Tag Archive | politics

Havana Impressions

When you go through customs at the Havana airport, you see this digital screen of an analog clock.

Inline image 1

To be convincing, the sweep second-hand jerks a bit every time it moves.  And thus you are introduced to the temporal paradox which is Cuba’s capital.

IMG_20171010_184459

The vast majority of cars on the streets of Havana are from two eras, the last decade and the period immediately before the revolution and US embargo, around 1959.

The time machine affect has numerous positive aspects.  The old city streets often have wide parks running through the middle.  A crippled economy means there is little traffic.  High gasoline costs mean that vehicles rarely have just one person in them.  Huge trees line the streets.

Inline image 3

Hawina with one of the many huge trees.

There are some innovations which other places would do well to mimic.  Stop lights on major intersections count down the number of seconds before they turn either red or green, to better inform drivers.

 

Inline image 2

The city streets in Havana are named in a novel and clever way.  The main dividing street is Avenido Paseo.  To the west the streets are increasing in even numbers.  To the east the streets are lettered.  Perpendicular to these, running parallel to the coast the streets are odd numbered.  Thus you can tell uniquely where you are by just knowing 10th and 11th or C and 9th.  No confusing East and West like DC or Streets and Avenues like NYC.

Eye motif in Havana

The architecture favors balconies, flat roofs and porches and the social structures take advantage of these.  Many doors down the street are left open with people inside and outside often visible.  Most buildings were built before there was air conditioning and the architecture encourages placing people in breezes.

Anarchy at Twin Oaks

Chaos has engulfed the commune! Well, not quite, but perhaps technically so.  The by-laws and policy of Twin Oaks are  tremendously elaborate.  Over the near half century of history of the commune we have designed contingencies for many unexpected circumstances.  What do we do if someone disappears?  What do we do if someone wins the lottery? What if 24 members accept a visitor and 6 reject them? What do you do if you are topless in the garden and the UPS person shows up?  What do we do if there is only one planner?

decision-making-arows-and-flow

 

It is the last of these examples that delivered us to the current non-crisis.  Twin Oaks government was inspired by the book Walden 2, a behaviorist fiction story. Described in Walden 2 book is the planner manager system of governance we use.  Managers control area budgets (both labor and money) and planners operate across multiple areas or full community wide as executives.

training-pavlov

I have long joked that the Twin Oaks plannership is a self perpetuating autocracy with a democratic cap.  At any time there are supposed to be at least three planners (up to five if there are stand in planners, who are in training).  When their is a vacancy the planners look at a membership list and seek out a member who they would like to work with.  They approach this member and ask them if they want the job and if they do, then the community is consulted.  The planners have an interview with anyone who is interested.  A veto box is put up, and a minority of the membership (20%) can block a planner, but this is pretty rare.  [Note: this is actually a streamlined description of the process which is actually more complex.]

decision-making-processes-sign-post

The plannership is a crazy difficult job.  My personal estimate is about half of the planners drop out early.  There is a rule that you can not run for two consecutive planner terms, but no one has wanted to in the nearly 20 years i have been here.  So what happens if there is only one planner?  If there are no acceptable candidates to join or no one is willing to?

We have elections.  This surprises people who know the community well.  We don’t have elections for individual for any position really, it is not part of our culture.  Managers serve until they tire of a position, they are mostly replaced by people who they train to replace them.  Sometimes a council will choose between a couple of candidates, but this is rarely by voting, instead typically it is done in a meeting.

anarchist-paradise

On October 1st of this year we had no planners.  One term ended and the other resigned.  If there are no planners or just one, then we go to elections.  This has only happened one other time in the last 19 years.

What has the effect been on the community?  Almost nothing.  A decision about a feedback is pending the new planners.  Some managers probably did some things without consulting the planners, but they might have done them anyway.  The internals of the community are both resilient and decentralized.  We don’t need an executive for much of what we do.

networks

And tomorrow the election results will come out.  And i am running.  There are 8 candidates.  Some of the candidates are unexcited about the job, but are open to doing it.  Others, like myself, are excited about the position (which i have done twice before) but are at least somewhat controversial.  Still others are well liked and respected and at least one of those will certainly get the job.

Anarchy was fun while it lasted.

anarchy

 

 

 

 

Brexit – Time to Go

In hours, the UK will hold a binding national referendum on leaving the European Union. At this writing, the polls are too close to call.

Brexit-web

Is an antidote to empire called Brexit?

If you listen to the mainstream media the voices are nearly united in favor of leaving the EU intact. You will hear endless commentary on how leaving the EU will be bad for the UK’s economy. You will hear that the move represents xenophobia at its worst, how far right sentiments are driving the referendum’s popularity, and how UK ex-pats will suffer. Even the progressive and thoughtful UK newspaper the Guardian says the UK cannot take on issues like Globalization and Climate Disruption from outside the EU.

I want the UK to leave.

brexit-satire

Many of the arguments for remaining in the Union that are being advanced are likely valid. Economically, Brexit will induce uncertainty and both currencies and markets will drop.  A separate UK will likely do less for immigrants than it would inside the Union. Ex-patriots may have a tougher time and cross-border traffic will be harder.

But even though the tendencies of the European Union are towards tolerance and inclusion, what the big government has really done at the European level is made the continent safe for multinational corporations to do their most foul work.

The EU “provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organized crime,” writes British journalist Paul Mason.

brexit-eu

What I really want is for a host of these independence-seeking regions to break free from their larger political entities. Alaska and Texas out of the US. Quebec from Canada.  Basques from Spain. Tibet from China. Palestine from Israel. Kurdistan from Iraq. Oh and Northern Ireland from the UK.

I spent a summer some years back fighting reactors in Slovenia, a tiny country that is part of former Yugoslavia. We saw the president mowing his own lawn. We saw a high standard of living and low crime. The national population is 2 million and functioned fine without a standing army. Not every region will find the advantages Slovenia was able to capture when it broke from Yugoslavia. But the worst offenses of the current times are at the hands of the giant players who love big government, big business, big institutions. These corporations and politicians love it because typically it gives them more power, often with less oversight.

We have tried big, it did not work so well. Perhaps Brexit will lead us to more small.

A day with the Sanders Campaign

Generally, I am not excited about personality politics, it rubs my anarchist roots the wrong way. But I have to confess that Bernie is different. Besides having a long history of doing the right thing, he is running on a platform that is basically about re-orienting American priorities to take care of the majority of the people in the country, and especially those who are disadvantaged.

Hillary’s platform says she will do a similar thing, as do many conventional politicians. The differences is Bernie has decades of elected experience doing and trying to do exactly this.

bernie arrested

I do like a guy who is willing to get arrested.

The thing which tilted it for me, the thing which got me out of my chair and had me spend a couple of days campaigning for Sanders leading into the Virginia primary, was his position on nuclear power. It is simply a reasonable position, cutting government subsidies for nuclear development and liability insurance.

It does not take much to satisfy me on this issue. Sadly, not a single major political candidate for president has had this position in my lifetime, not Carter, not Clinton (either one) not Obama. Certainly not any of the Republican candidates for president.

Sanders on Vermont Yankee and more nuclear issues

And it is worth pointing out that this simple, reasonable position would mean the rapid phase out of nuclear power in the US and the complete abandonment of new nuclear development. Without serious subsidy and open ended liability insurance covered by tax payers, nuclear power is economically nonviable.

So after I took some Acorners to a construction job I went to the Sanders campaign office in Charlottesville on the day before the Virginia primary. I said I was at their disposal for the rest of the day and election day. When I said I would make phone calls or go door to door, they told me the face to face personal touch was more important. When I told them I lived in Louisa County, they asked me if I could go back home, because due to some delegate math that I did not quite understand, Louisa County was more important than Charlottesville County. I happily returned to Louisa.

fell the bern t-shirt

I was given 13 regions inside Louisa County to canvas. I was told that we were only looking to talk with people who were already leaning strongly towards Bernie. This is a real “Get out the Vote” effort (called GPTV by the folks who live this stuff.) “Don’t talk with Hillary supporters, and quickly disengage from Trump fans, despite the temptation to argue with them,” I was told by the Sanders campaign staff.

Our conversations with prospective voters were to be mostly about logistics. “What time were you planning on voting?” “Do you need a ride?” “Did you know your polling place is the Moss Nuckalos Elementary School?” “You know the polls are open until 7pm?”

I wanted to spend some time doing it myself before I went back to the communes and got other people involved. Partially this was because I wanted to know if it made sense to send teams of two people. It did.

We were not hitting every house on the block. This is the age of big data and there is all kinds of information about people out there. When I talked with the folks at the Sanders office about where the data about the houses I was visiting came from I was impressed by the answer. “We have address data on everyone who has given Sanders money, we know who is registered to vote as a democrat and most of the addresses in your packets come from modeling.” Computer models are forecasting who you will vote for. They were right a surprising fraction of the time.

Because there is distance between houses and all manner of circuitous driveways, I decided that I would try to assemble two person teams to hit each canvassing areas (which typically had 25 to 30 houses in it.) One person would drive, the other person would talk to people or leave fliers if no one was home. Both would try to navigate, which despite the well designed turfs was often the most complex part of the job.

IMG_3007

We finished Turf 3 and several others

Shal and I partnered. He was happy to drive me and preferred not to be talking to lots of strangers. And he, like a half dozen other communards, was excited at the prospect of doing something for this election. Even on just a day’s notice, mobilizing folks was surprisingly easy, and I wish I had started a week earlier.

977303_10151995095859152_998922349_o

Shal – my committed driver

The eight canvassers covered about half the territories we were given, which was the only effort in the county. I had some interesting and insightful conversations with people. At least one couple said they were going to the polls because of my visit. Several people were secretive about their plans for voting. The nuclear power plant technician said he was unable to vote because of the planned shut down of the reactor which would have him busy all day. I suppressed my happiness with his apathy and encouraged him to pay attention to the safety of the North Anna reactor complex.

Despite the instructions to stick with logistics conversations, some folks wanted to talk about politics. Fortunately, Sanders’ views are more populist than mine. I talked with a family of vets, where Sanders’ record is strong. I spoke with folks who were worried about jobs and minimum wage, here again Sanders’ positions are popular and his record stronger than Clinton’s.

If the Sanders campaign is going to succeed, it is going to have to learn from the Trump campaign and break through the media’s disinterest in Bernie’s radical agenda. Theoretically, this should not be hard. The Sanders campaign is full of cultural creatives who should be able to come up with the progressive equivalent of ‘Mexicans are rapists,’ ‘Let’s ban all Muslims, and ‘End birthright citizenship.’

Belladonna, who occasionally writes for this blog and equally often hacks in for some of the wilder posts, has done her part.  Below is her clever video parody of Lorde’s haunting tune ‘Royals,’ slamming the former secretary of state. Please share widely.

We did not win in Virginia, not even close (though Kristen points out we did win the Yanceyville precinct, which is where we campaigned).  But this game is hardly over.  Almost regardless of your issue, if you are a progressive or radical, it might be two decades before you get a better presidential candidate with a better record (okay, he is off on drones and Israel) and a better chance of winning.

There are meetups, phone banking opportunities and more.

12821529_952582428124650_1416640469273290383_n

excluding those pesky superdelegates

 

 

 

Robot bans: Sex toys and killing machines

Don’t bet against technology” is a quip I often make, especially when my anti-nuclear friends try to tell me something is not possible. It is not the case that technology can do everything, nor that it is somehow all powerful. But these crazy monkeys we live with are ingenious and inspired and will continually surprise us.

We do have some small amount of influence over the direction of technology and it makes good sense to think about the directions that technology is going and whether we are served by those directions. Two different complimentary efforts to control the development of machines have caught my eye. One is the proposed ban on robot sex toys. The other is a ban on killer robots.

sex robots

I was at a party in NYC and was talking with a guy who is working on virtual reality machines. I knew that video games had been instrumental in pushing computer technology to better performance, especially in the area of graphics. I speculated that games would be the first big application for VR systems. “You are wrong,” he said, “it is porn.”

What do was want robots to do for us?

What do we want robots to do for us?

There are apparently already thousands of pre-orders for Roxxxy, the first sex toy robot at US $7,000 each. Roxxxy has yet to be released. And while we have not yet deeply explored the implication there us already a call to ban these devices and the infant technology. As an anarchist, I am unexcited about this ban. I am unsure what purpose it serves. Generally speaking, consenting adults (and their machines) should be able to do what they want.

Noam Chomsky, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawkin have joined with over 1000 other AI and robotics experts to demand an end to autonomous robotic weapons systems in an open letter.  The UN started considering unpersoned weapons systems in 2014.  The signatories of this letter warn of a new global arms race and the destabilizing affects of continuing the current trend towards rapid and uncontrolled development.

flying killer robot

Who is in the driver seat?

This is not drone technology.  Drones have pilots, humans at the other end of the controls (even if the controls are thousands of miles away) who are making the call as to whether someone should be killed.  The Obama administration broke new ground by killing US citizens with no due process with drones.  But AI killing machines are far worse.

“Autonomous weapons are ideal for tasks such as assassinations, destabilizing nations, subduing populations and selectively killing a particular ethnic group,” Open Letter from AI and Robotics Researchers.

But aren’t these clever engineers being a bit stupid?  Nothing can stand in the way of the march of progress, right?  If we can invent it we will make it no matter how horrible it is.

Wrong.  Human history is filled with all manner of agreements that have banned technologies.  Perhaps the most famous ban of technology is the Montreal Protocol which banned ozone destroying CFCs.  This 1987 international agreement phased out and stopped the production of CFCs which was already happening in dozens of countries around the world.  As a direct function of this agreement, the ozone hole is starting to recover.

ozone graph

Cooperation Works

While not quite as successful the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention similarly was able to obtain international acceptance.  Leading to a dramatic reduction in these particularly nasty and difficult to control weapons.  By September of 2015, 192 countries representing 98% of the worlds population were signatories.  And while the original deadlines for elimination were often missed or extended, the treaty has largely been effective.

CWC_Participation

Almost everyone agrees – green a Chemical Weapons Convention signators

The control of dangerous technologies is ultimately a political choice. The research and mass production of autonomous killing machines is still a choice nations must make.  Or we can just leave control of it to “market forces” because that always works so well.

market forces cartoon

What could go wrong?

 

 

 

 

Let the rioting begin

George Zimmerman has been found not guilty on all counts.  i did not follow the case closely.  But we know some thing for sure.  It was Zimmermans gun that killed Trevon Martin.  Zimmerman called 911 while he was stalking the unarmed Martin.  It was the bullets from Zimmermans gun that were recovered from the body of Martin.

The Zimmerman verdict should embolden racist gun fanatics across the county, especially where these insidious “Stand your ground” laws exist.

looking for trouble, look here

looking for trouble, look here

In 1992, Rodney Kings brutal beating by police sparked riots nationwide, after his 8-4 hung jury acquitted the police.  After these riots a second trial was held and some small amount of justice was done and two of the officers who beat him went to jail.    53 people died in these riots and over 2000 were injured.

Stand-your-ground-600x472But despite this terrible cost, it seems time for riots to return to America.

All honest mistakes are forgivable

Rez and i were chatting about mistakes, he was mentioning business school classes which instead of focusing on the decision making process of successful business highlighted the critical mistakes made by companies which were otherwise well run and now no longer exist.  We agreed that this is where the most useful learning probably is.

My philosophy has long been to try lots of things and not fear mistakes.  Which has led me to the aphorism “All honest mistakes are forgivable.” Hoping that those negatively impacted by my choices will embrace a similar philosophy and let me off the hook while also pushing me towards being a more forgiving person.

Chicago_HR_Consultant_Making_Mistakes

I watch the google news.  It tracks what the mainstream media thinks is important and uses it’s artificial intelligence to connect related stories and rank them.  The story yesterday which did not make it “above the fold”  either in general news or US news was that the “ex-gay” ministry Exodus had closed and offered an apology to the LGBTQ community it had been attacking for 37 years.

The piece of the apology from Exodus leader Alan Chambers which spoke most loudly to me was:

I have heard many firsthand stories from people called ex-gay survivors. Stories of people who went to Exodus affiliated ministries or ministers for help only to experience more trauma. I have heard stories of shame, sexual misconduct, and false hope. In every case that has been brought to my attention, there has been swift action resulting in the removal of these leaders and/or their organizations. But rarely was there an apology or a public acknowledgement by me. 

hiding / solving a mistake with correcting fluid

I am unsure Exodus made an honest mistake, but i am glad they have changed their mind and hope for dominos to tumble.

Angie says- Pax asked me to chime in on this post and explain why it’s important, so I am. The remainder of the post is my own opinion, so don’t blame him (or do, if you agree with me).

“Conversion therapy” had been the name of the game in the religious community for years; it’s based around the idea that if we JUST TRIED HARD ENOUGH that we could change our desires (or at least our behaviors) and act straight.  Conversion therapy takes many forms including talk therapy to find the “root” of the issue, behavioral therapy to encourage more “gender appropriate” behavior, and negative reinforcement such as electric shocks, pubic shaming, starvation, nausea-inducing drugs.  It’s destroyed thousands of lives.  Thankfully conversion therapy (sometimes called reparative therapy) is no longer an acceptable mainstream treatment, and is gradually being seen as an unacceptable practice even in conservative circles.  It’s now even illegal to force minors into such “therapy” in some countries and states.

Exodus was a, more accurately THE, leader in the field of conversion therapy.  Alan Chambers is himself a man who is attracted to other men, and the harm his organization did other gay, lesbian, bisexual, and queer people is immeasurable.  For decades Exodus was the go to organization for churches and religious families to “fix” LGBQ people (they didn’t address trans issues much, I am using a more appropriate acronym).  Exodus’s apology is akin to the pope himself apologizing for their years of sweeping sexual abuse cases under the rug, then announcing that the Catholic Church would close it’s doors.  Yes, there are other organizations out there which will pick up the banner, but they do not have the history, deep pockets, or visibility that Exodus cultivated and enjoyed.

Chambers’ public, blunt apology is almost unheard of in the modern world; apologies usually involve weaselly phrases like “I’m sorry you were offended” or “well, that’s just what I believe.”  Chambers didn’t go the “being gay is AWESOME AND I’M GAY NOW” route; he remains married to his wife and committed to Christian ministry.  He also didn’t go the “I changed my mind, the bible says it’s ok to be gay” route; he is quite clear that he believes the scriptures are clear on what is and is not acceptable sexual behavior.  It’s not a complete 180, but it’s a huge step forward from a former leader in the “ex-gay” field.  And you know what?  This queer gal is okay with that (for now, at least).  Because this is the part of his apology that mattered the most to me:

I cannot simply move on and pretend that I have always been the friend that I long to be today….

I am sorry that there were times I didn’t stand up to people publicly “on my side” who called you names like sodomite—or worse. I am sorry that I, knowing some of you so well, failed to share publicly that the gay and lesbian people I know were every bit as capable of being amazing parents as the straight people that I know. I am sorry that when I celebrated a person coming to Christ and surrendering their sexuality to Him that I callously celebrated the end of relationships that broke your heart. I am sorry that I have communicated that you and your families are less than me and mine….

But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.  

You have never been my enemy. I am very sorry that I have been yours.