Mercury Direct, and a Crazy Week in Television

Dear Friend and Reader:

Mercury stationed direct in Aquarius Wednesday, amidst much fanfare, turmoil and loss in the television profession.

Jon Stewart announced he would be leaving The Daily Show later this year. He has hosted the program on Comedy Central since January 1999.

At the same time, this was an unusually challenging retrograde for we humans and our technology. The whole retrograde process happened in Aquarius, which seems to have emerged in the modern era as the sign associated with electronic devices and communication networks.

For advanced Mercury spotters, I would say that the storm phase (the turbulent days surrounding the station) ends Monday and that Mercury will clear its second shadow phase on March 3. That is when Mercury enters new territory after the retrograde, and is the ‘official’ end of the whole retrograde process. However, Mercury will remain in Aquarius through March 12, moving in direct motion, covering nearly the entire sign between now and then.

Has anyone noticed this increasing intensity of Mercury retrograde over the past 10 or so years? Is it just me? I have a theory. As we are slowly allowing ourselves to be overtaken by digital devices, which are really a form of robotics, I believe these retrogrades are becoming more noticeable and more disruptive.

We have never been surrounded by so much electronic gear, by so many computer devices and by everything being connected to everything else. With the possible exception of brushing your teeth or fluffing your pillow, every task and transaction, from getting a cup of coffee to eating lunch to meeting a friend after work, is processed electronically.

The computer in your pocket that you used to not think you needed. Image: The Atlantic.

Yet it is perhaps more noteworthy that humanity has never experienced the tide of any technology rising so fast and so thoroughly. Every new technology changes society and how we think of ourselves. Yet usually the onslaught is slower.

It took hundreds of years from the first printed Bible to the first commercially available books.

In just 25 years, we’ve gone from nearly nobody having a computer to nearly everyone carrying one in their pocket or bag. This is causing a very strange kind of confusion that has not yet been given a name. I would call it digital vertigo.

Technology changes not just how we work and how we relate to one another but also who we think we are; how we think of existence. And this is happening too fast to make any sense of right now. If it’s questioned, that usually comes in the form of muttering, speculation or judgment.

This Week in Television

Meanwhile, the days surrounding the recent Mercury station direct came with an abundance of sad news in the television industry. To the extent that there is such a thing as ‘astrological history’, this week was one for the record books.

Monday night, Jon Stewart announced his retirement from The Daily Show after 16 years. So profound was the outpouring of sentiment that he began his Tuesday night program asking, “Last night I was perusing the Internet, and I guess my question to you is [long pause] did I die?”

Bob Simon, a 47-year veteran of CBS News, died Wednesday in a car accident in New York City.

In a story I mentioned last week, a journalist was finally held accountable for the media’s lies about the Iraq war. Brian Williams, the longtime face of NBC News, was suspended for six months (sacrificing $5 million in salary) for lying about whether he was aboard a helicopter he claimed was struck by a rocket while serving as an embedded reporter in Iraq in 2003.

The most widely viewed anchor on television, Williams’ suspension causes some real problems for NBC, and is leaving Williams’ fans wondering what happened and why.

On Wednesday night, CBS veteran Bob Simon was killed at age 73 in a car accident in New York City. He was a passenger in a Lincoln Town Car that collided with another vehicle, and then struck the median. The drivers of both vehicles survived. Simon had spent 47 years working for CBS on extremely dangerous assignments, surviving warfare and torture. More recently, he was a longtime contributor to 60 Minutes.

In slightly more uplifting news, two Al Jazeera reporters who last year were convicted of terrorism and political crimes in Egypt were released by an appellate court, pending a new trial. This at least is the one bit of welcome news. These three reporters from what in truth is a pretty good TV station were sentenced to ridiculously long prison terms last year and have been a focal point of both activism and diplomacy.

Getting the Helicopter Story Wrong

The confluence of Brian Williams, a respected news reporter with some real comedic talent, and Jon Stewart, a comedian who became one of the most trusted voices in the news, is worth reflecting on. I’ll get to that in a moment.

Williams embedded in Iraq. Sure makes war seem fun.

First, though, a quick summary of the Williams thing, since you may not be familiar with it. On March 24, 2003, in the first days of the invasion of Iraq, he was riding as an ’embedded reporter’ aboard a U.S. Army helicopter. His initial and subsequent statements about the incident indicated that a helicopter in front of the one he was in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and forced to land.

In a March 26, 2013, interview with David Letterman, Williams inaccurately recounted the incident, stating that it was the helicopter he was on that was “hit and crippled by enemy fire.” He then repeated this version during the NBC Nightly News broadcast on Jan. 30, 2015.

That was when some viewers and veterans’ groups took note of the inconsistency. On Feb. 4, he issued an apology. In a Facebook post, he wrote: “I feel terrible about making this mistake, especially since I found my OWN WRITING about the incident from back in ’08, and I was indeed on the Chinook behind the bird that took the RPG in the tail housing just above the ramp. Because I have no desire to fictionalize my experience (we all saw it happened the first time) and no need to dramatize events as they actually happened, I think the constant viewing of the video showing us inspecting the impact area — and the fog of memory over 12 years — made me conflate the two, and I apologize.”

Is it possible he misremembered? I kind of don’t think so. I have surprised myself with things I read in old notebooks, written before I thought I knew them. But I think that most of us would remember whether a helicopter we were in was actually hit by enemy fire. What this may actually reveal is the extent to which all television news is a case of fabrication or misremembering.

Brian Williams the embedded reporter, in Iraq.

Complicating matters somewhat, National Public Radio (NPR) last week quoted the privately published military newspaper Stars And Stripes: “The NBC anchor was nowhere near that aircraft or two other Chinooks flying in the formation that took fire. Williams arrived in the area about an hour later on another helicopter after the other three had made an emergency landing, the crew members said.”

For this, Williams, who has more than nine million nightly viewers, and whose program grosses $200 million annually in ad revenue, was suspended as both anchor and managing editor of the program for six months. This will cost him $5 million in salary and all of his credibility. I doubt he will be back in anything resembling his previous form.

News As Fabrication: The Iraq War

But what NBC is doing, in my opinion, is papering over the real problem in television news. I believe Williams is not being punished for lying but rather for revealing that TV news is nearly all fabricated for the purposes of entertainment.

As far as network and most cable news is concerned, there were nothing but lies told about the invasion of Iraq. Day after day, week after week, it was nonstop propaganda for why we just had to invade Iraq. Bush and his top officials appeared constantly on news programs, commentary programs and shows like Meet the Press.

Who questioned Bush about the Iraq war? Did you?

Viewers were subjected to nonstop propaganda about everything from Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction (including Dick Cheney’s and Condoleeza Rice’s fabrications about metal tubes and visions of mushroom clouds) to Saddam’s involvement in Sept. 11 to the cheering throngs who would welcome the American liberators.

Not one single journalist was called out for facilitating or perpetrating this deception. Some have said they could have done more. But what we are seeing happen to Brian Williams is what many other so-called journalists had coming to them.

The truly sad part of the Brian Williams story is how much his viewers loved him — as did those who encountered him on The Daily Show and his other frequent entertainment show appearances. If you have a moment, check out this utterly fantastic You Tube that transformed his news reporting into a rap song. This is a real work of digital art, originally broadcast on Jimmy Fallon’s program.

But what it makes transparent is the morphing of news and entertainment, which has been going along for almost as long as TV news has existed. Within that context, and remembering how viciously competitive television is, Williams’ making up a story about what happened during the war makes more sense. That doesn’t make it right. In fact it’s all the more ridiculous — because he was actually there. It happened to him. But for an entertainer, it’s natural enough to fictionalize a bit. He just forgot what channel he was on.

Enter: Jon Stewart on The Daily Show

Jon Stewart. Portrait by Deviant Art.

While this was happening, there was another interesting trend developing in television — comedy shows becoming a reliable source of news and commentary. This was spearheaded by Jon Stewart, a talented standup comic who took over a Comedy Central program called The Daily Show on Jan. 11, 1999.

Parody news programs have existed for a while. The first famous one was Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live starting in the 1970s (“I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not”) but that was more of a slapstick approach to the news and never took on anything meaningful.

Jon Stewart was so good at making fun of the news that he became the news. Given the poetic license of comedy, and relieved of the burden of seeming credible, he was free to actually describe what he saw happening. At first this annoyed people — such as how anyone would go to a comedian for news. But the joke was on them. Especially if they were trying to assemble the scattered fragments of reality found on CNN.

In the process, Stewart became a touchstone of sanity in an increasingly insane world, whether one usually watched TV or not. For many people who cannot stand television, he was one of the few things worth tuning into, serving as a collective voice of reason. His videos were some of the first to go viral on the Internet.

One person I know accused him of pandering to the viewpoints of his audience, which allegedly made him irrelevant as a satirist. That critique misses the point of how sickened so many people have become by both the content of the news and its tendency to distort everything it touches.

Jon Stewart was one of the first to call out the lies of the Iraq war. He could because he served in the role of Court Jester.

The viewpoints he reflected were the same ones that so many people felt marginalized for having — such as not wanting to bomb people in other countries for nothing.

Stewart evolved into a psychological refuge, and a way to feel a little safer, a little less alone. Laughing at something is an essential part in removing its power over you.

As the wars, political corruption and the hyperbolic conduct of what now masquerades as the Republican Party grew more maddening, he was always there, pointing out how ridiculous it all is.

In addition, he spawned and nurtured many brilliant talents (who often served as his faux correspondents), including Stephen Colbert (who will be taking over for Letterman later this year), Larry Wilmore (now host of The Nightly Show), Steve Carell, John Oliver, Ed Helms, Samantha Bee, Jason Jones, Jessica Williams and many other truly brilliant comics.

Williams and Stewart mocking Chatroulette in a fabulous Daily Show segment.

This does not include the amazing writing talent that he developed behind the scenes; what shines out about The Daily Show is the truly impressive quality of the writing that makes it possible.

In the process, he gradually nudged the ‘real’ news into not taking itself so seriously. Consider the collection of TV all-stars he collected for this reporton the momentary Internet phenomenon Chatroulette, wherein Brian Williams makes a fantastic cameo.

For many people, TV will never be the same without Jon Stewart hosting The Daily Show. But TV will never be the same now that he’s passed through the territory. And then it’s worth noting that for a while Stewart has seemed like, and has implied that, he needs to do something else — something other than TV.

I was watching Fox News the other day — something I rarely do, because it’s so painful — and they were commenting on Stewart and his choice to move on. One person in the discussion insinuated that since he’s making $25 million a year and really has no apparent reason to leave, maybe there’s some scandal brewing.

Another chimed in, no, it’s healthy for people to get new jobs after 16 years doing the same thing every night. But, he said, he hoped that the entertainment business would spawn five new Jon Stewarts — as long as they’re conservatives.

Good luck with that. Has anyone noticed that there are no conservative comedians? It just falls flat. Or maybe as Stephen Colbert remarked at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner, reality has a well-known liberal bias.


Weekly Horoscope for Thursday, Feb. 12, 2015 #1036 | By Eric Francis

Aries (March 20-April 19) — It’s time to reconcile who you are with who you present yourself as being. As the digital era has developed so rapidly during the past 10 years, evermore people are acting as their own publicists. To some extent this is true for all of us. You have reached a moment of reconciliation, where your image and your reality need to be perfectly in sync, or at least honestly reflective of one another. This is about more than having an accurate Facebook page or profile. It’s about a level of integrity wherein you actually are who you are. Recent events may have demonstrated certain inconsistencies between image and substance, and the problems they can create. You may not feel comfortable fully exposing yourself. But if that is true, the question is, why do you want people to know some things about you but not others? What goes on what list?

Taurus (April 19-May 20) — You are discovering how subtle leadership is — and self-leadership as well. You know that you must be your own best example, which qualifies as authentic maturity. The real revelation is how much freedom that offers you. This includes the freedom both to think and to act, and to navigate the many rules and regulations of society in a way that facilitates your creative mission. You can afford to experiment more boldly on the level of your message. Clearly you have something to say, and if you act on that you would potentially be transgressing certain customs or the expectations of others. That, however, seems to be the point of having anything original to say. Doing so is about neither mischief nor approval; rather, it’s a kind of probe into reality to see what happens. Keep your sense of humor.

Gemini (May 20-June 21) — You are getting clear about what you want to do. That, in turn, seems to be based on what you think is possible. So I suggest you consider that anything you want to do is possible, so that you don’t limit your plans. You may need to revise them at some point, though for now, think big. Allow the visionary piece of your mind to roam free and unhindered. This is less about what you want to do and more about who you want to become. Take the chance and consider who that might be over the course of five to 10 years, or even twice that. This will compel you to assume that you will live at least that long, which is part of the vision that you want. There is something else, which is widening your overall sense of scale, of time, distance and your potential. Give it a big stretch and remember, the most important faith is faith in yourself.

Cancer (June 21-July 22) — The Sun ingresses Pisces this week, after a spectacular New Moon in Aquarius. You can think of this as a reminder to keep your commitments to yourself. The promises you make to others are something that you take seriously. Part of what makes you who you are is that you strive to be true to your word. What may be preventing you from honoring your own agenda is some experience of commitment with someone else. Because of the depth of your involvement, this may not be a matter of cutting your ties and moving on. You might think of it as a matter of balance, though it looks more like integrating some of your desires into your life in a more holistic way. This is a pattern where everything supports everything else, rather than detracts. If you take careful and conscious steps, you can accomplish this.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) — It is likely that you will become much more careful with a business or financial relationship that you may have taken for granted. The potential for mutual benefit is profound, and it is worth the personal investment you have to make to bring that to fruition. What you may be struggling with a bit is the sense of transition, seemingly with no guarantee of the outcome. Yet in most ways the outcome is in your hands. Admitting that fact alone will feel like cashing in on your good karma. Among the other helpful factors in your environment are ideas such as ‘we’re in this together’, and ‘I’ve been preparing for this for a long time’. In fact that may translate to a very, very long time — many lifetimes of training for what you are now doing. When you meet any challenge, remind yourself of that.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) — As planets continue to collect in your opposite sign Pisces, this will be an exciting week to be a Virgo. It’s as if everything you thought of as responsibility morphs into a reward. Given that, you could say that the greater your sense of duty, the greater the benefit you and others will receive. What seems impossible one moment can emerge into the manifest world the next — so don’t burden yourself with the question of potential. There will be plenty of transformation going on over the next week or so, which is why I suggest you take a loose and observational approach to existence, participating when you feel called to do so. Any transaction can lead to the contact you seek. Yet it’s more likely to be in some unforeseen future form than in its current form, which is why transitions are your best friend.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) — If you’re feeling stressed out, or like you’ve been doing one thing too long, I suggest you relax a bit. Take a breath. Take a look at the world around you. Remind yourself that time is always in motion, and that the world is in a constant state of flux. Remind yourself to get out of your own way. Be honest about what you want, and notice how you feel when you do that. Pay attention to any possible superstition you may feel about desire being a hindrance to fulfillment. Notice your level of confidence. And then, watch what unfolds. You may not have direct control over the next few developments of your life, though for now you can afford to say that you don’t need to. Your life is heading in the direction of healing, of connection and of service. Yet that’s just the beginning. Those qualities lay the foundation for many other possibilities. First things first.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) — For you, creativity is usually a matter of confidence. This includes not just the art or music that you may make but also the way you approach every aspect of life. This is one of the deep misunderstandings of existence. I recognize that some tasks seem so boring that there is no possible way to take an innovative approach, such as sorting out a thousand files, shoveling your driveway or entering figures into Quickbooks. But is that really so? The interesting approach to seemingly boring or repetitive tasks can lead to methods and solutions that save time and energy, or that get the job done better. Anyway, most of what you do is more exciting than those things. And I would suggest that this actually does come down to a matter of confidence, and of challenging yourself to remain alert, involved and inventive at all times.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) — Don’t let your doubts run away with you. You may feel them, they may tug at your sleeve or at your emotions, but don’t believe them. Just notice them. Be on the lookout for the one that says ‘you are to blame’. That is the shadow form of something much more significant, more mature and that does not involve guilt: you are responsible for how you respond to your environment. It would seem that you are moving into a new level of self-understanding involving your family, in particular, your father’s side of the family. You have been held accountable for many things that have nothing to do with you; they existed long before you were born. Normally these things go unquestioned, because they existed in your environment since before you can remember. Now, they may suddenly come into focus, and I suggest you question everything.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) — You may feel like something is bugging you but you don’t know what it is. You might be feeling upbeat and able to face the challenges of life, but there’s something that you cannot put into words that’s annoying you. The obvious solution? Try putting it into words. You might not be able to fit it into five words or a page, but if you do The Artist’s Waymorning pages routine for a week or so, you will learn a lot. That means writing out three pages as early in the day as you can, and setting the pages aside. After about a week, read them over and see what you’ve got. It’s likely you will have figured out your little thing long before that, and will have discovered that it is, indeed, rather small. But it may give you a big clue to cultivating future happiness.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) — Wednesday, there will be the second New Moon in Aquarius within just four weeks. This is one of the most unusual New Moons I’ve ever seen — happening 1/60th of one degree away from Pisces. If there was ever an event that happened in Aquarius and Pisces simultaneously, this is it. How to interpret this? You are very, very close to accomplishing something, though that something is deeply personal. It’s all about your relationship to yourself. To me it looks like some profound misunderstanding that you’ve been carrying around is suddenly resolved. You have been holding yourself accountable, and then suddenly you may discover that you’re off the hook. This has some positive implications for you; the question is, what can you do, now that you’re free?

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) — You get a second chance at something you were sure was a lost cause. That this happens may surprise you; you may not have seen it coming, or thought that it was remotely possible. This development may manifest a number of different ways — for example, as discovering an advantage you’d overlooked; remembering something you had forgotten, but that changes everything; or discovering you have the cooperation of your friends or colleagues, when you were starting to doubt that. Either way, there is the feeling of some deeper truth being revealed to you. Whatever happens will provide a boost to your confidence. At the same time, you have this idea that you must take absolute responsibility for yourself. You are better at this than you think and you can cut yourself some slack. As others take increasing responsibility for themselves, you will have a lot less to worry about.

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