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Customs Confusion

The organizer’s prerogative is to travel light.  You don’t need to bring everything if you can talk others into lending or giving it to you.  They might do this in service of the revolution or because you are cute or pathetic.

Pack Light

Pack Light

I was coming back from a tour of Europe.  The customs agent was looking at my small handbag.

“How long have you been traveling in Europe?” he asked.

“Three weeks,” i confessed

“Where are the rest of your bags?” says the skeptical border control agent.

“This is all i have,” i said, again confessing.

“I don’t believe you,” says the guard and there is this impossible moment which flashed between the two of us.

I put my hands across my chest and look curiously at the agent, asking, “What are we going to do about that?”

The agent waves me through.

deport stamp

November is Fallen Down Shed

The communities are fond of naming things.  We name cars and buildings and if you come with the same first name as someone who already lives here, you can get a brand new lovely name for free.

I personally name many months of the year.  Sometimes this is prophetic, when i think i can guess the future.  More often it is simply a memorable event, like the birth of a friends child or the collapse of a foul dictator.

This month after much discussion and a fair amount of throwing stuff into a rented dumpster we knocked down the building we called “The Falling Down Shed”  See the above video for the dramatic moments with Mike on the tractor.

Now the curious thing is that this month naming tradition did not start with me, it is actually a Slavic tradition, where they named the months after things which are actually happening in the physical world at that time, rather than unimportant gods.  So for example August is Harvest and March is Pregnant Animals

Curiously in the warmer Slavic countries (like the Croatia) it is the month of October which is called “Falling Leaves” or Listopad.  .In the cooler Czech Republic and the Ukraine, this is the month name for November.  Because we knocked down the “Falling Down Shed” in November, i am calling this month “Fallen Down Shed”.  It served us well.


You can use Funological grading scales on serious events.  You could argue that a current issue conference cannot get a B grade, unless it does something novel.  You could propose that a protest not get a letter A grade, unless it (hopefully positively) changed one or more of the participants lives.

reportcard grading system

Using this scale, the West Coast Communities Conference perhaps deserves an A+ (a grade i can’t remember the last time i gave it – maybe fuzzy tunnels).  Let’s consider a bunch of different metrics:

  • Success as a networking event
  • Intergenerationally integrated
  • Cross Cultural Connections
  • Significant Skill Shares
  • Novel presentation formats
  • Acid Test questions responses
people are the warp, collective houses are the woof - network weave

people are the warp, collective houses are the woof – network weave

Success as a networking event  At the heart of it, communities conferences are supposed to connect people interested in community with collective places they might live and also help communities find new blood, especially founding or floundering communities.  In this, WCCC was reasonably successful.  Both seekers found established communities and a forming community found a new key additional person.  These additions will certainly increase their chances of survival and success.  The event supported the movement directly thru recruiting and secondarily by introducing people to the depth and range of the movement.

drag kids WCCCCIntergenerationally integrated One of the things i take pride in at Twin Oaks is our success in mixing generations in work and play.  No one thinks twice about there being different generations represented for example in a community band.  “We need a drummer.  We don’t care how old or young they are.”  The Radical Faeries who run Groundswell Institute decided early on that the best way into introduce kids into this typically adult world was to be honest and give nearly full access to it.  So the kids made a bee-line for the drag closet and there were precious photo moments of kid princesses and mature queens.  We also had twenty and thirty somethings mixing with seniors and everything in between.  Age did not matter too much; young people facilitated, old people learned new things.  The event had a healthy, inquisitive, open feeling to it.

Communards meet Radical Fairies - metaphorically.

Communards meet Radical Faeries – metaphorically.

Cross Cultural Connections:  I have a story that the Faeries have things to teach the communards about being bold and asking for what you want.  I think the Faeries are a gateway to luxurious flamboyance and how to party big.  I think the communards have things to offer the Faeries around finding group mind and clean process.  I think the communards know how to share well and have effective tools and agreements for others less experienced with cooperative living.  The dance party at the fire pit was a high spirited, colorful mix of our cultures in celebration.   I think the communards and the Radical Faeries have similar agendas around tolerance, celebration of diversity, openness to new things, sustainability, self created culture and art and making the world a better place to live in.  We are obvious allies.

I saw these two groups dance well together and it made me hopeful for more events of both playful and serious content.

dont worry about itSignificant Skill Shares: Significant Skill Shares: My lover Tree came down from Eugene and facilitated a compelling workshop on Appreciative Inquiry It was a huge hit.  It changed Brittany and Billy Vulture‘s lives.  Somewhat new to giving workshops, these two had especially struggled with the guilt and hopelessness so many White Privilege workshops engender.  By using Appreciative Inquire instead of conventional “problem solving” techniques, they found that he walked out of the WCCC White Privilege Open Space session feeling really good about the group, about the communication, about people hearing this fundamentally uncomfortable message and not running from it but actually addressing it.  Tree was thrilled that her workshop was immediately applicable.  Me, too.

turtle plus houseNovel presentation formats:  We did the Communities in Crisis interactive theater workshop at the WCCC.  The idea was you throw non-communards into the deep end of community process.  They would try to facilitate actor-communards who were in the midst of trying to untangle a vexing and controversial community problem.  It was a great idea, but it worked out nothing like this.

For starters, of the 20 plus people interested in this workshop, no one did not already identify as living in community (apparently sitting in tricky community meetings is only attractive to people who think community is worth it to join already).  But more importantly, these types of  theater things don’t resolve and, were it not for Tree in the workshop to rein me in, i would have spent way too much time in the fun acting part and not enough on the harvesting of what we learned.

But people enjoyed it and said they learned things.  It is a strong enough and engaging enough format to try doing it again.

uncle sam - can you pass the acid test

Acid Test question responses:  I am the type of Funologist who believes in exit interviews.  I ask people if they enjoyed the event and learned things (they basically always say yes, since it is polite to do so) and then i ask if they would come back in a year and this often gives insight into their experience.  If you had a transformative experience – you fell in love, you found your tribe, you learned a new tool that will significantly aid you – then your reply is always “yes”, even if the chances of repeating exactly this type of positive change are very small.  If you just had a good time, you can be “one and done”.  When i asked people about coming back, almost everyone said yes.

By all these different metrics, the WCCC succeeded pretty famously.  But i must confess i am predisposed to falling in love with this beautiful Northern California place and this particular event because i got to work with amazing organizers on it and take credit for making it happen, when really i did quite little to manifest it.  I also got to organize with my talented co-dad, Sky, which always makes these types of things go better.

Other communities, including Lost Valley outside Eugene, expressed interested in hosting the 2016 West Coast Communities Conference. So perhaps, unlike the east coast event which stays at Twin Oaks for ever, we have created something which will move around to different host communities.  Which would be cool also.

But it is not too early to mark your calendar for Indigenous Peoples weekend 2016. If history repeats itself, it might just be the best conference ever.


On Wednesday Oct 21, the British Prime Minister Cameron will sign a complex financing deal with the Chinese President Xi for the new Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor complex.  This will be one of the most expensive contracts of any type ever signed anywhere. Bloomberg claims this is the most expensive nuclear project ever.  It will cost more than the British Olympic Games, the new second terminal at London Heathrow airport and Crossrail (the 40 station expansion to the London light rail system) combined.

Hinkley Point C - a white elephant disguised as a reactor complex

Hinkley Point C – a white elephant disguised as a reactor complex – artists rendition

How expensive is it?  Well, the construction costs (including financing) alone are 24.5 billion British Pounds (US$37.8 billion).  The total capital costs for these two reactors will be at least 34 billion BPS (US$52.5 billion).  But the price tag is only the beginning of this deal’s problems.

To understand how terrible an investment this is,  review the other attempts to build reactors of the same design.  Most recently engineered commercial reactors are typically about 1000 MWe, this French designed system bucks this trend and theoretically produces over 1,600 MWe.  But bigger is not always better.  This design is called European Pressurized Reactor or EPR for short.  There are two reactors of the same French design under construction elsewhere in Europe, one at Olkiluoto, Finland and the other at Flamanville, France.

Hinkley has been the site of regular protests

Hinkley has been the site of regular protests

The Finnish reactor was started first and is now 9 years late in completion and has almost tripled in cost.  Originally, this project was a joint venture between EdF/Areva and the Germans company Siemens.  The project has gone so poorly that Siemens, the largest nuclear engineering company in the world at the time,  dropped out of the project and was promptly sued by the Finns for 2.5 billion Euros (US$2.8 billion).  In May of this year, the very pro-nuclear Finns also decided to cancel the second reactor of this type after so many problems with the one under construction. There are also several lawsuits between the French nuclear construction firm, EdF and the Finnish utility.

Finns protesting 2010 parliament decision to build to 2 additional EPRs, Protesters were right - both reactors have been cancelled.

Finns protesting 2010 parliament decision to build to 2 additional EPRs, Protesters were right – both reactors have been cancelled.

The French state owned nuclear construction company, Areva, took over 4.5 billion Euros (US$5.1 billion) in losses for the Finnish reactor.  Areva’s stock has lost 85% of its value since 2007.  This combined with other losses on EPR construction were large enough to force Areva to cut thousands of jobs and ultimately be merged into the French state owned EdF to avoid bankruptcy.

If it is ever finished, the far left reactor is what he third Finnish reactor will look like

If it is ever finished, the far left reactor is what he third Finnish reactor will look like

The experience in France at the Flamanville with this same reactor design is even worse.  As we have come to expect, this reactor is also years late and over triple its original budget.  The Italian utility ENEL was forced out of this project when the Italians voted overwhelmingly in 2011, after Fukushima, to not be involved in nuclear power projects.

Recent revelations of fabrication flaws in the pressure vessel have put completion of the Flamanville EPR project in question (delays and overruns, no matter how severe, almost never stop reactor projects).   This 425 ton pressure vessel literally holds the nuclear reaction and the French nuclear inspectorate (the equivalent of the US NRC, but it actually checks for safety) found a “very serious fault“.  The pressure vessel has a metallurgical flaw owing to large areas of excess carbon in the steel causing structural weaknesses.  If further tests by the French nuclear inspectorate do not come up with different results, the French nuclear construction firm, EdF, will have two choices: replace the already installed pressure vessel or scrap the entire project.

Could this failed pressure vessel stop the reactor?

Could this failed pressure vessel stop the construction of the reactor?

Originally, despite there being no signed contact, the pressure vessel for the first of the two Hinkley Point C reactors had been fabricated by the same company that forged the failed Flamanville pressure vessel (which is a subsidiary of Areva).  Upon finding high carbon concentrations, EdF pulled back the Hinkley pressure vessel to conduct destructive tests on it which are required by the French nuclear inspectorate.  At a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to EdF.  But it gets worse.

French Safety Culture: Let's install it in first, then test it.

French Safety Culture: Let’s install it in first, then test it. Photo EdF

EdF and Areva installed the pressure vessel at Flamanville in October of 2013, without testing it and then spent a year building the plant around the pressure vessel.  In October of 2014 they performed tests and found these problems and then informed ASN (the French nuclear Inspectorate) about them in Dec 2014. EdF/Areva put the pressure vessel inside the Framanville reactor knowing that it might not pass tests, assuming they could convince the French inspectorate that it was okay.  They were basically gambling the functionality of the plant and the safety of the local inhabitants on their political power to push this project through.  Is that the type of company you want to be working with?  It gets worse.

If the Flamanville reactor is not complete by 2020, the finance guarantees for Hinkley Point C will collapse.   When negotiations for Hinkley Point C financing started, they were contingent on the Flamanville EPR being completed to prove the concept works.  The Ecologist Magazine writes:

The finance guarantees [for Hinkley Point C] have been approved by the European Commission – but subject to a number of important conditions. These include a so-called ‘Base Case Condition’ (BCC) relating to the Flamanville EPR. Namely, that if the Flamanville reactor is not complete and operational by the end of 2020, the guarantees become invalid and bond holders must be repaid out of shareholder equity.

The most recent EdF estimate for the completion of the Flamanville EPR is the 4th quarter of 2018.  This estimate assumes there will be no delays for testing the defective pressure vessel and no need for replacement or any corrective action.  This seems a fanciful assumption.

There are also two EPR reactors under construction in China at Taishan which are further along than Flamanville.  Their pressure vessels were forged at the same Areva subsidiary that messed up Flamanvilles.  The Chinese safety authority has done tests, but is not releasing the results.

white elephat

The Chinese nuclear safety authority might be the worst in the world.  After some months after the Fukushima triple meltdown, the Chinese nuclear regulator made a passing comment that there were “problems in 14 areas which needed to be resolved” and that some would take 3 years to resolve.   He did not mention which reactors had problems.  No reporters present asked any questions, it would be disrespectful.  There has been no subsequent public follow up.  This was in 2012, years before these pressure vessel problems were discovered by the French.  Subsequent to this, I have only found one news report mentioning the Chinese nuclear regulators.  This was the French nuclear inspectorate complaining that the Chinese regulator was both overwhelmed and non-responsive. The city of Taishan has 1 million people and is less than 100 miles from Hong Kong.  But wait, it gets worse.

Successful Chinese anti-nuclear demonstration in Ghangdon - 2103

Successful Chinese anti-nuclear demonstration in Ghangdon – 2103

Finding financing for Hinkley Point C has been challenging.  Centrica, owner of British Gas, was an initial investor. In 2013, it decided it could no longer throw good money after bad and took a £200m write-off rather than commit to a 20% stake. History may well show they got off cheap.

The negotiating team of British and Chinese bureaucrats are wrestling over how much of the project China will pay for.  The British want China to pay for at least 40% of the entire project.  The Chinese were thinking numbers more like 30%.  But the Chinese want more than interest for their loan.  They also want a guarantee that they will be able to build a 1000 MWe Chinese designed reactor in the UK, to boot strap their reactor export business.  This is in clear violation of the EU subsidy rules, but everyone is looking the other way.

Senior UK military officials are quite concerned that deeply involving China in the British nuclear infrastructure represents a national security risk.  The Prime Minister’s office dismisses such concerns.

But wait, it gets even worse.  Because of the inevitable delays with Hinkley Point C (including the Austrian lawsuit challenging the entire project) the UK will miss its clean energy target by years.  And PM Osborne has already made clear there is no money for a “Both/And” solution of increased nuclear and renewables.  From a recent Guardian article:

Osborne has trashed the prospects for renewables here in the UK, has consigned to history our zero-carbon agenda for the built environment, has ridiculed the importance of energy efficiency, and, in the process, has guaranteed that we have literally no chance whatsoever of achieving our statutory targets under the Climate Change Act.

It is worth pointing out that there is not a single functioning EPR reactor operating anywhere in the world.  All four that are under construction (Flamanville unit 3, Olkiluoto unit 3 and Taishan units 1 & 2) are both years delayed in completion and billions over budget.

wind in europe

The northern part of Scotland has some of the best on shore wind resources in the world

But perhaps the worst aspect of this entire fiasco is that this terrible deal locks the UK into paying a guaranteed price for electricity (14 US cents/kwh) which is over twice the current wholesale price of electricity in England (just under 7 US cents/kwh) at a time when the price for renewables in that country have been steadily decreasing for years.   The UK Solar Trade Association says they can match this output at half the cost.  Independent energy experts estimate 6 times the capacity could be supplied by wind for the same price.

It is no exaggeration to say, this might just be the worst deal ever.

Update Oct 23rd 2015:   Now that it is possible to read some portions of the agreement, we find, unsurprisingly, that the long standing promise the governments have made that there will be “No public subsidies” for the Hinkley Point C reactors, is a lie.  Buried in fine print of the new paper for this deal is the sentence  “The government confirms that it is not continuing the ‘no public subsidy policy’ of the previous administration.  We can expect more lying and more public costs for this terrible deal in the future.

How is this going to work? Republicans on Climate Disruption

I was unsurprised with the Republican presidential candidates’ positions on the climate crisis.  It includes gems like:

Jeb Bush:  “I don’t think the science is clear on what percentage is man-made and…what percentage is natural. It’s convoluted. And for the people to say the science is decided on this is just really arrogant.”    He believes the U.S. needs to adapt, and he wants countries that have increased carbon emissions to cut back. But, he said, “We’re not one of them,” thanks to the increase in U.S. natural gas production from fracking.

melting globe

Donald Trump:  Trump tweetsIce storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee – I’m in Los Angeles and it’s freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” and “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”


Carly Foirani:  While admitting humans are causing climate disruption, Foirani says the US does not need to do anything about it, because other countries are not.  “[E]very one of the scientists that tell us that climate change is real and being caused by man-made activity also tells us that a single nation acting alone can make no difference at all,”

Ben Carson:  (who in most polls is number 2 behind Trump) simply denies it.  “I’ll tell you what I think about climate change. The temperature’s either going up or down at any point in time, so it really is not a big deal.”

Time for a name change.

Time for a name change.

Marco Rubio: “Our climate is always changing. And what they have chosen to do is take a handful of decades of research and say that this is now evidence of a longer-term trend that’s directly and almost solely attributable to man made activity. I do not agree with that.”

What did surprise me is the latest survey numbers which indicate that more US Americans believe in Climate Disruption than ever before.  70% of those surveyed said they believe in global warming.  This is up 10% from a year ago.    More important, perhaps, is that the number of people who agree with the Republican presidential candidates is down to 16%.

There is no consensus!

There is no consensus!

Which begs the question: who do these Republicans think they are appealing to with their unpopular (and inaccurate) notions on the urgency of climate action?  One is tempted to say “their paymasters,” the Koch brothers and others who are economically disadvantaged by any efforts to curtail carbon emissions and who are funding their campaigns.

But this is a bit too simplistic.  Even in these days of exceedingly bribed politicians, they do not simply parrot the ideology of their benefactors.  This is partly because these agendas really only serve a tiny fraction of the population and these candidates need to win a mostly popular vote.

Let's self reflect here for a minute

Let’s self reflect here for a minute

But something deeper is happening here.  These candidates, who are paying advisers millions to inform them as to what is electable, apparently think most people would rather be lied to about this problem, and not spend money on it (or change things).  In this multi-billion dollar bet of a presidential election, this seems something of a poor wager to me.

Climate Disruption Now – Syria and California

We have been hearing about climate change (or what activist and experts working on the issue prefer to call “Climate Disruption” or “Climate Crisis”, because climate change sounds of safe and possibly even positive) for a long time.  Despite Republican denials, it is really happening.  Sometime it is sparking huge international political changes, without getting the credit for them it deserves.

One example of this is Syria, where the political unrest and giant refugee problem can be directly attributed to climate disruption.  Specifically, overgrazing and desertification.

This forced Syrians from their rural homes into urban centers

This forced over a million Syrians from their rural homes into urban centers.

And the urban centers already had water and unemployment problems.  The Assad government largely ignored this situation, which lead to protests, arrests, torture of demonstrators and increasing calls for regime change.  A recently released WikiLeaks document shows the US was considering fostering an ISIS-like group in Syria, years ago, in hopes that Assad would overreact.  He has.  The country is now torn by war and half the country (over 9 million people) have been displaced from their homes.  Most will never return.

California is in the worst drought of decades, leading to wild fires destroying property and habitats.  A recent fire destroyed Harbin Hot Springs, which was a spa that Hawina and i visited a number of times.  Losing a spa is not the same as losing your country.  But in both cases people found themselves homeless and surprised by that.

harbin fire

I visited here in June.  125 members of Harbin lost their homes in the fire.

While the struggle in Syria is generally not attributed to climate disruption, the California fires are.  This abstract idea of climate disruption is going to start influencing people who thought either it was not real or they could comfortably ignore it.

Climate disruption is already happening and you are going to get hit by it.

Child Cancer at Fukushima

It is extremely difficult to link radiation from a nuclear accident to cancer.  Part of the problem is that there is no way to determine what level of radiation exposure an accident survivor received.  Typically it takes 4 to 6 years for their to be any detectable symptoms, excluding people who had very high doses.  Further complications include for childhood thyroid cancer (the most common type of nuclear fallout cancer) are not screened for in the population in general at the same rate as it is for accident survivors, so we find more cancers because we are looking harder.

2013 kid examination near Fukushima - photo credit NPR

2013 kid examination near Fukushima – photo credit NPR

All this said, the latest news from testing done on 370,000 children from the Fukushima area looks quite distressing. Ultrasound tests have found 137 of these children have developed thyroid cancer.  This is 20 to 50 times higher than the national rate in Japan.  Some medical experts are saying that it is too soon to tell.  Others claim the increase is due to increased testing.  Still others are claiming it is not the same type of thyroid cancer we saw at Chernobyl and thus it is not likely from Fukushima’s triple meltdown.

What we know from Chernobyl is that there is a huge range of estimated premature deaths.  The WHO/IAEA study estimates 4,000.  The NY Academy of Science published report estimates nearly 1 million.  And the protection of children, both in terms of evacuation and screening of food in Japan has been much better than in the Ukraine.

What we do know is that renewable energy is cheaper than nuclear and we sill continue to build reactors because a certain group of powerful people make a lot of money from it.  And perhaps this (and the associated health toll) is the greatest crime of all.


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