Whirled Musings

Across the Universe with Cosmic Connie, aka Connie L. Schmidt...or maybe just through the dung-filled streets and murky swamps of pop culture -- more specifically, the New-Age/New-Wage crowd, pop spirituality & religion, pop psychology, self(ish)-help, business babble, media silliness, & related (or occasionally unrelated) matters of consequence. Hope you're wearing boots. (By the way, the "Cosmic" bit in my moniker is IRONIC.)

Friday, August 18, 2006

They didn't planet; it just happened

Scientists are really beginning to get on my nerves. They’re always coming up with new "discoveries" and ideas that jack with my already tenuous notions of an orderly world and Universe. For example, there was that time in the 1990s when a few Danish biology geeks who couldn’t let well enough alone discovered a whole new phylum of animal that lounges about on lobster lips. Not a new species, mind you. A whole new phylum. That’s almost as significant as an entire new addiction or disorder, or a new drug to treat that addiction or disorder. The discovery rocked the entire science world. It sure rocked my world, but in a vaguely disturbing way.

Eventually I got over it. After all, when you’re talking about things that live on lobster lips, at least you’re talking about microscopic life forms. They don’t affect me. Okay, technically they do, since we’re all interconnected on this fragile web of life and all that – but the truth is, these new critters are very little, so I can mostly ignore them. Let the lobsters worry about them.

But when you start messing with the planets, all of which of course revolve around me, you’re heading for real trouble. And messing with my planets is exactly what an influential panel of astronomers, historians and random writers did in Paris earlier this week.

They gathered in Paris to duke it out over which whirling rocks in our neck of the Universe are and aren’t planets. Don’t yawn. This is a pretty serious issue, and these folks have been laboring for more than two years to define the word "planet." Finally, desperate to reach a consensus in order to present a proposal at a meeting of the International Astronomical Union in Prague, they gathered in the City of Light. They argued, whined, wined, dined, fought, worried and lost sleep mulling over the scientific as well as the historical and cultural issues involved in planet-defining. Their real concern was that they wouldn’t reach a consensus.

But – mon Dieu! – unity prevailed. "By the end of a long day, the miracle had happened," wrote Harvard University Astronomer Owen Gingerich, and I assume he was speaking figuratively about the miracle bit. The panel was able to agree on a proposed definition of a planet. A planet, they decided, is an object that orbits a star but isn’t a star itself. It may look like a star and walk like a star, but it ain’t a star. In addition, the object must be large enough that its own gravity pulls it into a nearly spherical shape. Under these new criteria, Dr. Phil almost certainly qualifies as a planet, but I don’t believe his name was mentioned in the panel’s proposal.

Pluto’s name was mentioned, however – the planet, that is, not Mickey’s dog. It seems that poor Pluto was on the verge of getting kicked out of planetdom just for taking so long to get around the sun. I'll grant that 200 Earth-years is a lot of time, and astronomers, like the rest of us, are impatient sorts. Fortunately, after much French wine had been consumed, the conferees decided that Pluto would be allowed to remain in the planet club. Not only that, it got to bring three new friends along – most notably (for Pluto, anyway), Charon, who’s now considered a "companion" to Pluto rather than a moon, but still cannot get the full legal status of a spouse. Also joining the ranks are Ceres, which made a huge asteroid out of itself and has been petitioning for planethood since it was discovered in 1801; and the newest discovery, 2003 UB313, more commonly known as "Xena," which was discovered in 2005.

Now, what bothers me the most about all of this proposed-new-planet stuff is that apparently a whole group of professionals was left out of the decision making process. I am of course speaking of astrologers. Near as I can tell, those arrogant scientists and academics didn’t even stop to think about the potentially devastating consequences their little "proposal" might have on the science of astrology.

In fact it was Xena’s recent discovery that really shook up the astrology-minded. So serious a matter was this that USA Today (or, rather USAWeekend.com) saw fit to cover it in the "Science" section. In a January piece by Rose Darby, we learn that…

...depending on what personality traits Xena rules, the additional planet could add a fiery or sedate element, for instance, to your forecast.

A big factor in determining a planet's disposition is what was happening in the world when it was discovered. "Uranus was found around the time of the American and French revolutions, and it symbolizes freedom and individuality," says Bill Meridian, Wall Street's resident astrologer, who uses the charts to predict stock and financial trends. Similarly, Pluto's discovery in 1930 coincided with the rise of fascism in Europe, and Pluto is associated with transformation, extreme power and corruption.

So Xena could represent a shifting interpretation of gender roles, [Michael Lutin, horoscope writer for Vanity Fair] says. "It could represent changes in human reproduction, such as what's going on in stem cell research and cloning."

A planet's name also plays into its qualities (think: Venus and Mars). The International Astronomical Union, based in Paris, will determine the title of the new discovery. It likely won't be Xena, although it's hard to imagine a more fitting name for a being that challenges gender roles.

And now that Charon and Ceres are on the verge of being let in as well, there's no telling what kind of chaos there’s going to be in the astrology industry.

Furthermore, there was also no word from the conferees in gay Paree on how commercial entities with the name "planet" in their title will be affected. But I imagine the effects will be far-reaching. Right here in Houston, for example, we have Planet Ford, Planet Fish, Planet Planet, and a host of other businesses that define themselves as planets. I’m sure it’s the same in your city as well. On TV and online, there are Animal Planet, Executive Planet, Planet Porn, etc., all of which may very well have to change their names or at least issue legal disclaimers.

But it’s the effect on astrology that is really keeping me up at night, and since I don’t drink I can’t even take comfort in French wine. Fortunately there is good news: the three new planets, as well as the dozens more that might be out there waiting to be discovered and decreed planets, won’t affect Vedic astrology, which is ever so much more sophisticated than the product we’re used to here in the West. Now, before you start hollering about yet another profession that is being outsourced to India, hear me out. The truth is, Vedic astrology has always been more accurate than the Western method, at least according to Vedic astrologers and the hustledorks who have embraced Vedic astrology, and their word is good enough for me.

Apparently the new planets are NBD because Vedic astrology has always ignored planets further away from the sun than Saturn. This means that Uranus, Neptune and Pluto aren't counted in traditional Vedic astrology. Naturally this shook me up when I first learned of it, since, as an Aquarius, I am supposed to be ruled by Uranus.* Talk about a serious identity crisis. But after a while I got used to the idea.

As it happens, though, one of the proposed new planets, Ceres, lies between Mars and Jupiter. However, the scuttlebutt is that Ceres is unlikely to be taken into consideration by most Vedic astrologers – except, of course, for those who believe that the new planets were destined to be discovered and therefore must be used. Or, as one astrologer explains, "If these new discoveries are included in the solar system, I will accommodate them."

In any case, it is clear to me that Vedic astrology is superior in many ways to all other astrology methods. That is why I am prepared to make you an amazing offer. Now, for a limited time only, you can upgrade from classic Western sun-sign astrology to Vedic astrology without affecting your personality traits or changing your birthday! All you need to do is send me many US dollars now, if not sooner. I urge you to take advantage of this offer while the taking is good. You’ll be showing those smug scientists that nothing they do, say or write can affect the greater purpose that astrology, at least of the Vedic variety, explains so much better than their reductionist little disciplines. And in the process, you will be buying many lobster dinners for yours truly.

I’ll save the lips for you.

* Notice I am not making any jokes based on the mispronunciation of "Uranus." IMO, Jerry Seinfeld would have been wise to exercise the same kind of discretion with "Doris."

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