New Paltz May 10: There’s Nothing You Can Do That Can’t be Done

L. David Eaton, the vice president for student affairs of SUNY New Paltz, listens attentively as Eric speaks at the campus on Thursday night. In 1993, Eaton banned Eric from the college for his reporting activities, and was sued in federal court for doing so. Photo by Colleen Drache.

TONIGHT I get to speak to the campus community for the first time in 16 years about the dioxin and PCB situation in its dorms. In other words, speak about the moral blight, the slowly unfolding environmental crime, the incomprehensible scandal, located on top of a hill in the middle of town. After writing about this for a decade and a half, I get to speak in public locally tonight for the first time, as a guest of the Student Association and an organization called Synthesis.

When we selected Thursday as the evening for the discussion, at a small meeting last weekend, I checked the ephemeris and noticed that the Moon’s Pisces ingress would be at 7:32 pm local time Thursday, so instead of calling the presentation for 7:30 under a void of course Moon, I suggested we do 7:35. Nobody objected; they all seem to read Planet Waves, which runs in a local magazine called Chronogram. It was one of those funny moments of overlap, though my environmental work and my astrology most definitely brew in the same cauldron. The time is printed on the flyers as 7:35 and it’s funny to watch people wiggle their nose at the specific, Japanese-like time of the appointment (they sometimes do things like meet for golf at 3:47 pm).

It has been entirely thanks to Chronogram that I’ve been able to keep this issue alive locally in the past decade that I have been living everyplace but New Paltz. About once a year, I take on the subject, trying to present it a new way. There was the year I described the situation as the Toxic Casino, where you show up for college and gamble your life. I tried another approach for the 11th anniversary of the disaster.

In 2004, I took some samples in places that the state had mysteriously “overlooked,” and (speaking of gambling) went seven for seven. Every place I’ve ever taken a sample in one of SUNY New Paltz’s contaminated dorms, I’ve got back a PCB hit. About 99% of the time when the State of New York takes a sample, it comes up clean. Maybe I’m just lucky. Maybe they’re just lucky.

I figured that sooner or later, if I kept the issue alive in the press and in the search engines, somebody would eventually decide to care. This finally seems to be happening. I understand very well that this is a humble beginning and that it’s difficult to keep these things going once they get started; that there are always obstacles, such as summer vacation and new students coming through every year; but I’ve persisted through a lot less hopeful times.

Tonight I get to tell the story of what happened. (I plan to have audio of my presentation posted more or less immediately, so please check the front page.) The story includes talking about the Westinghouse transformer explosion in Bliss Hall that shot toxins through the structure, along with the other buildings and how they were opened prematurely; and some historical background. New Paltz is usually called an accident, but both GE and Westinghouse (the manufacturers) knew long before New Paltz that PCB transformers explode.

“As you know,” GE engineer T. L. Mayes cautioned his colleagues in an April 9, 1974 memo, “Westinghouse had a network transformer explosion recently, resulting in two fatalities.” I got this nifty document because GE produced it, by court order, in a lawsuit brought against them by the Nevada Power Co., which I covered for the Sierra and The Village Voice.

Mayes also mentioned that some grades of PCBs apparently create an explosive gas when transformers malfunction — a danger the company concealed from its customers. Neither were customers, such as SUNY New Paltz, informed that when burned (as in an explosion or fire), PCBs create dioxins and dibenzofurans — although the manufacturers knew this by 1970 at the latest. In fact, PCBs were aggressively marketed as safety products; the manufacturers even convinced insurance companies to require their customers to use PCB transformers. (There is a word for this; namely, capitalism.)

But mostly, I have this to say. If we want to start “saving the planet,” we need to start with the obvious, with what we can see and ultimately with what we can actually do, then work from there. We can actually shut down four contaminated dorms and get students out of danger. We can actually have them demolished and we can actually have them rebuilt. This is easier than stopping the Antarctic ice sheet from melting and probably less important in the scheme of things, but it is in fact something we can do that can be done.

However, we don’t really know how important this local project is. My sense is that, just as the story of New Paltz helped reveal the entire sordid 50-year history of these chemicals, if we are able to get some results in New Paltz, we may be able to set a new zero-contamination standard for all forms of indoor PCB and dioxin exposure. As it turns out, the risk assessment used by the State of New York is the worldwide gold standard for indoor cleanups — and it’s old and badly flawed. It was published more than two decades ago, and these have been profound times of discovery for the toxic mechanisms involved in these chemicals. But it makes one particularly grave error: it assumes a safe level of exposure.

But this elicits the question: how many shots is it moral to shoot into the crowd in a football stadium? When you talk about a “safe level,” you really mean “negligible risk” and that means you kill a few people — but nobody knows how many. This by the way is the same issue with lawn products and the insecticide sprayed on your broccoli.

However, today for Planet Waves, I would like to unveil the mysteries of the astrology behind this situation, and see what astrology secrets it may reveal. Here is our chart.

This is the chart for when a car skidded off South Putt Corners Road one icy morning, hit a utility pole, and created the power spike that blew up the transformers. We could look at other charts, such as for when the fire department was called 57 minutes later, but this basically is the thing that gets the whole story started; the first domino.

Looking at this chart in 2007, the first thing I notice is that Ceres is in the ascendant (at 26+ Sagittarius). Not just Ceres, but in an exact conjunction with the Galactic Core. Both are rising, moments away from crossing the 1st house cusp. Because Ceres has so recently been declared a kind of planet (a dwarf planet, last summer, upgraded from asteroid) we still need to be in the mode where we let her tell us what she is about, rather than trying to interpret too much. Whatever she is about, it’s local (she is rising at the moment of the car accident) and it’s also global or universal (she is conjunct the Galactic Core). But Ceres is also about a mom whose daughter was kidnapped down to hell, an apt image for the New Paltz dioxin dorms.

Now, let’s add a transit. Our focus is on late Sagittarius: notice the clustering of planets. When I took my latest samples in the late winter of 2004, Pluto was one degree away from the ascendant, at about 22+ Sagittarius. In the three years since, Pluto has been working its way back and forth over the ascendant. This has been giving the issue an identity and in a real sense been symbolic of a personal transformation. Another way to look at it is that Pluto has been hiding in the 12th house (indeed, since around 1996), but building up the pressure all the while.

Pluto, as we know, is currently heading for Capricorn, and this chart has its Sun (yellow circle), North Node (horseshoe), Uranus (the letter H with a line through it) and Neptune (a trident) in Capricorn. Many people are asking what Pluto in Capricorn is about, and one thing it’s about is that every chart with something in the early cardinal signs (Aries, Cancer, Libra, Capricorn) is going to be taking a series of Pluto transits over the next few years — including the New Paltz disaster chart. While we’re here, let’s consider that Capricorn cluster in the event chart for a moment.

Notably, Uranus and Neptune, two outer planets, are in a conjunction. This occurs much less than once per century, and has been associated with many global changes to corporations, governments and the shape of society itself (as we know from the history of that era.). Uranus-Neptune in Capricorn is the disintegration of, combined with revolution within, structure. It was not long after this that we saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and the USSR. In a chart for a toxic release, we need to find the imagery of the poisons. Uranus (science) conjunct Neptune (liquids and gasses) in Capricorn (structures) works pretty good.

The Chiron-Saturn opposition is also underway, which as I mentioned recently seems to reveal the weaknesses in structures. I would count Chiron retrograde in the 8th as yet another factor holding closed death’s door that morning.

Notice that the Capricorn is Sun near one of the lunar nodes, in this case, the North Node. Remember: any time you have the Sun and one of the nodes nearby, an eclipse is in the vicinity. This particular eclipse arrives on the evening of Jan. 4, and is within one degree of Uranus. Odd and not necessarily good things often happen around eclipses (Chernobyl, for example). This eclipse has a couple of special properties: one, that conjunction with Uranus means something big is up; two, the fact that it happens early in one of the cardinal signs means that something big is up (recall that the Asian tsunami occurred within hours of a Full Moon around these degrees of the zodiac).

Notice that Mars is rising. Mars rising is pretty classic astrology for an accident; in this chart, Mars literally works like the detonator that sets off a larger series of explosions.

Damage done to Bliss Hall when a Westinghouse PCB transformer exploded on Dec. 29, 1991. Photo by Eric Francis.

Now, as bad as this all seems to be, we cannot forget the miracle in the midst. Take a look at this picture. This was the scene of the Bliss Hall explosion. Had this happened a few days earlier, this dorm would have had 190 women sleeping in it (particularly at 6:30 in the morning; nobody would have been in exams).

The day it happened, to my knowledge, there were no people at all in the building, not even the resident director. Had this transformer explosion occurred with the building full, it would have been a very different story. Though Bliss was a particularly nasty event, the same would have been the case in Capen, Gage and Scudder halls, where transformers burned and where a total of 990 students lived at the time and still live today.

As it happened, about 25 people were exposed to toxins (mostly in Capen Hall, the dorm being used for the international students who could not go home, and several fire guys and a janitor in Gage). As it was, there were not enough ambulances to easily bring people to the hospital with just 25 people exposed. Imagine if there had been a thousand students, plus all the people involved in the search and rescue mission getting them out of their rooms. Are you following me? And this was all avoided because winter break had begun a few days earlier.

So recognizing this, we need to look in the chart for some symbolism of protection. Here is what I get: Ceres and the Moon, which are making an aspect (a sextile). The Moon is the highest planet, it does very well in Libra, and it is applying (pushing into an aspect) with Ceres. This will be the last aspect the Moon makes before going void of course in Libra. Ceres, as we have seen, is close to the Galactic Core. (Pallas, a goddess whose purview includes governments, is about protection, and the 12th house magnifies things beyond their normal scale. It was a very lucky day for the students who were not there, and a lucky day for the State University of New York, an arm of the government.)

So let’s just say the Goddess is watching over this chart. Sagittarius rising does not hurt, which gives us Jupiter in the 9th house — but that tells a different story: it’s about the ensuing scandal.

Let’s visit that briefly. Jupiter is the ascendant ruler, in Virgo in the 9th. This is interesting imagery for a university (both Jupiter and the 9th could be symbols for that). But I think that the Sagittarius 12th house is a lot more interesting. The 12th is the house of all that is very, very large, and all that is concealed from easy perception. As it turns out, the New Paltz incident was the trigger that enabled me to document and expose the whole history of the PCB cover-up. (Notably, the Capricorn eclipse and the Virgo Jupiter are close to my natal angles and aspecting many of my natal planets.)

In this chart, we have three planets in the 12th: Mars, Mercury and Pallas. There is quite a bit hidden. There is the implication of malice in that Mars-Mercury, a bit of “true believership” (poisons are safe) in the Sagittarius coloring; and a bit of secret strategy with Pallas in the 12th. (The 12th says secrets and Pallas is about strategy.)

Mercury is square Jupiter. Mercury is also on the Great Attractor. Jupiter is square the Great Attractor. This is big, it’s tense, and in essence, Mercury and Jupiter are at odds with one another with the GA mixed in — the GA always blows things to another level. It is a kind of high-stakes clash.

Now for a subtle move: Mercury and Jupiter are in mutual reception; Mercury is in a sign ruled by Jupiter (Sagg) and vice versa (Jupiter in Virgo). They can switch places, and are in a sense married to one another. (Less kind writers than myself have described mutual reception as a hostage situation, and I do admit to holding the college hostage, just as it is holding the students hostage.) This dance, between Mercury and Jupiter, and Virgo and Sagittarius, is what I will politely refer to as the investigative reporting factor. It connotes a long, commingled relationship between two entities of very different sizes, one of whom has a pen and one of whom has a lot of documents on its hands. Here is a picture of the mutual reception: many contents of the state’s file cabinet went into my personal file cabinet; all of my articles have been carefully read and filed away by state officials. We know a lot about one another.

Now, as for the future. Take a look at the progressions to this horoscope, using the day per year method that also moves the ascendant one degree per day (quotidian secondary progressions). I highly recommend checking progressions of ALL charts, whether you think you know how to read them or not; a progressed chart is merely another chart. Here you go. What do you see?

I see a lot of Capricorn planets. A heck of a lot of them. With Pluto coming into Capricorn in 2008 and spending the next dozen or so years there, this issue is not going away any time soon. It’s not going away for the world, and it’s certainly not going away in New Paltz. The only question is whether and how soon the community can and will mobilize, which is another way of saying, how many people will be exposed and get sick before these useless, toxic buildings have their inevitable meeting with the wrecking ball. And as this happens, we may begin to get some clues to the much bigger question, who will take responsibility for dioxins and PCBs?

Photo by Priya Kale.




Weekly Horoscope for Friday, May 11, 2007, #662 – By ERIC FRANCIS

Aries (March 20-April 19)
Do what you can to avoid a power struggle. The real showdown should be within yourself: that overdue long talk, the big decision, some experience of reaching into a radical core of awareness deep inside yourself. Don’t push too hard, though. The planets are moving, and they are moving you. You are carrying enough momentum to get the process started; indeed, it started quite a while ago, mainly in the form of you making a conscious decision to face your fears. If it works out that developments of the first few days involve a more serious than usual run-in with anxiety or some form of turmoil, ride it out, and make sure you don’t do it alone. Someone who cares about you is indeed available to provide emotional and moral support.

Taurus (April 19-May 20)
You’ve been wrestling with the two different ways of looking at the situation, and seem lately to have discovered a third. Finally, you know that it’s less about your opinion and more about how you feel. The perilous waters you came through recently demanded that you honestly assess both your life story and the impact that another person was having on you; and that you make a commitment to change. Yet the unusual thing is that you actually did squeeze some authentic progress out of yourself, despite your precious skepticism and well-mannered reticence. I trust that the moral of the story is, there’s no point playing games with yourself.

Gemini (May 20-June 21)
It’s difficult to change an attitude if you don’t know you have it. Sometimes it’s necessary to deduce our own beliefs and values by what we keep running up against in life and in relationships; sometimes we can look closely at an unusual success and make an important discovery as well. If you will honestly size up both your perceived successes and your failures, you will be able to make a composite picture of what you believe and why you believe it. Gemini is a mutable sign, but the truth is you make your decisions with great concern and nothing resembling a frivolous approach. However, there is only so careful you can really be.

Cancer (June 21-July 22)
I am sure it comes with great relief that Venus is now in your sign: this is both about the arrival of some reassuring news, as well as accessing your own love-light from inside you so that it can glow all around you. In a world where we bring our own light, this is the best light with which to view the world. It’s what you’ve been looking for but somehow missing — and it was everywhere. You can now work with the feeling-tone rather than the idea; the inner sense rather than the perception or expectation of what it feels like to live in a world where emotional contact is abundant and where people are generous with one another, and with you. Yet something else is going on — perhaps something too good for words.

Leo (July 22-Aug. 23)
The twists and turns of the past several days have, at the least, compelled you to be honest with yourself. One layer of honesty has been admitting a sense of injury; another seems to have involved teetering back and forth over a question of what was true and what was not, and in particular, whether you were being true to yourself or not. I believe you have succeeded in ascertaining a level of reality, but that you did so in a way you were not expecting, perhaps spurred on by a sense of loss or unmet expectations. This has left behind little more than ripples in the pond, and a vague memory of some deep need that you know you must fulfill.

Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
Ideology is dangerous. But the nice thing about it is that it’s so frail. You can think you’re right one day; you find out you were wrong the next day; the following day, the fact of being wrong, though presenting a momentary struggle, turned out to be a great gift, because had you not made that discovery, you would have missed an even greater one. What has become obvious is that someone you may have been wondering about has proven to be an authentic friend. There was likely some profound experience they went through that woke them up initially, but certain compelling factors that have been developing over the long haul have finally had a voice.

Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)
The notion of a career is extremely strange. It implies something separate from yourself, when you could not at this point be feeling any more connected to what you do, or to what you know you must do. A missing factor has come into your awareness, which is the need to take leadership in your own life, and to some extent, in the lives of people around you. It’s been brewing for a while, and was even starting to get results before the message came through loud and clear this week. You have the charm and the charisma to get what you want from people, and to convince them of what they probably want — under two conditions. One, make sure you’re not trying to be The Empress, just your friendly self. If you assert too much authority, you will meet resistance. Two, you need to refine your message a bit.

Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
I cannot imagine what it’s like to be a Scorpio and have your two running planets, the mighty Mars and the even greater Pluto, meet in a square aspect, as they are doing now. Yet this is occurring for the first time in nearly 300 years with Pluto on the Galactic Core. The suggestion here is that in the depths of personal conflict, inner working-out and personal clashes over your values, you will find something entirely different — a way to the future; a way to freedom. Many times you have found yourself in the same place, though without getting anywhere near the results you would expect given the amount of energy you’ve exerted. Now there is something new in the equation.

Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22)
Emotional pressures are simmering, and they are finally conflicting with your typically neat and simplified view of the world. This is your opportunity to see that optimism and order are a kind of façade painted over a much more complicated set of emotional circumstances. It’s also a chance to see that embracing the complexity of your family situation, your emotional life and your less-than-solid sense of safety on the planet provide opportunities for growth that would be impossible otherwise. Over the next few days, you will have a choice for how to assess a situation that seems to emerge from nowhere. In truth, it’s emerging from inside you, and that is where you need to direct your energy.

Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20)
It is clear that you’ve been getting in touch with your weaknesses, which has provided a source of constant strength. Admitting your insecurities has an odd way of making them evaporate. Revealing your fears and concerns in relationships is excellent for your self-esteem. What you need to work on, however, is this lingering sense that you somehow lack value, or that others must provide something not that you are lacking, but that you refuse to add to the equation yourself. Try saying yes in situations where you might have otherwise been inclined to say no. This is just a suggestion, though only you will be able to verify if it’s getting results.

Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)
Whatever you may think, you can take the time, space and bandwidth to express your creativity and passion. You have clearly been hung up on certain very fixed ideas about your security, personal resources and your overall sense of safety in the world. But these have largely been preoccupations of your mind. When Mercury changes signs today, it will become abundantly clear that not only do you have less to worry about than you think, but the answer to the riddle involves creativity and not fear. This is always easier said than done — except when your creative energy is flowing. The only risk you run over the next few days is that the flow goes a little quicker than you’re expecting, so pay attention and try to feel your ideas rather than memorize them.

Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
Personal matters and professional affairs are finally coming to a head; the same head, in fact, so you need to keep a cool head. The decisions you make now will get results, so make them carefully; carefully means with care. Obviously, you do. In actual fact, you have the commitment and the leverage that you need to get this job done. Making changes takes strength; you will find it. Though certain people in your environment have taken their sweet time waking up, I think you’ll find that within a few days you will be able to have a real conversation, one that should go a long way toward untangling some of the seeming contradictions with which you’ve been grappling. But remember — whatever they may say or do, you are the one making the decisions that affect your life.

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