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Double Duty: Supporting Muslims Rebuilding Burn Black Churches

I had decided that i would give something to the first crowd funding campaign designed to support the rebuilding of the 8 recently burned black churches that appeared in any way interesting.  I was not disappointed.

Some of the most impressive scenes to come out of the Arab Spring uprisings were alternating displays of support from one religion to another. Christian defended Mosques.  Muslims protecting churches during services.

egypt-muslims-protect-church

Three Muslim groups have had a smashingly successful crowd funding effort.  With a short time horizon (designed to end with at the end of Ramadan) the initial $20K goal was quickly exceeded and now they are well on their way to $75K, with 8 days left in the campaign.  You can donate here.

i am not a Muslim, nor a Christian, nor black.  So why should i even care?

Hate crime is especially insidious and vexing.  Pushing back against it is critically important.  Muslims are targets in this country of endless discrimination large and small.  I see it when every visually identifiable Muslim in an airport goes to secondary search.  The ACLU has documented systematic discrimination by the NYPD.  Simple minded americans (which there are a fair few in this country) are fond of making sweeping generalizations about Muslims that are both untrue and racist.

hatecrime_002

Muslims taking the lead in helping to reconstruct black churches builds bonds between oppressed groups.  It shows that the country is not simply going to drift into a race war because some lone gunman wanted it to happen.  It is a constructive response to this spate of arson and shows solidarity in the face of trouble.

Too cheap to meter? Not nuclear–solar!

paxus:

Austin locks in solar power a $0.04/kwh – we have not seen prices like this since the 1960s

Originally posted on GreenWorld:

Chinese_solar_roofsThe nuclear power industry certainly rues the day the concept that atomic electricity would be “too cheap to meter” entered the public’s mind. The phrase has become inextricably linked with nuclear power, but not in the way its creators envisioned: instead of as a success story, it has become a symbol of nuclear power’s economic failure.

“Too cheap to meter” too quickly became “too expensive to use” and “too costly to build.”

So the headline above is offered with some trepidation and a grain of salt; over-promising on solar power will prove no more beneficial than it was for nuclear.

Still, the comparison is obvious. As giant nuclear utilities seek new ways to game the system and bleed ratepayers for every penny they can–whether or not those ratepayers have any anything left to bleed–to prop up reactors that produce electricity normal people simply can’t afford and shouldn’t have to pay…

View original 1,022 more words

#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches and the Mainstream Media Racial Bias

Unlike Yahoo, Google does not run a new service.  They run an aggregator.  It scans 4000 sources and creates listings for news stories based on a number of factors, including the reliability of sources and the popularity of the story. There are no editors at Google News; it is all done using algorithms.  Thus, in some crude way, Google News is the mainstream news (MSM).  Yesterday, I bumped into this internet meme (sic):

Is the MSM ignoring this story?

Is the MSM ignoring this story?

So i went to Google News’ US section for today (July 2) and, in the 30 top stories listed on the page, there is not a single mention of these churches being burned.  Nothing on the investigations, nothing on local protests about this arson, nothing about these churches having been targets before, nothing about the apparent race war which is raging in this country.  Simply nothing.

Why is this map so hard to find?

Why is this map so hard to find?

It would be wrong to say that there has been no coverage about this at all.  The BBC, NY Times and Buzzfeed have run stories on it before #BlackLivesMatter started raising public awareness about these incidents.  But the 24 hour new services on US television (Fox and CNN) had vanished the story.

To combat this silence, the twitter feed #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches was created by #BlackLivesMatter.  The twitter feed is an organizing platform where concerned citizens can post about these fires and read the latest news about this under-reported story.  But really the purpose of this hashtag is not to replace the failed FBI efforts to find the domestic terrorists, it is to shame the media into covering the story.  And it is working.  The BBC reports:

A Google News search about the fires returned more than 1,400 stories, up from just over 300 on Tuesday. Although news of a seventh church fire broke later Tuesday, and could explain the increase, Masri claimed that the Twitter action worked.

So far, however, the 24 hour TV news stations have remained largely silent (CNN has 4 stories, one explaining claiming one fire was from lightning).   If you put “Black Churches Arson” into Fox News’ search, there are no results found.  Salon magazine’s article on the media’s failure to cover  all this arson as an issue of domestic terrorism listed the following set of likely future Fox News stories on the church burnings from #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches:

  1. Apparently all those black churches used the same electrician.
  2. “Affirmative action” is to blame. Somehow.
  3. “Race hustlers” just want to get attention and make white people look bad.
  4. You see this is really a war on Christians!
  5. Do the math: Churches burn down all the time. Why are black race hustlers and liberals making such a big deal about simple math!
  6. What if Black racists want to hurt white firefighters!
  7. This is a scorched earth strategy to start a race war against white people.
  8. This is what happens when the SCOTUS allows gay marriage!
  9. Rap music! Rappers are always talking about “being on fire” and “making it hot up in here.” Let’s lay the blame where it deserves. What about personal responsibility!
  10. What if this was caused by, like, solar flares? How can the sun be racist?
  11. We need to talk about the broken Black family, and how black kids love playing with lighters.
  12. What do the liberals want to do now? Ban lighters.
  13. And really, where are black fathers?!
  14. Barack Obama is to blame.
But as pathetic as this list is, i do want to land on this last point.  Were Obama to hold a press conference, announce a special investigation, and highlight the problem, Fox and others could not avoid the story.  Certainly, there is a giant problem with the structural racism in the MSM.  But also saddening is the failure of the first black president of the US to take on the largely silent race war waging in this country.

The Work is Not Over – Gay Rights

The arch of history is long, and bends towards justice

Batman (formerly Triple Threat, formerly Teddy, formerly Laura, formerly Batman, now Batman again thankfully) was the first to tell me in a text moments after the decision.  But despite being in the middle of nowhere, various media and even people i did not know spent energy getting me this message of this significant political advancement in the US.

Mass protest was part of the strategy

Mass protest was part of the strategy

There are lots of important takeaways from this win.  First it is important to look at how far we have come, and how fast.  Less than two decades ago, arguably progressive (on social issues) president Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which was basically the opposite of the current supreme court ruling, prohibiting the federal government from recognizing gay marriages.  This was a popular move in 1996.  What happened?

The arch of history is long, and bends towards justice

The arch of history is long, and bends towards justice

Certainly, demographics is one factor.  A bunch of closed minded anti-marriage-equality folks have died off in the last 20 years.  More importantly, many kids have grown up seeing that their gay uncle or lesbian guidance counselor is cool and worthy of legal protection.  But remember that social conservatives dominate both houses of congress and the current supreme court.  We did not age our way into this significant change.

The work is not yet done

The work is not yet done

At the front of the list of who gets credit for this change is the gay community itself, which prioritized same-sex marriage as an issue, deemed it winnable, and ran endless legal challenges and referenda to secure this right.  They put out a simple, understandable message (“I should get to marry the person I love”) and kept repeating it until people got it. It also helped that after Massachusetts allowed gay marriage in 2004, absolutely nothing happened, despite endless forecast the world as we knew it would end.  (Except that the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1918.)  It became harder to pretend that same-sex marriage would result in increased divorces, etc.

Second in my analysis is that the mainstream media (MSM), who generally don’t get credit for doing much right in my book, actually came around on this issue.

I’ve written about how MTV was central in shifting young people’s thinking on gay rights in eastern Europe.  And despite Fox News’ endless pandering to the Religious Right’s bigoted refusal to accept marriage equality, basically the rest of the MSM began more favorable coverage of the issue.  This is partially about the way they covered the news, but it is more about the stories which got told in various TV shows which then influenced viewers’ thinking.  The villainized gay character depictions have significantly diminished in the last couple of decades and have been replaced by cooler gay characters or at least ones that straight viewers can relate to.  My son, Willow, watches the television show Modern Family in which a gay couple gets married and adopts an Asian daughter and raises her.  This is the new normal.  The idea that gay people should be denied rights because of religious works from 2,000 years ago is as stupid as 8 track tapes.   Why would you want to do that?

Television defines what is normal

Television defines what is normal

It is also important to point out that this decision barely passed.  Supreme Court Justice Scalia had a number of epic stupid things to say about the decision he opposed.

“Really? Who ever thought that intimacy and spirituality (whatever that means) were freedoms? And if intimacy is, one would think Freedom of Intimacy is abridged rather than expanded by marriage. Ask the nearest hippie. Expression, sure enough, is a freedom, but anyone in a long-lasting marriage will attest that that happy state constricts, rather than expands, what one can prudently say.”

Conservative Judge Kennedy voted in favor of the decision largely because of the thousands of children across the country who’s parents were not legally allowed to get married under existing prohibitions.  This single conservative defection enabled the court to do the right thing in its 5-4 split decision.

The good news is that their ideological blindness will likely once again bite the Republicans in the hind quarters.  Immediately after the decision, GOP Presidential hopefuls started coming out against the ruling.  Scott Walker, showing is detachment from the national reality is echoing the 2012 GOP platform in calling for a Constitutional amendment to block same sex marriages.  This strikes me as a special form of political suicide.  Former Pennsylvania senator (and GOP presidential candidate) Rick Santorum said: “Today, 5 unelected judges redefined the foundational unit of society. Now it is the people’s turn to speak.”  Clearly Santorum has no ability to read polls. The people have spoken; the judges are simply parroting them.

And as pointed out in the two rings graphic above, there is still tremendous work to do in changing unjust laws across the country.  So let’s celebrate this important win and let’s keep organizing.

You are a Cult, Right?

As i was going through the endless array of stupid comments in the recent Yahoo Parenting article on Twin Oaks, i found myself wanting a good summary of why Twin Oaks (and other secular and especially egalitarian communities) are not cults.  Fortunately, these communities have designed themselves to make this easy.

Let’s hop in our time machine for a moment. It is 1967 and the original 8 founders of Twin Oaks are looking at the principals and cultural norms around which they will form the community where they want to live.  Reverend Moon had just visited the US and set up holy grounds in the 48 contiguous states.  The FDA had just raided Scientology offices and seized illegal medical equipment, and the religion was being banned in Australia and other places.  And the Church of Satan was performing it’s first recorded baptism.

23 May 1967, San Francisco, California, USA --- Original caption:

Satanic Baptism – 1967

The intentional communities movement wanted to distance itself from these kinds of organizations, so it looked at the behaviors which typified cults and set out to make themselves different in as many ways as possible. The 4 things which typify a cult are:

  1. It has a living charismatic leader
  2. You give them all your money
  3. You are kept away from your old friends and family
  4. You can’t leave when you might like

Cults are also exclusive, often highly secret and universally authoritarian. Let’s take a quick look at these components.

Living Charismatic Leader:  Twin Oaks has a complex internal decision making system.  Specifically, we have 3 or more planners who serve 18 month terms but can not serve consecutive terms.  Over the last 18 years i have been at Twin Oaks, the problem is not having people want to do consecutive plannerships, the problem is getting people to complete their terms – recently several planners have quit this generally thankless job.   Holding onto leaders in an egalitarian community is hard, because they get extra headaches without the extra perks.  Plus at Twin Oaks  we have a distrust of people in leadership roles and they often get extra flack for this reason.  We would appear to fail the charismatic leader cult test.

Cult of personality?

Cult of personality?

Give up your assets:  This one is understandably complex, because the difference between income sharing and asset sharing is often confused.  When you join Twin Oaks, we ask you not to touch your pre-existing assets, if you have any, for the duration of your membership.  This does not mean we ask you to give them to the community.  If you want you can lend them to the community, and when you leave you get them back.  Without interest.  The interest is income.  Because the community pays for everything when you live there, food, clothing, medical, housing, entertainment, taxes, dentist, etc we ask that any income your assets earn (including Social Security and pension income – excluding 401K interest, which you can’t get at) be given to the community.   This feels fair to us.  We also don’t take your debts if you arrive with debts.  Most cults require you give everything over.  Some (like Scientology – which fails the living leader test) require you to pay for expensive classes and encourages significant donations to the community.  Members are not encouraged to make donations to Twin Oaks of pre-existing assets nor do we charge our members for anything.

We provide everything you need

We provide everything you need.

Isolation:  Bring your friends and family to the commune, by all means.  They can stay for free and the host determines what work, if any, is appropriate for them to do (if you are going to stay for a while we would like you to work quota).  It is true there are people who live at Twin Oaks who rarely leave the farm.  But we design our selection process so that it pushes you back into the arms of those who care about you, before you come to join.  At the end of your visitor period at both Twin Oaks and Acorn you must leave, even if everyone thinks you are great and you should stay forever.  After you have been home for 10 days you find out if we have accepted you and then (at TO at least) you have to wait another 3 weeks before you can come.  My joke is if your friends and family can’t convince you not to join this hippie commune in 3 weeks, then you are free to come.

“You don’t need to go anywhere.  Everything you want is right here”

No Exit:  I dislike grumpy communards.  I really dislike communards who are grumpy about the community that they are living in.  I want these people (after making a good faith effort to fix their situation) to leave.  Every one of them represents a misallocated space, because there is someone on the waiting list who wants to take that person’s place and really wants to live with us.  Again we have had waiting list for years.

Exclusive:  One of Twin Oaks and Acorns missions is to be a model.  To be a model you have to be open to outside guests – friends, media, academics, curious travelers and more.  Cults won’t let you inside, and while it is wrong to say our doors are always open to anyone, if you ask in advance and come to any of the Saturday Tours or 3 Week visitor periods you can see pretty clearly what we look like.

Secretive:  Similarly, models can’t be secrets.

Tell no one

Tell no one

Authoritarian:  This seemed to be where many readers of the Yahoo article got hung up.  The assumption seemed to be that, if there were a self selecting group which was not following the roles of the mainstream, then there had to be an authoritarian oppressive structure.

Look, these communities are filled with anarchists.  We are not going to work if the structure is authoritarian.  We want to do better than majority voting.  All the egalitarian communities require democratic decision making systems, at least voting, ideally consensus.  This does not absolutely insure authoritarian structures will not emerge, but consensus is one of the best ways to maximize the power individuals have over oppression by a group.

Thus by any of the standard criteria for determine cult status, we fail.  But you dont need to believe me, come visit and see for yourself.  Call 540-894-5126 and arrange a Saturday tour.

Turkey Point > Small Reactors – Going where the fight is

I track the nuclear reactor news; it’s an old habit that i can’t seem to kick.  There is a lot of digital ink spent on small modular reactors (SMRs).  Bill Gates is funding them! Department of Energy has millions for research for SMRs! Virginia will lead the Renaissance with SMRs.  This must be a happening thing right?
Bill Gates
Actually, it is not.  If you care about the future of clean energy in this country, you are not going to put in a bunch of time fighting Small Reactors.  That fight is over.  The nuke boosters lost again.  Same old reason, nuclear power (especially from inefficient sized reactors) is crazy expensive and the market will select anything else that is cheaper, or in some cases no carbon foot print and cheaper.

Shouldn’t we do more research?  Well, the Navy has for 60 years and can’t get small (non-modular) reactor costs down to anything reasonable in either aircraft carriers or submarines.  They do them anyway, because these are cost plus rather than market driven projects, but don’t look for cities or utilities, which have to watch bottom lines, to follow the military in energy investment strategy.

We can just build them like this and pay 10X the market rate

We can just build them like this and pay 10X the market rate

If over half a century of well funded research and significant motivation on the part of the military does not convince you that economical SMRs are not imminent, then let me up the ante.  Westinghouse Nuclear, the largest nuclear construction company in the US, has dropped SMRs. This means the second best nuclear marketing team in the world thinks they can’t sell these.  

All five reactors under construction in the US currently are Westinghouse designs.  Westinghouse’s reason for ditching SMRs, “There are no customers”

To be clear, just because these reactors that make no economic sense will not stop a few of them from being built.  But there will be no commercial contracts for these reactors, no orders from other countries, no merchant reactors operating in the US.  In terms of the dangerous part of the fight, this is not where the action is.
nuclear_hazardous_investment
The fight that matters and that we totally can win is the campaign against new reactors in the US.  And there are proposals for new ones, especially Turkey Point blocks 6 and 7.  Below is a letter i wrote to a Florida green group on the topic:
I am interested in working with you providing information and strategy suggestions for the campaign to block the Blocks 6 and 7 at Turkey Point.

First the good news (for fighting TP6&7, not for the citizens of FL or the environment):

These reactors are early in their licensing stage, so there is plenty of time to slow down/bog down the approval process and or kill the proposal outright. Specifically, we have until July 17 to get comments into the NRC.

The reactors use a tremendous amount of water in an area which likely can’t handle it, even if local sewage treatment water is heavily used.  The existing reactors are not able to stay cool despite huge quantities of water being used.

The site is located both near parks and at a very low water level that will flood in the event of hurricanes and otherwise rising waters.

The key is cheap, reliable storage - Tesla Utility Scale Batteries

The key is cheap, reliable storage – Tesla Utility Scale Batteries

Solar PV augmented with new Tesla Electric utility scale batteries trumps TP6&7 financially today.  And the longer we drag out the discussion, the more true this becomes. The most recently ordered (but not yet confirmed) nuclear reactor, Hinkley 3, is more expensive than either Solar PV or onshore wind in the UK, twice as much.

All of the 5 reactors under construction in the US are both late and over-budget.  As has been every other reactor built in the US of the last 70 reactors in a row. FLP will almost certainly blow its proposed budget for this pair of new reactors.

Now the bad news:

Florida has Construction Work in Process (CWIP) which allow utilities to charge rate payers for expensive project failures.  This was central to the new reactor in SC and Georgia being approved, when they can not get similar projects thru in states without CWIP.

The nuclear utility has tremendous political power and are generally able to get both the FL Public Utility Commission and the FL State Legislature to give them everything they want.    This said, it is still worth talking with state activists to see if there had ever been a successful campaign to lobby the PUC.  Certainly, loud enough campaigning can influence the legislature, though they are screamed at with some regularity and bought off far more often.  The nuclear utilities in Florida have made a most fascinating argument against solar power: it helps rich people get richer.  Because of the high up front costs of roof top solar PV, only rich people can afford it, so, since we want a grid funded by everyone, the rich should be prohibited from profiting from their capital and everyone should pay for the grid. To be clear, the reason utilities build nuclear power plants is that they have a bunch of money (or credit) now and want to buy this incredibly expensive thing, that only they can buy and then make lots of money off (by not paying for waste, insurance, terrorist risks, etc).   So the incredibly rich FL utilities have convinced the sunshine state that solar power is bad here, because it will give the rich more money.

Instead of Reactors, let's do this in the Sunshine State.

Instead of Reactors, let’s do this in the Sunshine State.

The Solutions Project has 50 plans, one for each state, on how to get to 100% renewable energy in the US by 2050.  Not one plan uses nuclear reactors.

East Greets West: A tale of two conferences

I do like the phone. telefon-table surreal Most recently i have been calling communities about coming to the Twin Oaks Communities Conference this Labor Day weekend.  It is early enough in the year that we get to brainstorm all manner of possibilities.  What workshops they might do in the open space technology section?  Who they might be able to bring with them?  What kinds of ride sharing is possible?  Labor Day is far enough away that people don’t have things scheduled and are willing to consider this, especially the highest ranked communities which i am calling, many of whom are predisposed to coming out again or checking it out.

Twin Oaks Communities Conference 2013

Twin Oaks Communities Conference 2013

The Twin Oaks Communities Conference runs a bit like a well oiled machine.  We have been literally doing it for decades.  We have notebooks which reminds us when to do everything and google drive docs which chronicle many previous schemes and name all the tasks and past volunteers who have made this complex event happen.  This year we are putting out the call for presenters quite early.  This is not to say that the Communities Conference doesn’t need good organizers.  Despite being well understood, there is always something which tests us in putting it on. Transformative movements can’t be content to keep doing what they already do well, we need to expand and touch the lives of more people.  And so i was extremely happy when the fine folks at Groundswell Institute agreed to host the West Coast Communities Conference.

Groundswell-header-image-v7

Images of Groundswell Institute

Groundswell is a new community, two hours north of San Francisco and founded by radical queer friends of ours, some of whom are ex-Oakers.  Groundswell is interested in growing to about 15 people in the next year from the handful they have now.  When i asked what type of people they were searching for, there was a short but comprehensive consultation amongst the members present. “Non-heteronormative” was the response (more on this soon).

The physical plant of Groundswell in impressive. It is an ecovillage on over 180 acres of land (with all human activity concentrated on 40 acres).  It is a former campsite which can sleep 80 people indoors in cabins. It has a full sized institutional kitchen, pond, amphitheater, dance hall and some amazing trees.

How amazing you ask?  Well if you read this blog you know my dear friend Shal is very into trees.  We climb them regularly.  Shal and i visited Groundswell together last year.  When we were on our way, Shal was concerned that this visit to my friends would delay our visiting the big trees of California that he had heard so much about.  He was not expecting to be impressed with the trees at Groundswell.  We arrived there at night, and after being welcomed with conversation and good food, made our way in the dark to one of the many cozy cabins.

In the morning when Shal came out of the cabin to go to the main house, he stopped in his tracks as he saw the view and the trees.  Fortunately breakfast was going to be available for a while, so he could afford to give in to the powerful urge to gaze at the amazing view of Groundswell and the valley and hills beyond.   And he saw beautiful trees!    They were more human scale than the giant redwoods, but the closest one was magnificent, reaching out as well as up, with big mossy branches at chest level, easy to touch and climb on, which he did.  ​And when he moved on to the main house for breakfast, he found that also had a very impressive view.

IMG_0502

Later Kyle took us on a tour of Groundswell, and Shal spent much of the time looking at the views and trees, including spending some time at the Grandfather tree at the top of the hill, from which there is a grand full circle view of the beautiful hills valleys and hills surrounding Groundswell.

Kyle at Work

Kyle at Work

Groundswell has put out the call for presenters to this event.  There will be Open Space Technology at WCCC, just like there is at Twin Oaks Communities Conference, which is an appropriate place for content which might be your expertise, but is not specifically related to community life (permaculture, renewable energy, anti-oppression work, polyamory workshops, etc).  Topics appropriate for scheduled portion of the program are listed below, as distinct from the Open Space section. There will also be a number of workshops on topics directly related to community living which will be presented. There is a list of these topics below. Think about your west Coast and especially Bay Area friends and let them know this is happening. Tickets (including one day passes) are available here.

Call for Presenters Living as Community: West Coast Communities Conference,  October 9 – 12, 2015, Groundswell Community & Institute, Yorkville, CA  (2 hours north of bay area)

Groundswell, an emerging ecovillage and retreat center, is proud to announce a new West Coast Communities Conference. Organized with sponsorship from the Fellowship for Intentional Communities (FIC) and the Federation of Egalitarian Communes (FEC), the main goal of this conference is to provide opportunities for networking and skill building for people involved with the communities movement.  Those who already have experience with community will be able to share and increase their skills, while those who may be new to the movement will learn a wide range of models and practices that others have used in starting and sustaining successful communities. We are hoping to have a wide range of community movers and shakers to present workshops, dialogues, and demonstrations.  Anyone with interest or experience in worker cooperatives, rural communes, artist collectives, or any other kind of communal enterprise is invited to participate. We encourage people to be creative in the matter and manner of these presentations and ask only that they hold some relation to intentional community. Some possible topics include (but aren’t limited to):

  •   different approaches to creating communities
  •   membership and financing
  •   sustainable building and living practices
  •   social and organizational skills
  •   decision-making, consensus, and practices of inclusivity
  •   diverse communities and diversity within communities
  •   communications and group process
  •   conflict resolution
  •   resource management
  •   models and sources for community building
  •   visions and charters

In addition, the organizing team is still looking for help with logistics both before and during the conference. If you are interested in being involved in that way, please don’t hesitate to be in touch. To propose a presentation, get involved in other ways, or for more information, please contact:
Kevin “Faire” Faircloth, Project Coordinator, faire@groundswell.institute 714-342-0809

Kyle is organizing the Meet the Communities” so if you are in part of a place based community which wants to present please contact him at kyle@groundswell.institute

Special Communities Salon: On Saturday of the conference, representatives of different communities will have the opportunity to introduce themselves through short presentations to the attendees.  In addition, communities are invited to bring tabletop displays to help show off their home. This is a great opportunity for communities to meet potential new members and vice versa.  Please contact assistant organizer Faire at faire@groundswell.institute

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