(7.29.02) This week, I write to you from glamorous and sweltering Las Vegas, Nevada, that oasis of conspicuous consumption popping up from the desert out of nowhere. Las Vegas, like the ubiquitous shopping mall, is a convenient scapegoat and a very tempting target for ultra-simplistic analyses. Yes, among other things, it's a symbol of American excess, addiction and the misuse of water. But it is also the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States, a sprawling home to thousands of people seeking a fresh start, much in the same way that folks used to flock to California before it became overcrowded and overpriced. There are jobs, opportunities, affordable housing, real people leading real lives behind the tourist glitz of The Strip. Two of the newest Las Vegans are my parents, which is why I find myself here and will continue to come a few times a year. As far as places to visit your parents go, Las Vegas rocks.

Another recent Vegas transplant is Canadian adult-contemporary warbler Celine Dion, who is in the process of relocating here to begin a three-year gig performing to regular crowds at Caesar's Palace. Celine has undoubtedly committed a huge amount of energy and work to headlining a stage extravaganza, produced by the artsy acrobatic Cirque du Soleil people, several nights a week for three full years. But for a deal worth over $100 million to her, it's a good gig if you can get it. Caesar's is even constructing an elaborate state-of-the-art amphitheatre especially for Celine, who will be helicoptered in from her new mansion out at manmade Lake Las Vegas to showcase there. If I were her, I'd feel pretty important.

You can't help but be struck by the enormous proportions of ego that feed the Celine deal and others like it here in Vegas, a town that also birthed the Liberace Museum and the Wayne Newton industry. Now is an apt time to reflect upon the collective urge within us that inevitably breeds these larger-than-life figures—the sports stars and supermodels and Roman emperors—in whose glows we bask for inspiration, entertainment or envy. On Thursday, Jupiter will enter the sign of Leo, where it will remain until August 2003, shining an even brighter spotlight on those who seek its glare and inflating some big personalities until they are super-sized. Like the ultra-bright beam shooting up from the top of the Luxor pyramid in Las Vegas, some may even be visible from space.

Wherever Jupiter travels through the zodiac, it brings an energy of expansion and opportunities for easy growth, enrichment, and potential good luck. Since July of last year, Jupiter has been moving through Cancer, bringing with it an enhanced emotional richness and a capacity for nurturance. Its transit in Cancer coincided with the year-long effect of the Saturn-Pluto opposition, which, as I've mentioned in past writings, brought us painfully deep transformations through the destruction of outdated structures (and provides some astrological explanation for the 9/11 tragedy and the concurrent darkness of the period). Along with the pain and the destruction of Saturn-Pluto, Jupiter in Cancer brought a refreshed emotional investment in our everyday lives. As our perspectives changed, we reevaluated what was truly emotionally important, gained appreciation for people and things we had taken for granted, and deepened our ties to each other. It wasn't easy. Hopefully, most of us relearned love and compassion.

Starting this week, Jupiter shifts gears away from this intimate inward focus and casts its influence into the external realm of self-expression, drama, personality, and (dare I say it) ego. There is no lack of excitement to participate in or observe, depending on your preference. Frankly, the Jupiter-in-Leo vibe can be loads of fun, particularly if you're in the mood to party and don't mind some noise. Plus, heading into the next month, we also start to feel a new practical and productive presence, as Saturn moves away from Pluto's heaviness into a positively flowing trine with Uranus in its ruling Aquarius. It is as if we are finally ready to dedicate ourselves to building something new and more progressive upon the ashes of what we recently let go. (More about this in future weeks.) The combination of these planetary placements creates a rather creatively fertile climate and one that encourages people to stand up for who they are and what they believe in. I wouldn't be surprised if we see an upswing in engaging artistic products that affirm life and move us to a new level of understanding and acceptance of the past year. We've had the time to feel and process our emotions. Now we're ready to release them through creative expression.

Of course, along with Jupiter's easy flows and good-luck charms can come the flip side: excess, extravagance, arrogance, laziness. With Jupiter in Leo, the more attention-seeking individuals among us might forget that the world doesn't revolve around them. Coupled with their creative performances, these big personalities could generate big demands or big opinions. Let's just hope the worst cases of excess remain in the comparatively non-threatening world of celebrity tabloid affairs, rather than spilling over into politics or religion, where fierce loyalties and sensitive egos can quickly turn ugly or violent. So what if Celine Dion gets $100 million, a nightly helicopter ride, and her own Colisseum-styled theater? There are other, shriller, less entertaining and more potentially threatening voices and egos that deserve to be squelched. Alas, we shouldn't expect quiet any time soon.