Willow’s first home schooling lesson from me was about swearing. I give him a dollar every time he can pick my pocket without me noticing, and he is getting pretty good at it. My son has a dreadful disrespect for the police. i totally forgot to get breakfast for him the other morning. And tonight his 17 year old friend Rowan turned down the midnight laser tag adventure we (Willow and i) organized, because it was going to be too exhausting (Willow is 11).
The joke is that my style of child care will get me to the cover of Negligent Parenting Magazine.
And it was charming working with him on this evenings activities. In a series of staccato conversations it came together.
“Laser Tag – let’s do it!” Willow wanted in on this new game
“We’ll drive in the Acorn car i have.” i offered
“I will get Rowan and Evan to come.” Willow offers
“I will call Craig about Adrian” i suggest
“Where will we meet?” Willow inquires.
“Let’s meet at MorningStar.” i propose
“At 10 PM, we will be ready.” And he turns and walks out of the dining hall with an air of confidence i find unusual in kids his age, but i don’t see him at all clearly.
So let the fine editors of from Negligent Parenting bang on my door. i am helping craft a curious titan, who seems unafraid to take on anything.
As a funologist, part of my tool kit is games. And i like games. And recently i have been laughing quite a bit over a game called Cards Against Humanity, which i had never even heard of a week ago.
The game is elegantly simple. There are black question cards and white answer cards. You get ten answer cards and replace one for each question card read. For each question card that is selected by each player in turn you provide your best answer card. ”Best” is defined perhaps as the one which the reader (who selects the winner) will find most funny or thought provoking or gross. It is a relative of mad libs and the card game Apples to Apples, if you are familiar with those.
When we first started playing the game i searched (as i oft do) for a political slant. The game authors make it a bit easy because they go after Glen Beck in a couple of the answer cards. And there is no shortage of scatological, sophomoric and off color jokes. It is also often funny.
i wrote 50 answer cards tonight for the new internal version we are creating. [The Twin Oaks internal version is called Cards Against Community. Acorn does not have a name for our game yet.] The internal version uses the same format and refers to things which Acorner’s know about like Daniel’s moped gang and bacon that got cooked for 12 hours. My favorite card of my design (which is unusually long) refers to something that has not happened, but many people could imagine.
Both of the intentional communities I live in have cottage industries. These are the economic engines which allow us to buy the many things we don’t make or grow ourselves. Most of Twin Oaks’ income comes from the hammocks business and the tofu business, over 90% of Acorn’s income comes from the seed business. I’ve been involved with tofu and hammocks for over a decade, but I’m just starting being involved with the retail part of the seeds business.
There are some highly desirable features to Twin Oaks’ Hammocks business, which i believe are part of the reason the community has been successful. The first aspect is that production is highly flexible. You can come in to the hammock shop at any time and weave or do other fabrication tasks.You can work for as long as you like, there is no “boss” telling you what to do although there are people who will train you and direct you, should you need it. You track your own hours on a trust-based system.
Despite there not being “bosses,” the hammock shop has a manager (my dear friend Shal) who is responsible for lots of things related to the work flow of the shop, especially ensuring that supplies are available when needed and that the multiple steps to make hammocks are balanced. If we need more harness makers, he encourages people towards that work (if they can do it), trains visitors to do it, and will bring in people to do it, if the group is falling behind. Twin Oaks uses behaviorist incentives during our busy season (which is the winter for production, because agricultural season is off, but we sell most hammocks in the spring and summer) — we set goals for production and we get rewards if we succeed and quota goes up if we fail. Hammocks management (which I was part of for some years) does not like quota increases being our “stick” to get people to work. We have tried several other approaches — treats, music and events in the shop, nice coffee — to get people to work in the shop and they have mostly been appreciated, but ineffective. Now we start with the behaviorist sticks pretty early and raise quota until we have filled the orders, then quota drops down.
The Twin Oaks Tofu operation is a much more classical assembly line structure. Frankly, I think we had to be a much more mature community to operate it. It has long been the case that a dedicated team of tofu managers (usually working quite hard in the tofu hut itself) maintain an esprit de corps for the large collection of workers in the hut. Unlike hammocks and seeds, the expectation is if you have a tofu shift scheduled, you will either go to it, or you will find someone to take your place. Because it is classical assembly line format, production requires at least one person at each of three stations and the pace of the workers influences the speed at which subsequent workers need to be moving. Specifically, a fast kettle worker (where the tofu management often works) drives the speed of the entire hut.
For years I marveled at the effective anarchist chaos of the Twin Oaks hammocks business. Lots of workers, almost completely unsupervised, coming at all different times, leaving little to no communication for subsequent workers, working short or long shifts as they liked…seemed to get all the hammocks made.
It was not until I got to Acorn that I realized that there was an even larger step-up in the self organized workplace. The seed business also has three production stations, which are not a classical assembly line, because each step is temporally independent. Packing the seeds in little packets, followed by picking the seeds for each order from the storage room where all the varieties are represented. Finally, the shipper takes the picked order, checks to make sure it is correctly filled and then creates a mailing package for it (occasionally a custom one for oddly shaped orders) and puts it in the post.
There are lots of other parts to the seed business work here at Acorn — processing back orders, dealing with customer calls, prioritizing orders when the customer has paid extra for this, contracting seeds with farmers, germination testing seeds, deciding which seeds to carry, attending trade shows and much more.
During the busy season what most of the people at Acorn are working on are these three order filling steps: packing, picking and shipping. Hundreds of person hours go into this work, and the amount of management, supervision, training and planning which goes into this process is the lowest I have seen for any of the many business operations i have ever been involved in. It is, as I have been slightly shockingly referring to it recently, an anarchist’s wet dream.
Because there is so little supervision/management instruction from above, combined with a very high feeling of affinity and connection to the business from the line workers, there is a high level of conscientious behavior on the workers to make sure that the right things get done, and that the right mix of work happens.
My personal experience is that I have come into the picking room, done a bunch of organizing, and taken over the management of that part of the operation without asking anyone. And we are definitely more on top of things than before I stepped into the picking room. There is better communication about out of stock items and back orders. But I hold no illusion that if I were hit by a bus tomorrow, we could not return to the old, less centrally-organized approach and things would function just fine.
And from an anarchist perspective what is most important here is that the line workers are empowered to take responsibility. They do not feel oppressed by supervisors or managers and they are happy and proud of their work. Something that exists far too rarely in my experience.
When i asked Abigail what she thought of the Cirque du Soliel performance we had just seen, she replied thoughtfully “it makes me appreciate Vegas.” The performance was amazing and CdS reliably delivers that. And what is true about Abigail’s observation is that this show will never tour and can only happen here. The multimillion dollar stage was built into this space and the complex show depends on it.
It costs 13.40 Euros to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. They told us it would cost US$19 each to go to the top of the 1/3rd scale Eiffel Tower here in Vegas. Which means at current exchange rates it is cheaper to go to the real thing, than the scale model (though Abigail points out the lines are much longer for the real thing).
Vegas is a symphony of distorted scales. There is a 1/2 size scale model of the statue of liberty here. There is a 3/4 scale model of the pyramids and a full sized Sphinx. And perhaps a half scale model of the Trevi fountain from Rome. And the odd thing is that i have seen the originals of most of these in the last 6 months.
Vegas is also the best case out there against humanity. If an alien race (or omnipotent being) were to show up and evaluate humankind based on the behavior of the strip, we would certainly be doomed.
If you have been to a lot of tourist destinations, you will know that there are often street actors dressed up as popular fiction characters, so you can have your picture taken with them. Vegas has Freddie Krugar, and Sponge Bob and Vegas Show girls and a guy doing a pretty compelling imitation of Captain Jack Sparrow. What i have never seen in such quantities are people handing out cards with pictures of mostly naked women on them with phone numbers. These “clickers,” as they are sometimes called because of the way they snap their cards to get your attention wear vests that say you will have your girl within 20 minutes of making the call.
What is especially interesting to me is that prostitution is not legal in Vegas (other parts of Nevada yes, Vegas no). So everyone who is handing out these cards is an accessory to a crime. And thus Las Vegas is the largest display of routine lawlessness i have witnessed. And there is much more interesting and disturbing stuff to come on the sex industry in Vegas.
I’ve been telling stories about Willow the last couple of days.
At age 2 Willow said, in response to me asking where some toys were “i assume they are under the tower”
At age 4 when asked what he thought about having two dads he replied “i guess i lucked out”
At age 6 when asked what he would say to the police if the car was stopped and he was not in the required car seat “i dont have ID, i will just lie.”
At age 8 after i told him he needed to clean his room he replied “With what authority do you tell me this?”
At age 10 on Dec 21, 2012 at the mythical end of the Mayan calendar when was asked his thoughts on the pending end of the world, he responded “I am disinclined to believe any religious text that is found written on a wall”
Crystal asked me to shock his Social Movement students at Cal State Monterey Bay. This felt like a high bar, so i offered to entertain them and provoke their thinking.
i presented about all the folks who had said the world was going to end unless we dramatically change our behavior (Club or Rome, Carl Sagan and nuclear winter, Rio 1992 and sustainability, the Peak Oil kids and now climate change). i put them in small groups and asked them to discuss what things they could do a better job of sharing.
But it was (predictably) the second part of the class which got the most eyebrows raised. I talked about polyamory and the astronomy of the Star family (and bragged about various Willowisms). The group exercise was to talk about their relationship with jealousy and report back on if they liked it and how they might change it.
But the thing that Crystal was most excited about was the idea that polyamory was a minority relationships model and as such was discriminated against in most peoples thinking. i pointed out that if you get involved in a poly relationship and it does not work out, you are quite likely to say “Polyamory does not work” or perhaps “Poly does not work for me”.
But if you are on the other side of a failed monogamous relationship you are more likely to say “Joe is an asshole”. It is quite possible that your poly relationship failed because Joe is an asshole, or because Joe is not even poly. We rarely say “Monogamy does not work”
[80% of students reported being shocked.]