In 1964, Isaac Asimov Imagined the World in 2014

But he couldn’t have known the consequences of the development he predicted—a planet whose climate is badly destabilized, whose inhabitants face mass extinctions in the years ahead.
DEC 31 2013, 12:20 PM ET
America’s Independent Electric Light and Power Companies/Paleofuture

In August of 1964, just more than 50 years ago, author Isaac Asimov wrote a piece in The New York Times, pegged to that summer’s World Fair.

In the essay, Asimov imagines what the World Fair would be like in 2014—his future, our present.

His notions were strange and wonderful (and conservative, as Matt Novak writes in a great run-down), in the way that dreams of the future from the point of view of the American mid-century tend to be. There will be electroluminescent walls for our windowless homes, levitating cars for our transportation, 3D cube televisions that will permit viewers to watch dance performances from all angles, and “Algae Bars” that taste like turkey and steak (“but,” he adds, “there will be considerable psychological resistance to such an innovation”).

He got some things wrong and some things right, as is common for those who engage in the sport of prediction-making. Keeping score is of little interest to me. What is of interest: what Asimov understood about the entangled relationships among humans, technological development, and the planet—and the implications of those ideas for us today, knowing what we know now.

Asimov begins by suggesting that in the coming decades, the gulf between humans and “nature” will expand, driven by technological development. “One thought that occurs to me,” he writes, “is that men will continue to withdraw from nature in order to create an environment that will suit them better. ”

It is in this context that Asimov sees the future shining bright: underground, suburban houses, “free from the vicissitudes of weather, with air cleaned and light controlled, should be fairly common.” Windows, he says, “need be no more than an archaic touch,” with programmed, alterable, “scenery.” We will build our own world, an improvement on the natural one we found ourselves in for so long. Separation from nature, Asimov implies, will keep humans safe—safe from the irregularities of the natural world, and the bombs of the human one, a concern he just barely hints at, but that was deeply felt at the time.

But Asimov knows too that humans cannot survive on technology alone. Eight years before astronauts’ Blue Marble image of Earth would reshape how humans thought about the planet, Asimov sees that humans need a healthy Earth, and he worries that an exploding human population (6.5 billion, he accurately extrapolated) will wear down our resources, creating massive inequality.

Although technology will still keep up with population through 2014, it will be only through a supreme effort and with but partial success. Not all the world’s population will enjoy the gadgety world of the future to the full. A larger portion than today will be deprived and although they may be better off, materially, than today, they will be further behind when compared with the advanced portions of the world. They will have moved backward, relatively.

This troubled him, but the real problems lay yet further in the future, as “unchecked” population growth pushed urban sprawl to every corner of the planet, creating a “World-Manhattan” by 2450. But, he exclaimed, “society will collapse long before that!” Humans would have to stop reproducing so quickly to avert this catastrophe, he believed, and he predicted that by 2014 we would have decided that lowering the birth rate was a policy priority.

Asimov rightly saw the central role of the planet’s environmental health to a society: No matter how technologically developed humanity becomes, there is no escaping our fundamental reliance on Earth (at least not until we seriously leave Earth, that is). But in 1964 the environmental specters that haunt us today—climate change and impending mass extinctionswere only just beginning to gain notice. Asimov could not have imagined the particulars of this special blend of planetary destruction we are now brewing—and he was overly optimistic about our propensity to take action to protect an imperiled planet.

2013 was not the warmest year on record but it will come close. Last month, November, was the warmest since 1880. All of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. A video from NASA shows the dramatic shift in recent years. Watch what happens in the decades after Asimov wrote his essay. (Yellow and red represent temperatures warmer than the average for the years from 1951 to 1980.)

What color will 2014 be on that map? And what about in 10, 20, or 50 years ahead? Predictions are a messy, often trivial sport, but the overall direction the planet is heading is all too clear. As Wen Stephenson wrote in a blistering essay last year, “It’s entirely possible that we’ll no longer have a livable climate—one that allows for stable, secure societies to survive—within the lifetimes of today’s children.” No prediction should scare us more.

To woo females, bird brains need testosterone ‘bath’


"In so many other species, testosterone in the POM can regulate an animal's motivation, in this case, the motivation to sing," says Beau Alward. "However, singing and courting a female is more than just motivation." (Credit: Michelle Tribe/Flickr)





Male canaries sang better mating songs after researchers applied testosterone to their entire brains, not just the part that controls sexual motivation, report researchers.


The findings may shed light on how testosterone and other anabolic steroids act in the human brain to regulate sexual behavior, speech, and other activity.


The male canary’s ability to sing a pitch-perfect song is integral to wooing and mating with a female. As seasons change, so does the song quality and frequency. The male sex hormone testosterone plays a role in this changing song behavior.


A team led by brain scientists from Johns Hopkins University tested whether testosterone was needed throughout the brain or just in one specific area: the medial preoptic nucleus. That site, called the POM, controls sexual motivation in many animals, including humans.


“In so many other species, testosterone in the POM can regulate an animal’s motivation, in this case, the motivation to sing,” says graduate student Beau Alward, the lead investigator on the project. “However, singing and courting a female is more than just motivation.


“Our data suggests that testosterone needs to act in different areas of the brain to regulate the specific components of this complex social phenomenon,” he says.


Alward and fellow researchers added testosterone into the POM of some male canaries and throughout the brains of others. A control group received no hormone treatment at all. They found that birds treated only in the POM sang more frequently than the controls, but could not produce the high-quality song most attractive to females.


But canaries that received testosterone throughout the brain sang frequent, high-quality songs, leading the researchers to conclude that the hormone acts on several different brain areas to regulate not only how much but also how well the birds could vocalize.


“The quality of the song that is required to successfully attract a mate and then the process of attending to the female, or singing to her, when she is there … requires the coordination of multiple brain regions,” Alward says.


The researchers say these results have broad implications for learning how steroid use in humans affects sexual behaviors and how hormones regulate the different components of human speech.


“The hormones in these birds are identical to those in humans and they can regulate brain changes in a similar manner,” says senior author Gregory F. Ball, professor of psychological and brain sciences.


The canary brain is considered a good model for brain study due to its ability to change its neural pathways and synapses in response to changes in behavior, the seasonal environment, and injury.


In the study, the researchers artificially replicated a springtime environment. The birds responded to the spring-like conditions with birdsong and mating behaviors as they normally would at that time of year.


Jacques Balthazart from the University of Liege in Belgium also contributed to the study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke supported the research.


Source: Johns Hopkins University

The Startling Array of Hacking Tools In NSA’s Armory


A series of servers produced by Dell, air-gapped Windows XP PCs and switches and routers produced by Cisco, Huawei and Juniper count among the huge list of computing devices compromised by the NSA, according to crypto-expert and digital freedom fighter Jacob Applebaum. Revealing a trove of new NSA documents at his 30c3 address (video), Applebaum spoke about why the NSA’s program might lead to broader adoption of open source tools and gave a hot tip on how to know if your machines have been owned.

Are The Techno Riche Really Ruining San Francisco? Yes, Says Rebecca Solnit

December 31, 2013

Protesters hold up signs while surrounding a Google bus on Dec. 9 in San Francisco

Photograph by Steve Rhodes/Corbis

Protesters hold up signs while surrounding a Google bus on Dec. 9 in San Francisco

The author who has best traced the pre-Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) origins of Silicon Valley (in her biography of the photographer and inventor Eadweard Muybridge), Rebecca Solnit was also among the first to cast the Google bus as a symbol of disparity and discontent in the San Francisco Bay Area. Writing a year ago, she described the big, luxury coaches that ferry employees from San Francisco and Oakland south to Google (GOOG) headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., as “gleaming white, with dark-tinted windows, like limousines, and some days I think of them as the spaceships on which our alien overlords have landed to rule over us.”

Today, Solnit’s cheeky and dyspeptic essay appears prescient. The Google bus, which stands in for all the similar private coach services contracted to Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), Yahoo! (YHOO), et al., has emerged as a flashpoint, with fairly regular protest blockades. The companies’ “secret bus routes” have been mapped. There’ve been frequent bursts of outrage (and mock outrage) over the “tone-deaf arrogance” of tech workers. There’ve been a number of troubling evictions in a competitive housing market responding to tech wealth. And there’s broader concern that the search engines and social media upon which millions rely have become tools for U.S. government spying, further undermining trust in tech corporations as good citizens.

For Solnit in particular, the recent headlines and tension have been nothing if not déjà vu. In 2000, collaborating with the artist Susan Schwartzenberg, she published a book on the impact of the dot-com boom titled Hollow City: The Siege of San Francisco and the Crisis of American Urbanism. The city, she wrote, “has been for most of its 150-year existence both a refuge and an anomaly. Soon it will be neither. Gentrification is transforming the city by driving out the poor and working class, including those who have chosen to give their lives to unlucrative pursuits such as art, activism, social experimentation, social service. But gentrification is just the fin above water. Below is the rest of the shark: a new American economy in which most of us will be poorer, a few will be far richer, and everything will be faster, more homogenous and more controlled or controllable.” As 2014 begins, Solnit says, “It’s very dot-com boom redux—except that the dot-com boom reamed the city in some ways, and this wave is kind of scouring out what survived.” We spoke over the phone from her apartment in San Francisco’s Mission district, which she has the good fortune to own. The interview has been edited and condensed, and includes written replies from a follow-up e-mail.

Are the Google buses really that bad, or just annoying? At bottom, they’re carpools that remove scores of vehicles from traffic.
Solnit: It’s not like we hate carpools or public transit or anything like that. Nobody has any issues with the [University of California at San Francisco] shuttles. It’s that they’re very effective and potent symbols.

The buses represent, first of all, accommodating people living in San Francisco even though they don’t work anywhere near here. So it’s really about making San Francisco Silicon Valley’s bedroom community.

Second of all, it’s privatizing public transit. In another era, the captains of industry would have said, “OK, our workers live here, our factory is there; let’s encourage, enforce, and subsidize the improvement of public transit.” Caltrain does run down there. We could have beefed up that system and had a tremendously efficient train system, with trains leaving every 15 minutes or so for the peninsula—and it would be so much more environmental, too. Instead we have these luxury coaches picking people up at public bus stops in such a way that they’re displacing the city buses.

But is it Google’s fault for offering the bus, or those who failed to beef up Caltrain?
It represents our era of privatization—that rather than making a better system for everyone, they’ll just continue to argue for paying no taxes. Mostly, it’s that they really do represent what expensive bottled water does in a town with polluted municipal water, or private schools in a city with underfunded public schools: They’re gated communities on wheels.

I met a guy who lives at 24th and Valencia [Street]. He says the Wi-Fi signal on the buses is so powerful that when the Google bus pulls up in front of his house, it uses all the broadband and his Wi-Fi signal crashes. And that’s like a tiny thing that happens to one guy, but it signifies, “We are so mighty, we are crushing your reality.”

What specifically would you like to see done about the Google bus?
First, they should pay to use public bus stops. Then they should stop using those transit stops in a way that makes public transit less safe, punctual, and convenient (a one-door Google bus takes a long time to load and unload, and a municipal bus can get stuck behind it). Second, those fees should be pumped into upgrading existing transit, including Caltrain.

Did you object to Twitter (TWTR) renting out San Francisco City Hall for its holiday party?
The joke was that they should have paid $5.5 million, because Twitter got this tax break to stay in San Francisco that they blackmailed out of the mayor, and that’s about what it’s saved them so far.

City Hall rents out for many private functions. But it was disturbing because it feels like we’re becoming a company town. And it feels most like a mining town, in that it’s disproportionately young men coming in, and they’re transient. They’re not committed to the place, and they’re displacing a lot of people who are.

Maybe if they hang around awhile, they’ll start to.
But if you work 60 hours a week, you don’t have a lot of time for civic engagement. That’s part of what I object to with Silicon Valley. The people who work there have lots of money, but no time. On the one hand, they’re kind of lords of the earth economically because they’re paid better overall than any other industry. On the other hand, they’re working like field hands or coal miners. It’s like the bus comes to take the miners to the pit every day, and they do work these horrendous hours. Part of why they’re always sweetening the pill with all the gyms and saunas and gourmet food and ping-pong tables is you’re essentially living there. That’s your life. Meanwhile, there’s an old San Francisco of people who didn’t have lots of money, but who had lots of time to devote to activism and social services. People who worked a little on the side to make a living, and then devoted themselves to idealistic jobs. In an economy where everyone has to pay $4,000 a month minimum for housing, that doesn’t exist.

What’s being lost now?
We’re losing bars. Beloved bars are gentrifying. We’re seeing huge numbers of Ellis Act evictions. And through them, we’re losing a significant number of people who contributed to the richness of cultural and political life in the city. And then also people live in tremendous fear: They’re like an endangered species where it has one little fragment of habitat left, which is the rent-controlled apartment, their shared rental, whatever, and they lose that and they’re just out of here.

What’s an Ellis Act eviction?
In San Francisco, tenants are very well-protected from no-fault evictions. You have to screw up badly to get evicted, except for two major loopholes. One is an owner move-in eviction. The other is an Ellis Act eviction where the property owner has to take the property off the market—to go out of the rental business. And that sounds perfectly innocuous, and you can understand why someone might want to get out of the rental business. But it wasn’t made for what it’s being used for now, which is speculation.

A 98-year-old woman was Ellis Acted recently. A lot of elderly people, their whole world is their one-mile radius. Their bus route, the people they know in the neighborhood, the storekeeper who knows them and gives them special help or credit or things like that. You move them five miles away and they might as well be on Mars.

There’s a wonderful building by Golden Gate Park that was home to a lot of great gay cultural contributors, including the producer for the We Were Here AIDS documentary that won so many awards, and a guy who almost became the city’s poet laureate. A landlord bought the building when the elderly landlord died, told them he wasn’t going to do anything about it, and six months later he Ellis Acted it. He broke up a household of friends who’d been together for decades.

Isn’t some of the new wealth likely to fund the arts and activities you value?
You know, this place could have its own golden age, but I’m not seeing something even vaguely resembling it. The nouveaux technology riche may be like the Medicis in terms of politics, but they’re not like the Medicis in terms of culture. There are some foundations, but a lot of it is giving a little money away, or giving money away in odd ways. Like there’s a $3 million prize that some of the Facebook and Google billionaires have put up for medical breakthroughs. They seem to misunderstand how medical research takes place.

Isn’t the entrepreneurial spirit in SF and the Valley—so critical to the startup culture—consistent with the idealism that you fear is being run out of town?
I’m not worried about or very enthusiastic about the entrepreneurial spirit. As an environmentalist, I’m often fighting the entrepreneurial spirit to frack and clear-cut and pollute, and it doesn’t seem like a very fragile spirit that needs to be nurtured like a candle in the wind even when it’s doing good things. I’m worried about poor people and people doing things in culture and activism (including climate activism and human-rights activism) that don’t pay a whole lot; working-class people—firefighters, day-care providers, street cleaners, bus drivers—are the backbone of what keeps this place running and keeps it diverse; the artists and activists have done much to shape its identity and its major contributions from the Sierra Club (founded in downtown San Francisco in 1892) to the postwar poetry explosion to queer liberation. The new tech incursion is mostly white guys with some Asian guys and some women, though few women are in power; it’s mostly libertarian in its ideology, particularly at the upper echelons; it’s anything but idealistic in those upper reaches; and it’s driving out people.

What steps would you like to see taken to mitigate the change you oppose?
On what scale may I imagine change? On a small scale, there are practical steps to, say, overturn the Ellis Act statewide, which has warped into an easy way to evict anyone at all.

But why think small? Google and Facebook, in particular, are now so ubiquitous as to be essentially global commons, the way that the airwaves for radio and television broadcasting are supposed to be FCC-regulated commons, governed for the good of the people. We broke up the big trusts, notably Standard Oil, a century ago, and I think that some of these megacorporations with so much power and so little accountability should either be broken up or become public trusts governed by—I don’t know exactly who or what by, off the top of my head, but not governed by a handful of hubristic young libertarian billionaires with overt amorality. Look at Google’s membership in [the American Legislative Exchange Council] or Mark Zuckerberg’s taking out an ad to push the Keystone XL pipeline not because he believes in it, but because it’s quid pro quo for getting a conservative politician to sponsor immigration laws that make it easier for him to hire cheap engineers from overseas.

It appears that rather than leave, you’re digging in to defend what you love about San Francisco.
Absolutely, which I’m doing as a writer.

There is a sense for me that some of this is a bubble. Apple makes hardware. Almost everyone else makes products supported by advertising. Is that a good model where lots of people start using Adblock software like I do? Will the global recession mean there’s just not that much ad revenue out there?

I have housing, but I want to live here a lot because of the other people around me. And I have other friends who are homeowners, but the majority of people I know are renters, and I keep teasing my friends who are economically vulnerable that maybe they should go to Vallejo or Stockton, which are in economic crisis, and create a great, thriving bohemia there.

I don’t know what will happen, but yeah, I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.

Secret Multinational Trade Agreement Reads Like One Big Corporate Wishlist


  News & Politics  

The Trans Pacific Partnership in the works is an assault on the public interest.

Photo Credit:

This article originally appeared on the Electronic Frontier Foundation website, and is reprinted here with their permission.

* * *

As the year draws to a close, EFF is looking back at the major trends influencing digital rights in 2013 and discussing where we are in the fight for free expression, innovation, fair use, and privacy. Click here to read other blog posts in this series.

Negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) intensified in 2013, as trade delegates from the 12 participating countries aimed for ( and ultimately missed) a year-end target for completing the sprawling agreement. Although the secretive nature of the negotiations means the public can’t really know how far along it is, both leaked position documents and public statements indicate that there are still major unresolved areas of disagreement in the 29-chapter deal.

The biggest TPP story this year was the publication by WikiLeaks in November of the chapter titled “Intellectual Property.” Unfortunately, its contents confirmed many of our worst fears: from ratcheting up copyright term lengths around the world, to boxing in fair use, to mandating a draconian legal regime around DRM software, section after section contained clauses plucked from corporate wishlists and snubbed the public interest altogether.

Against that backdrop, it makes sense that opposition to the agreement is mounting around the world. In May, EFF joined activists and protesters in Peru surrounding the round of negotiations held in Lima. As has been typical, neither public interest groups nor concerned citizens were allowed time with negotiators, but we helped coordinate a major petition and rally. These joined actions happening in TPP countries around the Pacific rim, from Japan to Australia to Mexico and more.

In the U.S., opposition has focused on the Obama administrations calls for Congress to grant “fast track authority,” thus waiving its constitutional role of reviewing international agreements. If it passes fast track, Congress would instead be limited to a single yes-or-no vote. Under normal circumstances that’s dangerous. But in a case where the public (and even Congressional staffers) haven’t been allowed to read the agreement at all yet, that’s reckless behavior.

We’ve set up a tool to allow people in the U.S. to contact their legislators asking them to oppose fast track authority for TPP, and people have already used it to send tens of thousands of letters. You can use it to send a letter today. Lawmakers seem to be taking notice: in the past few months, bipartisan letters from House Republicans and Democrats have firmly rejected the lack of transparency around the agreement, casting serious doubt on the possibility of fast track authority.

The year-end deadline has passed, but negotiators — especially the U.S. Trade Representative — continue to play up an artificial urgency to push the agreement through. The secret meetings between the trade delegates will continue into the new year, with the first one set for February.

Parker Higgins is an activist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, specializing in issues at the intersection of freedom of speech and copyright, trademark, and patent law. He previously lived and worked in Berlin, Germany.

Maira Sutton works on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) International Team monitoring and advocating around emerging tech policy around the world with a focus on intellectual property and innovation issues. She earned her BA at UC Santa Cruz in Politics and Global Information and Social Enterprise Studies.

The pseudo-legal arguments for a police state

31 December 2013

US District Judge William H. Pauley’s ruling in the case of ACLU v. Clapper on December 27, which sanctions dragnet NSA surveillance of the telephone records of the entire country’s population, has immense significance for democratic rights.

Although it is written by a federal judge, it is not so much a legal opinion as it is a fascist-style polemic that advocates scrapping the US Constitution and implementing a police state. The fact that a federal judge makes such arguments is a significant indication of the extent to which a pro-dictatorship consensus has developed within the highest levels of the judicial system.

The entire opening section of the opinion is a self-consciously political case for police state spying and silencing whistle-blowers. Responding to United States District Court judge Richard Leon’s decision earlier this month calling NSA surveillance “almost Orwellian,” Judge Pauley employs the argument that every dictatorship throughout history has made in one form or another: that “national security” and the threat of “terrorism” necessitate the abrogation of democratic rights. This is nothing but a variation on the arguments made by Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt that state interests, as determined by an all-powerful executive (a “fuehrer”), may warrant a “state of exception,” during which the constitution may be suspended and democratic rights trampled upon.

According to Judge Pauley, the attacks of September 11, 2001 more than 12 years ago (which were carried out by Al Qaeda terrorists well known to US intelligence agencies) justify an unprecedented expansion of state surveillance. Relying uncritically on the testimony of senior Obama administration officials, Judge Pauley contends that if the NSA had recourse to its current telephone spying program in the period leading up to September 11, 2001, then the attacks would have been prevented.

The opinion is riddled with lies and distortions. The principal lie is that the actions of the US government are justified by the demands of the struggle against Al Qaeda. This is a claim that cannot withstand scrutiny. The so-called “war on terror” has provided a pretext for the implementation of policies that would not, without the claim of a grave national emergency, be accepted by the public. Moreover, while it is supposedly at war with Al Qaeda, the United States government is currently providing weapons, funds, and even side-by-side military cooperation to its Al Qaeda-linked terrorist friends in Libya and Syria. As the World Socialist Web Site has correctly insisted from the start, the real purpose of the “war on terror” is not to fight Al Qaeda, but to justify militarism abroad and to lay permanent siege to democratic rights at home.

Likewise, the idea that the US government has built up a gigantic spying apparatus in order to catch Al Qaeda terrorists does not pass the laugh test. It is now well known, thanks to the courageous actions of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, that the US intelligence apparatus spies indiscriminately on the entire world, including foreign political leaders.

In his opinion, Judge Pauley acknowledges the breadth of the government spying program at issue, only to bluntly contend that government snooping into the telephone records of every American is necessary.

Judge Pauley cites approvingly the testimony of FBI Deputy Director Sean Joyce: “Our mission is to stop terrorism, to prevent it. Not after the fact, to prevent it before it happens in the United States. And I can tell you every tool is essential and vital. And the tools as I outlined to you and their uses today have been valuable to stopping some of those plots. You ask, ‘How can you put the value on an American life?’ And I can tell you, it’s priceless.”

The basic conception of the American Constitution is that the natural tendency of government towards tyranny can only be blocked by a careful separation of powers and iron-clad rights watched over by a vigilant public. In this spirit, the American revolutionaries wrote the Fourth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights (1791), which clearly provides: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated,” requiring each government search or seizure to be backed up by a particular warrant supported by probable cause.

As the ACLU pointed out in its brief, the government’s warrantless gathering of telephone records on the entire population can “reveal a person’s religion, political associations, use of a telephone-sex hotline, contemplation of suicide, addiction to gambling or drugs, experience with rape, grappling with sexuality, or support for particular political causes.” In the final analysis, Judge Pauley spends 55 pages arguing what is on its face a gross absurdity: that the collection of every single American citizen’s phone records is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment.

Pauley’s legal reasoning, insofar as there is any at all in his opinion, is a patchwork of sophistic arguments, citations twisted out of context, and lies. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (1978), which was designed to regulate (or give the appearance of regulating) the intelligence agencies, is turned upside down and morphed into a blank check for unlimited spying. Pauley also argues that whenever a person uses a telephone, he or she “voluntarily” surrenders his or her rights to privacy. A person presumably makes a similar “voluntary” choice when using a car, a computer, a GPS device, a television, a bank, a hospital, a hotel, a webcam, a post office, and so forth.

The contrast between the conceptions of the American revolutionaries who wrote the Bill of Rights and those of Judge Pauley could not be more stark. The revolutionaries called for eternal vigilance against tyranny, swearing to choose liberty or death. Judge Pauley tells us instead to trust the government without question. The government is made up of good people: patriots and professionals. They know what they are doing. If they are secretly taking away our liberties, they must have a good reason for it.

Notwithstanding its pretensions as the leader of the “free world,” the United States government has a rather deplorable record. Over the past hundred years: legally sanctioned segregation, lynching, mass roundups and deportations (as in the case of Japanese-Americans in the Second World War), infiltration and surveillance of dissenting political groups, Red Scares, war crimes, corruption, criminality, coups, assassination, torture, lies (“weapons of mass destruction”; “if you like your plan, keep it”), and on and on. To argue, as Judge Pauley does, that whatever the government says must be true, and that the defense of democratic rights can be safely left in the hands of the military and intelligence agencies, is to abandon democratic rights altogether.

The judge’s ruling essentially denies any possibility of a conflict between the rights of the people and the interests of the state. Judge Pauley quotes the 9/11 Commission Report: “The choice between liberty and security is a false one, as nothing is more apt to imperil civil liberties than the success of a terrorist attack on American soil.” In other words, as long as the government claims to be fighting terrorism, it may ignore the Bill of Rights.

In the aftermath of Judge Pauley’s opinion, it is reasonable to pose the question: is the Bill of Rights still operative in the US? If the Fourth Amendment does not prevent government spying on every American in the country simultaneously and without a warrant, then what exactly does it prevent?

The American ruling class knows that its policies (plunder abroad, plunder at home) are unpopular. It is desperately afraid of a popular movement from below, and for this reason it dreams of a future where the Bill of Rights does not apply. In this future, cities can be locked down by executive order, and dissenters (labeled “terrorists”) may be summarily seized from their homes, thrown into prison, tortured or assassinated. Judges will defer to the executive and military powers, especially where “national security” is alleged to be involved. The courtroom will be relegated to a rubber stamp assembly line.

Judge Pauley’s ruling underscores the degree to which this dream is becoming a reality. Advocates of totalitarianism already permeate the state apparatus. This month, former CIA head James Woolsey declared: “I think giving him [Snowden] amnesty is idiotic. He should be prosecuted for treason. If convicted by a jury of his peers, he should be hanged by the neck until he is dead.”

This is the language of fascism and of a police state. Such statements, which find practical application in the ruling of Judge Pauley, should be taken as a grave political warning. American democracy is rotting on its feet. The drive toward dictatorship can be stopped only through the united action of the working class.

Tom Carter

Curse of the hippie parents


Benign neglect and noodle dancing to Ravi Shankar do not a healthy childhood make.

Curse of the hippie parents


One summer when I was 10 or 11, a boy I’ll call Jackson befriended my brother and came over to our house frequently to play in our pond. After a few hours of splashing around, naked as usual, we went up to the house to dry off and have something to eat. Jackson plopped down on my mom’s platform rocker, grabbed his penis and started to masturbate.

“Hey!” I yelled, and threw a pillow at him. “Don’t do that right in front of everybody!”

“My mom says, ‘If it feels good, do it,’” he said, whacking away.

If it feels good, do it: a rallying cry of the ’60s and the root of a lot of really awful parenting. Jackson may have been admirably comfortable with his body, but like many children of hippie parents, he was in the dark about some very basic social rules, such as the one that says don’t jack off in public.

Growing up with no boundaries will do that to you. In their effort to raise children without inhibitions, my parents and their peers eschewed the teachings of Benjamin Spock and went for a more anarchic, Fellini-esque parenting approach. Sometimes this meant noodle dancing to Ravi Shankar into the wee hours of a school night, or spending whole days swimming naked and gorging on blackberries. But there was a dark side to this intoxicating rejection of rules and boundaries. With everyone embracing spontaneity and the mandates of the id, there was no one left to assume the adult role. People like my parents may have had the best of intentions, but in a wide-eyed quest for social change, they became children. And their actual children suffered as a result.

Sure, the benign neglect of hippie parenting had some side benefits. If you wanted to stay home from school, you could — as long as you had a really good excuse, such as, “I just can’t get behind school today, Mom.” Hippie kids also got to run around in the woods a lot, without being overly burdened by Establishment concepts like sunscreen or mosquito repellent. My mom took me on long walks, taught me to find wild huckleberries and to weave baskets out of sticks. She woke us up at midnight for impromptu waffle feasts. If we found something cool, like a dead dragonfly or a weird mushroom, she would be just as curious and amazed as we were. She was convinced magic existed, and since she was our mom, we absolutely believed it. That was wonderful.

However, the hippie creed of “no rules, no limits” combined with a horror of hypocrisy sent groovy parents skidding down a dangerously slippery child-rearing slope. If you smoke pot, what are you going to do when your kids ask to try it? It would be hypocritical not to let them. And if pot’s OK, why not mushrooms or acid? If you tell your kids sexual expression is great, and you yourself frequently “ball” (to use the mot juste) with abandon, how do you explain to your daughter that it’s not OK for some crusty old guy at a Grateful Dead show to feel her up in the child-care tipi? The old standby “It’s wrong because I said so” was out, because they’d taught us from birth that such a statement is fascistic. So, to avoid the hypocrisy of potentially arbitrary limits, hippie parents placed few or none.

And kids need limits. Someone in the family unit has to take the adult role, preferably the adults themselves. On the commune, I actually begged my mom for rules. “Let’s have a rule where kids have to go to bed at a certain time every night!” I said. Or, “Let’s have a rule that says children should be seen and not heard!” I think I’d read that in Dickens. It sounded like a great idea to me, not because I had some freakish desire to be silent, but because I knew I could never live up to it and then perhaps I’d be punished. I longed for discipline, for someone to tell me, “That’s quite enough of that, young lady!”

But in the hippie days, discipline was out, and wild Dionysian revelry was in. I can’t remember the first time I smoked pot, though I do remember getting a joint for my 7th birthday, all wrapped up in a pink ribbon. And the love was certainly what they called “free.” My mom tells me it was considered impolite not to sleep with someone when they asked politely. People would pair up, naturally, but relationships were strained by the constant lure of extracurricular screwing. The repression and conservatism of the ’50s were rejected with a vengeance, and people coupled and separated and regrouped like pornographic square-dancers.

This was presented to the children as the natural order of things, but we knew there was something wrong. For one thing, a dizzying number of people were always coming and going. Sometimes they’d say goodbye to the kids who had grown attached to them, sometimes not. We were terribly hurt when people we loved just up and left, and we were embarrassed by all the unfettered humping. Adults seemed so ridiculous with their balling and their toking and their weird wiggly dancing to the Grateful Dead. One evening at the commune, the grownups took Quaaludes or mescaline or something, and they all ended up in a big horny, writhing, drugged-out mass on the living room floor. At some point, my mom says, they heard an angry little throat-clearing sound. They looked up, and I was standing in the doorway, fists on my hips, glaring at them. “What exactly do you think you are all DOING?” I yelled.

Things weren’t much better when my brother and I visited our father in San Francisco. Despite fairly clear evidence of some early heterosexuality, Dad had always had homosexual leanings. Just as the hippies violently rejected social norms at least partly in response to straitlaced convention, my father exploded out of the closet like a rocket fueled by repressed yearning. With the gay sexual revolution in San Francisco, he was finally free to express that side of himself openly. This was a wonderful thing, but the effects of it were confusing and bizarre for my brother and me. With him, the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name became the Love That Would Not Shut Up.

My father marched, he swung, he went to bars, he talked incessantly about his sexual experiences, and he left copies of Torso and Honcho strewn liberally about his Victorian house in the Haight. At first, my brother and I thought they were just some kind of new mainstream magazine. Certainly, they weren’t any more male-centric than Time or Life. Thus misled, we spent many a frustrating hour trying to figure out what was so funny about Tom of Finland cartoons.

Confusingly enough, Dad also had some straight porn as well. I can kind of track his acceptance of his gayness over time by the dwindling ratio of Penthouses to Honchos. By the time I was 9 or 10, he was full-strength, concentrated, half-a-cup-does-the-whole-load gay, and living with a really nice guy named — I’m not making this up — Randy.

On arriving at his house for a visit, after months of cultural deprivation up in the boonies, my brother and I would drop our duffel bags at the door and head for the television like patients in an obsessive/compulsive ward. We had lots of cultural reference catching-up to do, and devoured the subtleties of “The Brady Bunch” and “Speed Racer.”

The trouble really started when Dad got a VCR. He quickly amassed a large collection of movies, most of them pirated and hand-labeled, and he didn’t bother to segregate the porn. Some, like “The Young and the Hung,” were easy to avoid. Others were more worrying. My brother and I would consult each other over ambiguous titles like “12 Angry Men.” We finally got up the courage to watch that one, but no way were we going near “The 400 Blows.” We loved “Arsenic and Old Lace,” but it was kept right next to “Run, Little Sailor Boy, Run.” Once we put in the wrong tape, and were treated to the sight of a guy being fellated in an alley. “I don’t think that’s Alec Guinness,” said my brother.

The open sexuality and lack of boundaries of the hippie era, which many parents thought would encourage their children to be happy little free spirits, often had diametrically opposite results. At age 8, I had a big crush on a commune guy I’ll call Bill. That crush included sexual fantasies. I had just learned about rape, by overhearing someone tell a joke about it. They made it sound like a fun game, and I decided I wanted to try it with Bill. I went and found him, and told him I wanted to rape him. “OK,” he said.

I took him into the kids’ building. He took off all his clothes and lay down. He had an erection. I took mine off too and lay down on top of him. He kissed and fondled me. After a while, he got up, kissed me on the top of the head and thanked me. I felt confused and embarrassed.

Over the years, I had many inappropriate sexual experiences, with different partners and levels of interest on my part. The confusion and embarrassment were a constant. Even in less ambiguous situations in which I was exploited by predatory adults, I blamed myself for what happened. I had been raised to think that saying no was uncool, and that my body was up for grabs.

The worst part was that even when I was really uncomfortable with a sexual situation, I would sometimes respond sexually. This sent me into an abyss of self-loathing before I grew up and learned that children naturally have sexual feelings, and that they can arise even when the child is scared and unwilling.

My parents wanted to raise a happy, sexually liberated free spirit. I took the “free” part to heart, anyway. By the time I hit puberty I was already sexually jaded. I can’t remember not knowing what went where, complete with variations and sub-routines. From age 11 until I whipped up a new batch of self-esteem in my late 20s, I slept with so many people that I lost count at around 150. To this day, I can be standing at the sink washing a dish, woolgathering, and something will trigger a memory of a long-forgotten sexual encounter: the guy I slept with in the bathroom of a Greyhound bus, or the taxi driver I screwed for the sole reason that he had a cute Irish accent and I had no money for a tip.

I slept with my friends’ boyfriends, or their fathers, just because they asked. I alienated a lot of people, mostly women. I was lucky to dodge the scarier of the venereal diseases, but I got a lot of urinary tract infections and had a few unplanned pregnancies. Hey, man — love the one you’re with. Right. Im pretty sure that an overfamiliarity with Bactrim and cannulae is not the beautiful expression of sexuality the hippies had in mind when they rejected traditional parenting.

But all this has a happy ending. Paradoxically, the dangerous freedom I was raised with was the thing that allowed me to rebuild my self-esteem and set boundaries for myself. I had been told for so long I could be anything I wanted to be that I finally figured out I could, by that same token, get over the anger I had for my parents. They had no childraising instruction manual, and they lived through one of the most turbulent, strange times in our country’s history.

In the course of working on this, I finally found ways to shock my mother. At one point I decided to become a lawyer, and when I told Mom, she looked stricken. “Oh, no! Anything but that!” she said. “Honey, be a painter or a poet or something else instead!” I felt like a tax-payin,’ job-havin’ James Dean. All I have to do to freak out my Mom is work too hard, or mention my 401K.

Now Im 35 and happily engaged to a wonderful man I’ve been with for five years. Life is good. I impose boundaries on myself and try to stick to them despite an innate rambunctiousness that won’t quite go away. I love my mom, who lives close by, and I live right next door to my “other mom,” a woman we met on the commune, who helped raise my brother and me and is now my best friend.

People who were raised by hippies are writing books now, and I’m finding out how common my experiences were. Chelsea Cain’s excellent collection of essays, “Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture,” is full of stories similar to my own. I’ve interviewed a lot of ACHs (Adult Children of Hippies), and we all pretty much agree: Loved the God’s eyes and the baby goats; hated the lack of Lucky Charms, boundaries and discipline. We have nice traits in common, like adaptability, resourcefulness and a tendency to be more open-minded than not. But we are all a little bit control-freakish, and we have no patience for people who romanticize the hippie era uncritically. An accidental Wavy Gravy sighting can send us into a frothing rage.

Which brings me to why Im writing this. In the past few years, hippie culture has had something of a revival. Hippie music, hippie clothes, hippie politics, even hippie hairdos are big. More and more, I see VW buses with cedar peaked-roof add-ons, lumbering up Highway 1 on their way to Reggae on the River, the happy scruffy singing hippies inside dandling little newborns in tie-dyed Garanimals.

It isn’t surprising that in an era tinged with the paranoid ultraconservatism of the ’50s, people seem to want back some of the ’60s freedom and revolutionary feeling. The George W. Bush presidency is almost enough to make me sell everything and buy one of those buses myself. Almost.

Growing out of the anger I felt has allowed me to admit that I also long for some of the feeling of that age, but I don’t want nouvelle-hippie parents to make the same mistakes with their kids that the first hippies did. Once you have kids, finding yourself should never trump the goal of giving your kids a safe, thoughtfully limited environment.

So this is a cautionary tale. Go ahead, eat carob. Weave your own dashiki. Get off the grid. Open your mind to new experiences. But when your microbus pulls into the festival lot, don’t drop acid and ditch your daughter at the child-care tipi. Sometimes your mind can be so open, your brain falls out.