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Two Speaking gigs – University of Baltimore and MIT

i quite like public speaking, especially when it is on topics i am passionate about.  I have two gigs coming up and i wanted to brag about them here.


My charming and talented lover Bryonna at UB is organizing this first event.  My part of the presentation is just before the “cuddle in” part and while i will certainly talk about the basics of consent and why it is important, my real agenda is to use transparency tools and milling activities to build trust among these somewhat daring participants.

An earlier event is the workshop GPaul and i are doing at MIT on how intentional community and sharing technologies are the solution to Climate Disruption.

Workshop Poster-page-001


OK Cupid Blues and Greens

[It turn out, as a novice user, i significantly over-simplified both the status and the politics of the polyamory identity/recognition struggle within OK Cupid in this post.  Fortunately, my new friend Tara has added a long comment to this this post which gives the background and history.  In this case you might want to read the comments to this post before the post itself.]

Some months back i joined a secret polyamory group on Facebook (which means it can only be seen by its members).  One of the interesting aspects of this group was that there was an internal list of links to people’s OK Cupid (OCK) profiles and a few other links.  Many dating sites and sex positive social network sites use pseudonyms to hide people’s identity, so this key inside the secret poly group was quite valuable in seeing who was in the group and how they present themselves.   Almost everyone had an OKC profile, so i thought i should get one as well. Once i put it up, Cassandra heavily edited it for me.

What should your partner be doing of a Friday Night?

What should your partner be doing of a Friday Night?

One of the problems with OKC is that it was not designed to match poly people very well.  Under relationship status you could be single or married or dating, but there was no “Open Relationship” option, which is quite important to dating sites.  OKC fixed that this week.  We will see if this leads to a different experience for me with the system.

okcupid triad

i must confess an odd relationship with the OKC system.  i want to be validated by having people who it seems i am good matches with, but i am not super interested in finding romantic partners this way, at least i don’t think i am.  It has been slightly frustrating to find people who are 95% matches who have no interest in polyamory, since i have answered a number of questions about this, it seems like there is something wrong with the OKC weighting algorithm (or perhaps everyone else is just dodging all the questions on poly).

OKCupid key words

OK Cupid does have a number of revealing and curious statistics about it’s own users.  For example if your desire is to get a lot of messages from OKC as a straight female user, then you are much better off with some people thinking you attractive and others thinking you are ugly, then you are with the same number of people finding you beautiful but many men finding you cute.

OKC paradox questions

OKC paradoxical answers

The service is free.  You can add your own questions and answer the ones you like.  It is in pretty wide use (which is important for network effects).  It does not discriminate against non-heterosexual users (as a surprising number of dating sites do).  And while it is not the only game in town, it is a good game.  If you want to be in this world at all.

Other Polyamory Blog Posts:

And the latest news from Scientific American:  Polyamory may be Good for You







Temelin 3 and 4 are Dead

It’s late, i should be in bed, but i just read some very good news and there are some people i need to thank.

In 1991, i moved to Brno in what was then Czechoslovakia.  I started working with an amazing group of young Czech radicals who worked for a “dark green” group called Hnuti Duha (the Rainbow Movement).  “How green were there?” you might be asking.  I walked up the 4 floors worth of stairs for 5 years with my Czech comrades before i even knew the building had an elevator.  American friends came to visit at once and tried to give out oranges they had bought.  Thirty people in this office, and they could not give away one orange.  Why?  Because oranges don’t grow in Czechoslovakia, which means they are not bioregional, so they were not part of our diet.  When we started working on the nuclear power plants Temelin 1 & 2, which had been started by the Soviets and were being taken over by the Westinghouse and the US Export Import Bank, public opinion was 80% in favor of building reactors in that country.

Honza and Jakub

Honza and Jakub

Honza Beranek was my boss.  He was 21, i was 34.  He was the best boss i ever had.  Soft spoken, hard thinking, deeply dedicated.  One of the people who could have made a fortune in the private sector, but it was never really an option.  After a stint as president of the Czech Green Party, he would move to Amsterdam with his family and work for Greenpeace, ultimately taking the job i always wanted, the head of the international anti-nuclear campaign.  He would be promoted again to running the entire Greenpeace Energy Campaign.

Jakub Patocka was only 19 when i came to work for Duha.  Charismatic, deeply political, sharply literary and also hella bright he was the hand on the rudder of this exotic environmental campaigning organization, which would ultimately become the Czech chapter of Friend of the Earth.  While Honza went off to do international work, Jakub stayed in the Czech Republic and was the editor for a couple of political magazines and ran political campaigns. There were dozens of environmental campaigns in the Czech Republic that these two extraordinary young activists could have chosen.  They selected one that they were almost certain to lose, because it was the right fight to be in.

JanH and Adela

JanH and Adela

Jan Haverkamp and i started working together in 1990 at Ecotopia in Hungary.  He pretended to be a Westinghouse representative presenting the benefits of nuclear power to the environmental activists at the camp.  He was fantastically compelling and crazy frustrating to the young activists who knew he was manipulating them, but did not know their material well enough to counter his arguments.  Jan had the other job i coveted, he traveled across Europe helping small local groups defeat reactors.  He was at every Temelin action i was at for years.  He was instrumental in stopping the Belene Reactor complex in Bulgaria.  The last time i was in Prague, i expressed concern to my Czech wife Adela about the proposed new Temelin reactor blocks 3 & 4.  Adela, who is the mother of Jan’s daughter Bara, said “Jan will stop them.”

Crashing the gates at Temelin in 1996

Crashing the gates at Temelin in 1996

And indeed he has (with the help of many others).  News just arrived today that construction of Temelin 3 & 4 will not be started.  Unable to get the huge government subsidies and guarantees that the UK recently agreed to at Hinckley C, the Czech electric utility had to fold this completely uneconomical proposal.  In late 2013, Jakub joined the Czech Social Democratic Party, in early 2014 this party would cancel the government subsidies for Temelin 3 & 4, and the project would die.  I don’t think this is a coincidence.

Europe rests easier tonight knowing this ill-conceived reactor project will never be completed (and CEZ’s stock went up 3.1% on the announcement).  And to these heroes and teachers of mine, thank you for your tireless work and this tremendous success.

PS: Jakub tells me that the new minister of Industry and Trade Minister Jan Mladek refused to provide state subsidies for the reactor, which was central to the deal collapsing.  And while there is talk of a new tender, perhaps using the new wholly government controlled energy entity (unlike the utility CEZ which is 30% traded on the open market and the rest government owned), without state funding there is no future for new nuclear construction in the Czech Republic.  



We are a hot internet meme

My story, which i completely made up, is that during the time Occupy was raging across the land, millions of protest pictures went up on line.  Including this one:

sabrina occupy


Now a few years later, people are going back and looking through those images and finding ones which they think are compelling and reposting them.

And while it did not garner much attention when it was first posted, when Evolvefest reposted this image on March 28th, the interwebs got pretty excited about it.  It has been shared over 8,000 times in the last 5 days.  Twin Oaks is also getting people asking to join visitor periods because of it.

Though i am nominally in the transformational festival business, i had not heard of Evolvefest.  Which is an annual event in NJ (not northern Nova Scotia as originally reported).  Their Facebook page throws up literally dozens of images every day, but it is rare for their 90K FB friends to get as excited about an image as they did about this one.

For me what is important here is that effects of the Occupy movement are still lingering, largely invisible to the mainstream media which has moved on to the next hot topic.



Are you a cult?

It is common for people in conversations about intentional communities to wonder or even ask out loud “Is this a cult?” It is a good question which warrants investigation.  What we know about the people who live in cults is that they chose different lifestyles than the mainstream.  They live together. They work together.  They build their own culture and have their own internal rules, norms and agreements.  Visitors from the mainstream must conform to the cults rules while they are visiting.  They often have unusual sex practices.  They are often dismissive of the criticism they get from the outside.  If you look at it this way, my communities would certainly qualify.


These things, while often true about intentional communities, are not the problematic aspects of cult culture.  Where cults start to go bad is when they deny the autonomy of the individual and force behavior which is harmful and/or unfair.  If we look at the more problematic qualities which typify a cult, they are something like this:

  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

This is not what the intentional communities i reside in are doing.  There are people who take leadership roles, but this is rarely based on charisma and is never totalizing.  At Twin Oaks you can give your cash assets to the community and when you leave you get them back (without interest).  Were we are real cult, that money would never come back.  Only our low disposable income (our allowance) gets in the way of visiting our friends and family, who are more than welcome to come and visit us.

questioning attitude

Let me dig into the last point: In a cult, you can’t leave when you might like to.  It is very easy to leave Twin Oaks and Acorn.  People might discourage you from leaving because they don’t want to lose a friend, or because they think no good can befall those who leave.  But we are not holding anyone against their will (and as a community recruiter, i can tell you the last thing i want around is grumpy communards who don’t want to live with us anymore.)

What is also true is that you can arrive at Twin Oaks and Acorn with no money and we will still seriously consider you for membership.  You buy a condo, you may not be able to sell it when you need to.  In fact lets tweak this list just a bit and see what we find:

  1. it has a living egotistical boss
  2. they pay you as little as they can
  3. they consume most of your time and energy, leaving little time to socialize with friends and family
  4. leaving feels difficult or impossible

You have likely guessed i am slipping corporation in for cult and finding many of these disturbing characteristics are present (in slightly different forms) by almost everyone’s employment situation.

Escape Captivity

Escape Captivity

cult job


[Edited by Vermin F. Cockwolf] April 1, 6:6 PM PDT


What we learned from the Kitchen Upgrade Appeal

We are in the last few days of the crowd source effort for the conference site kitchen up grade.  We will likely miss our goal.  Fortunately, the option we selected on Indiegogo (our crowd source host) insures we still get the pledges (and supply all the premiums), but our processing fees are higher if we come in short.  Specifically, if we make the $8K goal on the kitchen campaign, we will pay the crowd source host 4%, if we are anything shy of the goal, we pay them 9% to process the donations.  This makes great sense from the perspective of the crowd source platform, because you want people submitting  campaigns to think hard about what they need and carefully design their goals.  This was not one of our mistakes, $8K was a reasonable and appropriate goal for us.

Click on the banner ad to make a last-minute donation.


Nor was outreach our problem.  We contacted former participants of the communities conference and women’s gatherings and asked them to support this necessary upgrade. We blogged about the campaign, posted it everywhere on Facebook and Google Plus that made sense.  Used the FIC newsletters and other email lists to let people know what was happening.  Even shot a couple of compelling videos about the importance of the event.

We even got the community to get behind the campaign by getting a pledge from Twin Oaks that if we make the goal, the community will contribute another $7K to upgrading the site, effectively doubling the crowd source contributions.

So if we set the goal right, did strong outreach to friends and allies, got matching funds, what went wrong?  Why are we not making the goal?

Part of the problem is the hybrid nature of our event.  We are not a classical non-profit, we occupy an unusual economic terrain,  “Why should people give money to support your business?” GPaul asked pointedly.   Technically, the communities conference and women’s gathering are cottage industries under the community’s umbrella of businesses.  It is a bit rare for people to give money to for profit enterprises.

Willow's first Conference.  With organizers Valerie, Sky Blue and myself - circa 2003 Photo by Anissa

Willow’s first Conference. With organizers Valerie, Sky Blue and myself – circa 2003 Photo by Anissa

But for better or worse, we don’t really operate these events as profit maximizing operations.  We try to make them accessible to everyone who wants to come (charging sliding scale for entry).  We get lots of volunteer labor to help make them happen.  We charge only a tiny amount over our costs for people who can’t camp out and sleep at Sophia House near by.  We offer some work exchange positions for people who want to come but can’t afford the low registration fee.  We offset some travel expenses for our presenters.  We are not looking to make bank on this event, something better than breaking even is great.  The purpose of the event is to build the movement, foster new communities and to facilitate networking.  These priorities trumps making money.

Another thing we could have done better was selecting more premiums earlier.  We are relatively new to crowd sourcing (having really only worked on the Acorn Arson Appeal campaign before) and probably underestimated the importance of this aspect of the appeal.  In case you are interested or influenced, there are now more premiums on the campaign, including a fine Twin Oaks hammock, copies of “Is it Utopia Yet?” and Southern Exposure seeds.

One of the new premiums for the campaign

One of the new premiums for the campaign

And i would happily be proven wrong.  Bust out your credit card and help put us over the top, all contributions are still welcome (remember to end you donation in a $1 increment so we can tell you were inspired by this post – so $51 or $101 etc).  And even more importantly, come to the communities conference (instead of Burning Man, which you don’t have tickets for anyway and it is sold out).

If you have seen one art car, you have seen them all

If you have seen one art car, you have seen them all

Point A Plan B

If you are a working on long shots, you need a Plan B.  Something so that if your principal objective or campaign does not work out (which is likely after all because it is a long shot) you can look back at your efforts and say “this was not time wasted, despite not succeeding in our primary goal, we did make progress with Plan B.” Otherwise you burn out or drop out.  Failure after years of effort is a poison to the spirit.


When we fought reactors in eastern Europe, Plan B was often movement building.  We failed in stopping reactors at Temelin and Mochovce.  But over these multi-year campaigns we would build organizations which continued on after the reactor fight was over.  The campaign itself was so compelling, the internal group culture and experience so bonding, that despite huge losses, very few people dropped out of these groups.  And these scruffy groups of teenagers and early twenty somethings would become more stable and become environmental NGOs or green political parties.  They would go on to campaign against NATO, toxins, GMOs and for renewables and government transparency, and more proposals to build reactors.


The chances of quickly starting an income sharing community within the five Burroughs of New York City are vanishingly small (short Angels jumping to support this project, which is not actually what we are looking for).  There is even a fairly high chance that we will completely fail in getting a house together which fits the FEC rules for income sharing.   [I would guess chances are over 50% we will have an income sharing new community in DC int he next two years.]  So what is Plan B?

For me it is about the topic of our next event in NYC: Sharing systems, Gift Economies and Worker Coops.  On May 10 and 11 in NYC we will be running an Open Space Technology format conference on these important topics.  If we can’t start by building income sharing communities, we can take advantage of the density of NYC and start building libraries (distributed and centralized) and fair or generous economic platforms.  The city offers tremendous opportunity for creating more community, we need to identify it and promote and organize it.

So do you know any compelling speakers or charismatic advocates for these rejuvenating economic alternatives?  If so drop me a message and just to be safe, copy it to





New Transparency Tools Fingerbook

It was two years ago that i was granted a couple hundred dollars by the FEC to produce a fingerbook (small handbook) on the Transparency Tools which are in use at Twin Oaks, Acorn and now Ganas Communities.  As with many projects that i start and end up getting stuck, i needed help to finish this one and Marta was that help.

marta wheelborrow

Marta at Twin Oaks – Circa 2013

She decoded my cryptic writing, found a bunch of lovely images, corralled the copy into the complex fingerbook format and completed the whole thing before our recent Point A workshop series in NYC.


What is behind that mask?

The PDF for this newly released version of the transparency tools fingerbook is available here.

truth will set you free

It is worth pointing out that these are not principally therapeutic tools, rather these are ways that you can express who you are better and also build trust and intimacy.  Often there a therapeutic benefits from the use of these tools.  But this is more a positive side effect than being central.  Perhaps your group could use to have better communication and stronger trust, consider these tools as aids in this effort.

Conference Site Kitchen – Can you help?

There is a debate within Twin Oaks these days about earmarked gifts.  On one side there are members who are concerned that our carefully designed and mostly democratic budgeting process gets hijacked by outsiders who generously give us money, but require us to spend it on a particular thing (solar panels, bees, orchard, musical instruments, commie clothes, and parties are some historic examples).  Others feel like we have a large operation which regularly runs tight budgets. We rarely budget extra money for musical instruments or parties. These things are not just desirable, but important for the quality of life here.  There is no easy answer.

Fortunately, there are some places where we agree that non-members giving us earmarked grants is a good thing, in fact a very good thing.  One of these areas is the Twin Oaks Communities Conference.  We are currently running a crowd sourcing campaign for upgrading the kitchen at the conference site.  I would like to strongly encourage you to support this project, and I want to tell you a bit about why.

Me doing workshop at Comm Conf from middle of table.

Me doing workshop at Comm Conf from middle of table.

The communities conference is a transformative event for a fair few people who attend.  They meet people who are practicing community living in a way they can see themselves embracing.  It is often the case that these participants do not then immediately quit their straight jobs and move off to the community, but the path is set and people begin moving in that direction.

But even more importantly (from my never modest perspective) is that participants of the conference see that this other lifestyle is possible and highly desirable.  Even if they do not find the community of their dreams, they realize that they want more community in their lives.  For some it is the flexible work schedule, for others it is great access and involvement with their children, for others it is the dramatic decrease in carbon footprint/ecological impact that community often represents, for many it is about having a supportive extended family or tribe that they are part of.   Once the community idea has gotten into many participants minds, it gives their lives a direction it did not have before.


The kitchen is at the heart of the communities conference (and the Women’s Gathering, which happens on the same site).  Unfortunately, the conferences themselves are not big money makers for the community, so they do not get the economic resources they need to maintain their infrastructure well.  And it is the kitchen which is the biggest and most important piece of the puzzle.  It is also the most expensive.  There has not been a significant upgrade to the conference site kitchen in the 15 years that I have lived at Twin Oaks, despite having served literally thousands of people.

If the conference organizers are able to raise $8K from external sources (like the Indiegogo campaign), the community has agreed to match and exceed this amount with another $10K.

If you can support this project even in a small way, I would appreciate it.  And if you can please end your contribution in a single dollar (like $51 or $21) so we can tell this blog helped bring you to this campaign.

This is the link to go to the Communities Conference Kitchen Upgrade sight

Midnight Mumblings – an army of editors can not fail

I worry about European subscribers to this blog.  If you are a morning person in Europe (or an afternoon person in east Asia) who likes to read posts hot off the presses, you get a lot of what we call “dirty posts.”  These are the ones i put up often before my growing team of editors have gotten a chance to clean them up. “So why don’t you just wait until the editors clean them up before you post them?” This of course would be the reasonable approach.  But especially in the land of regular blog postings, my life does not work in reasonable ways.  On my impressive list of personal failings, when ranked for most self destructive first, near the top is procrastination. procrastination Were i to wait for my hardworking editors to clean up my work, my minimal incentive to get out a post nearly every day would unravel, and distraction number 241 would grab my attention and this blog, like so many other good ideas, would become a thing that i used to do.  [There is a  collection of tricks i play on myself to make this daily routine work which includes setting my wordpress clock to Newfoundland time, so my new day begins at 10 PM.] A significant part of the problem is that i am often so tired when i complete a post that my usual horrific grammar and spelling reach epic comic/tragic proportions.

the-end-of-grammar-and-spelling-comic Recently a dear comrade sent me this email:

paxus, i love you, and i love your blog posts, and still sometimes they are rife with errors that make them difficult to read. even with the lovely youngquest editing one of your last posts there was a typo in the title of the post. i imagine some of your devoted fans who happen to be grammar nerds are cringing as well. do you have any interest in having me as a backup editor? perhaps with a small team of helpful folks you’d end up with someone more or less ‘on call’ whenever you’re posting and your posts could still go out in a timely – and much more readable – fashion.

At the same time i got a similar offer from Vermin (an ex-Oaker and comic soap opera writer) to be part of my cabal of editors.  I am trying to complete posts with time  allowed for editing before they go live.  And i will, more formally, be requesting contributions again to this blog. What my friend could not know is there is a bug in WordPress/Facebook interface, once you make a mistake in the title of the blog, you can never get it corrected after you have saved and published it, at least in terms of how it shows up on Facebook.

So the fight against dirty posts continues. Stay tuned.

[All errors in this one are the fault of the author]

Update: [Edited by Judy Youngquest]


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