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The Sharp Edge of the Tool

While on the recent Point A trip, a hybrid group of Catalonyians and Acorn-affiliates met in the cozy basement room of a bodywork studio in Brooklyn. Paxus introduced this group of charismatic New Yorkers and communards to the transparency tools.

But rather a key to a new way of seeing each other

But rather a key to a new way of seeing each other

The Catalysts are an incredibly clever bunch. These folks know that if they do a good job crafting their agreements and cultural fabric, they can create an amazing eco-village.  And while they are a fundamentally fun loving and playful crowd, community building is difficult work and they have been hard at it.  Especially drafting written agreements- for everything.  For land ownership, for the membership process, for the types of cottage industries that might happen, the mission statement- the tasks go on and on. Important, complex and often slogging work.

This is not actually what this group of people wants to be doing. What they want to be doing is falling in love. This is where the transparency tools come in.


We all know that a great eco village is built on the foundation of love… and spreadsheets

I have experience with some of the transparency tools used, as I used to be part of a meditation community in DC in which we met 2x a month to have a sit followed by a discussion.

Often in this format and during retreats (which happen twice a year) we used the “If you really knew me…” and Hot Seat tools. I’ve already witnessed how effective they can be in bringing a group together, and it was no different with the Catalysts.

penetrating questions designed to reveal you - not necessarily heal you

penetrating questions designed to reveal you – not necessarily heal you

Frequently when starting, it takes a round or two of “If you really knew me” statements for everyone to start to open up. What was so beautiful about this night in particular was each person became transparent almost immediately. People were sharing their stories with each other so willingly and with so much faith that the group wanted to hear them.

We transitioned from “If you really knew me” statements to Hot Seats, the Catalysts asking questions and Paxus explaining the benefits of the many tools.

Due to the wacky Point A trip agenda and time constraints, we were only able to fit in three 5-minute Hot Seats. The group did an excellent job being clear with their questions and answers, and everyone involved continued to be engaged.


Dream eco-village material

To wrap up the evening, Paxus began to explain the tools that go beyond being personally transparent and begin to create transparency in relationships. Specifically, these tools are Unsaids and Withholds. These tools can create space for resolution of conflict as well as giving members an opportunity to appreciate one another. They are also notoriously tricky.

This point in the evening is when things really got interesting. Despite Pax expecting to solely explain Unsaids/Withholds and not try to do any that evening, members of the group began to use the tools without any hesitation. Several conflicts were put on the path to resolution within ten minutes, with the tools used practically flawlessly.

Let me see inside of you

Let me see inside of you

What then evolved seemingly naturally- after what could be seen as complaining or criticism of the Withholds- was the graceful move into appreciations, which were equally rich and revealing.  As we left it was clear the group wanted more. The Point A crowd- which are in some sense carpetbaggers from Virginia trying to build community in NYC- felt like we had really done our job.

UVA Rape Protest Trial

I have always wanted to hang a jury.  I have been fortunate that all my court appearances (except the Acorn Arson) have been elective – I chose to get arrested.  But I have never had a real chance to hang a jury, until today.  I have been guilty of dozens of trespass charges against me and I have never argued that point. To hang a jury I need to get at least one positive answer to the question “Has the injustice I am fighting directly impacted at least one member of the jury intimately?”  For nuclear power or a pending war the jury is usually quite removed from these issues.

Today I was on trial for our highly publicized arrests at the UVA fraternities last November protesting their support and participation in rape culture.  Someone on this jury has been touched by this crime.  Some sister or daughter or dear friend has been sexually assaulted and this juror has watched helplessly as their loved ones’ life unraveled.

unlearn rape culture

I desperately wanted to remind this juror of their pain and their frustration with the broken legal system which oppressed their intimate and generally ignores this crime.  I wanted to beg them, in the name of their friend, to see past the trivial trespass and instead see how this court, police and culture helps perpetuate this problem.  I wanted to call for the system to be put on trial, not me.

Tragically, the odds would be heavily in my favor.  Statistically, with twelve jurors, my chances that at least one of them would have gone through this ordeal are nearly 100%.  Sexual assault is endemic in the US and the powers that be are mostly uninterested in addressing it in any meaningful way.

Edmund gets arrested at UVa Fraternity

Edmund gets arrested at UVA Fraternity

Sadly, I did not do it today.  Fighting in the courts is a long and time consuming process.  Judges are quite resistant to cases looking outside the specifics of the charges before them.  And the court fees associated with a failed not guilty plea would exceed $1000 because the defendant must pay the jury stipend.  This is a chunk of change on the commune stipend.    Instead, like my co-defendants I plead guilty and was given 44 hours of community service.  At the trial I read the following statement:

For our non-violent protest against rapes at UVA we were swiftly arrested.  Yet repeated reports of sexual assaults on  campus are ignored by the university and Charlottesville police department.  I plan to do my community service for an organization which is working to address this injustice.

The first time i got arrested I made friends with an impressive man named Louis Corn.  He was in his 70s and had been arrested many times for protest.  When I asked him why, he said “Well, this body is not much good for hard work no more.  But I can still throw it onto an unjust state.”  I don’t do that much hard physical work, but I am looking forward to the day when I can take the chance my inspiring old friend did regularly and try to hang a jury and embolden others to fight for justice.

hang the jury

The Elephant and the Bee

It is busy season.

Most of my days start the same way.  Jah and i find each other somewhere between his blueberry pancakes (he often does a breakfast shift, despite the fact we have no agreement anyone will cook breakfast) and the smoke shack at Acorn.  We go into the seed picking room and stare down a huge collection of orders.  Then, we sort them, taking the smallest ones (typically 5 items or less) and put them in one pile the rest in another.

Now our dance begins. Jah and i spin around the seed picking room, grabbing orders and dodging each other.  Jah is especially good with large orders, strong solid picking.  The nature of small orders is that you are running around the room a bunch and (if you are like me) trying to fill several orders as once, so you can avoid doubling back.

Tiny holes int he system, unpickable seed tracking

Tiny holes in the system- unpickable seed tracking

Jah is the elephant knocking down huge trays of seeds.  I am the bee, buzzing around him and flying around the room.  We move with haste, people get bumped into occasionally and brushed up against all the time, it’s is just what is happening in the busy seed picking office early in the morning. elephantbees We are regulars, but there are lots of people in the picking room these days.  The late night crew picked orders at 2 AM this morning. Aster, Sunshine and Jah were part of that.  Para and Lola were in this morning with us. Picking seeds for orders is the beginning of our order fulfillment process.

Anyone who has worked in the tofu hut (or has studied industrial engineering) knows that the first step of the assembly line is the heartbeat of the entire process.  The full line can’t go any faster.  And the speed of the first step often drives the speed of the entire line.  We want to pick everything that comes in during the say the same day.  This insures that the shippers (who make custom bundles for mailing of our picked orders) are always busy, if there is anything for them to process.  Jah and i are determined to keep the picking room heartbeat thumping right along.

Sales are up.  We are picking and packing much faster (in part because some packing is being done by the new seed packing robot, which some of us are referring to as HAL) than previous years.  Almost all the varieties are in stock.  Ken and Irena and Charlotte are making sure all varieties are packed and ready for us (which is why there are so few numbers on the daily Unpickable Seeds sheets depicted below).  It feels like a well oiled machine.

And it feels like an anarchist Utopian dream.  Almost all the workers are self assigning almost all the time.  There are people, like Irena, Ira, Ken and myself who almost always have tasks which people can help with.  Sometimes we are approached, other times we approach people.  And especially during this season, when everyone is hustling, almost everyone says “yes” most of the time when asked if they can help.    [Ken points out that accountability of task work also helps us maintain quality.  At each step the worker records what they did so that workers further down the chain can gently inform folks earlier in the process about mistakes they made. ]

The structure is almost as flat as it can be. It is trust based, so there are no time clocks.  It is trust based, so no one is telling you to work faster or longer.  It is trust based, so you need to do your own quality control.  It is trust based, so for most people the only person who really knows if you are doing your share is you.  And it all mostly works.

All manner of things are possible, in a trust based system.

All manner of things are possible, in a trust based system.

People work because it is clear there is lots of work to do.  People work because we make most of the money the community needs and uses in these few months.  People work because the work is super pleasant and relaxed and better than any light physical work than anyone ever had before they got here, and there is this distant fear that if we don’t all do our parts here, some of us might end up back there in jobs which were considerably less wonderful. People work because they can stop when they like and switch jobs when they want to.  People work because they want to show up in community as a contributor to this thing that they believe in.

So much smoother than last year.

So much smoother than last year.

Turns out the money thing is not all it is cracked up to be.

Exotic Commune Game Rules

“Is this a friendly game?”

This question gets asked with some regularity where i live, and it has a unique and very specific meaning here.  For most of the games we play, it means that we are going to be forgiving when people make mistakes or want to change their move/play.  Specifically, it means that if no other game decision has been made by another player, you can go backwards and fix your play on your turn and not be penalized for it.


Occasionally this is frustrating, especially in a game like Dominion, where you might have preferred the inferior play of your opponent, before they got help with their play (either by figuring it out themselves or thru a helpful co-player).  And this begs the question, what is the role for “friendly” in competitive gaming culture.  i would argue it is huge.  In fact, it is more important that people feel good about the game, especially after it is over, than it is that we play by especially rigid rules.

Not a friendly game

Not a friendly game

And for “serious gamers” the situation gets worse in games like Magic, where we have Armenian Rules.  At the risk of being deemed racist, this rule is at the center of much of the “friendly” play at Twin Oaks and Acorn.  The way the Armenian Rule works is if you are manna starved in a particular hand in Magic, you can, by your own determination, draw a land instead of your normal card from the draw.

We also permit the “paradise Mulligan”.  Some games permit players who draw a poor or initially unplayable hand to shuffle the cards back into the deck and draw a new hand.  Normal Mulligan rules in Magic, for example, are that when you draw your second hand you get one few card.  This is a tax for your bad luck or poor deck design. In friendly games we are not interested in bad luck taxes, so you can just draw another full seven card hand.  And if you bad luck continues you can draw another one, and so on.

So you need one of these?

So you need one of these?

Serious gamers retort that these types of rules are just an excuse to build a badly designed deck, and that if people built better decks this would not happen.  And they are on some level right.  And since Magic can be an expensive game to build decks for, by using Armenian rules and paradise Mulligans, poor communards need not invest hugely in specific cards that might make the deck work better.

But more importantly, as with most games, Magic is more fun if the score is actually close.  Having one player stuck early in the game damages the game for everyone: it degrades the win, it is harder to learn anything, it can discourage you from future games.

Who's rules?

Who’s rules?

We have something of a mix here at Twin Oaks and Acorn.  Some folks are uninterested in who has the most points, but rather are in the game so that they can they play some lovely combination of cards or strategy.  Most players are excited about a close game, where you have to think hard or get lucky to pull it out in the end.  Some folks believe that adhering to the rules makes the games more fair and a truer test of skill.

And in the end it brings up the more philosophical questions as to what is the purpose of games.  Some will trivialize them as a waste of time, others will point to them as a social lubricant, i use some games pedagogically.  I think most players simply enjoy them, which might just be enough all by itself.

The moment Austria turned

Peter Weish was a graduate student at the prestigious University of Vienna.  He was supposed to be studying molecular biology but got pulled into the national referendum to stop the Zwentendorf reactor.  It was Austria, it was 1978, and it would prove to be a defining moment in the nation’s political history, and it happened on a train.

They are beautiful complex machines.

They are beautiful complex machines. Zwentendorf was 100% complete before it was stopped

Austria is a tiny country, currently with a mere 8.5 million people and a geographic size about that of South Carolina.  It is also a country with tremendous self pride, especially in feats of engineering.  In the early 1970s the Germans had jumped onto reactors in a big way, and Austria was doing what it could to catch up.

The Zwentendorf ground breaking was in 1972, immediately after construction began an earthquake destroyed the initial foundation which had to be laid again.  And after 4 years and about a billion Euros (or the equivalent in Austrian Schillings at the time) the reactor was completed.

Opponents of the the widely popular reactor challenged it and the then Chancellor (like President) Bruno Kreisky decided to bet his political future on the project.  He agreed to a referendum of the reactor complex which was nearly finished.  Kreisky was a socialist.  The labor unions were backing him and the project.  Austrian heavy industry was backing the project.  The technocrats, which the country has an abundance of, thought this was a lovely plan.  What could go wrong?

Turned out it was the train from Salzburg to Vienna that changed history.  On his train was the industrious Peter Weish, grad student at U of Vienna.  He knew Austria’s only Nobel Prize winner, Konrad Lorenz, because he had taken a class from him.  Lorenz was riding in first class, Weish walked through on his way to the dining car.  Lorenz recognized him and asked what he was up to in Salzburg.  An animated Weish told of the organizing work he was doing around stopping Zwentendorf.  Lorenz and his wife were fascinated by Weiss’s thinking and critique.    The story has it Lorenz paid for an upgrade to Weiss’s ticket so he could ride first class and continue his story.

At the end of story Weish mentioned that there would be a big rally in Vienna on Sunday.  “We should go.” Konrad said to his wife.  “And you should speak.” His wife advised.

Konrad Lorenz and some of his followers.

Konrad Lorenz and some of his followers.

Turns out in some things technocrats are the same the world over.  Often when justifying their fantastically expensive adventures they turn to lines like “Oh it is too complex, you would not understand it, you should trust the experts, they will do the right thing.”  Lorenz found this reasoning infuriating.

“If a scientist tells you something is too complex to explain they are either incompetent or lying. ” Lorenz boomed at the rally.  It was a turning point for the country.  If the most respected scientist in the land was saying the technocrats were misleading the public, then clearly the reactor should not be build.

The sun sets on the cooling towers of a nuclear power station in Limerick, Pennsylvania.

The referendum was very tight.  Over 60% of the country voted and 50.5% voted to stop the reactor.  Within months of this vote, the Three Mile Island accident in the US occurred and many Austrians felt vindicated in their “no” vote.

But the amazing thing is that the country having been so divided, quickly became the most powerful and unified voice in the EU parliament for nuclear safety and blocking other reactor initiatives.  It is thought the referendum woke up the whole country and gave it unified direction.

Scrappy Austria just might do it.

Scrappy Austria just might do it.

If we rewind to today, a law suit from Austria may stop the absurdly expensive new reactor complex slated for Hinkely Point C.





Cultural Appropriation 101 – Is it okay to call the mainstream Babylon?

Cultural appropriation is a tricky topic, especially for privileged white people, including myself.  The idea, as i understand it, is that the dominant group takes culture and fashion from peoples they have oppressed without thinking much about it. And the people who are having their culture borrowed/stolen are yet again abused by the privileged class.

Al Jolson in black face - not Okay

Al Jolson in black face – not Okay

Black face performances are a classic example of cultural appropriate, which is so obviously repulsive now it is almost never done anymore.  But what about Mohawks? This is a hairstyle from the indigenous North American natives which has been adopted by the punk movement.  This tribe was part of the Iroquois confederacy and like most native cultures in North America was decimated by European settlers who landed after Columbus.

Is this also offensive or an inappropriate taking from a culture which was massacred by white people?

Is this also offensive or an inappropriate taking from a culture which was massacred by white people?

The original inspiration

The original inspiration

North American Native Population - If we kill you all off, can we take your fashion?

North American Native Population – If we kill you all off, can we take your fashion?

But the very nature of cultural appropriation is tricky, because in some cases the oppressed people who took on the culture borrowed it themselves.  This is the case with dreadlocks, which have been popularized as a low maintenance hairstyle which adorns the Rastafarian’s.  Is it inappropriate for whites to don dreadlocks?  Does it matter that before the Rastifarians embraced them they were the style from multiple cultures from around the world, of different racial ancestry?  Does it matter that some of these ancient cultures (like the Sufis) want their style emulated while some Rastifarians do not?

For me it gets even worse with the use of the word Babylon.  Babylon is also used by the Rastafarian culture and some people get upset when i use it as a piece of cultural appropriation.  But the Rastifarians got the term from the early Christians, of multiple races and classes.

Seems like a pretty city.  Babylon circa way back

Seems like a pretty city. Babylon circa way back



From Truth FAQ

What is Babylon? In literal terms, Babylon was a city in ancient Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq). It was known for its great wealth, impressive walls and buildings, hanging gardens and its codes of law. Metaphorically, it is referenced many times in the Christian bible as a symbol of great evil and sin; it has also be used by other cultures/groups to symbolize various things, e.g. the Rastafarian movement uses the term to describe the system that has oppressed them. ‘Babylon’ is used here as a metaphor to describe the system of control that has enslaved humanity via the legal name. In particular it refers to the system of commerce that the entire world has been made subject to. There is no doubt in my mind that dominant races and cultures need to pay attention to issues of cultural appropriate and avoid simply snapping up things they find stylish, cute or trendy.  At the same time, many cultural components have multiple histories and complex origins which can be celebrated and respected.

And there is something which feels highly appropriate about calling the mainstream society “Babylon” and the people who live in it “Babylonians”, as contrasted to communards or other folks who choose to fall out of mainstream lifestyles.  The symbolism of Babylon as a grand city which embodies the problems of the contemporary world feels apt.


And i expect there will be some displeased comments on this post from friends and advisers who feel this practice is ill advised.

Vulture House at Freedonia

The new kids on the block are actually the old kids from the block, they are just back with a very politically potent offer which will hopefully be a new direction for the squatting movement – but i am getting ahead of myself, let’s begin at the beginning.

Freedonia is awesome.  They have pioneered a new approach to squatting which makes it more resilient.  They have tricked the police into giving them abandoned buildings.   They host clever workshops, feed local and poor people for free and throw bad ass parties.  All in an undisclosed location, in the shadow of serious urban decay, somewhere on the east coast of the US, far from anywhere Dick Cheney would think of hanging out.


An adventurous group of Freedonians (which is quite redundant phrase actually) set off on a bike tour to New Orleans.  They called themselves the Vultures.  There were puppet shows, there were narrow escapes from the police, there were complex polyamorous topographies – all the good things you would expect from our intrepid travelers.  And there were lots of talks around open fires about how to step things up back in Freedonia.

Vultures, Puppet Shows, No Relation

Vultures, Puppet Shows, No Relation

Normal people would have looked at the impressive accomplishments of this full featured set of squats and said “well, we have done quite enough and we are already impressive and sustainable just the way we are”.  But the Vultures would not know normal if it came at them with a knife (i’d bet on the Vultures in this fight though, normal don’t got a chance).

A west coast squat that has nothing to do with Freedonia

A west coast squat that has nothing to do with Freedonia

They decided they would kick it up a level and start income sharing.  They returned from their bike tour, promptly broke into a house not far from their original places (which they had let others move into while they were on the bike tour and they did not want them to leave when they returned) and squatted it.  And thus Vulture House was born.

They then offered to all of the other Freedonians to join them in this income sharing adventure.  Readers of this blog will not be surprised that i think sharing and especially income sharing are instrumental in saving the world.  We don’t know how many other local squatters will bite, but the Vultures are pretty compelling.

Stay tuned for more tales of intrepid revolutionaries from undisclosed locations.

We are watching these vultures

We are watching these vultures


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