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Look to the Stars for Election's Chaos Theory

Some astrologers warned that the movement of Mercury would wreak havoc on voters.

November 13, 2000|EDWARD J. BOYER and GEORGE RAMOS | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

So, you knew the election would be close, but you never expected this back-and-forth vote with recounts and computer glitches? Those who see meaning in the stars say they saw it coming.

The culprit? The planet Mercury, which began its apparent retrograde--or backward--movement in the heavens for the last time this year on Oct. 18 and ended it at 9:22 p.m. EST on election day. Now, with the snafus in the presidential election, including charges that Florida voters were confused by the odd ballot configuration, astrologers are saying, "We told you so."

Six days before the Nov. 7 election, San Diego astrologer Jim Shawvan predicted on the astrology Web site StarIQ.com that "as of election night, it may look very much like a Bush victory, but uncertainty may develop as the count goes on. The election may be so close in some states that it may be several days before the actual Electoral College votes can be tallied with accuracy. This could involve the counting of absentee ballots, and possible charges of fraud or irregularities in some places."

Similarly, New York astrologer Susan Miller predicted in September that because Mercury would be retrograde on election day, there would be "breakdowns in election machines, irregularities or missing ballots. We won't know the winner on election night but a day later due to a recount that one candidate will demand."

Miller was a bit off, since several days after the election the winner was still not known, and state law required the recount in Florida, although the chairman of Al Gore's campaign has demanded a recount, as she predicted.

The apparent retrograde motion of Mercury occurs when its orbit takes it between Earth and the sun, usually three times a year. That orbit makes it appear as though the planet is moving backward. The effect is similar to what a passenger in a fast-moving automobile sees when looking at utility poles: They appear to be moving backward.

Like the god for which it is named, Mercury is the planet controlling communications and swift travel, stargazers say, and its retrograde motion may cause disruptions ranging from irritants to disasters.

Just as some people swear they are affected by a full moon, many believers in astrology take precautions during a retrograde Mercury. They may back up computer files, not sign any contracts, doublecheck manuscripts for errors or re-confirm appointments. They report mishaps such as computers crashing, letters going astray, cars breaking down. In effect, they feel that Murphy's Law--whatever can go wrong will go wrong--is never more true than during these periods, which usually last about three weeks.

Scientists, predictably, consider these connections as so much bunk.

"Mercury appears in the sky as though it's changing direction," said Jet Propulsion Lab planetary astronomer Richard Terrile. "There's nothing magical about that. Let's get a life, people."

UCLA astronomer Ellis Miner, a solar-system specialist, said it is "sort of ludicrous to think that things as far away as Mercury have that much effect on us unless they're talking about gravity. There is no gravity, no radiation, coming from Mercury that has that much effect on us."

Terrile agreed: "The greatest influence of the planets is gravity. An obstetrician exerts more gravity on a baby he delivers than the influence of stars."

Astrologer Rick Levine, president and co-founder of Redmond, Wash.-based StarIQ, however, insists that astrology today "has become a statistical science based upon databases."

Levine said astrology is not fortunetelling, citing what has become a mantra to astrologers: "The stars impel; they don't compel."

"We believe astrology is best used for getting a perspective," he said. "It's basically a tool for human growth."

He pointed out that Johannes Kepler, "who we call the father of modern astronomy, the discoverer of the laws of planetary motion, was first and foremost an astrologer who wrote extensively on the astrology of his time."

Terrile responded that modern chemistry has its roots in ancient alchemy, but chemists are not still searching for ways to turn lead to gold.

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