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Stating the Ominous: Silent Spring at 50

Dear Friend and Reader:

Saturday, June 16 was the 50th anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson. This is the book that not only started the modern environmental movement; it defined the notions of the 'environment' or 'ecosystem' as we think of them today. Though it's difficult to believe, prior to Silent Spring, those concepts did not exist in public consciousness.

Planet Waves
Rachel Carson, circa 1962. From the Rachel Carson Papers. Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.
Today, most people have heard the book's title, though I've been asking around and so far I have not found anyone younger than I am who knows what it's a reference to.

A marine biologist and avid birder who became a naturalist author, by the time Silent Spring was published, Carson had already written three bestsellers and had won the National Book Award For Nonfiction with her 1951 book The Sea Around Us. Her writing career grew out of working for the publications office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where she was editor in chief.

Following up a longstanding interest, she began to focus her efforts on pesticides in the 1950s. This was the era when chemistry was going to solve every problem and save the world from the evils of nature. But Carson was suspicious, and had been collecting data about potential problems since before World War II. Her research resulted in Silent Spring, which exposed the dangers of broadcast spraying of insecticides and herbicides, principally DDT.

The military, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and various industries were busy pouring tons of the stuff onto cities, towns, suburbs, farms and wilderness areas, telling everyone that it was perfectly safe. In one propaganda film, a British public health official is trying to convince an African chief and his tribe that DDT isn't toxic. At the time it was being used to kill malaria mosquitoes. He has the chemical sprayed onto a bowl of hot cereal, which he then eats. But the chief refuses to accept that the insecticide is safe. (See the sixth film in the queue, "DDT So Safe You Can Eat It.")

Carson was the first to note that DDT not only killed insects; it acted as what she called a biocide, often wiping out the entire ecosystem where it was sprayed. The interconnection between the levels of nature is what we think of as 'the environment'.

In an effort to kill mosquitoes or gypsy moths, spray airplanes would drop the chemical onto vast forests. Writing with a vivid appreciation of the beauty of nature, Carson describes how contaminated leaves would fall to the forest floor and be eaten by worms, who would then be eaten in large quantities by birds. The DDT would concentrate in the birds' bodies (through a process called biomagnification), poison them, and then the forests would fall silent -- hence the book's title.

Planet Waves
DDT fog to control mosquitoes, summer 1953 at Jones Beach, Long Island, NY. Spraying DDT in recreational areas was considered safe even though nobody understood its biological effects.
Until this time nobody had explained from a scientific standpoint that all of nature was related in a complex web of life. Though Carson had been making that point in her earlier books, when she pointed out that those webs of life were being murdered by the chemical fogs, people started to notice.

"These sprays, dusts, and aerosols are now applied almost universally to farms, gardens, forests, and homes -- nonselective chemicals that have the power to kill every insect, the 'good' and the 'bad', to still the song of birds and the leaping of fish in the streams, to coat the leaves with a deadly film, and to linger on in soil -- all this though the intended target may be only a few weeds or insects,'' Carson wrote.

A condensed version of the book was first published as a series in The New Yorker, at the suggestion of E. B. White. Carson had suggested that he write the book; he said she should write it herself. The first segment appeared June 16, 1962, by which time Carson was already suffering from metastasized breast cancer, which had delayed the final draft. The book itself came out that autumn.

Reaction from Government and Industry

Industry and government response to Silent Spring was immediate and scathing, declaring a kind of national emergency and attempting to discredit Carson as an hysterical nature freak. The response of industry only pushed the book higher up the bestseller list.

Planet Waves
DDT is fogged over children in the US, 1950s. Today as a banned substance, it would be handled by people wearing respirators and environmental suits.
"In any large-scale pest control program we are immediately confronted with the objection of a vociferous, misinformed group of nature-balancing, organic-gardening, bird-loving, unreasonable citizenry that has not been convinced of the important place of agricultural chemicals in our economy,''  said F. A. Soraci, director of the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. He was right about one thing -- clearly Carson was not convinced how wonderful these chemicals were.

As Silent Spring rippled out into the world, the slings and arrows came flying in. She was accused of being part of a cult -- that freaky religion of people who love nature. Carson wrote "not as a scientist but rather as a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature,'' said P. Rothberg, president of the Montrose Chemical Corporation of California, a manufacturer of DDT. Notably, in Silent Spring Carson never calls for a ban on DDT, only its carefully controlled use when necessary.

"In November 1962, the Manufacturing Chemists' Association began mailing monthly feature stories to news media, stressing the 'positive side' of chemical use," wrote Frank Graham, Jr. in a 1970 book called Since Silent Spring. "Similar material was mailed to about 100,000 individuals. The National Agricultural Chemicals Association doubled its public relations budget. It distributed thousands of copies of reviews that were critical of Silent Spring.''

Planet Waves
Yes, it's children's room DDT wallpaper, guaranteed to kill some of the mosquitoes and expose all of your child's sensitive endocrine system to synthetic hormones. Many exposure victims developed cancer and a diversity of endocrine disorders later in life. DDT and other hormone disruptors are especially toxic to developing fetuses. The next time you're tearing down old wallpaper, consider whether it contains a toxic surprise. Click to view full-size image.
Graham noted: "The target of a considerable portion of this material (including 'fact kits' which presented the answers wrapped up in the questions) was the medical profession." In other words, they tried to convince doctors that the chemical was safe -- a tactic chemical manufacturers often used years later with dioxin, a waste byproduct of chemical manufacturing, orders of magnitude more toxic than DDT.

Regarding Carson's book as "an opportunity to wield our public relations power,'' Monsanto Chemical Company, a manufacturer of herbicides, pesticides and PCBs, published a long parody of Silent Spring entitled The Desolate Year, portraying nature as evil and depicting the horrors of a world without chemical pesticides. The company distributed 5,000 copies of it to newspaper editors and book reviewers all over the country.

Monsanto had reason to worry. At the time, the company was making most of its money on chemicals similar in behavior, composition and toxicity to DDT, called PCBs, and subsequent lawsuits revealed that the company was lying to everyone about their dangers.

The writing and the message of Silent Spring were so powerful that the book got the attention of then Pres. John F. Kennedy, who referred it to his Science Advisory Panel. They studied the scientific assessments in the book and a year later determined that Carson's work was based on valid toxicology. This led to a 1972 ban on DDT in agricultural use in the United States -- though not until after 600,000 tons of the stuff had been dumped on the environment. Once the DDT issue was raised to public awareness, many other events followed, which helped raise awareness of toxins and begin the process of regulating them.

In 1964, Swedish scientist Dr. Soren Jensen, inspired by Carson's work, was studying DDT levels in human blood when a mysterious group of chemical compounds kept recurring in his samples, interfering with his analyses. The chemical was so pervasive that his first task was to determine whether it was natural or synthetic.

Finally concluding that it was some sort of artificial pollutant, Jensen set to work to find out what it was. A two-year investigation established that the mystery compound was chlorine-based and chemically similar to DDT. Jensen knew it wasn't a pesticide, though, because he found it in wildlife specimens collected in 1935, years before chlorine-based pesticides were in general use. All of Sweden and its adjacent seas were contaminated, he discovered; even hair samples taken from his wife and three children showed traces of the compound, with the highest levels in his nursing infant daughter. The mystery pollutant was everywhere he looked.

Planet Waves
The ultimate compliment -- sample of Monsanto's "The Desolate Year," a parody of "Silent Spring" published in Monsanto Magazine in 1962. The article portrays nature as a kind of evil menace, written in flowery, overly-dramatic language that mocks Rachel Carson's elegant and understated prose. Read the whole article here as a PDF.
Eventually, Jensen told me in a 1993 interview for Sierra magazine, "I was convinced that what I had to deal with were chlorinated biphenyls, but I didn't have the faintest idea where such compounds were used in the society." Searching the literature, Jensen learned of PCBs' industrial uses. A German chemical manufacturer provided Jensen with a sample, which he analyzed and found to match the "peaks," or chemical readings, found in a massively contaminated white-tailed eagle.

"The circle was closed," Jensen said. "There was no doubt that the unknown peaks came from the use of polychlorinated biphenyls, which I gave the name PCB." As a direct result of Carson's work on DDT, PCBs were banned by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) of 1976, just four years after the ban on DDT. Both chemicals are so persistent in the environment that they still turn up in samples of human blood and breast milk. Through nursing, humans receive some of their highest lifetime doses of these compounds, which gradually build up in the body. Yet the problem with TSCA and its successors is that federal regulators will not allow the words "fetus" or "embryo" into the language of the law.

Attention was, and still is, focused on the outer environment. For example, by 1970, just eight years after Silent Spring and six years after Jensen discovered PCB contamination of the whole environment, even Sports Illustrated was writing about toxins issues.

In a landmark article called Poison Roams our Coastal Seas, Robert H. Boyle wrote that samples analyzed independently by the magazine "disclose that the reproductive process of at least four different fish populations may be threatened by high residue levels of chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides in the eggs. High levels of DDT residues (a combination of DDT, DDD and DDE) are in the eggs of striped bass from California, from the Hudson River, New York, from the Rappahannock River, Virginia, and in the eggs of bluefish caught off the coast of South Carolina. Moreover, the eggs of the California and New York bass have high PCB residues, an industrial compound that has escaped into the environment by accident.''

Well, I guess that depends on what you mean by accident. Read the whole story here as I told it in Sierra magazine in 1994.

Endocrine Disruptors: The Hormone Ecosystem

Dr. Theodora Colborn is sometimes credited with writing the modern version of Silent Spring, a 1997 book she co-authored, called Our Stolen Future. Colborn studies the issue of persistent toxic compounds not from the standpoint of their impact on the outer environment, but rather their effects on the human endocrine system, which regulates hormones that influence reproduction, emotions and every organ in our bodies. All of these chemicals are carcinogenic, though that's considered a high-dose effect. At extremely low concentrations -- for example, the parts-per-trillion level -- the chemicals function as hormonal toxins.

Planet Waves
Dr. Theo Colborn, dharma heir to Rachel Carson. While Carson documented the devastating effects of pesticides on the outer environment, Colborn documents the effects on the subtle chemistry of the endocrine system. She is 85 and still hard at work on these issues.
Colborn's work, developed in the decades after Silent Spring, determined that thanks to DDT, PCBs, benzene-based plasticizers including BPA and many heavy metals, we are all swimming in a sea of hormone-disrupting chemicals. Unlike natural hormones, hormone disruptors tend to be extremely persistent, lodging in the liver and other organs, creating cascades of reactions.

Because a healthy body is so dependent upon endocrine balance, hormone disruptors are associated with nearly every medical condition. These include reproductive issues, miscarriages, birth defects, endometriosis and many forms of cancer.

I reached Colborn this week and asked her thoughts on Rachel Carson's work. "Silent Spring acknowledged that the entire ecosystem was being destroyed, that DDT was affecting all life on Earth and there was nothing that was not being affected. Carson was using her research on animals that was quite strong," she said.

"Rachel Carson began to create an awareness that we should have had innately. We became aware of the obvious things around us. Yet we could make these chemicals that we could not see. If humans are going to survive they are going to survive because they're going to understand what they're actually doing when they're fooling around with chemicals that were never in the environment before. It's taking us too long and too many people too late to realize this."

Planet Waves
Breast cancer cell. This disease is associated with environmental toxins, including DDT, PCBs and dioxins, which tend to accumulate in fatty tissue.
Colborn noted that "There are two places in Silent Spring where Carson has just one sentence: I wonder what's happening to the babies in the wombs of the women who are exposed to these chemicals. If she only had a chance to live three or four more years, she would have caught on to the endocrine disruption and the transgenerational transmission of these chemicals." The effects of many endocrine disruptors can be passed down for seven generations (scientific validation of the name of the chlorine-free paper product brand, which is based on an Iroquois concept).

Had she lived long enough, Colborn speculated, Carson would have made these discoveries on her own. But she died at the peak of her influence of complications arising from breast cancer in April 1964.

"I myself never thought the ugly facts would dominate, and I hope they don't,'' Rachel Carson wrote to a friend as she finished writing Silent Spring, quoted in the 1980 book Speaking for Nature by Paul Brooks. "The beauty of the living world I was trying to save has always been uppermost in my mind -- that, and anger at the senseless brutish things that were being done. I have felt bound by a solemn obligation to do what I could -- if I didn't at least try I could never again be happy in nature. But now I can believe I have at least helped a little. It would be unrealistic to believe one book could bring a complete change.''

This was probably the most erroneous prediction that Carson ever made. Her one book did bring a massive change in the way pesticides were used and regarded by both governments and people. For a time, it even seemed possible that precautionary policy -- that is, avoiding danger and factoring in for worst-case scenarios -- would replace reckless uses of "economic poisons.''

Rachel Carson's Astrology: Sagittarius Full Moon

We have Rachel Carson's birth chart thanks to a data collector named Mark Penfield. The data receives a rating of C, which means "conflicting'' or in this case, rectified from an approximate stated time. Though I could not contact him, I checked out Penfield's bona fides and learned that he's got a knack for chart rectification, that is, tuning up an approximate time, or working from no available birth time. The chart itself looks functional to me (and I've worked with it before -- just have not written about it till now), so I'm going to go with Penfield's data.

Planet Waves
There are three clusters of planets in Carson's natal chart. First notice the group in Gemini, toward the bottom left of the chart. Those are the Sun, Pallas, Mercury and Pluto. Then there is the triple conjunction in Cancer on the lower right -- Ceres (the Earth mother), Neptune and Jupiter (spiritual influences). Finally, she has three planets rising, in the same degree -- Saturn, Eris and Nessus, near the left horizontal line.
Carson was born in 1907 with the Sun in Gemini and the Moon in Sagittarius. She's a Full Moon baby, which is another way of saying she's standing in a spotlight and brightly illuminated from within. She's accustomed to living with contention and polarity, and (as both a Gemini and Full Moon person) had many distinct sides of her nature that she could express.

Gemini almost always bestows a gift for language, and it was the language of Silent Spring that made the scientific findings so compelling. Carson had more than the Sun in Gemini -- she also had a conjunction of Pallas Athene and Mercury, which accounts for her precision, her clever strategy and most of all, the political impact of her work. Whenever Pallas is in the scene, look for the political and legal dimension of things. In fact, her words did change the law of the land; she was personally responsible for the banning of DDT and directly precipitated the banning of PCBs.

Finally, she was among the Greatest Generation cohort which was born with Pluto in Gemini. Her words influenced the legal, political and scientific levels of society only because they resonated with the millions -- a function of Pluto. All of these Gemini planets are in the 3rd house (even the Sun counts, because it's just one degree away). That's the house of writing, with which she was obsessed enough to do very well.

She had her Moon in Sagittarius, which grants both a wide vision and a kind of eternal optimism. Sagittarius is the sign that addresses the cosmic level of reality in a worldly way. Carson could see the large picture -- nature itself -- and then reflect it back to people in clear words and ideas. Though she would have been unlikely to use the word, the Sagittarius Moon is like a homing device for spiritual themes. Yet her sensitivity and discipline as a writer and scientist kept her from being preachy.

Barbara Hand Clow once wrote that the 4th house is the one that addresses sensitivity to the environment -- and in this house we find a cluster of planets in the sign Cancer. That would be extra specially sensitive. Once again we see evidence of bringing her soul into the work. She has a triple conjunction of Ceres (the Earth mother) plus Jupiter and Neptune. It is fair to say that she felt the Earth as a living thing but also as an expression of deity. She never used those kinds of words, though her writing vibrates with the feeling.

Planet Waves
Rachel Carson, photo by Associated Press.
Now let's put the parts together. For example we can see how she was a disciplined scientist (Mercury conjunct Pallas Athene in Gemini) and at the same time she was an empath for the Earth (Ceres-Neptune-Jupiter in Cancer).

Notice how this blend of influences -- the planets in Gemini giving the gift of language, and the planets in Cancer bestowing sensitivity and emotional impact -- describe Silent Spring so perfectly. All of these planets are deep beneath the surface of her chart. She was coming from the inside out with every word.

If we look at her ascendant, we get a perspective on what a complex woman she was. She has late Pisces rising. In that ascendant is another triple conjunction -- this one extremely unusual, comprised of three slow-moving planets that cannot get together in the same place more than every few centuries. And on the day she's born they are in a less-than-one-degree conjunction.

The three points are Saturn (essential to understand in any chart), Nessus (a Chiron-like centaur planet, dealing with the dark side of human nature and the influence of karma) and Eris (which in Pisces could focus a spiritual search with the power and reach of the Gulf Stream). The presence of Nessus is particularly striking, since it's so closely associated with consequences. One of its key phrases is, "The buck stops here," and in many ways the pesticide buck really did stop with Carson. I doubt that one person ever caused more damage to the profits of chemical companies.

Yet there is astonishing tension in that conjunction -- the very slow-moving Nessus-Eris conjunction is contained by Saturn like a pipe bomb. It's a good thing she was so disciplined or she might have exploded. We can infer from this conjunction that she knew she was dealing with vast forces, though she had the gift of being able to focus and make her point. It was unusual then as now for a book to get the attention of the president of the United States, who then takes action. That kind of concentrated impact can have its roots in a conjunction this powerful.

One other thing, of the many placements we could discuss in this chart: she had Venus in Taurus in the 2nd house. To me that says healthy self-esteem, and some confidence that she was making a valuable contribution to the world.

Silent Spring Astrology: The Dawn of the Sixties

Let's take a look at the astrology on the day that Silent Spring first came to public consciousness, serialized in The New Yorker magazine. That was in 1962, at the dawn of what we think of as the 1960s. This was a time when many revolutionary ideas were brewing, and strangely, it was a time when ideas had impact. This is shown in the astrology by planets in the mutable signs, which are all about ideas. Mutable signs are also movable (as in psychically mobile), and they tend to be receptive, both of which are essential to actual learning.

Planet Waves
Simplified chart for the first publication of "Silent Spring" in 1962. Note the planets arranged in a square pattern, called a grand cross or grand square. The tightest aspect is retrograde Mercury square Jupiter to less than a sixth of a degree. If you look to the the right side of the chart, you can see the Uranus-Pluto conjunction, still developing (with faster-moving Uranus still in late Leo, and Pluto already in Virgo). The long conjunction is exact in 1965-1966.
I've greatly simplified the chart to show one aspect structure -- a grand cross in Gemini, Virgo, Sagittarius and Pisces (the four mutables) that was in effect the day Silent Spring first hit the streets. Certain elements are fast moving, others are slow moving -- and the combination makes a unique chart with real impact.

The backbone of the cross is Pluto in Virgo opposite Chiron in Pisces, one of the distinctive aspects that lasted all through the 1960s. Chiron, to the left side of the chart, is in a conjunction with Jupiter -- which focuses Jupiter like a laser and brings it down to Earth. We have an image of applied ethics, or what you might think of as practical spirituality, shown by that aspect.

I realize I keep using the word spiritual in this article, because that's the theme that keeps coming out of these charts again and again -- a deep connection to life and existence, yet with its roots in the unseen world. Carson was a mystic in the deepest sense of the word, and her ability to bridge the worlds of mysticism and science is something that today we would describe as 'shamanic'. Yet she is not cobbling these things together as if they were separate; rather, they are emerging from the same deep inner place.

Then there is Mercury (the green kid with the horns). As in Carson's natal chart, both the Sun and Mercury are in Gemini. Mercury is making many aspects -- the closest being a square to Jupiter (the orange 4); and then squares to Chiron (orange key) and to Pluto (red golf tee). Mercury is retrograde, which challenges some of the conventional wisdom of this condition. This is definitely the beginning of something that will have huge impact. And as you might expect of a mutable grand cross, there is going to be some controversy (what The New York Times described as 'Noisy Summer').

How do we interpret Mercury retrograde? For one, this is the chart of the pre-release of the book, and Mercury retrograde indicates a revision process. The actual book comes out several months later. Next, the impact was unexpected; Carson never believed the book would have the kind of impact that it did. So we have Mercury in full-on trickster mode, in Gemini and retrograde (notably, just a few days before it stations direct, acting like a spring). This also supports one of my key phrases for Mercury retrograde -- the truth comes out.

Last, the Sagittarius Moon passes through the neighborhood that day, meaning that Silent Spring, just like Carson, came out on the eve of the Sagittarius Full Moon. The publication chart has many resonances with Carson's natal chart, which is a way of saying something that proved to be true -- Silent Spring was a true reflection of her life's work.

Planet Waves
New York Times headline from July 22, 1962, a month after "Silent Spring" appeared in The New Yorker. Read the full article here.
The chart demonstrates the power of a grand cross, or planets placed at the four corners of a square. And, published just prior to Uranus ingressing Virgo and the start of the Uranus-Pluto conjnction (exact for the first time in 1965), the book became one of the intellectual foundations of the 1960s era.

Its publication is credited with starting the grassroots environmental movement, which led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Yet while Silent Spring directly led to the banning of DDT and PCBs, there are many new chemicals that are just as bad or worse when it comes to hormone disruption. One of the most problematic is BPA, or bisphenol-A, which finds its way into nearly every bite of food that's wrapped or contained in plastic. There are brominated biphenyls, very similar to PCBs, used as flame retardant -- and these are nearly ubiquitous.

"Where would we be without Silent Spring?'' asked Theo Colborn, whose work picked up where Rachel Carson left off. "Probably in a much bigger mess." That is saying a lot, particularly given that the environmental movement seems to be at a low ebb right now, while the tide of toxic compounds is rising every day.

Yet that may change. Chiron is back in Pisces, and Silent Spring is about to have its Chiron return. Says Dale O'Brien, "Mythically, Chiron was the defender of nature, rising to action to single-handedly drive off the wild centaurs who were destroying the environment for their carefree enjoyment. In the chart of Silent Spring, Chiron in Pisces conjunct Jupiter indicates that Silent Spring has become perhaps the main inspiration for the ecology movement. 'Movements' in my astrological opinion can only happen when outer planetary bodies are in a mutable (moving, moveable) sign. Chiron's return here can revitalize the ecological movement."

Eric Francis

Additional writing and research by Carol van Strum. Photo research by Sarah Bissonnette-Adler.

Planet Waves
More News from Gemini

How is your life settling down in these weeks after the eclipses and the transit of Venus? It may take you a few more days (or longer) to get into your new rhythm. Events may have knocked you off-center, though this was for the purpose of reorientation. I suggest you not try to get back into your old routine but rather adapt to the environment you find yourself in now.

Planet Waves
Classical image of the constellation Gemini.
We are about to enter a new burst of concentrated astrology: the Cancer ingress of the Sun (summer solstice in the northern latitudes, winter solstice in the southern) happens Wednesday. Then we have Uranus square Pluto (number one of seven) on June 24, followed by Venus stationing direct on June 27.

But first, Tuesday is the second consecutive New Moon in Gemini, happening at 11:02 am EDT. This one has some unusual connections, as if it's a portal to something much larger -- in the next-to-last degree of Gemini, it aspects numerous horoscopes of major world events that I described last year in the article Here at the Edge of the World: the Sept. 11 incident, the 2004 Indonesian quake and tsunami, WikiLeaks, the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns and even the Titanic. There is something about that degree that is a common thread between all of these events, and the New Moon happens right there, activating all of those charts.

Venus retrograde (the heart of the transit of Venus show) is still offering us meaningful astrology. Saturday, she makes a square to Chiron in Pisces. That's a hotly charged aspect, the kind of thing that keeps us going from one emotional high to the next. Yet Venus is now retrograde, so it would be healthier to seek those peak experiences inwardly rather than from the involvement of other people. The retrograde is an internally directed factor, and its mission is about guiding the seemingly irreconcilable aspects of who you are into relationship with one another.

Jupiter ingressed Gemini earlier this week, and has a similar message about resolving inner oppositions, conflicts and what many spiritual paths describe as dualism. Are the things you think of as being opposite one another really at odds? Or are they aspects of the same thing? Jupiter encourages you to see the common ground, the common source -- and to recognize that parts are only parts because they are aspects of the whole.

Planet Waves
Fracking the Poor When They're Down

Planet Waves
Yet again, we will inflict this image on you. Fracking is a disgusting mess. This is the tidy side of things -- above the ground. Below the ground, this shit is injected into freshwater wells, and can destroy the water supply for a whole community. This photo is from a recent article in New York Law Journal, which describes the legal nightmare of fracking for mortgage holders.
In the continuing fight over the controversial practice of fracking (hydraulic fracturing, a particularly toxic way of getting natural gas out of the ground), New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is considering a plan to restrict it -- to economically struggling areas that 'support' it along the NY-Pennsylvania border.

Fracking involves blasting a mix of sand, water and toxic chemicals into rock formations, and often results in contaminated drinking water. [If you haven't seen the movie Gasland, you can watch it free here.] More than 100 communities in New York have approved bans or moratoria on fracking, according to Democracy Now!

Environmental justice advocates are criticizing the plan, saying it sends an environmentally polluting industry into the most impoverished communities -- communities that tend to be more desperate to collect the one-time mineral rights payment. Activist and writer Sandra Steingraber said in a statement: "Partitioning our state into frack and no-frack zones based on economic desperation is a shameful idea." New York State regulators are expected to approve fracking in the coming months.

Planet Waves
And in Michigan, a Serious Case of Pussyphobia

Michigan Democratic State Rep. Lisa Brown has been banned "indefinitely" from speaking on the House floor because she used the word "vagina" while registering her opposition to an anti-abortion bill her Republican colleagues were debating this week.

Brown is a woman and Jewish, and held a press conference yesterday wondering if she was banned from speaking because of her religious beliefs. Another female colleague, Rep. Barb Byrum, was also indefinitely banned from speaking, although she did not use the word "vagina" during her oration. The bill passed, and is now the most-restrictive anti-abortion bill in America.

"I'm flattered you're all so concerned about my vagina. But no means no," Brown said on the floor, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Planet Waves
Maybe Airplanes Really Do Need Pilots After All

A Navy RQ-4A Global Hawk drone aircraft crashed Monday during a routine training flight from Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland -- the latest in a series of drone mishaps. Although plans to design drone aircraft powered by nuclear power have been put on indefinite hold (the kind of drone that crashed is apparently fueled by kerosene jet fuel), Planet Waves found commenters on various websites carrying the news story noting spikes of radiation in the area. Typically used for reconnaissance, these drones can fly for 30 hours without refueling at altitudes as high as 11 miles. Four drones based at southern Maryland's Naval Air Station Patuxent River are in routine training and one more is deployed with the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet, officials told CNN.

Planet Waves
Stage Left: Hit and Run; Stage Right: Catfight

Secretary of Commerce John Bryson was cited by police (not charged) for felony hit-and-run after he crashed into two different cars (one of them twice) near Los Angeles Saturday. Police arriving on the scene found Bryson, 68, unconscious. After he was treated at the scene, he was admitted to an area hospital where doctors determined he had suffered a seizure. The cars Bryson hit sustained minor damage; the passengers complained of pain but some declined treatment. Bryson has served since October, overcoming Republicans' objections that he was too environmentally friendly. As the former head of Edison International, which owns Southern California Edison, Bryson helped transform the company into a leader in solar and wind, initiating a plan to convert 65 million square feet of unused commercial rooftops into solar power stations.

Meanwhile on the other coast, the Department of Justice and the state of Florida have squared off in a voter registration smack down. Many states around the country have been trying to rein in who has the right to vote. This week both Florida and the Feds announced plans to sue the other over that state's controversial voter purge. Florida Gov. Rick Scott's administration says it's trying to remove thousands of non-U.S. citizens from the rolls. Critics claim the purge overwhelmingly targets people of color (87%) and is a move to disenfranchise Democratic voters in a key election state. We're still trying to figure out how thousands of non-citizens got on the voter rolls, since they're undocumented to begin with and you need identification to register to vote. Last week the DOJ asked Florida to halt the purge, claiming it appeared to violate federal voting rights laws. Florida says it's suing over the federal government's denial of access to a citizenship database.

Planet Waves
Dark Matter: Cosmos Getting Ever Hipper

For centuries composers have been inspired by celestial bodies, and now hip-hop artist GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan and a digital mash-up artist who goes by the handle melodysheep are groovin' with the universe. Inspired by a model of Saturn hanging in the office of pop astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, GZA (born Gary Grice in Brooklyn in 1966) observed that Saturn "is probably the longest spinning record in the world." So began his creative quest to record an album of astronomy-related rap called "Dark Matter," meeting with the likes of professors at MIT and Cornell to research the project. GZA is working with composer and producer Marco Vitali, a Juilliard-trained violinist, to score "Dark Matter," and while they don't have the sound worked out yet, they're excited to marry such diverse fields into something with real frisson -- and a hook.

Meanwhile, in the realm of video/audio mash-up, melodysheep (John Boswell) has paid a lyrical, techno tribute to some of the most inspirational science minds of the late-20th and 21st centuries. Using video footage of Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and Richard Feynman (along with images from various science programs), it's hard not to get excited about the fact that we share atoms with stars. As Feynman puts it, "And it's all really there / But you gotta stop and think about it / About the complexity to really get the pleasure / And it's all really there / The inconceivable nature of nature."

Planet Waves
Please Note Monthly Horoscope Schedule Change!

The Planet Waves June monthly horoscope and an extensive article about the Transit of Venus were published Wednesday, May 23. Inner Space for June was published on Tuesday, May 29. The most recent Moonshine horoscope by Genevieve Hathaway (for June) was published on June 12. Please note a change in the publishing pattern -- Planet Waves monthly horoscope for July will be published the morning of Friday, June 22, after the Cancer ingress of the Sun. For a few months we've been publishing the monthly horoscope on Wednesday evenings, but that was proving to be too confusing. -- efc

Planet Waves
This week on Planet Waves FM: Jupiter and Trees

Hello -- here is the latest edition of Planet Waves FM. In the first segment I discuss the current astrology, focused on Jupiter in Gemini, next week's Gemini New Moon and a recap of the recent eclipses.

Planet Waves
The Secretary Maple in the heart of the forest, being photographed by our beloved photographer Charlie Lemay. Photo by Eric Francis.
We have all been through so much the past few weeks -- it's time to take a breath and catch up with yourself before the next burst of astrology: the solstice, Uranus square Pluto and Venus stationing direct. There's a lot of astrology going on, which means a lot to process. Take it slow, and do your best to absorb your experiences consciously.

Then after a song break and in the second segment, I describe my experience in Elisa Novick's Tree Play: Heart of the Forest workshop that I participated in this past Sunday. The trees have a message for us about taking care of the planet, and also getting together and making sure that message gets out there.

They seem to be urgently suggesting that we get on a collective level of thought and make some decisions. My impression is they're telling us that the fate of the Earth is indeed at stake and that it is in our hands. I mention that I'll link to my recent article In Praise of Trees, in which I feature Elisa and her communication with these creatures. You'll see we offer access to a PDF that gives some detailed transcripts of these discussions.

We will have Elisa back on the program shortly.

Planet Waves

Join Rebecca Gordon for a Weekend of Astrology and Astronomy

You may have heard my interview with Rebecca Gordon at the United Astrology Conference [listen here]. She's hosting a weekend June 22-24 with star expert colleagues in the heart of the Berkshire Mountains for a spectacular weekend immersion under the stars.

She writes, "Learn how to navigate the fixed stars and constellations of the night sky: their myth, magic and meaning in the horoscope – and the messages they deliver to us in today's world. Each attendee will create their own unique fixed star chart and learn how to interpret beyond the 'nine planets'. The weekend is affordably priced and some space is still available. Learn more by reading this PDF.

Planet Waves

Friday, June 15, 2012. Weekly Horoscope #907 | Eric's Zodiac Sign Descriptions

Last Gemini Birthdays: Second New Moon -- and Jupiter

Before I talk about the birthday charts of Geminis this week, this is a reminder that I've recorded a detailed birthday astrology reading for you, which includes a tarot reading. For details, visit this link or click the image with the twin girls above.

This year the Sun's highly eventful trek through Gemini ends as it began -- with a New Moon. The first one a month ago was an annular solar eclipse, which set things in motion in the life of everyone born under this sign or rising sign. This was followed by a sequence of developments that have shaken up your life and told you something about your chosen destiny. Earlier this week, Jupiter entered Gemini for the next year. This will influence everyone who has planets in this sign, though it's especially strong for those who have birthdays since it happened on June 11. Jupiter can come with what seem like odd strokes of luck, though it's better not to count on them. Rather, use this influence to make your own luck. Jupiter makes everything larger. It's likely to exaggerate various situations in your personal relationships, which are calling for deep healing rather than 'working things out'. Your relationships must also catch up with who you are, or they will no longer be sustainable. It's essential that you distinguish your problems from those of other people, while having respect for the ways in which people might provide a mirror for you. Still -- events the past month have demonstrated that your life is actually your life, and you will serve yourself and the greater good by treating it that way.

Aries (March 20-April 19)
Aries (March 20-April 19) -- When you have something to say, get to the point. I suggest you edit yourself, rather than censor yourself. Editing means refinement to increase the impact of your ideas. If you're going to run free at the mouth or the pen, do it privately, till you figure out what you're trying to say, and then say only that. Speaking of writing, a magnificent and somewhat mysterious New Moon early next week is an invitation to embark on a new project, perhaps even a challenging one. The message coming in from every quadrant is saying: ground and focus. When you write, that's what you do with your mind, which comes out in the form of ideas. These days, you have lots of them, and they are likely to be a lot more useful than you think. Note, sending text messages doesn't count. You don't need to sit at a manual typewriter by lamplight, though I suggest at least you work in an actual document, an online diary or series of blog posts. Write where people can read you.

Hello Aries -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed).

Taurus (April 19- May 20)
Taurus (April 19-May 20) -- An unstoppable, primal force deep in your psyche is having its way with a concept of relationship that you think of as an immovable object. For example, perhaps your concept of being married or in a committed partnership is getting a taste of the rest of your sex drive. This in turn is 'threatening' to crack open the relationship concept, which in turn is shaking up your whole identity structure. Though this seems to involve a kind of battle between sex and repression, in fact the energy source is deeper than sex and the structure is deeper than your concept of relationship. But these make viable metaphors and you will learn a lot working on that level. Remember that both of these forces are in your mind and/or emotions, and the whole matter is coming up for healing first and recreation second. This is about something you're working out -- so for now, keep your focus of change directed inwardly. This is what will get you the results you want.
Hello Taurus -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed) If you would like to hear your Taurus birthday reading, please visit this link.

Gemini (May 20- June 21)
Gemini (May 20-June 21) -- Some of the year’s most significant astrological events take place in your birth sign, the latest of which is Jupiter arriving earlier in the week. The Roman incarnation of the chief Olympian god, Jupiter is a complex influence, but I can say a few things. One is that this will provoke you to be more creative, to go deeper and to reach further with your mind than you have in a long time. You need to expand your sense of who you are, and Jupiter is here to help you with that. By that I mean this is the year you realize you are more encompassing, with more influence, and in some ways the center of your community. At the same time Jupiter will seem to magnify some of your issues, which you can count as a helpful influence because you need to see them in order to set yourself free from them. Remember that, because every other force in the cosmos seems to be offering you something similar: the gift of resolution.

Hello Gemini -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed). Your Gemini birthday reading is ready! Click here for an hour of astrology plus a tarot reading by Eric.

Cancer (June 21- July 22)
Cancer (June 21-July 22) -- You may be familiar with that edgy region of consciousness right between the dream state and ordinary awareness. You're working that edge these days, as the Sun makes its way toward your sign, preceded early next week by a truly interesting New Moon in late Gemini. You are in fact between phases of your life, though the more exciting thing is how a crack between the worlds is opening up and inviting you to peer inside yourself. The message that's coming through right now is that you're connected to everything, and at the same time, you have your own unique role to play in the world. You're likely to get some specific information about this over the next few days. Don't worry if it doesn't seem to be a 'large' role -- you are in possession of specific information that will be useful to others. Bide your time and take careful notes: you are approaching a real discovery.

Hello Cancer -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed).

Leo (July 22- Aug. 23)
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23) -- A combination of factors is suggesting it's possible to increase your income while cutting your expenses. Part of doing this well is about seeing opportunities for what they are, and over the next few weeks some new ones will be coming into your life. Rather than assume that something is or isn't a real offer, give it time and see what develops. Second, you are learning to be shrewd about your cash flow, and to do this I suggest you spend money on what actually gets results. That's to say, if you focus on what actually benefits you, providing you with something vital, you will notice how much you spend on what does not benefit you. That's the place to trim back. To do this may require more thought than you've given to ideas like 'benefit' and 'provides something vital', which generally does not include anything fashionable or for that matter, anything anyone else can even see. Note, dependable information is crucial now.

Hello Leo -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed).

Spring Checkpoint: Individual Signs Now Available

We will soon figure out that it's actually 2012. The recent retrogrades of Mars and Mercury seemed to create a delay, but really this winter and early spring has been a phase of gestation. Over the next four weeks, the energy starts to pick up pace dramatically, and we will discover where we are and that something unusual, and beautiful, is happening. Even as we approach the truly beautiful potential of the astrology that's developing, many people are struggling with their day-to-day lives. There are more questions than answers; the economic and political situations seem hopeless; the pace of existence is going so fast that there seems to be nowhere to get in a little meaning, or seek some peace of mind.

Planet Waves
Here is where astrology can help. Astrology looks at the longer cycles, and the deeper themes -- and can help you see your life in context of the present moment, no matter how chaotic it may be. Context means a sense of where you fit in that will help you see your potential and make better choices.

For years, I've been helping my clients prepare for making the most of the astrology of the 2012 era. Based on this experience, and many years of study, I've prepared a set of readings for all 12 signs (and rising signs, and Moon signs) that guides you through this astrology, step by step. I cover the most challenging and energized developments of this spring, which includes eclipses, Venus retrograde, the Venus transit of the Sun, and then a few days after the Sun ingresses Cancer, the Uranus-Pluto square.

Each sign gets a half-hour discussion. These came through loud and clear, with strength and meaning. I spent a week designing and recording them, and I am grateful to be able to offer them to you as a tool to help you guide your decisions, as you seek deeper meaning along your journey.

Spring 2012 is a kind of checkpoint along the way to wherever you are going. But really it's a calling into the adventure of existence, a bold invitation to go beyond your past limits and explore something truly new about yourself.

Signs are now available individually for an amazingly low price, cheaper than the paper shopping bag costs at Jimmy Choo -- order your reading here. The report is getting rave reviews from people who are currently working with it, including these words from a customer named Donna: "OMG -- thank you thank you thank you -- just spent this morning listening to my [Spring Report] info, and am so blown away by the accuracy (and relief!) in this experience. Thanks so very much for your part in supporting this work and for showing up in the way that you do!". Here is the link to order.

Please drop us a note if you have any questions.

Eric Francis

Virgo (Aug. 23- Sep. 22)
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22) -- You may have a tendency over the next week or so to say some unusually revealing things in public. My read on this is to go with the flow, even to the point of what you would clearly define as being excessively emotional, sentimental or even getting into topics that you would consider embarrassing. Your primary goal is authenticity, and with that in mind, it's better to err on the side of being real and then address any consequences later. This is really about stretching the boundary between who you are and who you present to the world -- and to do that, you have to figure out where the edge is. If you start to have those experiences where you regret what you said because you think it was too honest or weird, you're heading in the right direction. Your own reaction will be many times stronger than that of anyone else. The boundary, by the way, is the result of your fear of what your mother would think. Clearly it's time to stop worrying about that, though it's often necessary to break the rules first.

Hello Virgo -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed).

Libra (Sep. 22 - Oct. 23)
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23) -- Putting up resistance to what seems like a chaotic relationship influence is not going to work. What will work is doing your best to stay in balance, which calls for flexibility and seeing your options. Resistance, that is, fighting something or tightening your grip, will have the opposite effect -- that of knocking you off kilter. I am not suggesting that you condone anyone's inconsiderate conduct, rather that you do something other than fight it, and you have options. With Venus, your primary planet, still moving in retrograde motion, it may take you a few more weeks to see what those choices are. One of them is to notice what it is about someone that you find challenging and then work out those same attributes in yourself. The thing that may be most irritating is when someone insists they don't know who they are. Beneath any certainty you may feel about who you are, there are some questions that if asked sincerely will have rich rewards.

Hello Libra -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed).

Scorpio (Oct. 23- Nov. 22)
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22) -- We're now just weeks away from the Uranus-Pluto square -- the 2012 aspect. As I've written, this is part of the cycle that set the theme of the 1960s (from approximately '62 to '74), and if you were born then, this is a special time in your life. One difference between then and now is that astrologically speaking, a lot more people know what's happening. Another difference is that what to do is a heck of a lot less obvious today. We can no longer depend on a simplistic analysis of global problems or think that sticking daisies in the barrels of rifles is going to end the wars. You have a cosmic assignment: changing your mind about many things you've taken for granted nearly all of your life. Your old modes of thought no longer serve you, and the pressure has been mounting to make some long-overdue decisions about the course of your life. You may have a grandparent who was a better example than your parents or other authority figures. You, however, have more (and better) options than he or she did.

Hello Scorpio -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed).

Sagittarius (Nov. 22 - Dec. 22)
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22) -- It may seem like the emphasis of your life is shifting to your relationships, though the fact that's overlooked is that your relationships begin with you. You bring how you feel about yourself into every encounter with someone else. We tend to make these experiences about how we feel about the other, yet your feelings about who you are, and how you relate to yourself and your presence in the world, is the one thing that moderates every encounter you have. No matter what may be happening within your partnerships, I suggest you keep the focus on your own growth and happiness, recognizing that without that factor, you have nothing. It's also time to cease the habit of building your identity on another person. This is unfamiliar and indeed terrifying for many people -- the prospect of being who you actually are, with everyone.

Hello Sagittarius -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed).

Capricorn (Dec. 22- Jan. 20)
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20) -- It's time to integrate your approach to health and wellness. There are basically two ways into the matrix -- conventional and holistic. For example, a conventional approach to weight loss would be cutting calories; holistic would be looking at everything you eat and developing a nutritional plan. You may be someone who tends to go from one end of the spectrum to the other without much time spent along the spectrum. Integrating the best of conventional and holistic approaches is especially important where treatment of any chronic illness is concerned, even if the conventional side of the equation is input from a doctor that you trust. There is a time and place for painkillers or antihistamines, but that place is limited; plus, there's a 'natural' alternative to every drug, and I suggest you find the ones you need. Yet an approach that fosters prevention and bringing your system into balance is helpful because you're more involved in the process, and you have to learn the issue from many sides in order to get results.

Hello Capricorn -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed).

Aquarius (Jan. 20- Feb. 19)
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19) -- You may feel like your mind is in a state of chaos, and like you have to impose some authority over yourself to bring your thoughts under control. I suggest you consider whether it's the imposition of control that's creating the chaos, especially if it's coming in the guise of a spiritual path. What you may need to do is purge your mind of old beliefs and teachings, whether you consider them religious, spiritual, mystical or the product of past self-improvement campaigns. No matter how much you want to be a better person, you're still a person, and that's always going to be a bit chaotic -- unless of course you snuff out your creativity, your sex drive and your curiosity. Now, it may be that someone outside you is on an authority trip of some kind -- all the better reason to focus your energy on your passion and vitality rather than using a tourniquet on yourself.

Hello Aquarius -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed).

Pisces (Feb. 19- March 20)
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20) -- Jupiter, the planet associated with your sign since long before Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, is now in Gemini. Two of its first agenda items are: make a square to Neptune in your sign, and another square to Chiron in your sign. The first aspect is about your relationship to your ideals and your idealism. I suggest that you keep your plans modest and practical, for now, but no less visionary. The second aspect will stir up the social crusader in you. Jupiter-Chiron aspects tend to evoke passion, though the specific theme is about applying focused, concentrated wisdom to the affairs of the world. 'The' world includes your home and your personal world. I suggest you use focus and discernment, set your agenda carefully, and remember the wisdom piece, which you could say is using what you know. Your job is not to inform everyone or change everything. Rather, focus on your most meaningful (and relatively few) agenda items very well, over time. Pace yourself -- you're in for the long haul.

Hello Pisces -- Eric has written a new description for your sign that you have access to from this link (no password needed).

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