CNN did a curious piece partially about Twin Oaks recently. It was odd because it did a fairly good job of representing the commune in the text portion of the story, much better than ABC Nightline did, but it mixed in a video about the San Francisco Co-Living movement.
The article is called: Utopia: It’s Complicated – Inside Vintage and New Age Communities. We are clearly the vintage part.
Taking this apart a bit, let’s consider the clever title. Utopia is a slightly charged and especially foolish word to use when describing a real life living situation. We are not perfect, nor appropriate for everyone. We never claim to be, though academics and the media love to throw that label on us. What we do claim is that our living situation is far better than most and some (including myself) claim that on a good day, we can see utopia from here.
But this is a detail, really. What is more peculiar is lumping contemporary “co-living” spaces with income sharing communities like Twin Oaks. It is something like grouping tug boats with hover crafts.
In both circumstances there are people living together and sharing things and selecting each other (this is my definition for intentional community.) But if the affluent residents of co-living circumstances are disagreeing about maid service, it is about how often it is necessary. Maid service is inconceivable to most income sharing communes, not just because we don’t think we can afford it, but because we feel responsible for cleaning up our own messes.
As GPaul points out in “We are not selling a product,” the differences only start here. Co-living replicates the landlord/tenant dynamic, FEC communities largely own their own properties which are land trusts. Think corporate hover craft and co-op tug boat. Sharing income means you need to listen to those you live with about what their needs are and the survival of the community depends on trust building. Sharing an expensive group house means you stay until you have a serious fight with someone living there, are bored, or find a better offer and you are constantly on the look out for that offer.
None of the co-living situations I have seen or read about have children. Mostly what we see is twenty-somethings appearing to live the good life. Nothing wrong with that, but for me the good life is multi-generational.
So there is no utopia. And the differences between different approaches to the better life are significant. I am glad CNN got so much right about us. I am sad that they decided our neighbors in building a better world were mostly affluent people who are likely making gentrification worse.
It all started with Yahoo Parenting. A reporter came out with a photographer and talked with a handful of Twin Oaks parents.
Then ABC Nightline called up and asked if they could come and film. ABC and Yahoo News have a partnership agreement. Perhaps we should have said “no.”
There were a number of problems with the final ABC piece, including mistakes which started from the second word of the article. “Inside Off-the-Grid Virginia Commune Where Everything From Housing to Child Care Is Shared.” In fact, we are not off the grid. We have some solar panels, and we are getting some more, but we have a long way to go before we are off the grid.
The video which I reported on earlier depicted us as negligent for letting kids wander around the property unescorted and not doing background checks on members offering child care. There are lots of reasonable things to criticize the communes about, but there are not on the list. Background checks don’t actually catch much AND we live with these people for three weeks and interview them for hours. Much more rigorous than anyone hiring a babysitter from Craigslist. They bungled the description of our complex pension system (saying adults over 50 drop to a single hour of work per year.)
A number of members were angry at me for not restricting the motion of the press more and not being more sensitive to people the media should stay away from.
But then a funny thing happened on the way to internet. Lots of other media entities mimicked the story in some ways. Specifically:
- CNN did photo montage of Aaron Cohen’s pictures on Aug 17
- The UK Daily Mail blew up over the permission to have a baby on Aug 22
- The Inquisitor rebrands us as ‘Commune In Virginia Blends Off Grid Harmony And Business Savvy’ on Aug 21st
- Right wing blog NewsBusters slammed Nightline’s coverage and the socialist commune while offering a full transcript of the broadcast.
So what we see is news driven by trends. If a topic appears to be trending, one cheap way your news entity can get a piece of the action is by finding a hot story, searching the internet for other free content on the topic, piece them together with a thin narrative and bang! you have intern-generated popular “news” stories.
Now we have had a handful of additional offers from news entities who want to come film. For a while, i think we will say no.
For more insightful and important analysis of the community, please read:
- How Sustainable is Twin Oaks
- I live on a peculiar Island (academic review)
- The Most Controversial Approval: Pregnancy
[Proofread by Gryphon]
It was with quite some anticipation and fear that today approached. Almost a month ago ABC Nightline came and filmed at Twin Oaks and several members were unhappy about the high impact of their visit. For me, even more worrying was the prospect of them doing a slash piece on us, as the NY Times did some years back (after the NY Times photographer had spent a bunch of time telling us how wonderful and important we were – but it is editors, not photographers who determine what is news).
In the end, I was mostly relieved by the piece. I don’t need them to depict Twin Oaks as paradise. I certainly don’t see it that way and almost always tell people about the down sides of the commune (including minimal access to resources including money and thus general inability to travel personally, labyrinth decision making process and reduced privacy). And it is still a better place than almost any other i have visited.
And it seems this time, the mainstream media mostly agreed with me.
Despite Japanese polling 2:1 against restarting the reactor fleet which has been completely shuttered for the last two years, the Abe government forced through the first restart of a reactor at Sendai complex. Sendai was chosen for a number of reasons. Comically, one of the reasons was that it was far from possible natural disaster. Perhaps the most important (not listed in the excellent BAS article) is that it is the farthest from Tokyo (over 1000 km), where anti-nuclear protests continue.
Former PM Kan spoke at the protest. He was in office when Fukushima melted down and it destroyed his political career. Now he is reminding fellow citizens that 1) Many new safety standards (like separate control rooms) have been skipped in restarting this reactor. 2) Tens of thousands of people remain unable to return to their homes because of radioactive fall out in the Fukushima area. 3) Japan does not need nuclear power to have a vibrant economy.
And as if Mother Nature had a sense of humor, five days after the restart the nearest Volcano to the Sendai complex started erupting. In all fairness, the active volcano at Sakurajima erupts quite regularly. This time however it has reached level 4, which is the second highest warning level meaning that the 4,000 local residents should be prepared to immediately evacuate. Level 5 is immediate evacuation. The last major eruption of Sakurajima was in August 2013 (see above video), when ash and debris flew 5 km from the volcano. Sendai is 50 km from the volcano.
Different countries and cities select different energy solutions for myriad reasons and examining these can help us understand why different options are being selected. There is news from various capitals around the world which i want to examine briefly.
Austin, Texas: As reported in SafeEnergy.Org, the city of Austin has just locked in 600 MW of solar power for under $0.04/kwh. Utilities have not been able to buy power at these prices since the 1960s, even without correcting for inflation (which makes it an even better deal). They asked electricity suppliers for solar power specifically and got over 8000 MW of bids (this is the equivalent, after reducing for capacity factor, of 2 or 3 full size nuclear reactors).
Before you start harping on the intermittency (or as the nuclear boosters like to call it “unreliability”) of solar power, please get your facts straight. It is no longer 2005. Inexpensive utility scale battery technology, like those offered by Tesla Energy, is bringing the cost of storage in at around 2 US cents/kwh. What this means for Austin and other cities with reasonable sunshine is that “base load” solar power is going to be cheaper than almost anything else.
In a reasonable world, this would mean the end of new nuclear power construction, because it is much slower to build, far more expensive and fraught with problems from waste handling, to proliferation issues, to liability nightmares, to decommissioning costs to lack of private investors. Sadly, we live in nothing like a reasonable world.
London, England: Austria is challenging the EUs approval of 108 billion British pound (US$166 billion) in subsidies for the UK’s plan to build two new nuclear reactors at Hinkley Point. This legal challenge has been joined by a collection of German and other renewable energy providers. Austria is objecting to both the price of power from these reactors being set at twice the current wholesale price for power for 35 years and insuring profits for the constructing company even in the event that the reactor is closed early.
While it is unlikely the Austrian challenge alone will stop this ill advised project, it might be one of many factors which scuttles the deal. The other reactors of this design in France and Finland are over a decade late in construction. The French reactor had almost tripled in price, before this expensive failure was reported. The pressure vessel for Hinkley had already been forged, by the same plant which forged the pressure vessel for the French reactor which just failed its safety tests. This one will now be used for destructive tests, adding more hundreds of millions in cost presumably to the French reactor company.
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: In the last few months Saudi Arabia has inked deals for new nuclear power plants with South Korea, France, China, Argentina and Russia. The Saudis are hoping to build 16 reactors by 2032. The French deal (which is really an agreement to investigate possibilities) has a price tag of US$12 billion on it. Saudi Arabia seems to be living in the dream world in which they think they can build reactors for US$ 2 billion each. The west is looking at prices 3 to 5 times this high.
It should be recognized as a triumph of money over politics. And that in fact nuclear power is secondary, what Riyadh really wants is nuclear weapons, and they are unapologetic about it. Especially in the case of Russia, Saudi Arabia is making a deal with a political opponent (on support for Iran and Syria particularly) so that it can have access to weapons fabrication technology. Saudi Arabia (unlike Iran) is making no effort to hide it’s nuclear weapons ambitions, in fact it is celebrating them in what they call the “nuclear defense doctrine“. There is already talk of an accelerated Middle Eastern arms race between Saudi Arabia and Iran. What could go wrong?
And since there is no sun in Iran or Saudi Arabia, there is clearly no alternative to nuclear power.