Archive by Author | paxus

The House that Numbers Built

This post first appeared on the Commune Life Blog.

We had two naming parties to find a name for the new commune in DC. They both failed. Unlike naming a car or a rope machine, it actually matters that you get a good name out of a party, if you are naming your home.  Naming parties tend to gravitate towards sillier or complex names. For example, the Mighty HaHas of TomorrowLand was the disputed result of the last Compersia party.   But even this silly name did not go to waste completely, the Ivy City house which Compersia Community just moved out of is called TomorrowLand.

But the community itself needed a bigger name, and stronger name. I was quite satisfied with what they choose without the help of a naming party – Compersia.  Derived from the word compersion, this name is a big ask.  It’s about trying to let go of our jealousy and envy and be happy with those we care for being happy, even if our special connection is not exclusive.

compersion comic kimchi cuddles
The Compersia community has a new house. They moved out of Ivy City and now are in Crestwood (one of the proposed names was Bestwood). It is a much larger house, with a real yard and an ample basement play space. This basement space got named Bonkersville at the naming party, which seemed apt since Sappho, Meren, Zadek and Julian were boxing with oversized gloves for much of the evening.

I was asked to facilitate, which i really should take as a compliment, because both of the previous two meetings that i facilitated failed. We got about 50 suggestions from Bagel and The Situation to Emma’s Tea Room and Whitetop’s Castle.
There is an origin story to that last name.  Whitetop was the gambling tzar of DC in the 50s thru 70s. Someone said running the numbers ended not long after this with the advent of the state sponsored lottery. He built this house in Crestwood, a quite suburban enclave beside a park, within the city limits of DC.

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We eliminated many great names

Perhaps 50 people participated in the naming party that i facilitated. In the first round they had all 50 choices and 6 yes votes and 3 no votes. Over half the list got eliminated this way. People added names in, but generally these did not make it to the next elimination round. Bougie’s Bugaloo did not make it to the 3rd round, (Bougie Galore is Jenny’s comic commune name), and we also dropped Neverland and the Lucky Heretics. Lucky was for gambling, and heretics because they don’t believe in private income. The last three names on the list were:

  • Sheppards Gamble
  • The House that Numbers Built
  • Asterix

Technically, Asterix won, but only by a single vote after 4 rounds of eliminations. We agreed to call the Bike Shed, “Wheels Up,” and the Basement, “Bonkersville.” There already is a holy site dedicated to “Our Lady of Perpetual Container Shortage” which houses a giant four door refrigerator filled with well organized dumpster treasures.

But the name i think the house is going to go by is “Numbers” which is what folks will call “The House that Numbers Built”. It references Whitetop’s business success. It can quickly be abbreviated by a single #. Googles parent company is Alphabet, the Communes star model is Numbers.

We will see if this one sticks.  It is a lovely place.

Block Gorsuch esp SC, AZ, ME, and NV

In the extremely close confirmation process for ruthless corporatist Neil Gorsuch, who has also recently been shown as plagiarizing , there is something you can do, but you need to do it quite quickly, because the filibusterer will start tomorrow, Thursday April 6th.

Gorsuch trucker

If you are from Maine, South Carolina, Nevada or  Arizona you have a Republican senator who might oppose the “nuclear option“.  You should contact them the using the their online forms (under their links) or call their office.

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If you are not from these states you can send money to the campaigns designed to influence legislators in these states.

 

Slip Trip – When the GPS sends you astray

It has happened to almost everyone who drives these days.  You put an address into your phone with the expectation that it is going to take you some where, and your phone has different ideas.

Oh, it might be your fault when you selected Hemlock Way, instead of Hemlock Expressway.  More frustratingly, it could be that your multi-billion dollar internet miracle combined with sophisticated free sat nav software have sent you someplaceyou have not interest in going to.  I call this a slip trip.

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Is the aquarium this way?

There is not a word in common usage for this situation, but i am hoping to coin it here.  A slip trip is when ever you end up someplace you were not expecting by following instructions from a navigation system.

Abigail and i were hoping to go to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.  We faithfully followed the instructions we were given to get out of Santa Cruz, but quickly found ourselves in the slightly post apocalyptic dreamscape of Fort Ord.

There were dozens of boarded up buildings and even more that wished they were.  I jumped to thinking about how these buildings so close to the ocean could be turned into communities.  Later I would learn the compete lack of water and the over abundance of asbestos made these fantasies inaccessible.

Part of the Slip Trip experience is how you respond to this once you discover that it is happening to you.  I have argued in the blog for nimble emotions around getting lost.  Your GPS simply reroutes and keeps heading on it’s way.  You could do the same.

More common is people getting upset, either at their machine or at themselves or sometimes both.  There is little upside here.  Perhaps it is gratifying to curse at your software, but not so secretly you know, if you are on a Slip Trip, most of the time it is because you messed up somehow.

The slip trip invites you to make your unforecasted destination and adventure.

 

The Death of Westinghouse

With quite some joy, I just penned the following wikipedia update under Westinghouse Electric Company LLC:

On March 24, 2017, parent company Toshiba announced Westinghouse Electric Company was filing for bankruptcy because of US$6 billion in losses from nuclear reactor construction projects. The nuclear projects responsible for this loss are mostly the Vogtle reactors in Georgia and the Summer reactors in South Carolina. [4]

Westinghouse is fading.jpg

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This bankruptcy might halt the construction of every reactor being built in the US at the moment, at least for some period of time. Without a bailout from a likely reluctant Trump administration, these reactors might never be completed though over $10 billion has been spent on them. Before you doubt these projects might be abandoned, remember that half of the reactor projects started in the US were abandoned, many because of cost overruns.  

Despite having followed this story intensely for some weeks now, I am still surprised at this result. I thought the Koreans would want to buy this reactor company for both its contracts and its technologies. Westinghouse has active construction projects and solid leads in many countries including the 4 nearly complete reactors in China. Russia and China were never serious suitors because they are unlikely to be approved by the US federal government for the sale of this sensitive technology.

My first anti-nuclear protest was at the Westinghouse reactors at Diablo Canyon in 1981. I fought Westinghouse at the Temelin reactors in the Czech Republic through the 1990s. Westinghouse developed the first 3rd generation reactors including the AP 1000 which is currently under construction in more locations than any other Gen 3 western design.

temelin action

Temelin Protests 1995

What went wrong? There is a pretty standard formula for building nuclear power plants in the US. The reactor vendor comes in and underbids the contract, while still seeking a huge amount of money. The regulators accept this low bid on behalf of the state. Not long into construction inevitable delays and cost overruns begin. The nuclear construction company turns to the utility and says, “Please pass these extra costs on to your rate payers (or in some states the tax payers.)” Historically, the regulator has obliged. This way the frequently exploding costs of nuclear construction, typically over 200% the initial contracted price in the US, do not bankrupt the construction company. But even this formula was not good enough to restart nuclear construction in the US.

The Bush/Cheney administration attempted to boot strap the “nuclear Renaissance” with a generous aid package, which included:

  • Government-preferred equity investment facilities
  • $18 billion of subsidized federal loans
  • Tax-exempt financing
  • Federal power purchase agreements at above-market rates
  • Taxpayer-backed insurance
bush in control room

Bush in control?

Despite this generous program, only 4 reactors began construction, two in Georgia at Vogtle and two is South Carolina at Summer. A disappointing yield for an industry that at its high point (2009) had 30 applications in for new reactors.

To land these 4 contracts, Westinghouse (which was acting as the general contractor) had to require that the construction subcontractors bid fixed price contracts. Chicago Bridge and Iron (CBI) was working on the Vogtle reactors and ran into serious difficulties working with Westinghouse and sued them. Counter-suits which further delayed construction followed. Ultimately, Westinghouse would purchase CBI for $229 million to avoid going to court for $1.5 billion.

But once Westinghouse owned most of the construction responsibilities for these reactors there became no way to pass on the cost overruns. The nuclear utilities had protected themselves from this old trick by requiring fixed-cost contracts. It is telling that once the cost overruns could not be passed on, this scam no longer worked, and it promptly bankrupted the nation’s largest nuclear construction firm.

Westinghouse is fading

I’ve been fighting Westinghouse my entire adult life, and I did not expect to outlive it. There will be some hard won celebrations by clean energy advocates across the land this week.

 

When almost all “yeses” means “no”

The founders of Twin Oaks faced a dilemma.  They could see the faults of a voting based democratic decision system, but did not want to have to wait for every single person in the group to agree.  It was 1967, the feminists had not yet taken the consensus process from the Quakers, secularized it and released it onto progressive moments across the land.

no bad decisions cartoon

If the magic threshold number is not 50% plus 1 person nor 100% what is it?  We could not choose a number, instead we chose a process.  It would be wrong to call it a “super majority” because the exact threshold is not fixed.  What i clumsily call it is “negative minority centric”.  But what does this actually mean?

sign-posts-to-process-locations

If you get 24 accept votes to become a member after your visitor period and you get 6 rejects, you get rejected.  Wait a minute, that hardly seems fair.  With membership decisions this is easier to justify.  We get a lot of visitors, the average Oaker has lived here about 8 years, which means they have seen perhaps 500 visitors, plus an uncountable number of guests.  If you have seen that many visitors when you get a little input slip in your 3 x 5 slot requesting you give your input on these people who were just here for three weeks, you think back and say “Oh, i did one tofu shift with them and they were pleasant at a lunch at the fun table, they would probably be a good member.”

chickendecisions-1

But the 6 reject votes the membership team is reading are saying things like “Was a disaster in the garden, pulled up vegetables instead of weeds” and “told an off color joke at the party and kept interrupting everyone, bad sense of boundaries” and “i have concerns about the amount of alcohol they consumed during the visitor period and i think they might have addiction issues”.  And thus they choose to reject, or visit again.

Part of the problem is that Twin Oaks is so large we don’t do what Acorn and most smaller communities do and gather together as a group and discuss membership applications.  Partly we don’t do this because it would be terribly time consuming.  We had a visitor period last year where we had 9 people applying for membership, if it took 20 minutes on average to discuss each of these people (which would be quite short in some cases) and there were 90 members (which has been the average membership for the past several years) that would be 270 person hours of membership decision making.

sorry-keyboard

The deeper reason, however, is as the community has grown, we have become accustomed to the idea that a small subset of the community will make decisions affecting the entire group.  Not everyone reviews the types of insurance policies we buy, or the available cars to replace one which is worn out, or the complex mechanics of the tofu expansion.  We are a trust based community, and part of that means we need to let go of deciding everything about what happens around us.

For Twin Oaks there is a definite risk associated with this.  While theoretically once you are accepted as a provisional member (after your 3 week visitor period) you have another poll after you have lived with us for 6 months.  This is your full member poll, and if you are granted full member status you basically have tenure.  Unless you break our by laws, you can live in the community forever.    This is an important control on our membership process, but it does not really work that well.  In the last 20 years, there have only been 4 people who were rejected going from provisional to full member.  This is out of hundreds of people who have been accepted.

Why do so few people get rejected moving to this desirable status?  Mostly after 6 months we have figured out how to integrate almost everyone into the community.  And everyone has some friends and expulsion (either by failing to accept someone or by actively throwing them out) is a  big deal, it tears up the fabric of community.

“So you are a polyamorous community?’

In the late 1970’s the utility which would become Dominion Resources proposed to build four nuclear reactors less than 15 miles from Twin Oaks community.  The members of the community were upset with this decision and decided to host activists who were opposing the project.  An action camp was set up and protesters flooded in.

north-anna-aireal-view

The tactics and positions of the protesters did not quite match that of the community and, long after the protesters left, locals, who viewed these protesters as representative of the community, were still upset with Twin Oaks.  The community, which values local relationships highly, decided that it would not do this again. We  officially adopted a position of neutrality on political issues in the future.  Twin Oaks as an entity does not take political stands.

embrace-diversity

The community also decided that we were an “embrace diversity” community.  As much as possible we do not tell members what to do (as long as it doesn’t impact other members).  For example, we do not tell members that they need to be vegetarian or that they have to home school their kids or that they have to stop smoking cigarettes or follow a particular spiritual path or avoid all spiritual paths, etc.

One of the places we are most clear is that we don’t tell people what to do with their love lives.  Which means we attract all manner of exotic romantic relationship models, including a number which obviously won’t fly.  And this falling in love business is dangerous on the best days.

wont-fly

One of my personal favorite types of relationships is open polyamory.  This is a form of open relationship that is the poly subset of relationship anarchy.  Relationship anarchy is the practice of forming relationships that are not bound by rules aside from what the people involved mutually agree on.  This type of arrangement plays to the strengths of community.  It requires you to think about what you are doing and be intentional about the agreements you make with your partners.

And while this philosophy has been extremely important in my life, it is certainly not what all of my diverse community is doing.  The 90 plus adult members cover the spectrum of relationships models from quirky alone to poly to monogamous and back around towards celibacy.    Add to this that the community after many years of not being able to hold onto trans members actually has an important trans subculture now.

polyt-geometry

i have lots of trouble with this specifics of this graphic – but it is still useful.

Twin Oaks will turn 50 in three months.  We have not been the same way the whole time.  In the very early days we were coming off of the free love revolution, which swept the nation in the late 60s and 70s, and open relationships were common in the community.  When Hawina and i arrived almost 20 years ago now, there was a very small minority of poly people living here and the poly dinners often had more outsiders than members.  Currently my personal estimate is the majority of the community is involved in some form of open relationship, especially if we include things like party agreements.

scissor-lovers

Many Dances

So we are not a polyamorous community and that question increasingly making less sense to ask.  Relationship models inside of highly intentional communities are often becoming more dynamic and less willing to be tacked down with labels.

 

 

 

 

 

Which turns out to mean

What she sees wrong with me

Sometimes our parents teach us how not to be who they are. My father’s father died when he was a boy. My father had to work hard all his life and grew up to be risk averse. He bought insurance, showed up early for almost everything, and was a highly disciplined and organized man. He was a captain of industry, the CEO of a firm which bore his name, and a real job creator. That ain’t me.

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L to R: Brother John, dad, myself, Jaz Tupelo.

The art of online dating is fundamentally about risk taking. It almost never works out, except when it does. Because I wanted to see the OK Cupid profiles for folks in a local poly group, I created a profile for myself (OKC will not let you review profiles unless you have one). But because I did such a terrible job with it a charitable friend offered to rewrite it for me – which lead to some curious situations, but that is another story.

I dutifully answered a few hundred questions and did some surveys that I found interesting and did some flirting, but nothing really came of it. I am the wrong demographic for this platform: too old, too male, maybe even too straight, who knows.

heart keyboard

I did at one point get a date with a gal who was a 99% match. This is quite rare for people who have not already lived in community. For the people who have lived in community, it is somewhat common to have very high matches. I was a bit excited. She wrote me that her and her boyfriend were in Virginia and he especially was interested in Twin Oaks and asked if they could stop by. A first date with her existing boyfriend seemed perfect to me.

Some might find this odd, but I have been on very few dates in my life. I’ve had more than my share of wonderful romantic experiences, but they almost all started at protest actions or festivals or conferences or the comfortably relaxed environment of the communities. Dating was a bit scary to me.

So having the boyfriend along set the parameter clearly. We were not going to end up in bed together at the end of the evening, unless there was some really amazing chemistry.   His interest in the communities gave us lots of things to talk about and we would get to know each other in a relaxed way. Them coming to the commune meant I did not have to organize travel or go anywhere and deal with bar or café scene, and could avoid spending money which was also nice.

They arrived at Morningstar and we spoke for a while, and they seemed nice enough. She was an unemployed opera singer, he did geeky things with software, they were from the NYC metro area, and I thought at first there might be a Point A connection.

But as the evening wore on it became increasingly clear that there would be no chemistry. She valued completely different things than I do. When we talked about how we made life choices I found myself repulsed by what she had chosen; she likely found my decisions equally problematic. I could ramble off a list of the things that I found problematic about her personally, but it is perhaps more useful to list the things she probably thought of me:

off balance

Romantic Imbalance

Disconnected from the real world, not creating a secure financial future, not building a resume, sloppy, disorganized, reckless, over extended, unfocused, insufficiently respectful of existing power structures and institutions, uncultured, dirty, and self possessed.

“But what about the 99% match?” I kept asking myself. “How could we have done so well with the algorithm and be such a complete mismatch?” Then I figured it out. There are literally thousands of questions. If I only answered a few hundred and she answered very different ones than I, then we could have a high match by having very few overlaps and those being highly correlated by chance. I was pleased with my clear explanation of this slightly uncomfortable situation.

online dating lie

“How many OK Cupid questions did you answer?” I asked to confirm my theory.

“All four thousand,” her boyfriend answered for her. So much for my clever theory.

And so it was with almost every OK Cupid experience I had. I hardly went on any more dates, but I chatted up a lot of folks and kept finding repeatedly that either I was too odd for them, or they were just not very appealing to me. I paid for the premium service for a few months to see if this would help, but I just got more people to be excited about (since it shows you who is interested in you) and none of them panned out. It seemed like the entire thing was a gigantic waste of time and emotional energy. All of online dating was a pointless exercise.

Except it wasn’t.

“I need to meet you,” she wrote me. She read my profile, was intrigued both by me and community life. Now we are together almost everyday, Gryphon, her charming daughter, Sappho, and her ex-husband Curt at Acorn. She was a 96% match. I never ever would have met her if it were not for OK Cupid. Our worlds had no overlap. And she has significantly changed my life.

gryphon and paxus

So when they tell you online dating is pointless, they are almost right but not quite. And that difference makes all the difference.