Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Monday, September 22, 2008

Shock and Awe

The best book I have read in recent times is The Shock Doctrine, by Naomi Klein. The point of the book is simple -- it outlines the transfer of money from poor to rich, using the simple tenets of "disaster capitalism". These are:

Step 1) Wait for or engineer a shock (military / weather / financial / whatever)
Step 2) Approach the shocked population with a "recovery" plan that you spin as the only possible option
Step 3) Loot.

Here's a brief extract from the website:

At the most chaotic juncture in Iraq’s civil war, a new law is unveiled that would allow Shell and BP to claim the country’s vast oil reserves…. Immediately following September 11, the Bush Administration quietly out-sources the running of the “War on Terror” to Halliburton and Blackwater…. After a tsunami wipes out the coasts of Southeast Asia, the pristine beaches are auctioned off to tourist resorts.... New Orleans’s residents, scattered from Hurricane Katrina, discover that their public housing, hospitals and schools will never be reopened…. These events are examples of “the shock doctrine”: using the public’s disorientation following massive collective shocks – wars, terrorist attacks, or natural disasters -- to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy. Sometimes, when the first two shocks don’t succeed in wiping out resistance, a third shock is employed: the electrode in the prison cell or the Taser gun on the streets.

And the reason I'm posting about this today? Well of course - the Paulson (ex-Goldman Sachs) "Bailout Plan", which Shockmaster George is trying to ram through. A plan that - regardless of its possible merits - comes with a scarcely believable downside. As Paul Krugman puts it:

But Mr. Paulson insists that he wants a “clean” plan. “Clean,” in this context, means a taxpayer-financed bailout with no strings attached — no quid pro quo on the part of those being bailed out. Why is that a good thing? Add to this the fact that Mr. Paulson is also demanding dictatorial authority, plus immunity from review “by any court of law or any administrative agency,” and this adds up to an unacceptable proposal.

Straight out of the Shock Doctrine operators' manual. And so simple, so beautiful in its execution. Juan Cole, as usual, gets it exactly right:

Cable and satellite television "news" tells us nothing of elections in India or constitutional crisis in Thailand, and barely mentions a major workers strike at Boeing. Dozens of car bombs go off in Iraq and we are told it is "calm" now. It is a vast electromagnetic form of bread and circuses, wherein hapless celebrities and philandering politicians are fed to the lions before millions of cheering plebes, by corporate moguls desperately hoping that the marks will not notice the legion of pickpockets in the arena, relieving them of their purses.


And in the wake of the greatest and most sustained act of systematic plunder since the Mongol hordes appropriated to themselves the riches of everyplace in Asia from Beijing to Isfahan, the reaction of the supine and slave-like American voting public is to scratch their heads and have a hard time deciding if they would like more of the same.

We deserve what's coming to us. I used to be shocked, but now I'm just awestruck.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

RIP Richard Wright

I was hypnotized by the dance of your fingers on the Live at Pompeii video. Twenty years ago, I thought less of people if they hadn't heard your name. I named my high school quiz team after a song you wrote.

Thank You, Richard Wright. RIP.

- An Ordinary Man

Thursday, September 11, 2008


It's the anniversary of that day again. And for some reason, I feel like soap-boxing.

So here's the content of a speech I gave a few years ago.

It's a hand-me-down
The tho-oughts are broken


President B, Provost B, Distinguished Faculty, my fellow __ graduates, friends,

Thank you all for being here today. And congratulations to the many of you, those who thought they’d never make it. Hey, it looks like we did, after all. Not a bad achievement, is it? I mean, think -- of all those endless days and nights; the data that took months to come and then didn't work out; the painful paragraphs written and rewritten, then re-rewritten only to be trashed; think of those maniacal moments spent hovering somewhere between suicide and homicide -- seeking solace at the bottom of a beer glass at the West End. Those were the days!

I was immensely honored when I received the invitation to speak today. But, honestly, my first reaction was sheer, numbing panic. Then I thought -- wait on, you're a __ PhD, you can talk your way through this. But then it struck me that most of the others present would also be __ PhDs. So that idea didn't go too far. Then I thought, okay -- let's fall back on Plan B, something that's worked in the past, flippancy. But that didn't sound so good either. That was when I -- finally -- started thinking a little like I've been taught here. Systematically. What is the occasion? Commencement. A beginning. This is where, symbolically, the rest of our lives are starting. So maybe I can fall back on some of the research that I started right here at __, on things people do when there is a new beginning. I’m talking about New Year's resolutions.

So let me first propose a resolution that's based on a haiku written by one of my favorite poets, Robert Hunter. This is the refrain from the lyric, Ripple. It goes:

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Many meanings may be read into this beautiful lyric. What I'd like to say is -- let us try to make a difference, a small difference, at each and every point of our lives. As Mahatma Gandhi suggested, "Be the change you want to see in the world." We're graduating today. We all dream of being the splash. Making the waves that everyone will notice and remember. But, I submit, we will have done our jobs if we can only be the ripple. Constantly, and in all circumstances. Be the change we want to see.

We will all be entering new walks of life now. Many of us stay in academia, with our roles vastly redefined. Yet, what we can do, every one of us, is propagate the good things that we experienced here at __. We have all had a variety of experiences -- let us take what we need, and leave the rest. Open doors, open minds; friendly, welcoming faces; co-operation, collaboration, tolerance; clear-headed, intellectual ways of thinking and dialogue; late nights of hard, hard work towards a desired goal. These, supposedly small things, have universal applicability, and universal value. Let us remember these, and practice and propagate them.

Conversely, let us try not to propagate some other things we may have experienced. Such as asking a candidate to leave the room after they have presented their dissertation proposal, and then shutting the door behind them and laughing maniacally. A little less of that might be good.

Let us listen, think, do. Criticize -- constructively.

One may ask -- what place is there for ripples, in the turbulent maelstrom that passes for a world today? Almost everyone graduating here today was in New York on September 11, 2001. The apocalyptic memories that we have from that day may never leave us. And we, who were here, may rightly wonder -- in a world that contains a 9/11, and the swirling cesspools of negativity that predated and have sprung from it, what place can a ripple have in such a world? Is it even meaningful to speak of ripples?

Clearly there are no easy answers.

When I was a child, my father, himself an academic, had a poster in his office. The poster read, "Are you here with the solution, or are you part of the problem?" It's a funny sound bite, but it carries a message. Are you here with the solution, or are you part of the problem? Which would you rather be, and why? And when? Personally, I believe right now is a good time for each of us to think in terms of identifying our place -- be it in the solution or in a new problem. For often a solution brings with it a new problem -- think of Kuhnian paradigm shifts, if you will. But really -- would you rather be the voice or in the wilderness? Is there any value to being part of the old problem? Whatever be our field, whatever the domain, we have to try to contribute to the solution; to still the waters, down to a ripple.

My research on self-control and New Years resolutions tells me that success at one's goals is often driven by expectancies of success. That is, people who expect to succeed, for various reasons, tend to be more successful. And expectancies really are nothing but manifestations of optimism, positivity, hope.

So there we have two things that can help us be the ripple. Hope, and help. Hope is what we give others, to see them through to Time 2. Help is what we give them, often so they can hope, and then they give back to us. The concept of help has been so trivialized in the Orwellian world that we live in. The person who stands behind the counter at a restaurant and asks, "May I help you?" isn't really helping you at all. They're just doing their job. The person who is helping is the person who goes out of their way -- does that little extra -- exercises the option when they didn't have to.

That, friends, is what we have to do. We must give hope, and we must help. We must be the ripples. And it is not easy-- indeed, as Hunter himself says in the last stanza of the lyric:

You who choose to lead must follow
But if you fall you fall alone
If you should stand then who's to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home

With those wise words, my friends, I bid thee farewell. Let us all go forth and be optimistic. Let us not forget to hope, and to help. To be the ripples in still water, and to be the change we want to see.

And before we leave, a last word to my ex-doctoral student brethren: Folks, they say there's free food outside. And this time, it's not GSAC pizza. Cheers, and thank you!

Saturday, September 06, 2008

The Reform Candidate

Pappy O"Daniel: "We need a shot in the arm. You hear me boys? In the bleepdamn arm! Election held tomorrow, that sumbitch Stokes would win it in a walk!"

Junior O'Daniel: "Well' he's the reform candidate, Daddy."

Pappy O"Daniel: "Yeah."

Junior O'Daniel: "A lot of people like that reform. Maybe we should get us some."

Pappy O"Daniel: "I'll reform you, you soft-headed son of a bitch. How we gonna run reform when we're the damn incumbent? Is that the best idea you boys can come up with? Reform?! Weepin' Jesus on the cross. That's it? You may as well start drafting my concession speech right now."

Junior O'Daniel: We could hire our own midget [woman], even shorter than his.

Pappy O'Daniel: Wouldn't we look like a bunch of Johnny-come-latelies, bragging on our own midget, don't matter how stumpy.


From a comment by mujeriego (9/5/08, 1:38 pm), at .

I am so scared.

Monday, September 01, 2008


Later we were to realize that it had all started when TPB and Dear Relation (DR) had monkeyed with the GPS. Stuck in a logjam for the second time in an hour on a freeway in interior Pennsylvania, I finally figured out that they'd twiddled the thing into 'Pedestrian' mode, which is why it was doing strange things like telling us to "take a sharp turn right" onto an entry ramp, and that it was "129 miles, 66 hours" to the next intersection.

But all that was to happen later, much of an eventful hour later. Before that, too, we'd been stuck for an hour in the logjam, slowing to a halt near a sign that said "Exit 120, Food, 1 mile". That hour had slowly ticked away, the rainfall, the last remnant of Tropical Storm Fay, had eased to merely heavy, but the advertised exit had not been reached. We were truly stuck.

TPB clambered over into the vacant passenger seat, her nap done and dusted. She said she wanted to go to the restroom. I too needed a break, from all the high speed driving past tractor-trailers sloshing colossal quantities of water every which way. We decided we'd pull off at the alleged Exit 120, if ever this traffic accelerated past 5 mph.

Of course, it happened just as we crawled up to the exit ramp. The jam cleared. A fire truck was reversing across the left lane, blinkers on, and an emergency worker was waving us on past, through to the empty stretch of freeway. Next exit 9 miles, it said.

I asked TPB -- you want to go to this exit, which may well be choked with the plenty of other freeway riders who've had the same idea as us, or should we try for the next one? Our car was speeding up; we had to decide. "Okay, let's go to the next one," she said, just as I pulled right onto the ramp.

There were four cars ahead of us at the light at the end of the ramp. A signboard said, "McDonald's, Arby's, Popeye's, Big Boy Burger, turn left". Another said, "Su's Restaurant, turn right".

We decided to turn right.

The first building we saw was an auto repair shop.

There was no second building.

Within ten seconds of the light we were in forest territory. A narrow two lane road twisted, turned, and swooped through a thick green mountain. All around, everything was lush shades of green. Of Su's restaurant there was no sign, naturally, but apart from the occasional car coming from the other side, there was nothing else either.

We drove for a few minutes not knowing what to think, hoping we'd come upon some sign of civilization. The mountain road was descending; round one bend we came upon a river. This was no ordinary mountain stream. The water lay silent, nearly invisible, cloaked under a cloud of fog that rose from it, a spooky cloud that sat well over a meter thick. TPB drew her breath in. We passed a sign that said "Caution, Water Temperatures May be Significantly Higher Than Expected". I tightened my lips and focused on the narrowing road. What was this place?

Suddenly, up ahead, we saw the most ghostly sight. Three concrete towers, fogged from view, rising up from the steaming water, looming menacingly over us. My first reaction was one of shock, then I relaxed a little. This must be some sort of industrial plant, releasing waste products or simply heat into the environment. The ethereality of the situation dissipated somewhat; now at least we could make a little sense of the situation.

There had to be a way out of there. We couldn't turn our monster SUV around on that narrow mountain road. We needed an opening, or a detour of some sort. We looked at the errant GPS again. Take the next sharp right, it said. A sharp right presented itself almost at once. So we took it.

Again, mistake.

This road was even narrower. At least till then we'd been on a proper mountain road. Now we were straddling a single lane kuccha track, overgrown with vegetation, two deep water-filled ruts running along either side of a central grassy embankment. Thankfully, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. But that was all that could be said in our favor. There was nowhere to go but follow this overgrown lane.

The dirt track plunged into a hairpin bend. With a gasp, we found ourselves right by the river. The track, if possible, was even narrower here -- parts of it had broken off and tumbled into the water. I had no way of telling how firm the ground underfoot might be -- all I knew was that the car I was navigating was a heck of a heavy beast. We were almost at a standstill. Obviously this wasn't the way back to the freeway. Thoughts were chasing each other round our heads. I was worrying about tumbling into the river, with its "Significantly Higher Than Expected" temperature and possible effluent. Should we keep the windows down or up? I was also worrying about rednecks with guns. TPB told me later she was afraid there might be bears around. The place was that desolate.

Of course, we didn't talk very much right then. We were just willing ourselves back to civilization.

An opportunity presented itself to our left -- a small clearing in the trees. Notwithstanding TPB's weak protest, I swung a sharp left into it. Damn they make these SUVs agile. two tweaks and we were back on the dirt track, heading gingerly the opposite way. The hairpin bend had to be negotiated again. It really was quite steep, but with the roar of a wounded lion our Chevrolet scrambled upwards and made it. If we'd slipped then, I remember thinking, we really would have been done for. But we weren't. We found our mountain road again, and set off back the way we'd come. Somehow we managed to make a wrong turn anyway, and found ourselves 2 miles further back in the same logjam that we thought we'd escaped.

That was when we realized that the GPS was on Pedestrian mode.

And that was when I finally had the opportunity to regret not having had my camera at hand.