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June 30, 2006

Why Jerome Armstrong's political astrology might matter

I can't decide whether I care about Jerome Armstrong's political astrology hobby or not. In order to make up my mind, I'd have to know the answers to the following questions:

a) Did Jerome ever take political astrology seriously? If astrology was just a party game for Jerome, on the level of a Quizilla quiz or a ouija board, then it's a non-issue.

b) Assuming Jerome ever took this stuff seriously, does he still consider astrology to be a valid tool for making strategic political decisions? If Jerome now believes that astrology is complete bunk, then his earlier interest in astrology is a total non-issue, even if he used to buy it. Actually, I'd give him extra points for critical thinking and good judgement if he gave astrology a try and abandoned it because it didn't work, or because he realized it was utterly implausible.

c) Are any of Jerome's current strategic beliefs derived from, or influenced by astrology? Specifically, does Jerome say or do anything today that he WOULDN'T if had it not been for the "evidence" he saw in astrology. I added that rider because, for some people, so-called divination techniques like astrology and prayer are really ways to step back and focus on the big picture, internally. For them, praying doesn't impair their judgement or introduce any new crazy ideas beyond what they believed before they started praying.

We secularists can interpret prayer and meditation as modes of deliberation in which people give themselves permission to take their emotions, their ethics, and their background knowledge into account to reach a considered judgement. Unless God actually talks to people, the "answer" to a sane person's prayer is just where he or she nets out intellectually and emotionally after thinking things over. We heathens call that a "gut check" or a "long walk in the snow", or whatever. If that's what astrology is for Jerome, then his hobby is a non-issue.

d) Does Jerome intend to use astrology as a predictive political methodology in the future? In his work as consultant for Presidential hopeful Mark Warner, for example?

I think that it is a big deal if Jerome still believes in astrology and still uses this crackpot belief system to inform strategic political decisions. Why? Because Jerome's a pro, and astrology is bogus. Reading star charts is no way to make a serious decision about anything.

A lot of people have argued that the notion that the stars determine your destiny isn't intrinsically weirder than the concept of a virgin birth, or the doctrine of the Trinity. In one sense, they're right. There are a lot of crazy-ass beliefs out there that we're culturally prohibited from making fun of.

We've all got some irrational and/or ill-founded beliefs. For example, I'm sympathetic to the theory that humans evolved from aquatic apes. I can't prove it, or even make an especially compelling case for it, but it doesn't usually affect my work. So, I hope you won't hold it against me, even if it strikes you as odd.

However, there's a critical difference between astrology and mainstream religion: If you knew that a political consultant used the Bible to time his ad buys (a la Bible Code) you'd probably be very concerned. Why? Because you know that The Bible Code is totally bogus. Sure maybe for your hypothetical consultant, the code is just an exercise that he uses to get his own thoughts in order. In which case, it's a non-issue. However, if he's actually using the code to make strategic political decisions, you would have every right to be concerned.

It's not enough to say that astrology is just Jerome's hobby without specifying what influence it has on his real-life politics. Some hobbies are totally compartmentalized, but not others. Depends on the
hobby and the person.

Suppose Jerome were a WW2 buff. Maybe he doesn't explicitly mention WW2 on the job or formally introduce any historical methods into his political analysis, but it's still possible that his hobby has a direct or indirect influence on his work. It's hard to imagine that an in-depth study of the military strategy and tactics probably does have some impact on a political consultant's approach to his or her work. Recreational scholarship of WW2 would probably be a good thing for a consultant. But wouldn't you worry if you knew that a WW2 buff/consultant had a hobby website about how the Maginot Line was strategically brilliant object lesson for the Iowa primary?

So, bottom line: If Jerome says that astrology is a bogus tool for predicting politics, or if he insists that astrology has zero influence on his political thinking today, and promises not to resort to it in the future, then I'm totally cool with his hobby. Otherwise, Jerome's astrology is an issue of concern to me.

That said, Jerome's a professional strategist and a leader of the netroots movement. If he admits that some of his strategic decisions have been influenced by methodology that I consider to be completely specious, I'm going to be extra-skeptical about his future prognostications.

I'll admit that as a moonbat lefty Democrat-outside-the-mainstream who believes that Russ Feingold can be the next president of the United States, I felt a little schadenfreude when the netroots' hard-headed, realistic, center right Blogfather turned out to be a closet astrologer. It was the same feeling I had as a ten-year-old when I heard about The Reagans' astrologer. The things grownups believe!

Still, it's important to keep this disclosure in perspective. I generally didn't agree with Armstrong before I learned about the astrology, but I've always admired his achievements as an organizer an organizer and a fundraiser. He did more for Howard Dean than Joe Trippi, and for that I'll always be grateful. I'm sure Jerome's achievements are despite his astrological predilections, not because of them, but I'm not prepared to write him off entirely because he has some incredibly stupid beliefs.

Returning to realpolitik... Is Jerome's astrological past a political liability?

Garance of TAPPED predicts that, "[Jerome's] reputation will not, I'm afraid, ever fully recover (the flaky astrology stuff being worse than the SEC settlement from a pure politics perspective)."

Frankly, I doubt that this revelation will hurt Armstrong or the netroots in the long term. I'm prepared to accept empirical evidence either way. Yeah, Jerome's astrology talk pisses me off--but file that reaction in the same category as my aquatic ape theory--heartfelt but not 100% defensible.

So, in lieu of a conclusion, I'll give the last word on Jerome Armstrong's beliefs about astrology to Jerome:

Another Update [2006-6-25 14:13:39 by Jerome Armstrong]: Oh yea, on the astrological stuff. I have done the new age type things over the years—life’s never boring that way. Down that line, I dabbled with planets and predictions in the most abstract manner, as one of several different predictive mathematical disciplines, when coming out of finances and into politics during my early blogging days (nobody is surprised that remembers the early 2001 days here), and since then have completely tapered out of it over time. So yea, the cons got me on this one being a little out of the ordinary… It has nothing to do with what I consult with in online political strategy. But hey, like JP Morgan once said, “millionaires don’t use astrology, billionaires do!” I hope to see those wingnuts that are obsessed with every little thing I do at the next bikram yoga or vipassana meditation session in DC-- but fair warning that I believe we evolved from monkeys!

Aquatic monkeys?


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That “millionaires don’t use astrology, billionaires do!” line blows it for me. It's one of those standard excuses used by astrologers, so it just announces to me that he still believes.

That kind of stuff makes me wonder what other foolishness is fermenting in his brain.

I'm leaving the Armstrong/astrology thing alone, but I will de-lurk for a moment to confess that I've had a certain sympathy to the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis ever since reading Elayne Morgan's The Scars of Evolution. I never got a feel for how complete Morgan's comparative anatomy analysis was, though.

That "millionaires don’t use astrology, billionaires do!" line blows it for me. It's one of those standard excuses used by astrologers, so it just announces to me that he still believes.

That kind of stuff makes me wonder what other foolishness is fermenting in his brain.

I gotta go with what the squid worshipper said. I've prayed on this long and hard, and Jesus told me that Jerome's out to lunch. He also said that he'll endorse Feingold as long as he converts; otherwise he's going with McCain (Falwell put in a good word him after McCain's commencement address at Liberty U.)

Oh, and the Nazarene told me we didn't evolve from aquatic apes, but you were close, Lindsay - we came from sea monkeys.

Count me in as an Ancestral Aquatic Ape Theorist sympathizer.

Aquatic ape just sounds cool.

That said, I'm sure you're open to empirical evidence proving you wrong on it.

Reading Jerome's response I am with him on this issue. Reason, logic, and empirical science are just way overrated. (Hi PZ). There is a huge difference between following a fixed ideology or religion, and using some mechanical device to let your life go random. Or controlled by some randomly chosen system.

The I Ching is an example. You don't need to believe in it to let it interpret your life and partially determine your decisions. I am not sure I give it less credit than free will and personal responsibility, but I am skeptical about all explanatory or predictive systems.

I may be in big trouble here.

Looking at the picture posted today over at Marcotte's, I will finally call your choice for front page interesting. As were the other two. I remember you sitting with glasses.

I disagree with your point b). If you assume that he took it seriously, then you have to accept that he was, *at that time*, gullible enough to buy into a "crackpot belief system". The mere fact that he subsequently rejected said belief system is not enough to conclude that he is no longer so gullible.

All I'm saying is that given that history, I'd be really cautious about accepting his advice about anything of substance.

Again, this John is not me. I think I'm going to have to start using my full name, John Lucid, from now on.

Nice name you've got there, John. Be a shame if anything were to happen to it.

Also, I'd like to amend my comment, "All I'm saying is that given that history..." by adding in "and the assumption (of serious belief)".

I agree, John. I hope you don't take offense. I just want it to be clear to everyone about who exactly is speaking.

D'oh! Gotta start using my full name from now on.

Depending upon your degree of belief in the aquatic ape hypothesis, you may either be making a retroductive inference ala Peirce or commiting a fallacy I call wishful retroduction. Retroduction (or abduction) is an inference of the type:

Surprising phenomenon E occurs
If hypothesis H were true, it would explain E
Therefore, there is good reason to consider the possible truth of H

Wishful retroduction is an inference of the form:

Surprising phenomenon E occurs
If hypothesis H were true it would explain E
I think H is really damn cool
Therefore, there is good reason to believe H is true

Notice that the conclusion to the second is much stronger than the first. In philosophy of science speak, the first is an inference in the context of pursuit, but the second is in the context of justification. There's no problem with making an inductive inference and really, really hoping it's right. Just don't think that hoping makes it more likely so.

Oh, and it's the same sort of thing we see in both astrology and intelligent design. You find some way of explaining the phenomena that is consistent with your other beliefs and because you want to maintain those other beliefs, you take the explanation to be the best one possible without the needed evidence that would make it more likely than competing explanations.

If you would like to get rid of your belief in Aquatic Ape, you may want to check out this site:
If not, just ignore...

If you would like to get rid of your belief in Aquatic Ape, you may want to check out this site:

Interesting site; I've occasionally wondered if such a site existed but never enough to look too hard for one. I'll have a look at it over the long weekend, thanks.

I'm a Quinean, so I think I'm in the clear on the aquatic ape from an internalist perspective. However, I'm only about 1/4 of the way through the site, and I'm I'm afraid I'm going to have to flip the truth values on the sentences concerning the aquatic origins of humans in my Web of Belief soon.

Oh my god, the aquatic ape theory keeps getting worse and worse. I'm blushing.

Don't blush. It sounds like a scientific theory, and it's not as self-evidently stupid as creationism. It's a lot better than my concocting crackpot theories out of whole cloth in my younger days.

I have a lot of respect for people who concoct their own crackpot theories. For example, my late grandfather invented his own metaphysics that combined elements of Masonry, chiropractic medicine, astrology, Social Credit economics, Christianity, ESP, and a variety of other esoteric themes.

Oddly, his unorthodox belief system was no impediment to winning elections, either. Although, he was a candidate in the days before political consultants. It was before the Internet, so most of the press had probably never even heard of half the stuff he believed in.

If you're going to believe crazy stuff, there's really something to be said for the DIY approach. I mean, to Armstrong's credit, he didn't let someone bilk him out of money for astrology. He went out and made his own.

The astrology thing has pissed me off for years. It’s the sort of self-indulgent quasi-religious woolgathering that has plagued the left ever since the beat era. If we’re going to make our case to the working class, the natural and rightful constituency of leftist politics, then we’ve got to ditch the fruitcake spiritual, crystals and Gurdjieff, touchy-feely horseshit. What the left has to offer is a rational (Rational, with a capital fucking R. Got it?) analysis of social economics and social justice. Progressives need to flush their god-damned chakras, mantras, vegan vegies, candles, beads, hemp clothing, patchouli oil flotsam down the crapper and wake up. The fascists got focused and built an empire while we were burning incense and getting our tongues pierced.

the astrology stuff is old news.

this is the next dig from whoever is digging this stuff up.

and raw">">raw story is promising to expose what some bloggers "have have been given, promised, or may stand to gain from any one part of a coalition of groups that have allied themselves with pretty much one man."

buyer beware on validity. but that stuff's coming down the pike.

Progressives need to flush their god-damned chakras, mantras, vegan vegies, candles, beads, hemp clothing, patchouli oil flotsam down the crapper and wake up.

Yeah, never mind that progressives are generally marxist-feminists is beside the point, progressives are crazy spiritualist weirdos.

I know this is true because the right wing told me so.

we’ve got to ditch the fruitcake spiritual, crystals and Gurdjieff, touchy-feely horseshit. . . . Progressives need to also dump their knee-jerk opposition to such technologies as nuclear power. That's not to say that there aren't serious risks to this technology. There most definitely are. But there are, arguably, even more serious risks in not using it, considering what we've learned over the last few decades about the global warming role of carbon dioxide. Reducing CO2 emissions is the most urgent need facing human civilization today. To achieve this, dependence on CO2-emitting power generation technologies must be replaced by alternatives. In the long-term, multi-decade-out future this might be achievable by some mix of 'green' technologies, such as wind, solar photovoltaic, etc. Perhaps the long term will also include coal-burning generation combined with effective carbon sequestration. But the need is to begin reducing CO2 emissions NOW. And since carbon sequestration is in its infancy and thus not ready for prime time, that means a moratorium on the building of new fossil-fired plants (especially coal, since it puts out more CO2 per MWH generated). The only viable, mature technology available to replace fossil-fired generation on the scale required is nuclear. This is something that the working class who should be the progressive base can be brought to understand, even if it goes over the head of those into the "fruitcake spiritual, crystals and Gurdjieff, touchy-feely horseshit."

Raw Story has nothing to do with what I write on my personal blog...I screwed up last night and accidently left that comment at my site right after I left a comment elsewhere.

again...Raw has nothing to do with this

but otherwise...yeah...I will be exposing that...

though expose is not really the correct word...gathering more like it...none of these people seem to think that there's anything wrong with what they're doing...and hell most of the info on who's down with the program comes straight from their blogs...

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