Planet Waves for Sept. 25, 1999 | By Eric Francis


Planet Waves | By Eric Francis
Friday, Sep. 25, 1999

Contents | Horoscopes | October Monthly

Copyright ©1999 by Planet Waves Digital Media, all rights reserved. Illustration above by Adbusters.


In the Wake of the Flood

.......I knew something was up when I started re-reading The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien a few weeks ago, but I didn't know quite what. Most people read this so long ago they barely remember the tale, but it's worth another look. This story deals with the events surrounding the transition from one age of history into the next. It's themes include how the individual actions of seemingly little people play into the fabric of time, and its stories of cooperation and group consciousness around a collective sense of mission are an awesome inspiration. Sept. 22 marks the beginnings of journeys in this novel, and the commencement of a time of reckoning with the unknown.

.......As it worked out, I never made it to Florida. I may yet; I could use a break. Last Thursday evening, as Tropical Storm Floyd swept across the New York area, my housemate Neal and I were evacuated from our home and my office by the local fire department. We were literally rescued with a lifeline across our front yard, which had become a river about 50 feet wider than the little one we normally live next to. Expecting some kind of flood, I had spent the day moving things up, but then a dam burst upstream, and a surge of water was headed down toward us, which is when the fireguys appeared at our door, with ropes and harnesses and an ambulance on standby, giving us ten minutes to get out. I now live with my neighbors Frank and Kathy. They are very nice. I had never met them before appearing in their garage soaking wet.

.......I spent Thursday evening watching Schindler's List and HBO's Real Sex. Some hours later, we were able to get back to our house. It was quite a scene. I won't describe it. Many of our neighbors were flooded out as well, as was a massive AT&T switching station a few miles downstream from where we live. Damage in the town of Bound Brook was apocalyptic, with 25-foot flood waters and fires raging simultaneously.

.......The days have gone by. My friend Ginger heroically cleaned the kitchen till it was up to surgical standards. After we cut the rugs out of the house and threw out almost everything that was soaked with river water and silt, I got to work sorting through my wet document collection. I collect dioxin and PCB documents as a kind of glorified hobby, glorified by the fact that every now and then I get to tell people about what I learn in the form of magazine articles or posts to the Net. As luck would have it, I did fairly well in the document department despite 31 inches of water reaching my third bookshelf and third file drawer (it came about an inch below my slightly-higher-than-standard desktop). But several hundred files got wet, including some important information about the history of dioxin. So now my old office and the stripped-down living room are document recovery areas, as I dry them off one at a time, index them and take them over to Staples for re-copying. The work tedious but it is going well.

.......And as a result, I am once again into the issue. It has a way of doing that, of calling me back when I least expect it. Dioxin is both a real chemical situation and an allegory for the modern crisis of unchecked corporate power, and ineffective government power. Here is one example. Look around you. Everything is made of plastic, or just about everything. Plastic is considered disposable, and it is often made of chlorine and oil, and when chlorine burns you often end up with a chemical called 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo - para - dioxin, otherwise known as TCDD or dioxin. It is also produced "accidentally" as a result of making paper, burning other kinds of trash, and any processes in which chlorine and hydrocarbons are heated or burned. Dioxin is in everything we eat and every breath we take. In the one century in which it's been produced, it's become "ubiquitous." It is everywere. The government knows this, the corporations know this, and still next to nothing is done to check the problem; indeed, it appears to be getting much worse.

.......Dioxin is measured in units like nanograms (billionths of a gram) and proportions of subsances that contain dioxin express the contamination on scales like parts-per-trillion or -quadrillion. A part-per-quadrillion is the equivalent of one postage stamp compared to the area all of New England, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and part of South Carolina. Or you could think of it as one second as compared to 32 million years. A part-per-trillion is like a single drop of a chemical in an Olympic-size swimming pool, or two inches on the way to Venus. Concentrations of a few nanograms of dioxin in a gram of one's fat tissue or blood are enough to make some people sick. Five parts-per-trillion in rat's food makes them sicken and die of cancer and other serious diseases. Elevated levels of dioxin are in everything from cigarettes to breast milk. It concentrates in animal fats and is most present where something is burning that should not be burning (pesticides used in tobacco, for example).

.......Some people say that "dioxin causes cancer" but really, it damages the immune system, which, when healthy, fights everything from colds to leukemia. Then it makes the genetic and hormone systems go wild in subtle ways that science didn't notice at first, creating diseases which are rarely attributed to exposure; these two systems deliver and maintain information in the body, so dioxin is literally disinformation. Accordingly, corporations and the government lie about dioxin, and they lie like crazy. After all, money is at stake. And so are lawsuits. If people found out that they are already contaminated with an industrial chemical at levels which science has shown make people sick, they might get mad at the corporations that do this to them, all for the sake of a few extra percentage points of profit. If people understood the truth, they might do something strange, like take action.

.......Scientific studies on dioxin's dangers could fill the World Trade Center. But what has not been examined carefully are the implications of, and the process by which, the public has been convinced that it's not a problem at all. Neithher have we come to understand the spiritual crisis behind people feeling that it's in their best interest to lie and profit from the injury and deaths of many people. We rail on Molosevic and the atrocities in East Timor; we remember the Holocaust with solemn hearts; but we don't want to look at what American corporations do to the American people, and what we do, as people who work for corporations, to ourselves and one another. It is very, very taboo to bring this up.

.......In the mid-90s, there was an intense ideological war being waged between the chemical and paper industries (two of the biggest producers of dioxin), and an environmental movement consisting of a few hundred people. It was a kind of occult war waged in highly technical terms; few people knew about or understood what was happening, though it had taken more than 25 years of preparation for citizen organizers to get to the point where they could work on the issue in a relatively meaningful arena, and with the hope of getting some results. Meanwhile, major newspapers were either enlisted or tricked into publising extensive amounts of false information. At the same time, some independent journalists, myself included, and some long-time activists, went to work assembling the facts about what had happened. I was helped by many people who often had decades of experience with dioxin, going back till before the Agent Orange and Love Canal days, though I wrote my first investigative story about dioxin years before at the age of 19 as a student at SUNY Buffalo.

.......In the mid-90s, there were major lawsuits against the polluters pending. It was a very difficult moment, but an equally brilliant one, and I can't quite describe the feeling of being part of a process in which the distant future seems up for grabs. It is very powerful to know the truth about something, but frustrating to know that the information will never go far, and that many people will simply block it out with denial.

.......In one case, the issue of "risk assessment" was raised by the damaged parties. We have all heard this word, and we usually think of it as a good thing. It is not. In the old days, it was technically illegal for industry to put any super-toxic chemicals ("carcinogens") into food or the envionment. They did it, if course, but it was illegal. Then came risk assessment, which is essentially the government giving industry permission to kill a certain number of people, disgused as "minimal risk." Risk assessment, which we think of as a good thing because the risk is supposedly assessed, is what went wrong when kids get brain cancer from eating apples.

.......Read what one witness, a toxicoligist, had to say about risk assessment:

"In fact, then, the risk value selected cannot be viewed simply as a regulatory construct but must be regarded in a more absolute sense, i.e., the price that must be paid in human life to achieve the goals of an industrial rpcess. The original selection of the word 'risk' to describe the assessment involved was an unfortunate choice and is fundamentally misleading. In reality, 'risk assessment' is a projected body count, not an estimation of 'risks'. In a military sense, as in the recent Desert Storm operation, it is a projected casualty rate, i.e., should a military commander consider a 10 percent casualty rate in order to meet his military objectives?

"I have examined two risk assessments that [the defendant, a paper company dumping dioxin into a river from which they knew people (mostly Native Americans) routinely ate the fish to survive] submitted to the State of North Carolina ... In essence, they can be charcterized accurately as requests for permission to kill human beings through the discharge of dioxin into the Pigeon River drainage. One seeks permission to kill one out of each million persons exposed to dioxin through the company's discharges into the river; the other seeks permission to kill ten people per million persons exposed."

.......Of course, once the "risk" is accepted and the dumping permit is issued, anything goes, because nobody is really watching so closely, and nobody has the power to stop the problem. And most dumps don't have permits anyway. And remember that there are hundreds of thousands of chemicals and millions of combinations of chemicals that can kill one or ten or one hundred in a million people. We live in a complex world, and we are going to need some real psychic, mental and emotional skills to understand and cope with what is happening. And we will need holistic strategies to deal with holistic poisons.

.......The crisis around dioxin is merely an example of what is happening behind the sheen of the modern lives we lead. And dioxin is a legacy we will leave behind for countless generations, and yet, sufficient people know what is happening to stop the problem. That is the insanity of it. Admittedly, we are being lied to because profits are being reaped, but admittedly, we like our stuff and our plastic cars and our plastic snack containers and plastic everything else, and we buy beauty magazines by the pound that are made with miles and miles of bleached, varnished paper.

.......And then there are little disasters that happen. As a result of the flood, in this region alone, 1000 to 1500 barrels of toxic waste were washed away from places like junk yards, and most are currently unaccounted for and headed to sea. PCBs and dioxins collect in the bottoms of rivers, and that silt is what washed into my house, and across the landscape and thousands of backyards.

.......So, this is some of what I am re-learning as a result of the flood. Good or bad, it's a fact of my life; a fact of our lives.

.......But hey -- I've also had a chance to organize and archive my poetry, which I was inspired to do for the first time ever, and to be reminded of what I no longer find space or energy to do. But I'm feeling a strange old thing called desire. I've even written a couple of love letters. I've thrown out a lot of stuff I don't need. And I am free to move on, and I've got a few places to go. ++

For more information about what you can do about dioxin and the related issue of genetically modified food, please see the "Eco" section of Planet Waves contents, or search the Rachel database. My most concise article is at this link. If readers express an interest in more of my journalism on this subject, I will get busy and post it.

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Planet Waves Sign-by-Sign for Friday, Sept. 25, 1999

ARIES (March 21-April 19)
Humans so rarely see things as they are; we see things as we are. For you, this time of year can have a sense of placing a big mirror in front of your life, or noticing that the world is an emotional reflecting pool, which is, at the moment, more akin to a very hot bath. Both you and close partners are plunged into in some of the more fiery reaches of spirit and personality, but miraculously, it appears that you're actually in simpatico. While certain distinctions between you may be thrown into ever-clearer relief, the basis of your harmony is a rare condition of different people relating to one another as individuals rather than functioning as a unit. This is good, because if we want to be a unit, we don't need anyone else's help, or annoyance.

TAURUS (April 20-May 20)
It's time to start a new diary, a new sketch pad, and a new scrap book, and to recognize that a very distinct chapter of your life is over and that another has begun. This is hardly symbolic; I propose these symbols so that you have some reminders to take with you once this immediate and clear transition is over, something you can know that you began in this time of endings. Do not count your losses, please, because doing so would only distort your sense of progress. Know that it may be too late to say a proper goodbye to anyone from whom you're now estranged. Do not contemplate your lessons, either, because they're far too deep to think of in intellectual terms. Instead, remember that you know what is right for you, and put it to work. And I suggest you mediate on this one word: Equity.

GEMINI (May 21-June 20)
Finding a good partner or lover was recently compared by one of my clients to finding intelligent life in outer space. You know it's out there somewhere, but you just hope that the chances of making contact are less than one in sixty-seven trillion. In the old days, the only alien stories were things like "War of the Worlds," which depicted the visitors as hostile creatures. Then came ET, giving us one of the first paradigms ever for aliens being intelligent, harmless and even friendly. This would be a great time to come up with your own scenarios for the friendly visitor, because what or rather who shows up is likely to be very much in the image of what you are holding in mind.

CANCER (June 21-July 22)
I trust you'll be feeling a lot more at home in the world the next few weeks and months than you've been feeling lately. There are those times when no place feels free from disturbance and agitation, and nowhere really feels like a welcome mental or physical environment. Because you are so attuned to your immediate surroundings, these times can be particularly difficult for you -- and all the more so when harmony becomes so rare that you forget that it exists, or what it's like, and to a very real extent this has been true since shortly after your birthday. But now you're not just in a whole new season, it's a whole new season of life. Start it by focusing on your personal comfort.

LEO (July 23-Aug. 22)
This is a busy time for you, but potentially the start of a brilliantly creative one. What will save you from routine and drudgery is making a distinction between two aspects of life that are growing increasingly fuzzy in our ever-more virtual world: fantasy and experience. This is similar to the difference between desire and action, or between a game and a real personal challenge. Looked at another way, this is the beginning of a prolonged phase in which you will learn how to experiment. Experimenting means conducting life in a way in which the outcome is not clear, but in which knowledge is created. You know?

VIRGO (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
In order to make money, we can sell our labor, we can sell our time, or we can sell our ideas. Given the choice, which would you prefer to be offering to the market? And assessing your life very carefully, what proportion of each is involved in your current economic support system? Here's another idea. Some people sell their compassion, either as professional nurturers, or as people whose function is to take an emotional beating from the people around them. If this particular chore is part of your financial system, I highly recommend that you begin to phase it out yesterday. Next, work on time and labor. Your ideas are what really count.

LIBRA (Sep. 23-Oct. 22)
I imagine you have a lot on your mind these days -- fundamental subjects like life, death, religion, and marriage, to name a few. But notice that there is one concept that joins or bridges all of these seemingly separate matters. Indeed, this is a time in which larger ideas are calling you, *meta* concepts that enable us to perceive what we normally think of as separate in such a way that we see things in their unity rather than as fragments or sections of something. This kind of perception will, I am certain, be one of the primary conceptual tools that saves the human race from destroying itself. We may not all get the message in the next few centuries, but you certainly can in the next few weeks.

SCORPIO (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
It is in the nature of Scorpio to be highly invested in the affairs of other people, to the point where a great deal of confusion can exist between what is intrinsic to oneself, and what is really the domain of others. And while this affords you a measure of control over the world around you, it comes at a great price, one that I am sure you've observed aspects of, but have not taken fully into account. I suggest you do so now, for this is not a price you can afford to keep paying, and besides, you're missing out on the best of what is arguably the most important thing in the whole wide world: yourself.

SAGITTARIUS (Nov. 23-Dec. 21)
As the highly complex entities that humans are, we often stand in a netherworld between existing and not quite existing. This crisis affects every person on the planet. Seemingly meek folk may wonder, "do I matter?" or "do I dare?" but I assure you that these are people who, struggling as they are, exist toward the more conscious end of the spectrum because they ask at all. I propose that noticing you exist is not an easy state of mind to attain, and once you get that far, and get over being stunned, doing something about it is an even greater challenge. But I'm here to tell you the time has arrived to reckon this particular issue in its entirety.

CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19)
In your role as leader, you will now primarily be serving as peacemaker. Conflict eats up tremendous energy, and most of our conflict is played out on the level of ideas that are so pointless, they serve no one's benefit, and, when resolved, create situations that satisfy neither side. You're now in an unusual position to see the resources that everyone possesses, to take everyone's values into account, and to take the larger view on what needs to happen in terms of an agenda. You can serve as a kind of coordinating principle in the midst of what is a condition of sufficient resources but insufficient information.

AQUARIUS (Jan. 19-Feb. 18)
One contradiction of Aquarius is that this sign deals with both group consciousness and with the experience of individuating. Many Aquarians will greatly emphasize one trait or the other, though in our lone-wolf world, the ruggedly individualistic sense of personal identity has been made into some kind of trophy for the ego, in a game which is quite at odds with your deeper agenda in life. It's obvious that we can't exist as individuals unless we have some idea of what a group really is, and that we cannot exist in group consciousness until we have some idea of who we are as unique beings, and refuse to hide. Some long overdue adjustments along these lines are now possible for you.

PISCES (Feb. 19-Mar. 20)
At this point, anything that threatens to cut you down to size can empower you just as well. Anything that seeks to victimize you can become a testimony to your authority. Anyone or anything that challenges your reputation can become an opportunity for you to think of yourself as being beyond question, at least within your own mind, which is the place where real authority begins. What you now have is a life that is, on many levels, a laboratory for experimenting with the ways of human organization, and for exploring where you fit into the structures of life that some people would call political, but I would call nature.

For the Faithful
This is the week of the autumnal equinox in the northern hemisphere, and the end of summer. For southern hemisphere, it is the start of the spring. But everywhere, night equals day, dark and light are in proportion, and emphasis is on balancing, beginning, and ending. The three months leading up to the winter season (again, in the northern hemisphere) are a season that takes us into one of the most compressed and intense times of the year, the season of Saturnalia, around the winter solstice, and these remaining months of the century promise to be very, very busy. Remember to leave yourself time to think, reflect and notice. As I have said many times this year, we're not coming back this way.

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