Monday, July 24, 2006

Post-Traumatic Love Syndrome

An after-love story in verses

The Girl From Llanilar

A lovely young girl from Llanilar
stole my heart but I could not fulfil her.
She had beautiful hair, in her eyes I would stare
though now gone for once loved I’m a winner.

Mountain Rescue

You took me to the top of Cader Idris,
said it would be good for me to go.
At the summit I stole a kiss.
Pale sky above, blue lake below,
we walked beside the precipice.
Your sweet smile, that sunny glow:
I wondered what could better this.
That’s when I fell in love with you –
I won’t forget your mountain rescue.

Seren (Star)

You will still be there when I am gone.

No star will ever shine as bright,
whilst you are there what is midnight?

What marvellous stuff are you made from,
how can you glow . . . so long, so long?

I know a girl much like yourself,
her eyes are bright her hair is red,
on this cold earth she was my sun,
A friend and lover all in one.

I called her Seren when I could,
A girl that shines so bright you should.
Her three initials were S.E.R.
so obviously she was my star.

The Rocks of Skiathos

Remember when I was your broken-toed bastard,
following you around Skiathos on borrowed crutches?

I had slipped on the rocks on the first afternoon
of a fortnight’s holiday.

We had to come home early. I wish it could have lasted.

Remember leading me up the steep cliff face to safety?
My eyes were glued to your backside.
How else could I survive?

Despite the heat and the pain and my toes pointing up
I would have happily stopped to make love,
but then you had saved me more than once
so that was understandable.

I’m sorry for our Greek tragedy.
In the second week I was going to ask you to marry me.
But things happen for a reason so they say
and this time it was because
foolishly I wore flip-flops
on and island renowned for its slippery rocks.


So that's it then, we're through
All I have now is this picture of you
The eyes are the same but there's no animation
No action, no motion, no sweet conversation.

It's over now so what can I do
But stare at this image, this vision of you
It doesn't move me in the way that you do
It has captured your beauty but it hasn't caught you.

If only I could unfreeze this frame
Bring it to life and be with you again
My kisses don't work, your pose doesn't change
Your inscrutable outlook is trapped in its range.

This too still life will never age
But with you I wanted to turn every page
The distance between us grows in front of my eyes
That's why, with this picture, I am cutting all ties.

What does he call you?

I called you tweets
cos you were like a small song bird,
and sweets cos it rhymed with tweets
and you were sweet.
I called you Seren
cos your name was Sarah
and your initials were s.e.r.
So obviously a star.

Does he call you honeybun
and babycakes?
Does he make those mistakes?
If he does he does not know you
not like I do.

Does he call you his sugar muffin
or compare you to the bright-billed puffin?
A lovely creature it is true
but, intellectually, not you.

I called you lover
and argued with you.
Does he care what you say
about the issues of the day?

What can he give you that I can’t give you?

Can he tell you who you are?
A gorgeous little mega star.

(with apologies to Sir Walter Scott)

If there’s a man without self-pity
that lost a girl one half so pretty,
who cannot say that he is sad
or inside doesn't feel a lack
and truly want to win her back,
I'd say to you that man is mad.
If this type you should encounter
don't waste your time in idle banter.
It matters not how rich he be
or if on his CV it says MD.
For all his power and apparent wealth
lack of regret means all is self;
though alive that's only half
and when he finally comes to pass,
interred beneath the cold, cold earth,
who, with affection, will recall his birth?

Swimming fool

Having completed many lengths
in the vitreous fluid of your come to bed eyes,

I now realise -

that whilst I was enjoying swimming
in those languid pools,

I had been a fool.

For I’d done far too many rotes
in the same stroke.

Typical bloke!

On Being Dumped

Do not text or make a call -
that's the first rule of them all.
Delete her from your mobile phone,
get used to being on your own.

Another thing you must not do
is visit her parents after a few.
They'll be worried and she'll go mental.
That rule my friends is fundamental.

Then the e-mails have to stop.
I sent my girlfriend quite a lot.
In the beginning she did reply
mostly to say `I hope you die'.

Put away pictures and memorabilia,
she's already burned your trivia.
Don't dream she'll ever take you back,
her pride's at stake - she won't do that.

Shelve the biography of your lives together,
it'll only remind her why she's with another
and if you really must write a song
make it a short one about moving on.

Sometimes during Happy Hour
you'll dedicate a poem to her.
That's not what a beer mat's for,
in any case they'll be ignored.

The world is full of dumped and dumper
and when it's sunk in that you've lost her
there's only one thing left to do,
remember this: she's lost you too.

Death by Hyperbole

Let Tsunamis wash over me and volcanoes explode on me,
order fire to consume, the cold earth to entomb.
Invent diseases to sicken me, plagues that just pick on me,
bring on tornadoes and hurricanes, send floods from all origins.

But please don’t leave me.

Find vipers to bite, African elephants to smite,
Grizzly bears to unbowel me [sic], Great White sharks to devour me,
bulls to gore, piranhas that gnaw, birds (they can peck), what the heck,
stampede herds that will trample, grow plants that can strangle.

Pay robbers to shoot me, offer knives while they loot me,
use sticks and throw stones, just aim at my bones.
Call on henchmen to hurt me, tell your friends all about me,
clone me then kill me twice, you might find that nice.

But please don’t leave me.

Call elections to topple, send thugs to throttle,
politicians to oppose, journalists to expose,
doctors to section, lawyers to threaten,
ask boffins to baffle me, perhaps a charity could raffle me?

The Ancient Greeks should hear of me, they could record my vile history,
get my name in the bible (snake) come, there’s no time to be idle.
Buddha and Mohammed? They’ll want to hear the things I did,
Hindus too should be put in the frame, all religions be alert to my name.

But please don’t leave me
because if you do, I will surely o.d.
on far too much hy-per'-bo-lee.


There are only sunsets in Aber now.
Endless vistas they provide
but without you by my side
how can there ever be sunrise?

The castle is in ruins there
like the plans we used to share.
The prom it's true still has the sea
but what became of you and me?

The views from Constitution Hill
cannot make sweet a bitter pill
whilst Pendinas on the other side
mocks the folly of my pride.

The prematurely shortened pier
illustrates our brief affair.
Even crazy golf's no charm
without you putting on my arm.

Mind you when all is said and done,
before we notch up more regrets,
there's one thing we should not forget:
Aberystwyth does a great sunset.

Happy Time

I would go back before the happy time
that now seems inaccessible to grief
to when we called each other friend of mine.

If we had some how thought to draw a line,
to stop the clock that sprung a tragic thief,
I would go back before the happy time.

Before we twined as serious couplets rhyme,
then blushing set to fashion Eden's leaf,
to when each called the other friend of mine.

To live all innocence would suit me fine,
those funny naked days, no grave belief.
Yes, I'd go back before said happy time.

Do you recall how simple stood each sign -
the flowers we picked then weren't put to wreath,
back when one called the other friend of mine?

Moonward a weary heart should never climb;
sublime love's labour’s lost. I'd be naive.
I would go back before the happy time
to when we called each other friend of mine.

On Love and Pain

When I put my hand in to the fire,
nerves and sinews soon conspire
to cause an unrelenting pain
that makes me take it out again.

That mechanism is defensive
preventing damage too extensive.
So why then, when we find a lover,
don’t we feel pain instead of pleasure?

Surely it would be much wiser
to see in love potential danger?
To turn away from one’s desire
and treat it like that flaming fire.

Unfortunately, the pain comes after
to act as late-arriving measure
of just how total was the pleasure.
But why come now when it’s all over?

To warn the gallivanting fool,
the cavalier, the trite, the cruel,
that love must always, always be
taken very seriously.

So next time when you meet the one
the memory of pain will come
and you will treat your new-found lover
with care that you will stay together.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

I have overheard the future

Here is a letter to a national newspaper with a unique perspective on the Israeli attack on Lebannon.

SIR - The seemingly overheard and improptu little tet-a-tet at the G8 Summit between Bush and Blair demonstrates that the pair are planning a reprise of their pre-Gulf War double act. Blair pretends to be seeking UN approval for `international' intervention, though he's already secretly agreed to war, then Bush moves in with the fake evidence to override other Security Council members' objections with probably Condaleeza Rice stepping in to Colin Powell's role at the UN. With Lebannon subdued by US, and possibly French troops on this occasion, the regime-changing pincer move against Syria is ready to go and Israel can concentrate on bombing Iran's nuclear programme in retaliation for its supplying of rockets to Hezbollah. Meanwhile, millions of ordinary Arabs and muslims become radicalized by the obvious collusion between the West and the murderous and racist Israeli regime. In retaliation for Isreal's bombing of its infrastructure and the invasion of Syria and as a result of mass pressure from below, Iran invades southern Iraq and to protect `our' troops Bush launches strategic nuclear weapons at the advancing Iranian army wiping it and southern Iraq off the map. The stage is set for the real war to begin as China starts to feel ever more that it is the ultimate target. Later, with China defeated and plunged back into the stone age having only managed to land one nuclear weapon on Los Angeles, the big powers have only each other to go at as they scramble for land and influence. They split into two great camps with Russia, France, Germany and Italy on one side and the US, Britain and Japan on the other. The stage is now set for World War 3 which ends in the destruction of the world. And that was how the war against terror was won . . . by the terrorists.


Thursday, July 13, 2006

Anti-Commuting Legislation: Towards the Post-urban Society

Below is a series of letters to The Western Mail. Some were published and some were not due to their length.


SIR - I must add my voice to that of Alan Williams (Letters: On the Levels, Wednesday) who opposes the building of the new Levels Motorway. However, given the parlous state of the environment I believe he does not go far enough. Alan suggests using planning to cut down on unnecessary commuting but the time has come for a more radical approach. I suggest that over the course of say the next ten years, through the use of legislation, that 80% of all workers must live within two miles of their workplace. The free market social engineers have got us to the point where millions of man/woman hours are wasted in traffic and tons and tons of pollutants are spewing into the air for no reason. Of course there are many details and implications to work out but the policy would start with major companies and government departments and would be achieved at the expense of the employers not the employees. Corporate opponents and laggards should face the possibility of nationalisation. Maybe someone even more radical might suggest that the policy be accompanied by a bold programme of road closures. The school run too must be dealt with. I suggest that all children must attend their nearest school and that no secondary school be larger than 400 pupils. This `live where you work, shool where you live' approach is the only way to seriously get to grips with the disintegration of our environment, stop ghettoisation of the poor and end the scandal of human traffic(jam)ing.

Not published - too long

SIR – Glyn Erasmus thinks a policy that puts an end to the scandal of commuting miles to work is `utopian idiocy' (Letters, Friday 14 April). I would have expected more cultivated common sense from a man so named. I suggested that over the course of the next ten years, through the use of legislation, that we should be aiming for a target of 80% of workers living within two miles of where they work. In addition all children should attend their nearest school which should be no more than 400 pupils in size. He says that if I want to know what this would be like that I should `check out the way people lived in the 18th Century'. However, this is not a pre-modern but a post-modern policy. It recognises the achievements of modernism and seeks to build on them whilst at the same time transcending their often anti-human characteristics. In the field of trivial consumption, Henry Ford's modernist rallying call that `you can have any colour you like as long as it's black' is very much a thing of the past but in our day-to-day lives we are still expected to attend the kind of enormous, faceless institutions and workplaces that arose during the 19th Century. Of course there will still be roads and lorries and people going on holiday but why subject ourselves to the waste that is commuting. As far as the Valleys `communities' are concerned, there are forgotten and abandoned estates up there where people cannot, through no fault of their own, remember what a job is and where they live in complete poverty and hopelessness. At the same time thousands of `better off' workers endure endless traffic jams to get into Cardiff and home every day. Why cannot jobs be relocated to the Valleys? If anybody should be accused of `utopian idiocy' it is those who believe that the current state of affairs is sustainable either economically or environmentally. Needless to say, the current proposals to close so many schools in Cardiff are very much a step in the wrong direction unless seen from Mr Erasmus's point-of-view in which case a lot of `precious' real estate will be freed up for more important things such as casinos and estate agents.

Edited version of above which was published

SIR – Glyn Erasmus thinks a policy that puts an end to the scandal of commuting miles to work and school is `utopian idiocy' (Letters, Friday 14 April). He implies that this would be like living in the 18th Century. However, this is not a pre-modern but a post-modern policy. It recognises the achievements of modernism and seeks to build on them whilst at the same time transcending their often anti-human characteristics. In the field of trivial consumption, Henry Ford's modernist rallying call that `you can have any colour you like as long as it's black' is very much a thing of the past but in our day-to-day lives we are still expected to attend the kind of faceless institutions and workplaces that arose during the 19th Century. Of course there will still be roads and lorries and holidaymakers but why subject ourselves to the waste that is commuting?

Not published - too long

SIR - So, the traffic in Cardiff is even more snarled up than that in London. Guess what, it is due to get a whole lot worse. Everything that happens in Wales is governed by the `Wales Spatial Plan’ which is a good old-fashioned piece of 20th Century unsustainable, dystopian nonsense. Its implementation in the South East is supposed to `strengthen the existing system of towns and cities’. So far so good but, the crowning jewel of the plan is that Cardiff `requires a much greater ``mass’’ of population and activity’. This is behind the desperate bid for a `super casino’ which is what passes nowadays for economic progress and should sit nicely next to the `super’ schools, the `super’ hospitals and prisons and the `super’ car parks. Super.

The Spatial Plan is a missed opportunity. South Wales, in regenerating itself after the brutal closures of mines, docks and steelworks, could have been transformed into a post-urban society where people live where they work and go to school where they live. A society that is not just sustainable but which produces a surplus of energy from the very act of living. Houses, schools and workplaces that actually feed into the national grid not off of it. An example: the tax office in Llanishen. What possible logic can there be to 3,000 people travelling to and from that building everyday (no jokes please)? With modern communications technology the workforce could be spread around ten beautiful energy producing workplaces located throughout the valleys with the stipulation that to work in them you have to live by them. To add to the idiocy of the situation, hundreds of new `houses’ are being built all along the Caerphilly Road and I’ll bet a pound to a pinch of salt that not one of them will be occupied by anybody who works in Ty Glas.

Instead of building new roads we should clear the ones we’ve got of pointless commuter traffic. That would increase efficiency no-end. And more and better public transport is not the answer either. Public transport, to be of any use, requires that people live and work on top of each other which is why the middle classes, to avoid this, took up commuting in the fist place. Often, those who do travel into town by train have driven to the station. Irony upon irony. In attempting to move away from the slums and areas of pollution commuters have managed only to globalise pollution as a phenomenon so that now there is no escape for anybody.

In the Spatial Plan the relative smallness of Cardiff is lamented. But, Wales’s great advantage could have been that, unlike every other cloned capitalist economy, it didn’t have an overbearing, energy and life-sapping capital city. That advantage, not to mention Cardiff’s charm, is being squandered.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

The Global Descent of America

Click title to link to this discussion article from The Black Commentator

Aijaz Ahmad

Now, more than ever, African Americans and people with sense must disconnect from the insane conversation that passes for news in the United States. Fortunately, the Internet exists, allowing us to connect with the global conversation, which is far different than the foul discourse we are drowning in, here at home. The U.S. has passed a point of no return, in terms of world reputation and leadership. No one is listening to the bizarre rantings of the Bush crew except his own crazed base in the heartland of racism and reaction, and the corporate media that urge us to leap into a Grand Canyon of lunacy – a kind of suicide. . .

Escape from the Universe

Click title to link

The universe is destined to end. Before it does, could an advanced civilisation escape via a "wormhole" into a parallel universe? The idea seems like science fiction, but it is consistent with the laws of physics and biology. Here's how to do it

Michio Kaku

The universe is out of control, in a runaway acceleration. Eventually all intelligent life will face the final doom—the big freeze. An advanced civilisation must embark on the ultimate journey: fleeing to a parallel universe.

In Norse mythology, Ragnarok—the fate of the gods—begins when the earth is caught in the vice-like grip of a bone-chilling freeze. The heavens themselves freeze over, as the gods perish in great battles with evil serpents and murderous wolves. Eternal darkness settles over the bleak, frozen land as the sun and moon are both devoured. Odin, the father of all gods, finally falls to his death, and time itself comes to a halt.

Monday, January 24, 2005

The power to resist

Harith Al-Dhari, head of the Muslim Scholars Association, spoke to Mohamed Al-Anwar in Baghdad about the US attempts to court Iraq's Sunnis. Click title to link to this Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly article.

Harith Al-Dhari comes across as a strong and imposing figure. Al- Dhari and his movement is one of the staunchest opponents of the fact that elections should be held while the country is labouring under the US-led occupation. The status of the Muslim Scholars Association rose to prominence in recent months when the movement championed a campaign to boycott the 30 January elections. Al-Ahram Weekly visited Al-Dhari at the association's headquarters in Um Al-Qura Mosque in western Baghdad.

Dr Phil meets Metallica

From the Green Left Weekly

Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
By Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky


Heavy metal legends Metallica on the couch with Dr Phil? Well, not quite, but Berlinger and Sinofsky’s documentary Metallica: Some Kind of Monster is just as regrettable as any Dr Phil episode.

Metallica is widely credited with founding heavy metal music as it is known today. They delivered four classic albums during the 1980s — Kill ‘Em All, Ride the Lightening, Master of Puppets and ... And Justice For All — all instant cult releases of blistering riff-a-rama, fast heavy drum beats and aggressive singing.

Then something changed. The 1990s brought a new and improved Metallica. Fans deserted in droves as the band shed the customary long hair and denim jackets and began softening their musical approach.

In 2000, fans were further disappointed when drummer Lars Ulrich testified in US Congress against song-swapping website Napster for costing the multi-million-dollar band royalties.

Berlinger and Sinofsky’s Metallica: Some Kind of Monster casts light on the modern Metallica, and a monster is exactly what’s revealed.

Here’s the story: Metallica is in the studio attempting to record a new album — their first in five years — and their bass player of 15 years, Jason Newstead, has just quit the band. Personal and creative differences divide the three remaining members, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett, who are also at an all-time creative low. At the behest of their managers, Metallica does what any rock band would do in the situation — they enter group therapy. In the middle of the therapy/recording process, guitarist/vocalist Hetfield enters rehab for several months leaving the new album — St Anger — on ice.

The therapy process, led by $40,000-a-month “therapist/performance enhancement coach” Phil Towle, is farcical. One wonders if he is really a qualified therapist, as he and the band members engage in over two hours of pop-psych drivel, discussing their feelings to the point of dysfunctional absurdity.

It is clear from the get-go that the reason they can’t get it together enough to record the damn album is that there is no longer a creative reason for the existence of the band. So why do they persist? The band members themselves reveal the answer — Metallica is big business. The members, as well as their parasitical hangers-on (such as their managers, record company and therapist), all have a stake in the existence of the monster.

The creative dead-end is prevalent. The band turns up to record without a single song written. It’s painful to watch them sit around trying to concoct new material. Hetfield jams second-rate riffs and writes meaningless end-rhyme lyrics. Sometimes the others try to contribute. Hilariously, even therapist Towle writes some of the lyrics.

How did Metallica get to be like this? Berlinger and Sinofsky’s documentary provides many clues. We hear of Hetfield and Hammett’s hundreds of expensive guitars, see Hammett at his California ranch, watch Hetfield burn down roads in expensive cars and motorbikes, while Ulrich parades his private art collection worth millions of dollars. That’s right — they’re filthy rich.

After 140 minutes enduring these spoilt brats’ narcissism, psychobabble, power-tripping, greed and creative boredom, one can only agree with ex-bass player Newstead’s comment on hearing of the band’s entry into therapy: “This is lame. This is fucking lame and weak”. Indeed.

Letter From Baghdad

From the Atlantic Monthly

Life in the wilds of a city without trust

by William Langewiesche

Now that the roads into Iraq have effectively been closed to Westerners by banditry and insurgent attacks, the best way into Baghdad for ordinary civilians is by air from Jordan, aboard a decrepit airliner, an old Fokker that shuttles two or three times a day between Amman and Baghdad-that is, as long as the airport is open. The airplane is operated by Royal Jordanian, and is flown by a South African crew-people who for whatever reasons are willing day in and day out to risk ground fire and surface-to-air missiles in a thin-skinned machine with limited maneuverability and no active defenses. For passengers willing to share briefly in the same risk, the ticket price is stiff-about $1,500 round-trip, for a one-hour flight each way. Nonetheless, dozens of takers show up at Amman's airport every day, many lugging duffels heavy with booze and body armor. They filter silently through the dim, dingy terminal, and collect at the gate in an elongated waiting room that seems to have been chosen for its isolation. There they eye one another with a single paradoxical question in mind: What sort of fool would travel voluntarily to Iraq these days?

The answer varies. A few are elite Iraqis, heavyset men in old three-piece suits, sometimes with their wives, returning home as people strangely insist on doing, out of habit or perceived necessity, and quite possibly to die. Some are Western war correspondents, the real thing, young-looking and scruffy in their street beards and their rumpled shirts without epaulets, who are less concerned about missiles than about the daily challenge that awaits on the far side, of doing their work while somehow preserving theirnecks. Others seem to be engineers or technical consultants, and first-timers in war; they are middle-aged men with wedding rings, carrying briefcases and appearing unsure, as if they took a wrong turn somewhere and are surprised. Still others are returning Green Zone hands, trading certainties among themselves with a familiarity bred in the relative safety and isolation of their fortress lives within the sprawling American compound at the center of Baghdad. But most of the passengers on most of the flights are different again, visibly tough and muscular men, British, South African, and American, often tattooed and clean-shaven, with close-cropped hair-contract warriors among the thousands who have signed on to ride shotgun for the Iraqi infrastructure projects where so much American and Iraqi money has been ploughed into the ground. All these people are acutely aware of their destination. The trip lies ahead with the inevitability of a sentence that has been pronounced on them. The mood in the waiting room is not fearful, but it is decidedly fatalistic.

During the short bus ride across the tarmac the passengers stand for the most part silent. But then there is the flight itself, at the start of which a couple of pretty South African attendants maintain the pretense of normalcy, performing an ordinary airline welcome ("Thank you for flying Royal Jordanian") and advising the passengers on the standard safety rules-to fasten their seat belts, for instance, despite a sentiment in the cabin of "Why bother?" and the unavoidable contemplation of the effect of a missile strike. In a war like this one the battlefield takes so many innocent-looking forms. The airplane climbs over Amman and heads east at high altitude across a desert of tans and blacks. The desert is scarred by military works. At some point it becomes Iraq. The attendants serve coffee with smiles. There is a boxed snack that it is wise to avoid. The captain comes on with the weather ahead, which for most of the year is simply hot. Then the Euphrates appears below, and the irrigated fields of Mesopotamia, and finally the Tigris, and Baghdad itself-a sprawl of a city, hazy with dust. The airplane holds overhead the Baghdad airport at 15,000 feet, above the range of the insurgency. When cleared for the approach it descends rapidly, with the landing gear and spoilers out, in an aggressive left spiral that is intended to reduce exposure to ground fire but, given the proximity of insurgents, offers no guarantees. After a final left turn it immediately touches down. During the taxi to the terminal a flight attendant says, "Welcome to Baghdad," but has the grace at least not to wish the passengers a pleasant stay.

It is a strange sensation to be delivered alone and so quickly into the radical world of a shapeless war. The Baghdad terminal is a grandiose, nearly deserted edifice, roamed by heavily armed guards, and sometimes shaken by the distant thumps of outgoing artillery or incoming mortars-at first it is hard to tell which. The new Iraqi government provides a visa on the spot, and stamps the passengers through amid confusion and delay. They get their bags and go to the curbside, where U.S. government employees and contractors are picked up in armored convoys for the drive to the Green Zone. Those who do not qualify for such treatment-which now means mostly Iraqis and Western journalists-catch a minibus that takes them several miles to a heavily defended checkpoint at the airport perimeter, where presumably they have arranged for someone trusted to pick them up. If that person does not appear (a common problem in a place where telephone communication is inadequate at best), there is no choice but to return to the terminal and try somehow to get a message through from there. The alternative of taking a taxi, of which there are many in Baghdad, has become impossibly dangerous as criminality and the insurgency have intertwined and spread, and the street price for a captive American has risen to $25,000, or so it is said.

Beyond the checkpoint the war is immediately all around. Indeed, the divided highway into town, though merely five miles long, is notorious for the frequency of lethal attacks. Western journalists generally negotiate it in ordinary Iraqi sedans, which are less likely than the American-style armored SUVs to draw the insurgents' fire, but by the same token cannot easily be distinguished as innocuous by the U.S. troops who have been given the tricky job of patrolling the road in their Bradley fighting vehicles and armored Humvees. It is prudent for people in the sedans, including the drivers, to raise their hands when passing one of those patrols, to show that they are empty. Of course the floors of the sedans these days are probably littered with loaded weapons-Kalashnikovs, pistols, and even grenades at the ready-and the soldiers know that, too. The soldiers are increasingly nervous
and ready to fire. Almost imperceptibly their discipline is fraying. One of the ironies for Westerners trying to reduce the dangers in Iraq by blending in, however partially, is that as the war worsens, they run an increased risk of attack from both sides. This is the danger that Iraqis face as well. If there is any relief in leaving the airport road and entering the deadly slow-moving traffic within the city, it is that at least the American patrols are less present.

Several days before the U.S. elections in November, American officials revised their count of hard-core insurgents upward to as many as 12,000-or 20,000 if active sympathizers were included. Leaving aside the question of how isolated bureaucracies can derive such numbers in the midst of a genuine and popular insurrection, the cap at 20,000 elicited grim disbelief among ordinary Iraqis, frontline soldiers, and others with a sense of a struggle on the streets that has spun out of control. There are six million people in Baghdad alone, and another 10 million in the angriest areas of central Iraq, and many are young men with a taste for war. Meanwhile, foreign fighters continue to arrive from throughout the Middle East, across borders that are unpoliceable not merely because they are long and wild but, more significant, because of the support these travelers receive once they cross the line and mix into the local populations. Moreover, though they probably number a few thousand, the foreign fighters constitute only a small fraction of the forces now arrayed against the United States. As for the tactics
involved, some are indeed crudely terroristic-the ongoing assassination of university professors, for instance, and the occasional car bombings of innocent market crowds in the cities. For the most part, however, the insurgents' attacks are less nihilistic than they are logical and precisely focused, whether against the American coalition and its camp followers or their Iraqi agents and collaborators. The truth is that however vicious or even sadistic the insurgents may be, they are acutely aware of their popular base, and are responsible for fewer unintentional "collateral" casualties than are the clumsy and overarmed American forces. Rhetoric aside, this is not a war on terror but a running fight with a large part of the Iraqi people. It is a classic struggle between the legions of a great power and the resistance of a native population. It is infinitely wider and deeper than officials can admit. And the United States is on the way to losing it.

Tragically, this was not the necessary outcome of the American invasion. After Baghdad fell, in the spring of 2003, the mood of the people was cautious but glad for the demise of Saddam Hussein, and open to the possibility that an American occupation would be a change for the better. By most measures it has not worked out that way. Though some of the blame lies with the immaturity and opportunism of the Iraqi people, these were factors that needed to be handled, and were not. The Iraqi people are far from stupid or unaware. But in the isolation and arrogance that have characterized the American occupation, never have we addressed them directly, explained ourselves honestly, humbly sought their support, respected their views of solutions, of political power, of American motivations, or of the history and future of Iraq. Even short of the killing we have done, we have broken down their doors, run them off the roads, swiveled our guns at them, shouted profanities at them, and disrespected their women-all this hundreds or thousands of times every day. We have dishonored them publicly, and within a society that places public honor
above life itself. These are the roots of the fight we are in. Now Saddam himself is re-emerging as a symbol of national potency.

There is more: faced with resistance, we have failed with both the carrot and the stick. Take the stick first. The mere presence of American troops may help prevent the outbreak of factional fighting, but the U.S. military is not a police force, and at no level of strength can it serve as one on Iraqi soil. The soldiers don't know the language, the culture, or the people, and they don't know who does know, or whom to trust. As measured by the personal risks they take they stay in the country too long, but in terms of understanding the human terrain they rotate out far too soon. Their mission amounts to driving around in armored vehicles from which visibility is poor, trying to protect themselves, and occasionally engaging in
politically disastrous assaults on neighborhoods and towns. The American success in Fallujah amounts to little more than a measure of American frustration. Across large swaths of central Iraq the insurgents exploit the troops adroitly. They fire on passing patrols from ordinary houses and slip away, counting on the Americans perhaps to pull back at first, but then to return in force to shoot, make arrests, and generally retaliate. The residents of the targeted neighborhoods understand the insurgents' trick, but it is the Americans they blame, as they blame them for drawing the insurgents' fire in the first place. Similarly, the insurgents get the
Americans to deliver their smart bombs to the wrong addresses-making a mockery of the conceit, already seen on Iraqi streets as a sign of American cowardice, that this war can be fought at standoff distances from the comfort of a combat jet. Then, of course, there are all the collateral dead: officially their numbers are not known, but they amount to a lot nonetheless, every one with family and friends.

On the carrot side of the American intervention are the infrastructure projects-fixing the electrical grid, for instance, and providing for clean water and sewage treatment, and upgrading the hospitals (into which the growing numbers of casualties are now carried). These projects were supposed to promote stability and provide Iraqis with better lives. Billions of dollars have been poured into them through the device of open-ended "cost plus" contracts, by which companies (almost all of them large and American) are reimbursed for the cost of the work, however they define that work, with an additional fee on top. There is no incentive to run efficient or discreet operations-to tread lightly on Iraqi soil. Indeed, quite the opposite. The main contractors base themselves in the Green Zone in grandly redundant style, with an abundance of people, equipment, and backup. Because of the
danger that exists on the outside, they have retreated from many of the reconstruction projects, but they remain in the country fully staffed, and continue to drink from public funds. Day to day much of their attention is taken up by complying with the arcane accounting requirements of the U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulations-a thicket of rules that do not limit the cost-plus profits so long as the columns are kept straight, and whose mandates serve, however unintentionally, to exclude potential low-cost competitors, particularly the Iraqis. In truth, the fact that the large contractors are sitting inefficiently in the Green Zone is of little direct consequence to the war outside. What is of consequence, paradoxically, is that they are not entirely inactive: despite the hazards, they continue to pursue some reconstruction projects in the city and beyond, and these
projects-intermittent, inconclusive, and unconvincing to the intended beneficiaries, ordinary Iraqis overwhelmed by anarchy-require visits by the contractors' expatriate technicians and construction managers. The visits, in turn, require the expatriates to travel to and from the sites, and this is done in the heaviest possible manner (where again one can see the cost-plus dynamic at play), in convoys of aggressively driven armored SUVs, typically three, with a team of as many as ten ostentatiously armed drivers and bodyguards. These are the personal-security details, made up of the private contract warriors who have been such a visible part of the American presence, and who operate outside any effective control, often in a hostile and undisciplined manner, sowing hatred wherever they move. With every trip to or from a reconstruction site they threaten and anger untold numbers of Iraqis on the streets. If the purpose of the infrastructure projects was to win the sympathy of Iraq, then this is one important reason why we have sunk into war instead.

In any case, the war has degenerated to the extent that the construction sites have become nothing more than symbols of the despised American presence. For the resistance they also serve as convenient collection points for identifiable collaborators-usually laborers-who can easily be hunted down and killed as a lesson for others. There is a lot of that sort of teaching going on these days. At just one sewage project in Baghdad, for example, as many as thirty Iraqi workers were shot in only three months late last year. It is an unusual record only because someone kept count. The assassination campaign is systematic. It is decimating American projects throughout central Iraq, and has taken a particularly heavy toll among Green Zone workers. So pervasive is the threat that Iraqis still working with the occupation do not dare speak English on the phone, even at home in front of
only their children, lest word leak out. When I call the Iraqis who work for me, a driver and a guard, my first question is whether they can talk. As often as not they answer by hanging up. This is new. It has gotten to the point where collaborators feel lucky if they are not killed at once but instead given a chance to mend their ways. That chance comes in the form of one of several standard letters.

To the brothers of the monkey and pig. Show your regret, or your destiny will be like that of your brother spies. You shall follow your brothers. You will not succeed before God's anger, and our own. You are the enemy of God and Country.


You, the Afterbirth, DO NOT sell your soul to the enemy. Because you are our brother in religion, we give you this one last warning before death.

Whichever note he receives, a collaborator generally has forty-eight hours to stop working with the occupation, and somehow to make this very clear. If he does not stop, he will certainly die. As a result, almost everyone hastens to comply. A few of the most stubborn do not. They move with their families to new neighborhoods and houses. They change their names, and grow beards or shave beards off. They come up with new fictions to explain their days. They avoid at any cost traveling directly from home to work, and especially traveling directly back. For all this, though, they cannot escape an aura of doom; they are people who at best seem to have slowed the clock. Outside the Green Zone there is really no hiding from the insurgency

Nonetheless, some Westerners still live in the wilds of the city. They are reduced now mostly to a few journalists and the best of the contract warriors-people whose work requires them to maintain some sort of connection to the realities of the Iraqi street. This is difficult, because the realities are lethal quite particularly to them: they are being stalked, captured, tortured, and killed. The armed forces who sometimes pass by, whether Iraqi or American, will not or cannot protect them, and indeed pose significant threats of their own. Furthermore, there are no safe refuges in which to hunker down. Out of inertia the network-television crews, clumsy with bodyguards and equipment, remain nearly prisoners in the large hotels at the center of the city. The hotels have become famous even beyond Iraq-the Palestine, the Sheraton, and across the Tigris the Mansour. They are grim concrete structures-stale with tobacco smoke, bad food, and dust-that, though heavily protected and surrounded by blast walls and concertina wire, present obvious targets for the insurgents' attacks. They have been rocketed already, and it seems just a matter of time until one or another gets badly bombed. The television crews know it, too. They rotate through a few months at a time, and send out their Iraqi stringers to gather stories and video footage on the streets (a bomb here or there, the wounded and the crying), and do their "standups" with live backdrops of the city, and for their personal safety trust in luck.

Most of the print reporters rotate through as well. During the golden times of the summer and fall of 2003, before the insurgency gathered force, those who worked for the large newspapers and wire services left the big establishments and installed their "bureaus" in private houses, which were both more comfortable and less obvious than the hotels. Some had gardens and pools. Gradually, then, as the war deepened, they fortified those places with higher walls, steel doors, sandbags, iron grilles, wire mesh, and even safe rooms into which, in theory (if they moved impossibly fast), they could escape in the event of an assault. They hired guards with AK-47s, and then hired more. They hooked up TV cameras to watch the roofs, and the streets outside. They put a halt to the sort of partying that had gone on in the
early days, after Baghdad's fall. And they tried very hard to maintain low profiles. There were scares now and then, when one group or another would flee a house believed to have come under surveillance, but the security seemed to work fairly well-until the insurgents simply ignored it and began to invade houses, last fall.
It became clear then that the defenses had been an illusion all along. And so the reporters migrated again, or most of them did, this time into some of the small hotels, where they remain today, on the theory of the middle ground-the idea that such establishments may offer stiffer resistance to incursions than can private households, but nonetheless may appear too insignificant to waste rockets and car bombs on. These are wishful thoughts, of course, and they have already been proved wrong, but what else are people to do? The reporters spend much of their time now in earnest conversation over such fine-tunings, knowing full well, as they readily admit, that by any normal standards, even those of an ordinary war zone, in Baghdad there are no acceptable solutions.

The greater danger anyway is in driving through the city or beyond. The basics are clear. Discreet sedans, again, are the vehicles of choice. The armored versions of them, which some news organizations now have, might get you through a short gunfight, but they can kill you, too, particularly through the overpressure that results from the explosion of a rocket-propelled grenade that penetrates to the inside. A thin-skinned car won't stop rifle rounds, but it may allow a rocket grenade to pass right through. So pick your poison. It may help to wear body armor if it does not have a visible neck guard and can be hidden under a loose shirt. Conversely, helmets and ballistic sunglasses are far too showy. Of course, the goal is to avoid being attacked in the first place. There is no sure way to do this
and still get around. If you are staying in a hotel, you have to assume that you are being watched on the street both coming and going, and probably by the desk clerks as well. It is essential therefore to avoid set schedules and routines, to vary routes, and if possible occasionally to change cars. It is also important to have a skillful driver, who knows when to move fast and when not to, and who is aware of what is happening around him on the streets. The same goes for the guard, who needs to be good with a gun but, more important, to be smart. And, of course, it is important to have people you can trust.

Sadly, as the insurgency grows, trust is fading away. This is one of the most sensitive and dangerous aspects of life for reporters in Baghdad today: nearly every news organization is facing troubles with its Iraqi staff, and to various but increasing degrees is being held in some way hostage, out of fear of the consequences of disagreement or disciplinary action. You don't just go around laying off people in Iraq these days. Indeed, the very air of Baghdad seems thick with suspicions of betrayal. Even within the Green Zone, which is largely self-sufficient, many Americans now automatically distrust any Iraqi employee who has been there for longer than about two months. Why has this person not been assassinated, people wonder-or at least frightened off with a letter? The question is legitimate. Americans have awakened and found that the enemy is closer even than dreamed of before.

It is a new day in Iraq, yes. In the space of just a few months the interim government of Ayad Allawi has gutted many of the earlier reforms and has lost any hope of legitimacy in the eyes of the Iraqi people, who see it as a flimsy construct propped up by the United States, and powerless in the face of their own disdain. Corruption is rife on every level, and with it cynicism. The courts are bowing to political pressure. The Iraqi security forces are riddled with insurgents, not because the vetting is poor, or because agents have been planted, but because hatred of America has grown within the ranks just as it has in Iraqi society at large. There is still some hope attached to the coming elections-if only because most Shiites have so far stayed out of the fray. People have different thresholds for crossing over into the resistance, and different capacities for violent action, but even some of my old friends, once so welcoming to me as an American, are telling me that they are approaching those lines. The question is no longer who is against the United States in Iraq but who is not.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

The Right to Resist Occupation

Counterpunch, January 21, 2005

The Anti-War Movement and the Iraqi Resistance


The Iraqi resistance to U.S. occupation is growing, as is its support among
ordinary Iraqis. Iraq's interim government recently admitted that the
insurgency involves at least 40,000 "hardcore fighters" and up to 200,000
active sympathizers--a far cry from the isolated 5,000 "Baathist remnants"
and "foreign fighters" the Pentagon initially claimed to be fighting.

A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in March concluded, "The
insurgents...seem to be gaining broad acceptance, if not outright support.
If the [pro-U.S.] Kurds, who make up about 13 percent of the poll, are
taken out of the equation, more than half of Iraqis say killing U.S. troops
can be justified in at least some cases."

That was shortly before the first siege on Falluja, in which U.S. forces
killed over 600 civilians before the armed resistance drove them out.
Support for the resistance can only have grown now that U.S. bombs have
flattened Falluja, killing hundreds more civilians and driving 200,000
residents to live in the squalor of refugee camps--while dispersing the
resistance fighters to other localities.

In mid-December, for example, Knight Ridder reported on a 41-year-old Iraqi
woman, Kifah Khudhair, injured in a car bombing in Baghdad--whose rage was
directed not at the car bombers, but at the Americans. "What can we do?"
her son said. "These things happen every day, like looting and murder. I am
angry at the Americans because it is all their fault. This is all because
of them."

* * *

IRAQIS SUPPORT the resistance against the U.S. occupation of their country
for one simple reason: they want the Americans to get out--now.

Yet many in the U.S. antiwar movement have had difficulty accepting this
black-and-white reasoning, preferring to see the world in shades of gray.
"[Iraqi] jihadis or America's terror-using hypocrites? If we are truly to
stop the terrorists, the world must take sides against both," wrote New
Left veteran Steve Weissman recently on Truthout.

This argument by Weissman is faulty on two counts.

First, Weissman equates the 500-pound bombs and high-tech weapons used by
the world's biggest superpower occupying Iraq (at the cost of $7.8 billion
per month) to the rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs of those
resisting that occupation. One side aims to control Iraq to fulfill its
grand plan to dominate the Middle East and its oil. The other merely seeks
the right for Iraqis to determine their own future.

Some 100,000 Iraqi civilians are now estimated dead because of the war and
occupation. This followed the roughly 1 million Iraqis killed from the
deprivation caused by more than a decade of economic sanctions. And this
followed a death toll of up to 200,000 in the 1991 Gulf War. Choosing sides
should not be so difficult.
Without for a moment endorsing the tactic of targeting civilians, which is
used by parts of the resistance, the sheer magnitude of the death and
destruction inflicted by the U.S. upon ordinary Iraqis should dispel any
myth that the two sides in this war deserve equal condemnation.

Moreover, Weissman accepts at face value the Bush administration's absurd
characterization of the insurgency as dominated by "terrorists" and Islamic

On December 15, the Boston Globe published a report by Molly Bingham, who
lived from August 2003 until June 2004 in Baghdad researching the
resistance. She observed, "The composition of the Iraqi resistance is not
what the U.S. administration has been calling it, and the more it is
oversimplified, the harder it is to explain its complexity. I met Shia and
Sunnis fighting together, women and men, young and old. I met people from
all economic, social and educational backgrounds."

She continued: "The original impetus for almost all of the individuals I
spoke to was a nationalistic one--the desire to defend their country from
occupation, not to defend Saddam Hussein or his regime." Bingham's
conclusion should help focus the aims of every antiwar activist in the
U.S.: "The resistance will continue until American influence has
disappeared from Iraq's political system."

* * *

SUPPORT FOR the right of Iraqis to resist occupation must extend beyond an
abstract principle for the U.S. antiwar movement.

While recognizing "the right of the Iraqi people to resist as a point of
principle," Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies--in widely
circulated notes for a speech to the steering committee of United for Peace
and Justice (UFPJ) on December 18--argued, "We should not call for
'supporting the resistance' because we don't know who most of them are and
what they really stand for, and because of those we do know, we mostly
don't support their social program beyond opposition to the occupation."

To be meaningful, however, supporting the "right to resist" must include
support for that resistance once it actually emerges.

Award-winning Indian writer and global justice activist Arundhati Roy got
to the heart of the issue in a San Francisco speech on August 16: "It is
absurd to condemn the resistance to the U.S. occupation in Iraq, as being
masterminded by terrorists," she said. "After all, if the United States
were invaded and occupied, would everybody who fought to liberate it be a

If we are waiting for the "ideologically pure" movement--assuming the
unlikely scenario that all those opposed to the war could agree on one--we
could be waiting forever.

As Roy explained, "Like most resistance movements, [the Iraqis] combine a
motley range of assorted factions. Former Baathists, liberals, Islamists,
fed-up collaborationists, communists, etc. Of course, it is riddled with
opportunism, local rivalry, demagoguery and criminality. But if we were to
only support pristine movements, then no resistance will be worthy of our

"Before we prescribe how a pristine Iraqi resistance must conduct their
secular, feminist, democratic, nonviolent battle, we should shore up our
end of the resistance by forcing the U.S. and its allied governments to
withdraw from Iraq."

Focus on the Global South's Walden Bello made a similar point in June.
"What western progressives forget is that national liberation movements are
not asking them mainly for ideological or political support," he wrote.
"What they really want from the outside is international pressure for the
withdrawal of an illegitimate occupying power so that internal forces can
have the space to forge a truly national government based on their unique
processes. Until they give up this dream of having an ideal liberation
movement tailored to their values and discourse, U.S. peace activists will,
like the Democrats they often criticize, continue to be trapped within a
paradigm of imposing terms for other people."

* * *

THE U.S. antiwar movement should heed this advice and expend less energy in
judging the character of the Iraqi resistance and more effort on building a
visible resistance to the Iraq occupation from inside the U.S.

When the U.S. invaded Falluja and the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke in
the spring of 2004, the U.S. antiwar movement--already ensconced in its
misguided effort to elect prowar John Kerry--declined to mount a visible
response to these and other atrocities committed by the U.S. in Iraq,
effectively sparing the Bush administration from the need to account for
its war crimes.

The main challenge for antiwar activists in the United States is to rebuild
a visible, national antiwar movement. That means opposing the January 30
election--held under martial law, which will effectively exclude 50 percent
of the population--and supporting the resistance that exposes its utter

Is this strategy too ambitious--too far to the left for "mainstream"
America? That is unlikely, since a majority of Americans continue to oppose
the war.

U.S. troops are also divided, and we need to actively support those troops
who--at great personal risk--are resisting. The latest is U.S. Army Sgt.
Kevin Benderman, who refused to redeploy to Iraq earlier this month after
serving there from March to September 2003.

"The people that we are fighting now are for the most part people like you
and me, people who are defending themselves against a superior military
force and fighting to keep that which is rightfully theirs," Benderman
said. He added that the Iraqi people have the right to choose their own
form of government, "just like we did in America after the revolution."

The antiwar movement must not lose sight of the fact that its main enemy is
at home--and any resistance to that enemy deserves our unconditional support.

Iraq, Fallujah polls top-secret

Only 8,500 residents left in Fallujah and fighting continues. Click title to link.

Iraq News]: WASHINGTON - For their own safety, voters who dare to show up in the battered and mostly abandoned city of Fallujah will be among the last to know where to go to cast their ballots, the top Marine in Iraq said yesterday. "We have not even put the word out to the Iraqi people" on the locations of polling sites nationwide for the Jan. 30 elections, said Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in charge of western Iraq.

That information will be even more closely guarded in Fallujah. . .

Why the emperor has no clothes

Click title to link

By Andre Gunder Frank

01/20/05 "Asia Times" -- Uncle Sam has reneged and defaulted on up to 40% of its trillion-dollar foreign debt, and nobody has said a word except for a line in The Economist. In plain English that means Uncle Sam runs a worldwide confidence racket with his self-made dollar based on the confidence that he has elicited and received from others around the world, and he is a also a deadbeat in that he does not honor and return the money he has received.

How much of our dollar stake we have lost depends on how much we originally paid for it. Uncle Sam let his dollar fall, or rather through his deliberate political economic policies drove it down, by 40%, from 80 cents to the euro to 133 cents. The dollar is down by a similar factor against the yen, yuan and other currencies. And it is still declining, indeed is apt to plummet altogether. . .

Arabs wary of Bush's 'freedom' speech

Click title to link to this Aljazeera story

George Bush's pledge to spread liberty around the globe has earned a frosty reception in the Arab world, with observers dismissing as hollow rhetoric his insistence on promoting freedom.

Friday, January 21, 2005

U.S. to Take Bigger Bite of Iraq's Economic Pie

Click title to link to full story

Emad Mekay

The United States is helping the interim Iraqi government continue to make major economic changes, including cuts to social subsidies, full access for U.S. companies to the nation's oil reserves and reconsideration of oil deals that the previous regime signed with France and Russia.

WASHINGTON, Dec 23 (IPS) - The United States is helping the interim Iraqi government continue to make major economic changes, including cuts to social subsidies, full access for U.S. companies to the nation's oil reserves and reconsideration of oil deals that the previous regime signed with France and Russia.

During a visit here this week, officials of the U.S.-backed administration detailed some of the economic moves planned for Iraq, many of them appearing to give U.S. corporations greater reach into the occupied nation's economy.

HISTORY OF SCIENCE: Lost in Translation?

A great review from Science magazine

A review by Stuart McCook*

Plants and Empire Colonial Bioprospecting in the Atlantic World by Londa Schiebinger
Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004. 318 pp. $39.95, £25.95, euro36.90. ISBN 0-674-01487-1.

In Plants and Empire, Londa Schiebinger uses an innovative analytical approach to revisit the familiar subject of natural history in the colonial Atlantic world. Her study seeks to understand the production of culturally induced scientific ignorance, or agnotology. "Ignorance is often not merely the absence of knowledge," she argues, "but an outcome of cultural and political struggle." In particular, she seeks to understand how and why knowledge of West Indian abortifacients was not
transferred to 18th-century Europe. The book explores the history of the silences, struggles, and structures that prevented this transfer.

The 18th-century West Indies were, in Schiebinger's words, a "biocontact zone." The region's inhabitants included people, plants, and animals from the Americas, Africa, and Europe. European bioprospectors scoured the region for new plants and animals of scientific, commercial, or medical value. Schiebinger, a historian of science at Stanford University, paints the 17th and 18th centuries as a period of relative openness in the world of European science. She provides vivid portraits
of representative European naturalists, such as the English physician Sir Hans Sloane, who worked in Jamaica, and the Dutch entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian, who worked in Surinam. European naturalists learned much about West Indian flora and fauna from indigenous and African informants, the names of whom are largely lost to history. Such exchanges of information did not take place on an equal footing and were fraught with cultural and social obstacles.

Schiebinger's study explores these exchanges and transfers by focusing on the history of one plant. The peacock flower (Poinciana pulcherrima) is a tropical shrub with seeds that have abortifacient properties. Its botanical origins remain obscure, but by the 18th century it was cultivated throughout the West Indies. Amerindian and African communities in the Caribbean had incorporated it into their
pharmacopoeia. Schiebinger situates the plant in the context of colonial racial and gender struggles, showing how Africans in particular used abortion as a form of anti-colonial resistance, robbing Europeans of potential labor. Europeans eventually learned about the peacock flower's abortifacient properties. Merian heard about it directly from slave women in Surinam, and she describes its role in slave resistance in her 1704 study of the insects of Surinam. Sloane independently learned about the plant's properties while working as a physician in Jamaica.

The peacock flower itself was first transferred to Europe in the late 17th century. It came to be cultivated in the continent's leading botanical gardens, including the Jardin du Roi in Paris and the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. Schiebinger carefully distinguishes between the transfer of the plant and the transfer of knowledge about the plant. With its flaming red and yellow flowers, Poinciana became well known to European gardeners as a favored ornamental. But knowledge of its abortive properties only rarely crossed the Atlantic and did not take
root in Europe.

Schiebinger explains this nontransfer of knowledge by situating the peacock flower in the context of 18th-century drug testing and comparing it with similar remedies that were taken up in Europe. During the 18th century, the regulation and systematic testing of drugs became more common. Approved drugs were listed in the official Pharmacopoeia of London, Paris, and Amsterdam. Neither the peacock flower nor any other West Indian abortifacient was ever included in 18th- century European
pharmacopoeia. Schiebinger shows that this exclusion did not reflect a European prejudice against drugs from the New World: European pharmacopoeias included many New World medicines, such as chinchona to treat malaria and guaiacum to treat syphilis. Nor did it reflect a prejudice against drugs related to women's reproduction. European physicians experimented extensively with emmenagogues--drugs designed to regulate the menses--including many from the New World. Nor were there
any official regulations or laws prohibiting the medical study of abortifacients.

The principal obstacle to inclusion was rooted in a broader shift in attitudes toward abortion and abortifacients that took place in the 18th and early 19th centuries. According to Schiebinger, "late eighteenth-century experimental physicians stood at a fork in the road with respect to abortifacients." Abortifacient plants were an integral part of traditional knowledges and practices, in both the Old and New Worlds. Physicians might have chosen to incorporate these plants into their pharmacopoeias, as they did with many other forms of traditional
knowledge, or they might have chosen "the road toward the suppression of these knowledges and practices." Almost universally, European physicians chose the latter.

Schiebinger argues carefully that knowledge of the peacock flower and other abortifacients was not overtly suppressed or proscribed. She shows, instead, how the cultural and political structures of 18th-century Europe collectively impeded the transfer of knowledge about abortifacients. She concludes that the "agnotology of abortives among Europeans was not for want of knowledge collected in the colonies; it resulted from protracted struggles over who should control women's
fertility." Europe's mercantilist states were anxious to increase their populations, both at home and in the colonies. National wealth and national strength depended on healthy and increasing populations. Most naturalists and physicians were part of these imperial enterprises to encourage population growth. Even when European naturalists and physicians in the West Indies did learn about new abortifacients, they chose not to disseminate their knowledge. Their counterparts in Europe, similarly, had little incentive to promote the use of abortifacients, or even to study them. Limiting population was simply anathema to the prevailing goals of late 18th-century science and government.

The book does leave some questions unanswered. Religious groups play a central role in contemporary debates over contraception and abortion, so their absence from Schiebinger's account is striking. Some explanation of organized religion's involvement (or non-involvement) in the 18th-century debates would have been helpful. This reservation aside, Plants and Empire presents a subtle and compelling explanation for why knowledge of West Indian abortifacients was not taken up by scientists in Europe. More broadly, Schiebinger illustrates the explanatory power
of agnotology. Her study of scientific ignorance demonstrates that understanding what scientists do not know is just as important as understanding what they do know.

The reviewer is in the Department of History, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, N1G 2W1, Canada.

Volume 307, Number 5707, Issue of 14 Jan 2005, pp. 210-211. Copyright © 2005 by The American Association for the Advancement of Science. All rights reserved.

Marxism and the Call of the Future

Click title to link to the first chapter of this book published on line

Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics

The Revolutionary Worker is proud to feature an excerpt from the forthcoming book Marxism and the Call of the Future: Conversations on Ethics, History, and Politics by Bob Avakian and Bill Martin.

Published by Open Court—whose titles run the gamut from works on analytic philosophy to philosophical studies of The Sopranos and Buffy the Vampire Slayer—this provocative new book will be available in March.

Marxism and the Call of the Future is a wide- ranging dialogue between two provocative thinkers: Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and Bill Martin, a radical social theorist and professor of philosophy at DePaul University in Chicago. The two address the relevance and challenges before Marxism in the contemporary world; imperialism and the state of world humanity; secularism and religion; animal rights; the prospects for revolution; and much more. They discuss philosophers like Heidegger, Sartre, and Derrida—and along the way make contact with diverse figures like Tecumseh and Bob Dylan.

Marxism and the Call of the Future is a lively exchange that often goes in unexpected directions. In the chapter we are printing, "Calculation, Classes, and Categorical Imperatives," Bob Avakian and Bill Martin explore people’s "objective interests" in replacing the current system, the role of "the ethical" or "the good" in the revolutionary process, and the nature of ethics itself. The 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant and his view that people should be treated as an end and never only as a means is an important point of reference in the discussion.

We thank Open Court for their cooperation in making advance publication of this chapter possible.