the currency markets. One only has to look at what happened in Weimar Germany between 1921-1923 to see how much misery was created with an impossible rise in prices. Many have been predicting a similar fate for the US Dollar. After all, it was a mix of high inflation and huge national debt that brought Weimar Germany to its financial knees and the national debt of the United States is at an all-time high. 

Gianni acknowledges that the combination could be dangerous for the dollar but in his view, the fact that the dollar is currently the world reserve currency (i.e., it is the currency of choice for other central banks and major financial institutions for international transactions) precludes hyperinflation. However, reserve currency can be lost. It’s happened before. For example, the £UK lost its position as the world reserve currency to the $US as the result of the geopolitical instability that followed in the wake of WWI.

Naturally, this did not happen all at once. But as the rest of the world sought political and economic security, it became clear this was no longer to be found in troubled Europe. Could the $US be replaced? For example, might political and economic security be found instead in the Chinese CNY or RMB or even Bitcoin, over the next few years? Anything is possible. The Chinese economy is projected to overtake the American economy perhaps even in the current decade and Bitcoin (and other crypto currencies) do enough significant freedom from political strife.

Although Gianni admits there are many in Washington who would like to see the dollar no longer the world’s reserve currency, in his view, this isn’t likely to happen. The Americans would loose the way of life to which they’ve become accustomed and politically that won’t be easy to sell. None the less, if unplanned geopolitical and economic instability is truly a significant factor in loss of reserve currency status and/or hyperinflation, the $US may be coming up to a big surprise. Gianni agrees with many astrologers that between now and 2025-6, as a stable nation state, the United States is in for a rough ride.

Civil war is a realistic possibility.

During that period, the US will suffer its first Pluto return, 2nd Neptune opposition, and 4th Uranus return. Typically such transit bring significant disruption – if not utter chaos – to everyday life. Do not forget that when the United States first broke from Britain, it suffered an ugly bout of hyperinflation. Pluto (dealing with debt and debt restructuring) returning to the same place as it was when the United States was first formed in 1776. This is not to mention that Neptune will enter Aries in the spring of 2025, and of course the last time that happen (to the day) marked the start of the Civil War, which itself was marked by an intense period of hyperinflation.

Will history repeat and, if it does, will it bring down the US dollar in an extended period of hyperinflation? For now, the only answer is to watch this space.

Take away: there is a reasonable chance that civil unrest in the United States will do significant damage to the value of the US dollar sometime between 2022-2025. Hyper-inflation is the most likely result. Play close attention as to how the American government deals with its spiralling national debt as well as cultural disagreements within its own borders. We may see a taste of what is to come as early as mid-February 2022 (first hit of the Pluto return).

Market Momentum 

  • Except for the Corona Crash in March 2020, when the share markets lost 40% of their value almost overnight, the equity markets have been on a bullish trend since 2017. There is every reason to believe that there is still some upward play in this rally. However many believe that the rally is now in process of maturing and when it does, there will be between a 10-20% correction in equity prices. This may come as early as December December 2021 – January 2022, when Venus (which rules stock exchanges) turns retrograde. Venus retrogrades have a history of bringing sharp market reversals. Until then, there may be a significant amount of sideways movement in prices. Mercury goes retrograde 27 September through mid-October; this usually manifests in ‘frothiness’ (i.e. uncertainty/indecision) in the market during which shares tend to have false moves both up and down as well as sideways trading.
  • Crude oil prices hit a generational low in April 2020. Indeed 2020 was a year of many firsts. But now oil and gas prices are on the rise and for the foreseeable future (unless another ‘black swan’ event like Covid occurs), expect this upward trend to continue. 
  • Bitcoin and similar alternative currencies are here to stay. Prices are now beginning again to rally. This won’t go on forever and we might expect some market peaks as early as December 2021. As Pluto moves into Aquarius (as early as March 2023), we should look for digital currencies to overtake cash. Likewise, widespread adoption of block-chain technology, a digital form of record-keeping, which although mostly in the public domain is decentralised and so notoriously difficult to trace transactions.
  • Although interest rates are set to rise, this ought not to have a huge negative impact on house prices in the United States, at least not to the same extent it did in 2008-2009. 
  • Traditionally, gold and silver have been hedges against mounting government debt but at least with gold, that’s not lately proven the case. The market ahead looks better for silver than gold.
  • With three direct hits of Saturn square Uranus during 2021, we ought not to be surprised that the global ‘supply chain’ on many goods/commodities has been severely disrupted and because Saturn rules the labour market, shortages in labour ought to come as no surprise. We can expect a last hurrah with such disruptions for  Christmas 2021.
  • With Uranus moving through Taurus, we ought not to expect a settled market in anything (including cryptocurrencies) until at least June 2023, when Uranus enters the last decan of Taurus. 

Take away: expect continued disruptions in supply chain (including labour) at least until early 2022. Likewise, unsettled markets all around likely until 2023 and perhaps beyond. Watch what happens in the United States.

Domesday

Most of us have heard about the 12th century Domesday Book, but few really know much about it. I was lucky enough to hear three separate lectures about it given Cambridge University’s Dr Philip Morgan and the following is what I’ve learned:

  • Actually, the Domesday Book is five separate books, or at least that’s where it stands today. Little wonder there’s some confusion about it as over the centuries few scholars have ever seen the book(s) but instead have had to make do with transcriptions provided by the guardians of the document (whoever and wherever that might be).
  • The plot thickens when you consider that there are three different ‘editions’ or translations available and so if you’re thinking you’ve seen a photo of the original document, you haven’t – what you’ve seen is a replica of one of these three editions:
    • In 1783, there was a demand for the Domesday book to be reprinted and the challenge was taking up by a man named Farley. As the original was in Latin (abbreviated Latin) supplemented by hand  scribbles, a whole new typeface had to be devised to accomplish this monumental task and as this was about the time that the original more or less disappeared from the public eye, (it is rumoured to be kept in a cool, dark place to preserve it for ‘future generations’), all later translations/editions are based on this Farley edition.
    • In the 1860’s, the Phillimore Edition was created using a process known as photozincograph. This edition featured the ‘original’ text (i.e. the Farley edition) in Latin as well as an English translation meant to make the work accessible to the masses.
    • In the late 20th century, comes the Alecto Facsimile, which was a huge project undertaken with the National Archives and National Public Documents Office. As it was leather-bound, it was  pricey.
  • We learn a bit about the origins of the Domesday Book from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (a contemporary work) which suggests that the Domesday Book was commissioned by the king (William the Conqueror) who, at his Christmas Court of Gloucester in 1085, had ‘deep speech’ with his counsel. He wanted to know how his kingdom was occupied and by which men as well as their relationship to each other and to him. The idea was that an invasion from the Danes was expected (although it didn’t happen) and he needed to know how he might raise taxes in order to fund a war. 
  • This was not a census and was  never meant to be. It also did not entail scribes roaming from village to village asking questions. The book was pulled together from existing ‘shire’ (county) ‘geld’ records ( i.e. taxation) and it was meant to be an index of who had what and where. Certain people were asked to show up at the Sessions (as usual) when certain disputes/discrepancies were resolved.
  • This led to a range of documents known as “Domesday Satellites – one example, known as Liber Exoniensis, for example, comprised the estate of records of the Bishop of Exeter. Don’t underestimate the confusion caused by translation – especially of abbreviations and if you are told by an estate agent that the property  you’re considering buy was named in the Domesday Book, think again because manor houses weren’t named as such – the records were much more interested in knowing who owned what (as well as who had owned it previously) with a view to raising the tax rates (known has ‘hides’) whenever possible, and in that respect the number of pigs and ploughs in a particular place (which was probably not a town or even an estate) were considered much more important. 
  • Finally, the book only came by its Domesday title circa 1180, when it is mentioned in the Dialogue of the Exchequer, a ‘faux debate’ between fictional master and pupil when it is apparently used as a metaphor for the Judgement Day – i.e. the last day before the resurrection when it suggests that the book will be ‘appealed to’ in this regard and can’t be ‘debated’. The assumption seems to be that the book is consulted regularly but that probably was not the case and the whole name might have been a bit of a muddle between the Latin and the English and the scribes who were tasked to draw it up as well as report back to Willem, who by the way probably did actually see it before he left in 1086 (and failed to return) although not likely in completed form. When the threat of Danish invasion disappeared, the pressure was off.

Covid-19 & the World Order

You may recall that astrologers were predicting that something of huge consequence would happen in January 2020, something that would have as long-lasting an effect on the world scene as the Protestant Reformation in 1518, which of course signalled the end to the Catholic Church’s stranglehold on political and religious power.

Well, as it turns out, that is exactly what has happened with the arrival of Covid-19.

For those of you who think that when this pandemic is over, everything will get back to the way it was before, then think again. The following comes from a recent virtual lecture, Plague planet: Coronavirus and world politics, given by Sir Tony Brenton, former British Ambassador to Russia and lecturer at the University of Cambridge.

‘There is such a difference between the way we really live and the way we ought to live that the man who neglects the real to study the ideal will learn how to accomplish ruin, not his salvation.”

Niccolo Machiavelli 

Prior pandemics have taught us that more often than not, in their wake comes a significant change in the world order.

  • During the Phoenician war in 400 BC, a pandemic hit Athens and killed Pericles, its leader. Doubtless, this contributed to the ultimate defeat of Athens, once the strongest city-state in Greece, and marked a significant change in the power base throughout the Mediterranean. 
  • Likewise the Black Death in 1348, which in killing 1/3 of the population of Europe, destroyed feudalism and cleared the way for the Renaissance.
  • When a small group of Spaniards arrived in the New World in the 15th century, their horses and firearms gave them the upper hand over the locals. But the real clincher was the smallpox they also brought along. That wiped out two vast empires, the Incas and the Aztecs, paving the way for Spain’s reign in the region for the next 500 years. 
  • In the early 19th century, after typhoid killed 60-70% of his troops in Russia, Napoleon was forced to retire from European politics. 
  • Finally, although the Spanish Flu of 1918-20, which killed more than 50 million people, (more than were killed in World War I), does not appear to have made a similar long-lasting impact as have prior pandemics, the war that had just ended had already done so.

What might we expect in the wake Covid-19?

  • Significant change in the pre-Covid world order – it’s fair to say that pre-Covid, the relationship between the United States and China was not great, but post-Covid it’s primed to really go downhill. Leaving aside projections that the Chinese economy might well overtake that of the Americans within a decade, China has shown itself remarkably capable of dealing with the pandemic whilst strong-man governments like Brazil, Turkey, the United States (under Trump), and even the United Kingdom (under Johnson) have not fared so well. It’s even been suggested that his failure to adequately deal with the pandemic, cost Trump the 2020 election. Add to this the likelihood of increased populism (i.e., we’ve had enough of immigration and being subject to rule from afar) and we may be facing a serious rise in the protectionist ‘nation-state’ with China potentially leading the way.
  • Does this spell the end to democracies as we’ve known them? Maybe and maybe not, but it certainly suggests that the Chinese now have good reason to suggest that autocracy trumps democracy.
  • Likewise, keep an eye on how things develop regarding personal freedom and human rights. Authoritarian governments have been using the pandemic as an excuse to reclaim some of the liberties their citizens had taken for granted. Political demonstrations have been banned and travel curbed and governments have been gathering unprecedented personal data on their citizens. In more than 60 countries, elections have been postponed. Certainly, in some countries these rights and freedoms will eventually be restored but in other countries, quite possibly not. 
  • There’s every indication that post Covid-19, the rich will continue to get richer and the poor, poorer. This is not just the result of wealthier Western governments pumping unprecedented amounts of money into the system to keep their economies afloat. Even within a single country like the United Kingdom, the wealthier workers kept their jobs by joining ZOOM calls whilst the smaller businesses and blue-collar workers were just-plain out of luck. Furlough and support schemes helped, but only time will tell if it was enough. Poorer countries, on the other hand, may find themselves doubly hit. Not only do they not have money to keep their economies afloat, but as globalized trade starts to unravel as the result of an upsurge in populism, they’ll have less and less chance of recovery. 
  • Decline in global cooperation – International systems like NATO and the WHO that were more or less working have taken a hit. International trust has been seriously damaged. There simply was too much emotionally fuelled finger pointing and greedy self-interest in play. Consider Merkel accusing the Americans of 21st century piracy when a huge shipment of supplies bound from China mysteriously turned up in the United States. Consider how just at the time the WHO needed everyone’s full support, the biggest player, the United States under Trump pulled out because the WHO refused to blame China for the pandemic. Even though on Biden’s first day in office, the United States re-joined WHO, damage has been done. And it wasn’t just Americans who behaved badly. When Italy was struggling with the pandemic, the European Union of which it is a member, refused help leaving China to step in to the rescue. As individual governments focused on Covid-19, their attention turned away from pressing issues like global warming – this may improve over time – but delays are still to be expected.

Freud & Women

I’ve been reading up on Freud’s ideas and theories about women with what I consider to be rather unpleasantly surprising results.[1]

Stereotypes & Theories

We all have a tendency to stereotype. Yet however much we may wish to believe that, as a scientist, Freud would have done otherwise, there is plenty to suggest that’s exactly what he did.

Although he openly admitted that his understanding of women was ‘shadowy and incomplete’, this did not stop him from putting forth broad-sweeping theories about what it was to be a woman and how women should be viewed by both themselves and by men.

And don’t forget that although he didn’t really ‘know’ women, he definitely ‘knew’ all about men – because, well, he was one, after all – and so all the better to treat their psychological problems with extra care and empathy. 

Oedipus Complex 

Freud’s theories dealt in large part with how the psychological aspects of childhood lead up to adult sexuality. Most of these theories centre around what he coined as the Oedipus complex, wherein little boys wish to murder their fathers because they see them as rivals for sexual congress with their mothers. The boy’s hostile feelings toward father lead to castration anxiety, an irrational fear that in punishment, father will castrate him, or, in other words cut off his penis. If they manage to properly resolve this anxiety, little boys grow up to be just like their fathers.

How this works with women remains always a bit of a mystery because of course, since little girls do not have penises they have no similar cause for concern. There’s the pinch. Women come to appreciate that they are ‘mutilated’ (in the sense they do not have a penis) and thus they and their bodies are deficient. 

This leads to (1) both men and women holding contempt for women’s deformed bodies and (2) men being firmly established as superior to women because women are now defined (both to themselves and to society) not by what they have, but instead by what they lack. 

One of the clear benefits the Oedipus complex is that men now have a convenient excuse to cheat on their wives. Freud ‘discovered’ that men symbolically split their image of ‘woman’ between (1) mother and (2) prostitute. Since it is the duty of a married woman to ensure her marriage is successful by becoming mother to her husband, married men will no longer be erotically aroused by their mother/wives. After all, it was his desire for mother that got him into the Oedipal mess in the first place. Why on earth would he do that again? Where does this leave him? Securely in the arms of the prostitute. 

Clinical Cases

Freud reaches his conclusions about how childhood traumas effect women as the result of numerous clinical cases whereby his adult patients, hysterical women, present with a wide range of pathological (i.e., not normal) symptoms.

Consider the case of Dora, who like mythological Cassandra, has ‘not been heard’ by her family. You may recall that the god Apollo, himself the picture-perfect archetypal man, taught Cassandra the art of prophecy on the promise that she would become his lover. But when she reneged, he took his revenge: although she could still prophesise, no one would believe her.

Like Iphigenia, who in Greek mythology was sacrificed by her father, King Agamemnon, to make up to the goddess Artemis for his own wrong-doing, Dora was also an of barter for her father. What we learn from all this is how it feels to possess denied sexual desire as well as lesbian tendencies (poor Dora could not attach to – and therefore be just like – her unloving mother).

We also learn that Dora is also rejected Freud himself, who refuses to see her as the confused ‘adolescent’ that she is and instead vilifies her as a bad, vengeful woman. 

As rational 21st century persons, we might well-understand why poor Dora, so badly abused by men, might turn hateful. Sadly, turn-of the-last century men like Freud, didn’t see it in quite the same way.

Medusa

Perhaps it was cases like that of poor Dora that led Freud to conclude that essentially, all women are wildly scary, a serious castration threat to all men. 

To demonstrate how this might work, Freud chose the myth of Medusa who, once a beautiful mortal woman managed to offend the goddess Athena by having sex with the god, Poseidon, in Athena’s temple (although it is highly questionable whether or not the sexual act was 100% consensual for Medusa’s part). As punishment, Medusa was turned into a terrifying gorgon, whose once beautiful hair was now a mass of writhing (phallic) snakes and whose once beautiful face, turned men to stone. Clearly it was to the benefit of all mankind that Perseus, a true hero in the Greek tradition, was successful in killing Medusa and then pranced about holding up his prize, Medusa’s decapitated head.

The problem is that thinking about the Medusa (and her dicey sexuality – the bit that got her into trouble with in the first place), men are reminded of their castration anxiety. Who, then, could blame them if as the result, they get an erection from the whole idea which Freud confusedly connects with fetishism (the denial of female sexuality). I mean, after all would an eructation not be the best course of action to ensure it’s still down there in one piece and in good working order?

Conclusion

This would seem to leave us with a theory of the feminine that is defined by lack; women are in essence castrated men. As the result, at the slightest whiff that women could have sexual desires, men are reminded of their own fear of castration. Thus in order to keep the threat of (symbolic) castration at bay, men must firmly take control of the women in their lives (i.e., not be ‘pussy-whipped’) because, according to Freud, men are afraid, with good reason, of being weakened by women, ‘infected’ with her femininity (not to mention being damaged by her anger and revenge).

If this all leaves women with a poor self-image, then that’s all the better. Not only is it quite normal – but massively convenient for men –  that all women appreciate that they are second class citizens, mutilated at birth. 


[1] Credit to Nancy J Chodorow and her excellent chapter, ‘Freud on women’, in the Cambridge Companion to Freud, 2008 (Kindle Version).

Covid-19: History & Future

I’ve been lucky enough to be attending Cambridge University’s ‘Virtual Summer Festival of Learning Talks’ and in particular one given earlier this week by Dr Chris Smith, a Medical Consultant specialising in Clinical Microbiology and Virology at the University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s Hospital. He sheds some informed light on Covid-19 – where did it come from and when will it go away.

Health warning: The following is written based solely on my own understanding of what Dr Smith said during his 45-minute lecture.

When and why? 

There is good evidence suggesting that the first cases of Covid-19 predated China’s announcement in January 2020 to the World Health Organization. But it is also fair to suggest that prior to January 2020, no one – including the Chinese – had a real grasp on the severity of the situation.

Sadly, by that time, Covid-19 had spread widely without anyone realising it. In large part this was because around 80% of people infected show no symptoms. Likewise, only one in five of those infected develop an illness serious enough to attract attention. The most likely culprit regarding the severity and speed of the global spread was unmitigated air travel during the crucial time between late 2019 and early 2020. By the time borders started to shut in 2020, we were already in deep trouble.

There are about 5,000 coronaviruses occurring in nature some specific to humans and some specific to certain animals. Only a handful can jump species. But when that happens, the way in which the virus behaves in the new species is wildly different and can rapidly change without notice. There is sufficient evidence to suggest that is what happened with Covid-19, although no one can ever be certain. But we are fairly certain that exactly this type of thing has happened before – as with the flu that in 1918 infected 1/3 of the world population and in 2002-2003, with the SARS Mark 1 virus. 

What about Wuhan? 

According to Dr Smith, this is a smoking gun. Not only is the genetic code of Covid-19 nearly 96% similar to bats in China, but Wuhan does have a lab dedicated to corona virus research, which, by the way, is funded by many different countries including the United States of America. The point to remember is that such research is not only routine but also highly legitimate and it is carried on in the same way for the same reasons, in many parts of the world.

Dr Smith thinks it highly unlikely that if the virus escaped from the lab, it was allowed to do so on purpose. There are many ways in which, accidently, this might have happened. But is that what happened? We do not know. All we know is that the lab did have something very close to this strain on the premises. But for a more informed opinion, we would need further information and unfortunately on this point, China is not currently playing ball.

How contagious is Covid-19?

Dr Smith explains it’s all down to R-value (reproductive), which at the beginning of any outbreak starts at R-0. As things move forward, we shift forward into R-2, which means that each infection causes two more infections. 

We might expect that without anything to stop it, Covid-19 would rise to R-3 or R-4, which makes it twice as infectious as the flu. But don’t forget that there are a variety of important factors that are not so easily measured as with, for example, the effect of ‘super-spreaders’ (i.e., highly networked people with multiple points of contact). 

By comparison, consider the measles that carries an R-value of 12-20. 

Should you get vaccinated?

The data now suggests that as compared to the unvaccinated, vaccinated adults are 95% more protected from severe cases of Covid-19 and/or death.  For children, especially the 12–16-year age group, let’s face the fact that they are as likely to catch the virus as the R rate operative in their area otherwise suggests.

But although their chances of serious illness/death are much less likely than adults or those considered vulnerable for other reasons, they are still carriers. 

Here’s the real kicker: combine the data showing that 80% of those infected show no symptoms with the data suggesting that 80-90% of all transmissions of Covid-19 occur in your own home, and you may want to reconsider your position on vaccination both for yourselves and your kids. 

There are risks with any vaccination but one of the main risks here is myocardial titus ,or inflation of the heart, and the 1 in a million chance of developing this are about the same as expected with actually contracting the virus.

Are masks effective?

This, as Dr Smith reminds us, is a political hot potato and when evaluating it we need to consider that PPE and masks in the hospital environment is not the same thing as wearing masks in public.

Wearing a mask when walking down the street is, in his opinion, a wasted effort. Wearing a mask in a more crowded indoor environment with inadequate ventilation and/or little opportunity for social distancing makes more sense. But let’s be honest here, too. Wearing a mask may help to keep those infected from spreading the infection, but it will not keep you from catching it. 

Furthermore, most people outside of the hospital environment are not properly wearing their masks. For example, if you wear eyeglasses and find them fogged over when wearing a mask, that is a pretty clear indication that your mask is ineffective. Likewise, consider standing in a smoky room. If the smoke is getting to you, then so is the Covid-19 virus, which is actually smaller than the particles found in that smoke. 

Will Covid-19 go away?

The short answer is no. 

It’s in nature and even if we did manage to eradicate it, it would just come back again. Consider that of the 8 billion people on earth, there are 7 billion that are either uninfected or unvaccinated and that’s a whole lot of people with whom the returning virus can have a field day. It is Dr Smith’s opinion that we need find a way to live with Covid-19 and in this respect, vaccination is key because it converts a lethal infection into something that, like the flu or the common cold, is for the most part mildly irritating. 

By the way, notes Dr Smith, if we think that we think we can go on avoiding catching Covid, then think again. Many suggest they’ve never had the flu. Yet that reality is highly unlikely. The reason you thought the flu that you actually had wasn’t much more than a cold is because the vaccination or herd immunity kept it at bay. Same with Covid. The more opportunity our immune systems have to come in contact with such viruses (without it killing you), the better and better our immunity will become.

Whilst it is true that future variants will develop some resistance to the vaccines, it is the view of Dr Smith that such variants will never become completely resistant. The suggestion is that as long as we continue to share information globally so that as with annual flu vaccines, the Covid-19 vaccines are continually updated, we will beat the variants.

Finally, as we open up here in the UK we can expect the current levels of infection will continue to rise  – perhaps up to 50,000 to 100,000 cases each day. This should peak in a couple of months. But Dr Smith is reasonably confident the vaccines will hold serious illness, complications, and death at bay. In January, we had similar levels of infection as we have now and then 50% of all NHS beds were occupied by Covid patients. At the moment, although infections rates are rising, admissions to hospitals because of Covid-related illness are no-where near that – and although only time will tell for certain, fingers crossed it continues in this way.

The 2nd Cold War – China vs. the United States

I’ve been lucky enough to be attending Cambridge University’s ‘Virtual Summer Festival of Learning Talks’ and even luckier to attend two talks given by Sir Tony Brenton (former British ambassador to Russia). The topic at hand in both is whether or not we can expect a new Cold War between the United States and China as the key players – and spoiler alert – the answer is yes. 

The Old Order

Let’s go back to the Yalta Conference – 1945 – where the key players were Stalin, Franklin D Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. Stalin wanted Eastern Europe, ostensibly  to keep the Germans from rearming again, and Stalin got what he wanted. Because Europe was in a fragile state after WWII and unable to stand up to Stalin alone, the Americans decided to help both with the Marshall plan and by committing to the military defence of Europe with NATO. In response, the Russians pulled together their Warsaw Pact. 

The stage is set – two major players are in place – two very distinct players – the East vs. the West – with wildly different and readily identifiable agendas. The West wanted democracy and capitalism to underpin the world order and the East, wanted communism and state run economy.

The ideological ‘confrontation’ went global when in 1949, China (led by Mao Zedong) goes Communist – one up for the (former) Soviet Union. For the most part, this Cold War avoided military intervention (Viet Nam and Korea being notable exceptions) because of the threat of nuclear war – which neither side was keen to unleash. 

Finally the (former) Soviet Union started melting down economically – their state-run economy turned out to be no match for capitalism – this in turn, brought down their military power. With the Reagan Era, when the Americans started to seriously push back against the Soviets, it all collapsed with the Berlin Wall (Berlin had been the centre of the attention right from the start back in 1945) falling in 1988 and the (former) Soviet Union splitting up into 15 individual states. 

Now there was one superpower – the United States and geopolitics as we’d known it post WWII came to a halt and the new status quo remained in place for the better part of 30 years.

The New Order

During most of this time, China kept a lower international profile – focusing on its own domestic stuff. Mao turned out to be a bit of a disaster with the Great Leap Forward (1958-61) where 35 million died and then again with the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) when it really goes all wrong again. Mao died in 1976. Enter Deng Xiao pin  (1978-1992) – who sets about making China ‘great again’ through pragmatic modernisation. His approach was that ‘we do what works’ – enough of idealism – and the economy starts to take off – ‘to get rich is glorious’. During this period, China was under no illusions that when opening up with the West some ‘flies’ (capitalism) will ‘get it’ – the price paid for progress. It worked. 

The Chinese are arriving fully back on the scene doing very well indeed and now, China may become the richest country in the world by the end of this decade – and so it becomes more assertive internationally – they want to reclaim their land – they want to be the major power in their region (again) and so are taking a firmer hand. Don’t you remember the Beijing Olympics in 2008 – oops – how did this happen? A Leninist government is a now a major economic power?

The trade deficit Yep, the Chinese economy is now booming and the trade deficit with the United States continues to get worse and worse (from the perspective of the Americans). So Trump gets nasty and China retaliates. American attempts to enlist the Europeans to help hasn’t been met with the enthusiasm the Americans had hoped. France and Germany do more business with China than the Americans and understandably are not keen to upset the apple cart.

Worse, North Korea starts to play ball too. That is not to say that China is rooting for North Korea because they are not keen for a unified Korea either. So they must fight their turf and they do. The Chinese are intent on taking the leadership role in their region and that means they are also intent on taking back that which they believe is their own – Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Hong Kong

As the result of the Treaty of Nanking, the British took possession of Hong Kong in the 1841 as part of its imperialist push for world dominance – this time to push their opium trade. Back in 1997 when the British were required to return Hong Kong to the Chinese, another treaty was signed which was meant to guarantee certain freedoms to the residents of Hong Kong. But the Chinese are no longer keen to adhere to that and for the residents, it’s not good news. Sir Tony Brenton suggests that the West has no alternative but to abandon Hong Kong to its fate – the short answer is that there is little that can be done about it – although one clever tactic is when the British invited citizens of Hong Kong to resettle in Britain – it undermines China without be openly confrontational which quite honestly is likely to be the way the American would rather see it going.

Taiwan

When the Communists took over China in 1949, the Chinese nationalist party took refuge offshore to Taiwan. In the long-lasting fit against communism, understandably, the Americans support Taiwan. Now, the Chinese want it and the Americans want to ensure they don’t get it. Will the US use military force to support Taiwan as China keeps pressing reunification? Well, it is interesting to note that the Americans have never committed themselves to defence of Taiwan as they have through NATO for others like the UK. Sir Tony Brenton  suggests it’s almost inevitable that China will get Taiwan back and if China is sensible, they will take a soft-glove approach.

But, says Sir Tony Brenton, eventually the patience of the Chinese  will wan and then the US will have to take a stance. Chances are good the American public will push for a tough stance that could start WW3. To date, relations between the United States and China have not improved under Biden but there remains hope. Biden has good advisors who know what they are doing – but the economics of the situation may well push the agenda and we all know what happens to the best laid plans of mice and men. Watch this space for the G20 conference in Rome in early October 2021 (if it happens). Biden has a chance to make new moves.

The Russians

Will they support the Chinese? Sir Tony Brenton is of two minds on this – one side, Russia thinks of itself as European – in a push, they’d want to side with Europe against China. The Russians do not want to be part of China. But then Russia does take a different stance on other issues than the Europeans and if we keep loading  sanctions (and upsetting  Putin) they may just think – why side with the Europeans?

Also, Russia needs China’s trade – Russia produces raw materials and China needs them – well, that cements the two together economically and economics is the name of the game these days. Finally, the westerners are on a messianic crusade for ‘human rights’ and the Russians well -know they are on the wrong side of that – and that does push them closer to China.


Summary

It’s highly likely that we will see a 2nd Cold War that will play out very differently than the last one. The issues are not so clear cut as they were before – and some players like Germany and France do more trade with China than the United States. The ideologies that drove the first Cold War are no longer in play – however much the Americans might think otherwise. Economics is now the name of the game and whilst the (former) Soviet Union went down because of that, it’s more likely that this time the Americans will meet the same fate – it’s more than likely that by the end of this decade, the Chinese economy will have surpassed that of the United States and, as happened with the (former) Soviet Union, when the economy fails, so does military power – and at the end of the day, there is nothing else left. 

The Year Ahead

It’s the first day of the brand new year and many are turning their thoughts to what it might bring. Basically, two planetary players set the stage – Uranus and Saturn with a couple of guest appearances from Jupiter, which may provide a much-needed ‘get out of jail’ card as well as fanning the flames of authoritarian anarchy.

The star lore relating to the zodiac signs of Aquarius and Taurus put together pretty much tells the story:

Aquarius

According to the Greek astronomer, Aratus (270 BC), Fomalhaut is at the Pourer’s (Aquarius) feet where it forms part of the fixed cross of the four Royal Stars of Persia – the ‘watchers’ or guardians of the sky (angelic powers). Bernadette Brady (Brady’s Book of Fixed Stars) considers Fomalhaut to be rather like the legendary Persian warrior, Zal, who although seriously out of step with society (a white-haired man who’d been raised in a bird’s nest), managed (through his usually considerate behaviour) to win the heart of the beautiful princess, Redabeh. Even though the odds were against the couple, Zal persisted and, eventually, they were allowed to marry. A lovely story complete with high ideals and lofty visions. None-the-less, a serious clash with mainstream thought and authority (tradition) was needed to achieve their ideals (progress). Let’s not forget that Aquarius is ruled by two very opposing energies – (1) Saturn (authority) and (2) Uranus (rebellion) and both are in play together this year.

Taurus

The brightest star in Taurus, is Aldebaran, which ancient astrologers considered to be of the nature of Mars, the warrior. As such it is especially poignant in respect to military men who achieve great things whilst at the same time, making dangerous enemies. Brady gives the example of Niccolò Machiavelli, the 15th century statesman who wrote The Prince, the classic treatise on gaining and holding political power. Brady points out that Machiavelli’s initial rise to power and prestige was followed by a stark reversal of fortune marked by accusations of conspiracy and treason. History tells us that these accusations were false and that Machiavelli was an upright and honest citizen of highest integrity. Brady suggests this implies that sometime in his life, he had succumbed to temptation to behave with less that utmost integrity. Equally, however, I suggest that it could be that a more classic scenario was at the base – when one rises to power, he/she will make enemies if for no other reason than hubris, pride and jealousy.

Summary

It’s time to break down the barriers – do things radically different – and like it or not, that’s what will happen – expect militant clashes with authority, rebellion against the establishment, the absolute refusal to toe the party line and/or maintain the status quo. The ideals driving all this may sound lofty and at some level that may be the case. But don’t forget that not far behind will be a clash of egos – acts of hubris – and good old fashioned lust and greed – of a degree that could well make your head spin. And oh, by the way, if you find yourself presented with the perfect ‘get rich quick scheme’, do yourself a favour and turn away. Maintaining integrity is the key to getting through 2021 in one piece.

Somewhere, I have the biography of Niccolò Machiavelli. Sounds like it may be time to read it!

A Study in Existentialist Philosophy (Part 12)

My summer ( morphed into winter)  reading: Willem Barrett’s 1959 classic, Irrational Man, A Study in Existential Philosophy.

In his final chapter, The Place of the Furies, Barrett suggests that before we start talking politics we ought to have first undertaken some serious philosophical contemplation about the true nature of man. 

Although Barrett was writing in the middle of the 20th century, the concerns he’s expressing are still valid today. Barrett points out that as children of the Enlightenment, we in the Western world are accustomed to looking at man ‘almost exclusively as an epistemological subject’, an ‘intellect that registers sense data, makes propositions, reasons, and seeks certainty’. 

As children of the Enlightenment, we are also more or less programmed to look to the past and the future to discern what went wrong and plot and plan how we can make it all ‘better’. With such focus, we skip over the realities of today – not the warm, fuzzy ‘today’ for which we are told we ought to express gratitude, but the cold, hard ‘today’, which we are encouraged to at best overlook or at worst fix and fast. But as the Existentialists have tried to point out, both sides of this equation are the necessary lot of the embodied man.

Naturally it does no more good to focus solely on what’s wrong than it does to focus solely on what’s right. Likewise it does little good to put in Herculean effort to fix that which can’t be fixed. But it would do us a world of good to accept that the ‘idol of progress’ (see both Marx an Nietzsche) is just that – a utopian ideal that we may worship but never achieve.

You see, reminds Barrett, the human condition is one of (1) birth, (2) life (a period punctuated by both intense joy and sorrow), and (3) death. The glue holding that all together is anxiety, guilt, and fear. But as Barrett also reminds us, we in the West have become accustomed to label realists like the Existentialists as naysayers and psychotics, for whom a daily dose of the latest happiness drug is a necessary fix. But it won’t fix anything.

That’s just the point.

The ‘whole man’ or ‘well-rounded individual’ is, according to Barrett and the Existentialists, not one who takes endless courses for self-improvement but one who comes to accept that the power of man is nothing in comparison to that of the gods. This is a lesson that both the ancient Greeks (i.e. the great Oresteia  trilogy of Aeschylus) and modern psychologists have gone to great effort to point out.

The gods have become diseases; Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus and produces curious specimens for the doctor’s consulting room.

Carl Jung

To find the gods in psychology we ought to look first at the genres of our case-history writing. Our reflection needs to turn to psychoanalytic literature as literature. I am suggesting that literary reflection is a primary mode of grasping where one is ignorant, unconscious, blind in regard to the case because one has not differentiated the subjective factor, the gods in one’s work.

James Hillman

Take away:

We ignore the gods (an integral part of our embodied reality) at our peril and not everything can be fixed.

The 2nd American Civil War

For some years, astrologers including me have been predicting a very rough time for America, a rough time that might well result in the 2nd American Civil War.

At least I was met with disbelief at best and derision by many – well, sad to say it seems the writing is on the wall…

Check out a very, very recent article in the Washington Post, The Republican Party Now Has More in Common with the Southern Minority of 1860 – it makes for as much a scary read as one of my original posts on the subject.

There’s still time to change this.

What About My Rights?

One reason for studying politics is to understand the processes surrounding ‘who gets what, when, and how’(Peters, 23). These processes are inextricably bound to the relationship that states forge with their citizens and are primarily accomplished through formalised organisational state structures (Peters, 25).[1] 

I suggest the concept of ‘rights’ is central to the study of politics because the role of that concept has played in the actual practice of Western politics has often not turned out as expected.[2]

From the 17th century, many Western states have focused on ensuring they do not unjustifiably infringe upon certain ‘indefeasible’ and ‘hereditary’ rights of their citizens (Paine, 472).[3] Hobbes held that even when infringement is justifiable, rulers ought first to obtain consent (legitimate authority) from their citizens (Tuck, 78). Rousseau ups the ante;  he says the goal of all state legislation should be to ensure ‘liberty’ and ‘equality’ for all citizens (Wokler, 17).

No longer must states simply refrain from infringing on the rights of their citizens, but they now must take positive steps to ensure them. For example, Hobbes, keen to avoid the ‘nasty’ and ‘brutish’ life of man living in a political vacuum (i.e. anarchy), declared rulers had a duty to ‘ensure a safe space’ for everyday life (Miller, 22). Bentham (Course materials 3.3) said the states should secure the greatest happiness of the greatest number of citizens which included removing obstacles to education. In 1960’s America, military force was used by the state to guarantee the constitutional ‘rights’ of Negroes to have  equal access to higher education (Kennedy, “Civil Rights Message”). 

It is arguable that instead of making citizens safer, freer, and/or happier the concept of ‘rights’ has often achieved the opposite. McKelvey (2020) reports that during the current Covid-19 pandemic, many Americans cite constitutionally enshrined liberties to deny laws requiring facial coverings to protect not only their own health but also that of fellow citizens. Delton (2017) suggests the alt-right, dedicated to destroying ‘liberal cultural hegemony’, have been deliberately weaponizing the right of free speech at universities by promoting unsavoury spectacles and instigating violence. However authorities choose to react, their ‘legitimacy’ is undermined. 

Have we in the 21st century come full circle back to Hobbes’s initial 17th century concerns? 

If so, I suggest that is because we have put more effort ensuring those ‘indefeasible’ and ‘hereditary’ are enforced rather than understanding the real role they play in the actual practice of Western politics. 

  


Bibliography

Black, Henry Campbell. (1979). Black’s Law Dictionary. St. Paul: West Publishing. 

Butler, Christopher (2002). Postmodernism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 

Callinicos, Alex. (2004). ‘Marxism and Politics’, in Leftwich, A. (ed). What is Politics? Malden: Polity Press, pp. 53-66.

“Communism”. (2020). Martin Luther King, Jr. – Political and Social Views;  Stanford. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/communism. Accessed 25 October 2020. 

Delton, Jennifer. (2017). “When ‘free speech’ becomes a political weapon”. The Washington Post; 22 August 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2017/08/22/when-free-speech-becomes-a-political-weapon/. Accessed 25 October 2020.

Grosby, Steven (2005). Nationalism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Israel, Jonathan. (2012). Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human rights 1750-1790. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kenney, John F. “Civil Rights Message”. SoJust: Speeches on Social Justice, 2006-2018, www.sojust.net/speeches/jfk_civil_rights.html.

Martin, Michel. (2010). “How Communism Brought Racial Equality to the South’. NPR News, 22 August 2017. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123771194. Accessed 25 October 2020. 

McKelvey, Tara. (2020). “Coronavirus: Why are Americans so angry about masks?” BBC News, 20 July 2020; https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-53477121. Accessed 25 October 2020.

Miller, David. (2003). Political Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Paine, Thomas. (1995). ‘The Rights of Man’, in Kramnick, I. (ed). The Portable Enlightenment Reader. London: Penguin, pp 469-472. Black, Henry Campbell. (1979). Black’s Law Dictionary. St. Paul: West Publishing. 

Peters, B Guy. (2004). ‘Politics is About Governing’, in Leftwich, A. (ed). What is Politics? Malden: Polity Press, pp. 23-40.

Squires, Judith. (2004). “Politics Beyond Boundaries: A Feminist Perspective’, in Leftwich, A. (ed). What is Politics? Malden: Polity Press, pp. 119-134.

Tuck, Richard.  (2008). Hobbes: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wokler, Robert. (2001). Rousseau: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



[1] Squires (119-121) suggests politics should be defined broader to include the discourse of power whenever and wherever social relations are ordered. This essay adopts the more restricted definition of politics suggested by Squires (132) although I agree that especially regarding feminism, such a narrow definition is not only unhelpful but harmful. 

[2] I define ‘rights’ as (1) ‘natural’, in the sense that they ‘grow from the nature of men and depend upon his personality’ and (2) created by ‘positive laws unacted by a duly constitutional government’ to create ‘an orderly civilized society’ (Black, 925).

[3] I define ‘state’ as a ‘structure’ that exercises territorial ‘sovereignty’ through laws regulating the relationship of individuals within that territory (Grosby, 22).