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Ban or reintegrate?

Building community is tough.  Founding residential, income-sharing urban communities edges up against impossible.  Nonetheless, we feel it is important, so we try to do it anyway.

Most communities never make it.  The bonds between the prospective members are not strong enough, the money does not come together, ideals get lost in policy design or in-fighting and the group never coalesces.  There are a dozen reasons that great plans for communities don’t make it.  Group discussions about difficult policies are particularly ripe for potentially sinking a group.

Recently, Point A’s discussion about its expulsion policy took a more negative turn.  The community does not even exist yet, and who the members are, or will be, is still unclear.  We’re still getting to know one another, and forming those community bonds.  And in the middle of this, a member of the community took other members to task for being unwilling to ban people accused of sexual assault, based upon a past experience in another context.


Help sexual assault

The details are hella messy, but it does not matter.  Sexual assault is an oft silenced and systemic problem that progressive organizations need to be sure they are not supporting.  I care deeply about this issue, intimates in my life work on this full time.  My most recent arrest was around raising consciousness on this issue.  I write and do workshops on building good consent culture.  

sexual assault is everyones issue

In the context of Point A, it makes sense to look at this issue in our expulsion policy.  You would just expel someone for sexual assault.  It is that simple: this type of behavior is unacceptable, so we need to protect ourselves and our loved ones from it.  Right?

Perhaps.  But wouldn’t it be better if the community could reintegrate perpetrators and survivors?  Wouldn’t we prefer to figure out how everyone can get what they want and need and still live together?  Shouldn’t community be the test bed for restorative justice solutions, rather than simple exile?


Clearly this type of work is generally crazy difficult.  But since building community in the first place is crazy difficult, shouldn’t we be striving to craft our beautifully robust model in hopes that its good design will increase its chance of support and replication?

Without a residence and even a fully specified group, it makes no sense to ban someone who is accused of sexual misconduct.  Rather, it makes all the sense in the world to look at a vexing example of this type of behavior and challenge the group to be open to more holistic solutions rather than simply throwing out the trash.

Nearly Lethal Protest

When Bush I invaded Kuwait, a number of billboards went up which were unusual.  They had a black background and white print and no indication of who funded them.

in god we trust billboard

One of these appeared in Richmond right beside the highway.  I was visiting friends in the city and this had Jesse furious.  As a Christian anarchist, this was singularly offensive to her.

Jesse spent some hours making an addition to this billboard.  It read “Trust God? Obey him: Thou shall not kill” It was perhaps 20 feet long and a bit rough in terms of penmanship,  but it got the job done.  When she announced she was going to scale up the side of the towering billboard at 4 AM and put it up, i quickly volunteered to be part of the crew that was going to install it.

troops out of iraq

Global Protest against the invasion of Kuwait in 1991

What most people don’t realize about billboards is that they are massive structures.  This one in particular towered over the adjacent 4 story warehouse.  A warehouse we had to climb up the side of to get to the stairs to the billboard.

In the dead of night, Jesse myself and a couple of other urban activists started climbing up the outside of this perhaps abandoned warehouse using the fire escape.

warehouse abandoned.jpg

It looked something like this

Fire escapes don’t usually make it all the way to the roof.  This one didn’t.  We climbed to the top of it and then had to pull ourselves onto the roof.  Jesse went before me, into the pitch dark night.  I pulled myself up and then the two of pulled ropes that were on the big banner to get it up onto the roof.  We stepped backwards pulling the banner ropes.

Then i heard something crunch beside me and the sound of breaking glass.  I spun around and saw that i had started to step thru a skylight which was flush with the roof.  I could see dimly that the beneath the skylight there was at least a two story drop.

i cursed as i started to fall toward the skylight and what certainly would have been my doom.

Jesse grabbed me and pulled me back to safety.  My heart was racing.

“Are you okay?” She asked after a minute

“Sure.” i lied to her. “Let’s get this banner up.”

no stepping on skylight

Helpful sign which is invisible in the dark

We got our comrades and the huge banner up to the roof.  The climbing onto the billboard itself was relatively easy and eventless.  We got the banner installed below the billboard and felt pretty good about ourselves.


Jesse and son Solice

We climbed down and as the sun was starting to come up we called the local newspapers, so they would get a picture.

By 8 AM our banner had been removed.  Patriotism was expedient that day.




2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 95,000 times in 2015. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

It’s a palindrome

There are pivotal moments, when a simple comment or action changes everything.

Ten years ago, I inadvertently created one of these. We were having a recruiting meeting at Twin Oaks and Kate said,

We should contact sociology professors at nearby colleges and get them to pay us for coming in and speaking to their classes.

I replied, “Well, that is not happening.” And with this single comment (and Kate’s tenacity), I insured that exactly this would happen and I would be completely wrong.


Kate – a colorful and tenacious gal

The same thing happened recently at an Acorn naming party.  One sentence changed the course of our collective history.

Acorn has naming parties. We don’t name cars, or most buildings, like Twin Oaks does.  But when someone shows up with the same first name as someone else, we typically have a naming party.


Naming party for a hybrid car  at Twin Oaks – Kathryn on left

So it was with visitor Mike. A talented musician and soft spoken young man, he was clearly not to be confused with member Mike. For a while, without much reason we called the visitor “Mike the Interloper.”

Sean facilitated Mike’s naming party, which was lively and entertaining. A very long list of names was considered and Mike was open to a large number of possibilities. It is considered good form to allow the focus person of the naming party to eliminate names they are sure they will not take. Mike eliminated very few.

When there were about 3 names left Sean opened the floor to impassioned speeches. A few not especially inspiring speeches were made, and then Port very quietly said,

Taco Cat is a palindrome.

And I watch the tide in the room shift.  Palindromes (words or phrases that have the same letters ignoring spaces going forwards as going backwards) are cool. If Mike the Interloper could have a palindrome name, we should take it.

palindrome reversable

We did.

What I did not know until Abigail pointed it out to me later is that both “taco” and “cat” are very often suggestions by OK Cupid for new user names for people who are trying to choose a user name, but someone else already has that name.

taco cat

Foolishly, I did not believe Abigail at first so we went into OK Cupid and tried to create a profile for “memeticist” which is the handle I already use. Sure enough, OKC suggested “Memeticist the Cat” and “Memeticist Taco”.

So apparently putting a bunch of clever humans in a room looking for an original name, using a strange selection technique, can mimic the automatic name generation software for a free online dating site.





Because it is worse than you think – the PP shooting

On Nov 27th, there was a shooter at a planned parenthood office in Colorado Springs.  He killed three people and injured a dozen more.  There was an hours long shoot out/stand off with police.

Some Americans had especially clever things to say.

Pro PP shooter tweets

Pro PP shooter tweets 2

Oh, and you are really going to love this one.

Pro PP shooter tweets 3

Here is what GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger had to say:

“Regardless, if somebody is targeting Planned Parenthood, it’s not indicative of what folks that are opposed to what some of the practices Planned Parenthood commits. We saw these barbaric videos and that is something many of us have a legitimate concern about. That doesn’t mean we’re gonna take guns and walk into Planned Parenthood clinics.”

So where does this leave us?  In a racially and reproductive rights divided country, clearly.  [These images and quotes are from]

Early efforts to find motive for the crime have eluded the media, other than finding he had a history of small violent crimes, including shooting his dog, pushing his wife thru a window and peeping tom charges.  We do know he told the police, “No more baby parts.”

So we were unsurprised when Dear shouted across the courtroom that he was guilty and a warrior for babies.

PP video effect

What we know is that, after killing 3 people, including a cop, and wounding 9 more, and holding over 100 officers in a standoff for 5 hours, he was captured alive.  Dear was white and, in this circumstance, it matters.

Police Chokehold Death

A man steps on loose cigarettes near the site of Eric Garner’s death. If you’re black, the police might kill you for selling cigarettes.


race card.jpg

We know that white men who kill large groups of people are not called terrorists.  We know that persons of color, like the recent San Bernadino shooters, will be called terrorists.

We know that, despite the president’s desire and the will of most of the American people, these assault weapon attacks on civilians in the US will not result in any significant change in gun legislation in the US, because the NRA does not want it.


Persistent Nice Things

Two years ago I wrote in the blog about a naming party for Twin Oaks’ new Prius. We called the car “This is why we can’t have Nice Things.” When someone asked Kathryn, who was helping facilitate the naming party, why we selected this name she simply said:

Come back in a year and look at this car and you will understand why we decided to call it this.


Kathryn pessimistic at Prius naming party – Circa 2013

Collectively, we are hard on things. Shared items (like cars and bikes and clothes) can get rough treatment sometimes, in part because there are a lot of users and in part because people often take better care of things they personally own. Communal property often has a rough ride with many owners/operators. But a funny thing happened on the way to the predicted tragedy of the commons.  It did not happen.

Instead it seemed the communards were willing to take some greater responsibility for things which perhaps needed it. Now after over 2 years, Nice Things (as it is called for short) is in fine condition. And our intrepid vehicle manager Trout has taken advantage of this better-than-expected behavior.


The future is not dual fuel vehicles – but for the moment it makes sense

He has bought 3 more hybrids.

Over 1/4 of the current car fleet at Twin Oaks is high fuel efficiency hybrid cars. Trout calculates that this saves us over $2K per hybrid per year.

So when someone tells you, “Sharing does not work, tragedy of the commons, and all that,” you can tell them about Nice Things.



Energy Shift: Interesting for different reasons

People occasionally send me things they would like me to blog about. Edmund sent me some fascinating articles about the Kurdish feminist fighters in Turkey and Iraq, who have pushed back all manner of foes including ISIL.  I’ve yet to do the research on this complex story to present it well.

kurdish feminist fighters

GPaul recently dropped two articles on me which he thought were worthy of note and, while I agree with him, it might be for different reasons.

The first is about a new IMF study, which shows fossil fuel industry “subsidies” exceed $5 trillion per year.  For comparison purposes, this is about 1/4 of the entire national product of the US.  It is also slightly more than all the countries of the world spend together on health care.

The conventional radical thinking here would be: End the fossil subsidies and the market will take us to a renewable future.

But this is hardly new news.  There have been all manner of studies of direct and indirect fossil fuel subsidies, including by the IMF which released a report with similar findings in  May of this year.    What is news, is who did it and how they did it.

Coal mining machine.jpg

The IMF, usually with its partner the World Bank, has been involved for decades in making global infrastructure investments.  This generally means support of the fossil fuel industry (fortunately not nuclear reactors).  What this report represents is a departure from the IMF’s traditional lending scheme.  It is, in essence, an admission of a mistake.

IMF:  “We used to fund fossil fuel infrastructure projects. Now we recognize that direct and indirect subsidies to this sector are creating tremendous climate damage.

The other thing which is interesting about the IMF study is that it includes health effects of the fossil fuel industry as part of its estimated costs.  On one level, this is hardly surprising.  Good economists and analysts attempt to be robust in their cost accounting.  And this includes “externalities”.

newtons burning desk.jpg

It keeps the place warm.

In economics, an externality is the cost or benefit that affects a party who did not choose to incur that cost or benefit. – Wikipedia

If your next door neighbor plays just your type of music, that is a positive externality.  If your up river neighbor pours poison into the river, when you drink it, you will die.  This is a negative externality.

Industrial capitalism is all about manipulating the externalities.  Your coal mine is dirty?  Move it to a place with no environmental controls.  Your sweatshop is killing workers?  Be sure to locate it in a country which won’t make you liable for that problem.  What capitalism thrives on is the notion at negative externalities can be ignored. “We don’t have to pay for these problems we create, therefore we can give greater value to our shareholders.”

Considerate Cartoon.jpg

The IMF is saying, “When we are looking at the economic effects of fossil fuels we need to consider the externalities, including human health.”  This is a rare assault on the very foundations of capitalism.  This is an economic model the IMF is sworn to protect and advance.

The second article is about Uruguay going 100% renewable.  This is lovely, we want lots of places to do this.  But Uruguay is not the first country to propose such a shift. Iceland did it in 1998.  Albania and Paraguay are doing it using their ample hydropower resources.  What make this story exciting is how the Uruguayans did it.  They did it  much the same way the Germans did.

uraguayan wind turbine rotar.jpg

Giant Wind Turbine Rotor being delivered in Uraguay

You do it by looking at green energy generation as an economic problem rather than a technical problem.  The hardware is out there and key to getting it installed is protecting investors.  Like Germany did with its Energiewende policy.  Germany protected investors in renewables by making sure they did not lose out when electricity prices fluctuated.  Uruguay followed suit and the world got better.

“What we’ve learned is that renewables is just a financial business,” Uruguay’s Méndez says. “The construction and maintenance costs are low, so as long as you give investors a secure environment, it is a very attractive.”

The results? Uruguay has cut its carbon footprint without government subsidies or higher consumer costs.  Renewables provide 94.5% of the country’s current electricity and inflation adjusted electricity prices for it are lower than in the ten years ago.

The US could do this as well, if the fossil and nuclear bound utilities did not control the state legislatures.








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