Elle's Susan Miller on Astrology, The Classical Career Coach

In New York City, Susan Miller is an institution, a sage of the media and fashion worlds. As the astrologist for Elle magazine, best-selling author, and founder of AstrologyZone.com (est. in 1995), she’s constantly in demand by A-list celebrities (Cameron Diaz is a client), major news outlets, and C.E.Os. (She once did a chart reading for Apple). Yet she still finds time to field questions from her 99k+ Twitter followers and regularly hosts sold-out events around the country.  

With long-term unemployment hitting all Americans in some way, the number one issue she gets asked about is jobs. Having experienced a Miller reading personally, which led to a long held dream coming true, I wondered how a practice dating back to 3,000 BC can be used today as a career coach. (You don’t believe in astrology? Or career coaches? If you believe in fun, read on.)

Since, by chance, Miller had changed my life, I recently rang her up for an interview for Purpose, Inc. In 2010, she had initially reached out to me through a mutual friend to cover her popular “Year Ahead” event (couture designer Prabal Gurung and Elle's Creative Director Joe Zee are past attendees). Over the phone, the effervescent Miller did an unexpected quick chart reading that jolted me into taking a giant leap of faith on a project that had long been a dream on the back burner. After two years of doggedness and hard work, it came true. And thanks to Miller, in the process I became a curious student of a self-knowledge method practiced by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Benjamin Franklin.

“’We all should be thinking about why we were born and what we can contribute while we’re here. It’s very important to think about that,’” said Miller over lunch recently, recalling indelible advice her mother gave her when she was five-years old. Her mother had studied astrology for many years and taught Miller the practice, along with philosophy, ancient history, and religion to round out her training.

“The first thing I look for in a chart is the rising sign. That’s what you’re really meant to be,” she said. “The midheaven—at the very top where the ‘12’ is on a clock—that’s what you grow into [later in life].” As an example, she uses her own chart, referring to the communication sign Gemini, and the innovation sign Aquarius: “I have Gemini rising, so when I was little my mother said you’re going to write,” she laughed as though half a dozen books later this still sounded like shooting for the moon. “But I have Aquarius on my midheaven, and my mother said to me, some newly invented form of communication, so new we don’t know the name of it yet, will change the way you work and will be the way you make your ultimate contribution to the world. She actually used those words.”

After 12 years of learning astrology with the guidance of her mother, Miller became a successful agent for commercial photographers in New York, working with major companies like Coca-Cola. But she started doing birth chart readings for fun, and built a word-of-mouth fan base driven by her accurate insight. This led to a publishing offer from Warner Books. Miller then began a monthly column for Time Warner, sharing her astrological knowledge on this “Wild West”-like phenomenon called the Internet. She launched AstrologyZone.com, and seventeen years later her site gets 20 million visitors a month.

“No one believes in astrology before they’re in it,” she said. As a teenager—the daughter of an Italian specialty shop owner a la Dean & Deluca and a farmer’s daughter who grew up in a family dependent on nature’s cycles, Miller took to astrology while bedridden and suffering from an excruciating congenital disease in her leg that almost killed her. She was told to forget about a normal high school life, and was home-schooled from her bed by instructors from the Board of Education and her mother.

Out of desperation, Miller wrote to Horoscope Magazine, which she had seen her mother reading, and asked whether her birth chart showed she would walk again. Months later, the magazine published her letter and the good news that, with lucky Jupiter in the 6th house of healing, she indeed would. This experience—and the fact that her illness kept her in bed while most kids went on dates and played sports—led her to study astrology with monastic determination. Years later, with perseverance, she found a brilliant young surgeon who helped her live a normal life, and on graduation day, Miller crossed the stage using crutches to pick up her high school diploma. She went on to graduate from New York University where she earned awards and honors as a marketing and economics major at the Stern School of Business, and has been walking normally for many years.

“Astrology is for planning, not for predestination,” she said, stressing that she is not a psychic and that our lives are determined by free will. As she writes in her book Planets and Possibilities, quoting her mother, astrology is the study of cycles in order to understand how to “go with the cosmic tide, not try to swim against it.”  

As an example, Miller pointed to President Obama who has the lucky planet Jupiter in cutting edge Aquarius, which she said helped him win his close presidential race. “When you’re in a tight spot, facing a real challenge, [Jupiter in your chart is] where you’re going to get your goodness—you look to Jupiter to wedge open that door and open the pipeline of goodness flowing through you,” she said. “[Obama] has a real understanding of the digital way of communicating, through Facebook, through Twitter. [He] really understands how to reach people in a new way, because of Jupiter in Aquarius.”

Mitt Romney, a Pisces, has Jupiter in Scorpio, which makes him an excellent negotiator. According to Miller, looking at our past 44 presidents of the United States, Americans tend to elect presidents born in fixed signs. The signs that predominate our history are Leo (Obama), Scorpio, and Aquarius—(fixed signs have the reputation for being decisive), because we love “deciders,” to steal a word from George W. Bush, a Leo Rising.  

But she also cautioned, “Astrology is not destiny. I can tell you when to act and when to hold back. You have to take a risk and be part of the energy.”

Miller’s latest book Susan Miller the Year Ahead 2012 and Beyond is available on Amazon.com, and explains how the stars are undergoing an alignment similar to the ones that took place during the Civil Rights Movement and American Revolution, indicating revolutionary power-struggles between the haves and have nots. As a special contribution to Big Think, Miller provided a summary of an eclipse which, according to astrology, heralds a swift change.

Solar eclipse (new moon) on November 13 (New York) Scorpio 23 degrees

This eclipse will benefit water signs most (Cancer, Scorpio, Pisces) and earth signs (Taurus, Virgo, Capricorn). The dates of those sign’s birthdays to be affected are included.

Aries:  Your house of other people’s money will be strongly lit, so you may fill out an application for a mortgage, student loan, line of credit, or infusion of venture capital—and either hear good news immediately or soon after. You may receive a windfall from family, such as a gift or inheritance, or you may win money, say, in a game show on TV.

Taurus:  This eclipse will open the door on a new partnership, personally (such as if you get engaged or married) or in business. Alternatively, you may form a business partnership, or hire a collaborator, such as a new accountant or lawyer. Experts that you hire and work with in a one-on-one way will be highlighted at eclipse time. You may hire a new publicist, stylist, or other professional, even a doctor. It is a great time to get sleek and fit. Born near May 12? You will be doubly fortunate.

Gemini:  This eclipse should bring you important new projects and assignments that will tap into your talents and area of expertise. You may also hire a new helper or assistant, or a new member to your staff, at work or at home. There is another bonus to this eclipse, as it can also help you become much more healthy and fit. You may develop a new routine to go back to the gym, decide to have more frequent checkups and change your diet to a healthier lifestyle.

Cancer:  The November 14 eclipse should bring love into your life! Its main mission will be to make you feel loved and adored, so if you are single, be sure to circulate socially after this eclipse arrives. If you are attached, the stork may bring news that you are about to be a mother in the weeks and months ahead. If you have children, one may bring home exceptional news, to make you proud. Cancers born within five days of July 14 will find this eclipse very exciting.

Leo: If you want to move, renovate, decorate or add other touches to your present home, this eclipse will speed up your timetable. You’ll see your plan shape up quickly! You can get a new roommate or see one leave, giving you more room. The Sun rules your sign, so solar eclipses are very important to Leo, more important and noticeable than any other sign!

Virgo:  You will see that you will travel quite a bit from now on. At this November 13 eclipse, you may travel only a short distance, but it will have special importance. Later, when the Scorpio-Taurus family of eclipses are in full swing in 2013, you will travel much longer distances, something you will see in April and May next year. Virgo born near September 14 (plus or minus five days) will notice this trend the most.

Libra: Your financial situation will change, but very possibly for the better! Ask for a raise soon AFTER this eclipse arrives. The house being lit has nothing to do with prize winnings, but your work performance, which apparently has been excellent. If you are about to change jobs, don’t be shy about asking for a generous salary.

Scorpio: This eclipse will bring vast and very positive changes! The closer your birthday falls to November 14 (most notably, plus or minus five days) the more dramatic the affect this eclipse will be for you. You will see your life transform and rejuvenate in very exciting ways! This eclipse is all about your wants, needs, desires and goals—and you may even change your appearance! All parts of your life will be renewed! If your birthday does not fall near November 14, you will experience more eclipses in Scorpio-Taurus family in 2013, so hang on to your hat. Eclipses fall in different mathematical degrees, so one will bring you gifts.

Sagittarius: You as well as your Gemini friends have experienced major life changes due to another family of eclipses that have come by in the Gemini-Sagittarius family of signs: The first eclipse arrived December 21, 2010, and in 2011 you had four more eclipses in those signs: June 1, June 15, November 24, and December 10, 2011. This year, you had one May 20 (a happy one) and a more difficult one June 4, 2012.

Now, you see one of the last one, November 25, 2012 (you will have one more in May 25, 2013). The one this month will be gentle—you will see more about it below in the section on the lunar eclipse November 25.

In the meantime, the solar eclipse of November 14 will help you in a low-key way. At this time, influential VIPs will want to help you, quietly, under the radar. You will become quite productive when working alone, in solitude, too, so you may want to write a book or complete your thesis for example, or study for a difficult test, such as the law boards.

Capricorn:  The November 14 eclipse will likely bring you an event that you’ll attend along with may other friends and new faces. It may that you go to a beautiful wedding, a reunion, or a professional conference, as a few instances. One thing is sure: you’ll love this event, and you’ll make many new friends. Social media will shine for you too, so spend time working on your pages! Capricorn born near January 12 will be most likely to see an uptick to their social life.

Aquarius: This eclipse should have a vast influence on your career and bring you a chance to scale great heights! Afterwards, you may feel as though you experienced a miracle when you are asked to assume the big position and are given the corner office. If you have always wanted to be self-employed, you may now get a chance to open your own business.

Pisces: Foreign people and places are growing in importance for you. You may get a chance to travel overseas, or to work with people in another country on an important new project. This trend is just beginning—watch it grow! Pisces born March 12 will be most likely to hear big news now.

Image Credit: Euthman

Trusting your instincts is lazy: Poker pro Liv Boeree on Big Think Edge

International poker champion Liv Boeree teaches decision-making for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to make decisions with the clarity of a World Series Poker Champion.
  • Liv Boeree teaches analytical thinking for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reactivate cells from 28,000-year-old woolly mammoth

"I was so moved when I saw the cells stir," said 90-year-old study co-author Akira Iritani. "I'd been hoping for this for 20 years."

Yamagata et al.
Surprising Science
  • The team managed to stimulate nucleus-like structures to perform some biological processes, but not cell division.
  • Unless better technology and DNA samples emerge in the future, it's unlikely that scientists will be able to clone a woolly mammoth.
  • Still, studying the DNA of woolly mammoths provides valuable insights into the genetic adaptations that allowed them to survive in unique environments.
Keep reading Show less

Five Hawks Down: watch the tragic migration of six Californian raptors

Tracking project establishes northern Argentina is wintering ground of Swainson's hawks

Image: @TrackingTalons / Ruland Kolen
  • Watch these six dots move across the map and be moved yourself: this is a story about coming of age, discovery, hardship, death and survival.
  • Each dot is a tag attached to the talon of a Swainson's Hawk. We follow them on their very first migration, from northern California all the way down to Argentina.
  • After one year, only one is still alive.

Discovered: destination Argentina

Image: @TrackingTalons

Young Swainson's hawks were found to migrate to northern Argentina

The Buteo swainsoni is a slim, graceful hawk that nests from the Great Plains all the way to northern California.

It feeds mainly on insects, but will also prey on rodents, snakes and birds when raising their young. These learn to fly about 45 days after hatching but may remain with their parents until fall migration, building up flying skills and fat reserves.

A common sight in summer over the Prairies and the West, Swainson's hawks disappear every autumn. While it was assumed they migrated south, it was long unclear precisely where they went.

A group of researchers that has been studying raptors in northern California for over 40 years has now established exactly where young Swainson's hawks go in winter. The story of their odyssey, summarized in a 30-second clip (scroll down), is both amazing and shocking.

Harnessing the hawks

Image: @TrackingTalons, found here on imgur.

A Swainson's hawk, with tracking device.

The team harnessed six Swainson's hawks in July, as they were six weeks old and just learning to fly. The clip covers 14 months, until next August – so basically, the first year of flight.

Each harness contains a solar-powered tracker and weighs 20 grams, which represents just 3% of the bird's body weight. To minimize the burden, only females were harnessed: as with most raptors, Swainson's hawk females generally are bigger than males.

The first shock occurs just one month (or about 2.4 seconds) from the start of the clip: the first dot disappears. The first casualty. A fledgling no more than two months old, who never made it further than 20 miles from its nest.

By that time, the remaining five are well on their way, clustering around the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas. Swainson's hawks usually travel at around 40 mph (65 km/h) but can almost double that speed when they're stooping (i.e. dive down, especially when attacking prey).

'Migration unrest'

First year of life for six Swainson's Hawks [OC] from r/dataisbeautiful

There's a strong genetic component to migration. As usual, the Germans have nice single word to summarize this complex concept: Zugunruhe ('tsook-n-roowa'), literally: 'migration unrest' (1). It denotes the seasonal urge of migratory animals – especially birds – to get on their way. Zugunruhe exhibits especially as restless behavior around nightfall. The number of nights on which it occurs is apparently higher if the distance to be traveled is longer.

The birds may have the urge to go south, but genetics doesn't tell them the exact route. They have to find that out by trial and error. Hence the circling about by the specimens in this clip: they're getting a sense of where to find food and which direction to go. Their migratory paths will be refined by experience – if they're lucky enough to survive that long.

Each bird flies solo: their paths often strongly diverge, and if they seem to meet up occasionally, that's just an illusion: even when the dots are close together, they can still be dozens if not hundreds of miles apart.

Panama snack stop

Image: @TrackingTalons

The Central American isthmus is a major bird migration corridor

They generally follow the same route as it is the path of least resistance: follow mountain ranges, stay over land. Like most raptors, Swainson's hawks migration paths are land-based: not just so they can roost at night, but mainly to benefit from the thermals and updrafts to keep them aloft. That reduces the need to flap wings, and thus their energy spend – even though the trip will take longer that way.

As this clip demonstrates, the land-migration imperative means the Central American isthmus is a hotspot for bird migration. Indeed, Panama and Costa Rica are favorite destinations for bird watchers, when the season's right. A bit to the north, Veracruz in Mexico is another bird migration hotspot.

It's thought most hawks don't eat at all on migration. This clip shows an exception to that rule: on the way back, one bird takes an extended stopover of a couple of weeks in Panama, probably spending its time there foraging for food.

So, when they finally arrive in northern Argentina, after 6 to 8 weeks' migration, the hawks are pretty famished. Until a few decades ago, they fed on locusts. For their own reasons, local farmers have been getting rid of those. The hawks now concentrate on grasshoppers, and basically anything else that's edible.

For first-time visitors, finding what they need is not easy. Three of the five dots go dark. These birds probably died from starvation. But two birds thrive: they roam the region until winter rears its head in South America, and it's time to head back north again, where summer is getting under way.

Both dots make it back across the border, but unfortunately, right at the end of the clip, one of the surviving two birds expires.

Harsh, but not unusual

Image: @TrackingTalons, found here on imgur.

This old lady is 27 years old, but still nesting.

While a one-in-six survival rate may seem alarmingly harsh, it's not that unusual. First-year mortality for Swainson's Hawks is between 50% and 80%. Disease, starvation, predators and power lines – to name just a few common causes of death - take out a big number.

Only 10% to 15% of the young 'uns make it past their third or fourth year into adulthood, but from then on, annual survival rates are much better: around 90%. Adult Swainson's Hawks can expect to live into their low teens. There's one documented example of a female Swainson's Hawk in the wild who was at least 27 years old (and still nesting!)

The Californian population of Swainson's Hawks plummeted by about 90% at the end of last century but is now again increasing well. The monitoring project that produced this clip has been going for about four decades but is seeing its funding dry up. Check them out and consider supporting them (see details below).

Image: Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

Migration trajectory of B95, the 'Moonbird'.

Not all migrating birds shun the ocean. Here's an incredible map of an incredible migration path that's even longer than that of the Swainson's hawks.

In February 1995, a red knot (Calidris canutus rufa) in Tierra del Fuego (southern Argentina) was banded with the tag B95. That particular bird, likely born in 1993, was recaptured at least three times and resighted as recently as May 2014, in the Canadian Arctic.

B95 is more commonly known as 'Moonbird', because the length of its annual migration (app. 20,000 miles; 32,000 km) combined with its extreme longevity (if still alive, it's 25-26 years old now) means its total lifetime flight exceeds the distance from the Earth to the Moon.

As many other shorebirds do, the red knot takes the Atlantic Flyway hugging the coastline and crossing to South America via the ocean.

B95 has become the poster bird of conservationists in both North and South America. A book titled Moonbird: A Year on the Wind with the Great Survivor B95 (2012) received numerous awards, B95 has a statue in Mispillion Harbor on Delaware Bay and the City of Rio Grande on Tierra del Fuego has proclaimed B95 its natural ambassador.

Perhaps one day the nameless Swainson's Hawks in this clip, fallen in service of their ancestral instincts – against the odds of human increasing interference – will receive a similar honor.

Migration clip found here at the DataIsBeautiful subreddit. Read through the comments to learn a lot more about Swainson's Hawks, and raptors in general.

Check out the California raptor tracking programme 'Tracking Talons' on Twitter at @TrackingTalons, on their Facebook page, and on their website.

Strange Maps #965

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

(1) 'Zug' is a wonderfully polyvalent German word. It can mean: a train, a chess move, a characteristic, a stroke, a draft (of a plan), a gulp (of air), a drag (from a cigarette), a swig (from a bottle), and more.

Horseshoe crabs are captured for their blue blood. That practice will soon be over.

The blood of horseshoe crabs is harvested on a massive scale in order to retrieve a cell critical to medical research. However, recent innovations might make this practice obsolete.

An Atlantic horseshoe crab in an aquarium. Photo: Domdomegg via Wikimedia Commons.
Surprising Science
  • Horseshoe crabs' blue blood is so valuable that a quart of it can be sold for $15,000.
  • This is because it contains a molecule that is crucial to the medical research community.
  • Today, however, new innovations have resulted in a synthetic substitute that may end the practice of farming horseshoe crabs for their blood.
Keep reading Show less