Oh, for Ophiuchus' sake.
You know it's January when this story catches fire around the world. Newsflash: Horoscope dates have changed. Indeed, there may be a 13th sign, Ophiuchus. Obviously, the Astrology Marketing Board took a look at their revolving barrel of random statements and thought they needed to give their kiwifruit a slap of paint and call it a Zespri. Time for some rebranding. Add a new singer to the band.
Upshot is, people who've spent their entire lives as one star sign are now in a blind panic, a zodiac identity crisis, wondering who the hell their real ascendant is.
"Who am I?" they scream, as they stare shell-shocked at the page with the crosswords, Sudoku and hookers. The real scandal is why newspapers, which purport to spread information, contain horoscopes at all. It's sad that we live in an age where people know the meanings of words like Aquarius and cusp, but not cause and effect.
Let's be clear: astrology is baseless. Fun, but baseless. Like Sigmund Freud, astrology is gossipy fun to read but that's it. Astrology is totally talking out of Uranus. If you ask someone their sign, really, you're admitting you have nothing to talk about. You'll find out more about them, if it's a date, by asking them their address.
Sorry to get all science nerd on you but the one thing your birth date influences is your age. Think about it. Did everyone in the Christchurch earthquake have the same star sign? (Stay under a doorway today. Actually, get under a doorway before you wake up.) Did everyone in the Queensland floods uncannily have the same birthday? (Today you will meet someone tall and very wet. On your roof.) In Tucson, Arizona, were all the shooting victims the same sign? (And by sign, I don't mean surveyor symbol.)
Come to think of it, astrology has a lot in common with Sarah Palin. For either to make sense, you have to be wearing logic goggles. And paying attention to either one makes you dumber.
But while I don't believe in astrology, it's true I've never gotten on with a Gemini. Geminis, without exception, are crazy. Libras and Pisces are all easy-going. Virgos have tidy bedrooms and neat handwriting. And Scorpios are ruthless people who will murder without hesitation. (But as scientists would say, correlation is not causation.) Then, of course, there's Sagittarius.
Ah, Sagittarius, always good looking, honest to a fault, cool enough to have a birthday in December and not be threatened by Christmas, outdoorsy, kind to animals and virtuoso sexual dynamos. Did I mention I'm a Sagittarius?
Or should I say, used to be. Now, with the borders redrawn, I'm a recovering Sagittarius, a displaced refugee. I am Ophiuchus. (Not to be confused with the TV show, Ophiuchus, Blood and Sand.)
Or am I?
Some articles say you are what you always thought you were, because Ophiuchus only affects people born after 2009. Scorpio is having a closing-down sale and many of its branches are being replaced by Ophiuchus. Either that, or you get to keep your old sign, because change is threatening and astrology doesn't want to lose customers.
Obviously the laws of the universe are a bit like GST, or the give-way rule. The Government announces the change but it doesn't kick in until later.
So how did this change happen?
Believe it or not, this originated in the United States. Logical, scientific America. America, the people who landed on the Moon (obviously when it was full, otherwise what would they have to land on?)
On a quiet news day, one Parke Kunkle, an American astronomer - an actual scientist (telescope, not tea leaves) - observed that the Earth's axis now aims at a different angle (to what, I'm not sure) than it did thousands of years ago, when the Babylonians did their star charts.
The constellations (those connect-the-dot, that's-a-unicorn, what-are-you-on star shapes we see at night) now show up at different times than predicted. The dates are out, maybe by a month. Shock and awe, the predictions of an ancient civilisation who didn't know to wash their hands before eating still aren't accurate. Scorpio seems to last only six days. (Serves them right.)
I like to think Kunkle told this to the media just to make fun of astrology. ("Astrologers! Ha! They're so wrong, they haven't even adjusted for the precession of the Earth's rotational axis!") Problem is, when nerds mock mystics, somehow mystics still win.
Mystics play to the crowd, nerds just know they're right. As we know in the age of Sarah Palin, logic doesn't win over the audience.
It worries me that idiots out there are going to think astrology is more accurate now because 13 signs are more accurate than 12. When there were only 12 signs, they were huge generalisations; I mean, goodness, everyone knows there's actually 13 distinct types of people with 13 destinies. The old Zodiac was out by about 7 or 8 per cent, not even adjusting for inflation.
That's why Scarlett Johansson (November 22, new Libra) and Ryan Reynolds (October 23, new Virgo) got divorced. They were never right for each other!
The moral here is not "Please Adjust Your Astrology". That would be like saying Dilmah have developed a more accurate tea leaf for the specialist fortune teller. No, no, no. What Kunkle is saying is much more damning: astrologers weren't even looking at the sky when they dropped the names of stars.
Astrologers didn't know their astronomy from their elbow. All they did was pull out the random statements and mention star-words to sound spiritual. (Believe it or not, some people will find this controversial.)
Yet astrology continues to have a hold. At the risk of being sexist, ageist and marriageist, these aren't even old wives' tales. I have a theory. One word: ego.
Dale Carnegie said a person's favourite word is their own name and launched thousands upon thousands of creepy salesmen using your name in sales pitches. In some weird way this is what horoscopes tap into.
Horoscopes assign you one of 12 nicknames - handles such as Aries, Capricorn and Leo. While the rest of the newspaper is about all these other people, famous and unknown, who all do terrible things, there's this one quiet corner that's addressed to you, which remembers your birthday and calls you "you". This part of the newspaper is so concerned for your well-being, it has scoured the romantic night sky for clues, omens and portents.
You won't know the dates of any other star signs but you'll definitely know your own.
That is, until now.