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Beyonce’s Brave New World

A tiny bit more than 15 years ago Google did not exist.  In it’s relatively short life it has helped revolutionized the world of advertising.  Specifically, it has helped get people used to the idea that they could pay nothing for relatively high quality internet and software services if they were just willing to put up with a few ads on their screens.  This had the significant side effect of shutting down thousands of newspapers and cutting print media advertisement in half between 2006 and 2011.

The internet is a disruptive technology.  It has completely change the way we travel, wiping out most travel agencies.  It has eliminated most video rental stores and is well on its way to closing most of the countries book stores.  Music stores are shutting down and tremendous revenues have been lost by artists (but mostly record labels) due to people sharing music online.

Disruptive Beyonce

Disruptive Beyonce

Beyonce is joining the digital disruption revolution with her newest self titled album.  Instead of buying a bunch of print advertising, lining up talk show presentations, pre-releasing a hit single on the radio, having a huge release party and partnering with big retail brands, she turned to the internet to promote her album which released on Dec 12.  The totality of her promotion was a tweet which said “Surprise” and the release for the full album and 17 videos on iTunes.  In the first week it sold 1 million copies on iTunes, where it debuted as number 1.

When asked why she had moved away from classical promotion formats, she replied “I am bored with that.”  But what is also true, is that if you can get away with this type of release, with your fans doing the promotion over social media, you can save millions in conventional display advertising by crowd sourcing.  And for the first week of sales for this album, you had to buy the entire album, rather than cherry picking songs you like.  In a country which seems to have no patience, this also significantly increases revenues over the ala carte approach.

Is Beyonce exempt from the promotional laws of gravity - or can everyone fly?

Is only Beyonce exempt from the promotional laws of gravity – or can everyone fly?

CNN and the NY Times believe that only an artist as big as Beyonce could pull this off.  She has 7 million Instagram followers and 54 million likes on her new album.  And what is true is that this unhyped album had significantly higher first day and first week sales than her previous album which used a more convention sales approach.  And we can certainly expect to see other bands with loyal fans try to dodge conventional promotion strategies by trying this disruptive approach.

Transition Winter

It is balmy.  I am walking around in a t-shirt and i am sweating.  It is going to get warmer. Records are being broken, la de da.

Were it October it would look like this - Yellowstone Park

Were it October it would look like this – Yellowstone Park.

It is the kind of weather which makes people think climate change is perhaps a fine thing, at least in the short term.  It is also a state which is important enough to deserve a name.  When i thought about uncharacteristically war weather and what it was called i remembered “Indian summer”.  A term i assume is racist in origin.

I would call this transition winter.  Something is changing, likely it is the climate.  Though as Alexis is fond of pointing out, “the weather is not the climate.”  And just as we ditched the term “Global Warming” for “Climate Change” we can expect that not only will we have uncharacteristically warm winters, we are looking at more “super storms.”

You can get bummed out by climate change and this will almost certainly do no good.  Or you can look at it as an organizing opportunity. For days like today, the plan is simple – go out and enjoy the day [As i write there is a particularly iconic frisbee game going with lots of people in shorts and t-shirts.]

The weather is changing for a reason

The weather is changing for a reason.

For the harsh side of transition winter, we can prepare to outperform the Red Cross.  The idea is to use the opportunities of climate change to build new self-reliant (and hopefully ecological impact mitigating) local groups.  This is another thing the Occupy spirit could grow up to be.

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Brilliant Feminist Videos

Despite the hours a day i spend online, i am largely a pop culture media bimbo.  Until i saw this slap down, i was unaware that the pop song i had heard in the car had a highly offensive video.  i take some pride in only being aware of the satire and not the original, which i can full imagine from the cut up was crass and degrading.

One of the places with the most horrific women’s rights crisis is India.  There is a 30% female infanticide rate, honor killings and until recently largely unpunished gang rape. Feminists in India are stepping up with one of the most potent device in the propagandists tool box: satire.

Part of what i love about this following video is that it is a beautiful bilingual presentation.  Aware that some of her audience are more comfortable and comprehensive in Hindi than English, activist and actress Mallika Sherawat flows between the languages while clearly being enraged.  What is also clear is the nationalism she is fighting is as bad as the sexism.

Sometimes your entry on the world stage comes when they put a bullet into your head and you survive.  Malala Uousafzai beat the odds of the Taliban assassination attempt and became the youngest person ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.  More importantly, she has leveraged her moment of media attention into a autobiography, high profile interviews (like this link to an interview on the Daily Show) and an enduring non-profit designed to bring educational opportunities to girls and young women in Pakistan.

These videos were all taken from a longer brilliant retrospective article from an online rag i have never heard of called PolicyMic.

His name was banned

There is only one person ever who has won the Nobel Peace Prize, Order of Lenin (the highest honor of the Soviet Union) and the US Presidential Medal of Freedom (the highest civilian honor in the US).  And for over 20 years it was illegal to say his name or publish his picture in his home country.

Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan called him a terrorist.  Dick Cheney voted against the resolution to release Mandela from jail.  But this is unsurprising; Mandela was a Marxist.  Besides fighting for the end of the racist Apartheid regime in South Africa, he also supported labor unions, redistribution of wealth and Fidel Castro.  Conservative leaders were right to be afraid of him.

mandela terrorist and statesman

Nor did Mandela forget his roots when he came to power. In 2003, when Bush was promising to liberate Iraq’s people, Mandela said, “All that he wants is Iraqi oil.” When Bush declared Iraq’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons a threat to the planet, Mandela had the bad manners to remind Bush that the only country to have actually used nukes was the United States. Mandela’s message to America’s leaders, born from firsthand experience, was clear: Don’t pretend you are pure.

I was at Twin Oaks on Feb 11, 1990 when i saw a little note on the 3 X 5 board which read:

Today, Nelson Mandela is Free

I was amazed!  Partly because i did not think the South Africa government would actually release him.  I was convinced that letting Mandela out was admitting they had overstepped and that that meant Apartheid was coming down.  And as it turned out, this came to pass, just about this way.

The whole world watched in amazement.

The whole world watched in amazement. Feb 11, 1990

The Marxist became a democrat (though Mandela had always advocated multiracial and multiparty elections).  The political prisoner became head of state.  And those of us who believe in the power of hope had a new inspiration.

Rest in peace, Nelson.  And thanks for all your work.

Other excellent coverage on the complex man who was Nelson Mandela:

NPR:  Mandela: Icon, Hero and Flawed Human

Think Progress:  The Right Wing’s Campaign Against Mandela

Think Progress: Six Things Mandela Believed That Don’t Get Talked About

Al Jazeera: Mandela the Radical

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Squatting 2.0 – Freedonia and beyond

We have lots of different types of radical friends.  And some of them are fully public in all the things they do and others have to operate slightly below the radar so they can keep doing what they do.  In my travels over the last few months i have had the good fortune to visit a couple of inspiring places i have not been before.  There exact locations are not important, what is critical is what they have learned and what they can teach others who are interested in some aspects of their work.

This mural was partial payment by a band for use of the space
This mural was partial payment by a band for use of the space

Let’s call my comrades place Freedonia.  Imagine it in anyone of the urban centers which have seen hundreds to thousands of houses abandoned over the last couple of decades.  The precise location does not matter.

Squatting 1.0, which i learned in Am*dam and Barcelona goes something like this:  You find a group of friends who need housing.  It is great if at least a couple of the friends are local to the area you are trying to move into.  Then you search – you look for the right place to move into.  The right place is one which is abandoned, unlikely to be used for residential or commercial purposes soon (perhaps because it is run down), but not in such bad shape that parts of it can not be heated (if you are in a climate that requires heat in the winter).

Then you break in.  Once inside you do the opposite of what thieves do.  Instead of looking for things to steal, you look for things of value which someone else might come back for, because if there are too many valuables, someone will come back for them and you will loose the place.  We are not looking to steal treasure, we are trying to use space which is idle to satisfy real housing needs.

Then you settle in.  You find cheap plates and flatware.  You wire electricity from a near by light pole.  Some people drop out, perhaps a new person or three join you.  You figure out security so people can get in and out and if needed not be seen.

But there is a problem with old style squatting, especially in the US, where laws are designed to protect property holders, even owners who have are not paying taxes, abandoned their properties or are simply speculating.  The problem is the police or private security will come in and throw you out and then secure the place in a way which will make it hard for you to get back in.  Your group with no place to go falls apart and drifts off to other places.

Tool Bench - shared and dynamic
Tool Bench – shared and dynamic

Freedonia has things we have seen at other great squats, like Can Masdeu in Barcelona:  there is a bike repair shop, a printing press, ovens (bread ovens at Can Masdeu and pizza ovens at Freedonia), public workshop and performance space, public gardens,  zine publishing, an anarchist library, dedicated volunteers, support from locals in the area and more.

public bike repair shop
public bike repair shop

But what Freedoonia has that her European counter parts have not figured out is a technique to avoid the group falling apart when they are busted by the police or hired thugs.  This is the 2.0 part.

Before they broke in, they moved in.  They took advantage of the high number of abandoned buildings in close proximity to each other, they scoured newspapers, public records and local inside knowledge to find a place they could occupy legally, a base of operations.  In the case of Freedonia, they found a place which was available for very little money, borrowed what they needed and moved in.  They talked with locals and convinced the owner of a neighboring warehouse that in exchange for fixing parts of the roof and keeping the place secure they could occupy the warehouse, which most of these pictures are taken in.  Well before squatting, they set up a stable, legal, large base of operations, for very little money.

Nano brewery
Nano brewery

When they moved into their first squat, they successfully occupied it for 6 months.  They were like so many 1.0 squats before them busted.  But instead of falling apart, they pulled back to the legal space.  They were tight for a while, they looked for other places to occupy, but then after some months they established that in fact the best place to go, was the place they had already been thrown out of.  They returned, corrected the mistake that got them thrown our the first time and have been there successfully for almost two years now.

The other clever thing they do in Freedonia is that they brew beer.  They don’t sell it, but they do give it to volunteers and bring it to parties.  Beer is not new.  But it is socially very powerful.  Combined with their high temperature pizza oven which can cook a pizza in less than 100 seconds.  These innovative, dedicated urban dwellers may just re-ignite a viable squatting movement in this country.

dead rat
dead rat in the street outside Freedonia

Nicole’s question

Some of the folks who come through the communities conference have incredible energy.  Nicole was this year’s hard charger.  Working principally through social media she is building up a network of representatives from the communities which she calls Hybrid RBE for Hybrid Resource Based Economy.

Clever enough for me

Clever enough for me

She drives her members through hooking people up and asking what she hopes are penetrating questions.   She posted this recently:

Which would you rather have? A. Your current wage with no guarantee of it covering all your basic needs rather long being able to afford your wants. or B. Basic needs guaranteed to be covered, with the possibility of your wants being met as well, and no wage at all.

Most of her hybrid RBE folks think they want choice B.  Some feel that this is just a government handout, which it certainly is not in our case (though we did get some Obama stimulus money at Twin Oaks to put up solar panels).  Nicole wants me to explain what we do for money:

At Twin Oaks we currently have 7 business areas:

  1. Hammocks
  2. Tofu
  3. Indexing Books
  4. ConferencesGathering and Workshops
  5. Outside Work
  6. Wholesale non-GMO seeds
  7. Growing and selling organic seeds

Acorn has the retail seed business, which is larger than any single business of Twin Oaks.

These businesses are exceptional because they are run largely cooperatively, and with as little hierarchy as we can get away with (which is fairly little actually).  They permit flexible labor forces to work in schedules which permit child care and other regular schedule shifts.  These businesses all have stable customer bases and in many cases continue to grow with minimal marketing.  [Most people who are interested in sales and marketing don't want to live in a rural commune.]  All the “supervisors” in these businesses do line work as well, there is a strong training culture in most of our business ventures.  Excellent parenting benefits.  Full health and dental coverage. Post secondary education support for children, etc, etc.

our tool library looks nothing like this

Our tool library looks nothing like this

But this is not what makes us really interesting.  What makes us worthy of model value is that we have a tremendously powerful library system which dramatically reduces costs and shrinks our carbon footprint.  Some of the libraries/insurances we have include:

our distributed library does not look like this.

Our distributed library does not look like this.

So if we take just one important example, we have 17 cars.  The average group of 100 US Americans (about our size) have 77 vehicles.  Our vehicles drive about as much as each of the mainstream cars, only with many fewer miles per person served. We do clever collective shopping, don’t commute to work and carpool fiercely.  And at the end of the day we are well over the needed 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that the UN IPCC is demanding.

We are successful business people who have a tiny carbon footprint and are living relatively low stress life, eating the food we grow in the buildings we build, surrounded by kids we are homeschooling.  It is nothing less than a model which if scaled up would save the world.

But we probably won’t do it because we need to have our own stuff.


Should we change our behavior to address this?

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Fingerbooks for Guerilla Workshops

If we are honest, we must confess that we are in the business of trying to change peoples minds.  If the intentional communities movement is a model of what some part of what a better world looks like, than we (the people who speak for the movement) are some kind of ambassadors.  Alternatively, you could call us propagandists.

adder, Billy from the amazing Baltimore Free Farm project and i all arrived in Ann Arbor for the North American Student Cooperative Organization (NASCO) Institute.  There will be about 400 attendees including “faculty” (like the three of us who are presenting) at this years event.

BFF Tomatoes and the grenade they found in the lot while gardening.

BFF Tomatoes and the grenade they found in the lot while gardening.

What we have been doing on and off for long while now at these types of events is create fingerbooks that are event specific.  Typically these include descriptions of some of the income sharing communities, some stuff about the movement in general and descriptions of workshops we are involved in.

When we are lucky, there is some space set aside by the event organizers for guerilla or wildcat workshops.  These are ones which are scheduled by presenters, but not recognized by the organizers.  They happen at the venue, they are related in topic to what is part of the general conference, but they are not “officially” part of the event.  NASCO set up one small class room for guerilla workshops, we occupied it for half of the workshop slots, frequently having to roll over into the adjacent classrooms, because our unofficial workshops were quite popular.

not all coop folks are white though

not all coop folks are white though

Sadly, the folks from the Midden could not come to NASCO this year.  But when they heard about the guerilla workshops, they got much more excited about next year.  The joke was that we would take over the 4 classrooms which surrounded this years guerilla workshop space and offer 24 unofficial workshops at next years institute (4 workshops times 6 slots) and the prolific folks from the Midden would offer 6 of them.  Below is my fantasy of what some of this full alternative conference at NASCO 2014 would look like:

 Urban Dark Green Ecovillage Thread

1) Squatting and Salvage
2) Dumpster philosophy and practice
3) Shared House/Shared Campaign
4) Hitchhiking and train-hopping

Applied Commune Thread

1) Income Sharing and Cottage Industries
2) Radical Resource Sharing
3) Consensus and its Discontents
4) Viral expansion of the communities movement

Revolution Theory

1) Building Better Memes
2) Funology and crafting the better party
3) Trust based cashless systems
4) Make sharing the new religion?

Healthy Relationships Thread

1) Transparency Tools
2) Poly and managing jealousy
3) Kink and advanced consent
4) Honest Seduction

5) Love Letter writing


Renewable Highlights October 2013

Ken Bossong produces the best renewables weekly report called The Sustainable News Summaries.  Here are my favorite stories from the most recent one:

Renewables will be 70% of new energy investment by 2025 according to CitiBank.  This is the same CitiBank which did the new energy investment analysis and found investing in new reactor construction failed all 5 criteria.  So let’s be clear here, this is not Greenpeace with some ecological agenda, This is a capitalist bank, which believes in externalizing internal costs where ever possible (meaning they want you the taxpayer to cover the cost of nuclear waste, accident insurance,  investment risk and more).  CitiBank is in the business of making money for their shareholders, this quarter.  If the climate is destroyed or huge regions of the planet are left uninhabitable, this is not their concern.  And what they are saying is that nukes are basically off the table.  Nothing says you are winning like the vast majority of new investments going your way.

Not just a dream any more

Not just a dream any more

California leads the way on Renewables in the US.  Germany is a renewables poor country. Yet long before Fukushima it decided that increasing it’s clean energy contribution was the path it wanted to follow.  Unable to bring in more sunshine, or whip up great winds, Germany did what it could to encourage renewable energy development – it changed the tax law.  This has been fantastically successful. In a similar fashion California has now decided to up the stake on renewables. What this new law does is:

  • Requires state utilities to have at least 5.2 GW net metered generation – permitting customers to sell mostly solar and wind to the grid.
  • It removes the cap on net metered electricity (previously 5%) which ill spur investment in household renewables
  • Keeps California (which currently produces 20% of its electricity from renewables) on target to get to 33% by 2020.
  • Separately, California is requiring utilities to have storage for almost a million households with of electricity. This enables more renewables at home.

On the down side persistent low natural gas prices in the US are impeding energy efficiency efforts.

imagine a cleaner future

imagine a cleaner future

If you want to see the full sustainable energy news Oct 19th, 2013 report it is available here.

You  can subscribe by writing Ken at

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Will the Axis powers win WW3?

[The first part of this article is how these countries got out of nuclear power, the second half is about what they are replacing it with.]

In 1940, Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy and Hirohito’s Japan were the original 3 Axis Powers in World War 2.

axis flags

Since WW 2 these three nations have built and operated 80 production nuclear reactors (54 in Japan, 22 in Germany 4 in Italy).   Today across these 3 countries there are only 9 operating, all in Germany, all of which will be phased out in 2022. Here is what happened to them:

In 1987, after Chernobyl, Italy had a referendum and voted to close its four operating reactors in three years.  In 2011, to re-affirm this decision 95% of Italians voting again repudiated nuclear power.

On May 4, 1986, less than two weeks after the Chernobyl meltdown, a thorium fuel pebble bed production reactor in Germany had an accident and released radiation into the environment.  Plant management tried to hide the release behind the Chernobyl releases.  This accident undermined German trust in pebble bed reactors.  It did not seem to dampen the global endless fringe enthusiasm for thorium reactors.

In 1990, after the Berlin Wall came down, but before re-unification, it was decided it was too dangerous to continue running Soviet design reactors at Greifswald and 5 operating reactors were closed.  [Interestingly, these reactors almost never show up on reactor maps of Germany, even ones including closed reactors, they have simply vanished from public view, despite their huge decommissioning costs (as of 2008 almost US$2 billion have been spent on decommissioning Greifswald, and the job is far from done)].

Mysteriously Wikipedia and other maps don't included closed east German reactors

Mysteriously Wikipedia and other maps don’t include closed eastern German reactors

In 2011 shortly after Fukushima, Germany’s long pro-nuclear Prime Minister Angela Merkel said

“when, in Japan, the apparently impossible becomes possible and the absolutely unlikely reality, then the situation changes.”

With this sentiment she temporarily closed 8 reactors.  These temporary closures became permanent and the 2022 phase out of all reactors was approved by the parliament and government of Germany.

On March 10th 2011 Japan was the 3rd largest nuclear power in the world (after the US and France) with 54 operating production reactors.  Today all Japanese reactors are either offline, melted down, irreversibly damaged or decommissioned.  Unlike Italy and Germany, the nuclear future of Japan is quite unclear.

The current government would like to re-start as many reactors as possible.  Interestingly, to this end they have decommissioned the two mostly undamaged reactors at Fukushima (blocks 5 and 6).  A largely symbolic move, since the prefecture had already voted to ban all nuclear power plants in the region.  The government has also decided to take over the largely failed Fukushima accident control responsibility for the nuclear utility TEPCO, which owns Fukushima.

All of these countries are working on renewable power sources to increase energy independence, avoid massive increases in their carbon footprints and ultimately save money.

So what is the World War 3 mentioned in the title of this blog?  There is an undeclared global war against climate change.  Unlike the two previous World Wars it will not principally be fought militarily.  Like the previous world wars it will impact almost every country in the world and to win it will require significant dedication of resources and political will.  To date the US especially has been lacking this political will.  The old Axis Powers are showing up in a different way.

Italy’s recent definitive referendum cleared the way for continued government support of renewables, though some solar feed in tariffs have been phased out.   So far this year Italy has produced 36% of its electricity from renewable sources, with an impressive 15.7% reduction in conventional energy sources.  Current renewables produce 6 times more power annually than the total of the 4 reactors closed by 1990.

one of many innovative Italian designs

Solar Wind proposed Italian design – under a viaduct

Germany is the global model for transforming 20th century energy systems into contemporary ones.  If you pay casual attention to the news, or read the oft misinformed NY Times, you might think:

  1. That the German transition model is running into problems
  2. That it is unpopular among the German people
  3. Germany is paying for this transition with higher household electricity bills
  4. By quickly closing reactors, Germany must open new coal plants

Turns out every one of these assumptions is wrong.  There are definitely challenges to implementing the full program called Energiewende (or Energy Transitions).  In my conversation with old friend Martin Rocholl he made it clear that the German grid is not ready for the shift which is happening and there are other serious problems as well.  But overall the very engineering adept Germans are on the path they have designed for themselves.  Revenue neutral Feed in Tariffs for renewables are decreasing each year having done what they were always supposed to do, which is help these technologies mature and reach market parity.

Ninety percent of Germans think implementing this energy transition is important or very important.  Fifty-one percent felt is was progressing too slowly, 30% think it is going at a fine pace.  Fewer than 8% attribute the price increases in energy to the additional cost of renewables.

Are Germans paying more?  In some ways certainly, But if we look at what German households pay for electricity as a fraction of their total expenses, it works out to be about 2 to 2.5%. In the US it is higher on average, closer to 3.5%.

As for the myth that more coal plants have opened since 3/11, it is just that, a myth.  Fossil plants (mostly coal) have dropped 3 GW (the capacity of three large reactors) since the meltdowns.  But what is most interesting about this, is it was not government action, but market effects.  Renewables on feed in tariffs are pushing coal and even some gas plants out of business at a more competitive footing each day.  The worlds largest engineering firm, Siemens, closed it’s nuclear branch.

Japan is still a crap shot.  The current PM and government want to restart as many reactors as possible.  But the new emboldened regulatory agent, a respected former MP going anti-nuclear and the willingness of local leaders and populace to be part of the effort to push back.  Japan historically used a “consensus” process to operate it’s reactors in which local governors must approve reactor restarts.  Currently no reactors are operating, likely some will come back on line.  But what is clear is Japan is following Germany’s lead towards:

  • home based renewable systems
  • generation solutions which don’t require centralized utilities
  • high renewable feed in tariffs which encourages investment

While it is still a tiny fraction of total generation, it is actually the first of these which i hold the most hope for.  Just making households aware of what they consume and incentivized to conserve and think differently.  While i have never been, everything i hear and read about. the Japanese is that they are as wasteful about energy as the US is.  It is changing this mindset which will win WW3.

Meanwhile here at home, the US keeps subsidizing nuclear power construction.


[Edited by Judy Youngquest]

Will of the people and the law of the land

An increasingly small part of the Federal government is shut down.  But you need not worry, the NSA will continue to listen to your phone calls and monitor all your emails unimpeded. The military continues a failed war in Afghanistan without fear that one soldier will miss a paycheck.  The DEA will continue to mount paramilitary operations against farmers in California.  And we will cleverly spend a billion dollars a week on nuclear weapons, without considering saving in this area.

nuclear weapons costs Graphic

I both dislike and respect Obama.  He is a brilliant politician, having demonstrated this in two tricky elections which he won handily.  He got the ACA passed, through tremendous lobbies and an obsticular congress in the first place  (yes, i am aware of the many real problems with the law).  And then he got the Republican majority appointed Supreme Court to uphold it.  And finally, he got re-elected, in part, defending it.  It is simply disingenuous of the Republicans to say this is somehow not the will of the people or the law of the land.

obama care poll

Forbes magazine Poll for Sept 2013

[Edited by Judy Youngquest]


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