Paxus Calta-Star: A Year in 17 Pieces

Paxus Calta-Star is descended from an illustrious family. In Boston, his father was the CEO/founder of a prestigious architecture firm and his mother founded a cultural non-profit. His brother is the lead singer for the Grammy Award-winning rock band, They Might Be Giants, while his paternal grandfather was a former dean at Cornell University and his maternal grandfather was a general.

Paxus Calta-Star

Paxus is leaving his own inimitable mark in the world as a self-styled memeticist, funologist, political activist and festival organizer. He is also a Huffington Post blogger. In an earlier era, Paxus attained international prominence as an anti-nuclear power campaigner.

At Cornell, Paxus and I had been elected to the Board of Trustees representing the student constituency. To be a student trustee was, and remains, the most prestigious of undergraduate prizes and platforms. Then known as Schuyler “Sky” Flansburgh, Paxus was studying economics and operations research and industrial engineering. I recall the young Sky as being extremely strategic and articulate ― a charismatic figure with the long locks of a Romantic poet and a saturnine air. While he looked patrician garbed in a dark business suit at trustee meetings, on campus he appeared quite relaxed and unassuming in his hippie-like shirts. Even then, I was reminded of a guru freely dispensing wisdom from a mountaintop.

I knew his father, Earl, who also served on the Board of Trustees and had designed the landmark Cornell Campus Store. At a trustee meeting, the affable Mr. Flansburgh updated me on Sky’s post-college career working as the right-hand man of an oil company CEO in the Midwest.

Time passed, and in 2009 when I launched my personal website, Strange Tango: Life as Art, I finally landed on the social media grid. Facebook gave me an opportunity to reconnect with the people from my past, so I set out to link everyone I ever knew from my personal, educational and professional networks. When I sent Sky, by then Paxus Calta-Star, a message along with the friend invite, I received an enigmatic reply:

“i occupy a strange world, i think unlike where most of our classmates reside culturally. i design unusual festivals…i fight reactors (see nirs.org) i live on a commune (see twinoaks.org) and i toy with next generation social networks (see http://sites.google.com/site/carbonfixnet/).

it seems like you are also doing interesting and unusual things. i wonder why you wrote.

be well, become better, take chances.”

Paxus invited me to peruse a post about his late father, and I actually read all the entries in the various incarnations of his blog. The raw honesty in his writings stood out, as well as pointed    ruminations about issues like nuclear power and economics from the perspective of an activist and public intellectual.

I craft showcases for everyone I feature on my personal website. When I offered Paxus a guest column on Strange Tango: Life as Art, the creative challenge was to condense a world of thought and experience into an accessible narrative. I suggested we bracket a year in his life as a microcosm of his universe: 17 posts that reflect his highly original ideas, commentaries on current events, the utopian lifestyle at the Twin Oaks commune, and the personal self. His ideas about civil disobedience and social experimentation coupled with a back-to-nature lifestyle may appear radical, but Paxus in many ways resembles a modern-day Thoreau at Walden Pond, which coincidentally is located in the Boston suburb where he grew up.

Paxus’ year in 17 pieces runs more than 9,000 words and includes dozens of hyperlinks, photographs and videos.

As former Cornell student trustees and members of the prestigious secret society of Quill and Dagger ― it seems karmic that Paxus and I reconnected. We have traveled similar trajectories. While I evoke heart, insight and beauty as portals to the soul, Paxus adopted an activist, utopian lifestyle consistent with his beliefs and vision. Both of us relinquished profit and conventional expectations to live more authentically and creatively: to produce a beneficial legacy of originality that would outlive us. At heart, Paxus is a brave dreamer exhorting, guiding, society to a not-so-distant future. ~ADT

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1. Strange Tango intro
an effort to frame the year of posts
May 2, 2011

People often either laugh or get uncomfortable when I introduce myself as a propagandist. These are the desired effects.

Radicals are in the business of making people uncomfortable. When many people think of propagandists, it conjures images of Soviet or Nazi spin masters who were trying to deceive listeners or readers into supporting these corrupt ideologies. Why would someone choose to have people think those types of terrible things about them?

Paxus' iconic portrait at the Temelin Nuclear Power Plant, Czech Republic 1996.

For me it is about truth in advertising. Like all propagandists, i am trying to change peoples’ minds. Trying to get you to believe what i believe and more importantly, to change the way you act and think. And i feel like it is only fair to warn people, in this mildly shocking and uncomfortable way that this is what i am doing.

So what is it that i am trying to convince you of?

We can’t keep living like we are living. It is not enough to hope-vote for Obama, recycle and drive a hybrid. The system is so seriously broken that i believe (along with many others) we absolutely must do things dramatically differently. Otherwise, we will hand our heirs a failing planet. And yet…i believe we have the collective knowledge, the science, and the crazy monkey drive to survive and occasionally do so beautifully, to turn things around.

If we are going to change the world, we need to design and throw a better party. Despite the dire straits we face, an effective movement for political change needs to be creating better social opportunities and having more fun. Part of what this blog covers is theoretical and applied funology (the study of fun). How do we catalyze romance? How do we make people laugh uproariously or dance all night? How do we create successful multi-generational and cross-cultural events? How do we build social capital, and then spend it on an event we can finally all belong to: the fun party.

We have to learn to share. i am obsessed with sharing systems, both extant and theoretical ones. Since it is quite unlikely we can convince people from affluent countries to voluntarily reduce their access to resources, our only chance of dealing with peak oil/climate change like problems is to use fewer things by sharing them. If we are clever, we will design the next generation of social networking systems to serve this collective need. i want us to be clever, i want to help.

We need to design and test a new culture. i think transparency and self-expression is a cornerstone piece of building a better culture. And for me, open romantic relationships has been a powerful personal growth experience. i recently gave a class on polyamory to a frosty audience of conservative Christian freshman at East Carolina University. However, one part resonated with the students: when i contrasted honest polyamory with monogamy and its rampant cheating. i said, if you can lie to your lover, if you can lie to the most important relationship in your life, then you can easily lie to your boss or your shareholders or anyone else who is significant in your life or the world. And to encourage open relationships, it is clear that storytelling, not preaching, is the way to pitch things, to get what you want and need, and help others get the same.

My favorite story ends with the line “don’t take yourself too seriously” and when people laugh at me, I am reminded of this sage counsel.

Buckle up (or not)

The thing which i dont need to convince you of, which is none the less important and true is that we need to work together with talented people we care deeply for. il have some co-conspirators in this project and a few of them who are excited about helping are: Feonix, Rabbit and Sara. And i have some other fabulously talented, interesting, and capable allies: present and future readers of this blog, people who want to go beyond words to actions, hope to happening.

Let’s get this party started.

Sara, Bean and Nova at East Wind in front of Rock Bottom 2010

As my Ukranian friend said "i am one big ear" Feonix 2009

Prof Rabbit taking himself seriously

This is the first post of a collection of 17 to be displayed on Strange Tango.

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2. Why nuclear is unreformable
why nuclear power regulators are like the proverbial cat watching the canary
April 30, 2011

 

I am working on an article on the various ways that the global nuclear power industry dies. I will post it here on my blog when it is finished of course, but some of my research in the post-Fukushima meltdown period has been exciting to me as a long time nuclear news tracker. Despite many people’s complaining that the MSM has basically stopped reporting on the ongoing accident, what i see (as someone who is obsessively looking) is that there is a big spike up in coverage. And that while the US has basically gone back to sleep on the topic of new nuclear reactors being built, the rest of the world has been, perhaps unalterably, woken up by this accident.

What is especially useful is the coverage of the structural corruption which exists between nuclear regulators and the utilities they are supposed to watch. On the 25th Chernobyl anniversary the NY Times ran this story on page one. It documents the corrupt relationship between the Japanese nuclear regulators and the state agencies which are supposed to monitor them to keep the population safe.

Specifically, regulators are hired up by the industry when they retire from government work in a practice which is referred to in Japanese as the “accent to Heaven” insuring that they are well paid for their cooperative relationship with the nuclear utility. Similarly, nuclear executives are hired by the government after they leave the industry to help with the task of regulation. Imagine Dick Cheney when he was vice president giving no-bid contracts to Halliburton for the Iraq war while still holding millions in their stock. Except imagine this as a structural situation, rather than just the pinnacle of corruption.

The core of the problem is that nuclear power is tremendously complicated. There are actually very few people who are qualified to be good regulators. So the prudent thing is to hire people with extensive experience in the industry to regulate it. Prudent if you believe they can do it in an unbiased way, which since their current or future personal profits depend on the industry and it maximizing revenue by minimizing expenditures on safety is impossible. The NY Times piece claims that the US has other sources of nuclear expertise so that we are not in the same terrible place. This is a lie.

This article from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting points out why the US suffers from exactly the same problem. My favorite quote from the article is:

“If you still believe that the NRC is a nuclear watchdog, you are probably still sending your money to Bernie Madoff,” said Arnie Gundersen, a former nuclear-industry executive turned whistleblower.

The article points out that the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not strengthening regulations in light of 9/11 (or likely the Fukushima accident) but is systematically weakening them. There is a split in the NRC in which the technical staff is trying to make reactor operations safer and the senior management blocks and reverses their recommendations in favor of increasing nuclear utilities profits. Why are they doing this? There are a number of reasons. One is that all the money to pay for the NRC actually comes from the nuclear utilities themselves. And while it is not as bad as the NRC commissioners salary is determined by Exelon and Dominion, it is only a short step away from this. The core mission of the NRC is in conflict, it is supposed to promote nuclear power and regulate it. But what if it turns out that the technology is flawed? What if it turns out that you can’t make money building reactors and making them safe? Well then you have to choose. And the NRC has a long history of choosing in favor of nuclear utility profits instead of public safety. The NRC has never turned down an application for a reactor license. Occasionally, they ask for more work to be done on the part of the utility or the reactor builder and sometimes this can be pricey. But if you are persistent and have deep enuf pockets, you will get your permission.

For an excellent article by Karl Grossman on the media’s complicity in poor reporting on nuclear accidents check out this recent article he wrote for the FAIR magazione.

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3. Not far from the tree
do anarchists breed anarchists, Willow’s thoughts on the police
April 18, 2011

Three years ago one of Twin Oaks many guest asked my son:

“Willow how old are you?”

Willow age 6 or 8

“I am 6, unless you are the police and then i am 8″ he replied earnestly.

The law in Virginia was that until he turned 5 he had to wear a car seat. And when he turned 5 it was quite some liberation for him to get out of it.  But when he turned 6 the insurance industry forced the state raise the age to 8 years.

Another parent trying to load him into a car asked “So dont you need to wear a car seat? Because you are not yet 8.″

Willow refused to comply. And the responsibile adults asked “What are you going to do if the police stop the car and ask you how old you are?”

Willow shot back, “i dont have ID, i will just lie!”

Willow wrote in my validation day card this year for the first time.

he wrote “Thanks for letting me stay up late.”

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4. The Necessary Complexity Theory
extrapolating Einstein’s eloquence to hold great truths inside complex worldviews
March 20, 2011

It turns out we are not interested in simple solutions. The nature of the interlocked problems which we face as a species are such that only holistic approaches have a chance of success and these are by their nature complicated. But humans oft have trouble with complexity, so make this a little easier, i have developed the Einsteinian Corollary to this Necessary Complexity Theory, which states:

For people to embrace complicated solutions, it is oft necessary to provide Simple Great Truths for these complex solutions to rest on.

These simple great truths are different for everyone. This is called the Einsteinian Corollary because Einstein was famous for advancing elegant simple great truths that often took years to prove or disprove and set the world on edge (the most famous of which was E = mc squared).

One of my personal great truths is:

A good story can beat out evil.

A few years back Raj penned a number of wikipedia articles including one on me. Raj did not tell me he put the article up and i just bumped into it one day while i was searching for myself online. I write lots of letters to the editor, mostly on nukes, and usually the papers do not tell me they have printed my work. So i check by searching for my name and then i often get to see what is printed. Fortunately my conveniently unique name brings up little else.

I was pleased and surprised when an article on me popped up on wikipedia. My never diminutive ego puffed up yet a bit more. And this started my roller coastery relationship with wikipedia. Fairly quickly someone pointed out that there was nothing especially noteworthy about me and the article was marked for deletion. I added a number of “noteworthy” things and the close vote (3 to 2) was to keep the article. Then having learned a bit about wikipedia i went on this adventure, and expanded my page dramatically, adding things some of which were verifiable and some were not.

Then i got another notice, “wikipedia is not myspace = this looks a lot like a vanity page”. Fair enuf, my desire for their to be an entry on me was greater than my need to have them know i had unverifiably hitchhiked on sailboats across the pacific. i decided i would hack the article way back, had some very pleasant conversations with other wikipedia editors and came up with the most verifiable set of accomplishments in hopes of not getting booted. But before i deleted the vanity page i saved a copy of it. Over the years i have tweaked the vanity page quite a bit – with stories about my name, gratuitous pictures and a long list of quotes of mine. And of course some propaganda which is unverifiable.

Amusingly, if i enter my name into google, my vanity page comes up as number one, before the official wikipedia page. And thus the good story triumphs.

[Sadly, this turns out to be just a product of google configuring my browser based on my searches, everyone else who searches for me gets the official wikipedia entry on me before the vanity one. Thx Angie for checking.]

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5. Turbulence
how arrogant, self-absorbed, manic people (like me) are nearly impossible to be close to without getting run over
March 14, 2011

I had a break thru recently. I was talking w/ my shaman friend Free and I learned that I had been holding a story about him that was not true. My story was that when he and Kate started to become involved I thought what he wanted was to have a monogamous relationship and thus he was not supporting my relationship with Kate. When Kate broke up with me and then became exclusive with Free I had proof for my story. What actually happened was that Free had been advocating for Kate and i, until it was clear to him that we were not working for her. Kate and I tumbled apart, Free and I did not talk, I held onto my story that he was the bad guy and distanced myself unnecessarily.

I have a selective memory about my past relationships. I tend to forget and diminish the troubles and amplify what worked and was exciting in them. I had forgotten/diminished the struggles in my oft amazing relationship with Kate.

Kate was the kind of partner lover I crave – someone who inspires both me and our audiences, someone who has a complimentary skill set (in Kate’s case a theatrical one), is daring and wants to hustle the revolution. And someone who is interested in both being deeply involved w/ me and my politics. When Kate and I first went to the conservative Christian college of East Carolina University we were in high honeymoon and dangerously charismatic together. We talked with them about polyamory in what I am convinced was one of the most disturbing lectures many of those 100 freshmen ever had. And we loved it.

Kate’s and my relationship unraveled around what I am unaffectionately calling turbulence. For people close to me the chaos of my life is exhausting and frustrating. From distracting new projects to alluring new romances to interrupting quiet evenings with support for intimates experiencing manic episodes or suffering suicide attempts. It is easy to feel jerked around. And as I thought about it I realized it was a nearly impossible position for me to ask someone to embrace.

turbulent love as abstract art


An impossible position which Sara has recently been feeling the full force of. I am quite attached to the complexity of my life and what is most scarce in my life is time. So while many of my relationships feel starved for time, one of the places we do connect is that I can be there for them in a jam. I like to be the hero, so I don the robe of the fixer. Last week it was an intimate whose house was being searched by the police without a warrant and who’s estranged partner had taken her kids. The problem with this job, is that you cant predict when it is going to hit. And thus the people near me are unwillingly on call and may well feel run over by it.

 

 

My construct was that I was unwilling to give up this highly interrupted life style and that Sara either needed to accept this about being close, or dramatically shrink our relationship. The thought being smaller portions of time could be protected (turning off my cell, not being in public space, etc). Sara understandably found this a disturbing prospect.

So we agreed to talk with Sky and Kassia about our situation. They were brilliant. Sky pointed out that turbulence was a responsibility dodge on my part for running over people. And while my life is cetainly turbulent, there are a myriad of ways to take care of those close to me. My homework is to talk with several of the many intimates who have been affected by my bad behavior – Kate and Tree and Hawina and Anissa and even Sky himself about what I could do to be more considerate of them. Kas suggested that instead of having all interruptable time versus much less safe time, we could have a mix as long as it was clearly delineated.

And with their sage council Sara and I went from feeling a bit hopeless about our situation to being optimistic, like we had turned a corner and that we could maintain this amazing connection. We promptly went and celebrated with a wet and wild night.

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6. Japan by the numbers
an early post on the impact of the Japan earthquakes and the Fukushima meltdowns – with some updating
March 13, 2011

 

 

Japan Earthquake, Natori from Matthew Allard on Vimeo.

I have spent much of the day filtering the news.  Let me save you some time and give you the numbers i think are most useful.  From big to low.

1 trillion yen (or $12 billion) the cost of the 6 Fukushima reactors – likely now worthless

$21 to 38 billion estimated insured losses from this disaster nation wide (updated April 12)

2.5 Million number of households in Japan without electricity (4% of the country)

452,000 Japanese homeless (April 30 update)

210,000 is the number of people who have been evacuated from the region around the 2 Fukushima reactor complex

100,000 number of rescue and emergency workers dispatched to quake effected areas

7,300 dead from the quake and tsunami and 11,000 missing (April 30 update)

125 number of after shocks since Friday

90 the number people hospitalized for radiation poisoning

10 cm the amount the earth moved off its axis because of the quake

9.0 level of the recent Sendai Japanese earthquake, upgraded from 8.9

7.9 the design basis for the Fukushima – the scale of the quake that was the limit of what was supposed to happen and what the reactor was designed to withstand

6 number of reactors still out of control due to loss of coolant problems

5 number of after shocks of magnitude 6.0 or higher in japan since friday

4 the level of accident on the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency disaster scale on a scale of 7. Three Mile Island was a 5, Chernobyl was a 7. This is almost certainly low. [April 30 update - this was raised to a level 7 in April]

2.4m the amount the main island of Japan shifted as a function of the quake

The thing which the news is just beginning to cover is that the latest reactor in trouble is Fukushima plant 1 block 3, which is a MOX plant. MOX plants use fuel made from blending military plutonium with uranium.  This is what the Guardian is saying about MOX:

“Plutonium MOX fuel increases the risk of nuclear accident due the neutronic effects of plutonium on the reactor,” Burnie told the Guardian. “In the event of an accident – in particular loss of coolant – the reactor core is more difficult to control due to both neutronics and higher risk of fuel cladding failure.

“In the event of the fuel melting and the release of plutonium fuel into the environment, the health hazards are greater, including higher levels of latent cancer.”

This reactor is suffering from a loss of coolant and may have already had a partial fuel melt.

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7. Comments as love
if you like this blog post, you better write something in the comment field
February 25, 2011

So i think we are building something here.  You could look at it thru a collection of different frames.

You could call it propaganda (as i often do). That we are trying to advance a collection of compelling ideas and introduce them to people in a way that makes them want to embrace them. Some of these are pretty accessible: Story TellingFunology, Sharing, ConsensusNext Generation Social Networks. Others are more scary or daring: intentional community, honest seduction, anarchismpolyamory, memetics, “New Culture.”

Another frame might be life style activism, or what i sometimes refer to as “building the better party.” When i lived in San Francisco i participated in and ultimately was one of the organizers for the cities anarchist coffeehouses. They would rotate their monthly location to different collective houses which were willing to host. Everything sold (usually food and t-shirts) would be would be donated or rescued from a dumpster and all the profits would go to support some good radical cause. At one point i was talking with a former communist who i had seen at a couple of our events. I talked with him about his participation and he said that the over arching goals of the communist ideal – fairness, peace, eliminating coercion were basically the same as what the anarchist were trying to do. But he was here because the anarchist were clearly having a better time getting there.

But the frame i want to touch on for this post is Love letter writing. The specific form of love letter writing i want to promote is commenting on posting on blogs. I am reading an increasing number of blogs these days. Almost all the entries i read have no comments posted on them. I can tell you this is a slightly sad and lonely feeling, even as your blog becomes more popular (as mine fortunately has) if a post gets no comments there is a sense of disappointment (at least for me) which surrounds it. Alternatively, even very short comments are like presents.

If you want to help build this better world, weigh in. Leave a comment, even a short one. It encourages this type of behavior.

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8. All volunteer
how the commune gets it done, without coercion
February 13, 2011

Think of the task you hate most in your life – maybe it’s cooking, maybe it’s cleaning the toilet, maybe it’s dealing with customers, maybe it’s calling your suppliers to figure out why the latest shipment of widgets hasn’t arrive yet. Now imagine that you never have to do this task again – someone else will do it (possibly after you train them), and you can do something else. The work still gets done, your job is secure, you get paid the same amount, but you are likely much happier! Not only that, but your co-workers and family actively encourage you to give up these jobs and tasks you hate. Sounds impossible, right? Not really- this is what it’s like to live and work at Twin Oaks.

If you have not been here it’s difficult to imagine; the whole place is run on volunteers. There are literally thousands of jobs (there are over 100 managerships) here and every one is filled by someone who has in essence said “of all the many things to do here, i prefer this one.” This is quite liberating, and because there are so many jobs to do most members spread their work among several areas.

My work typical 42 hour work week might consist of 7 hours of home school and caring for my son (i do more, but this is what i take credit for), 12 hours of marketing and managing for our hammocks business, 4 hours of making Tofu, 5 hours of giving tours or doing speaking gigs about Twin Oaks, 2 hours of cleaning my house or our dishes, 3 hours of labor creditable activism and 9 hours of running errands for the community (room assigning, tofu delivery, Outside Work management and more). But the key is if i did not like this mix, i could change it.

I think it is this freedom which makes it worthwhile for most of the people who live here. You have to give up a number of things to be here as contrasted with a middle class lifestyle, specifically the things which are connected to having flexible personal income, hopping in the car and going for a joy ride, eating out regularly, going to the spa. On the other hand, members here are guaranteed a comfortable place to live, healthy food, full health-care coverage, work they enjoy, a gradual retirement program and the right to live and work here as long as they are willing to live within our community’s agreements.

In the world of trade offs I am convinced that i am better off than my peers from my hometown or college. I get to see my son several times almost everyday. I eat food which grows right here. I don’t worry about bills, or a mortgage,  or bankruptcy, or losing my job. I am at a tiny fraction the carbon footprint of most US Americans. I am loved, respected, and have interesting work. If I lose interest in that work, a plethora of other jobs are available and someone will train me.

And if you doubt your own ability or willingness to live in community, I encourage you at ask yourself, “What could my life be like if I could give up all the jobs and tasks I hate tomorrow?” It’s not a rhetorical question, this life is possible and thousands of people across the world are living it. Why aren’t you?

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9. Is Egypt like Poland in 1989?
will the middle east cascade revolutions in 2011 as eastern Europe did in 1989?
February 12, 2011

Historians oft credit Poland with starting the revolutions of 1989 and over throwing their government first. But when i talked with revolutionaries in eastern Europe in the summer of 1990, the credit was given to Hungary. For it was Hungary that cut the fence, it was Hungary that said to East Germany and the Soviet Union, we will no longer patrol your border. And with this risky move started the flow of especially east Germans into the west.

But Hungary is a strange island in eastern Europe. It is linguistically and culturally different from it’s neighbors. It is small geographically (the size of Maine) and in population (only 10 million people, many dislocated ethnic Romanians). And Hungary had been fringish in the Eastern Block from the beginning.

The cascading revolutions of 1989 and 1991, might well not have happened if only Hungary had broken away. Poland was the anvil that tipped the balance. With nearly 40 million people, deeply Slavic and heavily industrial, Poland was at the center of the Soviet European satellite system, it started a fire under or threw fuel on embers through out the region.

Tunisia (who’s government fell in January of this year), like Hungary, is small (around 10 million), affluent compared to its neighbors and not in itself a big domino. But Egypt just might be.

This morning Hosni Mubarak stepped down. It’s not a magic bullet – Egypt’s high unemployment, lack of opportunities for young people, and systemic poverty won’t disappear with a new government. But the promise of a new government is certainly something to celebrate.

In Jordan, King Abdullah II fired his Prime Minister and schuffled the government. In Lybia, peaceful protests are planned soon to shadow Moammar Gadhafi, who just recently supported Mubarak. Thousands have protested Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has ruled Yemen for 32 years — and has pledged not to stand for re-election when his current term ends. Many are asking “Can 80 million Egyptians be wrong?”

The stories coming out of Egypt have been amazing- in large part because they demonstrated how a shared enemy can make forge unexpected alliances. Muslims and Christians standing guard while the other group prays, soldiers and protesters co-operating, and so much more.

In both Tunisia and Egypt the internet was vital to spreading information on planned protests, and to circumventing the state-controlled media in these countries. Egypt’s revolution also demonstrated that completely cutting off access to the internet is nearly impossible; when the Egyptian government clamped down access to Twitter and Facebook people shared the numerical IP address to access the site indirectly. When the government shut down access to broadband and mobile-phone based internet, European internet providers offered free dial-up access to the Egyptian people. These strategies were also shared online, creating a permanent resource which future revolutionaries and protesters can use; the only thing better than having these strategies during a revolution is being able to prepare them before the crisis starts.

People should not fear their governments, governments should fear their people. It remains to be seen if the new government will be better than the old, but what’s true is that the people now know that they have the power to bring down a regime. I hope that the U.S. government, especially those who cut taxes for the rich while dismantling the already minuscule safety net for the poor, will look at Egypt and remember what can happen to a government when the people have nothing left to lose.

[Thanks to Angie who got me going on this and wrote most of the later half.]

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10. Kana’s last sentence
the final wishes of a wonderful quirky man
November 16, 2010

thrown out of monastery for laughing too much

 

In the summer a decade ago Kana died.  He was an unusual man and a slightly enigmatic member of the community. He was a talented woodworker and he supplemented our hammocks and hanging chair offerings at craft fairs with these walking sticks he used to make. They were a collection of dramatically different type woods laminated together, cut in slightly curly ways. The overall effect was stunning. When customers came thru i told the story of how Kana had been a monk and had been thrown out of the monastery for laughing too much. Hawina told the story too.

At his funeral, i spoke about going to Kana with this story, which i had made up. i told him this after a successful fair in which we had sold many of his sticks. He said “that story is better than the truth, keep telling it.” At the funeral Hawina learned for the first time that i made the entire thing up. At the funeral Kana’s sister told us what really happened before Vatican II Kana was a catholic monk. But when the church changed the mass from Latin to the local language and liberalized other aspects for the church behavior, Kana felt like it has lost its tradition and withdrew from the order. He became fascinated by the teachings of Krishnamurti and over the years his lifestyle changed dramatically. By the time he got to Twin Oaks he drank and smoked fairly regularly.

all dressed up

I was stopping by his room on a pretty regular basis back in 2000. He always had interesting conversation of company or was playing guitar, it was a happening place to be his little room with all the beautiful woodwork he had made, including a number of wooden seats he had crafted for his company. And when he died, Coyote said an insightful thing about him. “When someone like Kana dies, you have to become stronger – because they leave the kind of hole in you that you can only fill with yourself.” Now i oft visit Coyote’s tiny crowded room where the better conversation is and Kana’s picture adorns the wall.

Kana spent most of his time on the farm here at Twin Oaks, but when he did go into town, he got dressed up for it. On this fateful day in the sumer of 2002, he decided to go into the local chiropractor to see if he could help with some chest pains He was experiencing. As he got into the car Hildagard noticed that not only was he not dressed up as he usually was, but he was not even wearing shoes. She called after him “are you going into town like that?”

And the last thing he said to anyone who lived here was “i am going just the way i am.”

After i wrote this post i found a Kana Photo Archive.

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11. Bye bye Europe
being asked to help Wieneke and Micha to have a son and the longest ride in the world
October 30, 2010

photo by Willow

Wienke, Fabian, Alice and i in central park 2010

In 1997, the Czech environmental group i had worked with for years decided to change our strategy in how to fight the Temelin reactor. After we had brought thousands from across Europe to block the construction of the reactor for a few days each summer, we went to a domestic lobbying and public education approach. My job had been to bring internationals and to stage direct actions. And so with this shift i was out of a job.

Hawina and i had been discussing a 6 to 9 month trip to YankeeLand for a while before this. Hawina was interested in going to a place where she did not have to work for money. I had to explain to my Dutch girlfriend that America was not really set up like this. She was persistent and i ceded that there were a couple of places like this and i gave her Kat Kinkade’s book second book on Twin Oaks, “Is it Utopia yet?” After reading it Hawina said that this seemed like an interesting place for us to spend our sabbatical from Europe. Six months became a dozen years and we never really made it back, except for some vacations, including this one which just ended.

half brothers consult on how to stop Ipad zombies

A couple of years before i left that time, Wieneke and Micha asked me to help them have a child. Wieneke and i had been lovers for a few years before she and Micha had gotten together and Micha was actually the one who suggested me, knowing i would not get attached and that i had reasonable genes. After a year of trying and a miscarriage, the day before Hawina and i caught the Polish cargo ship from Rotterdam to Cleveland, i spoke to Wieneke on the phone and she told me she was pregnant. It was not until 2002 that i would meet her son Fabian.

Some things you do on instinct. When Wieneke and Micha asked me to help i was both flattered and sure it was the right thing. Of course you cant really know, but i never doubted and in this case i was right.

look at tire arch wall in background – perhaps a 3 story height

no room in the car, so i rode in the trunk

We’ve been in Arnhem for the last couple of days. Micha and Wieneke and Fabian have skipped work and school to take us to the various sights in the area. We went to the Burgers’ Zoo yesterday (i will spare you all the animal photos) and to the huge playground outside Venlo today.

As a funologist i take special interest in playgrounds. This one we went to held the worlds record for the longest slide and the highest swing. Both of which were impressive, but i dont think the highest swing was actually much higher than the Swing of Affliction at Twin Oaks’ own Playground of Death. Tho it was done in this cool way with used tires going up a parabolic slope on both sides so you could follow the sides up and down.

Hawina emerges from the longest slide

The longest slide was a tube which kept the surface dry despite the regular Dutch rain. There are some physics involved in slide design. You want to make sure that you dont eject small children onto the hard ground at high speed. This is complicated by the different types of clothes they might be wearing. Slick rain paints will have longer and faster rides than wet jeans. The Venlo slide was understandably designed for safety. Both with a long flat landing end and with a shallow angle incline as you approach the end. The effect however is that you dont actually emerge from the final portion of the tube. I think this is poor funological design. Besides emerging into the light being a dramatic conclusion to this long ride, being left inside the tube is awkward for larger riders who have to shimmy out and potentially scary for little users who may have either a claustrophobic response or a legitimate concern that the next rider will crash into them before they can get out.

i leave Europe certain that i will return. Feeling like part of my complicated family is here and that i find many aspects of the European temperament (and dare i say it’s civilized nature) preferable to the land of my birth.

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12. The neighbors
Denny Ray helps us find the motherload of pears
August 17, 2010

Saint Denny Ray at Twin Oaks 2010 - photo by Micha Engelhardt

 

Denny Ray is one of the saints around here. Perhaps it was the mid 80s he was a member here and was the equipment maintenance manager. It is a bit hard to describe how much of a headache this job is. We have a huge campus, with all kinds of dishwashers and compressors and refrigerators and generators and food processing equipment and gas and electric systems. We also have dozens of people trying to operate equipment that they are unfamiliar with, sometimes with insufficient (or no) training. Something is broken all the time.

Because Denny is so good with all of these different machines he has saved the community a fortune. Not just because he does not charge us half the time and when he does charge us he bills half what he should. Not just because he basically forced us to shift gas companies which saved us over $10K in the first year. No you can’t just be handy or thrifty to get saint status in community land, it is a much higher bar.

One of the ways Denny also helps is by watching the neighborhood. By doing the networking and community relations work which Twin Oaks ought to make labor creditable, but largely does not. Sometimes this appears in the form of a go cart or rocking horse, delivered triumphantly by a guy who looks like Santa on a diet. Most recently it has shown up as pears.

Micha's wonderful picture of Pears in the ZK basement

Our courtyard has a beautiful pear tree that Hildegard has organized with a bucket for fallen or eaten pears and two different length bamboo grabber sticks. These sticks are so simple, yet very effective at grabbing high pears with minimal impact on the area the pear was in before grabbing. You may need to let them ripen a bit after falling, but they are pretty tasty pears.

Denny saw the sister trees to our on land right off W. Old Mountain Road which is our back door to the conference site. They were full of pears and Denny knew that the woman who owned the house had died. So Denny started walking down the street trying to find out who the caretaker for that house was and ultimately discovered that it was Tommy Mullins.

Tommy is perhaps sixty, small stature, bad teeth and a charming personality. Denny escorts us in to his compact home which is bursting with his hospitality. And this is in part clear because he has felt great generosity from the community over the years. Last year i knew that Keenan took surplus watermelons and gave them to our neighbors. Tommy got a couple. That was a big hit.

But an even bigger hit was apparently at some point, some enterprising member gave and installed a hammock for Tommy. We beat out god for the top spot in Tommy’s favorite things list. So Tommy is all about giving Twin Oaks the pears from these handful of trees.

New member Tony honched a crew of a dozen or so Oakers and guests who descended on these trees like the proverbial locust. We were climbing and shaking trees, picking and gathering and in the end we had boxes upon boxes of pears. Which we are cleaning and processing and will no doubt end up as a couple of pies each for our generous neighbors, Mr Mullins and Saint Denny Ray.

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13. Lucky myth
people think we are poor, so they give us lots of stuff. we actually have a bunch of stuff, thx
July 24, 2010

There is a cute myth story running around the Ta Chai living room with me. The myth is that we are poor. Many people in the mainstream, especially friends of members, believe we are in need.

Understandably, they look at our low allowance and generally modest consumption patterns and assume this represents a kind of poverty.

Numerically (which is the most precise and generally least useful) we have a bunch of money in the bank, 450 beautiful acres with a couple dozen high functioning low impact buildings. There is a weight room, music room stocked with instruments, several libraries (books, videos, music), a sauna, fresh grown food for most of the year and membership comes with full medical, dental and home care if needed.

But what is more important is that between the commie clothes library and our fleets of bikes and cars, most members (i believe) dont fell strong desires to have more.

But the myth persists, and that combined with our friends generosity means we get a bunch of presents. Today in what is sometimes called “the State Room” Bochie is running around in a Snow White costume that we are convinced was hand and machine sewn by someones 80 year old grandma, perhaps as the last thing she did on this earth.

There are perhaps 2 dozen pairs of high heels mostly in good shape which will look fabulous on Valerie or Mushroom.

But perhaps the most fun was watching Bochie go hunting thru the boxes of handbags and shoes and art supplies, giggling like a slightly crazy child at their best birthday ever.

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14. Elevated position
my brother and parents were all founders and CEOs. i am just the tofu delivery boy
May 9, 2010

“My father was the president and founder of a successful architecture firm. My mother is the founder and executive director of 200 person non-profit. My brother is the lead singer for a rock band which has multiple Grammys and gold records. And i am the tofu delivery boy.”

making tofu

i love delivering tofu. i get to drive the tofu truck, which is just large enuf to be a real truck and just small enuf for me to get into to trouble for it. i love decoding the parking complexities of Richmond during the day, the slightly rickity hand truck i get to move the crates around in. All the restaurant workers who say nice things about our products and offer me coffee (which i dont drink) and other treats (which i do eat).

i breeze into the walk in fridge at VCU and unload amongst the bustle which is a huge institutional kitchen. i drop at a tiny cafe where the death metal music is always blaring in the kitchen. The Harrison Street Cafe uses huge quantities of Tempeh and are always friendly and generous. i deliver tofu scraps for the Richmond chapter of  Food not Bombs to the ever cool staff at Ellwood Thompsons.

And while it may not be the top of the world, things look pretty good from the eyes of the tofu delivery boy.

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15. Downplaying CNN
Madge reminds Paxus that egalitarian is good enuf
March 28, 2010

At first they just wanted to do a piece on our most ecologically friendly building and Valerie (who co-manages Twin Oaks recruiting and outreach with me) thought she would do it by herself (she installed parts of the solar photo-voltaic system and has given dozens of tours of Kawaeh). When CNN expanded their scope and wanted to cover more ecological aspects of the commune, Valerie called in back up.

When i found out CNN was coming i got excited. They were coming for lunch and we also had a student group which was coming for lunch that was paying for it so i thought i would use some of the money they were giving us to add some extra ingredients to make a nicer lunch. Madge was not having any of it.

Madge and i have had our run ins before, especially when we were managing different aspects of the community hammocks business together. And i respect Madge, she gets stuff done, she is thorough and tough.

In this case she was the lunch cook. I was asking if she would expand the menu to use fancier (store bought) food. She pointed out that the tripper would not be able to get food back in time. i said i could organize a runner to do the shopping if she would come up with a list. She pointed out that the regular food was perfectly fine and she would be sure to make enuf for the additional guests, and we were done. She was, of course, right.

CNN came, they shoot and interviewed for 5 hours for a piece which will be 2 minutes long run right around Earth Day – there are 13 other ecological initiatives which CNN will present on that single show.

I gave my usual spiel about how sharing is needed to save the world.

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16. Proust’s parlor game
my still mostly unanswered questions from the list
March 24, 2010

When we developed co-empowerment, we were looking for big questions. We thought that by asking brilliant questions in clever sequences, you could tease out core truths and thru this manifest personal power and healing.

Some years later i become aware of this annoying successful memetic structure which was the facebook “25 random things about me” postings.

And somewhere happily towards the big question side is the Strange Tango list of parlor questions popularized by the French critic and author Marcel Proust, who thought and wrote deeply about self reflection.

The Proust Questionnaire


Question 19 is What do you consider your greatest achievement?

 

 

And i thought about this for a while i wrestled between FAIRE (an anti-nuclear summer training program that taught east European activist English and campaigning skills which graduated a couple dozen amazing organizers over a couple years) or the Clean Energy Brigades (which provides low cost weatherization of thousands of working class homes also in eastern Europe – team Obama mimicked it in the stimulus package).

But as i thought these proud success more, they felt too localized and fleetingly isolated events. And what is really more amazing is that i have had mostly continuously successful polyamorous relationships for about 30 year [And a few colorful disasters].

And perhaps more broadly, i am proudest of the number of people i have brought the ideas of anarchism, the lifestyle of polyamory, the culture of paganism and the home of community. What i hope it will be is a collection of self replicating funological experiments.

And while i have been finishing this entry, there has been a glorious little cuddle pile unfolding before me on the couches of the Tupelo main living room. And finally, i get to hop in and have some wonderful intimate conversations with new and old house mates. Ending bleary at 3:15 AM. This is the life.

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17. Tiny dancer
how my son is learning from my mistakes, even without me teaching him
March 14, 2010

i live in a large building called Tupelo. It houses 17 communards and is something of an architectural marvel in my mind. There are 4 living rooms, which is nice, but what is precious is that the main living room is isolated from all the bedrooms in the building by at least two doors and a hallway. This means you can have a full fledged party raging in the main LR and everyone can sleep with minimal disturbance. So it was last night.

Marilyn has interned and guested several times over the last few years. Apparently, everytime before this one there had been a dance party during her visit. When Trout heard that she was about to break her streak by leaving without a dance party, he did what any self respecting funologist would do. He organized one in almost no time.

Tupelo was adorned with a giant spider web, lights aimed towards disco balls and the cuddle loft was cleaned up and prepped. The party started late by Twin Oaks standards, because there had been a recital earlier in the evening. But Willow and i went up at what we thought was on time to find a beautiful set up and no dancers. Undeterred, my son started swirling to the music on the dance floor provided by Sabine. If he did not need other dancers, i thought i could jump in to.

Susan Posey, Willow and myself at Robert and Theas wedding

It is impossible to be a parent in community and not contrast your own upbringing with that of your child. Self consciousness and social pressure keep people off dance floors. My son, in this setting appears unaffected by these forces (very unlike me when i was growing up). He jumps and kicks and does ninja moves and leaps onto me with an air of liberation i find enchanting and inspiring. Even when the dance floor gets crowded, with no other kids in sight, he continues on. Sometimes with me carrying him, sometimes running amongst the other dancers, sometimes collapsing on the floor for dramatic effect or perhaps just for fun.

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Paxus Calta-Star was abandoned by his wolf parents and raised by liberals in the suburbs of Boston. He hitchhiked on sailboats across the Pacific, danced atop Russian tanks before Yeltsin made it fashionable, smuggled Tibetan monks across the Himalayas and worked on the North Slope of Alaska for a nasty oil company. His biography was too unverifiable and too vain for wikipedia. He fought nuclear power plants in eastern Europe after the wall came down and has been arrested for crimes of conscience in 12 countries, on three continents. He taught a class on how to design revolutions at an alternative high school, co-designed the co-empowerment technique for activists and co-created the Honest Seduction philosophy. Calta, along with Sky Blue is one of two dads of Willow Falcon Star born on Valentines Day 2002. He suffers from terminal immodesty and an inflamed funny bone and self identifies as a memeticist, a funologist and a propagandist. He has lived at Twin Oaks Community for a dozen years where he co-manages a couple of businesses and recruiting for the community. He is dedicated to changing the world using non-boring means.

 

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