Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Hippies Were Happy

Hippies have a bad reputation, especially among conservatives. In 1967, the “National Review” said that hippies were self-indulgent and had a “horrified rejection of work and production”. Their thinking, “if indeed thinking it can be called, is more like orgiastic love-spluttering than coherent thought.” They might cause “outbreaks of polio and typhoid”.

In 2007, Ted Nugent remarkably blamed “stoned, dirty, stinky hippies” for “rising rates of divorce, high school drop-outs, drug use, abortion, sexual diseases and crime, not to mention the exponential expansion of government and taxes.”

The most popular speaker at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson, received a huge applause for claiming that millions of cases of STD’s today are “the revenge of the hippies!”

Even less hysterical commentators still want to blame hippies for all of our ills: in 2010, David Brooks of the NY Times blamed the hippie “agenda” for the New York City crime wave of the 1970s.

These stereotypes of hippies were created by people who hated them and didn’t want to understand them.

Hippies utterly rejected the consumer life. They believed that watching the clock, dressing for success, and hoping for the next raise damaged the soul. Hippies put a lot of stress on stress. Unlike most people, they were willing to make big sacrifices to avoid stress. The anxieties of modern working life, the pressures of schedules, and the confrontations with authority were not worth the hassle. At a time when daily life was being compared to a rat race, hippies wanted to leave it all behind.

Hippies took spirituality seriously. They created lives far out of the mainstream in order to preserve and nurture their spirit. Traditional gods did not play a big role in hippie spirituality. Some remained with traditional religions, but tended to worship on their own. Many, perhaps most, hippies imagined their own spiritual worlds, blending the social gospel of Western faiths with the inward search of some Eastern beliefs. A love of nature often focused on the Earth as a living being and maternal symbol. In religion, as in every area of belief and behavior, hippies were independent spirits.

Hippies did not get in your face. They didn’t send out mailers or make phone calls or knock on doors or shout into microphones. They didn’t believe that their way was necessarily better for everyone. They wanted to do their own thing.

Hippies were peaceful. That attitude went far beyond signs and symbols, and was more profound than opposition to the Vietnam War. Hippies thought that peace is meant to rule our daily lives, from international relations to the family home. When they raised two fingers and said “Peace”, they converted a plea for cooperation into a daily greeting.

Hippies abhorred violence. For trying to escape or end the draft, they were labeled cowards, but they were not. They stood up to the entire straight world, including every familiar figure of authority, to say “No,” we don’t want that life. The hippie approach to violence has been forever symbolized in the 1967 photo of a protester putting a flower into a National Guardsman’s gun in front of the Capitol.

Hippies got high. That didn’t distinguish them from normal folks. They used a different set of drugs – not depressants like alcohol or pills, but marijuana and psychedelics, including LSD, peyote and mushrooms. Their infrequent bad trips were only bad for themselves. They were less likely to drive drunk or get into brawls than the people who criticized them for using dope.

Hippies were ahead of their time. Their unconventional ideas about gender equality, their acceptance of a variety of sexualities, and their preference for organic products and vegetarian diets are now widely accepted. “Question authority” is now a bumper sticker, but few actually reject social authority as profoundly as did the hippies.

Hippies were less likely to cause trouble than most people. Hippie “crime” was typified by the illegal planting of flowers in People’s Park in Berkeley in 1969. But that didn’t stop people from causing trouble for them. They were called lazy, irresponsible and un-American. Hippie rejection of conventional American life made them pariahs in a country supposedly founded on individualism and freedom.

Conservative attitudes toward hippies demonstrate the shallowness of right-wing libertarianism. Rejection of authority only means rejection of government. Liberty means freedom from taxes. Politics is war.

Enough to make the real libertarians want to tune in, turn on, and drop out.

Steve Hochstadt
Jacksonville IL
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 31, 2015

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Cold Weather and Global Warming

This winter that has just mercifully ended was the 4th coldest in Illinois history. Is that proof that global warming is a hoax?

No, because 2014 was the warmest year on record for the whole Earth. Both the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), in separate sets of measurements, determined that 2014 was warmer than any previous year. The ten warmest years since 1880 have all occurred since 1998.

The science of measuring global temperature is complex. NASA uses thousands of separate measurements across the globe to compile a single number representing average global temperature for the year. AAverage@ is an important word here: weather varies greatly around the world and day to day. Everywhere I have lived in the US, people say, AYou don=t like the weather? Wait 5 minutes.@ We know how difficult it is to predict weather even for the next day.

NASA has published a global map which shows that most of the earth was unusually warm in 2014, except for a few big spots, including the eastern and central US. It was cold here in Illinois and Boston had record-breaking snowfall. A bit more snow fell there this past Friday. But the western states of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Alaska experienced their warmest years ever.

In fact, climate scientists predict that more global warming will lead to even heavier snowfall in Boston and the Northeast. As the surface of the oceans and the atmosphere both warm up, more water vapor can be held in the air. That leads to more rain and snow. Scientists project an increasing number of very heavy precipitation events all across the US, with the greatest increase in New England.

Strangely enough, the same set of global changes might lead to more snow in Boston and worse drought in California. As the Earth warms slowly, the jet stream has shifted, bringing higher temperatures and drier weather in the West and colder, wetter weather in the East. Climate scientists remain uncertain about the effects of global warming on such extreme weather events or on the jet stream itself, but evidence is accumulating behind the idea that warming is the cause.

Because of these seemingly contradictory shifts in weather, the phrase "global warming" is no longer favored by the scientists who study our environment. They now prefer "climate change", which includes the whole variety of changes which are occurring because of a warmer Earth.

Those changes cost money. The Boston area may have lost $1 billion in wages and business profits due the records snows this winter. Our Western states have been suffering under drought conditions for years. Communities are running out of water. If climate scientists’ predictions of an increasing number of extreme weather events are correct, the costs of dealing with them will also jump up.

This is precisely what leads to denial. The temperature measurements for 2014 are distressing to ideologically driven climate change deniers. The Heartland Institute still features on its website the same misleading graphic purporting to show that there has been no warming since 1998. They don’t mention that the people who produced the data behind their chart say that 2014 was the warmest year on record.

The amount of warming seems tiny. NASA estimates that the average global surface temperature has gone up only 1.4 degrees since 1880. Climate change, even if the rise in temperatures is very small, will require concerted effort by our entire society to maintain our high standard of living. That inevitably means government action: reducing greenhouse emissions, shoring up our transportation systems, finding more renewable sources of energy. Global warming denial is the reaction of those who do not want such government action. Instead of proposing alternative ways of dealing with climate change, they simply deny that it is happening at all. The Republicans in Congress, virtually all of whom publically deny that climate change is occurring, have just proposed a budget which cuts or reverses all the programs which might reduce the pace of warming.

One of the clues that the deniers are not to be believed is that they have begun to speak out of both sides of their mouths. Lobbying groups like the Heartland Institute now produce two types of articles: those which claim that global warming is a hoax and those which argue that warming is actually good for us. Tell that to people in Boston, California, and elsewhere, whose lives are already being negatively affected by climate change. Every year, more of us will experience the costs of these changes, unless we begin to change our own habits.

Steve Hochstadt
Published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, March 24, 2015