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Passing the denial stage

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 15:45 EDT

While higher gas prices are no fun for any of us, the good news is that the crisis is starting to drift into no-longer-a-crisis-just-a-problem-to-be-solved mode. People are beginning to accept that high gas prices are here to stay. The nation is getting over the denial stage, which is the first big step towards rearranging our infrastructure so that we’re less reliant on oil.

After more than five years of petroleum price increases, American consumers appear to be expecting the worst. A CNN poll taken last week showed that 59 percent of Americans believe it is very likely that they will pay $5 a gallon for gasoline before the end of the year and that an additional 27 percent say it is somewhat likely.

Economists say these expectations make it more probable that people will change behavior rather than simply wait for a turn in the traditional up-and-down cycle of commodity prices. “People now realize that prices may come back down, but they’re not going down to where they were,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody’s Economy.com. “We’re going to have to live with higher energy prices for a while. And that’s affecting their behavior and what they buy and don’t buy.”

Like Atrios, I’m surprised and impressed at how quickly the nation is coming to terms with this. There’s so many excuses people could come up with to tell themselves that oil prices will come down, but people are facing up to reality. And the sooner the better, because until you’re past denial, you can’t start making changes.

Some friends informed me the other night that Lance Armstrong has opened a bicycle shop in Austin, and they’re dedicating themselves to encouraging Austinites to commute by bicycle by building a storage facility downtown that has showers and lockers. It’s shockingly logical—most people who don’t exercise cite lack of time as the main reason, so it stands to reason that if you can multitask by combining your commute with exercise time, then you’d jump on that opportunity. And some will. But bad habits like driving everywhere are hard to break. Ideally, to encourage an entire society to change a behavior, you either introduce immediate rewards (not long term ones like weight loss or better cardiovascular health) or introduce obstacles and frustrations to the bad habit.

Obstacles and frustrations—not punishments. If you’ve ever trained an animal, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Spanking a pet after a misdeed is like the worst way to train an animal. If there’s a undesired behavior, you frustrate the behavior and offer alternatives. If your dog likes to sleep on the sofa, you put laundry baskets or cooking pots on it so that he can’t get up there easily, and then put the dog bed nearby. Sticky tape on beloved furniture and a nearby scratching post that the cats actually like (in my house, that’s unfortunately Marc’s desk chair that’s been sacrificed) will train them away from scratching your favorite stuff. As I’ve noted before, driving just seemed like a drag to me because I hate how much of it is sitting around doing nothing. Training myself to feeling rewarded by the bicycle took a couple of weeks, but now I like just the general rush you get from the shot of exercise. Still, cars have all these incentives to them over bicycles, like they’re faster and they go farther and they have air conditioning. The key to getting people to bicycle instead of drive was always increase the immediate rewards of bicycling or taking public transportation while increasing the obstacles to driving. But the latter has problems, because people resist you if you increase driving obstacles, like reducing parking opportunities. People aren’t dumb animals, and so it was pretty easy to single out the culprits behind the newly introduced obstacles and give them hell.

Unfortunately, that privileged higher gas prices as an obstacle that people really had to face up to, instead of casting around looking for culprits and pressuring them to change things back. I mean, that was tried, but now it’s beginning to sink in that gas prices are, for reasons fair and unfair, shielded from bending to public will. The laundry baskets on the sofa are there whether we throw puppy dogs eyes at our politicians or not. What’s frustrating to me about this it that it’s bigger than transportation of human beings, which could easily be addressed with alternatives like bicycling, remaking cities so they’re walking cities, and public transportation. It affects the prices of produce and other things that will present a much bigger problem in terms of restructuring society to make these things more affordable. Compared to moving closer into the city and taking the bus more, figuring out how to make apples not cost $2 a pound is going to be rocket science.

The Cascade

By Jesse Taylor

Perhaps the reason that we’re in such a debt crunch these days isn’t because we’re all weak-minded simpletons who look at the national debt and say, “I want me some of that!”, but instead a system which is designed at virtually every corner to maximize the burden on debtor to the benefit of the lender? Modern debt falls into what I call the cascade of ratfucking. Debt often begins or amasses because of bad decisions,…


Faux News’ E.D. Hill’s asinine ‘fist bump’ terror alert

By pams

Fox News’ America’s Pulse host E.D. Hill must have gotten an associate-Obama-with-terrorism-at-all-costs memo from upstairs, as she desperately tried to interpret the “fist bump” between Michelle and Barack Obama in a unique segment featuring a “body language expert.” Now I don’t know why the fist bump is worth dissecting, but…


Chatting about feminism and Hillary Clinton

By Amanda Marcotte

I’ll be on KFPA out of Berkeley this morning with Kim Gandy of NOW and Shireen Mitchell, Founder of Digital Sisters to discuss Clinton’s feminist legacy and the future of women in politics, starting at 7AM Pacific Time, 10AM Eastern Time. You can listen to it here.…


I’ve Heard Rumors You Smell Like Poo

By Jesse Taylor

Via Whiskey Fire, the National Review is proposing an innocent, simple solution that should help Barack Obama – showing us his papers, please: Having done some Obama-rumor debunking that got praise from Daily Kos (a sign of the apocalypse, no doubt), perhaps the Obama campaign could return the favor and…


Bishop to impotent paraplegic: no church wedding for you

By pams

Imagine being a devoted churchgoer and being told that you cannot marry in the church because you’re impotent because of a car accident. An Italian bishop has reportedly told a young paraplegic he cannot have a church wedding because he is impotent, despite his fiancee being aware of the problem.…


Well, what do you know about that?

By auguste

I like this news very much: Obama’s speech in Raleigh launching his economy tour is underway, and towards the end, during a discussion of health care, he drops a surprise aside that wasn’t in the speech’s prepared remarks: “By the way, I’m going to be partnering with Elizabeth Edwards, we’re…


Worst. Job. Ever.

By Jesse Taylor

Although I liked this article’s focus on fairness as the main reason for burnout, I wish this hadn’t been in there: Burnout has been long associated with being overworked and underpaid, but psychologists Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter found that these were not the crucial factors. The single biggest difference…



By Jesse Taylor

Barack Obama speaks with the same mewling incapacity of a James Buchanan or a Franklin Pierce. Fie, I say!…


Using people’s personal angers against them

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, June 9, 2008 23:32 EDT

I’m in a sympathetic mood, because I just finished listening to Mat Johnson on a podcast talking about the diehard Clinton supporters who have clearly projected their own struggles onto Hillary Clinton and are taking her defeat in the primary as a referendum on their very right to be in…