The Five Stages of Climate Change Denial

This Guardian article details at least one set of layers of Denialism about Anthropic Global Warming (AGW). I dropped the phrase climate change for most part when I learned that Frank Luntz had coined it in order to obfuscate the direction of the change. Rather than just re-iterate the Guardian article which is a good read, I will annotate my opinions on the stages.

Stage 1: Deny the Problem Exists

Most people are beyond this stage. There is too much anecdotal evidence out there such as melting glaciers rising high tide lines to completely dispute the phenomenon. But every winter some congressman brings a snowball into the chambers to have a good laugh at all those pointy headed on-the-take climate scientists.

Stage 2: Deny We’re the Cause

The key word in AGW is “anthropic”. Climate changes all the time because of long term patterns, volcanic activity, sunspots, etc. What is more important to recognize is that for at least a century now we have been pumping ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other chemicals into the atmosphere.

Stage 3: Deny It’s a Problem

Here is where we start hitting regions of debateability. Clearly the Bangladeshi are fucked. But they always have been. This is just one more reason that being poor in southern Asia is a bad lifestyle choice. However the people in Miami Beach, Norfolk, and eventually Manhattan’s Lower East Side are going to realize that being near navigable bodies of water is no longer the economic benefit it used to be. However we do have a lot of sunk economic infrastructure in areas which will eventually be under water.

Stage 4: Deny We can Solve It

Many of these arguments start to delve into the geopolitical realm. Without China and India getting on board, there isn’t much traction that can be made. And they are rightfully suspicious in claims that they need to curtail their climb up the prosperity curve for our sake. And also, some of the geo-engineering ideas such as large scale sequestration are just scary.

Stage 5: It’s too Late

Here is the argument I am most sympathetic to. We may have already passed the point of no return on some parameters. There are djinnis which just can’t be put back in the bottle. However, we really don’t know where the irreversible catastrophic lines in the sand are. Both climate and weather are chaotic systems and responses are non-linear. But fatalism is never a good look.

Personally I feel that climate change denialism is an astroturfed phenomenon created by the resource extraction industries to obfuscate their role in the unfunded externalities disaster which is impending. But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong.

On a philosophical level, dealing with AGW requires cooperation on a global governmental level which is anathema to certain political philosophies. And some can be rightfully fearful of AGW as a camel nose under the tent way to impose radical systemic political change. But in the past we have accepted environmental regulation as qualified benefits to society. Clean air and water are luxury goods but we should allow ourselves to afford them. And a stable (if changing) climate is perhaps the biggest factor of life on earth we have taken for granted hitherto.

Recommended Reading

Climate change as a science fiction topic has been around for decades depending on how far back you want to take it. Lots of post-apocalyptic nuclear novels are easily translatable to the current crisis. But here are some which have focused on contemporary interpretations.

Earth by David Brin. Here the metaphor is a scientist-caused event which could destroy the earth, but the surrounding world-building of the near future is amazingly prescient for a novel written in 1991.

Science in the Capitol” series by Kim Stanley Robinson. This trilogy envisions ever greater calamities being inflicted on Washington, D.C. In Forty Signs of Rain the region is flooded with rains of Biblical rage. The follow-up Fifty Degrees Below envisions near-Day After Tomorrow levels of cold. The final volume Sixty Days And Counting is just pure geo-engineering porn once world politicians realize Something Must Be Done.

While not directly climate change related, Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi takes place along the Louisiana coast after New Orleans has drowned and the remaining area has devolved to a scavenging economy similar to the ship breaking yards in India.

My Big Jewish Lesbian Vegan Wedding 6/26/15


Last weekend I was fortunate enough to be invited to the wedding of a childhood friend of my son. She was marrying a woman she had met in college during a course in Feminist Theory and Criticism. They became loser while sitting on the campus safety awareness committee. After some long distance relationshipping, they started dating and moved in with each other about a year ago. I have been looking forward to this wedding for months ever since we got the “save the date” announcement.

It was a milestone for me in JLVWedding-3that I had never been to a Jewish wedding and had always wanted to go to one. Bride A (as I will call her) was Jewish and a woman of deep faith. She is now in rabbinical school. Bride B, my son’s friend, converted to Judaism for her despite being raised lightly pagan. It was NOT a coincidence that the wedding took place on the summer solstice. There was even a solstice altar set up just outside the ceremony area to honor that part of her heritage.

Bride A was dressed in a homemade ivory linen dress with pink flowers in her hair to match her cateye vintage style glasses. Bride B wore gray slacks with a matching vest over a light blue shirt and pink tie. Over her shortly cropped hair she wore a large leaf reminiscent of a yarmulka. The male members of wedding party (the entire wedding party was described as Friends of Honor as oppose to the more common groomsman/bridesmaid designations) had full beards and wore suspenders making them look like hipster artisanal pickle merchants. Even the band had a certain turn of the century look. In some respects the whole event had the vibe of a community theater production of Yentl.

The wedding program included lots of little notes on the elements and traditions of a Judaic wedding which were very helpful. I could

tell that some portions of the ceremony were being altered to accommodate the fact that two women were being married rather than a man and a woman. There was prayer after prayer in both Yiddish and English. There were two large artistically rendered marriage contracts which included their vows. There was a lot of laughing with a touch of tears.

The ceremJLVWedding-2ony was outdoors in a small park with a gorgeous old stone building on the grounds but except for the food service line, all the events were outdoors or underneath a tent. Predicted thunderstorms never arrived and weather stayed clear if June hot. Restroom facilities were two single occupancy bathrooms in the building which, as the program declared, had been “liberated from the gender binary.”

The guests were the usual mix of older relatives, mostly from Bride B’s side since the ceremony was in her hometown, and college friends of the brides. They were dressed in a variety of styles ranging from traditional to formal to casual. One person had both a beard and a dress and I told my wife I’d be disappointed if there hadn’t been.JLVWedding-6

As with all weddings, the reception is where the heavy partying began. Fortunately beer and wine are vegan and were available in abundance. In addition to red and white wine there were two brands of craft brews and PBR available. This gave my son, a professional brewer, a great opportunity for conversational gambits with the guests his age.

The food, as I feared, was the greatest disappointment. In anticipation, I had taken my family out for a Father’s Day barbecue lunch just in case I wasn’t going to get a full meal. The hors d’oeuvres were tasty but disappeared quickly. I was not quick enough to get the tofu spring rolls but the corn fritters and the potato knishes were delish. The main dishes were bland and, as the joke goes, the portions were small too. The best dish was some parpadelle with basil, spinach, artichoke and zucchini. The wild mushroom and tarragon seitan (whatever that is) was also fairly tasty. But overall, I thought a family of vegetarians could have found a more adventurous caterer.

For the wedding reception the band quickly ran through a whirlwind of the presumably standard traditions including ring dances and chair dances and jumping rope. It was all a bit confusing to me but the largely Jewish guest roster seemed to go at them with great gusto.


As with most weddings, the toasts from the fathers were very touching. The father of Bride A was delighted to be gaining a future lawyer as a family member and made a plea that Bride B give corporate mergers a chance for decade or so before going into public advocacy. Father B waxed nostalgic over the childhood memories of teaching Bride B which sports teams to follow and why. (I was told that her vest was lined with silk fabric covered in Orioles logos.) The deepest divisions amongst the families and guest were opposing loyalties to Red Sox, Yankees, or Orioles, although I suspect plenty of Phillies fans were in the crowd as well.

I’ve been to a wide variety of weddings but this one was definitely one of the most festive I have ever been to. It was a day full of prayers. And food. And dancing.

And love.




Free Riders

WalMart, arguably the largest employer in the United States, is frequently the target of criticism for its parsimonious pay and benefits package. And they know it. In a smoking gun type memo from 2005, they look hard at their health care benefits. While the memo is nearly a decade old, most of the observations and conclusions seem current. In particular, they know their reputation suffers:

Wal-Mart’s healthcare benefit is one of the most pressing reputation issues we face because well-funded, well-organized critics, as well as state government officials, are carefully scrutinizing Wal-Mart’s offering. Moreover, our offering is vulnerable to at least some of their criticisms, especially with regard to the affordability of coverage and Associates’ reliance on Medicaid.

They in part blame the health of their workforce. A couple of Plum Liners often note the WalMart is the employer of last resort. You work there because you can’t get a better job somewhere else.

Our workers are getting sicker than the national population, particularly with obesity-related diseases. For example, the prevalence of coronary artery disease in Wal-Mart’s population grew by 6 percent compared to a national average of 1 percent, and the prevalence of diabetes in our population grew by 10 percent compared to a national average of 3 percent. (That said, our workforce is no sicker at present in absolute terms than the national population.)

A segment of our workforce consumes healthcare inefficiently, in a pattern similar to a Medicaid population. Our population tends to over utilize emergency room and hospital services and underutilize prescriptions and doctor visits. This pattern is most evident among our low-income Associates, and one hypothesis is that this behavior may result from prior experience with Medicaid programs.

In remarkable self-awareness, they realize that healthcare is their Achilles heel in the public mind.

Healthcare is one of the most pressing reputation issues facing Wal-Mart. Survey work done last summer shows that people’s perception of our wages and benefits is a key driver of Wal-Mart’s overall reputation. Several groups are now mounting attacks against Wal-Mart focused on our healthcare offering. These increasingly well-organized and well-funded critics – especially the labor unions and related groups, such as Wal-Mart Watch – have selected healthcare as their main avenue of attack. Moreover, federal and state governments are increasingly concerned about healthcare costs, and many view Wal-Mart as part of the problem (a view due, in part, to the work of Wal-Mart’s critics). Medicaid costs are a major priority on most governors’ agendas; already a quarter of states are spending more than 25 percent of their budgets on Medicaid, and observers across the political spectrum assert that the current system – with spiraling costs, a large population of uninsured, and an increasing number of medical bankruptcies – is unsustainable (although there is little consensus on what should take its place). In this environment, we can expect efforts like those in Maryland (which is trying to mandate that companies spend a certain percentage of revenue on healthcare) and New Hampshire (which requires health services to track where Medicaid enrollees are employed) to accelerate. Proposals such as these, if successful, will bring added costs to Wal-Mart. Moreover, these battles with critics and governments are contributing to the decline of Wal-Mart’s overall reputation.

As for being free-riders, nearly half of their employees’ dependents are either on Medicaid or just going bare.

We also have a significant number of Associates and their children who receive health insurance through public-assistance programs. Five percent of our Associates are on Medicaid compared to an average for national employers of 4 percent. Twenty-seven percent of Associates’ children are on such programs, compared to a nation al average of 22 percent (Exhibit 5). In total, 46 percent of Associates’ children are either on Medicaid or are uninsured.

In their recommendations, the realize the need to make sure their position is heard. This memo was written before the word got out that individual mandates are Kenyan Socialism but it’s interesting that at one time they supported the concept.

Become more engaged in the national healthcare debate, to position Wal-Mart as a leader in healthcare in general and on access (e.g.,individual mandates…
Public reputation risk. Healthcare enrollment will fall several percentage points due primarily to a shift to more part-time Associates, which could draw additional attacks from Wal-Mart’s critics. Also,despite the proposed efforts, the Medicaid problem will not be “solved.” A significant number of Associates and their children will still qualify for Medicaid. Because many of these programs will offer more generous health insurance than Wal-Mart provides, many Associates will still choose to enroll in Medicaid, leaving the door open for continued attacks.

For those that decry the welfare state, it seems that they easiest way to shrink it is to make sure the private sector is not part of the problem. Increases in the minimum wage and mandatory benefits increase employment costs. Possibly a lot. Labor costs are a particularly high percentage of food service and retail. But these are jobs that cannot be easily outsourced or automated.

We have a tragedy of the commons problem in that what is good for WalMart (and their customers) is not necessarily good for the nation as a whole. It’s good to know that WalMart recognizes the problems they face. It’s less reassuring that in the nearly past decade they have done little to alter the perception of them.

What We Are Talking About When We Talk About Trayvon Martin



The trial of George Zimmerman, a neighborhood vigilante who shot and killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager who was walking back to his home after buying tea and Skittles at a convenience store, has gone to jury and there is no telling what the verdict will be. Most pundits and trial watchers feel the prosecution was less than convincing, particularly in proving that Zimmerman had intent or malice.

It seems that at any particular time we as a culture are following some Trial Of The Century or another. Part of this is the necessary consequence of having justice-themed news shows like Nancy Grace. The unquenchable maw of the newscycle demands fresh meat continuously. But Martin was not the photogenic blond victim that usually make the story line-up.

Kathleen Parker recently took a stab at why this trial in particular fascinates us.

The Zimmerman trial is riveting not because two men got in a scuffle and one of them died or because one was a teenager and the other an armed adult. It is that one was black, the supposed victim of a profiling vigilante, and the other white.

But that isn’t totally why the trial is news. It’s not that white guy shoots black punk, it’s what it took to get the case to be taken seriously. Most of the early outrage triggered by the descent of what some have called racebaiters was over how perfunctorily the initial investigation was. It wasn’t until the media storm started that the Barney Fife-ish Sanford Police Department took the case seriously. They knew who killed Trayvon Martin. They just didn’t think it was worth trying to send Zimmerman to jail over it. Arguably, second degree murder was publicity-driven over-reach, but Zimmerman didn’t even get charged with littering. The unknown hypothetical of whether it would have been treated differently if either party had been a different ethnicity is what set off the tinderbox.

As Juan Williams even-handedly puts it:

Liberal and conservative news TV and radio have played to the racial theme, too. The left, notably Rev. Al Sharpton, have made the case a crusade for racial justice. The right-wing media, especially talk radio, has responded by making Zimmerman a hero.

So what makes Zimmerman a hero to the right wing? That is a very complicated question. In part the trial is just as much about gun rights as it is about racial justice. This is the underdiscussed aspect of the left/right bifurcation on this trial. It comes down to the most loaded word in my typical formulation of the incident, ‘vigilante’. Just how culpable is Zimmerman for initiating the incident? He had a concealed carry permit and was within his rights to get out of his car and follow someone through open space despite the admonition of the emergency dispatcher not to. But there is always the fine line of having rights and the responsible exercise thereof.

Should Zimmerman have gotten out of the car in the first place? What did he mean by saying ‘Fucking punks. These assholes, they always get away’? Was it frustration over ineffective law enforcement in his neighborhood or was there racial animosity over ‘those’ people? Who struck the first blow? And does it matter?

Those biggest question the jury has to wrestle with seems to be: Was Zimmerman acting in self-defense? We will probably never know because Zimmerman has been verifiably less than truthful about that night. And the only other person who knows what happened is dead.

An Aaron Sorkin Liberal Fantasy

Obama’s speech at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner:

Lots of really great one liners in there. Here is the full text for the YouTube impaired. He gets great writers for this event. The one item that seems to have gotten some news buzz was Antonio Scalia sitting at the Fox News table. Once you buy into the incestuous relationship between the press and the government this is a minor complaint.

Happy Tax Day 04/15/13

Stiglitz points out that our progressive tax system is far less than progressive in implementation, particularly at the very high end.

The richest 400 individual taxpayers, with an average income of more than $200 million, pay less than 20 percent of their income in taxes — far lower than mere millionaires, who pay about 25 percent of their income in taxes, and about the same as those earning a mere $200,000 to $500,000. And in 2009, 116 of the top 400 earners — almost a third — paid less than 15 percent of their income in taxes.

At least or marginal rates aren’t 95% anymore:

But that always seemed to be more honored in the breach. There were a whole lot more loopholes available in the 1950s. Imagine if consumer debt interest were still deductible. Elimination of that created the home equity loan boom. Talk about the law of unintended consequences.

Ron Swanson, Capitalist Hero

The NBC comedy Parks and Recreation stars Amy Poehler as a hyper-enthusiastic civil servant. The head of the titular department head is one Ron Swanson a manly meat-loving wood-working anti-government zealot who happens to suck on the government teat. Mostly played for laughs, Ron Swanson as understatedly played by Nick Offerman has become a conservative icon on the level of Stephen Colbert.

In the most recent episode, Leslie Knope, now a city councilwoman has pushed through the council a government handout to a failing video store only to have it converted to a porn store. In this scene, Leslie offers to eat crow for failing to listen to Ron’s warnings.

(It seems the embed code doesn’t play well with WordPress, so use the link below):
Ron Swanson

Leslie laments:

There has to be a way for government to help places that add community value but don’t necessarily rake in the money.

Ron says:

There is not. The free market is a jungle. It’s beautiful and brutal and should be left alone. When a business fails, it dies and a better one takes its place. Just let business be business and government be government.

It’s done sincerely without any snark or comeuppance for Ron.

For the full episode, go here

My point is that while Ron Swanson is a caricature, he also has character. And he has a pyramid of greatness.


The PIB Argument

A long article in Slate by John Corvino takes on the tendency for opponents to marriage equality to insist that people who support gay marriage must also be in favor of polygamy, incest, and bestiality (or PIB as he calls it). One paragraph in particular jumped out at me.

But why would anyone think that supporting same-sex relationships logically entails supporting PIB? The answer, I think, is that some people misread the pro-gay position as resting on some version of the following premise: People have a right to whatever kind of sexual activity they find fulfilling. (emphasis in the original) If that were true, then it would indeed follow that people have a right to polygamy, incest, “man on child, man on dog or whatever the case may be.” But no serious person actually believes this premise, at least not in unqualified form. That is, no serious person thinks that the right to sexual expression is absolute. The premise, thus construed, is a straw man.(emphasis added)

It’s an amazingly open-minded essay well worth reading but unlikely to change many minds.

The Straw Krugman

Dr. Cowbell (to steal just one of his nicknames) is both flattered and amused by how he has become the favorite boogeyman of the right:

Funny: Angry Bear finds some of the usual suspects explaining How to Debate Paul Krugman, and the answer appears to be this: invent a straw man who bears no resemblance at all to the economist/columnist of the same name, and ridicule that imaginary person.

I have to say, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I could play the role of History’s Greatest Monster to so many people. Thank you for the honor!

Aside from the silliness of the exercise, this little exchange is another illustration of a point I’ve noticed before: the way hard-right commentators assume that the other side must be their mirror image. They insist that no government intervention is ever justified; so liberals must support any and all government interventions. They want smaller government, as a principle; liberals must want bigger government, never mind what for. They believe that deficits and printing money are always evil; liberals must be for deficits and money-printing under all circumstances.

I’m sympathetic to this argument because I’ve seen it in action. It seems that expressing an opinion that the legitimate of role of government is slightly more than what Friedrich Hayek (or Ron Paul) would allow makes one an advocate of Politburo-style central planning.

The column Krugman links too has a deeper link to this item where Krugman’s Articles of Faith are enumerated. I’ve conveniently bolded the portions which do seem like legitimate strawman statements.

1) Recessions, depressions and crises are the result of the unhampered market. We actually do not have to investigate if markets were really free when recessions occurred or what really were the specific causes of whatever threw the economy off track. When there is a recession, depression or crisis, there must have been too much of an uncontrolled market.

2) The Great Depression was caused by uncontrolled markets.

3) Recessions, depressions and crises are practically the result of one problem: a lack of aggregate demand. People, for whatever reason (and who cares about the reason; let’s not get hung up on those details) don’t spend enough. If everybody were to spend more, people would sell more. Problem solved. It is the role of government to get people spending again. This is done by printing money and causing inflation so that people spend the money rather than save it. Or by the government running up deficits and spending it on behalf of the stupid savers.

4) The Great Depression was solved by the government spending lots of money and the central bank printing lots of money.

5) This explains ALL economic problems.

6) If there are recessions, depressions and crises, they can all be solved by printing money and by deficit spending.

7) If after many rounds of money printing and deficit spending, there is still a recession, then only one conclusion is permissible: There was obviously not enough money printing and deficit spending. We need more of it.

8) If after another round of money printing and deficit spending we still have a recession, then….well, do you not get it? We obviously have NOT PRINTED ENOUGH MONEY and we are NOT ACCUMULATING ENOUGH DEBT! And, by the way, remember 7) above.

Krugman is practicing Keynesianism as a religion. The 8 commandments above are not to be questioned. Whoever questions them is not worthy of debate.

Now, this attack is not completely unfair since Krugman is easily the most visible and vocal advocate of classical Keynesian stimulus. But also in the article is a video of noted libertarian Hans-Hermann Hoppe, a stereotypical Austrian Economist in both accent and philosophy, who says this is the way to engage Krugman:

Ask some questions almost like a child. Explain to me how increases in paper pieces can possibly make a society richer. If that were the case, explain to me why is there still poverty in the world? Isn’t every central bank in the world capable of printing as much paper as they want?

Now here is a debating style I have come to be familiar with recently. Just pepper someone with a litany of seemingly simple questions which belie the fundamental assumptions and premises beneath them.

If we were to pick a Most Ridiculed Pundit on ATiM, Krugman would probably be in the top three. And I am no fan of his tendency to insult the basic education of his opponents, particularly ones with credentials approaching his own. But to engage in my own logical fallacy of Arguing From Authority, they don’t give out Nobel Prizes for collecting box tops. Krugman is both fun to read and fun to ridicule but he rarely makes the arguments people claim he has made. Or when he has, he is far more likely to be right than the people just tearing him down on an ad hominem basis.

The Mecca of Guns

In the course of my job, I often travel past an icon of gun culture. Visible from I-66 at the back of an 80s era office park is the headquarters of the National Rifle Association. It would be indistinguishable from all the other Beltway buildings but for the large NRA logo on the outside.


After passing it dozens of times I finally had time to kill between appointments and decided to tour their museum. Admission is free and it takes up one wing of the ground floor of the building.


As you might expect, the primary artifacts are firearms of all varieties. But the sheer quantity is a bit overwhelming.


There are several thousand weapons, mostly rifles with plenty of pistols and a smattering of machine guns.


Each case is stuffed to overflowing with plaque noting the semi-famous collector who donated them. There are so many in each display that even the numbered keys aren’t very helpful in distinguishing the distinctive feature of one gun from the nearly identical version just above or below it.


The galleries are arranged in roughly chronological order running from colonial times to our various Gulf Wars. The largest segments are devoted to the Wild West days with another display devoted to the sport hunting trophies and weapons of Teddy Roosevelt.


The modern era weapons case had plenty of weapons nearly identical from the ones in the “modern sporting rifle” case except for the affixed much recently maligned bayonets.


The current exhibit in their rotating gallery is a tribute to Hollywood movie weapons. They have the actual prop gun used in the movie along with a poster or still from the movie. The oeuvre of noted Republican stand-up comic Clint Eastwood is well represented.


The items which caught my attention were the blaster and lightsaber from Star Wars. As I stood there taking a photo of them with my cell phone one of the other guests that sparsely attended weekday afternoon chuckled that I must have a kid at home if in this enormous display of weaponry those were the items I wanted to photograph. No, I thought to myself, I’m a nerd. Just a little different for the type that usually tours the NRA museum.

Like any decent museum, and plenty of crappy ones, they have a gift shop full of coffee mugs and tee-shirts and trinkets for kids. And on the way out they have a newsrack with the most recent issue of their magazine and a catalog of their wares.


The museum isn’t much different from all sorts of narrowly defined special interest organizations. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is stuffed full of gold records and rock star costumes. The Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian has more beaded blankets than you knew existed. And the NRA museum has guns. And as I mentioned, it sure has plenty of guns. Really way more than is needed for any sense of historical context. The museum fetishizes its collection with highly technical descriptions of each item.

But what it lacks is perspective. It is all about the role of guns in American history. Each gallery tells how guns were used to gain our independence, resolve the issue of slavery, and settle the West. Perhaps we need at least one display about how they are being used today in our schools and malls and post offices.

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