My New Post on the HuffPo: The Bleak Necessity of the Dachau Tour
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My New Post on the HuffPo: The Bleak Necessity of the Dachau Tour

Business in Milan with my Italian publisher, Marco Tropea Editore, afforded me a timely opportunity to take a train into Bavaria.

I’m working on a new novel set in Munich and Berlin during the Second World War. For detail and realism, I need to experience a place. Reading books, listening to on-line lectures, and watching videos are no substitute for trudging through a city, absorbing through my pores the buildings and people and language, the smell of wurst and rich taste of Augustiner beer and slant of light through chestnut trees.

Munich is a lovely city in which to practice the writerly art of osmosis. Its buildings rollick through the ages, from the Romanesque Peterskirche to the neo-Baroque Justizpalast to the modern skyscraper Hypo-Haus. In the center of town, the Marienplatz bustles with a heterogeneous mix of people. It’s easy to get around because of the dazzling array of public transportation choices: the bus, the tram, the S-bahn, and the U-bahn–all very efficient.

In this world of dialectic, dichotomy, and duality, where there is beauty, there is found ugliness, and where there is light, comes the darkness. Lovely Munich’s history harbors astonishing cruelty. Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp and the deadly prototype for all others, lies twenty kilometers outside of town.

A story set in Germany during this time necessarily references concentration camps. Germans seem to agree. When I joined a tour to Dachau, which had been a munitions factory during the First World War, Tom the Welsh tour guide commented, “Germans study what happened here, they face it honestly. I regularly see school classes.”

Indeed, I spied a group of young people who looked like high school students. They listened carefully to their teacher, a bespectacled woman who spoke with a fierce thoughtfulness that elicited from them a corresponding intensity of focus.

Read the rest of my post here on the Huffington Post.


Dump the Dump: No garbage facility in a residential area, NYC
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Dump the Dump: No garbage facility in a residential area, NYC

Dump the Dump

No giant garbage dump belongs in a residential community. Especially not one where over a hundred thousand children use the athletic facilities every week.

NYC has had its share of ambitious, cold-blooded politicians who, in their quest for power, care nothing when people get hurt. Speaker Christine Quinn is one of those politicians.
Speaker Quinn has openly boasted of her lust for higher office, and of her certainty that since she “has” Staten Island and the Bronx, she doesn’t need Manhattan. She’s certainly got it in for the Upper East Side–and the hundreds of thousands of children who attend school or participate in athletics there every single week.
Appropriating seductive ‘green’ terminology and the rhetoric of fairness–“Manhattan needs to do its fair share with trash”–Speaker Quinn has ardently supported a giant garbage processing facility at E. 91st street that will hurt East-Harlem and Yorkville. The euphemism being used for this 10 story plant, to which up to 500 garbage trucks will roll every day, is “marine transfer station.”
This garbage dump–let’s NOT use the political euphemism by which Speaker Quinn proposes to damage an entire neighborhood–will run 6 days a week, 24 hours per day. It will require a huge ramp to be built, and this ramp will literally bisect one the city’s most beloved, and most used, athletic facilities: Asphalt Green.
This neighborhood is home to dozens of schools, and the air pollution will rise by a minimum of 16%.

Noise levels, with hundreds of heavy garbage trucks rolling through every day, will rise beyond legal limits.
The East River estuary will be poisoned.
Shockingly enough, the City admits all of this in its reports!
Moreover, NO MONEY will be saved. Just the opposite, in fact. This abomination will require a new tax on New Yorkers–a garbage tax. At a time when money is already being cut from essential programs.
Worse, the Independent Budget Office prepared a report showing that the cost of this facility has skyrocketed beyond reason. The cost has risen from $55 million to more than $245 million. Many people expect it to reach $400 million.
From the website
There Are Sane Trash Solutions:
The City plans to dump garbage at the MTS and then ship that trash on barges to costly and environmentally unfriendly landfills that have not been identified yet. That multi-step, hugely expensive process, which will send “garbage barges to nowhere,” is not a sane solution. It is much more sensible to continue what the City is currently doing—transporting much of Manhattan’s residential trash in clean air vehicles directly to a “waste to energy” plant in New Jersey. The garbage is then converted to much-needed electrical energy.
That is a sane solution that preserves precious resources, and answers the City’s “borough equity” argument: other boroughs will not be absorbing Manhattan’s residential garbage that is disposed of in this way. It is not equitable to single out our residential neighborhood as the only one in the City with an industrial municipal waste facility.


START CALLING SPEAKER QUINN’S OFFICE: 212 564 7757 OR 212 788 7210 and let her know:


Moreover, the cost of building this plant has escalated wildly from $35mm to over $250 mm and 
The Health and Safety of East Harlem and Yorkville is in serious danger!


Note that garbage trucks have one of the highest pedestrian death accident rates!!

TOXIC YOGA MATS… When your practice isn’t as pure as you think
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TOXIC YOGA MATS… When your practice isn’t as pure as you think


I discovered yoga ten years ago, when I was going through a difficult life passage. It was months of anguish. My then-boyfriend, now-husband finally said, “Time for you to fix yourself. I’m calling the ashtanga center downtown to send you a teacher.”
            My first yoga teacher Laura soon arrived. My first few lessons were an initiation into the humiliation of twisty pain. I got to meet myself: all the stuck muscles, organs, nerves, and joints where I wasn’t breathing, where I wasn’t conscious.
            But yoga did the trick. There was no place in adhomukha svanasana or ardha chandrasana for fixating on the ups-and-downs of my life. Yoga is a brilliant pattern interrupt, and within a few weeks, my outlook on life had improved.
            A few months later, another light bulb clicked on over my head. I was watching Laura demonstrate triangle pose, and the graceful consciousness with which she let her straight back leg pull her front body forward until she clasped her big toe spoke to me. I got it: there was a better way. A better way to move. A better way to feel. A better way to live. My practice of yoga was born in that moment.
Mine is a common story. People go to yoga to feel better, to breathe more fully, and, yes, to work toward that delicious, lithe, tricepy yoga body. We go to know ourselves more fully. We go to detox, both mentally and physically.
            So it was with great, unpleasant surprise that I recently discovered my yoga studio smearing industrial strength cleaner on yoga mats between classes.
            Pure Yoga, owned by Equinox gym, opened up on the upper West Side of Manhattan about a year before I wandered in. Again, I was trying to heal myself: I’d struggled through low thyroid function before a holistic doctor put me on Armour thyroid. I felt better and I wanted to lose the weight and get back in shape. I wanted my body to feel supple and agile again. I wanted the clean energy yoga instills.
            Pure Yoga offers a range of terrific classes, and most teachers are skilled, respectful, and thoughtful about the body. The facilities are gorgeous. Equinox, and the decorator, went to pains to design a yoga studio that emphasizes peace and calm and that evokes everything ‘sattvic’ or pure about yoga and meditation.
            When I joined, I was told, “You don’t need to bring your own mat. We provide them, and our mats are clean.” I took that at face value.
            That was my mistake. While Pure does regularly wash its mats in machines, sometimes the cleaning people just spray the mats. I happened to see them doing so on a busy Saturday, when there probably wasn’t time to take up the mats between classes.
            Curious, I wandered in and picked up one of the spray bottles. ‘Industrial Strength Cleaner’ read the label.
            “You’re spraying this toxic stuff on mats that people are going to be right on top of for an hour?” I asked, appalled. The guy shrugged and mumbled something.
            Class was about to start; I didn’t have time to peruse the ingredients. I took a rolled-up mat out of a wall bin and hoped it had actually gone through a washing machine. I also hoped there weren’t any pregnant women in the class. As a general principle of looking out for pregnant women (having had three children myself), I didn’t want them pressing their exposed flesh into the stew of chemicals that had been smeared around the mat’s surface. The flesh on the inside of the arms is particularly permeable, and poses like child’s pose and dolphin pose, among others, call for arms outstretched, pressing into the mat.
            I was right to be concerned. Dr. Linda Hillebrand, with a practice in Brentwood, California, who has studied and consulted regarding environmental toxicity, said:
  1.   Cleaning supplies are some of the most toxic products and certain chemicals can pose health and/or environmental risks. There are “less toxic” commercial cleaning products now available.  However, because manufacturers are not required to list all of their ingredients, unless they are active disinfectants or known to be potentially hazardous, it can be challenging to sort through all of these products.
  2.    Read the labels and avoid harmful ingredients whenever possible.  Some of these ingredients are: Nonyphenol ethoxylates (NPE’s) which, when released into the environment, break down into toxic substances that can act as hormone disrupters, potentially interfering with reproduction. Antibacterials in cleaners may cause local (skin and eye) irritation, and certain types, such as triclosan, may contribute to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Some studies also suggest that triclosan could form dioxin, a carcinogen in the presence of sunlight and chloroform, a probable human carcinogen, in the presence of chlorinated water.
  3.    Ammonia is poisonous when swallowed, extremely irritating to respiratory passages when inhaled, and can burn the skin on contact. Butyl cellosolve(butyl glycol, ethylene glycol, monobutyl) is a lung tissue irritant and is poisonous when swallowed. Chlorine Bleach (Sodium Hypochlorate) causes irritation to lungs and eyes. If chlorine and bleach are mixed, they can form a dangerous gas that can severely damage the lungs. D-limonene can cause skin irritation. Diethanolamine (DEA) and Triethanolamine (TEA) can produce carcinogenic compounds which can penetrate the skin when combined with nitrosomes (many times used as an undisclosed preservative).
  4.    The term ‘disinfectants’ includes a wide variety of ingredients (such as chlorine bleach, alcohol, quaternary compounds, pine oil, ethyl alcohol), some of which are regulated by the EPA as pesticides. Hydrochloric acid can severely burn skin and irritate the eyes and respiratory tract. Naptha can cause headache, nausea, central nervous system symptoms with overexposure. Petroleum based ingredients (surfactants), also includes formaldehyde, a carcinogen. Phosphatesare toxic to the environment.
  5.    Best advice is to research the products or better yet—make your own cleaning products.


            In fact, my first response was to ask to research the ‘Industrial Strength Cleaner’ so I would know exactly what Pure Yoga proposed that I lie on, inhale, and absorb. After class, I went to the desk to speak with the manager, to ask permission to take a photo of the bottle label so I could do the research.
            A desk attendant suggested that industrial strength cleaner wasn’t actually in the bottles labeled ‘Industrial Strength Cleaner.’ She said, “Maybe they just use those bottles, but that’s not what’s in them.” I suppose it is possible that the industrial strength cleaner, which is not free but must be purchased, was dumped out so that Pure Yoga could spray the mats with something non-toxic, something ‘pure.’
            Anything is possible.
            The manager finally emerged. Her immediate response was to stonewall and to cast me as an agitated client. I was polite and calm, but I did repeatedly ask for the opportunity to take a photo so I could research the ingredients. She refused, saying, “I’m just trying to work with you.”
            “If you’re trying to work with me,” I answered, “then you’ll permit me to photograph the bottle label so I can research the ingredients and see if they’re toxic.”
            But she was in full cover-up mode. No permission was forthcoming. I told her that I would blog about this episode. “Do you realize that pregnant women are lying on the chemicals in that cleaner, and possibly absorbing those chemicals through their skin into their bloodstream to pass on to their unborn children?”
            “Go ahead and blog,” she said scornfully.
            But there’s more than toxic chemicals at stake here. Dr. Debra Jaliman, a dermatologist with a busy practice and author of the popular book Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist (St. Martin’s Press, March, 2012) said this about yoga mats: “In my practice I’ve seen a variety of infections from yoga mats. Bacterial infections are the most common, like impetigo and boils. I have even seen MRSA staph infections. I have also treated athlete’s foot, which is a fungal infection, plantar warts, and herpes. The best thing would be to bring your own mat, but if not, rubbing alcohol is a good way to sanitize a mat without toxic chemicals.”
            Perhaps regulations require yoga mats to be sanitized with certain chemicals. If so, it’s my feeling that an establishment that promotes itself as ‘pure’ must disclose those chemicals to their patrons. We deserve to know. Hiding the truth from well-intentioned yogis who go to yoga to detox is not ethical.

            But the bottom line is: bring your own yoga mat. Even a studio that takes pains to promote its purity may well be hiding something toxic.


What I’m not supposed to say on air, Or, Longing for a way out of the Sponsorship Duopoly

Lately I am promoting my new novel FALLEN, mostly on the internet, with an emphasis on internet radio. The other day an old friend hosted me on his show New Perspectives, on At one point I quoted Ann Coulter.

All hell broke loose.
I happened to read her blog “The Sun Never Sets on the British Welfare System,” and I agreed with it. So I brought it up in the interview. I should have been talking about my novel FALLEN, of course. But of late I am deeply concerned about the state of the nation, and of the world.
We do not live in a democracy, here in the waning years of the United States. We live in a sponsorship duopoly, in which public service has been replaced by public relations, and both the Republicans and the Democrats are deeply financially beholden to monied international corporations that function as sovereign nation-states without accountability or oversight.
Self-congratulatory liberals–and I am becoming convinced that they are, as a group, the most self-satisfied, narcissistic, least-self-examining, most judgmental people in the world–like to brandish Obama as the great white hope, savior of mankind. Oops, I mean, the great Harvard-educated hope. Oh, am I still getting it wrong? What is it that makes them feel morally superior when they look at him?
But Noam Chomsky has called Obama a “creation of the financial institutions” and spoken out about how Obama was financed by banks like Goldman Sachs. He has rewarded them quite generously. For me, I am appalled that Obama put Monsanto’s stoolie Vilsack in such a powerful position as Secretary of Agriculture. Furthermore, the FDA Food Safety Division is now run by Monsanto’s executive Michael Taylor.
Obama’s gift to us all. How much money does he owe Monsanto? How generously did they donate to him to get him to hand over the American food supply to them?
Do people realize how many gifts Obama is giving Monsanto, terms of genetically modified foods/plants? How organic foods are severely compromised, as is our access to them and to vitamins and herbal supplements?
More and more evidence is leaking out about how dangerous GMO food is. I use the term “leaking out” because the media tries hard to keep us in the dark about this danger. Just as there has been a near total black-out about the true danger of radiation in Japan. See Gary Null’s recent work on this terrifying issue: that nuclear power is a huge, billion-dollar, fantastically dangerous scam.
The question about the public’s awareness of Monsanto controlling our food supply pales in comparison to another question: why don’t the self-satisfied liberals see that Obama is eviscerating the middle class?
The rich are rich and always take care of themselves. Obama likes the proletariat, at least in theory. (One friend claims that his education at Harvard was paid for by Brezhnev.) He was a member of the Communist party.
Obama claims to be trying to help the proletariat. He gives a good speech but he’s pretty ineffectual, terms of doing anything. It’s the middle class, and small businesses, that are suffering because of Obama’s “Take care of the rich and the proletariat, but mostly the rich” credo. Chomsky goes so far as to say “Obama is a man of absolutely no principles… For them (the popular constituency) he is doing absolutely nothing.”
Recently I heard one definition of fascism: the alignment of state and corporation. Hello, Obama’s alignment with Monsanto and Goldman Sachs!!
But I don’t like the Republicans any more than I like Obama. As far as I can see, they’re more honest in some ways. They don’t pretend to do more than protect the rich and suck up to multi-national corporations. But is that the best we can hope for: Democratic chicanery vs. cold Republican greed?
For the record: I am NOT an Ann Coulter fan. Many of her antics are egregious and deplorable. I just think she’s not always wrong. This notion sets me up for rebuke and scorn by Liberals, who are the new Inquisitors. That is, they feel completely justified in rebuking and scorning anyone who does not think exactly as they do on all matters. Anyone who is not liberal according to their brand of liberalism is a racist, right wing, conservative, nutjob–eg, a bad person.

There can be no dissent when liberals are around, because they have a monopoly on the truth. Also, they are morally superior to everyone else. The New York Times will tell you that for a fact, and everyone knows the Times is completely neutral and unbiased.
In my opinion, partisan politics has made fools of everyone. There must be a middle way, a third option, a third party who can redeem this country.
I agree with the Republicans that big government is bad government. I’d like to cut government spending and to knock the unions down to the place where we can afford to bring jobs back from overseas to the US. I want a strong military; I think too many liberals are seriously afflicted with the wish-fulfillment fantasy that “If we are tolerant of them, they will be tolerant of us.”
At the same time, I am pro-Choice. I am anti-Death penalty. I am pro Gay marriage. I am pro separation of church and state. I want evolution taught in school to my kids, not intelligent design.
Most of all, I am pro-small businesses. Small AMERICAN businesses. How do we strengthen and encourage them? Because my husband is a sculptor and he employs models, foundry workers, bronze finishers, shipping and moving companies, etc., so I see first-hand how a small business creates income for a lot of people.
But with both the Republicans and the Democrats fixated on the big, ruthless, amoral corporations, small businesses don’t have a chance. And we are all worse for it.
I am anti-big multinational corporations. They care only for their bottom line. They do not care for human life. Certainly Monsanto does not.
So where is the candidate who is fiscally conservative, socially liberal, and pro-small businesses?
I liked a lot of what Perry said in his announcement speech, but I am not going to vote for a religious zealot.
So I quoted Ann Coulter. As soon as the radio interview ended, some friends texted me. One friend, a great wit and great heart, has been giving me hell, telling me I am the only person he knows who quotes her. I texted back, “I sometimes quote Snoopy too.”
He emailed me a parody of a novel written by Snoopy. So darn funny. I guess you had to be there. A few nights later we were going to dinner. I texted him, “Ann C is coming. She heard you were her #1 fan and can’t wait to meet you.”
He texted back about a smartphone app for applying for foodstamps that she’d be interested in.
They probably already have the app in the UK. We won’t get it here in the US until Monsanto has thoroughly adulterated the food supply and we are all so sick that we take a daily regimen of Monsanto drugs to stay healthy.
What a great racket, right? Make people sick and then sell them the drugs to cure it. Endorsed by Obama. The savior.
Big Brother is Watching
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Big Brother is Watching

A courageous news team in Houston reported on the Houston Police Department’s testing of an unmanned drone with a high-def, long-range camera that can see inside people’s homes. Check out the video report here.

Mostly I regard the Fourth Estate with skepticism. News media have long since sold out to the government to garner exclusives and to curry favor, to Big Business because Big Business owns the media outlets, and to the lowest common denominator of populist taste because they need to sell copies or gain ratings to stay in business. Objectivity is a myth. Wikileaks is doing what the media should do, but media outlets long ago lost the balls to execute their own mandate: inform the public. Of everything.
However, in this case, local K2 news in Houston did what the media should do: it kept an eye on the police. The Houston Police Department tried to keep media out, and lied to the pilot of the news copter about FAA restrictions. When the Houston Police Department realized that they’d been seen despite their attempts at security, they scrambled to give a press report.
Yes, unmanned drones can have helpful, protective, practical applications, like putting out brush fires and following bank robbers. But make no mistake: this drone will certainly be used by Big Brother, by which I mean the police, FBI, Homeland Security, etc. to deprive civilians of their privacy. To collect information “just in case.”
We all know that information can be massaged to prove any point whatsoever.
It is unfortunate but true that 9/11 has been used to destroy civil liberties. “American freedom” is a myth, a nostalgic idea from a past that has vanished. Totalitarianism approaches. Much of it is financially oriented. We live in a time when Big Business has won, and continues to win, so many legislative victories depriving individuals of choice and forcing individuals to pay outrageous prices that Big Business has become an arm of the government, controlling us. I’ve said it before and will say it again: There is a pattern at work in the world. The pattern is the slow but steady erosion of civil liberties and individual rights. These are handed over to Big Business so that the few can make money at the expense of the many. BEWARE.
Then there are the security forces, who inexorably increase their power so as to enslave the public, eradicate free speech, eliminate the free dissemination of ideas, and deprive us of our privacy.
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Letter to Senators Gillibrand and Schumer re the Leahy Bill

Nov 19, 2010

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Russell Senate Office Building, Room 478
Constitution and Delaware Avenues, NE
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Gillibrand,

I am deeply concerned that Sen. Leahy’s Food Safety Accountability Act of 2010 (S. 3767) may be included in or attached to the Food Safety Bill (S. 510), either via the manager’s amendment package or as a floor amendment.

I was dismayed to read the original language of S. 3767, which contained new and draconian ten-year jail terms for adulterating or misbranding food. This was unacceptable because of the way the FDA interprets the words “adulterating” and “misbranding.” You could have gone to jail for ten years just for citing scientific research from leading universities about your food product!

I was pleased to learn that the bill has been amended. It now says you don’t go to jail for up to ten years unless you “consciously or recklessly disregard a risk of death or serious bodily injury.”
This is better, but unacceptably vague and subjective. Actual harm should be required for such a long jail term. In addition, this amendment included new language which both specifically targeted supplements and made a lapse in filing to the FDA subject to the full ten-year jail term (see the reference to subsection V of Section 301 of the Federal Food and Drug Act). Paperwork violations should not lead to ten years in jail or threats of such jail terms. Why was this new language added? How can it possibly be justified?

Senators are currently editing S. 510 behind closed doors, as they draft the Manager’s Amendment Package, which may be substituted in place of the current Food Safety bill. It could include the Leahy bill language, and the public may not have an opportunity to review such changes before the Senate votes. If changes are made, both the Senate and the public ought to have notice of them and a chance to comment before a vote.

As one of your constituents, I want you to know that I take dietary supplements regularly, and value their help in keeping my family healthy. The Leahy bill, even after improvement in some respects, is still a misguided attempt to protect our food supply or ensure the safety of supplements. There is still too much risk that natural product makers will be threatened, silenced, and penalized.

At this point, I wonder if it will soon be necessary to obtain a medical permit to buy carrots, because carrots are full of Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, which supports excellent eye health, among other benefits. If I buy carrots and support my eyes, I will not buy some expensive, harmful medication to do that–and Big Pharma loses money. Clearly this bill is the foot soldier of the big pharmaceutical companies, who are out to eradicate competition to their expensive and side-effect laden drugs. Only Big Pharma stands to gain from this bill–which is why they have paid Senators so much money to craft it. The American consumer will not be helped by this so-called “food safety” bill, they will be hurt by it.

If the United States Government wants to protect the American consumer, they will overhaul the FDA, which is a thoroughly corrupt institution and a shill for the chemical, pharmaceutical, bio-tech, and medical establishment industries.

Please oppose inclusion of the Leahy bill and its draconian jail terms in the Food Safety bill!


Ms. Traci Slatton
New York, NY