SOMEONE finally explained to me why, when I was living in Europe, so many people asked me if I was from Canada. I didn't have a maple leaf patch stitched to my backpack, nor did I tote around a hockey stick. I figured it was because my accent isn't easily recognizable.
It turns out that's the polite way to ask if someone is American without actually saying it. If, for example, you're a Belgian cab driver and you can't sort out the various accents in the English language but you want to know if you're dealing with an American, you just ask if the person is Canadian. Europe may be attempting to become 'one country' but where you and your parents are from is still the hottest topic of conversation that most people can muster.

If you ask a Canadian if they are American, they will typically be offended. They don't want to be confused with those weird people south of the border who wear huge hiking boots or white sneakers and shirts with the name of a university -- and who blow up countries. (Of course as I sit here in Kingston, I am wearing clunky hiking boots and a pink shirt that says B-U-F-F-A-L-O across the front.) If you ask an American if they're Canadian, they'll either think you're a bad guesser or be flattered to be confused with those nice friendly people up north whose tall, handsome cops all have super white teeth and ride horses. They will politely correct you and say they're from St. Louis, or wherever.
Now that I'm back in the United States, I can see what I was missing all this time. I have always read that you have to leave your culture in order to appreciate it, or even to see it. That is what I did these past four years. Europeans view Americans as naïve, which I would say is true. Living in three different countries in Europe and spending a good bit of time in about three others, I slowly figured out that most people from the Old World have something else going for them, which is cynicism. That is, a less-than-subtle bitter haughtiness born of certainty about how bad the world sucks, so you may as well drink your wine by the bottle, smoke a lot of cigarettes and never quite get to the point.
Americans and Europeans both specialize in being extremely self-absorbed. Members of both cultures shop as if the world depended upon it, and politely step over the homeless. There are fewer homeless in Europe, though. And I don't think any of them are war veterans. (A quarter of the homeless in the United States are vets.)
I find cynicism the more objectionable mental state. Part of why I came back to the States, besides being sensitive to cynicism and cigarette smoke, was because I wanted to be on the front lines to fight side by side with my countrymen when the shit hits the fan for the 2008 elections. I decided I needed a year's running start to get re-established, amass a war chest and a modest army, and be ready to go to the mats (as we Sicilians say) when Dick Cheney declares himself president for life.
Nearly every time I say this to an American, they look at me silly. Of course, there will be a legitimate election, a pretty green Democrat will win after all the mess we've been through the past eight years since Monica Lewinsky and Karl Rove came along, and on the 20th of January 2009 there will be an inauguration and we will get on with our lives. The new government will get about the business of mopping up the blood in Iraq, the boys will come home, and we will focus on renewable energy.
I see a high probability of something else; something more decadent. You ask how I may know this. Though I often stray from the topic in these essays, I am the same astrologer who writes the horoscope, and politics is one among my many fetishes. But I am also familiar with that line from the Tao Te Ching about the end being written in the beginning. We began the Cheney/Bush administration with a stolen election and a constitutional crisis, and we will very likely end with one.
Ancient Chinese wisdom aside, I am looking at the chart for Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2008 cast in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire, where the polls open and close at midnight, and which is traditionally the first place to report its national election results. I am truly sorry to say that this chart is just depressing. It is not even vaguely interesting, after so much that we have lived through, and in particular how much military families have lived through; it is merely sad. I will pester you with the technicalities of three details.
Detail one, the most glaring, is that Mercury is in the exact degree it occupied the night of the stolen 2000 election. I assure you that the heart of any astrologer who is familiar with the 2000 chart will sink when they see this omen. The 2000 election was ripped off making good use of Mercury in the last degree of Libra, and this is not a friendly portent. Though Mercury made a tricky station-direct the night of the election (a retrograde ended, just as the polls were closing in Dade County), for this vital planet to occupy the same degree of the zodiac on a critical national election night is ominous.
Detail two, Mars in Scorpio is exactly square Neptune in Aquarius. This is one of those aspects to look out for. Anyone who happens to know they have this aspect in their natal chart will be familiar with what I am saying and only mildly offended. It is associated with an addictive personality, with a measure of instability and with the propensity to take any risk whatsoever. Mars square Neptune people can be lovely, intriguing folks with vivid imaginations and lots and lots of ideas -- until the screws are down, particularly when an addiction takes hold and a power struggle erupts. Then, break out the lithium.
Detail three, this is all going on with the backdrop of Pluto working its way into Capricorn. Pluto is a slow-mover, and changes signs about every 12 years, at this phase of its 248-year cycle. So a sign change of Pluto is big news. The last one was in 1995, when Pluto entered Sagittarius. The current change occurs through 2008, when Pluto crosses back and forth over the Sagg/Cap line (due to the movement of the Earth). While Pluto is in Sagittarius for the election, this is merely for show. Pluto in Capricorn is, among other things, about massive changes to the structure of society. It is about the consolidation of corporate and government power to a degree that far exceeds anything we have seen so far.
None of these aspects would be a problem, were people committed to awareness. Most of us are not. Most of us never get past the appearance level of politics, except to decide that politicians are no good. For most people, politics is a cursory study in what offends us emotionally. It is basically no more sophisticated than the gag reflex. To avoid this reflex, we put ourselves into a coma. We play games; most of technology is increasingly devoted to games, and we are rapidly colonizing the cyber-astral world in an effort to flee from the troubles of life in the physical world.
To some extent, we relate to politics in that we have an appreciation of power. You do what the guy with the gun says; you have a healthy fear of the taxman; you pay your car insurance if you can; the dude with the most money is right. For the most part, the only people who actually become aware of how politics works become perpetrators. In that very Mars square Neptune way, when you become aware of it, the power is an irresistible temptation. If you are lucky, and most people are not, you encounter the limit known as karma. If you are extremely lucky, you take the lesson. Most people do not, particularly if the one thing they have on their mind is having as much power as they can. Forget that the power is transient, imaginary and at the expense of everyone.
That Mars-Neptune square involves Aquarius, the sign of the people. Here is a clue as to the nature of the addiction. Neptune in Aquarius could be summed up as Second Life. It is the media haze, the technosphere where most of us just play games, the pretend world where idle fantasy holds more currency than reality. It is marvelously seductive because you gain, among other things, the ability to forget your life and become someone else. While this can be helpful and come as a relief for a while, while we have bodies we are stuck having some investment on the physical Earth, and we are bound to the Earth, its resources and its activities.
Yet we have a real problem on our hands when that delicate ether of Neptune in Aquarius is seized by negative and toxic images, manipulation, deception and agendas. That is often the case, but we're going to see it in glaring and grand style on Nov. 4, 2008, if we have the eyes to see. The people who can see through the media haze and make some sense out of it are the modern equivalents of clairvoyants. They can sort out the impressions and symbols that seem disconnected and foggy to everyone else and put them in a comprehensible form. Not many people listen to them, but more to the point, they are not immune from being seduced by the same power they are bearing witness to.
To understand what someone is saying, you need to understand their agenda. I think that to understand this chart, we need to understand the mentality of people whose agenda is war. Mars is one of the most prominent planets, and it is in a divisive position, right at the roots of the chart, where we ground into a sense of home and security. We are, once again, going to be sold hostility, enmity and anger (in short, death) as a source of safety -- and none of it is going to be based on the truth. But it will feel true because emotions always feel true; we tend to validate ourselves by emoting. (This is why jealousy is so popular; if you feel something so strong, it must be justified.)
If there is a bright spot in the chart, it is this. By one year from now, it will be clear that our resources are running tight, and some people will begin to figure out that a crime has been committed. I was once friends with someone who worked as a psychologist at a women's prison. Before that she used to work as a social worker in the part of the country we know as Appalachia, and she preferred the prison because she said there, at least the people she worked with knew they had been ripped off.
As long as you have gas in your tank, a little food to eat and a Second Life, you may not be able to figure it out.

Originally published in Chronogram magazine, December 2007