Astrologers are always arguing over something, and it’s not uncommon for a debate to devolve into a food fight. Even so, it’s a safe bet that no one ever compared another astrologer’s data to a [rhymes with spit]-burger until the recent brawl over Hillary Clinton’s birth time. (1)
I won’t take up space recapping the chain of events, which Eric Francis covered commendably in a TMA blog post on October 4. (2) If you weren’t following the exchange, you might want to take a few minutes to read his account. This article picks up where his report left off and addresses some issues that didn’t get resolved in the radio silence following collector Marc Penfield’s startling admission that he had fudged some of the details.
I was following multiple threads on Facebook and online discussion forums. Amid the torrent of accusations and blame-shifting, a link to a particularly lucid observation caught my eye:
“We astrologers are more than a bit conflicted on the point of criticizing our own. I have a letter on my desk from a well-known astrologer who writes, ‘It is so destructive for astrologers to carry on such a vendetta when we should be supportive of each other.’ I might respond, ‘It is so destructive for astrologers to present data that they can not substantiate. I would rather know when a colleague has a blemished record, in order to make up my own mind as to whether they can be trusted.’
“I totally agree that it is really tacky to call someone a liar. At the same time, a valid point remains. Whenever there is any question of validity of data, the issue may only be resolved with hard evidence. When data is questioned, it must be presented as C data: “Caution, source not confirmed.” Period. No editorial. No name-calling, no defamation of character. The bottom line on this point is, don’t just tell me the data came from B.C. I want to know who has the B.C. Who sez so?”
You might be thinking, “I was following this whole thing very closely, and I don’t remember reading that.” Well, that’s because the astrologer who wrote it is dead. In fact, it was written 17 years ago and had nothing to do with Hillary Clinton. The writer was none other than Lois Rodden herself. The above quote is from an essay posted on Astrodienst, which acquired Rodden’s company, Astro-Databank, five years after her death in 2003. (3) Until finding the link to her article in a Facebook comment, I’d never read it. I reckon that many others haven’t either.
Preceding the above paragraphs is Rodden’s description of the circumstances that led to her commentary:
“Recently an astrologer gave out two data over the ‘net for which he stated that he had the [birth certificate]. He further claimed that two astrologers had seen the B.C., but for reasons of confidentiality, no one else would be permitted to see the documents. Others responded that it was impossible to get a birth certificate from these states and a debate exploded about whether or not the data was accurate or a sham. If the alleged documents may not be examined by someone who could compare them to other actual documents on file, it remains suspicious. Some of the correspondents presented valid evidence of prior deceptions, but some became ugly with personal aspersions — responded to by threats of legal action.”
What I found most remarkable, other than that Rodden was describing the current clash almost exactly, was her clarity. Does a birth time meet the reliability test or doesn’t it? If it does, great; if it doesn’t, end of story. Insisting that it does and twisting the rules to fit is guaranteed to piss off a lot of people. It was as though Lois heard what was going on and threw a hammer through the transom from the other side.
As Eric Francis noted, the most obvious problem with Penfield’s “true birth data” for Hillary Clinton was the lack of documentation; not simply inadequate documentation, but none at all. Penfield claimed to have called the Illinois Vital Records Division and persuaded a clerk to play a game in which he would give times, and she would say “no” if he was wrong but remain silent if he was right. According to Penfield’s original story, the clerk remained silent when he gave 2:18 a.m.
Setting aside for a moment Penfield’s retraction three weeks later, it’s difficult to understand how any professional astrologer could claim that the elusive key to Clinton’s birth time had been found. Accusations began to fly about the motivation. Was it a cheap publicity stunt by ISAR (International Society for Astrological Research) to sell its upcoming conference? It’s a reasonable question, but from that point on, the debate descended into an ego battle, making it difficult, if not impossible, to have an objective discussion about whether the birth time met Rodden’s rules for anything higher than a DD rating.
Back in February, I wrote a post for the TMA blog challenging an alleged birth time for Bernie Sanders that had been circulating the Internet. (4) It was incomprehensible to me that anyone would have taken it seriously, when it supposedly came from an unnamed source claiming to have seen a chart 30 years ago that he got from Bernie’s girlfriend at the time, also unnamed, and since he didn’t recollect the exact degrees, he rectified it to 12:27 p.m. Even Astro-Databank fell for it briefly, inexplicably giving it an AA rating. Better judgment prevailed and they downgraded it back to X (date without a time).
After the post went live, there were comments around the web by folks who were absolutely positive that the 12:27 p.m. time was accurate, because it fit him perfectly and the chart “worked.” My favorite was by a blog reader who commented that while The Mountain Astrologer was disregarding the time, it came from “many sources,” including a chart done by Bernie’s former girlfriend, “who would most definitely know.” By “many sources,” the reader meant it had appeared on numerous websites and popular blogs. We can roll our eyeballs at the lack of critical thinking, but it’s not any worse than the arguments that were used to justify an AA rating for Penfield’s alleged “new” birth time for Clinton.
Again, setting aside Penfield’s eventual retraction, why wouldn’t a time sleuthed from an anonymous records clerk at the Illinois Vital Records Division qualify as AA? According to Rodden’s rating system, AA data “may include quotes from the Registrar or Bureau of Records, Baptism certificate, family Bible or Baby Book.” (3)
Registrars and records bureaus are reliable precisely because they are official government sources. A quote by a registrar or clerk is a citation from an official document, the type of which is specified. When acting in their official capacity, government employees can be quoted by name and title. An anonymous person who answers the phone and can’t be quoted, because giving out any information is illegal, can in no way be considered an official source, nor can silence be construed as a “quote.” Rodden was clear that data must be verifiable: “There is no reason to assume that any astrologer has valid data if he or she does not quote a source that can be backed up with documentation or verification.”
Illinois administrative code also is clear that it’s illegal for Vital Records personnel to give a birth certificate or any information contained on it to anyone unauthorized to have it. That’s pretty much everyone except the person whose name is on the document, parents of minors, and legal representatives. (5)
There’s nothing in the code saying it’s illegal for someone to obtain information. Accusations that Penfield broke the law are baseless, as are charges that he caused the clerk to violate the law and thus lose her job. Even if the clerk had played along, which Penfield later denied, he didn’t hold a gun to her head. Her response was her choice and her sole responsibility. However, there are ethical considerations, which in turn pose a practical dilemma.
Although there’s nothing illegal or unethical about getting information, there is an ethical responsibility to protect the source. The question then becomes how information gained in this manner can be used. The short answer is, “It can’t.” The dilemma of exposing a source to possible disciplinary action versus giving no source at all makes unauthorized data from a registrar totally worthless. It doesn’t merit even a mention, let alone a top rating.
While we’re on the subject of investigative reporting techniques, I need to point out that old-school journalists like Woodward and Bernstein didn’t rely on one “Deep Throat” source for an entire story. Moreover, their editors had to know who they were talking to. I have no idea what the current standards are (there don’t appear to be many), but when I was an investigative reporter in Washington, D.C., in the 1980s, I was required to reveal the identities of my unnamed sources to my editor, who once or twice had to share the information with his boss and corporate attorneys.
When Penfield told a reporter for The Washington Post that his story was “a bit of an exaggeration,” there was a lot of gloating by those who were convinced from the beginning that he made up the whole thing. (6) One enterprising blog reader even contacted Vital Records officials and cited, as proof of Penfield’s mendacity, their denials that information was ever given out over the phone. Well, of course they’d deny it! Does anyone seriously think they’d admit to an illegal violation of someone’s privacy, particularly when that “someone” is the likely future president of the United States? It’s called “covering your ass.”
Penfield’s retraction makes it difficult to believe any part of his story. However, he was consistent all along in his claim to have made the call. Whether he backpedaled because he was threatened by accusations that he committed a crime, or for some other reason, we can never know. Consider, though, that he had nothing to gain by sticking to his story. The only people defending the AA rating were those using it for publicity. Almost everyone else immediately recognized that Penfield’s time didn’t meet the requirements even for a C rating, because it wasn’t the “hard evidence” needed to override all other reported times.
That being the case, and given the real possibility that the clerk who spoke to him might get into trouble, Penfield did the honorable thing by saying he exaggerated, despite the irreversible damage to his reputation. Besides, it wouldn’t be the first time. Frank Clifford, a close friend of Lois Rodden’s, knew firsthand about her issues with Penfield. In a tribute to her following her death, Clifford wrote:
“During my stay at [Lois’s] home in Yucaipa, California, in June 1996, she took me to meet various astrologers, including Ed Steinbrecher, Dana Holliday, and Marc Penfield. Dana became a friend and we had lots of fun chatting and writing over the years. As for Marc, well, I was intrigued to meet him because Lois had spent many years chiding him publicly for what she felt was his ambiguous data sourcing. It wasn’t until years later that I understood that, in her crusade for accurate data, she probably needed a villain, a bête noire. And, for her, Marc fitted the bill.” (7)
In the years that followed, Penfield became more exacting in his data collection and has done some valuable work, including impeccably sourced birth times on Astro-Databank. Clearly, he knows the standards, but for whatever reason, slipped back into his earlier habits.
The decision to promote the 2:18 a.m. time wasn’t Penfield’s alone, though, nor was it he who condescended to astrologers who refused to accept the flimsy arguments in its favor. Yet he was the one who took most of the heat.
In the food fight over Hillary Clinton’s chart, there’s egg on more than a few faces. If Lois Rodden is peering over the transom, what thoughts must be going through her mind?
1. Why Marc Penfield’s 2:18 AM Birth Time Claim for Hillary Is a Japanese Turd Burger Patrick Watson’s astrology blog, Oct. 4, 2016.
2. It’s October 2016 And We’re Still Speculating About Hillary Clinton’s Missing Birth Data by Eric Francis, TMA Blog, Oct. 4, 2016.
3. Lois Rodden, “Data Collecting.” Original publication Sept. 16, 1999, archived on Astro-Databank.
4. The Startling Success of the Insurgent Bernie Sanders by Pat Paquette, TMA Blog, Feb. 8, 2016.
5. Illinois Administrative Code pertaining to birth records. See paragraphs (b) and (g).
6. ‘This is not to be trusted’: Astrologers are battling over Hillary Clinton’s true birth time by Justin Wm. Moyer, The Washington Post, Oct. 14, 2016.
7. “Lois Rodden – a personal and professional recollection,” by Frank Clifford, The Astrological Journal, journal of the Astrological Association of Great Britain, Nov/Dec 2013.
Bio:Pat Paquette is a writer, editor, and astrologer living on Vashon Island, WA. After eleven years of astrology blogging, she is taking a break to devote more time to a new project in the works. A collection of her past articles can be found on her website, RealAstrologers.com.