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Sexually Transmitted Responsibility

Transmission of Responsibility

Transmission of Responsibility

It was a great meeting.  Port was facilitating, and he was afraid of the meta-discussion on the topic of what Acorn thinks its labor is about/for.    He had been afraid that this digression would lead us to a world of complaining and depressed talk.  But it is hard to restrain the hippies, especially when it comes to meta-discussions.

And a funny thing happened on the way to reviewing our labor situation.   People did not think huge changes were needed and many of the suggestions (like doing our clearnesses on time and using existing structures to solve problems) felt genuinely helpful.    The group identified the individuals who felt overworked and overwhelmed.  [This did not include Ira and me, who only know how to function if we are overworked – by things we are excited about doing.]

Then Jayne spoke:

 I agree that the measure of the labor system should be how happy are we?  It sounds like people feel they live interesting, enriching, and productive lives.  Going around, I do catch a common frustration that it is too difficult to pass on a job you’d like to be done with.  I think about this thing Nightshade said three months into my membership: “If you want to get involved in a labor area at Acorn, just sleep with the person who’s already doing it.”  It’s sort of horrifying how often this is kind of true.  Aside from sleeping with them, how can you learn to pass responsibility to new people?

In community responsibility is communicable

In community responsibility is sexually communicable

This brought on a whole raft of jokes about Sexually Transmitted Responsibility and it quickly became clear that Jayne was right.  All manner of lovers had dragged their partners into work areas which needed help.  Many intimates had decided one of the better ways to spend time together was to share the tasks that the community needs to function.

Acorn functions as an Adhocracy (a flexible, adaptable and informal form of organization that is defined by a lack of formal structure. It operates in an opposite fashion to a bureaucracy).  When we need something done, we form a group of volunteers to do it and give them significant power at least of analysis and often of decision making and purse strings.  When your intimate joins one of these temporary groups, you are often enticed to be part as well.

Can we value creativity and flexibility over structure and efficiency?

Can we value creativity and flexibility over structure and efficiency?

Shrink to fit

by Emilia Plater

Before discovering the communes I thought a lot about getting a tiny house, one of those adorable little things that you can pull on a trailer, like a modern gypsy wagon. I wanted the small environmental footprint, a way to minimize my impact. But I had all this stuff, a three bedroom house full, and I couldn’t fathom getting rid of it all. My books, 9 large bookcases full? No way. Spinning wheels and sewing machines? Bins of yarn? Historical gowns that I’ve been collecting since I was a teen? I couldn’t fathom life without these things. So I stayed in my big house.

When the idea of moving to a commune came up last summer, I knew I had to do it. It’s perfect for me in every way. The stuff problem was still there, I’m going to have to shave my life down to a single dormitory sized room – with no closets! But now it’s not optional, this has to happen, which puts a whole new perspective on the task.

Which way to go?

Photo

I started the process about 6 months out and have approached it with repeated combings through the place. The first time was hard. Maybe I can let go of the Victorian Savonarola chair I wanted all my life and finally splurged on a few years ago. But my mother’s hand-blown Israeli wine glasses? Impossible.

But by the second pass it was easier, and the third and fourth easier still. Why do I really need those glasses? So I can take them out once a year, say ‘aww’, and put them away again? So I won’t forget my mother? I don’t need wine glasses to keep me from forgetting her. I found a lovely young woman just setting up her home to whom to give them and the pleasure I had in giving them to her was far greater than any I ever got from owning them.

And so it goes, letting go one thing after another, and with each release I feel a little lighter, a little freer. The temptation to acquire new things has vanished entirely.

Through this process I find myself wondering about the human urge to acquire and hoard. The explanations we give – I need two couches and seven bookcases and three televisions because I have guests, they remind me of grandpa, whatever – seem to be quite false, though we believe them ourselves. Somehow we feel safer surrounded by objects, as if they make us more real, give us more legitimacy in the world, perhaps help to stay the hand of the Great Separator. But in fact what they do is use up the already scant resources left on this planet, take from those who truly have need, and give us who are wealthy enough to hoard a shield from seeing those who have nothing. We cling tightly to our precious things and do not ask at what cost they are accumulated.

Persephone_Hades_BM_Vase_E821 (1)

Letting go...

Letting go…

The more I let go, the more clearly I see these things, and see my own criminal complicity. I have a closet full of coats while passing freezing people on the streets, I heat my three bedroom house with fossil fuels, I drive my car and let its poisons fill the air. And I didn’t think there was any other way.

Finding the communes finally opened my eyes. I can live with great comfort with one room’s worth of personal possessions. And for the rest, I can share. Share cars, share a kitchen, share computers, share bicycles, almost everything. And by doing so I can live better than I do now, work less, play more, have access to more, have more community, more help, eat better, and feel far, far better about it than I do now. It’s a prospect of so much wealth that I almost feel guilty.

——————-

Emilia starts her visitor period today.

Why Occupy Failed

I got invited to speak at a conference in which i did not pay enough attention to the program. It turns out to be very new agey, and it might be too exotic/woo woo for me.  I did like the intro presentations about polarities though.

The best part so far - not either/or dualities but polarity dynamic tensions

The best part so far – not either/or dualities but polarity dynamic tensions

During one of the speeches a presenter said, “The reason that Occupy Wall Street failed is they rejected the idea of leadership.”  This struck me as wrong for two very different reasons.

The first is Occupy did not fall, it was pushed.  Dozens of police raids across the US displaced occupiers from their parks.  Remove the freedom to assemble and you eliminate free speech protests.

Oakland was the center of some of the worst police violence in the country

Oakland was the center of some of the worst police violence in the country

The second reason is that Occupy did not fail.  Oh, it did not succeed in getting banksters thrown in jail and it did not end income inequity in the US.  But it did change the conversation about these topics.  In New York itself, mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio vowed to tackle the “Tale of Two Cities” income disparity issue and won, in part, on this issue.  Similarly, one could argue Obama’s efforts to raise the minimum wage may well have been emboldened by this movement.

More importantly, Occupy gave birth to a whole collection of initiatives including Occupy Sandy, which outperformed both FEMA and the Red Cross after the superstorm hit the East Coast.  In many cities Occupy morphed into anti-evictions groups.  In Eugene, Occupy Medical still provides free medical services to populations that would otherwise have no access.  And these are just initiatives i know of because i work in these cities.

You should only hope that when you are dead, you have this much going on.

Rerouting Mind and Nimble Emotions

I spend more time driving these days than i would like to.  While one of the major advantages of living in income sharing communities like Twin Oaks and Acorn is that you need not drive to work  or to where you reside, i appear to have designed my life to miss out on this benefit.

No one is to blame for this other than me.  I love to travel. I often take on tasks that are at great distances away and i am interested in projects which are not happening in central Virginia, where i nominally live.  While i would certainly prefer to travel in the high functioning rail systems like Germany or the Netherlands have, in absence of these i am not willing to give up my mobility to be orthodox.

Some of the worlds better trains, in one of the best served countries in the world, Germany

Some of the worlds better trains, in one of the best served countries, Germany

Because i am driving more, i observe the behavior of GPS systems more, especially when i make mistakes.  When i miss a turn, the GPS starts rerouting the trip, and while it is figuring this out it leaves the old estimated time of arrival up until it has a new one.  i watch to see how much time i have lost because i missed my turn and surprisingly often it is just a couple of minutes different in arrival time estimates.  It turns out quite often mistakes are cheap.

reroute

So i am attempting to train my brain to do what the GPS does, and effortlessly forgive the mistake, figure out the new path and not stress over it. Instead just pay attention to the new directions and you will get there at basically the original time.

gps_hazards

The less error friendly version

Imagine a world where we have learned this type of emotionally nimble behavior which is effortlessly displayed by the GPS.  What if we let go of this (often optional) guilt and shame?  What if (after having learned what might be useful from our mistakes) we moved on without harping on errors or beating ourselves up wishing we had done something different?

I am guessing all kinds of good would come from it.

Finland Cancels Its Last Reactor

I read about reactors everyday.  It is a trillion dollar industry worldwide, with over 30 countries with operating reactors.  The stories are often contradictory and there is incredible national and international politics at play. (For example, Russian incursions into the Ukraine have damaged its nuclear export business because it depends on component vendors from countries which now have trade embargoes up against it).

importantly, this does not include over 40 reactors

Importantly, this does not include over 40 reactors “temporarily” closed in Japan after Fukushima.

One of the most important nuclear countries in the world is tiny Finland. In 2003, Finland became the first country in Europe in 15 years to order a new reactor.  They ordered a French reactor, the first European Pressurized Reactor (or EPR) from Areva.  This was supposed to be a model for new nuclear construction worldwide and because they were taking a chance with an untried technology, they negotiated a fixed price for the reactor and pre-sold the electricity based on this fix price.

It was supposed to cost 3 billion Euros.  It was supposed to be completed in 2009.  Originally, nuclear giant Siemens joined Areva in the contract to build this reactor, but the project went so badly in 2009 they dropped out.  Now it is at least 9 years late in completion and it will be over 8.5 billion Euros, almost 300% over budget.  Even with this project getting further delayed, ambitious nuclear Finland decided in 2010 to start the process for  the construction of a 6th and 7th reactors. The Finnish government had given the nuclear utility TVP until end of June to finalize its building permit request.

This week TVO, the Finnish nuclear utility with the option to build these new reactors, scrapped their plans.  This little reported story is actually very bad news for the global nuclear industry.  Finland is a rich, technologically advanced country and it leaving the fold of countries which might build new reactors is another nail in the coffin of this dangerous industry.

The official reason for scrapping these proposed new reactors is that they have no confidence in the completion of the EPR which is under construction.  Let’s hope the Brits who are thinking about building two of this design reactors are paying attention.

And if the facts don’t hit hard enough, perhaps this powerful subtitled Japanese video will.

Barefoot, One Eye and Too Dim

NYC has changed me.

Two years ago, if i had walked out of the Richmond train station and seen three “traveler kids”, i would have headed the other way.  But having spent time doing support work for travelers in Tompkins Square Park has shifted my perception of this fringe group that i had not been connected to before.

Too Dim, Barefoot, and One Eye - or folks who could be them

Too Dim, Barefoot, and One Eye – or folks who could be them

I walked out of the train from Baltimore and saw these three, i had a bit of time to wait and decided that this could be fun.  I got a cheap pizza and approached my new friends.  They were welcoming.  I sat with them where they had found an open wall socket to charge their phones with.

They introduced themselves to me as: Barefoot – who claimed she did not own a pair of shoes.  One Eye – who had a fine line tattoo pattern on the check of side of his face where he had lost an eye to a fight or an accident.  Tex – who said he was from Texas. After i had been there for half an hour and they decided that i was at least interesting and perhaps okay, Tex told me “You should call me ‘Too Dim‘.  My friends call me Too Dim, not Tex.”

The conversation rambled.  They offered me beer and cigarettes.  They played an animated guitar and sang in a raspy voices.  They were generous, friendly and welcoming.  All the traveler kids i have run across have been.

The part about

The part about “angry” is a myth, in my experiences.

They train hopped from Jacksonville FL to Washington DC and discovered what many of us had experienced there.  Washington is tough for outsiders with no friends in the town.  They tried to talk to people, but no one had time for them.  They played guitar and sang, but no one was generous.  They tried lots of different types of places and nothing improved things.  So they left.

traveler and train

Move swiftly between trains before they leave to avoid the yard security. A good train hopper can sense  when a car will start moving, and how long before they have to jump.

They were hoping Richmond is better.  I don’t know, but something makes me think it will be.

At one point Barefoot complimented my shirt.  I asked her if she would wear it.  She said she certainly would, then i offered to give it to her, but she would not take it as a straight gift, she wanted to trade – which is how i got the stylish skull tank top i am donning in the picture below.

it is a bit tight

It is a bit tight.

After an hour or so of hanging out, i decided i need to be moving on.  They were lovely folks, dressed in tattered clothes.  I am thankful my previous prejudices are subsiding and i can connect with a greater array of people.

When i left, with no request on their part, i left a few bucks behind.  One Eye called out after me, “You have restored my faith in humanity”.  And strangely, i felt the same way.

Our Own Private Language

As I watched Tom Farrell, CEO and Chair of Dominion Resources at the May 6th  shareholders meeting I had one recurrent thought:

I was supposed to be him.

Tom Ferral

Farrell – my alter ego:  “Let me explain to you how this really works”

We have the same class background, the same white privilege, attended similar fancy schools.  We are both propagandists, we are both storytellers.  I was being groomed to be a captain of industry who would stand in front of a room containing many angry shareholders and I would be cordial and friendly and respectful and ultimately dismissive of any of their substantive concerns.  Just as he was with me.

And as I explored this fantasy world in which I was running a nuclear utility, GPaul pointed out in that world I would need to like ties, and have a monogamous wife who also liked ties.  And I would have a lot of money and influence.  I would give evasive sound bite answers to the media and smile slyly when they tried to nail me down with a follow up, simply pointing to the another reporter and saying, “Next question please.”

And I would not trade places.

I was talking with Emilia and she was laughing at the idea of me being monogamous and wearing ties.  She repeated her appreciation that I did not make that choice and ended up “on our side.”  I said I got lucky and fell in love with a witch. She is dismissive of my explanation, saying instead that we make our own luck.

this label is held very differently

This label is held very differently

Tom Farrell recognized me in the brunch before the shareholders meeting.  He asked why I was not at last years shareholders meeting.  I did not have the heart to tell him I missed the last three.

Security was tighter than it had ever been.  Cell phones were not allowed into the meeting.  There were multiple checks before you could get into the meeting space.  They made it seem like it was a big deal for them to permit you to come to this meeting which they are legally required to have and the fact that we technically owned the company somehow seemed lost.

Though I did get this convenient cell phone extra battery.

Dominion swag for shareholders

Dominion swag for shareholders

I watch Tom Farrell do his thing.  He presented a carefully selected subset of the available data, focusing on the areas where his company had done well.  I’ve been to enough of these presentations to know that there are always some metrics left out.  And it is important to admit that by many classical measures Dominion is a quite well run company.  Which means that workers and customers are getting taken advantage of to make sure that shareholders do well.

But then a strange thing happened.  As the hour and a half long presentation about how safe and profitable the company continued, i noticed something that very few other people in the room noticed.  There was not a single mention of the North Anna 3 reactor project.  As part of my complex question to Farrel at the end I inquired about this:

“You just spoke for an hour and a half about Dominion and you did not once mention the North Anna 3 project, which is without doubt the most expensive and likely riskiest project our company might embark on in the next few years.  Why is that?”

Farrell of course had his pat answer.  “I did not mention North Anna 3 because we have not yet made a decision about this project.  We are still awaiting the EPAs carbon ruling before we decide if we are going to go forward with it.”

Not on our fault lineAnd for almost everyone in the meeting, this likely seemed a completely reasonable answer.  But in our private unspoken conversation, it had a completely different meaning.  This is my 7th shareholders meeting.  North Anna 3 has been mentioned in every proceeding meeting, not just in passing, but in some depth.  This at least $10 billion and more likely $20 billion project is not getting mentioned, because Dominion is walking away from it.

At every previous meeting I had attended, Dominion had also not made a decision about going forward with this project.  But this not “making a decision about it” is not free.  To not make a decision about this reactor has already cost Dominion over half a billion dollars, which is more than most power generating stations cost in their entirety.  And normally investors would like to see some return for that amount of money.  Dominion, however, has decided to call these wasted funds “research” and pass them on to the rate payers.  Sadly the bought off Virginia legislature quickly agreed to this theft.  This research will never have any value to the customers who are paying for it.  But it is just too close to the time when they we will be forced to pay for it to announce that they were not planning on building the reactor at all.

Our private conversation has other parts as well.  I said, “Four years ago you said Japan would start building reactors again domestically, yet today we see all 50 reactors in the country are either melted down, marked for decommissioning or not in service.  Are you still confident Japan will build more reactors?”

Farrell replied, “Japan has paid a high price for these reactors being closed.  And yes i am confident in the next year, some of these closed reactors will come back online.”

Japan is not forgetting Fukushima

Japan is not forgetting Fukushima

Again, if you were not paying close attention, you would have just believed the story tellers version of reality.  But if you look closer, you will see he is not answering my question at all.  I was asking about new construction, which is decades off in Japan, if it ever happens at all.  Fukushima was and is a huge crisis.  While the US has mostly blissfully moved on, Japan is looking at record numbers of childhood thyroid cancers and 100K people who can’t return home.  Farrell was wrong 4 years ago when he promised new domestic construction of reactors, and he knows it.  But instead of admitting that, he answers a different question.  Just like slick politicians do

Farrell and i have sparred like this for years.  This is our own private language.  I generally don’t cut in and ask follow up questions.  But i am not quite comfortable just letting him get away.  I ask the one question there is not a good answer for.

“While there are many uncertainties around building a new reactor, we do know one thing for sure.  Credit agencies have promised that if utilities begin new nuclear construction their companies rating will be down graded.  And for all the new reactor projects in the US we have seen this happen.  How is Dominion going to avoid this fate, if it does decide to build North Anna 3?”

Farre;; talks about all companies being different.  About how SCANA which started construction in 2013 and is already behind schedule and over a billion dollars over budget.  They got down graded because they are so small and the two reactors are such a large part of the portfolio.   Farrell speaks non-specifically of how Southern Company (which also got down graded after they started their reactor construction in 2013 and is the same size as Dominion)  got down graded for other reasons.

But Farrell knows, we both know, that nuclear construction companies have an absolutely terrible time controlling costs.  He even hints at this when he is complaining about a recent off shore wind project Dominion was considering.  “They could not cap the costs,” he said. “We can’t pursue projects which have uncapped costs.”

In our own private language Farrell is finally telling me what i want to hear.  North Anna 3 is dead and we just are not talking about it anymore.

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