Archive | July 2011

When they tell you the lights will go out without nuclear …

There are Fox News Neanderthals in every country.  When we talked about closing reactors in Bulgaria or Germany we would often hear that without these plants the lights would go out.  The Fukushima meltdowns have proven otherwise and in my mind not just for Japan.

Since shortly after the 3 meltdowns on March 11, Japan has been instituting a national energy conservation campaign (which is called Setsuden).  It has raised the weekday rates for power (which has caused heavy industry to start working on the weekends to avoid these costs).  It has raised the air conditioning temperature (which has created the “super cool business style” in which business men take off their western suits and wear short sleeve shirts instead).  Japan is idling some elevators and escalators and cutting back on lighting and fans.  And the country has made energy-saving something of an obsession.  And while some additional fossil fuel plants have been brought back on-line, but mostly it is conservation which is leading the way.

The conservation effort is so successful that with 38 of 54 nuclear power plants shut down, there is regularly enough surplus energy in Japan now to run Manhattan.

closing reactors means changing behaviors

No rolling black outs and no recession means Japan is starting to think that it might be able to get by without nuclear, something which was generally unthinkable just 4 months ago.  Recent polls show 2/3s of the country want to phase out of nuclear.

perhaps we dont need every escalator running

even tho all our lights are not on – we are open

Risking copywrong infringement here is the article B cant see because of her NYC IP address.

TOKYO—When the March 11 tsunami knocked out more than half of the nuclear power plants serving the Tokyo area, it set off one of the biggest unplanned experiments in a modern society: Could a metropolis of 30 million people get by after losing about a fifth of its power supply?

After a steaming July in Japan filled with 90-degree-plus days, the preliminary answer is in, and it is yes. Not only has Tokyo Electric Power Co. kept the lights on all summer, it has so much extra capacity on most days that it could power New York City, too.


The economic hit from power shortages that many feared has failed to materialize. Japanese stock prices have risen almost to their prequake levels, the economy is growing again and some companies have actually been invigorated by the demand for electricity-saving goods.

Saving electricity has become a sort of national religion. With many air conditioners set at 82 degrees, businessmen have shed their usual suits in favor of “super cool biz” short-sleeve shirts. Car makers have been forced to operate on weekends to avoid sucking up electricity during peak weekday hours.

Peak electricity usage for the Tokyo area so far this summer was nearly 23% below the peak last summer.

The drop in electrical consumption is shaking Japan’s decades-old commitment to nuclear power, which until this year supplied nearly 30% of its electricity. If the country successfully navigates the remaining weeks of the summer with a reduced power supply, the Fukushima Daiichi accident is likely to transform Japan’s energy policy. That will have global implications as nations review nuclear power in light of the worst radiation release since Chernobyl.

There’s a growing sense that Japan will rely less and less on nuclear plants and may phase them out entirely some day, politicians and many business executives say. Germany and Switzerland have announced their own phase-out plans, while leaders of the U.S. and France, the two biggest nuclear-power users, say they plan to keep their reactors running.

“Over the mid- to long-term, it is desirable to move toward shrinking nuclear power by phasing out aging reactors and promoting renewable energy,” said a statement by the Japan Association of Corporate Executives after its summer meeting in July.

Others go even further. “I think it’s better without nuclear energy” in principle, said Hiroshi Mikitani, the 46-year-old billionaire head of Internet shopping company Rakuten Inc., and one of the most prominent leaders of a rising generation of Japanese business executives. Mr. Mikitani cautioned that he doesn’t favor shutting down all nuclear plants at once. But he said the summer has shattered the trust that Japanese once held in the nuclear establishment.

Japan’s success in avoiding a power crunch owes both to greater supply and less demand. Tokyo Electric Power, known as Tepco, raced to revive older gas- and coal-fired plants, putting a quick stop to rolling blackouts that Tokyo suffered a few days after the earthquake. Meanwhile, the conservation drive has reduced peak demand in the Tokyo area by 10,000 megawatts or more on many days.

These steps have drawbacks. The traditional power plants emit more greenhouse gases, and Japan must import the fuel. That increases energy costs, although the strong yen eases the burden.

And some elderly people are taking the conservation effort too far, risking heat stroke. At the Imperial Palace, the emperor and empress, both in their late 70s, at one point were getting by with candles and flashlights at night, according to a palace spokesman. Emergency responders have brought 22,418 people with heat stroke to medical facilities this summer through July 24, according to Japan’s Fire and Disaster Management Agency. Nearly half were elderly, and 43 people died. The number of people with heat stroke is running more than 50% ahead of last year, but the number of deaths is one-third lower.

Power company officials and some business leaders say the conservation efforts, which are mandatory for larger companies in the Tokyo region, disrupt production and add to uncertainty. “It’s an overly hasty conclusion to say that we don’t need nuclear plants because we have enough power,” said Zengo Aizawa, Tepco’s executive vice president and top nuclear official, in a brief interview. “Japan is a country that lives on making things, and production is suffering a pretty big effect.”

Still, for such a tremendous cut in energy usage—the savings are roughly equal to the entire power demand of Consolidated Edison Inc.’s unit serving New York City and Westchester County—the economic damage seems relatively small.

The vice governor of the Bank of Japan, Hirohide Yamaguchi, said July 20 that power issues are “not likely to constrain economic activity to the extent expected earlier,” and the central bank is predicting a moderate recovery this fall and 2.9% growth next year. The capital is mostly humming as usual, with lines at electronics stores and packed trains to resort areas.

By themselves, the earthquake and tsunami brought significant damage only to Tepco’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which has six reactors. The company also shut down the nearby Fukushima Daini plant with four reactors.

The vast majority of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors suffered no damage in the quake. But to the surprise of power companies, communities started balking at restarting reactors that were idled for routine inspections. Then Prime Minister Naoto Kan announced a series of stress tests to check reactors’ vulnerability to accidents, further delaying the restarts.

Bloomberg NewsPedestrians stand in the dark as they wait to cross a Tokyo intersection — part of a power-saving drive.



Now only 16 reactors are still running, and all of them are scheduled to be idled for routine inspections by next spring. If it fails to restart halted reactors, Japan will be without nuclear power in less than nine months.

That would create another power crunch when demand rises again in the summer of 2012, and Japanese are debating whether going cold-turkey on nuclear power is possible. If people continue their conservation and power companies crank up their aging fossil fuel-fired plants for another summer, Japan could probably make it without power outages. But backers of nuclear power say it would be foolhardy to try.

The quickly dwindling supply of nuclear power has forced other regions to conserve. Only four of 11 reactors serving Japan’s second-biggest economic center, the Kansai region around Osaka, remain online. At a restroom in Kansai Electric Power Co.’s headquarters, the electric hand dryer is turned off and a sign asks people to dry their hands with a towel purchased from a 100-yen ($1.25) store.

Osaka’s results so far are similar to Tokyo’s: Thanks to conservation, power supply easily exceeds demand. “I’m not buying this claim that we have to have nuclear power because there isn’t enough electricity,” Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto told reporters outside his office in late July. “There’s generally more than enough. That’s the reality.”

Power companies and some business leaders argue that this summer’s success is an anomaly that can’t or shouldn’t be repeated.

Yoshihito Iwama, who heads environmental policy at the big-business lobby Keidanren, said companies are paying extra to generate power at in-house facilities and hesitant to invest because of uncertainty.

“How long can companies hold on with the all-out efforts they’re making now? I think it’s going to be tough,” Mr. Iwama said in an interview. The strong yen is already causing the “hollowing out” of Japan as companies move production overseas, he said, “and I worry it will accelerate.”

Such views have led business figures to call for an urgent restoration of the shut-down nuclear plants. Sumitomo Chemical Co. Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura, who heads Keidanren, said at a news conference that the government must affirm the safety of the plants and reassure the public, which he said is getting too “emotional.”

But skepticism has grown about the alliance of power companies, the industry ministry and big businesses promoting nuclear power.

Public opinion is running 2-to-1 in favor of reducing or eliminating nuclear power plants, according to a July poll by public broadcaster NHK. Even the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, a stalwart supporter of nuclear power during the decades it ran Japan, is reassessing its view to ensure its candidates don’t get attacked over the issue.

Self-inflicted lapses have weakened the pro-nuclear power camp. A power company in southern Japan asked employees to impersonate average citizens and send in emails supporting nuclear power to a televised debate. The company’s president has said he will resign to take responsibility for the ploy. The industry ministry’s chief nuclear spokesman was replaced suddenly after it was revealed he was having an affair amid the crisis with another ministry official.

Mr. Mikitani, the Internet-shopping tycoon, pulled his company out of Keidanren in July. “They are protecting the interests of specific industries, which is not good for…the Japanese economy,” he said.

Rakuten said it reduced its power usage by 35% with steps such as turning off office lights and controlling the heat emitted by computer servers. It was “not that difficult,” Mr. Mikitani said. Tepco’s dire forecasts of power shortages, followed by the news that power was actually in plentiful supply, increased his suspicions.

“We don’t know if Tepco is telling the truth or not,” he said. “We don’t even really know if there’s an electricity shortage.”

Tepco says its figures are accurate and it is trying its utmost to raise supply, but it believes power could fall short if people don’t conserve. “We’re still not in a situation where we can be optimistic,” a spokeswoman said.

Discussion has begun in Japan over what is termed “datsu-genpatsu” or “shedding nuclear power.” The nation’s most influential newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, published an editorial of some 5,000 words laying out its datsu-genpatsu plan.

The Asahi said Japan should rely more heavily in the short term on liquefied natural gas, including imports from the U.S., while developing renewable sources such as solar and geothermal power for the longer term. A law pending in parliament, pushed by Prime Minister Kan, would guarantee producers of renewable power that they could sell their electricity at a profitable price.

Many companies are already acting as if the summer of 2011’s experiment with dropping reliance on nuclear power will continue in future summers. In July, companies such as Panasonic Corp. and Sharp Corp. said they will team up to develop standards for solar-powered homes that store their own energy and don’t need help from the grid.

A Japanese alliance led by trading company Mitsubishi Corp. is investing billions to develop infrastructure in Canada that could deliver liquefied natural gas across the Pacific later this decade. And three-quarters of Japan’s governors have joined telecommunications billionaire Masayoshi Son, chief executive of Softbank Corp., in a plan for giant solar-power plants on unused farms and industrial land.

The moves toward shedding nuclear power will carry significant costs. Japan’s electricity bills are sure to rise in the short term if nuclear power is replaced by imported fuels and more-expensive renewable sources. Rural areas that play host to nuclear plants would lose their main source of jobs and tax revenue, and power companies would have to write off the billions of dollars invested in the plants.

And, as the Asahi acknowledged, the shift will place demands on consumers. “We will have to overhaul the long-established attitude that we can use as much electricity as we like and view the supply as someone else’s problem,” the newspaper said.

Write to Peter Landers at


My gmail account got hacked into today.  Not in the “spammers got my contact list and send out a bunch of Viagra ads to my friends” way, but something more insidious and a bit more scary.

i think i know the person who did it. If i am right, she is an ex member who i will call Rutabaga.  She was young, vibrant and had a charming Alice in Wonderland like quality to her when she arrived.   She had been offered an internship at the NSA breaking codes, because she was something of a math prodigy.  I think she was 20 years old when she moved to the commune.

She quickly decoded flaws in our various system.  She and a colleague gave each other credits till they made it up to quota and then could do over quota work, which is much more flexible in mandate.  You can do almost anything over quota and that fit Rutabaga’s desires just right.  She made strange wines, threw charming get togethers, sparked conspiratorial conversations and sneaked candy to our kids who loved her for many more reasons than this.

She also ran a foul of several of our agreements.  She had trouble keeping her personal finances in the black.  Which in itself would have been insufficient to cause her much trouble if she had not so forcefully criticized the community.  Dont get me wrong, there are lots of things we could do better and even stuff we consistently screw up on (it is unforgivable that we have left our bikes in the rain for 44 years).   And it is not rocket science when you criticize the commune, some members are going to get defensive. It is their home, their life, many have built it for years.  Some sharp 20 something slamming the place after a short tenure will turn off many of these experienced members.

After her feedback, Rutabaga refused to sign her behavior contract.  We did not quite know what to do with that. We had not run into it before.  The presumption was always that people would “be reasonable” after hearing community concerns and they would defer to the concerns of the general membership which had been expressed.  Rutabaga was neither reasonable, nor willing to sign a contract she did not believe in.  She left before we tried to force the issue.

But not signing contracts was small change in the colorful set of stories she brought us thru, which included at least one visit to the UVa’s psych ward 5 east, which i wrote of recently.  After she left we spoke several times, including once when she managed to smuggle some form of communication device (perhaps a laptop with google voice) into another psych ward where she called me up and insulted my dying father.  Her super ego was one of the casualties of her mania.

Were her email not inside this hidden hack, i would not dream of accusing her of this minimal offense. What she did was add a filter to my gmail account which scanned every incoming msg for her email address in the header and if it found one, it did not go into my inbox, instead it did get forwarded to her and it then was deleted from my system.  This is an odd type of hack, in that it appears that principally what it does is it stops me from reading thing which were written to both her and i.  And it makes it impossible for her to write me directly from her own account.

i never would have discovered this hack, were it not for a google warning system which points out when your filters have been changed in a potentially damaging way.  Despite studying software at a fancy school and working as a programmer for some years, i am but a lowly user of this advanced technology and did not have some sleuthy technique for discovering this intrusion.

i dont believe in data crimes.  My brother and i have argued over music piracy.  He was the musician poster child for the RIAA’s efforts to sue downloaders.  If Rutabaga had stolen some emails or even wiped my account, i would not be calling the police.  This type of intellectual property protection is vaguely akin to Monsanto suing farmers who have been contaminated by their GMO crops for not paying them royalties.   If i download a song i have heard free on the radio and TV, dont bug me if i am not rushing to cut you a check for it.  This is called a pusher model, where the first one is free.

i reread some of Rutabaga’s past emails last night, thinking that she might successfully vanish them one day.   There is a lot of circular logic and pain there.  i hope she finds some peace.

post script.  It appears that there may have been no hacking at all, according to Gpaud who i gave my new password to.  And it is still a good story.

That fat old white guy with the pin up shirt

i look fat these days. This is not my general perception of myself, so it is somewhat unsettling.

controversial pin up shirt

I had been walking thru Commie Clothes for several days and there was a women’s t-shirt with a pin up blonde on it and i thought “who is going to wear this?”  It is not quite politically correct to wear a pin up girl t-shirt on the commune.
But in that i was starting to feel a bit conscious of my weight i thought.  “Hey, i should wear it.  Then the old fat white guy can be wearing the pin up t-shirt.”

[Photo credit Bochie’s MacBook]

Negotiations: Bed Time and Egypt

It is about 9:30 PM when my son calls
“What are you thinking about bed time?” he asks
“I had not thought about it much, what works for you?” i reply
“Rowan is going to sleep around 10:30, so why dont we meet at M* at 10.” Willow proposes
“Sure, i will see you in the Bino suite at 10” i verify

i dont think this is how most parents kid negotiations around bed time go.

i brought up the possibility to Willow of me going away for several months without him in 2012. I suggested that i would be in Europe and while i would like him to come visit for a little of the time, i would be away from him for some months. i wanted his buy in.

He said he was okay with us being apart (provided Sky and Hawina were still around) for some months. But he did not want to go to Europe. He wanted to go to Egypt. i told him i would work on it.

“you are crazy”

My friend is spending another two days on the psych ward, we will call him Bob.  It is the second time he has been committed in the last three weeks and it has been something of a mix of him going voluntarily and him being committed against his will.  And while UVa 5 East is the best psych ward i have ever visited (so far just as a guest), it is still no picnic.  Another patient had to be removed from the ward when he attacked Bob a second time without provocation. 

most popular image in google under madness insanity - very interesting

It has been quite something of a rough ride with me and Bob’s partner, who called the police on him with this most recent restraint.  Our basic desires are the same, we want Bob to be safe and not make stupid mistakes.  And Bob has what some might call a borderline personality to start with, amped up, gregarious, high energy.  Being clever, Bob has turned this structural  low-level mania into a top-level sales job where he has been quite successful.

Bob’s partner and i have been in a disagreement about how to interact with him when he is “up”.  Bob’s partner has called in many of his friends to try to explain to him that he is manic and that he needs to do various things about it.  Bob has been generally pretty responsive to these suggestions, including a period of “house arrest” where he was not drinking, not driving, not leaving the property and taking his new anti-mania medicines, which he has obtained therapeutic levels at for a while now.  During this period i organized several house visits, which felt helpful.

Over time i have acquired quite a few friends and intimates who have occasional manic episodes.  After repeatedly trying to “talk sense” to crazy people, i have ditched this approach.  What i find instead is that they want to be listened to, respected and often laughed with.  So that is what i have been doing every evening visitor period for the last three days.

My experience with supporting folx with mental health challenges is that they are generally a combination of lots of painful guessing, unclear shades of gray, navigating conflicts of rights and riding things out. 

i’ve got your back my friend.  Hang in there.

Temple versus The Man

There are in essence two finales to Burning Man and presumably all the regional burns, including Transformus: The burning of the man happens on Saturday and the burning of the temple happens Sunday.  Given that they are both burning large objects at the same event only 24 hour apart, it is hard to imagine events which are more culturally different.

Burning the Man is a wild party.  Fire dancers, fireworks, running participates huge pyrotechnics and ultimately a huge burning effigy falls.

Burning the Temple is a solemn and mournful event, which has many of the same design components as burning the man, but is quieter, more respectful and actually more transformative.

temple burn at nationals year unknown

While the party at the burning of the man may well rock your world, it is far more likely that if you step up into the opportunity, is that the burning of the temple will change your life.  [Positive life changes are a principal  funological objective.]  The reasons is that the joyful festive side of large group events is hardly unknown.  But being open to sadness, looking at what obstacles are in your way or simply being moved by hundreds to thousands of people around you who are crying or mourning is much more rare.  And usually more personally significant.

The temples are typically made of unfinished wood (since their life span is so short) and at national Burning Man events are large and highly ornate.  At Transformus, we had a simpler construction made of bamboo (which might even have been indigenous – and thus closer to the Rainbow Gathering style of things.)  In the deeper conversations with thoughtful folks at the You Are Beautiful camp where we stayed, there were many who felt the temple burn was the most important part of the festival for them personally.

temple before burn in sandstorm same unknown year

Why cash free matters

When festival organizers look at their events, one of the things which they must consider is “do we have vendors on site?” Almost all events these days answer this question with a “yes”.  Vendors often provide valuable services, dispensing food or selling memorabilia, providing entertainment and engagements for the festival participants, adding personalities and color to the event as well as something to do when other aspects quiet on not to the festival goers liking.  Vendors also often provide valuable income to the event organizers.

Rainbow gathering - year unknown

Recently event organizers started to ask “How does taking the money out of this event effect the culture?”  “What if the expectation is that many of these services, this color and entertainment is provided for free?” “What if the expectation is we will take care of each others needs or desires without the expectation that there will be money involved?”  And something amazing happened.  People started connecting in a way that they had not before, people started feeling better about the event in a way that was more important than a few more bucks for the organizers and a mass produced t-shirt.

Funologist look at festivals and parties as a model of the world we want to create.   It turns out that many people are excited about a world in which money does not determine what is available to you.  Many people want a starting assumption that we all have equal access to the benefits and services and experience of these events.  Money has poisoned so much of our lives, that it turns out that taking it out of our celebrations has a tremendous healing effect.  And perhaps more importantly, helps remind us of where we want to be going.

Funological Heavy Artillery

Transformus was wonderful. This regional Burning Man event held near Asheville NC had a nice mix of Rainbow Gathering features with the classic burn aspects.  Set in a lush forest environment the approximately 2000 participants listened to music (a bit too much techno for my tastes), swam in the pond, watched bizarre and wonderful fire acts (including toasting marshmallows with a flame thrower) and did the festival thing for the weekend.

Burning Man and Rainbow events both have no cash internal economies.  Gifting is encouraged and the guy giving out free chocolate covered banana’s was a big hit.

Transformus 2011 - Photo Joseph Schepps

Sky, Kassia, Sara and i were part of the You Are Beautiful camp, which was significantly organized by our friend and ex-Oaker Free.  This years YAB camp had a hot tub in it, running from heated river water from the near by stream.  This of course was a big hit, but not without it’s problems.  The installation was called “Spare Womb” and had massage tables and a chill atmosphere.  But of course some festival goers were interested in either monopolizing the tub or using it for more rowdy purposes than originally intended.  At one point Free and other camp organizers had to throw out a group of tub users witht he excuse of needing to clean the tub to take back control of it.

Funologically, this tub was a big complicated installation.  It required tending as well as a willingness to keep pulling its use back to the intended purposes.  And despite some disappointment early on, overall the organizers succeeded in making this work.  Of course there are lots of tiny funological tools at use.  Party Liberation Front (PLF) from Richmond had a hung picture frame in their space with a label “kissing booth” on it and friends and strangers would pop into this frame and take advantage of the opportunity to smooch.

Much more to say on all of this, but wanted to get the first report out.

The best excuse

i am trying to blog daily.  i am going to fail for the next few days.  But i have a really good excuse.  i am going with Sky and Kassia and Sara to Transformus, which is the regional Burning Man event, held outside of Asheville NC.

For those of you who tuned in late, 2009 Burning Man was something of a disaster for me.  And while some wonderful friends are going again this year, i am not ready to get back on that horse yet, perhaps i never will be.  But as a funologist, i want to be attending and evaluting and learning from important festivals.

How long do you have to wait to join?

We develop policy here at the commune is a somewhat curious way.  Every community has an internal communication culture.  Almost all place based intentional communities use a verbal culture, where they meet face to face, talk about what is important and make a decision about it.  Twin Oaks was founded by writers.  We have a written internal communication culture which has some advantages (like you dont have to go to lots of meetings) and some disadvantages (like we – not email – invented the flame war).

The policy we are debating in this written format right now is about how long someone should be a provisional member here.  The current policy, which we have used for 44 years, is that after 6 months you do your full member poll and then you get the equivalent of tenure.  You work your 42 hours a week and we cover basically all the costs of living: education, entertainment, food, shelter, clothing, medical, transportation services and more.

Because of an unfortunate stalking incident we had here some months back we are considering lengthening our provisional membership period to a year.  The reasoning is straight forward.   If we had waited for a year to approve Jack (not his real name) as a member, his stalking behavior would have been obvious and we would have never granted him tenure and saved ourselves this difficult process around trying to reject him.

As is often the case with straight forward reasoning, it is faulty.  he problem with Jack is not that we did not wait long enough to evaluate his membership, the problem is we had and still have broken policies around stalking.  We are so concerned in our efforts to protect the rights of someone who might be expelled from the community, that we ignore that this process dragging can run over survivors rights.  Generally speaking, it is good to protect members who might be expelled from the groups desire for them to just be gone.  In the case of stalkers, our caution can cost us wonderful members who are not willing to wait around for the slow wheels of our eclectic justice system to turn.

What is the problem with waiting a bit longer to accept people as full members?  The main downside, from my perspective is that hard working, well liked, excellent communards can create incredible fantasies about how they are not going to be accepted and this makes this proposed additional 6 months of provisional membership a somewhat nightmarish prospect.  If i had not seen this happen repeatedly, if i had not seen these otherwise reasonable provisional members be unconvinced by the fact that i have only experienced 2 people being rejected in the poll for full membership here my 13 years (and both of them it was quite clear before their poll what was going to happen) i might be more relaxed about this.

But i am likely to loose this fight.  Most other income sharing communities have a full year provisional membership period, including our sister commune down the road at Acorn.  But Acorn does clearnesses and speaks face to face every week and is only 30 people (tho growing).

Afraid as we seem to be to take on the policy crafting needed for the tricky and rare issue of stalking, instead we are penalizing every new member by pretending we will be more selective after a year than we have been after 6 months.

[Update an 2017:  The policy did not change.  Provisional membership is still only 6 months at Twin Oaks.]