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Issue 14

Autumn 2008

Political Graffiti Ethical Intuitions Drugs and ‘The Wire’ Remembering Chile’s 9/11 The Deep Blue Sea


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The Owl Journal

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Issue www.theowljournal.com

Contents Editor–in–Chief and Chairman Joshua Eisenthal

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Chinese sloganeering Propaganda as poetry in China today Anna Holmwood — Modern Chinese Studies, St. Antony's

Deputy Editor Jamie Horder Humanities Editors Salmaan Mirza, Edwin Black Arts Editors Reema Mehta, Neil Malloy, Meng– Yun Wang Science Editor Jamie Horder Managing Director Hannah Boyd, Ayushi Gupta

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Breakfast Three slices of creative writing Arts Editorial

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Hearts, Heads and Ethics How our minds decide what's right Jamie Horder — Psychiatry, St. John's

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The Audacity of The Wire Politics, drugs and an extraordinary TV show Chris Taylor — PPE, University

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Carbon Nanotubes The amazing potential of the world's tiniest tubes Navaratnarajah Kuganathan — Chemistry, Wolfson

Production Editor Masud Rahman Web Editor Matthew Roberts Design Jamie Horder, Juliette Fisher, Jillian Fishman, Amanda Julius

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No Towers Fell on 9/11 The new Chile remembers its own September 11th Daniel Altschuler

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On the Underwater World Jaws, the Titanic, and why the ocean depths have always fascinated us Adam Etinson — Philosophy, Hertford

Cover Design Masud Rahman

Printed by Orchard Press 01684 850960


Chinese Sloganeering Political graffiti in rural China by Anna Holmwood

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n our post–Cold War world, radical Islam has replaced communism as the West’s great ‘Other’. Chinese Communist Party propaganda has become kitsch poster decoration for trendy lofts across Europe and America. It has been disarmed of its integrity; the previous socialist radicalism is no longer taken seriously as China adopts a market economy. But the significance of centralised political sloganeering has not disappeared from Chinese life. Beijing’s rough, northern, toothless grin still aims to steer this vast country’s ‘ideological purity’ alongside its moneyed relatives Shanghai and Hong Kong. As I travelled across the country last summer I found China’s urban dialect stamped across every corner, expressions emanating from Beijing were painted on the walls of China’s poorest villages. The Chinese ‘modern civilised cities’ (文明城市) are best at articulating the 4

country’s new voice to the outside world. They exercise this voice internally too, with a swagger. An examination of this urban arrogance shows how the Communist Party’s ideological shift in recent decades has created a land of deep inequalities, and a government geared to cater to the winners of the new market economy. The Chinese countryside is ambiguous territory. A trip to the home of the Chinese ‘peasantry’ can often involve as much concrete as officially sanctioned ‘urban’ neighbourhoods. It is an urbanised pastoral paradox. Government planning assigns ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ status, thus controlling a system of differential welfare provision and economic benefits according to this divide. Relatively few ‘rural’ areas have managed to upgrade to the ‘urban’ badge despite being the location of much of China’s modernisation. But venture further west, and it is easy to discover villages Learn from the masses, and then teach them. — Mao Zedong (1893–1976)

of mud houses and little infrastructure. The factory landscape of China’s east coast economic revolution is far away, and here people live in poverty. The cities of this region are now forgotten industrial centres with high unemployment rates. The ‘peasant’ young have been forced to move further east in order to find employment, leaving behind their parents and children. The visual environment in these western villages is simple. Beautiful landscapes frame inadequate housing made from basic materials. The only advertisements are those of China’s two state mobile companies, China Mobile and China Unicom, and the occasional incursion by Coca Cola. Otherwise the smatterings of colour are provided by the huge characters painted across residential walls. Many are signed by local village or township governmental bodies. Others are ‘anonymous’, but can be assumed to come from the same sources.


Learning Chinese characters is time– consuming, and to be able to write them has always been evidence for the Chinese of the moral and political worth necessary to exercise authority. The Confucian intelligentsia viewed literacy and literary ability as a corner–stone of rule. Perfecting the writing of characters was, and to some extent still is, to realise their noble meaning through actions. Many of the radical Communist era leaders, most notably Mao himself, were famous for their beautiful calligraphy, and examples of their writing still adorn official buildings, schools and sites of historical importance. Shortly after taking power in 1949 the Communists radically changed methods of communication between rulers and citizens. For the first time mass communication was made possible. Access to education was widened and literacy increased at a remarkable rate. The reorganisation of rural and urban residents into communes created cells through which party activists could propagate and explain party policy. Early communist rule was extremely popular, and its methods were more than the brutal ‘speak bitterness’ meetings for which the party has become famous. Traditional–style operas started focusing on ordinary workers and farmers triumphantly championing the revolution, replacing stories of emperors and princesses. Speak to Chinese who were young during the Cultural Revolution and many express happy memories of freedom from authoritarianism, and top–level encouragement to criticise and have their views listened to. Mao is still a popular figure in China, whose ‘slogans’ are seen by many as morsels of great philosophical insight. This is not simply ‘sound bite politics’, but a reflection of how, for Chinese people, mastery of their lan-

Stepping Forward Throughout the twentieth century Chinese educated elites have been preoccupied with the idea of making China stand up to foreign imperialism, and move forward in its modernisation. Maoist slogans repeated the mantra of ‘step forward’, and urged the populace to do so with increasing speed. Brightly coloured posters reinforced the idea that collectivisation was the road to plenty, picturing peasant girls with arms filled with a bumper harvest. The government instigated a Great Leap Forward policy in the late 1950s which concentrated Communist ‘liberation’ euphoria into efforts to modernise the economy to American levels within 15 years. This infamously ended in a famine which killed millions. The scale of the disaster resulted, in large part, from the way in which the reward system encouraged officials on the ground to mimic reports of runaway success coming from Beijing. The country was caught in a fever that no–one wanted to admit was a lie. Despite this tragedy the language of moving forward and fast–paced modernisation has remained popular with the Chinese Communist Party. Recent press coverage of China’s economic boom in the west has, in fact, mirrored a story the Party has been eager to tell for decades. It is interesting, however, to see how the imagery of moving forward has been refocused in contemporary slogans. Instead of an emphasis on collective progress improvement has become more personal, something for the individual to strive for, with consequences for the individual and his family. The imagery of moving forward is contained within characters, making it difficult to convey in translation. The character 愚, (yú), means stupid or foolish, but when proceeded with 治 (zhì), to cure, govern, control, the two characters mean ‘eliminate backwardness and ignorance’. The slogans direct the illiterate to education in order to ‘cast off’, 脱 (tuō), their ‘blindness’, 盲 (máng). In Chinese illiteracy is to be ‘blind to language, literature, culture’, 文盲 (wénmáng). The slogans are silent, however, on the spiralling costs of rural education, which has made it unaffordable for many rural households. This is a problem the Chinese government are trying to tackle, but they are far from achieving the universal nine years of compulsory education for China’s poorest.

Futile struggle, a life of need, If you don’t learn to read.

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world. — Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

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guage has a concrete relationship to noble political action. The Greco–Roman heritage has always prized oratory, but in China it is the language as written which shows the great leader. In Chinese the word for propaganda, 宣传 xuanchuan, has no negative connotation comparable to the English equivalent. The Chinese Communist Party both inherited a tradition of political ‘slogans’ from Confucius, and transformed the language of Chinese orthodoxy. The Chinese Communist Party appears to be a different creature now. In 2002 the then Premier Jiang Zemin became deeply unpopular in China for allowing capitalist entrepreneurs to join the party. While Deng Xiaoping’s greater economic pragmatism has been welcomed, the introduction of markets in China has altered the country’s social make– up almost beyond recognition. Slogans such as ‘Development is the only hard and fast principle’ became synonymous with China’s new ideological direction. Nowadays, in cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou political sloganeering is presented on bright billboards which look like advertisements. In one such example the statement ‘Improve Citizen’s Quality and Promote the City’s Civilisation’ commands a picture of shiny modern apartment blocks surrounded by lush greenery. The Guangdong Bank advertised its credit options a few years ago stating that ‘Consumerism is a philosophy’. Urban citizens are being ‘sold’ the new CCP values alongside the consumerist goods of a modern, Western, lifestyle. The slogans I photographed for this article are, by contrast, found in the poorest parts of China. Although they too speak of the importance of ‘civilisation’, and the ‘quality’ of rural citizens, they talk of a lack of ‘quality’, and explain grave social problems as resulting from 6

Construction, Building The rhetoric of ‘building’ or ‘constructing’ the revolution has formed an essential component of the Chinese Communist Party’s repertoire. Its attraction for the Party has been to associate political policies with notions of the physical strength epitomised by the image of the peasantry toiling on the land. In 1949 80% of the Chinese population were farmers. While Marx was suspicious of peasant revolutions, China did not have a significant urban proletariat to lead the ‘liberation from feudalism’. Maoism was characterised by its reliance on the peasantry, and indeed the rural communes became models for their urban counterparts. During the late 1960s, the Party ‘sent down’ young educated urban Chinese to the countryside to learn from the pure peasantry, to ‘cure’ them of their ‘bourgeois tendencies’. The use of terms such as ‘building’ and ‘constructing’, therefore, encouraged China’s poorest to believe that they formed the vanguard of the revolution, and were each positively contributing to its success. In slogans it has usually referred to building abstract, or semi–abstract concepts, such as the ‘harmonious’ society in this example. As the government has increasingly introduced market capitalist policies it has been urging the populace to ‘construct’ modernisation. This has emphasised scientific, industrial, and cultural modernisation, crucially, in the image of urban China. The peasantry are losing out rhetorically as well as materially, and are frequently referred to as in need of improving their ‘quality’, 素质 (sùzhì). This ambiguous term has come to mean educational level, ‘behavioural’ standards, and social mores. Peasants now appear to be holding back China’s modernisation. The slogan mentions the serious problem of the kidnapping of young children and women for profit. Many accuse the One Child Policy (which is more like a two child policy in the poorest regions) of creating conditions

Together build a ‘harmonious society’: Only then can we quell Criminals taking your loved ones to sell.

Propaganda, to be effective, must be believed. To be believed, it must be credible. To be credible, it must be true. — Hubert Humphrey (1911–1978)


Exemptions, subsidies, preferential provisions: A family with one child is no cause for concern, Central policy ensures those who adhere, earn.

locking people into deeper poverty. Each ‘out of policy’ child must be paid for with disproportionately expensive fines, and young people take grave risks to hide pregnancies to avoid the Party’s family planning methods. There has been a dramatic rise in the snatching of children in China’s poorest areas as young boys especially have gained ‘market’ value. Previously empowering statements reflecting peasant strength have therefore been tempered with ambiguous statements of responsibility, encouraged to solve the problem themselves. They are designed to justify the government’s retreat from effective welfare provision for rural communities.

The kidnapping and sale of young women and children must be attacked with force.

this lack. The slogans are a mix of the positivism of the Maoist era, emphasising agency and hope, and a modest acknowledgment that the ‘peasant’ heroes of China’s revolution are now the losing class. Their qualities, their idolised strength and commitment to the revolution, are now failing them in the ‘new China’. The farmers must transform themselves, and take responsibility for this transformation, in order to mitigate the serious dilemmas of the One Child Policy, increasingly expensive healthcare and education, narrowing social mobility for those without education, and environmental degradation of vital farmland. My translations try to reflect the plain lyrical quality of these slogans, but it has been difficult to capture the array of meanings one character can convey. I hope, however, that they at least provide some insight into how ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ is currently being justified to the poorest sections of society. During its 2007 17th Party Congress, the CCP admitted this is a task fraught with danger. The instances of rural unrest have been escalating in recent years, and the government has, in response, started introducing tax cuts and subsidies as part of its ‘Develop the West’ campaign. The ‘modern, civilised cities’ are able to buy into the Chinese Communist Party’s ‘made in China’ socialism, insofar as it is creating the conditions for a new consumer society. But with such large sections of the population in poverty it is becoming politically more expensive for the Party to ignore the consequences of its economic reforms. It remains to be seen whether the Party can continue to manage them. In China, the poetics of rule have always been important. However, with such diversity of conditions and cultures within its borders, it has never been easy for Chinese poetics to rule effectively.

If you think in terms of a year, plant a seed; if in terms of ten years, plant trees; if in terms of 100 years, teach the people. — K'ung–fu–tzu (Confucius) (551 BC–479 BC)

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Breakfast

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hree student writers turn their precocious creative skills upon the meal a student is most likely to miss. In a few hundred words and under two hours each, breakfast is addressed in the form of a sonnet, a monologue and a dramatic scene. It is recreated into pieces which are confessionary, mundane, aggressive, stereotypical and perhaps depressing, which remind you that while trying to encompass, affirm or deny life through a meal is perhaps a bit ambitious, it can’t be denied that this one sure makes a good start to the day.

Miles Mantle: ..which is why this is the first breakfast – first decent breakfast, really – I’ve had in a long time. I’m not doing that well at the moment, to be honest. Been better, you could say. Oh, you could. And I won’t pretend to be happy with myself, either. Lisa, my sister, once said something about self-esteem, and how it’s connected to all of this. Heard it all before, mate. Leaflets; social workers. Tell me something I don’t know. And I wouldn’t be so content if I were Lisa, anyway. Not with that arse on her. But to my breakfast. This place – this restaurant (got to bend the syllables in the middle, there) – is fucking posh. It’s oh-sosumptuous. Lots of oefs ben-a-thingy. The feel of smoked salmon – dusk-pink flesh – on the tongue, et cetera. Isn’t that how you spell it? Getting my fix, I can tell you. Better than smack, it is. (Naaahh, it isn’t.) There’s a woman across the room from me (red carpet, oak tables) dining alone. She’s really hot, she is; hot and isolated, in whatever job she does – whichever business she’s going about. A breakfast appointment, perchance? Must be. I want to talk to her; wish I could talk to her. I have a pretty smile. Smile. I’m just having a look through the wallet. A wee rummage. Calfskin, don’t-ya-know. The bloke’s called Neil. I’m paying for some more coffee (good Columbian roast) and a croque monsieur by card – I’ll sign for it - American Express. He looked the type; it was his suit that upset me, really. This imperious prick poncing about Shoreditch. So I followed him down some alley; asked him the time. Gave him one in the face, and one in the stomach. Done. He was coughing up blood when I left – but I was hungry, so I didn’t wait. Then I had breakfast.

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Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast. — Oscar Wilde (1854–1889)


Roberta Klimt:

Sam Caird:

Breakfast Meeting

Sunlight. A small wooden table covered by a white linen tablecloth. A light breeze blowing through an open window causes the edges of the tablecloth to flutter gently, window-side.

Not long awake, we’re at the cafe door. We were to have confided as we strolled On some nice morning meadow, but it’s cold, And we’ve done rustic things like that before. Tea’s up, you tell me your news, I tell mine Too analytically, as you discern. Is it so bad to practise what I learn? No, if you’re willing permanently to pine! Begin afresh, you counsel; I want to; These things take time; you say that’s too easy. I say I’m sure it isn’t so for me, But that, like all my thoughts, is lost on you, Who soon leave, after details of your bliss (You’re having lunch with someone after this).

On the table: Various cereals including, but not limited to, ‘Wheetos’ and ‘Sugar Puffs’. A jug of milk. A jug of orange juice. A carton of grapefruit juice. An empty toast-rack, crumbs underneath. A dish of butter. Various condiments, including but not limited to, a jar of storebought Raspberry Jam and a jar of homemade Marmalade in a jar marked, ‘Sevilla ’07’. A broadsheet newspaper, read and clumsily re-folded. Four glasses. Four plates. Four knives. Four bowls. Four spoons. The sound of a swing-door opening slowly. Footsteps. Sound of swing-door closing and opening and closing and opening and closing. Swing-door stops. Footsteps stop. A man in a dark brown suit. Sound of footsteps, distant, then closer, then close. Swing-door opens. Footsteps. Footsteps stop. Sound of swing-door closing and opening and closing and opening and closing and opening and closing. Swing-door stops. Voice: Hullo. Voice: Hullo. End

So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon, Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon! — Robert Browning (1812–1889)

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Hearts, Heads and Ethics Thinking and feeling about right and wrong by Jamie Horder

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ead bodies make us act very strangely. Last summer, the British government announced that it was considering introducing an adopt an “opt–out” system for deciding who is considered to be a willing donor for post–mortem organ transplantation. This is as set against the current system in which people who wish their organs to be used must specifically “opt in” to the donor register (only about 1 in 5 of us have). The suggestion was met by vigorous opposition; for many, an opt–out system seemed to have deeply sinister connotations. “The state does not own our bodies or have a right to take organs after death”, the Tories complained, echoing many others. More liberal readers may well scoff at this: it is not as if anyone was proposing taking organs without their (former) owner’s permission, merely that when in doubt, permission should be assumed. Who could seriously want to limit the number of available organs, when transplantation saves lives? Yet we should perhaps consider how we would feel were someone to suggest going a little further, if someone asked, for example: why allow people to deny consent at all? Assuming that we believe saving human lives to be, in general, a good thing, why allow anyone to opt out, if this means allowing people to die merely to indulge some10

one’s squeamishness? Most of us would feel deeply uneasy or even outraged at this suggestion. If you do not, consider how you would react to the query: why should we have to wait for donors to die at all? If two people are terminally ill and the only suitable donor happens to be still alive, would it not make sense to discretely hasten their passing in order to gain access to their organs before it’s too late? At the cost of one life, two would be saved — for an overall gain of one life. By this point, almost everyone would say that we have gone too far. Yet there is much debate over where we ought to draw the line in matters such as this. This is not an article about the ethics of organ transplantation. I wish to take a step back and ask how we think, and how we ought to think, about these kinds of issues. How we do decide where to draw the line and what makes such decisions valid? Philosophers have often distinguished between two kinds of approaches to ethical questions, approaches which one sees again and again in different guises in debates such as the one surrounding organs. To cut a very long story short, consequentialism is the view that the right or wrong of an action depends upon the results — if the action causes good things to happen, it’s a good thing. This is sometimes described as the view

that the ends justify the means. Non– consequentialism refers to any theory of ethics which denies this, holding that some actions are right or wrong in themselves, regardless of their results. This is only the crudest level of philosophical taxonomy, but it is a useful start. An example of a consequentialist argument would be the above–mentioned one that in critical situations, surgeons should not respect the objections of an organ’s former owner or her family, because the overall benefit of overriding them — a life saved, a family spared bereavement — outweighs the cost — another family offended. (A rival consequentialist might dispute the specifics of this, but he could not protest that “It’s stealing”,

Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. (The heart has its reasons that reason knows not) — Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)


“It would be sinful”, or “We have a right to our organs”, since these do not refer to consequences.) Philosophers have long debated the question of when consequentialism is a legitimate approach. Indeed, most of the 20th century’s most influential works of moral and political philosophy were attempts to deal with this question, but in one form or another it is centuries old and often seems to be intractable. Again, it is not my intention to pronounce on this issue, but to consider what it is that we are doing when we think and talk about ethics. One of the anti–consequentialists’ most effective tactics has been to propose hypothetical scenarios in which consequentialism seems to lead to conclusions which just feel wrong. Consider the case of the surgeon killing a person to harvest their organs, and if you are like most people, you will experience an

immediate, almost visceral feeling that there is something very wrong with this action. This you–can’t–do–that sensation has been dubbed a “moral intuition”, and many philosophers have pointed to cases such as “organ stripping” and argued that, since consequentialism would recommend doing things which we intuitively recognise as being immoral, consequentialism cannot be justified. In other words, feelings are at the heart of our thinking about ethics. Yet philosophers are not the only people interested in moral intuitions. A small but growing number of psychologists and neuroscientists are trying to apply a scientific perspective to these phenomena, and one of the most interesting conclusions of their research to date is that, when presented with situations such as those discussed by philosophers, people from diverse cultures and social groups

experience moral intuitions, and often very similar ones. Of course, everyone knows that what is considered admirable in one culture might be outrageous in another, but it appears that, although opinions on the rights and wrongs of particular things may differ, the general processes by which people make and think about moral judgements are rather universal. For example, the psychologist Johnathan Haidt, one of the pioneers in this field, studied six different groups of people in the US and Brazil, ranging from wealthy Philadelphians to poor residents of the city of Recife. Haidt asked them to imagine a number of situations, including a brother and sister’s incestuous kissing, and the case of a man who finds a creative way of enjoying himself with a frozen chicken. Importantly, none of these situations involved anyone harming anyone (even themselves). He then asked them whether what the people in these scenarios were doing was wrong, and why they answered the way they did. Perhaps predictably, wealthier and more Westernized people tended to be more 'liberal' and less apt to condemn unconventional or ‘disgusting’ conduct.

Feelings are at the heart of our thinking about ethics

However, even the most permissive groups still contained a fair number of people who did morally condemn some, or all, of the harmless but unseemly actions.

What was most interesting was that in every group, such people frequently encountered difficulties when they were asked to explain why they were so condemnatory. A wide range of explanations were offered, but many individuals were unable to articulate any reasons; they said that the actions were “just wrong” although they did not know why. Haidt

Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what's right. — Isaac Asimov (1920–1992)

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called this phenomenon “moral dumbfounding” and argued that it was inconsistent with the widely–held view that the process of moral judgement involves the conscious application of principles or rules. More recently, the philosopher Marc Hauser showed moral dumbfounding to be a global phenomenon. He analysed the responses of over 5,000 people who completed an internet– based survey in which they were asked to make, and justify, moral judgements on a number of hypothetical dilemmas, inspired by those which have long been discussed by philosophers. The classic example is the veteran “trolley problem”: for some reason, a runaway train is going to run into and kill five people, unless you push a lever to divert it onto another

People happily gave plausible–sounding rationalisations for a choice they never even made

track, where it will kill one person. In the second variant of this dilemma, the only way to stop the train and save the five people is to push a man off a bridge and into the path of the train. Should you act? Hauser discovered that while there were small differences, in general, people answered in a very similar way regardless of their age, nationality, or religious belief (although it should be noted that all participants were English–reading in-

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ternet users). A large majority of people (89%) agreed that it would be right to push the lever and switch the train from killing five people to killing one, whereas, in the variant scenario, there was an equally strong consensus that it would be wrong to push the man into the path of the train. This is what most philosophers have concluded, and in all likelihood you will find yourself agreeing as well. Yet as Hauser points out, there is something very odd about our divergent reactions to these two scenarios. In both cases we are faced with two options (act, or do nothing), one of which will have the consequence of five deaths, the other, just one death. The principle of consequentialism tells us that we should do whatever brings about the fewest deaths in both cases — even if this means pushing a man in front of the train. Hauser’s results show that most people are not consequentialists, but fascinatingly, and just as in Haidt’s research, very few people could explain why they felt this way. Almost half simply claimed that they had a gut feeling or “just knew” that there was a morally important difference between the two scenarios; many others seemed to be searching around for reasons, such as the subject who said that if he did not push the man into the path of the train, it would be OK, because the five people in danger would jump out of the way. Nothing in Hauser’s description of the scenario had suggested anything of the sort — rather, the subject seemed to have hit upon the idea after making

his judgement, precisely because it made his intuition justifiable. (This recalls another famous experiment in which people were shown photographs of two women and asked to pick the most attractive. The photos were then secretly swapped and the subject was shown the one they didn’t pick and asked to explain why they found her attractive. Most people were unaware of the trick and happily gave plausible–sounding rationalisations for a choice they never even made.)

Most people are not consequentialists ... but very few people could explain why they felt this way

One explanation for this curious, if near– universal, pattern of behaviour has been proposed by the philosopher and neuroscientist Joshua Greene. According to Greene’s theory, although we can think about situations as consequentialists, applying the same kinds of reasoning that an economist or an engineer might use to maximize benefits, our brains are also equipped with a kind of automatic early–warning system for immorality. This system does not take time to evaluate the consequences of actions but instead produces a strong emotional response to the actions themselves. We are not necessarily conscious of the workings of this system, but we are aware of the warnings it gives, in the form of moral intuitions. Greene has shown using neuroimag-

The greatest happiness of the greatest number is the foundation of morals and legislation. — Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832)


ing technology that certain parts of the brain are activated when we experience moral intuitions, and a recent study found that patients who had suffered injuries to these same areas tend to make consequentialist judgements — they saw nothing wrong with killing one person in order to save five, although their intellectual functions were quite normal. It was not that they could not deal with ethical questions, but that they seemed to lack the normal tendency to give non– consequentialist answers. For Greene, moral intuitions are automatic, but they are much more than mere “knee jerk reactions” — although they present themselves to us as simple, incontrovertible facts (“It’s just wrong”) accompanied by strong emotions, in fact they are the outcome of a specialised process, albeit one which is not under our conscious control or oversight. Moral dumbfounding and rationalization are what happen when we try to explain or justify our intuitive judgements in rational or consequentialist terms, because they were never the result of a such conscious reasoning in the first place. A useful analogy is with art — we can all experience the beauty of an image, even though we may not be able to articulate the aesthetic principles which determine our judgements — “I don’t know much about art but I know what I like.”, We must all share some such principles (otherwise no–one would agree about which pictures are pretty) but our minds apply them without our awareness. The principles behind our ethical intuitions do not seem to be particularly mysterious once one starts to investigate them. For example, most philosophers and psychologists agree that the reason why we feel differently about the two variants of the “trolley problem” is that in one case, we are faced with intentionally acting to bring direct harm to an in-

nocent victim (the man on the bridge), whereas in the other case, the harm we cause is “indirect” — we redirect the runaway train so that it hits a man, but we do not create the harm in the first place. A consequentialist would argue that this is an irrelevant distinction, and indeed many philosophers have mightily struggled to provide reasons why it should matter. Perhaps the point is that this is just the way our minds work — our moral intuitions happen to be triggered by acts independent of outcomes, and trying to justify this is like trying to justify the fact that we sneeze. Indeed, sometimes the nature of an action itself

The fact that everyone feels strongly that something is wrong is not a point against it

fills us with disgust, even if there are no harmful consequences, as with the transgressions which Haidt studied. Greene believes that our minds are built this way because this makes sense from an evolutionary point of view — in life or death situations, you need to decide whether an action warrants punishment quickly, but calculating consequences takes time.

So to return to organ donation — can this research help us to think about ethical issues more clearly, or is it of purely academic interest? This is a question which demands a sustained philosophical debate, but one thing seems certain — it is difficult to simultaneously regard one's moral intuitions both as authoritative guides to the proper course of action and as a short–cut put in place by evolution to make quick decisions in a Stone Age environment. Although the new perspective does not prove that our intuitions are meaningless, it does seem to undermine arguments based

on them — the fact that everyone feels strongly that something is wrong is not a valid point against it, if this can be explained as kind of collective psychological mirage. If Greene’s account of ethics proves popular, philosophers might find it increasingly difficult to justify rejecting consequentialism on the grounds that it clashes with our intuitions. Psychologists and economists are increasingly drawing attention to the fact that our brains systematically construct perceptions and conceptions of the world which are not always appropriate to the modern era — many of us in the West would benefit from a phobia of cigarettes and fatty foods, for example, but we are still most likely to be frightened of the spiders, snakes and heights which threatened our ancestors. It could likewise be said that the ethical challenges facing us today are of a very different kind to those which our brains are best at dealing with. We are morally outraged by the idea of directly harming someone by throwing them off a bridge, but many of the greatest threats to our health and security — such as global warming — are the indirect consequences of innocent actions. So, although it seems unlikely that our intuitions are going to go away any time soon, we may come to feel that we ought to take a more sceptical attitude towards them, and that despite our gut instincts, it is the consequences that matter.

Of all the differences between man and the lower animals, the moral sense of conscience is by far the most important. It is the most noble of all the attributes of man. — Charles Darwin (1809–1882)

13


The Audacity of “The Wire” Political power games and the War on Drugs by Chris Taylor

W

e’ve reached that time again in the American sporting calendar. The presidential primaries are back, and for all you sports fans out there, they’re more exciting than ever. Barring a coup by Al Gore at the Democrat Convention, there will be either a black man or a woman at the top of the Democrat ticket as the party’s candidate for President and Barack Obama is now the clear favourite. In addition, early polling suggests that he currently holds a narrow lead over the presumptive Republican candidate John McCain. For the first time in America’s history there is a realistic chance that it will elect a black President. The attitude of many commentators is that the growing success of Obama’s candidacy represents a huge change in the attitude of the largely white American electorate and a huge step for all underprivileged minorities in America and for African– Americans in particular. However, many of the issues that affect minority individuals and communities in the United States have failed to make an impression on this presidential election, in particular the impact of a decline in employment for the unskilled working class and the problem of the drug trade in American inner cities. The issues debated have remained the 14

same, despite Obama; however, this is indicative of a lack of willingness by politicians to challenge an entrenched status quo. It is on one issue in particular that the status quo is intensely damaging: the War on Drugs. This war has morphed into a war against an underclass who comprise the most impoverished and vulnerable people in America. The American underclass has been ignored by the mainstream media and ignored by the politicians, and the election of Barack Obama should not be taken as a clear signal that this is about to change. Criticism of the War on Drugs is regarded as political suicide for any aspiring leader in America; though Obama writes about the problem of drugs in inner city America in his book The Audacity of Hope, he clearly recognises this as well as anyone. The mainstream media can be relied upon to report drugs issues purely in terms of crime and punishment and this representation also largely extends to fictional examination of the issue in TV shows and in Hollywood. The Wire is different. Its genius is that it has both the courage and vision that Hollywood and the mainstream media lacks, and an emotional power rarely captured in documentary film or books. Created by David Simon and set in Baltimore, Maryland, The Wire is ostensibly a cop drama

that bears comparison to many others. However, after just a few episodes, a viewer will realise that this show is something completely different. In its first four seasons, The Wire has gradually built up a picture not just of a single criminal organisation, nor even of a whole police force. It is also a powerful metaphor for and argument against the failing War on Drugs, and a critique of the power of capital over people in American society, particularly at the bottom. It is true of high quality cop dramas such as CSI or The Shield that they have a coherent overall storyline running over many episodes, even seasons. However, it is also true to say that one can simply watch a single episode and enjoy it, as there tends to be a different central story involving some new characters in each episode. This

The Wire has both the courage and the vision that Hollywood and the mainstream media lacks, and an emotional power rarely captured in documentaries

I don’t oppose all wars. What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. — Barack Obama (b. 1961)


the police. At the same time a police major effectively ‘legalises’ drugs in particular areas of his district. Despite a brief success on the part of both of them in reducing non drug based crime, they are doomed to failure. Stringer ends the season shot dead on a piece of his own legitimately bought real estate, in the shell of a building that he has been developing. Major Colvin is demoted and is forced to retire.

may seem to be a strength of such shows, and it is certainly conducive to higher ratings, but any attempt to watch The Wire in a similarly casual way is completely impossible, like attempting to read just a single chapter from a long novel. The Wire does not compromise for a potential audience’s lack of knowledge, whether of characters, context or even language. The dialogue used in the show is thick with slang, mixed with complex police terminology and code names for various drugs, often based on current affairs. The complexity of the show and its inaccessible attention to detail is partly why, as the final season airs in the US, The Wire remains largely unseen and unknown by mainstream audiences, just as the issues it tackles are ignored by its mainstream competitors. The first season introduces us to the everyday struggle of the police to prevent drug distribution at street level. Some of the characters introduced last through all five seasons, but many do not. The ability of The Wire to ignore central characters for several episodes or kill them off altogether at unexpected times is a mark of the show’s confidence. This is in stark contrast to other TV shows. House is a prime example of a show that is superbly put together but that depends to a huge extent on one main character in order to attract its audience.

The second season departs from the central focus on street level distribution and examines the fact that the drug trade affects all of the underclass, including the white working class suffering under a decline in American industry. The season depicts the lives of those working at the Baltimore Harbour and the city that is left behind after the middle class have fled to the suburbs. This is a large part of the message of the show — that the drug trade is able to exert control over people in large part because it offers economic opportunities for America’s underclass that are not provided elsewhere.

As David Simon glibly puts it, we are bored with evil

The third season returns to the drug trade, but this time dangles the carrot of change to the viewer. It examines the possibility of reform and thus delves deeper into the politics of the city and the institutional structure of the police force, but also shows the attempt by one leader of a criminal organisation to change the way the drug trade is run. This character, Stringer Bell, attempts to form a peaceful association, a form of cartel between himself and his criminal competitors which would serve to lessen the levels of violence and lower ‘the body count’ that interests Drugs are murdering our children. — President George Bush Sr. (b. 1924)

The fourth season examines the education system of the city. In order to explain the adult characters in the show, particularly those who are members of drug gangs, we have to see them growing up. The acting of the preteen and young teenage characters shown in this series is extraordinary and the stories of their characters are deeply moving. Attempting to tell them here would fail to do them justice, but one scene particularly merits description. A teacher asks a class of middle school teenagers who have been removed from ordinary lessons due to behaviour to write down where they see themselves in ten years. She then asks how many wrote down dead. As all the kids raise their hands, one quips “Shit, you saw that comin’ huh.” Though an example of the black humour that pervades the show, the characters and the audience know that there is more than a grain of truth to their answers. The fifth season asks the question that occurs to anyone who has watched any series of The Wire and who has been convinced by its authenticity: “If The Wire got any of this stuff right, if this is really what cities are facing, then why is it that no one is paying attention?” This is David Simon’s choice to focus the show’s final series on the role of the media in Baltimore and in the US as a whole, and its failure to pay attention to the issues raised by the show. The Wire does not take a simplistically anti–establishment attitude to the War on Drugs. The police are not portrayed as 15


simply oppressive, though police brutality is explored. Likewise, those involved in the drug trade, whether buyers or sellers are not portrayed as good or evil, guilty or blameless (as David Simon glibly puts it “We are bored with evil”). The Wire creates characters belonging to every institution of the modern American city, including those engaging in the worst sorts of crime, with whom the audience are able to empathise. It then shows how these institutions, be they criminal, private sector, law making or law enforcing, trap the individuals that they hold: within the iron grip of neo–liberal capitalism, which values capital far above basic humanity, they are corrupting of the individuals within them. The drug gangs have their expendable ‘corner kids’ who are ten a penny; the politicians need to be lobbied by a hugely expensive professional before they will even consider listening to the needs of the unionised ‘stevedore’ workers at the harbour. Teachers in public schools are shown to ignore any skills based teaching methods in favour of rigidly teaching ‘to the test’ in order to show improvement where there is none. Police officers are often ordered to increase arrests for the most minor drug offences or to massage the stats, irrespective of their real job of

protecting the public. A crucial figure of hope in the show, Councilman and later Mayor Carcetti, is eventually forced by a budget crisis to choose between his future political career and adequate funding for the public school system. His decision is predictable, but no less disappointing for that. In terms of the drug problem at the centre of the show, aggressive prohibition is shown to be hopelessly misguided. A church going community activist known as ‘The Deacon’ delivers the line to a po-

Institutions, be they criminal, private, law making, or law enforcing, trap the individuals they hold

lice major that “You talkin’ ‘bout drugs. That’s sweepin’ leaves on a windy day, whoever the hell you are.” The Deacon is played by Melvin Williams, a former drug kingpin arrested by Simon’s co– writer, former police officer Ed Burns, in 1984. This is typical of the emphasis

placed on authenticity in The Wire. The writers have lived the stories that they portray and as Williams recently remarked in an interview “they are smart enough to ask those who have lived these lives.” A key point made by the show is that even without the ineffective and corrupt police commanders, even with the best police work possible, ‘the game’, as the characters refer to the drug trade, will go on. Nonetheless, this show is by no means simply condemning drug prohibition. Simon believes that as a nation, America has decided that in economic terms the bottom ten percent are irrelevant to the success of the rest. This leaves the inner city underclass with no other option but to participate in the drug trade, the only thriving local economy. Apologists for Obama would respond to this allegation by saying that he would not ignore issues such as those raised by The Wire as President, but that he cannot afford to be defined by issues before the election. From Obama’s point of view, he cannot risk even now as appearing to be ‘the black candidate’ incapable of representing all Americans, as happened to Jesse Jackson in 1988. Obama has written eloquently about his own personal struggle with drugs in his youth, and has even named The Wire as a favourite TV show, but he has not indicated either in writing or in his actions as a state senator in Illinois or as a US Senator that he fully understands the catastrophic effect of the War on Drugs on the poor in America. The issue is not mentioned as one of the ‘26 issues’ mentioned on his campaign’s official website. Despite having based an entire presidential campaign around the theme of ‘change’, Obama does not appear to support much needed change in federal policy on this issue. It is harsh to single out Obama for blame above other politicians, and an argument could be made that the implication that

16

Don't do drugs because if you do drugs you'll go to prison, and drugs are really expensive in prison. — John Hardwick (????–????)


he should feel more strongly on ‘black’ issues is stereotypical, almost racist. However, this is not the point of this article. The point made here is simply that the existence of a successful minority candidate is not enough to give greater status to issues affecting minorities in America. Baltimore’s local politicians are trapped by the wider dominance of capital over humanity in America, as well as the more obvious constraint of federal drug policies. An irony of this hard–line federal approach that is frequently highlighted by The Wire is that the FBI are not interested in helping the police catch the leaders of major drug organisations, even when large numbers of dead bodies are involved. In the post 9/11 environment, only political corruption and terrorism are deemed worthy of federal money, despite the fact that federal laws tie the hands of local law enforcement officers and politicians. The failure of the underclass in America to escape poverty and drugs is not a simple,

scandalous tale like individual corruption, nor does it significantly affect stock market levels on a day to day basis. It is thus ignored by the local paper portrayed in The Wire, as it is ignored more widely in American media. Despite the status of political corruption as a priority for the police, The Wire displays the inadequacy of the rules governing campaign finance. Though the worst abuser of this system in the show, the paradoxically lovable Clay Davis, is prosecuted, the system that enables political corruption, as with drugs, is left to fester. The media is not directly trapped by either the issue of political finance or of drugs, but it is rendered impotent in exposing the truth by its own surrender to raw capitalism. It is these problems in American society that are explained by The Wire through its depiction of the city of Baltimore and the characters that inhabit it. The unique insight that The Wire provides is the first reason to watch it.

The second is that, whatever one’s reading of the problems that The Wire examines, it gives any viewer astonishing characters whose stories are utterly gripping. It is in its veneration of the struggle of individuals in desperate circumstances that The Wire is at its most uplifting, and although the struggles of most characters are shown to be futile, they are rarely passive. They fight till the very end against each other, themselves and the institutions that bind them, even if ultimately consumed. Despite its inevitable focus on the inner city and its preoccupation with the issue of the War on Drugs, The Wire indicates the wider problems in American society, founded upon prioritising money and organisations at the expense of human beings. It also dissects the reasons why America is in a state of political paralysis with regards to its problems. The Wire paints a bleak picture of society, but its individual characters, whether criminal, corrupt, naïve, or simply hopeless, are never less or more than human.

This article was written in February 2008.

Will you... Do something different? Accelerate your career? Put something back? Inspire a generation? Change lives? Take a lead? Whatever you do, Teach First.

www.teachÞrst.org.uk

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Alcohol didn't cause the high crime rates of the '20s and '30s, Prohibition did. And drugs do not cause today's alarming crime rates, but drug prohibition does. — US District Judge James C. Paine, addressing the Federal Bar Association in Miami, November, 1991

17


Carbon nanotubes

Small but perfectly formed

by Navaratnarajah Kuganathan

C

hemistry is the science of shape. A molecule is simply a set of atoms arranged together in a certain way, an atomic sculpture, and it is therefore no coincidence that all life on earth is carbon–based, for carbon atoms have the unique ability to form themselves into endlessly complex structures. Graphite is composed of stacks of carbon sheets, while diamonds are the same atoms arranged in a regular lattice. All of the molecules that make up your cells, from your DNA and proteins to the transmitters and receptors in your brain, are based upon branching chains and interlocking rings of carbon atoms, with other elements such as nitrogen and oxygen being rather like decorations hanging from these carbon trees. Just as the flexibility of carbon makes it capable of being the raw material for living organisms, so it makes it ideal as the building block of artificial constructs, molecular machines — what has become known as nanotechnology. Most nanotech is based on carbon because it is only with carbon that one can create molecules of almost any shape desired. The famous “buckyballs”, or buckminsterfullerenes, are spherical molecules consisting of (most commonly) sixty carbon atoms arranged in a manner rather like a football. With a diameter of just a single nanome18

tre (one thousandth of a thousandth of millimetre), the buckyball’s perfect symmetry is highly stable, meaning that these tiny globes can be produced quite naturally in everyday flames, although in order to manufacture larger quantities, much higher temperatures are used industrially. The discovery of fullerenes stimulated researchers to explore various other hol-

low carbon structures, and in 1991 the Japanese electron microscopist Sumio Iijima, who was conducting research on fullerenes, discovered what have become known as carbon nanotubes. A nanotube is essentially an atomic pipe, or from another perspective, an elongated buckyball. They are essentially the narrowest cylinders which can possibly exist — with walls a mere single atom thick, and just

A tree trunk the size of a man grows from a blade as thin as a hair. A tower nine stories high is built from a small heap of earth. — Tao De Ching


a few nanometres in diameter, a nanotube’s length can be many thousands of times its width thanks to the ability of carbon to form endless atomic chains. Like buckyballs, they are made by vaporizing carbon compounds with extreme heat. Since their discovery, carbon nanotubes have attracted more and more theoretical, experimental and practical research due to their unique properties. Because they are tubular structures surrounding a hollow space, nanotubes can accommodate foreign species (molecules) within their walls. A huge variety of metals, molecules and crystals can be trapped inside nanotubes, the main reason for incorporating foreign species inside the tubes being to modify their electronic properties. Researchers at Oxford have been successful in creating carbon nanotubes filled with various materials. One of their most exciting projects involves the use of larger nanotubes which contain buckminsterfullerene spheres, an arrangement which has been affectionately dubbed a 'peapod'. If certain types of atom are themselves encapsulated within the buckyballs of a peapod, they can be made to act as tiny magnets. This series of magnetic spheres lined up within the nanotube can be used to store information, in much the same way as a computer hard–drive or cassette tape does, but on a far smaller scale. Indeed, the distance between the buckyballs in such an arrangement is so minute that a computer built in this way could achieve quantum computation capability — the ability to store and process information using the properties of single atoms. Quantum computation has long been a dream of computer scientists because the strange behaviour of single atoms means that such computers would be able to perform certain kinds of calculations, such as those used in code–breaking,

An electron microscope image of a carbon nanotube laying across four gold electrodes far faster than on even the most advanced conventional supercomputer. The Department of Material Science at Oxford is currently conducting intensive collaborative work in order to develop their 'peapods' into a working quantum calculator. Yet carbon nanotubes promise to have many other uses. Due to their stable, regular structure they are phenomenally strong — on some measures, the strongest materials known to man — making them ideal for use in sports equipment such as tennis rackets and golf balls; even mixing tiny amounts of nanotubes into concrete has been shown to greatly increase its strength. The shape and structure of nanotubes also makes them the ideal field– emission materials. Field emission is the projection of electrons from a solid under an intense electric field. Carbon nanotubes have high electrical conductivity and, more importantly, an unbeatable sharpness to their tips. The sharper the tip, the more concentrated the electric field (this is the same reason lightening rods are sharp.) Nanotube composites have been used for electro–statically applying paint onto car components using field emission, and

Good things, when short, are twice as good. — Baltasar Gracián (1601–1658)

this produces a much better surface finish compared with the previously used carbon black or carbon fibre composites. Nanotubes are also used as antistatic shielding on air plane wings and fuselages. In electronics, carbon nanotubes can act as highly conductive wires which allow electrons to flow along them with essentially zero resistance, and by adding just a few extra atoms in the right place, it is possible to convert them into electronic components such as diodes (which only allow electricity to flow in one direction), suggesting the possibility of constructing fully–functioning carbon electronic circuits on a tiny scale. A number of companies such as Delft, IBM, and NEC have already developed transistors (the component which forms the basis for all modern electronics) made of nanotubes, and recently, a team from the University of Illinois announced that they had built the world’s first nanotube radio receiver. The technology promises to make it possible to build electronics that are both smaller and more energy– efficient than ever before. In the coming years, we can expect big things from these tiny structures.

19


No Towers Fell on 9/11 Freedom at last for Chile? by Daniel Altschuler

10th September 2006, Evening Santiago, Chile Tomorrow, thirty–one years ago, La Moneda fell. Some Chileans will cry on the date that marks the end of an era of possibility; others will rejoice in the memory of the tears of their compatriots. All of them know that tomorrow marks something historic, an occurrence far more symbolic than the simple fact of military jets bombarding the presidential palace. Though not everyone knows precisely what others will commemorate, even the ignorant know not to go outside for fear of what may come. Tomorrow is a solemn day when some will celebrate as their opponents shout decades–old slogans to feel their strength, el poder popular. • Patrocio Claro, the quality of life has improved. Yes, it’s true. People live better now — in all the houses there’s a refrigerator, a

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washer, a television. That hard hard poverty doesn’t exist anymore, the kind you would see years ago when you were little. We’re in a democracy, and conditions have improved. We believe that modernity is here, it’s come to Chile, but it’s only for certain groups. It’s come to Chile, but who can take advantage of modernity? It’s the upper classes. We, the lower classes, are always going to be in need of something — whether it be housing, work, or health care. •

F

ragmented, segmented, divided, this manifestación appears more like five or six marches than one unified protest. Various groups, each with its own political agenda, march to their own boisterous beats — Prosecute Pinochet, Down with the American Empire, Education for All, ¡Viva Allende! With a full city block separating masses of people, photographers, and passers–by take advantage of the distance to make their way across, as ven-

dors nimbly negotiate the crowd with their offers of limones anti–lacrimógenas, Super 8, and bebidas competing against the cries of: ¡Fuera de Chile, Colombia, y Argentina Fuera los yanquis de América Latina! Flags and banners waving, muffled explosions resounding through the air, free commerce lives on, as the Chilean Jaguar slides stealthily around and above these cries from la calle. Onward, like the vendors amidst the crowds in the street, a country maneuvers deftly forward, through the labyrinthine jungle of the global market. • María y Claudia Claudia Democracy means equality, equality. That the poor and the rich have the same rights — but that’s not how it is.

Rome cut the heads off Christians but they continued to reappear. Something similar occurs with Marxists. — Augusto Pinochet (1915–2006)


María There’s democracy only for some, po. Because for the poor, no, no. Claudia It’s democracy because we can go out on the street and say whatever we feel like saying. María Oye, not even, because they take you to jail — the water cannon comes, they beat the hell out of you, and then they take you prisoner.

sprint in the opposite direction, as clear a sign to turn around as one should ever need. Not accepting the wisdom of collective instinct, I stand to the side and wait. It seems that the peace has settled, that the march will continue after the police have cleaned up a bit. Perhaps the stragglers will be able keep moving forward. The tear gas quickly overcomes everyone in the vicinity, and the panic begins

to spread through eyes, nostrils, and mouths. We all begin to run in the direction from which we have come, heedlessly approaching a wide intersection and flailing ourselves across the avenue unable to decipher whether the light is green or red.

A

t 5 o’clock, the only definite information is that there will be a march tonight in Lo Hermida. When Nahuel invited me, I was excited

• Pa’ que sepas, la lacrimógena duele Tear gas hurts. It may not kill, it may not maim, but it hurts and it blinds and it frightens and it terrorizes. Who is responsible? Perhaps the rebellious youth, unsatisfied with peaceful protest, filled with political memories from years well before their own birth. Or the pinochetistas, eager to disrupt and disband this offensive demonstration. Or the pacos — officially los carabineros — the police who line the entire march route with looks and camera lenses that alternate between apathy and contempt. It surely does not seem coincidental that the tear gas strikes us only a minute after the marchers begin to direct their voices towards the police, their chants ringing through the air: Ula, Ula Los pacos tienen tetas Las pacas tienen culas Meanwhile, a few rowdy post–adolescent protesters run around the side of the march, through the tree–lined plaza, throwing rocks at a vaguely visible McDonald’s on the corner. Then comes the popping sound of a small explosion. As I maneuver around to the other side of the triangular construction site in the middle of the broad intersection, people

September of 1973 saw the military leader and commander–in–chief of a national junta Augusto Pinochet declare himself the new president of Chile. This followed days of widespread civil unrest, as Pinochet's supporters deposed the incumbent president Salvador Allende. The events, which began on September 11th, heralded a new era for the Chilean people, one of rule by military dictatorship, which instituted a more widespread Capitalist and pro–American attitude. The name Pinochet is well known to the international community now; before his death, he had been arrested in Britain for his role in violence perpetrated in Chile. His legacy, however, was to prevent Salvador Allende's socialist agenda, however violently it proved necessary, and for this reason, a few people take to the streets to demonstrate against the actions of the 11th September 1973 in yearly demonstrations. Daniel Altschuler was a visiting student in Chile in September 2001, and in the following article describes his experiences amongst those Chileans who protest the coup of 1973.

Either you be the tomb of the free Or the refuge against oppression — Chilean National Anthem

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by the prospect of seeing something else today, of witnessing another side of the Chilean 11 de septiembre. We meet outside the local supermarket, one of Santiago’s local Walmart–style superstores. We greet one another — he, brown– skinned, neatly–dressed, and slightly bookish Chilean twenty–something, and

My second tear gas experience in 22 years, my second tear gas experience today. This time I am not about to brag to anyone

I, conspicuous gringo visitor — and walk to his house to relax for a while. Lo Hermida, as it turns out, was once a toma, an organized collective land seizure, back in the 1960’s before Allende took power. In the 1980s, Pinochet had built them houses. Not casas, however, but casetas or casas sanitarias, that is, each one a serviced site with a completed bathroom and kitchen.

As Nahuel approaches his house, he becomes uneasy. He and his compañeros had been putting together propaganda, painting murals, and mounting collages; in his absence, they have mounted two of them on the gate of his house. Two years ago, when they did something similar, the police responded by throwing tear gas, the stronger kind, over the wall and into the patio. Nahuel does not want to subject the children of the three families living in the house to that experience again. Nahuel asks his compañeros to move the signs elsewhere. He then introduces his friends, some fellow Young Communists, others belonging to some of the groups 22

with a greater propensity for violence, and a pair from the same group as the anarchists who had thrown the rocks at the McDonald’s just before los pacos released the tear gas that had sent me scrambling across the bridge of the Río Mapocho. For the time being, in Lo Hermida, all remains calm. As the compañeros keep up with their political artwork, Nahuel eats a late lunch. As we sit comfortably in his room, it is easy to be taken in by his truth; his clear, concise, and deliberate way of speaking always seems natural and honest. He has a way of expressing himself that makes his opinions seem like obvious conclusions drawn from generally valid premises. The poor people have lived in these conditions all their life, he explains; the police have been stepping all over them in their squalor for decades; whether educated or not, these pobladores can join the Communist Youth; some of the more educated ones will become passionate about the ideas that they find in the writings of Lenin or Marx; others, who perhaps have not received the same education, will simply intuit the truth of the Communists’ stance, the honesty in their demands. Certainly, not everyone possesses this consciousness; many are debilitated by drug addictions and chronic criminal behavior; many more are simply disinterested in all things political. From this discussion we depart, with Nahuel inviting me to a comité de allegados meeting in Ñuñoa where he is acting as a delegate. Fortunately, his friend has an extra bike, so we don’t have to share Nahuel’s, and we set off, through the streets of Lo Hermida, across Avenida Grecia, all the way to the next district, a tiring ride on a used bicycle with little air and even less space for the knees of a 6’5” gringo to peddle. We arrive nonetheless, and Nahuel's friend goes off to get the keys to the Sometimes democracy must be bathed in blood. — Augusto Pinochet (1915–2006)

sede social. The discussion begins promptly, half an hour behind schedule. This meeting will focus on getting homes for los allegados — “the arrived” — who live in the houses or backyards of friends or relatives, with no place to call their own. Since the beginning of the post–Pinochet era, Chile's government has built over a million such houses for low–income people; understandably, these allegados in Ñuñoa want a piece of the action to address their families' needs. Nahuel takes control of the meeting, explaining that the best opportunity for the Ñuñoa group's success lies in allying itself with fellow allegados in Lucha y Vivienda. In fact, Nahuel has come to this meeting as a Lucha y Vivienda delegate. This stronger group already has a project proposal underway and 300 registered families. As vecinos drift in and out of the meeting, some arriving late, some quietly slipping out early, Nahuel patiently explains technical details of government subsidies to this small group of generally uninformed, or misinformed, vecinos. Eventually, we leave, and ride away, continuing our conversation, but riding faster this time because the march should have begun already in Lo Hermida. For the second time tonight, we pass the Esta-

Against my instincts and better judgment, I walk out the door

dio Nacional, where the velatón, a candle–light vigil, is in progress to honor those who were murdered and tortured in the stadium directly after the 1973 coup. Now, Nahuel explains with undisguised cynicism, the “Socialist” politicians have turned the velatón into a political platform, an event where wealthy people come to feel as if they


are participating on this symbolic day. Finally, after another 15 minutes of pedaling, we turn onto the street where Nahuel had met me only hours before. This time, however, the giant supermarket and all of the other stores lining the busy intersection are totally shut. Turning onto the avenue, small glowing orbs, bursting with red and black, come into view in the middle of the streets. Barricadas, meant to keep all automobiles, police or otherwise, from passing. The pobladores, Nahuel explains, with a cautious but irrepressible pride in his voice, are taking back the streets of their población. As we continue ahead on our bicycles, the bonfires blaze on, each one fueled by the combustible garbage and old furniture of surrounding vecinos. The smell in the air, Nahuel explains, is burnt rubber; tires, quite flammable, are well suited for these fiery barricades. Often, Nahuel continues, the smoke from the rubber fires disguises the police’s tear gas. The only remedy for the lingering tear gas, he advises, is to take shallow breaths. As we ride closer to his house, I quickly understand; the odor of burning rubber creeps up just as my eyes begin to feel the air pinching my sinuses. My second tear gas experience in 22 years, my second tear gas experience today. This time I am not about to brag to anyone.

side with wooden boards for protection against the tear gas and the rocks thrown earlier on, when we were still on our way back from Ñuñoa. Only a half hour before we arrived, members of the household excitedly report, the pacos released their tear gas bombs only 20 meters from the house. Sniffing the scent still lingering in the air, Nahuel changes from his neatly–ironed comité delegate clothes into his street clothes. Once dressed, now in loose jeans and a baggy, untucked shirt, he searches for the small piece of an

eyeglass lens — all he has left of a broken pair — that he uses when he truly needs to see. Ready now, he says a quick and confident goodbye to his mother’s cheek, wrinkled from years of accumulated anxiety. Nahuel turns quickly away from her and tells me that he needs to go look for his compañeros. Do you want to go with me? he wants to know. Or do you want to stay in the house? Given the combative atmosphere in the

The victims of Pincohet

Much has already happened. As we arrive back at Nahuel’s house, it becomes clear that the open confrontations are well underway in the darkness. On the avenue where he lives, fiery barricades every hundred meters light up the scene of young males taunting, whistling, and yelling at the pacos in their riot gear (las Tortugas Ninja — the Ninja Turtles) in the distance. As we enter the house, none of the afternoon’s artwork can be seen. The windows are covered up from the out-

Augusto Pincohet For what avail the plough or sail, Or land or life, if freedom fail? — Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803–1882)

23


comuna, Nahuel’s not sure where we might find a bus still running, but we could try. Despite the steady increase in my heart rate over the past half hour, I do not want to let Nahuel know that I am scared. That I want to go home, to leave his world for the comfort and safety of the cozy, suburban world where I have been staying in Las Condes. No, in this moment I feel uncomfortable with the thought that I have chosen to be here, that I could just as easily choose to leave. I do not want to be different from Nahuel; I do not want to be the privileged visitor who happens to have an acquaintance who lives in Lo Hermida. I feel inclined to stay within Nahuel’s room’s cement walls, surrounded by his portrait of Salvador Allende, La Jota’s logo, and a bookshelf whose cherished item is Lenin’s complete works. Against my instincts and better judgment, I walk out the door with him, past the mothers and the children of the house, back into the viscous night of tire smoke and tear gas. If anything happens, Nahuel reminds me, you are an American student who was just at a meeting for allegados in Ñuñoa and came here looking for a friend. You don’t need to tell the police my name, or what organization I’m a 24

part of. Also: no pictures. The people on the street will think that you’re sapeando, a police — or worse, international — spy taking photos of the young delincuentes. After setting these parameters, Nahuel reassures me that there is no reason to worry; we will not be in any real danger. Back in the vicinity of la Rotunda, more young pobladores are out furiously, but apprehensively, screaming obscenities, whistling, and gesturing at los pacos in plain sight. Partially protected by a

I remain a tourist of others’ poverty

brick wall jutting out on the corner of the avenue, Nahuel borrows my glasses to look to see if his friends are in sight. Standing well behind him, close to the wall that functions as a protective shield, I am left momentarily blind, as the blur of the night fire and the angry voices of adolescent males close in around me. Nahuel returns with my glasses with the news that his friends are nowhere in sight. After a few minutes observing this scene escalate, I decide that I have come close enough to this violence. I

take the opportunity to tell him that, if we go look for them elsewhere, perhaps we can also find a place where the buses might still be running. Despite my fear, I feel both conflicted and guilty. It feels disrespectful to say that I am afraid and want to go home, that I am afraid of the reality that he lives. But while I hope not to offend Nahuel, I do not want to feel a rubber bullet in my spine, either. And I certainly want to avoid the inside of a Santiago jail cell. In that moment, it becomes plainly clear how much this is not my struggle, how much I do not belong to Lo Hermida, how much, despite my best efforts to the contrary, I remain a tourist of others’ poverty. Not knowing what might have transpired on these now–quiet streets of Lo Hermida an hour earlier, but appreciating the less contentious atmosphere, I ask Nahuel for his impressions of the evening. Do you think that tonight was a well–organized event? Definitely not, he responds, incredulous at the question in the midst of the fires and the yelling and the shots in the distance. Well, might there not be a different way to respond on this night, to organize a new sort of mobilization? Has anyone ever tried to get a municipal permit for a mass march on this night? Could one of the

¡Viva Chile! ¡Viva el pueblo! ¡Vivan los trabajadores! (Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!) — Last words of Salvadore Allende (1908–1973)


various groups involved take responsibility for the event and try to ensure that no one gets hurt, no one’s property gets destroyed, and no one goes to jail? Nahuel eludes these questions, clearly considering the matter from a different perspective. The barricades are a way for pobladores to take back their población, to take back their streets. That is the power of las barricadas. On this night, he says, the pobladores control who enters and who exits. Their streets on their terms; their rights as members of their community. Nonetheless, as a young Communist interested in organizing people and working to raise the political awareness among the youth — concientizar a la juventud — Nahuel wishes that tonight could be more organized, could express a clear political message, could offer a true challenge to the dominant system of political and economic power. If only, he wishes, our actions could threaten the wealthy entrepreneurs and politicians, many of whom celebrate this day as the

caption makes no reference to how many thousands of people showed up in the streets to honor the late Salvador Allende, to challenge gringo imperialism, and to make new demands of their government. Instead, only a picture — of police cleaning up after riotous behavior — and a caption testify to the previous day’s activities. On Monday, the printed press reports what happened in the poblaciones on Saturday night. El Mercurio’s article focuses on the President of the Republic’s official denunciation of the evening’s violence. President Lagos, Socialist Party leader, has declared: “These violent incidents do not reflect Chile. Chile is doing well, advancing democratically and with respect to each one of its children.” From the President’s lament, the article goes on to describe the damage inflicted on poblaciones throughout the city. Lo Hermida, Nahuel’s home, appears atop the list of sites with the highest level of violence. Two pictures accompany the article: one of the results of vandalism, and the other of an officer injured in the fray. According

The caption makes no reference to how many thousands of people showed up in the streets to honor the late Salvador Allende

anniversary of the beginning of order, development, and modernity in Chile.

to the official transcript of Chilean news, Saturday, September 11th, marked only a

day of unfortunate public demonstrations of delinquency and disorder. On page two of Sunday’s newspaper, readers encounter a picture and a caption of the 400,000 people who demonstrated in 1974 to celebrate the first anniversary of the military coup. In those days, one infers, people demonstrated publicly in peace to express their feelings of national pride, contentment, and consent. These days, conversely, las poblaciones explode every once de septiembre when misguided delinquents take over the streets. Back then, order prevailed; now, chaos disrupts the progress of a steadily advancing macro–economic machine. No discussions, no explanations, no reasons for what took place: El Mercurio shows no interest in analyzing the roots of this deviant behavior. In their silence, the editors intone: there is no logic, no sense, behind the violence of the 11th. All those who participated in the poblaciones should be punished, reformed, set straight. They are all the same, and they are not a part of us. Considering these news items as I return to el centro for the first time since fleeing Saturday’s tear gas, I wonder: what is the result of such Manichaeism? And I realize that Chile’s official history has dismissed Nahuel, leader of today’s Juventud Comunista, as nothing more than a common delincuente.

In the days after the march, the largest national newspaper, El Mercurio, publishes two pieces that refer to the happenings in the streets on the 11th. The first surfaces on Sunday, when a picture of one of the trouble spots in the downtown march appears coupled with a caption — but no article — explaining only that police detained 31 people at the march in el centro when these troublemakers hijacked the event by vandalizing and defacing public and private property and sparking confrontations with the police. No picture, no mention given to the march itself, the Of all of the leaders in the region, we considered Allende the most inimical to our interests. — Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State (b 1923)

25


On the Underwater World The strange lure of the Deep Blue Sea by Adam Etinson

I

f you’ve ever been fascinated by the image of an underwater shipwreck, you’ll understand the point of this article. It’s easy to forget that more than two thirds of the earth’s surface is covered by water and that, frequently, it swallows up more than we care to dump into it. Inevitably, things fall into the sea. And if some climate theorists are right, rising sea levels will one day overtake the continents, turning the earth into one giant shipwreck, a.k.a. Waterworld (with or without Kevin Costner). My question is not just what makes the underwater world interesting, but what makes the notion of a sunken world interesting. What is so intriguing about the second life afforded to objects that have inadvertently found their way to the ocean floor? Of all aquatic environments, the ocean in particular is extraordinary. Despite having learned a great deal about the nature of life in the ocean since the advent of scuba diving apparatus, the seas continue to exert a weighty force on our imaginations, and for no unclear reasons: 26

The average depth of the oceans is about four kilometers, reaching a maximum abyss (at the Mariana Trench) of eleven thousand meters. That makes the deepest ocean floor farther below sea level than Mount Everest is above it, or in other terms, about as far below the water’s surface as the ground is below a flying airliner. The creatures that live in the very deep are only now becoming accessible to us. Four years ago, Japanese researchers captured the first live photograph of an eight meter giant squid in its natural abyssal habitat by attaching a camera to a very long fishing line. The colossal squid, a species not yet photographed live, can grow up to fourteen meters in length. We don’t need Jaws, Moby–Dick, or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to imagine the horrific creatures of the deep; lucky documentary footage would be good enough. Of course, it’s easy to exaggerate the exotic dangers of the depths. The Great White shark, for instance, is not quite the diabolical beast it’s made out to be. In the first book to popularize scuba diving after the

Second World War, The Silent World, Captain Jacques–Yves Cousteau described his first encounter with the infamous “man– eater”: The shark saw us. His reaction was the last conceivable one. In pure fright, the monster voided a cloud of excrement and departed at an incredible speed… Dumas and I looked at each other and burst into nervous laughter… After several weeks in the Cape Verdes, we were ready to state flatly that all sharks were cowards. They were so pusillanimous they wouldn’t stay still to be filmed. Hardly the sort of behavior one would think typical of a ferocious killer. In fact, scientists are certain that humans do not rate highly on the menus of such sharks. The average underwater adventure is not that dangerous, and most fish are scared silly by the sight of such awkward, four– limbed creatures. One has to be either terribly unlucky or terribly reckless in order to get hurt.

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. — Vincent van Gough (1853–1890)


Yet, knowing this does not dispel the sense that the surface, the molecular tissue that divides water from air, is like the mutual horizon of two distinct worlds. Crossing

The surface is like the mutual horizon of two distinct worlds

the surface for creatures natural to one or other world is like breaking through a barrier or wall into alien territory. I remember the first time I tried Scuba diving I hesitated for too long at the surface, unable to bring myself to follow the group that had already descended beneath me. I wasn’t able to submerge my head without panicking; the movement seemed physically impossible. Eventually I forced myself down and slowly got used to the fact that I could still breathe. Despite being the birthplace of the first living cell and all subsequent life, as we are often told, creatures that have adapted to land generally have a hard time going back into water. If they do return to the aquatic environment, it will come at the price of millions of years, as it did for seals, whales, and dolphins — creatures that still use lungs. If we look back far enough along the human evolutionary chain, we will eventually come across some sort of (probably very weird) sea creature. Sinking objects are welcomed by the earth’s waters without hesitation. To be sure, the toxic waste, sewage, and garbage we eject — as well as the five–or–so sunken radioactive submarines — are not the most welcome of human legacies to the sea. But in general, from the ocean’s viewpoint, the intrusion of human objects is no big deal. Shipwrecks in particular are embraced with open arms. Aside from any wholesome or-

ganic materials that may be aboard, wood that will be eaten up or simply decay, the physical structure of a sunken ship provides good home and shelter to all sorts of otherwise vulnerable marine animals. Hulls will often become the backbone of a thriving coral reef, one hard to distinguish from the surrounding terrain. And they will create an environment rich in nutrients, activity, and excitement for the casual fish passerby. Ironically, fishing trawler wrecks end up entangling nets like those they once deployed, frustrating fisherman and protecting some fish in the process. The Titanic is perhaps the paradigm example of a shipwreck. Lying beyond the reach of sunlight, approximately four thousand meters beneath the surface (a depth only submersibles can reach), it took explorers more than seventy years to locate its remains on the vast seabed of the North Atlantic. When the wreck was finally discovered in 1985, it triggered a cascade of media, scientific, and exploratory activity, which we might say ultimately culminated in the 1997 James Cameron film, Titanic. Since its initial rediscovery and the pop–culture catharsis of the Hollywood film, interest in the sunk-

en ocean liner has naturally waned. But the wreck, like the ship before it, remains awe–inspiring. Like most other shipwrecks, what the first explorers of the Titanic encountered on the seabed was a human artifact well on its way to complete dissolution and absorption by the environment. All organic materials accompanying the ship, including its deck wood, have completely disappeared, eaten away long ago by the local marine life. It’s taken much longer for the wrought iron hull to rust away, but this too will one day disappear, and not too long in the future either. Hungry microbes devour the wrought iron hull and form the rusticle shapes that the Titanic wreck made famous. Robert D. Ballard, who first discovered the wreck and coined the term rusticle, described his impressions in Exploring the Titanic: It looked as though the metal hull was slowly melting away. What seemed like frozen rivers of rust covered the ship’s side and spread out over the ocean bottom. It was almost as if the blood of the great ship lay in pools on the ocean floor.

Tiktaalik: the odd creature scientists now believe marks the evolutionary emancipation of animals from the sea. The alligator–like animal grew limb–like front protrusions

Ocean: A body of water occupying about two–thirds of a world made for man — who has no gills. — Ambrose Bierce (1942–1914)

27


Despite all this, due in part to the freezing temperatures and lack of sunlight at such depths, many aspects of the Titanic are strikingly intact. You’ll probably remember seeing pictures or video footage of the bow of the ship at some point. It stands dignified and upright in the watery black along with the unconsumed brass telemotor, which would control the speed and direction of the engines. The anchors are still visible and in place. For the moment, pretty much the whole front bulk of the ship stands up down there in the dark, surrounded by and

Photograph of a live Giant Squid over one kilometre beneath the surface

home to some of the strangest creatures on the planet. When I was about ten years old, I must have seen some television show about the then–recent discovery of the famous ship, because I became fascinated by it. In one of the few school projects I ever put my heart into, I remember relating its story to my teacher, and speculating that humans had somehow provoked God himself to sink the ship by claiming that it was unsinkable (not such a far out idea for a kid who was taught the old testament in elementary school from the age of six or seven). There are many eerie facts surrounding the fate of the ship, among them the publishing of a book by Morgan Robertson named the Wreck of the Titan in 1898, fourteen years before the actual sinking of the Titanic. The book describes a ship named Titan — deemed unsinkable, short on lifeboats, and in many other respects remarkably similar to the Titanic — that strikes a North Atlantic iceberg on an April voyage between England and New York, capsizing and killing almost everyone on board. It’s

The Underwater Bow of The Titanic

28

And so castles made of sand fall in the sea eventually... — Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970)

a terribly odd coincidence. But it wasn’t only spooky facts that got me interested in the Titanic. Now, looking back, I’m curious about why that ship fascinated me so. Why did I become so interested in a sunken ship? The history of the ship must have had something to do with it. It is like a time capsule, a window onto a period in history. In the case of the Titanic, treasure was always an important issue. Immediately after the ship sank proposals were put forward to raise and recover the wreck, primarily in order to retrieve what were thought to be lost items of wealth on board. But these issues don’t illuminate the full drama of the ship’s exploration. This is how Robert Ballard describes his very first encounter with the Titanic underwater: Then, directly in front of us, there it was: an endless slab of rusted steel rising out of the bottom — the massive hull of the Titanic! I felt like a space voyager peering at an alien city wall on some empty planet. Slowly, I let out my breath; I didn’t realize I had been holding it. The shocking sight of the Titanic’s hull is due in large part to where it is. The wall–like side of the ship isn’t still in port, nor is it on display in a naval museum somewhere; it wouldn’t be as interesting to look at in those places. Instead, it’s under four thousand meters of water in the dark bowels of the earth. It might as well have been dropped on the surface of the moon, some alien planet, or be in the belly of a giant whale. The strange psychological intrigue created by a shipwreck lies in its paradoxical combination of the familiar with the wildly unfamiliar and out–of–context. Titanic, the legendary and greatest shipbuilding achievement of its time that everyone knows, rests like a lost child in the most foreign of environments, surrounded by odd fluorescent–coloured creatures,


deep–sea sulphur vents, darkness, and silence.

plunged into the most unfamiliar and inhuman of contexts.

Imagining the twin Voyager spacecrafts reaching their ultimate goal of interstellar travel may elicit a similar reaction. Launched in 1977, these two small probes that each a carry golden record

In The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Milan Kundera distinguishes between two aspects of death:

There is probably a bit of necrophilia at the heart of shipwreck–gazing

containing earth images and sounds, a formal printed address from the then– secretary of the United Nations to all extraterrestrials, and of course record–playing instructions, are now at the boundary of the solar system, farther than any other man–made object is from earth. Or take NASA’s Pathfinder mission to Mars. There were all sorts of scientific interests in landing the rover on the Martian soil. There was a chance it could provide evidence for the existence of extraterrestrial water and life, or that a Martian might poke their face into its web–linked camera and finally reveal itself to us. But the root of the hysteria that surrounded the mission lies mostly in the extraordinary achievement of navigating this man–made rover, however slow and pathetic, on the surface of a faraway and distant planet. These ships and vessels are like lightbulbs of humanity

It is nonbeing. But it is also being, the terrifyingly material being of a corpse. When someone dies, part of them is of course left behind. The psychological incongruity of staring at a lifeless body bears a deep resemblance to that of staring at a sunken ship. In one sense, the abyssal waters of the Titanic are like a giant jar of formaldehyde preserving the gruesome corpse of the ship for all to see. Oddly enough, there is probably a bit of necrophilia at the heart of shipwreck–gazing.

But the ocean is not exactly like formaldehyde. It’s no neutral or transparent medium, designed simply for preservation and spectatorship. It is an environment and world with a life of its own; and part of the fascination with a sunken ship lies in its role as a vicarious substitute for an experience of what it would be like to live in that world. The alien experience of living underwater is transposed onto the ship itself, as if were a space or deep–sea–diving adventurer like Ed Harris in The Abyss (another James Cameron film). On the other hand, the ship’s stillness and decayed state establish it as something dead and foreign itself. Again very much like a corpse, the more intact it is, the more we recollect the liv-

Image from the 1975 Jaws film poster

How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean. — Arthur C Clarke (1917–2008)

29


ing thing that it once was. In the case of the Titanic especially, it’s the incongruity of its intactness that makes the sight of it so spooky. Its intactness transforms it into a sort of monster of the living–dead.

The great indifference of the oceans towards human life explains our mythological association of loss with the sea

The Titanic is like a monster of the deep staring back at us. The most effective cinematic moments in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, to me, are those shown from the shark’s eye–view. The film opens with the famously suspenseful ba–dum, etc., while we see a prowling view of the ocean bottom from the shark’s eyes. Of course it’s a scare tactic. Horrified, we’re seeing ourselves, our dangling legs, from a place we cannot see in return. Spielberg in effect gave the whole ocean a set of eyes that turn aggressively upon us as soon as we enter its realm. Now, for no actual good reason, we’re all scared to go into the water! Monsters always lurk at the periphery of the human world, and the encounter with a monster — or even adventure itself — is always connected to the confrontation of some core human limitation. It’s no coincidence that some of the most famous monsters are sea–creatures. In dramatic fiction, Sperm whales, Giant Squids, great fish (as in Ernest Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea) — and even the crazy submarine captain in Tom Clancy’s Hunt for the Red October — all wrestle human protagonists to the point of near–death. The great indifference 30

and potential hostility of the oceans towards human life explain our mythological association of loss with the sea. The ancient story of Atlantis, the mysterious sinking of a highly–advanced society, is perhaps one good example. Kostner’s Waterworld is, for better or worse, another. Encounters with sunken ships such as the Titanic, deep–space — or imaginary encounters with mermaids and extraterrestrials — are like grave revelations of human finitude. For someone who was interested in the Titanic years before the Hollywood film was released, that event was a minor disaster of its own. I couldn’t take myself seriously as a Titanic aficionado anymore. Part of the problem was surely that my interest in the ship could no longer be said to be special or unique. But equally disappointing to me was that the ship had been brought out from the

deep and into the Hollywood limelight. So much attention had transformed it from a monster into a garden–variety household item. Even the most extraordinary things can become banal without too much time or effort. I’m afraid that even if we do meet wise and benevolent extraterrestrials, what we’ll end up with is not a cosmic and enlightened perspective on life and humanity but instead something like the recent contest over the North–Pole seabed: politics and more of the same. Still, demystification is nothing to be resisted. The exotic will always be staring at us from one direction or another: whether it be macrocosmic, microcosmic, or — as Jules Verne explored it — in the future, on the moon, inside the earth, under the sea, or up in the sky. And don’t worry: no matter how well we build them, ships will always sink.

A mural painting of a mermaid by Den Poitras, from Gloucester, Massacheussets

The sea is everything. It covers seven tenths of the terrestrial globe. Its breath is pure and healthy. It is an immense desert, where man is never lonely, for he feels life stirring on all sides. — Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, Jules Verne


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Name: Dan Massey School: Uxbridge High School Subject taught: Science Subject studied: Physics College attended: St Catherine’s College A Week in the Life The average day starts at 6:30 and one of my colleagues at Uxbridge, an AST (Advanced Skills Teacher) with a wealth of experience gives me a lift to school. We normally discuss the day ahead and talk through problems from the previous day. I normally get in at 8:00 and check all of my lessons for the day.

I have been issued 3 Year 10 Science classes. I teach sets 1, 4 and 7 and the differences in ability are huge. This week I have to teach them all about efficiency and efficiency calculations. I am pleased that I get three chances to deliver the material but the depth I go into will vary greatly. With my set 7 they really struggled picking out the right numbers for the equation and I even as I explained the steps over and over again they were still struggling to understand – it was so frustrating, I am thinking of using football scores to engage them with it next week. While set 1 constantly need pushing and can be almost arrogant in their approach, I enjoy stretching them. One of my big successes this week was with one of the pupils in my form. He is the sort of student that will misbehave all of the time and is easily led down a destructive path by his peers. He is generally in bottom sets though I feel he should be in the higher sets. As his form tutor I would visit him at some of his lessons: this week with the consent of his Maths teacher I visited him there. In Maths he sits with some pretty naughty pupils; when I went in I sat with him and worked on some Maths and when he was focused he was performing really well – I would even go as far as to say that we got on….ok. He is not well supported at home and comes to school lacking basic provisions such as pens, so when a girl in his class broke his pen he was pretty upset. The next day I presented him with a gleaming new pen, he didn’t have the social competence to utter a thankyou but he was very happy and I feel our relationship has improved and maybe I can be instrumental in really helping him this year.

At 8:30 my Year 8 form arrive, 8BYR, all 27 of them. We have a fractious relationship as I was an assistant form tutor last year and they really liked the main tutor that is no longer with them, so it has been a constant battle since September to get them on my side. I have worked hard to instill a routine in the mornings that adds some stability to their day but they seem to disagree that this is a good idea. This week has been “Environment Week” and in spite of my best efforts enthusiasm has been low. When I tried to explain to one pupil that turning the TV off instead of leaving it on standby may save £40 a year he responded Uxbridge High School is larger than an average “but sir, I like the light” – what can you say to that!? comprehensive and has a large % of EAL (English as an additional language) pupils. In fact I had great fun with my AS Physics class this week; the there are 65 different languages spoken in the abilities within the class vary dramatically and pitching school.  Ofsted recently rated the school as Good. the lesson at a level which can accommodate them all is very challenging. Some of the weaker pupils seem thoroughly traumatised by A Level Physics and I feel there are some parts they just won’t be able to understand but I always try my best to help them access the subject. Teaching exchange particles was fun, the basic premise being that two objects can energise one another without touching. A couple of skateboards and a tennis ball were all the props I required and I was delighted when the pupils approached the task with gusto.

The Owl  

The Owl winter 08/spring 00

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