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In Newspapers
by Matt O'Grady

In the July 13th edition of the National Post, page A2, there was a correction notice that caught my attention. Normally, correction notices appear for one of two reasons: one, to mollify the persnickety police (when Agnes Maclean, 82, from Humboldt Saskatchewan writes to notify the editors that prairie dogs are not - as reported - cuddly "canines" but rather, marauding "rodents"); or two, to ward off potential lawsuits ("the Post did not mean to imply that the Prime Minister is an incompetent crook. Just incompetent"). But the July 13th notice was something different: "Due to an editing error, identical horoscopes appeared in yesterday's and today's National Post. The Post regrets the error." Nineteen words, no more; perhaps one of the shortest correction notices ever printed. And because the notice acknowledges an error in "today's" paper, it is unlikely that either Agnes Maclean or the Prime Minister's Office had anything to do with the correction. Still, somebody at the Post thought it important to fess-up. Why?

Because horoscopes, apparently, matter. Last September, the Post went through a massive downsizing: 130 people were fired, and all "fluff" (arts, sports) was excised from the paper. Yet the hard-news-and-business focus lasted but a few days before the Post realized that it had cut too deeply. Almost a year later, all sections (arts, book reviews, fashion and sports) are back in some limited form, but it is worth noting what was first to rise from the ashes: a page called Diversions, featuring crosswords, cartoons and most prominently, horoscopes. More so than a dearth of news on the luminaries of Lalaland or the stellar play of the Arizona Diamondbacks, it was the absence of prognostications from the planets that drove Post readers to protest. But again, the question: Why?


To explore that question (if not answer it outright), I thought I should let you know what my horoscope told me - via Georgia Nicols at the Post - on July 12th and July 13th:

You are feeling so confident and so cocky lately, you are actually prepared to part with your hard-earned cash. Thankfully, our little loons are growing. Fat on the land? Go ahead and spend.

And here's what really happened:


7:10 am: I have slept in. Dammit. This rarely happens - and when it does, it is some cause for consternation (see previous column). And my paper is missing again (see previous column). My meager ration of cocksureness is gone.

8:50 am: It looks like I'm going to be late for work. Doubledammit. No time to walk; better get out my money-sucking motor vehicle.

8:55 am: P3 Parcade. There sits my car, shards of glass everywhere. Someone has broken into my lapsed-out-of-province-license car; they have succeeded in stealing my maglight, my underground parking zapper, my Eddie Bauer sunglasses and a few loonies from the ashtray (my little loons aren't growing as promised…).

9:05 am: After a few minutes of shaking, followed by a prissy stab at cursing, I ride the elevator to the main floor and traipse into the superintendent's office. He encourages me not to report the break-in, as upwards of twenty cars were burglarized; he does encourage me to fork out $75 for a new parking zapper. Zap, zap, zap goes my hard-earned cash.

9:20 am: I am speed-walking to work. Partly driven by feelings of guilt for being late - partly because I'm trying to keep pace with the angry, vengeful thoughts racing through my head - I jaywalk through a red light. "Good way to kill yourself, stupid" murmurs a heavy-set woman, obediently stationed on the other side. I want to say something about fat on the land, but I don't.

2:10 pm: My insurer confirms that I, not they, will be paying for the break-in (nice little racket, the insurance business: you collect premiums, then use this thing called a "deductible" to get out of paying for 90% of all potential claims). So go ahead, I tell myself, and spend (on credit). Buy those generic power windows you've always wanted.


6 am - 11 pm: Feeling poor and depressed, I spend the whole day in bed, reading my papers and eating banana chips. I have no hard-earned cash left, but I am starting to get fat.

* * *

So my horoscope was a bit off. Then again, many astrologers have long held that horoscopes should not be used to predict the future, but rather to predict possible influences that the planets might have on a person's life. When astrology started with the ancient Greeks, it was as a means of knowing when to plant and when to harvest their crops. Nowadays, horoscopes represent the junk food of the newspaper pantry: an occasional light snack for most readers, but a dietary staple for a prominent group of malnourished addicts. Nancy Reagan, for one, hired a full-time astrologer after the 1981 assassination attempt on her husband's life: his job was to choose the best times for the president to make a public appearance. (To the surprise of nobody, there were no further attempts on Ronnie's life; Nancy thanks her lucky stars for this, but a beefed-up secret service complement - now larger than Toronto's police force - should get some of the credit).

I am not an unadulterated astrophobe, however: as far as the zodiacal world is concerned, I undoubtedly fit the stereotype of a cancerian (sensitive, moody, a homebody). I simply chose not to rely on planetary movements to plan my earthly activities (inertia, and a healthy reliance on precedents, will suffice). The editors at the National Post, on the other hand, were worried enough about their astrological junkies getting sucked down a black hole of misinformation that they decided to run a preemptive correction notice on Page Two. If the absence of horoscopes drove Post readers to distraction last September, imagine how my recent discovery of this skipping record - evidence (if any was needed) of a veritable "man behind the curtain" - must have shaken their faith in the stars up above.

It is my contention here - as it has been in past columns - that newspapers are meant for weightier matters, and that frippery is the domain of the instant-gratification media. Still, amidst all the dreariness of daily news, perhaps there is room for a Diversion or two; perhaps the beautiful illusion of a life lived by horoscope is what gets some people through the rest of their newspaper (and their day). Even I have been known to enjoy an occasional slice of trifle with my morning paper, so long as it accords with my very particular taste buds. Here is what Sally Brompton at the Globe and Mail served up for me on that fateful day, July 12th:

A lot of people will tell you a lot of conflicting things today and there is simply no way of knowing who is telling the truth and who is lying. Therefore you must ignore everything that you hear and act only on what your inner voice tells you.

Mmm. Paranoia Over Easy.

Tastes good.

Matt O'Grady is vague and sweeping.

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