by Duncan Geere / 13 July 11

To a computer, words and sentences appear like data. But AI researchers want to teach computers how to actually understand the meaning of a sentence and learn from it. One of the best ways to test the capability of an AI to do that is to see whether it can understand and follow a set of instructions for a task that it’s unfamiliar with. Regina Barzilay, a professor of computer science and electrical engineering at MIT’s computer science and AI lab, has attempted to do just that — teaching a computer to play Sid Meier’s Civilization. In Civilization, the player is asked to guide a nation from the earliest periods of history through to the present day and into the future. It’s complex, and each action doesn’t necessarily have a predetermined outcome, because the game can react randomly to what you do. Barzilay found that putting a machine-learning system to work on Civ gave it a victory rate of 46 percent, but that when the system was able to use the manual for the game to guide the development of its strategy, it rose dramatically to 79 percent.

It works by word association. Starting completely from scratch, the computer behaves randomly. As it acts, however, it can read words that pop up on the screen, and then search for those words in the manual. As it finds them, it can scan the surrounding text to develop ideas about what action that word corresponds with. Ideas that work well are kept, and those that lead to bad results are discarded. “If you’d asked me beforehand if I thought we could do this yet, I’d have said no,” says Eugene Charniak, University Professor of Computer Science at Brown University. “You are building something where you have very little information about the domain, but you get clues from the domain itself.” The eventual goal is both to develop AIs that can extract useful information from manuals written for humans, allowing them to approach a problem armed with just the instructions, rather than having to be painstakingly taught how to deal with any eventuality. Barzilay has already begun to adapt these systems to work with robots.

“Civilization” is a strategy game in which players build empires by, among other things, deciding where to found cities and deploy armies.

Computers learn language (and world domination) by reading the manual
by Darren Quick / July 13, 2011

Researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab have been able to create computers that learn language by doing something that many people consider a last resort when tackling an unfamiliar task – reading the manual (or RTBM). Beginning with virtually no prior knowledge, one machine-learning system was able to infer the meanings of words by reviewing instructions posted on Microsoft’s website detailing how to install a piece of software on a Windows PC, while another was able to learn how to play Sid Meier’s empire-building Civilization II strategy computer game by reading the gameplay manual.

Without so much as an idea of the task they were intended to perform or the language in which the instructions were written, the two similar systems were initially provided only with a list of possible actions they could take, such as moving the cursor or performing right or left clicks. They also had access to the information displayed on the screen and were able to gauge their success, be it successfully installing the software or winning the game. But they didn’t know what actions corresponded to what words in the instructions, or what the objects in the game world represent. Predictably, this means that initially the behavior of the system is pretty random, but as it performs various actions and words appear on the screen it looks for instances of that word in the instruction set as well as searching the surrounding text for associated words. In this way it is able to make assumptions about what actions the words correspond to and assumptions that consistently lead to good results are given greater credence, while those that consistently lead to bad results are abandoned.

Using this method, the system attempting to install software was able to reproduce 80 percent of the steps that a person reading the same instructions would carry out. Meanwhile, the system playing Civilization II ended up winning 79 percent of the games it played, compared to a winning rate of 46 percent for a version of the system that didn’t rely on the written instructions. What makes the results even more impressive for the Civilization II-playing system is that the manual only provided instructions on how to play the game. “They don’t tell you how to win. They just give you very general advice and suggestions, and you have to figure out a lot of other things on your own,” said Regina Barzilay, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, who took the best-paper award at the annual meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL) in 2009 for the software installing system. “Games are used as a test bed for artificial-intelligence techniques simply because of their complexity,” says graduate student S. R. K. Branavan, who along David Silver of University College London applied a similar approach to Barzilay in developing the system that learned to play Civilization II. “Every action that you take in the game doesn’t have a predetermined outcome, because the game or the opponent can randomly react to what you do. So you need a technique that can handle very complex scenarios that react in potentially random ways,” Branavan said.

Although the main purpose of the project was to demonstrate that computer systems that learn the meanings of words through exploratory interaction with their environments is a promising area for future research, Barzilay and Branavan say that such systems could also have more near-term applications. Most computer games that let a player play against the computer require programmers to develop strategies for the computer to follow and write algorithms that execute them. Systems like those developed at MIT could be used to automatically create algorithms that perform better than the human-designed ones. With such machine-learning systems also having applications in the field of robotics, and Barzilay and her students at MIT have begun to adapt their meaning-inferring algorithms to this purpose. Let’s just hope they don’t take the lessons learned playing Civilization II and try for the world domination win in the real world.

Screen shot of Sid Meier's strategy computer game, Civilization II
Screen shot of Sid Meier’s strategy computer game, Civilization II

Computer learns language by playing games
By basing its strategies on the text of a manual, a computer infers the meanings of words without human supervision.
by Larry Hardesty, MIT / July 12 2011

Computers are great at treating words as data: Word-processing programs let you rearrange and format text however you like, and search engines can quickly find a word anywhere on the Web. But what would it mean for a computer to actually understand the meaning of a sentence written in ordinary English — or French, or Urdu, or Mandarin?

One test might be whether the computer could analyze and follow a set of instructions for an unfamiliar task. And indeed, in the last few years, researchers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab have begun designing machine-learning systems that do exactly that, with surprisingly good results. In 2009, at the annual meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics (ACL), researchers in the lab of Regina Barzilay, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, took the best-paper award for a system that generated scripts for installing a piece of software on a Windows computer by reviewing instructions posted on Microsoft’s help site. At this year’s ACL meeting, Barzilay, her graduate student S. R. K. Branavan and David Silver of University College London applied a similar approach to a more complicated problem: learning to play “Civilization,” a computer game in which the player guides the development of a city into an empire across centuries of human history. When the researchers augmented a machine-learning system so that it could use a player’s manual to guide the development of a game-playing strategy, its rate of victory jumped from 46 percent to 79 percent.

Starting from scratch
“Games are used as a test bed for artificial-intelligence techniques simply because of their complexity,” says Branavan, who was first author on both ACL papers. “Every action that you take in the game doesn’t have a predetermined outcome, because the game or the opponent can randomly react to what you do. So you need a technique that can handle very complex scenarios that react in potentially random ways.” Moreover, Barzilay says, game manuals have “very open text. They don’t tell you how to win. They just give you very general advice and suggestions, and you have to figure out a lot of other things on your own.” Relative to an application like the software-installing program, Branavan explains, games are “another step closer to the real world.” The extraordinary thing about Barzilay and Branavan’s system is that it begins with virtually no prior knowledge about the task it’s intended to perform or the language in which the instructions are written. It has a list of actions it can take, like right-clicks or left-clicks, or moving the cursor; it has access to the information displayed on-screen; and it has some way of gauging its success, like whether the software has been installed or whether it wins the game. But it doesn’t know what actions correspond to what words in the instruction set, and it doesn’t know what the objects in the game world represent. So initially, its behavior is almost totally random. But as it takes various actions, different words appear on screen, and it can look for instances of those words in the instruction set. It can also search the surrounding text for associated words, and develop hypotheses about what actions those words correspond to. Hypotheses that consistently lead to good results are given greater credence, while those that consistently lead to bad results are discarded.

Proof of concept
In the case of software installation, the system was able to reproduce 80 percent of the steps that a human reading the same instructions would execute. In the case of the computer game, it won 79 percent of the games it played, while a version that didn’t rely on the written instructions won only 46 percent. The researchers also tested a more-sophisticated machine-learning algorithm that eschewed textual input but used additional techniques to improve its performance. Even that algorithm won only 62 percent of its games. “If you’d asked me beforehand if I thought we could do this yet, I’d have said no,” says Eugene Charniak, University Professor of Computer Science at Brown University. “You are building something where you have very little information about the domain, but you get clues from the domain itself.” Charniak points out that when the MIT researchers presented their work at the ACL meeting, some members of the audience argued that more sophisticated machine-learning systems would have performed better than the ones to which the researchers compared their system. But, Charniak adds, “it’s not completely clear to me that that’s really relevant. Who cares? The important point is that this was able to extract useful information from the manual, and that’s what we care about.” Most computer games as complex as “Civilization” include algorithms that allow players to play against the computer, rather than against other people; the games’ programmers have to develop the strategies for the computer to follow and write the code that executes them. Barzilay and Branavan say that, in the near term, their system could make that job much easier, automatically creating algorithms that perform better than the hand-designed ones. But the main purpose of the project, which was supported by the National Science Foundation, was to demonstrate that computer systems that learn the meanings of words through exploratory interaction with their environments are a promising subject for further research. And indeed, Barzilay and her students have begun to adapt their meaning-inferring algorithms to work with robotic systems.

Regina Barzilay
email : regina [at] [dot] edu

S.R.K. Branavan
email : branavan [at] [dot] edu

An incidental challenge in building a computer system that could decipher Ugaritic (inscribed on tablet) was developing a way to digitally render Ugaritic symbols (inset).

Computer automatically deciphers ancient language
A new system that took a couple hours to decipher much of the ancient language Ugaritic could help improve online translation software.
by Larry Hardesty, MIT /  June 30 2010

In his 2002 book Lost Languages, Andrew Robinson, then the literary editor of the London Times’ higher-education supplement, declared that “successful archaeological decipherment has turned out to require a synthesis of logic and intuition … that computers do not (and presumably cannot) possess.” Regina Barzilay, an associate professor in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab, Ben Snyder, a grad student in her lab, and the University of Southern California’s Kevin Knight took that claim personally. At the Annual Meeting of the Association for Computational Linguistics in Sweden next month, they will present a paper on a new computer system that, in a matter of hours, deciphered much of the ancient Semitic language Ugaritic. In addition to helping archeologists decipher the eight or so ancient languages that have so far resisted their efforts, the work could also help expand the number of languages that automated translation systems like Google Translate can handle.

To duplicate the “intuition” that Robinson believed would elude computers, the researchers’ software makes several assumptions. The first is that the language being deciphered is closely related to some other language: In the case of Ugaritic, the researchers chose Hebrew. The next is that there’s a systematic way to map the alphabet of one language on to the alphabet of the other, and that correlated symbols will occur with similar frequencies in the two languages. The system makes a similar assumption at the level of the word: The languages should have at least some cognates, or words with shared roots, like main and mano in French and Spanish, or homme and hombre. And finally, the system assumes a similar mapping for parts of words. A word like “overloading,” for instance, has both a prefix — “over” — and a suffix — “ing.” The system would anticipate that other words in the language will feature the prefix “over” or the suffix “ing” or both, and that a cognate of “overloading” in another language — say, “surchargeant” in French — would have a similar three-part structure.

The system plays these different levels of correspondence off of each other. It might begin, for instance, with a few competing hypotheses for alphabetical mappings, based entirely on symbol frequency — mapping symbols that occur frequently in one language onto those that occur frequently in the other. Using a type of probabilistic modeling common in artificial-intelligence research, it would then determine which of those mappings seems to have identified a set of consistent suffixes and prefixes. On that basis, it could look for correspondences at the level of the word, and those, in turn, could help it refine its alphabetical mapping. “We iterate through the data hundreds of times, thousands of times,” says Snyder, “and each time, our guesses have higher probability, because we’re actually coming closer to a solution where we get more consistency.” Finally, the system arrives at a point where altering its mappings no longer improves consistency.

Ugaritic has already been deciphered: Otherwise, the researchers would have had no way to gauge their system’s performance. The Ugaritic alphabet has 30 letters, and the system correctly mapped 29 of them to their Hebrew counterparts. Roughly one-third of the words in Ugaritic have Hebrew cognates, and of those, the system correctly identified 60 percent. “Of those that are incorrect, often they’re incorrect only by a single letter, so they’re often very good guesses,” Snyder says. Furthermore, he points out, the system doesn’t currently use any contextual information to resolve ambiguities. For instance, the Ugaritic words for “house” and “daughter” are spelled the same way, but their Hebrew counterparts are not. While the system might occasionally get them mixed up, a human decipherer could easily tell from context which was intended.

Nonetheless, Andrew Robinson remains skeptical. “If the authors believe that their approach will eventually lead to the computerised ‘automatic’ decipherment of currently undeciphered scripts,” he writes in an e-mail, “then I am afraid I am not at all persuaded by their paper.” The researchers’ approach, he says, presupposes that the language to be deciphered has an alphabet that can be mapped onto the alphabet of a known language — “which is almost certainly not the case with any of the important remaining undeciphered scripts,” Robinson writes. It also assumes, he argues, that it’s clear where one character or word ends and another begins, which is not true of many deciphered and undeciphered scripts. “Each language has its own challenges,” Barzilay agrees. “Most likely, a successful decipherment would require one to adjust the method for the peculiarities of a language.” But, she points out, the decipherment of Ugaritic took years and relied on some happy coincidences — such as the discovery of an axe that had the word “axe” written on it in Ugaritic. “The output of our system would have made the process orders of magnitude shorter,” she says. Indeed, Snyder and Barzilay don’t suppose that a system like the one they designed with Knight would ever replace human decipherers. “But it is a powerful tool that can aid the human decipherment process,” Barzilay says. Moreover, a variation of it could also help expand the versatility of translation software. Many online translators rely on the analysis of parallel texts to determine word correspondences: They might, for instance, go through the collected works of Voltaire, Balzac, Proust and a host of other writers, in both English and French, looking for consistent mappings between words. “That’s the way statistical translation systems have worked for the last 25 years,” Knight says. But not all languages have such exhaustively translated literatures: At present, Snyder points out, Google Translate works for only 57 languages. The techniques used in the decipherment system could be adapted to help build lexicons for thousands of other languages. “The technology is very similar,” says Knight, who works on machine translation. “They feed off each other.


“Reportedly, some of the commonly used Silbo introductions have been picked up and repeated by birds.”


“Languages communicated by whistling are relatively rare, but are known from around the world. One example is the Silbo on the island of La Gomera in the Canary Islands, which maintains Spanish’s five vowels, but reduces its consonants down to four. Others exist or existed in all parts of the world including Turkey (Kusköy “Village of the Birds”), France (the village of Aas in the Pyrenees), Mexico (the Zapotecs of Oaxaca), South America (Piraha), Asia (the Chepang of Nepal), and New Guinea. They are especially common and robust today in parts of West Africa, used widely in such populous languages as Yoruba and Ewe. Even French is whistled in some areas of western Africa.

In continental Africa, speech may be conveyed by a whistle or other musical instrument, most famously the “talking drums”. However, while drums may be used by griots singing praise songs or for inter-village communication, and other instruments may be used on the radio for station identification jingles, for regular conversation at a distance whistled speech is used. As two people approach each other, one may even switch from whistled to spoken speech in mid-sentence.

In the Greek village of Antia, the entire population knows how to whistle their speech, and whistled conversations are also carried on at close range.

As the expressivity of whistled speech is limited compared to spoken speech, whistled messages typically consist of stereotyped or otherwise standardized or set expressions, are elaborately descriptive, and often have to be repeated.

However, in languages which are heavily tonal, and therefore convey much of their information through pitch even when spoken, such as Mazatec and Yoruba, extensive conversations may be whistled.

In Africa and indigenous Mexican communities, whistled language is used only by men.

Whistled languages are normally found and used in locations with abrupt relief created by difficult mountainous terrain, slow or difficult communication (no telephones), low population density and/or scattered settlements, and other isolating features such as sheepherding and cultivation of hillsides.

The main advantage of whistling speech is that it allows the speaker to cover much larger distances (typically 1­2 km but up to 5 km) than ordinary speech, and this is assisted by the relief found in areas where whistled languages are used. In practice, many areas with such languages work hard to preserve their ancient traditions, in the face of rapidly advancing telecommunications systems in many areas.

A whistled tone is essentially a simple oscillation (or sine wave), and thus timbral variations are impossible. Normal articulation during an ordinary lip-whistle is relatively easy though the lips move little causing a constant of labialization and making labial and labiodental consonants (p, b, m, f, etc.) impossible.

Apart from the five vowel-phonemes – and even these do not invariably have a fixed or steady pitch – all whistled speech-sound realizations are glides which are interpreted in terms of range, contour, and steepness.

In a non-tonal language, segments may be differentiated as follows:

* Vowels are replaced by a set of relative pitch ranges
* Stress is expressed by higher pitch or increased length
* Consonants are produced by pitch transitions of different lengths and height, plus the presence or absence of occlusion. (“Labial stops are replaced by diaphragm or glottal occlusions.”)

In the case of Silbo Gomero, such strategies produce five vowels and four consonants.

Though whistled languages are not secret codes or secret languages, with the exception of a whistled language used by nanigos terrorists in Cuba during Spanish occupation, they may be used for secretive communication among outsiders or other who do not know or understand the whistled language though they may understand its spoken origin. Supposedly, in Aas during World War II farmers were nearly caught watering down their milk but police were unable to find any evidence as the farmers were warned by whistled messages of the police approaching and were able to prepare. There are similar stories of La Gomera.


[Thanks to K. Beesley and M. Kuha]
“My brother was once hiking around Gomera with a friend. They ran out of drinking water and asked a local person for some. This person said she didn’t have any (it was a very dry area!) but her neighbor up the mountain could help. “I’ll let her know you’re coming” she said, and whistled up the mountain. They walked up the mountain. My brother walked ahead and arrived first. When he got to the house, a stranger sitting there said: “Ah, there you are. The water’s right around the corner there; but where is your friend?”

Why Whistle?
– Essentially, to allow shepherds to communicate across narrow valleys when ordinary language would be inadequate. Distances, normally 1-2 km, can reach 5 km or more.
– It is also used in Africa and Nepal for communication during a hunt.
– It may be used for secrecy, but not for games.

Which Languages Are Also Whistled And Where?
– Mexico: Mazatec, Tepehua, Nahua, Otomi, Totonac, Kickapoo, Chinantec, Zapotec, Amuzgo, Chol.
– Bolivia: Siriono
– France (village of Aas, French Pyrenees): Spanish
– Spain (Canary Islands): Gomero Spanish (“el silbo”)
– Turkey: Kuskoy
– West Africa: Ewe, Tshi, Marka, Ule, Daguri, Birifor, Burunsi, Bobo, Bafia, Bape.
– Nepal: Chepang
– Burma: Chin
– New Guinea: Gasup, Binumarien

– Whistled languages are usually found in areas of low population density and difficult terrain. They are not linked with any particular linguistic group or language type.

– Only males in Mexico and Africa. Both sexes in Europe. Children are initiated early where whistling is used on a normal basis.

– Whistled language has a remote, possibly pre-historic, origin; it is first mentioned in the literature in the 17th century
– It is extinct in Aas; in decline elsewhere, mainly because of the availability of telephones and other means of modern communication
– Apparently, “el silbo” is still taught in a Gomera school in the small village of Chipude, by Isidro Ortiz (tel.: 801013)

– Apart from the African cases where a whistle (the tool) is used, communication consists of whistled realizations of the local language
– Pitch variation are produced by the tongue, with its tip pressed against the teeth, and with the lips immobilized in a rounded or spread position (use of fingers is optional)
– Each phoneme has a whistled equivalent. Given the loss of jaw and lip movement by comparison with ordinary speech, phonetic distinctions are harder to produce. Hence a strong reliance on repetition and context, and a preference for phonemically-simple languages and for the communication of short, simple, routine messages
* Vowel aperture is replaced by a set of more or less stable pitch ranges (only relative – not absolute – Fo matters). In general, vowels are not clearly distinguished.
* Consonants are produced by pitch transitions between vowels.
Transition length and height, plus the presence/absence of
occlusion, are used for differentiation purposes. Labial stops are
replaced by diaphragm or glottal occlusions.
– Stress is expressed by higher pitch or increased length
– Intonation exists, but conflicts with segmental pitch changes.
Hence, for instance, a preference for lexical over tonal questions.

– Apparently, a different pitch range can point to a different
– The sex of a whistler can usually be identified, but of course
less surely than with regular speech
– In tone languages, such as Mazatec and Tepehua mentioned above,
some sacrifice of articulation is necessary to preserve tone
patterns. This may explain why whistling is used at closer range in
these cases.





Canary Island whistles again

A means of communication using whistling is being revived after nearly vanishing from the one island on which it is used. The language is called Silbo Gomero, and is only heard on the Canary Island of La Gomera, off the coast of Morocco. Until recently those who communicated in Silbo were dying out – but the government of the island made it compulsory for all schoolchildren on the island to study it, and now it is making a comeback. “There are real masters of Silbo, but most of them are now very old,” Francisco Rivero, a researcher in the University of La Laguna in the Canary Islands, told BBC World Service’s Outlook programme. “So the local government decided to introduce it to elementary schools, so that children can learn the Silbo technique. “It’s taught in schools as a way of making children aware of their local culture.”

Berber link
Silbo has only four vowels and four consonants. The key to it is understanding the meaning of the many different tones of the whistles. It can be heard more than two miles away – which was the key to its being sustained on the La Gomera. The language has been passed on from father to son as it was essential to be able to communicate over long distances across the inaccessible valleys. “The island is very hilly, with lots of ravines, which make communication very difficult,” explained Dr Rivero. As a result, a tradition developed whereby if one person heard a whistle, they passed it on. Islanders got so skilled at it that messages have been successfully passed right from one end of the island to the other. “Historically, from the earliest settlers on the Canaries, the Silbo language was the mobile phone of the period,” Dr Rivero said. “[It] allowed people to communicate across great distances, because its frequency allowed the sound to be transmitted. “This form of communication dates back before the Spanish conquest, in the 15th Century.”

Silbo is believed to have come to the island from the Berber people of Morocco, Dr Rivero added. The Canary Islands have very strong links with Morocco, particularly the Berbers, and there is evidence that there may be some people deep in the Atlas mountains who also use whistling to communicate. However, Silbo on La Gomera is unique as it has adopted Spanish speech patterns. “It’s practically a language in itself – just like Castilian Spanish – but it relies on tones rather than vowels and consonants,” Dr Rivero stated. “The tones are whispered at different frequencies, using Spanish grammar. If we spoke English here, we’d use an English structure for whistling. “It’s not just disjointed words – it flows, and you can have a proper conversation.”

“Whistling in theatre, particularly on-stage, is considered extremely unlucky. Before the invention of electronic means of communication, sailors were often used as stage technicians, working with the complicated rope systems associated with flying. Coded whistles would be used to call cues, so it is thought that whistling on-stage may cause, for example, a cue to come early, a “sailor’s ghost” to drop a batten or flat on top of an actor, or general bad luck in the performance.”

“Though whistled languages are not secret codes or secret languages (with the exception of a whistled language used by ñañigos insurgencies in Cuba during Spanish occupation (Busnel and Classe 1976: 22)), they may be used for secretive communication among outsiders or others who do not know or understand the whistled language though they may understand its spoken origin. Stories are told of farmers in Aas during World War II, or in La Gomera, who were able to hide evidence of such nefarious activities as milk-watering because they were warned in whistle-speech that the police were approaching (Busnel and Classe 1976: 15).”

from Graham Robb’s chapter on the French language, in The Discovery of France
“The Pyrenean village of Aas, at the foot of the Col d’Aubisque, above the spa town of Eax-Bonnes, had its own whistling language which was unknown even in the neighbouring valleys until it was mentioned on a television programme in 1959. Shepherds who spent the summer months in lonely cabins had evolved an ear-splitting, hundred-decibel language that could be understood at a distance of up to two miles. It was also used by the women who worked in the surrounding fields and was apparently versatile enough in the early twentieth century to convey the contents of the local newspaper. Its last known use was during the Nazi Occupation, when shepherds helped Jewish refugees, Résistants and stranded pilots to cross the border into Spain. A few people in Aas today remember hearing the language, but no one can reproduce the sounds and no recordings were ever made.”


An equally unusual means of communication is the whistle language of Kuskoy or Bird Village in Turkey. No one knows how the whistle language evolved, although it might have begun as a warning signal for Black Sea smugglers or others engaged in illegal activity. Bird Village, about 80 mi. southwest of Trabzon, takes its name from the birdlike whistling that the villagers often use in place of words. Voices don’t carry far in the mountainous region, but the shrill whistles can be heard for miles, the high-pitched sounds carrying news of births and deaths, love affairs, and all the latest gossip. The whistling serves as a kind of house-to-house telegraph system. In order to get the power to “transmit,” the whistler curls his tongue around his teeth so that the air is forced through his lips. No pucker is made, as in most whistling. To amplify the sound, the palm is cupped around the mouth and the whistling “words” come out with a great blast. It’s said that the language is so powerful and complex that lovers can even romance each other with tender whistles from as far away as 5 mi. A similar whistling language is “spoken” by villagers in the Canary Islands, though a Kuskoyite wouldn’t be understood if he whistled to someone there.

Then, of course, there are the so-called secret languages that range from Cockney rhyming slang, underworld jargon, and carny talk to the Pig Latin of schoolboys that can be traced back to the early 17th century. One of the most interesting is the female secret language developed by the women of Arawak, an island in the Lesser Antilles. This language was invented when fierce South American Caribs invaded the island before the time of Columbus, butchering and eating all the relatively peaceful Arawak male inhabitants and claiming their women. In retaliation, the women devised a separate female language based on Arawak, refusing to speak Carib and maintaining silence in the presence of all males, a revenge that was practiced for generations afterward.

Farmers whistle as part of their everyday business
By Chris Morris / 6 November, 1999

I arrived at Halil Cindik’s house as he was having a chat with his friend Kucuk. You know the sort of thing, just a couple of neighbours chewing the cud across the garden fence.

Except in this case, they were somewhat further apart, several hundred metres apart in fact, across a rather wide valley. They’re used to it of course, having grown up in this land of vibrant green mountains and steep wooded slopes near the southern shores of the Black Sea. Houses in the village of Kuskoy perch precariously above little more than thin air. Now the telephone only arrived in these parts a few years ago, so for generations if you did want to talk to your neighbours there was no choice. It was not so much sing for your supper as whistle down the wind.

Bird village
Kuskoy literally means the Bird Village and if you can’t whistle, well you’re probably not from round here. I would try to give you a quick example, but sadly all I could manage was a rather unpleasant raspberry sound. I can accompany my favourite tune on the radio as well as anyone, but this is no ordinary whistle. Intensive training from my hosts on how precisely to angle my tongue and rest my forefinger on my front teeth produced only further embarrassment. In the end, I had to settle for another cup of tea, and the dunce’s hat in the corner. Kuskoy’s champion whistlers, on the other hand, do it loud and proud – with a decibel level anywhere between noticeable and ear-splitting. Halil and Kucuk make it look and sound ever so easy, but earplugs could occasionally be an advantage. I wouldn’t want to get caught in a heated argument on a long winter’s night.

Bird language
And argue they can, because there’s a whole language of whistles which about 1,000 people in and around Kuskoy use. Anything they can say in Turkish, they can whistle as well. And when your best friend is just across the valley – but it takes an hour of rock scrambling to get there – it’s a pretty useful talent to have. At the moment they have 29 separate whistled noises, one for each letter of the Turkish alphabet. But there could be more – just alter the angle of the tongue, and away you go. Education in the fine art of whistling begins at an early age, and it’s a bit like learning to talk – all the local kids pick it up in the end. Practice makes perfect, and the shrill sound of local chatter echoes down the valley more or less constantly.

A long history
No one really knows exactly when it started, only why. But the writer Xenophon described people shouting across valleys in the same region more than 2,000 years ago. Long-distance whistling in Kuskoy is passed down from generation to generation, and it probably has a long history. There are a handful of other villages around the world where the same tradition thrives in similar remote regions of Mexico, Greece and Spain. But Kuskoy believes it boasts the largest concentration of whistlers on the planet. It’s determined that its language will not be allowed to wither and die as people move away from the village, and modern technology intrudes into the mountains. Most people in the area are farmers of one sort or another, and they still whistle as part of their everyday business. News that a lorry might be coming to pick up the tea harvest, or that someone in the valley round the corner has some leaves to sell, whistles quickly through the community.

Technological onslaught
It’s much more than a gimmick. But can this extraordinary language really survive the technological onslaught? Regular telephones were one thing, but mobiles and laptops are quite another. No telegraph poles, no fuss, and no need to venture out onto the roof to whistle across the valley in a sudden mountain storm. It is a significant threat, and the locals admit that sometimes they get a little lazy. But they are determined that what they call their bird language will continue to flourish. As we all get swept along faster and faster by the giddy currents of the communications revolution, the message from Kuskoy is simple – that sometimes the old ways are still the best ones.

“The Mazateco Indians of Oxaca, Mexico, are frequently seen whistling back and forth, exchanging greetings or buying and selling goods with no risk of misunderstanding. The whistling is not really a language ore even a code; it simple uses the rhythms and pitch of ordinary speech without the words. Similar whistling languages have been found in Greece, Turkey and China, whilst other forms of wordless communication include the talking drums (ntumpane) of the Kele in Congo, the xylophones used by the Northern Chin of Burma (Myanmar), the banging on the roots of trees practised by the Melanesians, the yodeling of the Swiss, the humming of the Chekiang Chinese and the smoke signals of the American Indians.”

Herders’ Whistled Language Shows Brain’s Flexibility
BY James Owen / January 5, 2005

Shepherds who whistle to each other across the rocky terrain of the Canary Islands off northwest Africa are shedding light on the language-processing abilities of the human brain, according to scientists. Researchers say the endangered whistled “language'” of Gomera island activates parts of the brain normally associated with spoken language, suggesting that the brain is remarkably flexible in its ability to interpret sounds as language.

The findings are published in tomorrow’s issue of the science journal Nature. “Science has developed the idea of brain areas that are dedicated to language, and we are starting to understand the scope of signals that can be recognized as language,” said David Corina, co-author of the study and associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle. Silbo Gomero is a substitute for Spanish, with individual words recoded into whistles. Vowels and consonants are replaced by tones that are whistled at different frequencies. (“Silbo” comes from the Spanish “silbar”—to whistle.)

Known as silbadores, the whistlers of Gomera are traditionally shepherds and other isolated mountain folk. Their novel means of staying in touch allows them to communicate over long distances—Silbador whistles can travel up to six miles (ten kilometers). “Spanish consonants are mapped into four different whistles and the five vowels into two whistles,” explained lead researcher Manuel Carreiras, psychology professor at the University of La Laguna on the Canary island of Tenerife. “There is much more ambiguity in the whistled signal than in the spoken signal,” he added. Because whistled “words” can be hard to distinguish, silbadores also rely on repetition and context to make themselves understood.

Brain Activity
The study team used neuroimaging equipment to contrast the brain activity of silbadores while listening to whistled and spoken Spanish. Results showed the left temporal lobe of the brain, which is usually associated with spoken language, was engaged during the processing of Silbo Gomero.

The researchers found that other regions in the brain’s frontal lobe also responded to the whistles, including those activated in response to sign language among deaf people. However, brain areas activated in experienced Silbadores differed significantly from those in nonwhistlers who listened to the same sounds but could not understand them. “Our results provide more evidence about the flexibility of human capacity for language in a variety of forms,” Corina said. “These data suggest that left-hemisphere language regions are uniquely adapted for communicative purposes, independent of the modality of signal. The non-Silbo speakers were not recognizing Silbo as a language. They had nothing to grab onto, so multiple areas of their brains were activated.”

Carreiras said silbadores are able to pass a surprising amount of information via their whistles. “The shepherds could whistle a conversation about relativity theory if they wanted, however, they usually talk about other things,” he said. “In daily life they use whistles to communicate short commands, but any Spanish sentence could be whistled.” A silbador sticks a finger in his or her mouth to increase the whistle’s pitch. The other hand can be cupped like a megaphone to direct the sound.

African Roots
Carreiras says the origins of Silbo Gomero remain obscure but that indigenous Canary Islanders, who were of North African extraction, already had a whistled language when Spain conquered the volcanic islands in the 15th century. Whistled languages survive today in Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Vietnam, Guyana, China, Nepal, Senegal, and a few mountainous pockets in southern Europe. There are thought to be as many as 70 whistled languages still in use, though only 12 have been described and studied scientifically.

This form of communication is an adaptation found among cultures where people are often isolated from each other, according to Julien Meyer, a researcher at the Institute of Human Sciences in Lyon, France. “They are mostly used in mountains or dense forests,” he said. Whistled languages, Meyer said, “are quite clearly defined and represent an original adaptation of the spoken language—like a local cellular phone—for the needs of isolated human groups.”

But with modern communication technologies now widely available, researchers say whistled languages like Silbo Gomero are threatened with extinction. “It was a way of communication over deep valleys and steep mountains,” Carreiras said. “Now you can do that with cell phones.” With dwindling numbers of Gomera islanders still fluent in the language, Canaries authorities are taking steps to try to ensure its survival. Since 1999 Silbo Gomero has been taught in all of Gomera’s elementary schools. In addition, locals are seeking assistance from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). “The local authorities are trying to get an award from UNESCO to declare [Silbo Gomero] as something that should be preserved for humanity,” Carreiras added.

Yupik Eskimos and their Russian cousins have long practiced this form of whistling communication.

A whistled conversation in Sochiapam Chinantec

Internet connects those who whistle language
BY Manuela Palma de Figueiredo / 2006

Suddenly, in the constant rustling of the Thai jungle, a clear, strong whistle cuts through the air. Meaningless to the uninitiated, this melodious phrase, resembling birdsong, carries precise information: hidden in the dense tropical vegetation, a hunter from the Hmong people is sending a long-distance message to his fellow-hunters about their plan for trapping a wild boar they have been tracking for hours.

Languages facing extinction
This event, like something from the ancient past, is by no means confined to one isolated group. Unknown to most people, and marginalized by linguists, whistled languages have been used the world over for millennia, but are now threatened with extinction within this generation or the next. Passionately interested in languages and all modern forms of communication, Julien Meyer, a 30-year-old French bio-acoustician and linguist, refuses to simply do nothing while a part of the world’s heritage is threatened by the movement of people from the countryside to the cities and by the emergence of new technology. Over the past 10 years, he has verified the existence of 34 whistled and drummed languages throughout the world, and devoted his skills and energy to studying, documenting and preserving a dozen of them. For his determination to safeguard a fast-disappearing, age-old practice, Julien Meyer has been selected as an Associate Laureate in the 2006 Rolex Awards.

Languages tie human beings to nature
Whistled languages communicate over distances like a mobile phone, but they are free and no technology is required. They faithfully transpose the grammar, syntax and, syllable by syllable, the vocabulary of the spoken languages they are based on, producing an accurate rhythmic and melodic copy of them. Other languages exist in drummed form, which is less precise and more repetitive, and is used more for making public announcements than for dialogue.

Whistled and drummed languages are used in Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania, in remote areas which have a very rich biodiversity. They overcome distance – up to 30 kilometres for talking drums – and cut through background noise, demonstrating the extraordinary adaptability of groups living in mountainous areas and dense forest, where communication is a constant challenge. “Whistled and drummed speech unites humans and nature by means of language,” Meyer explains. “Sound needs the natural environment as a carrier to propagate it over a long distance. In addition, these communication methods are a unique source of information about their users’ environment and social life.”

Taking steps to preserve a dying form of communication
The first studies of whistled languages were carried out in 1950 by Professor René-Guy Busnel. This famous French scientist, now retired, was the first to study this form of language in terms of linguistics as well as acoustics. Since then, however, whistled speech has raised little interest among linguists, and almost half a century went by before Meyer took up the cause of this fascinating method of communication.

In 1997, while studying at the Ecole Supérieure d’Ingénieurs (school of higher engineering studies) in Marseille, France, Meyer dreamed of working on languages and being able to apply his technical knowledge to concrete cases. He stumbled on an article about Béarnais, an extinct whistled language from the Pyrenees Mountains in France. It was an eye-opener for Meyer. “It struck me that whistled languages provided a natural link between telecommunication systems and human language,” he recalls. He immediately immersed himself in the literature about this unusual subject and began planning visits to regions where people use whistled and drummed languages. He taught himself the spoken languages of some of these regions (he now speaks six languages) and, once he had completed his diploma in bio-acoustics, he set about acquiring the linguistic skills necessary to study whistled and drummed languages. During this time he discovered Busnel’s work, and was spellbound. Eventually they met, and from the first discussions, it was a meeting of like minds. “Julien is the inheritor of my scientific past,” says Busnel, who was born in 1914.

Developing a worldwide network for study
Faithful to the pioneering thinking of the man he regards as his “oldest friend”, Julien Meyer was convinced that the key to understanding whistled languages lay in studying them acoustically as well as linguistically. In 2003, he travelled around the world, forging close links with whistling communities and master drummers in France, Spain, Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Colombia, the Republic of Vanuatu, Laos, Thailand, Nepal, Turkey and Greece. During his travels he recorded about 30 hours of whistled and drummed languages for subsequent analysis using the most advanced acoustic techniques. The recordings also provided material for his doctoral thesis on the intelligibility of whistled languages, written in 2005 for the University of Lyon 2 and the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), in France.

Taking the project on-line
This was only the start, however, for the brilliant bio-acoustician who had an even bigger goal in mind: to preserve this priceless cultural heritage at risk of constant erosion by modern technology – which could, ironically, also hold the key to keeping this heritage alive. Meyer will now set up, with the funds from his Rolex Award, an interactive Internet site featuring recordings, photographs and documentation on whistled and drummed languages. This project, ‘The World Whistles’, will be undertaken with close cooperation with the people who use whistled and drummed languages. They will also contribute to the site and oversee the use of the data on it. “By giving them the opportunity to take over modern technology for their own use, and to communicate with other whistling and drumming people whose existence they never even dreamed of, I’m hoping to revive their belief in their own culture. Whistled and drummed languages belong to the people who use them,” insists Meyer, for whom human beings are clearly more important than scientific results. “Respect for our fellow man is the first condition in acquiring knowledge.”

Julien Meyer
julien.meyer [at] theworldwhistles [dot] org / julien.meyer [at] etu.univ-lyon2 [dot] fr

The Pied Piper Of Hamelin Had Nothing On A Frenchman Who Summons
Grasshoppers, Crows And Tree Frogs With Calls Of The Wild
BY John O’Reilly / July 16, 1956

Dr. Rene-Guy Busnel, a vivacious French physiologist, has been visiting American scientific centers telling his audiences how he can whistle up grasshoppers and provoke numerous other reactions among members of the animal kingdom by subjecting them to a variety of sounds. In this country certain uses are made of animal responses to sound. Hunters use crow calls, moose calls and duck calls. Bird watchers attract birds with squeaking devices. The recorded and amplified cries of a starling in anguish are used to scare off other starlings. But Dr. Busnel, who is director of the Laboratoire de Physiologie Acoustique of the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique in France, has delved much deeper into the subject. He is a slender man with upright hair, which gives him a look of chronic astonishment. This serves to emphasize his startling pronouncements. He recently described how he and his assistants had recorded the distress call of a crow when it was being attacked by a peregrine falcon. Then he showed pictures of them taking a sound truck out into the countryside where they played the recording real loud. Crows came to the truck from two to three miles away and flew around it for 20 minutes, apparently intent upon ganging up on the falcon. They played the sound backwards and still the crows came from afar.

Dr. Busnel’s most impressive experiment came when he demonstrated his power over female grasshoppers. First he described how the male grasshopper of this particular species attracts the females during the breeding season by emitting a series of sharp sounds. Then the lights went out and he ran color motion pictures of the experiment. A Frenchman was stretched prone on the ground blowing repeated blasts on a small, shrill whistle. Some 20 feet away was a female grasshopper. Steadily she crawled toward the whistler, making her way over weeds and grass and sand. Slowly she walked up the Frenchman’s arm, onto his face and finally perched on his nose right over the whistle. This was repeated time and again and soon grasshoppers were coming from several directions. One climbed up on the whistler’s arm, disappeared behind his neck, then came into view over the top of his head and crawled down his face to the whistle. At one point two Frenchmen, each with a whistle, stretched out on the sand some 10 feet apart and with a grasshopper between them. They kept calling the grasshopper back and forth until it seemed that the creature would develop schizophrenia.

The physiologist related his surprise during a meeting in his laboratory when a tree frog answered human applause. When the group clapped their hands the frog croaked. This led to more experiments, and Dr. Busnel played a recording of the frog croaking in response to a metronome and to pieces of glass being clanked together. Going beyond his own experiments Dr. Busnel told how the Chinese repel hawks by putting whistles on the wings of their pigeons; that an automobile horn will make a hippopotamus rise out of the water; that certain sounds will make a crocodile open its mouth; and that African natives attract fish with a crude device which makes sounds under water. The French scientist was loth to discuss the practical applications of his own discoveries other than to say that the economic uses of some of them were obvious. It is evident that it would be a boon to farmers if they could call crows out of their corn fields. It also is plain that insect pests could be destroyed if the females could be called in at breeding time. It may not be too farfetched to visualize a fisherman collecting bait by whistling up grasshoppers and crickets. Many people would like to order pigeons out of town and it would be good to impress upon rabbits that they should stay out of the garden. There is plenty that should be conveyed to mice and moles.

“I think of the distance between Casablanca and Muscat. The countries mark the Western and Eastern edges of the Arab world; they are separated by only a few thousand miles, but their customs are far more divergent than the distance between them might imply. The language which connects them is like a thread, which unravels at its edges. In Morocco, it is mixed with Berber and French. In Oman, with the whistling language of the mountain people.”

“…we did not attract as many dolphins as we have seen previously but all the same we did have a few come along side us for a distance to the delight of all on board. The Omani’s whistle and holler at the dolphins believing that the noise attracts them to the boat…”

The Pirahã People
BY Leonardo Vintiñi / Jul 3, 2008

Discovered by phonetic expert Professor Dan Everett of Manchester University in 1977, the Pirahã tribe of Brazil have perhaps the most unusual language among the nearly 6000 found on earth. Free from concepts of time, color, or specific quantity, the mind of the Pirahã people appears to have been frozen in time—representing man in a simpler state. Everett has put much effort into understanding the Pirahã language, and their culture, for the past 25 years. As one of very few outside the tribe who’ve managed to tackle this mysterious language, Everett still makes up a significant percentage of Pirahã speakers; the population of this unique Amazon tribe consists of only a few hundred people. The language of the Pirahãs is extreme: it is limited to 8 consonants for men, seven for women, and only three vowels. It does not contain concepts for counting or simple arithmetic—Everett notes that the Pirahã convey varying amounts through approximation.

Immediate Experience
Perhaps most intriguing, Everett found that the Pirahãs don’t use recursive phrases. In other words, they don’t insert phrases within each other to combine different ideas to form a single sentence. Everett thoroughly tested about 20 Pirahãs, and found that none of them used a recursive clause. According to Everett, the Pirahã only talk and think in terms of direct experience. The kind of referencing that occurs in recursive phrases just isn’t a part of their thinking. “[For the Pirahã] sentences…cannot be uttered acceptably in the absence of a particular pair of animals or instructions about a specific animal to a specific hunter. In other words, when such sentences are used, they are describing specific experiences, not generalizing across experiences. It is of course more difficult to say that something does not exist than to show that it does exist, but… in the context of my nearly three decades of regular research on Pirahã, it leads me to the conclusion that there is no strong evidence for the existence of quantifiers in Pirahã,” writes Everett in his 2005 paper for Current Anthropology, ‘Cultural Constraints on Grammar and Cognition in Pirahã.’

Despite Everett’s extensive study with this tribe, his claim for a lack of recursion in the language has many colleagues doubting his conclusions. The qualities of the Pirahã language, as described by Everett, fly in the face of what many linguists consider a universal law of all languages. According to the very influential linguist Noam Chomsky, recursion is something that has proved innate to all human thought throughout the world. Many insist that this infallible lingual law is supposed to apply to absolutely all languages (except, of course, that of the Pirahã). But Everett had only come to this conclusion over time. While he had sensed a lack of recursion in the language early on, for years Everett had been a devoted Chomskyan linguist himself, and attempted to fit his findings within this framework. Yet try as he might, he found that many aspects of the Pirahã language did not adhere to the Chomsky model. “…some of the components of so-called core grammar are subject to cultural constraints, something that is predicted not to occur by the universal-grammar model. I argue that these apparently disjointed facts about the Pirahã language—gaps that are very surprising from just about any grammarian’s perspective—ultimately derive from a single cultural constraint in Pirahã, namely, the restriction of communication to the immediate experience of the interlocutors,” states Everett.

Rethinking Linguistics
According to Everett, the deceptively simple language of the Pirahãs is not an indicator of a mental failing— curiously, the tribe sees all other languages to be quite ridiculous. While their language may seem simple from our perspective, Everett says that they just use different means to convey concepts and emotions. He states that the Pirahã have a complex verbal morphology and system of accents that give the language its expressive color. “The Pirahã people communicate almost as much by singing, whistling, and humming as they do using consonants and vowels,” he writes. Another surprising fact is the absence of myth, ritual, symbolism or any other anthropological characteristic that relates the Pirahãs with other cultures throughout history. For the Pirahã, there does not exist any creator God, or moment of creation; nothing was ever created because it always existed. Their concept and experience of time reduces it to the absolute present. In fact, there are no members of the community interested in tracking the records of grandparents, much less older ancestors. To the Pirahã, once something is outside of direct experience, it ceases to exist. They don’t even seem to have any storytelling. With no color, no time, and no need for recursive sentence structure, could it be that for the Pirahã further detail would seem needlessly redundant? Or do these concepts simply not fit into the Pirahã worldview? Everett says that the Pirahã see other languages as laughable, and show no desire to pursue “Portuguese (or American) knowledge but oppose its coming into their lives. They ask questions about outside cultures largely for the entertainment value of the answers.” Since various defenders of Chomsky’s doctrine do not share Everett’s opinions, could the Pirahã tribe simply represent a state of intellectual development that modern linguistic laws fail to understand?

The Interpreter : Has a remote Amazonian tribe upended our understanding of language?
BY John Colapinto / April 16, 2007

One morning last July, in the rain forest of northwestern Brazil, Dan Everett, an American linguistics professor, and I stepped from the pontoon of a Cessna floatplane onto the beach bordering the Maici River, a narrow, sharply meandering tributary of the Amazon. On the bank above us were some thirty people—short, dark-skinned men, women, and children—some clutching bows and arrows, others with infants on their hips. The people, members of a hunter-gatherer tribe called the Pirahã, responded to the sight of Everett—a solidly built man of fifty-five with a red beard and the booming voice of a former evangelical minister—with a greeting that sounded like a profusion of exotic songbirds, a melodic chattering scarcely discernible, to the uninitiated, as human speech. Unrelated to any other extant tongue, and based on just eight consonants and three vowels, Pirahã has one of the simplest sound systems known. Yet it possesses such a complex array of tones, stresses, and syllable lengths that its speakers can dispense with their vowels and consonants altogether and sing, hum, or whistle conversations. It is a language so confounding to non-natives that until Everett and his wife, Keren, arrived among the Pirahã, as Christian missionaries, in the nineteen-seventies, no outsider had succeeded in mastering it. Everett eventually abandoned Christianity, but he and Keren have spent the past thirty years, on and off, living with the tribe, and in that time they have learned Pirahã as no other Westerners have. “Xaói hi gáísai xigíaihiabisaoaxái ti xabiíhai hiatíihi xigío hoíhi,” Everett said in the tongue’s choppy staccato, introducing me as someone who would be “staying for a short time” in the village. The men and women answered in an echoing chorus, “Xaói hi goó kaisigíaihí xapagáiso.” Everett turned to me. “They want to know what you’re called in ‘crooked head.’”

“Crooked head” is the tribe’s term for any language that is not Pirahã, and it is a clear pejorative. The Pirahã consider all forms of human discourse other than their own to be laughably inferior, and they are unique among Amazonian peoples in remaining monolingual. They playfully tossed my name back and forth among themselves, altering it slightly with each reiteration, until it became an unrecognizable syllable. They never uttered it again, but instead gave me a lilting Pirahã name: Kaaxáoi, that of a Pirahã man, from a village downriver, whom they thought I resembled. “That’s completely consistent with my main thesis about the tribe,” Everett told me later. “They reject everything from outside their world. They just don’t want it, and it’s been that way since the day the Brazilians first found them in this jungle in the seventeen-hundreds.”

Daniel Everett
email ; dan.everett [at] [dot] uk

‘Katz, Fred and Marlene Dobkin de Rios (1971) Hallucinogenic Music: an Analysis of the Role of Whistling in Peruvian Ayahuasca Healing Sessions’

“Norma, the vegetalista who so astonished me with her care, skill and knowledge during my first ceremony two nights prior, had packed a big bowl with a knot of the local Nicotina Rustica and had blown curling, whistling smoke over a plastic liter bottle filled with an opaque orangish liquid I knew to be ayahuasca, the potent brew of tryptamines and MAO inhibitors that has been prepared in the Upper Amazon for perhaps sixteen thousand years. I knew it to be ayahuasca, since I had, after all, helped mix it the day before, pounding a kilo of the soft woody vine of fresh B. Caapi liana and tossing about fifty green glossy leaves of P. Viridis, a DMT-containing relative of coffee, into the black cauldron simmering over a wood fire on the shores of the Yanayacu River, one of the eleven hundred tributaries of the Amazon. Back home this could be a felony. Here, I now understood, it’s a medicine.

The smoke whistle is a trope, a refrain that often begins or ends an Icaro, one of the beautiful songs sung and whistled continuously throughout the four-hour shamanic ayahuasca ceremony. The smoke and its whistling inflection act as protocols to open up a spirit portal, an active earth surface, while keeping unwelcome entities–what I think of as affects–at bay. After my first session, I had also learned that the songs serve to orient the ayahuasca drinker. The songs mime and sample the birdsong of the region, an ecosystem with over two thousand species of birds and the poly-rhythms of chatter from over 500,000 insect species. I held onto and was held by the Icaros, giving intense thanks for the whistled orientation.

Finding ayahuasca in Iquitos is not difficult. One does not need a sense for occult locales to locate it–it is, according to anthropologist Marlene Dobkin de Rios, an integral part of the medicine of the region. But the pilgrim/tourist who seeks the enlightenment of the yage way of knowledge has probably begun training well before the departure gate. Or should have. For by all accounts, ayahuasca (a potent admixture of various DMT and Monoxidase Inhibitor containing plants found in the region) is hardly a recreational drink. Like other ecodelics, ayahuasca can yield very different kinds of journeys, depending on the “set and setting” of the tea drinker, including programming offered by curanderos in the form of Icaros–the rhythmic and often whistled songs that accompany and guide the tea drinker on her journey. Anxious, even terrifying trips are not uncommon, and unlike the legendary brown acid of Woodstock, it is usually not the psychedelic agent that is the ultimate or even proximate cause of the distress. The problem, the drinker discovers, is the self, which must give way on its attachments if it is to abide the massively parallel consciousness induced by ayahuasca. This parallel consciousness is often presented as a multitude of entities and forms for whom death is a transition but not a destination–“Ayahuasca” means “vine of the dead” in Quechua, and is sought out for its ability, among other things, to erode the very distinction between the living and the dead. But to abide this parallel presentation, an enormous flow of information not verifiable in the serial time of the body, the pilgrim prepares the self for its momentary disappearance through a culling of the self and its wants. Each pilgrim begins with a regime of selective self-negation or denial: the would be interdimensional traveler must fast prior to the ayahuasca ceremony, or face the wrath of a possible inadvertent serotonin crisis provoked by a piece of cheese or chocolate and their MAOI ingredients.”

Marlene Dobkin de Rios
email : mderios [at] marlenedobkinderios [dot] com

“Note: Peruvian whistling vessels are not musical instruments. They are pre-Columbian artifacts which have recently been discovered to be highly effective psychoacoustical instruments, capable of rapidly inducing a profound, positive, beautiful, and beneficial altered state of consciousness which lasts as long as the vessels are being blown.”

The acoustic component: the “Whistling Bottles”
In a short article published in 1971, “Hallucinogenic Music,” Marlene Dobkin de Rios and Fred Katz attempt to argue that there is an important acoustical component to the Yage ceremony. (Katz and de Rios 1971.) Certainly, others had noted the shaman’s use of a schacapa or rattle to mark important points in the ceremony. And other ethnographers have noted that in other cultures, the use of drums or other percussive instruments is part and parcel of the ceremony, creating conditions of “sonic driving” which may help entrain brainwaves. But de Rios points out that one of the most important parts of the Yage folk music performed by the shaman was whistling – the use of certain precise tones at different parts of the ceremony. What significance did this have? She mentions the ancient Pythagorean belief of musical effects on consciousness, with musical progressions linked to states of mind, and the synaesthetic experience that some hallucinogen users report between musical tones and color perceptions or emotional experiences. And admits that even today, knowledge of psychoacoustics (the neurological effects of music on the brain) is in its infancy.

So while it could purely be a cultural component – i.e. the melody creates certain folk associations on the part of the listener, providing content for the visionary experience – she questions whether a more direct effect might not be involved. The shaman would whistle, she noted, to help bring a ‘client’ out of a ‘bad trip’ or negative experience, or to assist the person with some transitional point in the psychedelic visions. Certain tonic progressions would coincide precisely with these transitions. She suggests, “…the preponderance of the tone G could be viewed as the dominant tone away from the tonic C. Perhaps this contrastive situation potentiates the activation of the ayahuasca alkaloids…” De Rios seems to suggest that mostly oral (i.e. non-instrumentally augmented) whistling was involved in the ceremonies she saw, but this may not be universally the case. And this musical component of the ceremony (the need to generate specific whistling tones) may provide the clue to some mysterious Moche artefacts – the so-called “whistling bottles.”

These ceramics were made by pre-Columbian peoples living along the coast of Peru between 500 BCE and up until the Spanish Conquest. They were made primarily by the Moche craftsmen, but can also be found in Chimu and other cultures. The vessels are generally dual-chambered: one chamber is the “inside” of some type of effigy figure, and the other chamber contains a spout. The two chambers are linked on the exterior by a bridge handle which contains a whistling cavity, and an inner cavity. Most archaeologists assume they are drinking vessels, with their whistle being used as “an amusing vent to facilitate the passage of air when pouring and filling with liquid.” However, there is some reason to believe that these curious artefacts were used for more than just imbibing beverages. Daniel Statnekov, an amateur collector, reported that when he blew into one of these whistling vessels, it generated an eerie, high-pitched tone, and he had a sudden feeling of perceiving himself as a moving luminescence rushing rapidly through space, before he confronted an inky black cloud that chilled him “like death” and suddenly forced him to snap out of his vision. He had not used any drug prior to this experience – but it was extraordinarily similar to that reported by yage users! (Statnekov 1987.)

Statnekov set out to prove scientifically that these “whistling bottles” were not used primarily for drinking. He and acoustic physicist Steven Garrett tested about seventy of the bottles, from different cultures and time periods, using the following analysis: pressurized air was sent through the bottles in an anechoic chamber, and the resulting sound passed through a spectrum analyzer. Often as many as seven partials, harmonics of the fundamental frequency, could be detected. They found that the average frequency of the Moche/Huari bottles was around 1320 Hz, whereas the Chimu/Chancay bottles averaged a tone of about 2670 Hz. The earlier cultures tended to produce “enclosed-type,” dual-tone low-frequency whistles, where the second tone could be achieved by halving the blowing pressure, creating a tone about 0.65 of the original frequency. They concluded, “The frequencies of a bottle produced by a specific set of cultures tend on average to be within +/- 14% of the average frequency. On the basis of the small octave range… we are reasonably sure they were not used as musical instruments… however, the clustering of frequencies… in the range of the ear’s greatest sensitivity… and the high sound levels produced by the whistles when blown orally… suggest they were produced as whistles…” (Garrett and Statnekov 1987.)

So, they’re not used as musical instruments, and people very likely didn’t hear very much when drinking from them, so they probably weren’t useful as ritual beverage containers either. What were they? I suspect Statnekov’s experience holds the key. The whistling bottles may have peculiar psychoacoustic effects on their own when blown orally. But more likely, as Dobkin de Rios suggested, such whistles may have been used to potentiate and synergistically amplify the Yage experience. They may have been used by Moche shamans to generate the specific tonal sequences thought to be necessary for guiding the Yage ‘trip.’ After the conquest, shamans may have resorted to purely oral, non-amplified or instrumentalized whistling as an alternative, which is why de Rios didn’t find such things in use among her subjects. However, the manufacture of such vessels may not have stopped with the Spanish Conquest; I suspect careful examination by ethnographers may turn up their continued use in Yage ceremonies in the Andes today. Their effects on consciousness require some more psychophysical study.


Orangutan’s Spontaneous Whistling Opens New Chapter In Study Of Evolution Of Speech / Dec. 12, 2008

Throughout history, human beings have used the whistle for everything from hailing a cab to carrying a tune. Now, an orangutan’s spontaneous whistling is providing scientists at Great Ape Trust of Iowa new insights into the evolution of speech and learning. In a paper published in December in Primates, an international journal of primatology that provides a forum on all aspects of primates in relation to humans and other animals, Great Ape Trust scientist Dr. Serge Wich and his colleagues provide the first-ever documentation of a primate mimicking a sound from another species without being specifically trained to do so. Bonnie, a 30-year-old female orangutan living at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., began whistling – a sound that is in a human’s, but not an orangutan’s, repertoire – after hearing an animal caretaker make the sound.

“This is important because it provides a mechanism to explain documented between-population variation in sounds for wild orangutans,” Wich said. “In addition, it counters a long-held assumption that non-human primates have fairly fixed sound repertoires that are not under voluntary control. Being able to learn new sounds and use these voluntarily are also two important aspects of human speech and these findings open up new avenues to study certain aspects of human speech evolution in our closest relatives.” Previous studies have indicated that orangutans and chimpanzees are capable of species-atypical sounds and vocalizations, but only under the strong influence of human training. Bonnie, however, was not explicitly trained to whistle, according to Wich and his co-authors – Great Ape Trust scientists Dr. Karyl Swartz and Dr. Rob Shumaker; Madeleine E. Hardus and Adriano R. Lameira, doctoral candidates at the Utrecht University in The Netherlands assigned to the Ketambe Research Center in Sumatra, where Wich is research co-manager; and Erin Stromberg, an animal caretaker at the National Zoo.

Scientists have long known that orangutans copy physical movements of humans, but Bonnie’s whistling indicates that the learning capacities of orangutans and other great apes in the auditory domain might be more flexible than previously believed, Wich said. The behavior goes against the argument that orangutans have no control over their vocalizations and the sounds are purely emotional – that is, an involuntary response to stimuli such as predators. Bonnie appears to whistle for the sake of making a sound rather than to receive a food reward or some other incentive. If asked to whistle, she is likely to oblige, another indication to scientists that she makes the sound voluntarily.

In their paper, Wich and his colleagues also shared anecdotal information about Indah, a female orangutan who lived with Bonnie at the National Zoo before moving to Great Ape Trust in 2004. Indah also began to whistle some years after Bonnie was first observed making the sound in the late 1980s, but Indah died before recordings could be made of her whistles. Scientists believe that Indah’s whistling was a vocalization learned from Bonnie. That compares with what scientists assume about social learning in wild orangutan populations. For example earlier work by Dr. van Schaik and colleagues showed that wild orangutans in one population make a “raspberry” sound during nest-making, while orangutans in another population make a “nest smack” sound when engaged in the same activity. Wich said it’s unlikely that purely genetic or ecological factors explain the differences in sounds of different orangutan populations. Rather, it’s more likely others copy one orangutan’s innovative sound because the sound serves a function. “This is a very strong indication that different sounds among wild populations are learned and are not purely genetically or ecologically based,” Wich said. “This is a great indication that orangutans can learn sounds not in their repertoire from another species, and they are flexible in using them.”

The scientific investigation with Bonnie at the National Zoo was supported in part by a grant from the David Bohnett Foundation and complements field studies of wild orangutans, where differences have been noted in the call repertoires between populations. A strength at Great Ape Trust is the ability of its scientists to conduct simultaneous studies on both captive orangutans and wild orangutans on the Indonesian island of Sumatra at the Ketambe Research Center, where Wich is research co-manager. “Bringing captive and field research together is an unharvested field,” Wich said, “and it offers great potential to Great Ape Trust.”

The research also builds on earlier investigations by ape language pioneer Dr. Sue Savage-Rumbaugh a scientist with special standing at Great Ape Trust, and others on the ability of great apes to imitate human speech. Specifically, Savage-Rumbaugh’s 1991 investigation centered on whether the bonobo Kanzi, a member of the colony of bonobos now living at Great Ape Trust, might have structurally different vocalizations than bonobos in another group. In a 2004 study, Savage-Rumbaugh looked at whether Kanzi was attempting to imitate human speech. The results of these studies did enlarge scientists’ appreciation of the plasticity in primate sound and vocal learning and indicated that primates might have some plasticity to produce completely new sounds, Wich and his colleagues wrote. The new findings reopen the door on such research. “One of the main things we do not understand yet is the evolution of speech,” Wich said.




Q: What is the Hobo Convention?
A: The National Hobo Convention is the largest gathering of hobos,
rail-riders, and tramps, who gather to celebrate the American
traveling worker.

Q: When and where is the Hobo Convention?
A: The National Hobo Convention is held the second weekend every
August in Britt, Iowa

Q: How can we get to the Hobo Convention?
A: Britt, Iowa is located 31 miles west of Mason City, Iowa. Route 18
travels through Britt. Greyhound Bus services Mason City. Clear Lake
Municipal Airport offers flight service.

Q: Can we still ride a freight train to the Convention?
A: Freight train riding is illegal! Train service to Britt, Iowa is
sporadic at best. There are  trains daily in either direction but the
schedule varies quite a bit. While we don’t condone freight train
riding, we recognize that there will be individuals who will choose to
travel that way. Please be careful.

Q: What is there to do at the Hobo Convention?
A: Aside from the scheduled events, there are many opportunities to
visit with local townspeople and hobos and share stories and music and
poetry. There is also many tourist attractions in the area including,
the Armstrong House, The Grotto of the Redemption, The Surf Ballroom,
the Museum of Farming and Agriculture. Hancock County Race track is
located in Britt and has weekend racing.

Q: Are there any real Hobos at the Convention?
A: There are many former and current hobos who join us at the

Q: Are there any hotel or camping facilities at the Convention?
A: There are hotels in Mason City and Clear Lake, Iowa. There is
camping available in Britt.

Q: Where do the Hobos stay?
A: Most of the hobos stay at the hobo jungle, located on the Northeast
side of town, by the railroad tracks.

Q: Who runs the Hobo Convention?
A: The City of Britt runs the Hobo Days Celebration, The Council of
Hobos (Tourist Union 63)  handles the business of the convention. The
Hobo Foundation operates the Hobo Museum and maintains the Hobo

Q: Can we drink at the Convention?
A: The Convention events are located on public property. Local laws do
not allow for drinking alcoholic beverages on public property. There
are a number of taverns located in Britt.

Q: Can anyone become Hobo King or Hobo Queen?
A: To be elected King you must be a true rail-rider. You must pass a
committee of hobo kings who will test your worthiness to run. To run
for queen, you must attend the convention for 3 years and help out at
the convention.

Q: How can we trace a loved one who was on the rails or possibly still
on the rails?
A: You may contact the Hobo Museum for more information. Call
641-843-9104. During Hobo week, you may ask at the Hobo Jungle.

Q: How can we get someone buried at the Hobo Cemetery?
A: Contact the Hobo Foundation for information at 641-843-9104.

Q: How can I donate to the Hobos?

A: You may donate to the hobos at the hobo jungle during Hobo Week, or
you can donate financially or with memorabilia at the Hobo Museum


“City life is interesting but full of danger. … The flophouse
and the cheap hotel compel promiscuity, but do not encourage intimacy
or neighborliness. On the outskirts of cities, however, the homeless
men have established social centers that they call “jungles,” places
where the hobos congregate to pass their leisure time outside the
urban centers.” [1]

Allan Pinkerton made one of the first descriptions of a hobo jungle
back in 1877. While he doesn’t use the term hobo (it doesn’t come into
custom until the 1890s), he does describe a scene which would become
all too common along the railroad lines in the coming decades. This
scene was reported as repeatedly occuring along the line of the Boston
and Albany railroad.

“It is night, and in a deep gorge near the railroad, where the
trains are constantly passing and repassing, a collection of some
twenty or thirty of these outcasts, who have been driven from a
neighboring village, are gathered. At the bottom of the gorge, where a
stream of water leaps down from the hills through the stone archway
sustaining the tracks, are sleeping or dozing, about a fire which has
been kindled for warmth and to cook what little the wanderers may have
stolen or begged for their supper, a large number of the poor fellows,
exhausted from their day’s march; for, like “Joe” in Dickens’s “Bleak
House,” it is their destiny to be kept “moving on” and on. In
different places are seen old and young men who have retired from the
companionship of their fellows, to brood over their misfortunes,
regret lost opportunities in the past, or possibly to resolve upon
better things for the future….” [2]

Pinkerton hit on the elements of what would come to be called “the
jungle”. Not only are the geographical characteristics correct, but
his description of a ‘society’ of outcasts, gathering, eating, and
sleeping together is a fine description of the social function of the

The hobo jungle was a place to rest and repair while on the road
outside of the city. Some were more permanent than others, but all
shared the element of refuge, an out-of-the-way place where the hobo
could eat, sleep, read a newspaper and wash himself before heading out

Accordingly, the jungle was located near the railroad, close enough to
get to and from the train yard or rail line but not so close as to
attract unwanted attention. According to Anderson, accessibilty to the
railroad is but one of the requirements for a good jungle. “It should
be located in a dry and shady place that permits sleeping on the
ground. There should be plenty of water for cooking and bathing and
wood enough to keep the pot boiling. If there is a general store near
by where bread, meat, and vegetables may be had, so much the better.
For those who have no money, but enough courage to ‘bum lumps’ it is
well that the jungles be not too far from a town, though far enough to
escape the attention of the natives and officials, the town
“clowns.” [3]

Anderson divides jungle camps into two classes: the temporary and the
permanent. Temporary jungles are just stop-overs or relay stations
inhabited intermittantly by men temporarily stranded and seeking a
place to lay-over without being molested by authorities or criminals.
Of course, a smart man would look first for a place where others have
already been because there he might find a pot to cook in. In places
where the trains stop frequently – always a convenience – these camps
tend to become more permanent.

In the jungle camp, especially a permanent jungle camp, might be found
pots or kettles, utensils of various kinds, a line strung on which to
dry clothes or a mirror with which a man might more easily shave. Much
in the tradition of the cowboy camp whose basic tenet is that you
leave it as you found it, the jungle has certain rules designed to
keep it functional and self-sustaining.

Jungle Crimes
* Making fire by night in jungles subject to raids.
* “hi-jacking” or robbing men at night when sleeping in the jungle
* “buzzing” or making the jungle a permanent hangout for jungle
“buzzards” who subsist on the leavings of meals
* wasting food or destroying it after eating is a serious crime
* leaving pots and other utensils dirty after using
* cooking without first hustling fuel
* destroying jungle equipment

“In addition to these fixed offenses are other crimes which are dealt
with as they arise. Men are supposed to use cooking cans for cooking
only, “boiling up” cans for washing clothing, coffee cans to cook
coffee, etc. After using, guests are expected to clean utensils, dry
them, and leave them turned bottom side up so that they will not fill
with rainwater and rust. They are expected to keep the camp clean. To
enforce such common-sense rules, self-appointed committees come into
existence.” [4]

“The jungle also is the kindergarten for the road kid and the
academy for all. Here are learned the techniques of survival and even
enjoyment. There is, at the simplest stage, the two-times table of
tramping: the shorthand code of symbols which the floater’s eye picks
up on a town’s signboard or gatepost, the half-moons and triangles and
interlinked circles and crossed lines that indicate in hieroglyphic
detail the reception a hobo can expect and the potentials for working
or bumming.” [5]

While often viewed as the haven in which hobo law, lore and tradition
were passed on, the jungle could also be a place of danger and
intimidation. Police, railroad bulls and criminals could find
scapegoats or easy targets in the jungle congregation.

On all counts, the good and bad, the jungle was the place where “the
fledgling learns to behave like an old timer,” where the “slang… and
the cant of the tramp class is circulated” and where the “stories and
songs current among the men of the road, the sentiments, the
attitudes, and the philosophy” of the migratory laborer are aired and
passed on. [6]

As the railroad carried the hobo from the jungles to the cities and
back again, it also carried the slang, stories, songs and sentiments
that were the heart of hobo culture.


As inscribed in the Annual Convention Congress of the Hoboes of
America held on August 8, 1894 at the Hotel Alden, 917 Market St.,
Chicago Illinois;

1. Decide your own life, don’t let another person run or rule you.
2. When in town, always respect the local law and officials, and try to be a gentleman at all times.
3. Don’t take advantage of someone who is in a vulnerable situation, locals or other hobos.
4. Always try to find work, even if temporary, and always seek out jobs nobody wants. By doing so you not only help a business along, but insure employment should you return to that town again.
5. When no employment is available, make your own work by using your added talents at crafts.
6. Do not allow yourself to become a stupid drunk and set a bad example for locals treatment of other hobos.
7. When jungling in town, respect handouts, do not wear them out, another hobo will be coming along who will need them as bad, if not worse than you.
8. Always respect nature, do not leave garbage where you are jungling.
9. If in a community jungle, always pitch in and help.
10. Try to stay clean, and boil up wherever possible.
11. When traveling, ride your train respectfully, take no personal chances, cause no problems with the operating crew or host railroad, act like an extra crew member.
12. Do not cause problems in a train yard, Another hobo will be coming along who will need passage thru that yard.
13. Do not allow other hobos to molest children, expose to authorities all molesters, they are the worst garbage to infest any society.
14. Help all runaway children, and try to induce them to return home.
15. Help your fellow hobos whenever and wherever needed, you may need their help someday.
16. If present at a hobo court and you have testimony, give it, whether for or against the accused, your voice counts!

Subject: Addressing the public about hobos

What a hobo looks like: To begin with, there is no real way to
visually tell who a hobo is, there are no specific uniforms, or style
of dress. No secret hand signs, or greetings, no membership cards, and
contrary to most police attitudes, no organized gangs. This Idea come
from an attitude called “Pass The Buck”, where a police officer cannot
figure out a conclusion to a crime, so the police officer finds a Hobo
to blame. And where a Hobo is concerned, migratory in activities, and
habits, they are still predictable to return to places and areas they
deem comfortable with a frequency. With only a past history of
employment, they return to areas they are used to, the police know
this and so, with that predictability, they haunt areas that Hobos
frequent. Looking for someone who fits the description of the criminal
suspect the police cannot otherwise find. The Hobo, having no
community ties in the town, has no physical proof of his travels, and
past places of residence, and therefore is an easy scapegoat to blame
for what local crime the police cannot otherwise solve. The traveling
and working man/woman know each other by sight and nickname from past
experience of travel, work, and residence of locales. Life habits
become character traits, which are the fingerprints of each Hobo
encountered. There are many eccentricities of each Hobo that cause
each one to be identified in the Hobos dress, name, way of living, and
what friends he/she surrounds themselves with, or if they are loners.

Head gear: Ball Caps permeate through out the entire Hobo Culture;
some may be from certain Football, Basketball, or Baseball Teams that
a Hobo is a fan of. Other caps can be of Industry, or Industrial
Companies that the Hobo is seasonally employed by. Other caps may be
showing Cities, or States the Hobo spends their winters in, and still
other caps have no denotation at all. These can be Military Caps,
Welders Caps, “Boonie Hats”, Corn stripes, or Toboggans, still, like
the Native American, the Hobos hat tells something about him/her.

Clothing: Clothes can be of any style, but generally consists of long-
sleeved shirts, and denim pants, good denim pants are needed because
the work and travel of the Hobo is rough, easily destroying clothing
not made for the job. Too many attendants at the local mission are
used to locals wearing what ever pants are given, and will not even
try to understand the Hobo looking for the rough and tough pants that
will endure a working punishment, and last for at least a year. They
are used to most accepting what ever scraps are given, so they cannot
fathom one discriminating over clothing. Another thing that mission
attendants cannot understand is the Hobo wanting to wash his/her
clothes. It is inconceivable to them that someone living “outside”
would want to take care of their property. The mission attendant is
too used to folks preferring no responsibilities, that they cannot
fathom someone wanting such. In fact the mission attendant has been
brainwashed by an administration with a “Big Brother” attitude, which
are too used to seeing folks existing as a nameless, faceless number
in a crowd. And are not used to anyone wanting to be an individual, so
the Hobo is the freak of nature to the mission attendant.

Foot wear: There is no specific kind of footwear that can be called
“Hobo Shoes”, or “Hobo Boots”, some wear work boots, some wear tennis
shoes, some wear military dress shoes, some wear mountain climbing
shoes. Most will find footwear that will last through the most extreme
punishment, so if the boots/shoes cost $$, or not it is up to the
individual to determine what will be obtained, and how. A big benefit
to the Hobo is the “Military Stand Down”, where the Army gathers to
redistribute many goods to veterans. At this activity a Hobo can
replenish his/her living goods, boot, clothes, underwear, socks,
coats, gloves, sleeping bags, food, etc. At a time, and in a culture
that constantly tries to make its’ finances “go the extra mileage”,
this is a better benefit than getting a Federal Tax Return, and will
last much longer. Usually, at a local jungle, Hobos will group
together and decide, of what they have gathered at the Stand Down,
what each personally wants to keep, and what to pass on to others in
the culture.

A grand sense of family permeates the Hobo Culture, and in that idea
is the constant activity of giving unto others. This constant is
ingrained in their minds by a street quote-“what goes around, comes
around”, and most Hobos will remember the good done to the by others
of the family/culture. And when they are “flush”, they will return the
favor, maybe not directly, but eventually it will return to the giver.
Although the use of a sleeping bag may appear self explanatory, it
serves several functions in a Hobos life. As a bed, as a couch, as a
worktable, as a seat, it can just be used to keep warm with, most will
be military issue and will definitely show signs of heavy use, and

Back Packs: In older days a backpack was called a bindle, and it is a
staple of the Hobos life, and will carry extra clothes, food, eating
utensils, cooking utensils, possibly a small stove, (although most
hobos will opt for building a small fire, unless they are on the run,
then they will eat cold). This container also holds their working
tools, or “traveling trade”, and may contain pliers, screwdriver,
knife, razorblades, needles and thread, denim material, leather or

Traveling Intelligence: Traveling Intelligence is an item most hobos
try to keep in their head; this might not always be possible
(especially in this day and age). Mostly Traveling Intelligence
revolves around the mode of transportation that the Hobo uses to get
from Point-A, to Point-B. This usually is by a freight train, but also
includes interstate bus, or hitchhiking so to say a hobo only travels
by freight train is totally erroneous. For independence of life,
enjoyment of freedom, and self-reliance in caring for ones’ self and
ones’ personal finances is the basic essence of the Hobos way of life.
In actual physical points of traveling, the intelligence begins with a
total respect for freight trains, seeing that it is hundreds of
thousands of tons of unrelentlessness, and mindless, or heartless
steel. Totally having no feelings for human life, nor prejudice toward
who ever it may kill, it is a machine that takes on the personality,
and attitude of its’ operator. And if the operator/engineer has a hate
directed toward Hobos, then the train will act accordingly! Older
Hobos may not always use past experience, but may also be armed with a
railroad scanner, in the past a hobo could ask and get good direct
information as to whatever train they might be wanting to travel on
going to, or near their destination. This may not be an option in this
age; most Hobos agree that being out of sight is best for catching a
train. Therefore scouting a train yard, and listening to a scanner for
train numbers, then deciphering the cryptic information to tell where
the train is, and its’ departure time, and destination is very
reminiscent of a military reconnaissance operation. While in transit,
keep in mind that you are a guest (uninvited) on the freight train you
are riding, and anything you do that is otherwise asinine, and could
effect the safety of your train must be avoided. If you feel this does
not apply to you, please consider, In all but 16 freight train
derailments in the past 50 years were caused by Dumb Hobos monkeying

Evading Railroad Police: Evading Railroad Police has never been a sure
thing, an older Hobo once told me ” the bull ain’t caught you because
he didn’t want to catch you”. The easiest way I know of to avoid
Railroad Police is don’t drink alcoholic beverages while waiting to
catch out. A person takes too many life threatening chances when they
are alcoholically impaired, I’ve seen too many folks get “Sliced and
Diced” after trying to catch when they are inebriated. Too many yard
employees have had to clean up the tracks after a drunk hobo has
gotten himself/herself killed by a moving train. For your protection
(believe it or not) they will call the Railroad Police when they see
someone drinking near the train yard. The best idea here is to catch
out sober, and celebrate after the train is rolling. The old saying
“Patience is a Virtue” is not too far off the mark, when scoping the
yard to find a ride a person can draw a lot of attention to his/her
self because most are in a hurry to get going. A problem with this is
the fidgety acting, and pacing around also draws a lot of attention to
yourself when around a train yard. It’s a hard thing to do, training
yourself to be patient while waiting near a train yard, but the main
thought here is an old Military Discipline, “Nothing is more evident
than a moving object”. While waiting outside of the train yard, watch
the activity, and try to scan the extent of the yard, you may be able
to find an area away from too much activity that will be easier for
you to access your train. Also in an area of low activity you will be
less likely to be spotted by, or called into a railroad police
officer. When all is said and done, and you still end up getting
kicked off the yard, think of coming back at another time, it might be
that the railroad police officer is doing you a favor!

How do Hobos get Work/Money? In almost every town there is a corner
where people catch out work, most hobos have been working a migratory
labor route for years, they are well aware of when and where seasonal
work crops up. As always, planned travel does not work quite the way
most want it to go, and most Hobos have experienced this, therefore
they have had to seek out labor in areas that they would not otherwise
stop in. Because of this they have established work corners in various
towns across the continent, this also allows hobos who do not migrate
with the seasons to have an area to replenish their road funds.
Seasonal employment has existed since the founding of this country,
most of it is centered on agricultural work. The best way to find out
about this kind of work is to contact the Archer Daniels Midland
Company. Another way most hobos will get work is to go to day labor
offices, like Labor Ready, which has offices in almost every major
town in the nation. The offices pay daily, and while $40 to$60 a day
is not top dollar, it is still not anything to laugh at, especially
when your wallet is full, of dust and lint.

Families: A big thing that has been asked of me over the years is do
Hobos have families? Everyone comes from a mother and father, and some
how they are related to someone somewhere, the problem with this is
sometime neither of the parents have learned to how to love their
children. Basically they are full of cold emotions, and therefore
displace, or throw away their children, and so in a manner of
speaking, they hit the road, many go to the big cities and fall prey
to a destructive sub-culture that permeates in these areas. Some,
however, have a spirit of wanderlust about them, and begin hitchhiking
around the country, to a degree they find a loose knit family with the
hitchhikers they encounter around the country. But many fall prey to
the many greedy opportunists that follow, and feed upon hitchhikers,
but some of them find the hobos. Much like these kids, hobos come from
a family somewhere, and many of them have a family they return to see
from time to time. Because hobos cross paths with each other so often,
or travel the same routes they each become the others’ brothers and
sisters, and form their self-styled family bonds. Because Hobos all
share the same lifestyle, mode of travel, and dangers- the hobo family
bonds, and love become stronger than most blood family bonds. Because
they share everything with each other, they adopt those who have none,
and kids that are thrown away by their own family find the Hobo Family
highly accepting of them. So what if the kid is not college material,
so what is the kid has a lot of body piercings or tattoos, so what is
he/she smokes marijuana? If he/she has decided not to follow a norm or
standard in their hometown life, then they are of the desire to be an
individual, or an outlaw! A friend of mine, Just Jim (R.I.P.) once
told me “hobos are the last of the outlaws”, and because of that the
hobo family still inspires imagination, creativity, and independence.
It is this kind of lifestyle I grew up with, and eventually hit the
road with, it is this kind of lifestyle most kids find appealing, it
is this kind of family most want to belong to. Because most Hobos have
little, or no monetarily valuable possessions, the adopted kinships
they have with other Hobos is so much more precious. And so hand made
items abound among the Hobo Family, it is a throw back to a time when
gifts could not easily be bought, but they could easily be made. And
when one Hobo dies, though the rest of the U.S. could care less, the
entire Hobo family feels the pain nation-wide.

What’s the appeal of Hobo Life? So what appeal to this kind of life is
there really?, to the neo-phyte, imagine a way of life where you are
not bound by time schedules, home owner bill, job expectations, the
IRS, you can live where you want, sleep where you want, travel
wherever you want as long as its’ in the continental US and Canada.
Never pay a travel fare unless you want to, never pay rent, electric,
gas, water, or cable bills, never pay taxes, and see places in the US
and Canada others only see in the movies, or in a magazine. Sound like
the lifestyle of Bill Gates, or Donald Trump?, well hundreds of folks
live that kind of life every day, in fact that kind of life/culture
has been going on since just after Americas’ Civil War. A lifestyle/
culture so sweet, so addictive, so seductive, so intoxicating, that
those of us who retire after 20, 30, even 40 years of are never really
free of it. Because Lady Freedom has gotten too far in our blood to
gotten rid of her completely. Freedom, complete freedom, and the
ability to pursue that ultimate free life, and the vehicle to propel
you ion such a quest, and a constitutionally base right to free
movement. It’s truly a drug, a greasy steely drug that once it gets in
your blood it’s there for good, and no matte how you’ve retired, no
matter how much you deny it, you’ll never be free of it. Whenever you
hear a train whistle, whenever you see a moving train, or just train
cars, or even train tracks, that longing in your heart will tug at you
so tight you’ll realize that you’re addicted for life!”

A Brief History of Tourist Union #63 and it’s Mission

“In the mid 1800’s several hobos found themselves in a jungle next to
the mainline of the B & O RR They all had something in common, they
had been repeatedly kicked out of towns and off train yards because
they had no visible means of employment nor funds on hand at many
times of the year.

And because of strict enforcement of vagrancy laws by all
police agencies nationwide an organization was needed to aid the
migrant working hobo. However if one was the member of a Union then
the unemployed person was granted free passage on any RR, and would
not be persecuted for vagrancy while in any city attempting to gain
even a few hours of employment. And so these few hobos drew up
articles of confederation for a Tourist Union for any hobo nationwide
to join and avoid persecution for vagrancy. Finding that the hobos
present numbered to 63 this Union was labeled Tourist Union #63. The
founding members, both men and women, registered their union in
Cinncinati Ohio holding a small office at 1143 W. Market St. Near
the Queensgate neighborhood, and the yards of the B & O, and Nickel
Plate RR’s.

In August of each year Tourist Union #63 held a National Hobo
Convention to renew friendships, collect annual dues, sign up new
members, and honor the most deserving of their union to the temporary
positions of King, Queen, Crown Prince, Crown Princess, and Grand
Head Pipe. Thereby attempting to elevate the stature of all hobos in
the general public’s eyes. Through the mid to later 1800’s the
Convention of Tourist Union #63 was held in a different city of the USA to
appease to every region of the nation that it’s members originated,
and to enlist new members thereby gaining more political support for
the legitimacy of the union.

During the 1887 convention, held on the banks of St. Louis on what
would someday become the Gateway Arch National Park, the convening
members voted on Chicago as their next convention location. And
Chicago remained the location of their convention for the next 12
years. [for by that time up to 8 organizations were hold a National
Hobo Convention because of the publicity it generated] It was at one
of these Chicago held conventions that the article called the code of
the road was drawn up, voted on, and adopted by the Union as an
absolute of laws that the entire Hobo Nation could enforce at any
time or any place.

In the year 1899 the heads of the town of Britt,Iowa approached the
heads of Tourist Union #63 to hold their annual convention in Britt.
The President of the Union rode the Milwaukee Road to Britt to
inspect the Accommodations for the large gathering of members that
would converge on Britt in August. And so beginning in the year 1900
the National Hobo Convention of Tourist Union #63 was moved
permanently to Britt Iowa. The town needed to be able to accommodate a
large convening body and this was very evident during the 1949
Convention when a total of 1800 hobos converged upon the town.

Tourist Union #63 is a Hobo Nation oriented organization, we DO NOT
expound a political attitude, but one that is directed towards a
Nationwide Family. Our Mission is to preserve the Hobo Culture into
the future, to police our own when needed, and to give a more concise
image of our nation thru the control of our personal print media, and
our many corners of the internet.”

Hobo lingo in use up to the 1940s

* Accommodation car – The caboose of a train
* Angellina – young inexperienced kid
* Bad Road – A train line rendered useless by some hobo’s bad
* Banjo – A small portable frying pan.
* Barnacle – a person who sticks to one job a year or more
* Beachcomber – a hobo that hangs around docks or seaports
* Big House – Prison
* Bindle stick – Collection of belongings wrapped in cloth and
tied around a stick
* Bindlestiff – A hobo who steals from other hobos.
* Blowed-in-the-glass – a genuine, trustworthy individual
* “‘Bo” – the common way one hobo referred to another: “I met that
‘Bo on the way to Bangor last spring”.
* Bone polisher – A mean dog
* Bone orchard – a graveyard
* Bull – A railroad officer
* Bullets – Beans
* Buck – a Catholic priest good for a dollar
* C, H, and D – indicates an individual is Cold, Hungry, and Dry
* California Blankets – Newspapers, intended to be used for
* Calling In – Using another’s campfire to warm up or cook
* Cannonball – A fast train
* Carrying the Banner – Keeping in constant motion so as to avoid
being picked up for loitering or to keep from freezing
* Catch the Westbound – to die
* Chuck a dummy – Pretend to faint
* Cover with the moon – Sleep out in the open
* Cow crate – A railroad stock car
* Crumbs – Lice
* Doggin’ it – Traveling by bus, especially on the Greyhound bus
* Easy mark – A hobo sign or mark that identifies a person or
place where one can get food and a place to stay overnight
* Elevated – under the influence of drugs or alcohol
* Flip – to board a moving train
* Flop – a place to sleep, by extension: “Flophouse”, a cheap
* Glad Rags – One’s best clothes
* Graybacks – Lice
* Grease the Track – to be run over by a train
* Gump – a scrap of meat
* Honey dipping – Working with a shovel in the sewer
* Hot – A fugitive hobo. Also, a decent meal: “I could use three
hots and a flop.”
* Hot Shot – train with priority freight, stops rarely, goes
* Jungle – An area off a railroad where hobos camp and congregate
* Jungle Buzzard – a hobo or tramp that preys on their own
* Knowledge bus – A school bus used for shelter
* Main Drag – the busiest road in a town
* Moniker / Monica – A nickname
* Mulligan – a type of community stew, created by several hobos
combining whatever food they have or can collect
* Nickel note – five-dollar bill
* On The Fly – jumping a moving train
* Padding the hoof – to travel by foot
* Possum Belly – to ride on the roof of a passenger car. One must
lay flat, on his/her stomach, to not be blown off
* Pullman – a rail car
* Punk – any young kid
* Reefer – A compression of “refrigerator car”.
* Road kid – A young hobo who apprentices himself to an older hobo
in order to learn the ways of the road
* Road stake – the small amount of money a hobo may have in case
of an emergency
* Rum dum – A drunkard
* Sky pilot – a preacher or minister
* Soup bowl- A place to get soup, bread and drinks
* Snipes – Cigarette butts “sniped” (eg. in ashtrays)
* Spear biscuits – Looking for food in garbage cans
* Stemming – panhandling or mooching along the streets
* Tokay Blanket – drinking alcohol to stay warm
* Yegg – A traveling professional thief

Many hobo terms have become part of common language, such as “Big
House”, “glad rags”, “main drag”, and others.

Hobo Symbols
To cope with the difficulty of hobo life, hobos developed a system of
symbols, or a code. Hobos would write this code with chalk or coal to
provide directions, information, and warnings to other hobos. Some
signs included “turn right here”, “beware of hostile railroad police”,
“dangerous dog”, “food available here”, and so on. For instance:

* A cross signifies “angel food,” that is, food served to the
hobos after a party.
* A triangle with hands signifies that the homeowner has a gun.
* Sharp teeth signify a mean dog.
* A square missing its top line signifies it is safe to camp in
that location.
* A top hat and a triangle signify wealth.
* A spearhead signifies a warning to defend oneself.
* A circle with two parallel arrows means to get out fast, as
hobos are not welcome in the area.
* Two interlocked humans signify handcuffs. (i.e. hobos are hauled
off to jail).
* A Caduceus symbol signifies the house has a medical doctor
living in it.
* A cat signifies that a kind lady lives here.
* A wavy line (signifying water) above an X means fresh water and
a campsite.
* Three diagonal lines means it’s not a safe place.
* A square with a slanted roof (signifying a house) with an X
through it means that the house has already been “burned” or “tricked”
by another hobo and is not a trusting house.
* Two shovels, signifying work was available (Shovels, because
most hobos did manual labor).


“Some hobos now communicate via cellular phones and e-mail. But the
classic American hobo of early this century communicated through a
much more basic system of marks–a code through which they gave
information and warnings to their fellow Knights of the Road. Usually,
these signs would be written in chalk or coal on a trestle, fence,
building or sidewalk, letting others know what they could expect in
the area of the symbol.”


Riding the rods was by far the most dangerous occupation and as such,
was a rite of passage for a true hobo.

“But to “ride the rods” requires nerve, and skill, and daring.
And, by the way, there is but one rod, and it occurs on passenger
coaches…. Between the cross-partition and the axle is a small
lateral rod, three to four feet in length, running parallel with both
the partition and the axle. This is the rod. There is more often than
not another rod, running longitudinally, the air-brake rod. These rods
cross each other; but woe to the tyro who takes his seat on the brake-
rod! It is not the rod, and the chance is large that the tyro’s
remains will worry and puzzle the county coroner. [3] – Jack London

Clearly, beating the trains was a very dangerous occupation. Thousands
were injured and killed riding the rails.

“Thousands of wandering wage-earners in search of work are killed
on American railroads, because society as a whole, and the railroad as
a public carrier in particular, are ignorantly uninterested in the
welfare of the less fortunate members of society. The number of so-
called “trespassers” killed annually on American railroads exceeds the
combined total of passengers and trainmen killed annually. From 1901
to 1903, inclusive, 25,000 “trespassers” were killed, and an equal
number were maimed, crippled, and injured. From one-half to three-
quarters of the “trespassers” according to the compilers of the
figures were “vagrants,” wandering, homeless wage-earners in search of
work to make their existence possible.” [4]

“A #1, The Famous Tramp” was the moniker of a tramp whose claim to
fame was to have traveled 500,000 miles for $7.61. While Nels Anderson
notes that his books were more or less sensational and that many
tramps thought the incidents he related were overdrawn, “A-No. 1”
nevertheless laid out some slang terms for those who had been injured
while beating trains. [5]

* Sticks: Train rider who lost a leg.
* Peg: Train rider who lost a foot.
* Fingy or Fingers: Train rider who lost one or more fingers.
* Blinky: Train rider who lost one or both eyes.
* Wingy: Train rider who lost one or both arms.
* Mitts: Train rider who lost one or both hands.
* Righty: Train rider who lost right arm and leg.
* Lefty: Train rider who lost left arm and leg.
* Halfy: Train rider who lost both legs below knee.
* Straight Crip: Actually crippled or otherwise afflicted.
* Phoney Crip: Self-mutilated or simulating a deformity.

Outsmarting the bulls and crew was another matter altogether. While
some crewmen accepted money or goods as exchange for a ride, there was
a strong tradition of violence against the trespassers. They might be
beaten senseless by the shacks or forced to jump from the moving
train. The especially brutal bull might then shoot at the hobo as he
was running away, that is, if he landed running. One might also be
left out in the middle of a literal nowhere, in the dark, in the cold,
with nothing. At best, the tramp may just face arrest – and the work

Hobo Sign Language Targeted El Paso  /  BY David Uhl

“Graffiti covers scores of walls, businesses and residences in El Paso
today, a result of gangs communicating with each other while leaving
the general public in the dark. This isn’t the first time that
distinct groups have used code to converse with each other.

During the Depression thousands of unemployed men turned hobo
overnight flocked to Texas because they heard from others traveling
the country that there was a town out West called El Paso known for
its generosity to beggars. This news reached the vagabonds through a
simple system of symbols which could be found on street curbs and
buildings nationwide.

A February 8, 1932 El Paso Times article carried the following code
used by the hobos of the 1930s to spread world of El Paso’s
generosity: 1. Two hobos, traveling together, have gone the direction
of the arrows. 2. Hobos not welcome. Will be put to work on rock pile,
sawing wood, or hard labor. 3. This sign depicts the bars of a jail.
4. Means “OUT” or “GET OUT.” Poor pickings. 5. The town itself is no
good, but the churches and missions are kindly disposed. 6. This is a
good place for hobos to meet other hobos. 7. All the ministers,
mission heads, and Christian leaders are disposed to welcome
transients. 8. The pendulum indicates that the people here swing back
and forth in their attitude toward hobos, sometimes friendly and other
times unkind. 9. Represents two rails and a cross tie. Means “Railway
Terminal” or “Division Point,” a good place to board trains in
different directions. 10. This sign represents teeth; it means the
police or people are hostile to tramps. 11. This means “the jail is
alive with cooties.” 12. Keep on moving: the police, the churches, and
the people are no good. 13. This is a swell place to stop: these
people are bighearted. 14. Food may be had for the asking. 15. The
sign for “OK.” People are very good, kindly disposed. 16. Best results
are secured if two hobos travel together, not so good for a lone hobo.

As a result of its generosity, El Paso came to be known as an “easy
mark” for beggars. These men could make from $2 to $5 a day or more
panhandling when working men took home much less: Olive D. McGuire,
secretary of the El Paso Community Chest, warned townspeople to
inspect their curbs and be thrilled if hobos had placed an emblem of
lattice work there- a symbol meaning “hobos not welcome.” McGuire
distributed sheets containing the hobo language and asked residents to
send panhandlers to organized agencies for help.

The generosity of El Pasoans has continued through the years even
though the city is not affluent. Some restaurants in town give their
left-over food to shelters or charity organizations, or they simply
give it to the homeless who ask, rather than throwing it away.
Although the hobo sign language no longer exists, many homeless still
know that El Paso is a generous city, recently having been named one
of the top 50 U.S. cities for charitable giving.”

Year   Kings                                        Queens
1900 Charles Noe
1933-35 Hairbreadth Harry
1936 Scoop Shovel Scotty
1937-38 King David I
1939 Scoop Shovel Scotty
1940-45 Hobo Ben Benson
1946 Skeet Simmons                       Polly Ellen Pep
1947 Hiway Johnny Weaver             Polly Ellen Pep
1948 Hobo Ben Benson                     Polly Ellen Pep
1949 Cannonball Eddie                     Box Car Myrtle
1950 Hobo Ben Benson                     Box Car Myrtle
1951 Cannonball Eddie                      Sylvia Davis
1952 Scoop Shovel Scotty                  Sylvia Davis
1953 Hobo Ben Benson                      Sylvia Davis
1954-55 Scoop Shovel Scotty            Box Car Betty Link
1956 Hobo Ben Benson
1957 Scoop Shovel Scotty
1958 Arizona Bill                               Box Car Betty Link
1959 Scoop Shovel Scotty
1960-61 King David I                         Box Car Betty Link
1962 Scoop Shovel Scotty
1963 Pennsylvania Kid Wilson
1964 Beef Steak Charlie
1965 Hard Rock Kid
1966 Pennsylvania Kid
1967 Hard Rock Kid
1968 Pennsylvania Kid
1969 Slow Motion Shorty                Box Car Myrtle
1970 Hard Rock Kid                          Longlooker Mic
1971 Pennsylvania Kid                     Longlooker Mic
1972 Hard Rock Kid                          Longlooker Mic
1973 Steamtrain Maury                    Longlooker Mic
1974 Slow Motion Shorty                 Longlooker Mic
1975 Hard Rock Kid                          Adventurer Jan
1976 Steamtrain Maury                   LuAnn Uhden
1977 Sparky Smith                             Longlooker Mic
1978 Steamtrain Maury                   Longlooker Mic
1979 Steamtrain Maury                    Longlooker Mic
1980 Sparky Smith                            Cinderbox Cindy
1981 Steamtrain Maury                    Hobo Lump
1982 Hobo Bill Mainer                     Longlooker Mic
1983 Mountain Dew                         Hobo Lump
1984 Fry Pan Jack                             Slo Freight Ben
1985 Frisco Jack                               Longlooker Mic
1986 Ramblin’ Rudy                         Minneapolis Jewel
1987 Alabama Hobo                         Hobo Lump
1988 Fishbones                               Would-be hobo
1989 El Paso Kid                               Slo Freight Ben
1990 Songbird McCue                     Gypsy Moon
1991 Ohio Ned                                   Minneapolis Jewel
1992 Roadhog USA                          Connecticut Shorty
1993 Iowa Blackie                            Blue Moon
1994 Sidedoor Pullman Kid          New York Maggie
1995 Luther the Jet Gett                 Cinderbox Cindy
1996 Liberty Justice                        Come On Pat
1997 Frog                                           Minneapolis Jewel
1998 New York Slim                        Cinders
1999 Preacher Steve                       Slo Freight Ben
2000 Bo Grump                               M.A.D. Mary
2001 Grandpa Dudley                    Derail
2002 Redbird Express                   Nightingale
2003 Hobo Spike                            Mama Joe
2004 Adman                                   Sunrise
2005 Ironhorse Brad                     Half-track
2006 Iwegan Rick                           Miss Charlotte
2007 Tuck                                       Lady Son Shine
2008 Stretch                                   Connecticut Tootsie


From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]



lèse-majesté, lese majesty:
is a French phrase (literally meaning “injured majesty”) that is
pronounced either lez MAZH-es-TAI or lez MAJ-es-tee and is spelled
usually with the grave and acute accents. Today it means “an offense
against a sovereign” or, more generally, any slight or insult that
wounds someone’s dignity. [See FOREIGN PHRASES.]

Kleptocracy (sometimes Cleptocracy) (root: Klepto+cracy = rule by
thieves) is a pejorative, informal term for a government so corrupt
that no pretense of honesty remains. In a kleptocracy the mechanisms
of government are devoted to taxing the public at large, or using
their control of government processes in order to amass substantial
personal fortunes for the rulers and their cronies (collectively,
kleptocrats), or to keep said rulers in power through redistribution


a synopsis of Chapter 14: From Egalitarianism to Kleptocracy
by Jared Diamond, speaking on levels of societal organization

“The band has 5 to 80 people, are usually related by blood, typically
nomadic, have 1 language and ethnicity, have egalitarian government
with informal leadership, no bureaucracy, no formal structures for
conflict resolution, no economic specialization (e.g., Bushmen,

The tribe has hundreds of people, often fixed settlements, consist of
kin-based clans, still 1 ethnicity and language, have egalitarian or
“big-man” government, informal and often difficult conflict resolution
problems (e.g., much of New Guinea, Amazonia).

Chiefdoms have thousands of people, have 1 or more villages possibly
with a paramount village, have class and residence relationships,
still 1 ethnicity, have centralized often hereditary rule, include
monopoly and centralized conflict resolution, justify kleptocracy and
a redistributive economy (requiring tribute), have intensive food
production, early division of labor, luxury goods, etc…. (e.g.,
Polynesia, sub-Saharan Africa, etc.)

States have over 50,000 people, have many villages and a capital, have
class and residence based relationships, 1 or more languages and
ethnicities, centralized government, many levels of bureaucracy,
monopolies of force and information, have formalized laws and judges,
may justify kleptocracy, have intensive food production, division of
labor, pay taxes, public architecture, etc.

Kleptocrats maintain power by disarming the populace and arming the
elite, making the masses happy by redistributing the tribute, keeping
order and curbing violence (compared to bands and tribes), promoting
religion and ideology that justifies kleptocracy (and that promotes
self-sacrifice on behalf of others), building public works, etc.

States are especially good at developing weapons of war, providing
troops, promoting religion (fanaticism) and patriotic fervor that
makes troops willing to fight suicidally.  States arise not just from
the natural tendency of man (as Aristotle suggested), but by social
contract, in response to needs for irrigation (“hydraulic theory”),
and regional population size.  The large populations require intensive
food production, which contributes (1) seasonal workers for other
purposes, (2) stored food surpluses which feed specialists and other
elite, (3) sedentary living.  Increased opportunities in states for
conflicts forces the development of laws.  The processes by which
states form virtually never include voluntary merger, but rather (1)
merger under threat of force (e.g., the Cherokee Indian federation),
or (2) merger by conquest (e.g., the Zulus)–when population density
is high, the defeated men are often killed and the women taken in

Jared Diamond
email : jdiamond [at] geog [dot] ucla [dot] edu


‘I am re-reading Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond and just
finished his chapters on kleptocracy, which is, broadly, “A government
characterized by rampant greed and corruption” [from the Greek
kleptein, to steal].

Specifically, Diamond is describing the ruling class of a nation state
that transfers tribute from producers to an elite (p. 276-277, Norton
trade paperback, 2003). I was struck by Diamond’s “four solutions,”
the ones that rulers have used to gain popular support while still
maintaining power (and riches)…and how much his model could be applied
to the world’s current crop of humongously compensated CEOs.

I’m as capitalistic as any businessman. I work hard for my earnings
and don’t – mainly – begrudge others’ higher salaries. But there’s a
parallel between what Diamond’s ruling kleptocrats have done
historically and what a number of C-level executives do with their

So very briefly, I’m putting down Diamond’s four solutions, and a
corporate interpretation of each.

Disarm the populace and arm the elite. – Well, think about what the
corporations do to “disarm” their employees, like fostering dependence
on healthcare benefits; and their stockholders, like forbidding them
to ask pointed questions during shareholders’ meetings. Corporations
arm their elites with similar (but smaller) executive compensation
packages and privileges.

Make the masses happy by redistributing much of the tribute received.
– How about slightly better returns on share price, or bonuses for
workers, or giving substantially to charity? Hmmm? Aren’t these ways
of “sharing the wealth,” but not very much of it?

Use the monopoly of force to promote happiness. – In other words, the
company will fire your keister if you question its behavior. Isn’t
that what happened to several of the Enron whistle-blowers? Or, the
company will move offshore, depriving the community of much-needed
jobs (which keep employees and their families happy).

Construct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy. – This one’s
pretty easy if you presume that capitalism is the reason and the
justification. But since I am a capitalist myself – without the hefty
salary – I would rather offer the “ideology of corporate entitlement,”
which has been heavily displayed by Enron, HealthSouth, and a few
other companies: we’re the best, so we deserve to be able to treat you
like peasants.” This kind of attitude runs throughout a given
organization…every employee feels the same way, no matter how little
he or she is involved in corporate management.

None of this is new. Wasn’t it Al Capp who coined the phrase more than
50 years ago, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the USA?” Or
was this from the musical version?’

‘After defining kleptocracy, author Jared Diamond says that the issue
with a kleptocracy is always how to maintain it. After all, this
system of government involves a small but powerful elite exploiting a
large population. (Sadly, I am growing convinced that America
abandoned democracy for corporate kleptocracy some time ago.) Diamond
says there are four solutions to the problem of how a kleptocracy can
maintain itself. Of likely interest to you, here is #4:

“The remaining way for kleptocrats to gain public support is to
construct an ideology or religion justifying kleptocracy” (p. 277).

Religious impulses almost certainly predate civilization. However, it
appears that most kleptocracies, starting with small chiefdoms and
extending through modern national governments, have recognized the
utility of religion. Superstitious beliefs may have originated as
methods for explaining confusing natural phenomena, but it seems that
they may persist today largely because of their role in justifying
kleptocracy. Without state sponsorship through the ages, the type of
organized religion we have today would not have been possible.

Diamond does not explicitly apply this to modern politics (at least
not in what I have read so far), but I can’t resist doing so. When I
examine contemporary American politics, I see the Republican party
talking the loudest about their religiosity. Why? Because their
policies are the most kleptocratic (i.e., they favor the wealthy at
the expense of the poor). In fact, they have few qualms about
exploiting the poor and even blame them for being poor! The need to
publicly announce their religion has been less necessary for Democrats
because their policies provide a more significant benefit to the
masses. Remember I said that Diamond gives four solutions to the
problem of maintaining a kleptocracy? #2 involves the redistribution
of wealth through popular public programs, and this describes the

The points I’m making here are not new. They have been made repeatedly
throughout historical and political literature. And yet, they are not
brought up often enough in modern political discourse. While we
continue to criticize Republican efforts to merge church and state,
let us also expose why they need religion so much.’

‘Diamond sees social structure, a kleptocracy, as ultimately a factor
intrinsic to growing, settled, agricultural populations. He sees it as
inevitable. The best the oppressed can do, in Diamond’s opinion, is to
oust one group of kleptocrats for hopefully a more benevolent group of
kleptocrats; and the big questions of history were determined largely
by environmental, geographic and techological factors, not even
individual human agency. For Diamond, if you develop a settled,
agricultural society… you are inevitably headed towards an
exploitive state.

Obviously, this is a problematic view for anarchists.

I actually studied Marx’s ethnographic notebooks, and Engels. I read
Morgan. I focused in on the Iroquois, the primary example Marx, Engels
and Morgan use for a stateless communist society of
“barbarians” (though Morgan over emphasizes “the hunt” and thus makes
“savages” out of the Iroquois at the point in their history of their
lowest population in the 1800s).’

‘The obvious corollary of this theory is that most successful modern
societies are, in fact, kleptocracies. The key is to use the four
methods to gain popular support in order to redistribute as much
wealth to the ruling class as the populace will support. If the ruling
class takes too much, it will be overthrown by a new ruling class
(which’ll do ditto).

So, is the US a kleptocracy? Of course, it is! Is that bad? Well, it
depends on who you are in society, and whether the kleptocracy is
efficient and fair over the long term.’

Our President’s Statement on Kleptocracy

“For too long, the culture of corruption has undercut development and
good governance and bred criminality and mistrust around the world.
High-level corruption by senior government officials, or kleptocracy,
is a grave and corrosive abuse of power and represents the most
invidious type of public corruption. It threatens our national
interest and violates our values. It impedes our efforts to promote
freedom and democracy, end poverty, and combat international crime and
terrorism. Kleptocracy is an obstacle to democratic progress,
undermines faith in government institutions, and steals prosperity
from the people. Promoting transparent, accountable governance is a
critical component of our freedom agenda.

At this year’s G-8 meeting in St Petersburg, my colleagues joined me
in calling for strengthened international efforts to deny kleptocrats
access to our financial systems and safe haven in our countries;
stronger efforts to combat fraud, corruption, and misuse of public
resources; and increased capacity internationally to prevent
opportunities for high-level public corruption. Today, I am announcing
a new element in my Administration’s plan to fight kleptocracy, The
National Strategy to Internationalize Efforts against Kleptocracy,
which sets forth a framework to deter, prevent, and address high-
level, public corruption. It identifies critical tools to detect and
prosecute corrupt officials around the world, so that the promise of
economic assistance and growth reaches the people.

Our objective is to defeat high-level public corruption in all its
forms and to deny corrupt officials access to the international
financial system as a means of defrauding their people and hiding
their ill-gotten gains. Given the nature of our open, accessible
international financial system, our success in fighting kleptocracy
will depend upon the participation and accountability of our partner
nations, the international financial community, and regional and
multilateral development institutions. Together, we can confront
kleptocracy and help create the conditions necessary for people
everywhere to enjoy the full benefits of honest, just, and accountable

2007/09/05  /  The United States, World’s First Corporate Kleptocracy

“When Ronald Reagan said, “…government is not the solution to our
problem; government is the problem,” many people thought it would
usher in a new era of fiscal responsibility, but to the contrary,
taxes decreased, government spending increased, and the national debt
went through the roof. In fact, it took 6 of 8 years of the Clinton
administration to turn those deficits into surpluses, and then only by
virtue of the fact that the economy boomed in the 90s. But now, with
the Bush oligarchy coming to an end, we see what really became of the
Reagan’s legacy. The GOP has turned our nation into the world’s first
fully functional ‘Corporate Kleptocracy’, a government/corporate
partnership whose goal is acquire as much of the nation’s wealth as

In a traditional kleptocracy, the government directly extends the
power and wealth of the ruling class through taxes and the looting of
wealth in natural resources. The United States is no longer rich in
resources but is rich in the productivity of its workers. Our country
is also rich in geo-political influence and military might. And so we
find the Bush Administration, at almost every turn, advancing policies
that indirectly transfer wealth to the powerful by:

1) Removing regulations on, curtailing oversight of, or blocking
corrective action against predatory industries. Example: Enron and the
gaming of California’s electrical markets with FERC blocking
corrective action after the fact.

2) Creating geo-political instability designed to enhance the profits
of particular industries. Example: The Iraq War with it’s direct and
indirect benefits for the defense and petroleum industries.

3) Actively supporting inefficient, but highly profitable, corporate
service delivery systems instead of more efficient government systems.
Examples: Private insurer health care and mandatory non-governmental
retirement financing

4) Supporting predatory laws that amount to non-tax “taxes” that favor
corporations over individuals. Examples: Bankruptcy reform, medical
savings accounts, privatized social-security

5) Massive politicization of the regulatory (EPA, OSHA), investigative
(DoJ, FBI, BATF, Customs), military, and judicial functions of
government, thereby ensuring compliance that supports the other four

Sort of makes you feel like Neo in The Matrix, doesn’t it? Not a
battery…a wealth creation machine for corporations. The proof in the
stats. Real income for the majority of Americans has not increased in
7 years while corporate profits have ballooned and are, for certain
industries, at historic highs. Productivity continues to climb while
wages fall, even during a period of low inflation.

One wonders how long such a system can last since most kleptocracies
fail, bloodily, when there is no more wealth to loot. The powerful
leave, and poor fight each other for what’s left.”






Kleptocracy and Divide-and-Rule: A Model of Personal Rule
‘Many developing countries have suffered under the personal rule of
‘kleptocrats’, who implement highly inefficient economic policies,
expropriate the wealth of their citizens, and use the proceeds for
their own glorification or consumption. The incidence of kleptocracy
is a serious impediment to development. Yet how do kleptocrats
survive? How can they apparently exploit the entire citizenship of
countries and not foment successful opposition? In this research we
argue that the success of kleptocrats rests on their ability to use a
particular type of political strategy, which we refer to as ‘divide-
and-rule’. Members of society need to cooperate in order to depose a
kleptocrat. A kleptocrat, however, may defuse such cooperation by
imposing punitive rates of taxation on any citizen who proposes such a
move, and redistributing the benefits to those who need to agree to
it. Thus kleptocrats can intensify the collective action problem by
threats that remain off the equilibrium path. In equilibrium, all are
exploited and no one challenges the kleptocrat because of the threat
of divide-and-rule. The divide-and-rule strategy is made possible by
the weakness of the institutions in these societies, and highlights
the different nature of politics between strongly- and weakly-
institutionalized polities. We show that foreign aid and rents from
natural resources typically help kleptocratic rulers by providing them
with greater resources to buy off opponents. Kleptocratic policies are
also more likely to arise when opposition groups are shortsighted and
when the average productivity in the economy is low. We also find that
greater inequality between producer groups may constrain kleptocratic
policies because more productive groups are more difficult to buy

Daron Acemoglu
email : daron [at] mit [dot] edu


“The answer is a kind of corruption of the political process. Or
better, a “corruption” of the political process. I don’t mean
corruption in the simple sense of bribery. I mean “corruption” in the
sense that the system is so queered by the influence of money that it
can’t even get an issue as simple and clear as term extension right.
Politicians are starved for the resources concentrated interests can
provide. In the US, listening to money is the only way to secure
reelection. And so an economy of influence bends public policy away
from sense, always to dollars.

The point of course is not new. Indeed, the fear of factions is as old
as the Republic. There are thousands who are doing amazing work to
make clear just how corrupt this system has become. There have been
scores of solutions proposed. This is not a field lacking in good
work, or in people who can do this work well.

But a third person — this time anonymous — made me realize that I
wanted to be one of these many trying to find a solution to this
“corruption.” This man, a Republican of prominence in Washington,
wrote me a reply to an email I had written to him about net
neutrality. As he wrote, “And don’t shill for the big guys protecting
market share through neutrality REGULATION either.”

“Shill.”  If you’ve been reading these pages recently, you’ll know my
allergy to that word. But this friend’s use of the term not to condemn
me, but rather as play, made me recognize just how general this
corruption is. Of course he would expect I was in the pay of those
whose interests I advanced. Why else would I advance them? Both he and
I were in a business in which such shilling was the norm. It was
totally reasonable to thus expect that money explained my desire to
argue with him about public policy.

I don’t want to be a part of that business. And more importantly, I
don’t want this kind of business to be a part of public policy making.
We’ve all been whining about the “corruption” of government forever.
We all should be whining about the corruption of professions too. But
rather than whining, I want to work on this problem that I’ve come to
believe is the most important problem in making government work.

And so as I said at the top (in my “bottom line”), I have decided to
shift my academic work, and soon, my activism, away from the issues
that have consumed me for the last 10 years, towards a new set of
issues: Namely, these. “Corruption” as I’ve defined it elsewhere will
be the focus of my work. For at least the next 10 years, it is the
problem I will try to help solve.

I do this with no illusions. I am 99.9% confident that the problem I
turn to will continue exist when this 10 year term is over. But the
certainty of failure is sometimes a reason to try. That’s true in this

Nor do I believe I have any magic bullet. Indeed, I am beginner. A
significant chunk of the next ten years will be spent reading and
studying the work of others. My hope is to build upon their work; I
don’t pretend to come with a revolution pre-baked.

Instead, what I come with is a desire to devote as much energy to
these issues of “corruption” as I’ve devoted to the issues of network
and IP sanity. This is a shift not to an easier project, but a
different project. It is a decision to give up my work in a place some
consider me an expert to begin work in a place where I am nothing more
than a beginner.”

Lawrence Lessig
email : lessig [at] lessig08 [dot] org / lessig [at] pobox [dot] com


“Following the good practice of others, and following suggestions of
inconsistency by others, I offer the following disclosure statement.

How I make money
I am a law professor. I am paid to teach and write in fields that
interest me. Never is my academic research directed by anyone other
than I. I am not required to teach any particular course; I am never
required or even asked by anyone with authority over me to write about
a particular subject or question. I am in this important sense a free

Business Attachments
I have no regular clients. I am on board of a number of non-
profits, including EFF, FSF, PLOS, Software Freedom Law Center,
FreePress, PublicKnowledge, MusicBrainz, and Creative Commons.

I serve on no commercial boards. I don’t take stock-options to
serve on boards or advisory boards.

The Non-Corruption (NC) Principle
It is a special privilege that I have a job that permits me to say
just what I believe, and not what I’m paid to say. That freedom used
to be the norm among professionals. It is less and less the norm
today. Lawyers at one time had a professional ethic that permitted
them to say what they believe. Now the concept of “business conflicts”
— meaning, a conflict with the commercial interests of actual or
potential clients — silences many from saying what they believe.
Doctors too are hired into jobs where they are not allowed to discuss
certain medical procedures (See, e.g., Rust v. Sullivan). Researchers
at “think tanks” learn who the funders are as a first step to deciding
what questions will be pursued. And finally, and most obviously, the
same is true of politicians: The constant need to raise money just to
keep their job drives them to develop a sixth sense about what sorts
of statements (whether true or not) will cost them fundraising

With perhaps one exception (politicians), no one forces
professionals into this compromise. (The exception is because I don’t
see how you survive in politics, as the system is, without this
compromise, unless you are insanely rich.) We choose the values we
live by ourselves. And as the freedom I have to say what I believe is
the most important part of my job to me, I have chosen a set of
principles that limit any link between money and the views I express.

I call these principles “non-corruption” principles because I
believe that behavior inconsistent with these principles, at least
among professionals, is a kind of corruption. Obviously, I don’t mean
“corruption” in the crudest sense. Everyone would agree that it is
wrong for a global warming scientist to say to Exxon, “if you pay me
$50,000, I’ll write an article criticizing global warming.” That is
not the sort of “corruption” I am talking about.

I mean instead “corruption” in a more subtle sense. We all
understand that subtle sense when we look at politicians. We don’t
recognize it enough when we think about lawyers, doctors, scientists,
and professors.

I want to increase this recognition, even at the risk of
indirectly calling some of my friends “corrupt.” Norms are uncertain
here. I hope they change. But until they change, we should not condemn
those with differing views. We should engage them. I intend this to be
the beginning of that engagement.

So, the NC principle:
The simple version is just this: I don’t shill for anyone.

The more precise version is this: I never promote as policy a
position that I have been paid to advise about, consult upon, or write
about. If payment is made to an institution that might reasonably be
said to benefit me indirectly, then I will either follow the same
rule, or disclose the payment.

The precise version need to be precisely specified, but much can
be understood from its motivation: “Corruption” in my view is the
subtle pressure to take views or positions because of the financial
reward they will bring you. “Subtle” in the sense that one’s often not
even aware of the influence. (This is true, I think, of most
politicians.) The rule is thus designed to avoid even that subtle

But isn’t disclosure always enough?
Some would say this principle is too strict. That a simpler rule
— indeed the rule that governs in most of these contexts — simply
requires disclosure.

I don’t agree with the disclosure principle. In my view, it is too
weak. The best evidence that it is too weak is the United States
Congress. All know, or can know, who gives what to whom. That hasn’t
chilled in the least the kind of corruption that I am targeting here.
More generally: if everyone plays this kind of corruption game, then
disclosure has no effect in stopping the corruption I am targeting.
Thus, in my view, it is not enough to say that “Exxon funded this
research.” In my view, Exxon should not be directly funding an
academic to do research benefiting Exxon in a policy dispute.

What the NC principle is not
The NC principle is about money. It is not about any other
influence. Thus, if you’re nice to me, no doubt, I’ll be nice to you.
If you’re respectful, I’ll be respectful back. If you flatter me, I
doubt I could resist flattering you in return. If you push causes I
believe in, I will likely push your work as well. These forms of
influence are not within the scope of the NC principle — not because
they are not sometimes troubling, but because none of them involve
money. I mean the NC principle only to be about removing the influence
of money from the work of a professional. I don’t think there’s any
need to adopt a rule to remove these other influences.”

‘Recent thoughts:
* kleptocracy – associated with state and the necessary
redistribution that comes with high specialization, population and
population density. Teaches one to devalue things that have value
(e.g. time, health, relationships etc.) and to value things that have
little real value (e.g. name brands, popularity, etc.) Derives power
from the fears and insecurities of the citizens. Stands in opposition
to more egalitarian societies of the past (recent and distant), in its
class divisions and allowance of slavery
* megaklept – a tool of the kleptocracy that takes your money/time
and gives you nothing in return (e.g. insurance companies,
* gigaklept – a tool of the kleptocracy that leaves you in worse
condition than before you interacted with it (e.g. the tobacco
* kleptocrat – an agent of the kleptocracy
* major kleptocrat – an agent of the kleptocracy that imposes
kleptocratism on others, often against their will (e.g. my uncle who,
without anyone’s permission, gave me a perm when I was three years
* minor kleptocrat – an unwitting agent of the kleptocracy. (e.g.
parents who let their children watch way too much TV)
* kleptovision – the TV. A very powerful tool of the kleptocracy.
* kleptonet – the internet, when used as a tool of the

Hypothesis – those that are slaves to the kleptocracy are often
unhappy and their joi de vivre would return if they began to emerge
from and limit their interaction with the kleptocracy.

Goal – to eliminate all interaction with gigaklepts and minimize
interaction with megaklepts in an effort free oneself from the global
kleptocracy and decrease its wide-ranging power.

Challenge – to find ways to minimize the power of the kleptocracy in
one’s life.

Root out the kleptocrats at

Definitions (and some words) by Althea Grant and Karama Neal. Inspired
by Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.’
email : karama [at] alum [dot] emory [dot] edu





Secret Report: Corruption is “Norm” Within Iraqi Government
BY David Corn  /  08/30/2007

As Congress prepares to receive reports on Iraq from General David
Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker and readies for a debate on
George W. Bush’s latest funding request of $50 billion for the Iraq
war, the performance of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-
Maliki has become a central and contentious issue. But according to
the working draft of a secret document prepared by the U.S. embassy in
Baghdad, the Maliki government has failed in one significant area:
corruption. Maliki’s government is “not capable of even rudimentary
enforcement of anticorruption laws,” the report says, and, perhaps
worse, the report notes that Maliki’s office has impeded
investigations of fraud and crime within the government.

The draft–over 70 pages long–was obtained by The Nation, and it
reviews the work (or attempted work) of the Commission on Public
Integrity (CPI), an independent Iraqi institution, and other
anticorruption agencies within the Iraqi government. Labeled
“SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED/Not for distribution to personnel outside
of the US Embassy in Baghdad,” the study details a situation in which
there is little, if any, prosecution of government theft and sleaze.
Moreover, it concludes that corruption is “the norm in many

The report depicts the Iraqi government as riddled with corruption and
criminals–and beyond the reach of anticorruption investigators. It
also maintains that the extensive corruption within the Iraqi
government has strategic consequences by decreasing public support for
the U.S.-backed government and by providing a source of funding for
Iraqi insurgents and militias.

The report, which was drafted by a team of U.S. embassy officials,
surveys the various Iraqi ministries. “The Ministry of Interior is
seen by Iraqis as untouchable by the anticorruption enforcement
infrastructure of Iraq,” it says. “Corruption investigations in
Ministry of Defense are judged to be ineffectual.” The study reports
that the Ministry of Trade is “widely recognized as a troubled
ministry” and that of 196 corruption complaints involving this
ministry merely eight have made it to court, with only one person

The Ministry of Health, according to the report, “is a sore point;
corruption is actually affecting its ability to deliver services and
threatens the support of the government.” Investigations involving the
Ministry of Oil have been manipulated, the study says, and the “CPI
and the [Inspector General of the ministry] are completely ill-
equipped to handle oil theft cases.” There is no accurate accounting
of oil production and transportation within the ministry, the report
explains, because organized crime groups are stealing oil “for the
benefit of militias/insurgents, corrupt public officials and foreign

The list goes on: “Anticorruption cases concerning the Ministry of
Education have been particularly ineffective….[T]he Ministry of Water
Resources…is effectively out of the anticorruption fight with little
to no apparent effort in trying to combat fraud….[T]he Ministry of
Labor & Social Affairs is hostile to the prosecution of corruption
cases. Militia support from [Shia leader Moqtada al-Sadr] has
effectively made corruption in the Ministry of Transportation
wholesale according to investigators and immune from prosecution.”
Several ministries, according to the study, are “so controlled by
criminal gangs or militias” that it is impossible for corruption
investigators “to operate within [them] absent a tactical [security]
force protecting the investigator.”

The Ministry of the Interior, which has been a stronghold of Shia
militias, stands out in the report. The study’s authors say that
“groups within MOI function similarly to a Racketeer Influenced and
Corrupt Organization (RICO) in the classic sense. MOI is a ‘legal
enterprise’ which has been co-opted by organized criminals who act
through the ‘legal enterprise’ to commit crimes such as kidnapping,
extortion, bribery, etc.” This is like saying the mob is running the
police department. The report notes, “currently 426 investigations are
hung up awaiting responses for documents belonging to MOI which
routinely are ignored.” It cites an episode during which a CPI officer
discovered two eyewitnesses to the October 2006 murder of Amer al-
Hashima, the brother of the vice president, but the CPI investigator
would not identify the eyewitnesses to the Minister of the Interior
out of fear he and they would be assassinated. (It seemed that the
killers were linked to the Interior Ministry.) The report adds, “CPI
investigators assigned to MOI investigations have unanimously
expressed their fear of being assassinated should they aggressively
pursue their duties at MOI. Thus when the head of MOI intelligence
recently personally visited the Commissioner of CPI…to end
investigations of [an] MOI contract, there was a clear sense of
concern within the agency.”

Over at the Defense Ministry, the report notes, there has been a
“shocking lack of concern” about the apparent theft of $850 million
from the Iraqi military’s procurement budget. “In some cases,” the
report says, “American advisors working for US [Department of Defense]
have interceded to remove [Iraqi] suspects from investigations or
custody.” Of 455 corruption investigations at the Defense Ministry,
only 15 have reached the trial stage. A mere four investigators are
assigned to investigating corruption in the department. And at the
Ministry of Trade, “criminal gangs” divide the spoils, with one
handling grain theft, another stealing transportation assets.

Part of the problem, according to the report, is Maliki’s office: “The
Prime Minister’s Office has demonstrated an open hostility” to
independent corruption investigations. His government has withheld
resources from the CPI, the report says, and “there have been a number
of identified cases where government and political pressure has been
applied to change the outcome of investigations and prosecutions in
favor of members of the Shia Alliance”–which includes Maliki’s Dawa

The report’s authors note that the man Maliki appointed as his
anticorruption adviser–Adel Muhsien Abdulla al-Quza’alee–has said
that independent agencies, like the CPI, should be under the control
of Maliki. According to the report, “Adel has in the presence of
American advisors pressed the Commissioner of CPI to withdraw cases
referred to court.” These cases involved defendants who were members
of the Shia Alliance. (Adel has also, according to the report,
“steadfastly refused to submit his financial disclosure form.”) And
Maliki’s office, the report says, has tried to “force out the entire
leadership of CPI to replace them with political appointees”–which
would be tantamount to a death sentence for the CPI officials. They
now live in the Green Zone. Were they to lose their CPI jobs, they
would have to move out of the protected zone and would be at the mercy
of the insurgents, militias, and crime gangs “who are [the] subjects
of their investigations.”

Maliki has also protected corrupt officials by reinstating a law that
prevents the prosecution of a government official without the
permission of the minister of the relevant agency. According to a memo
drafted in March by the U.S. embassy’s anticorruption working group–a
memo first disclosed by The Washington Post–between September 2006
and February 2007, ministers used this law to block the prosecutions
of 48 corruption cases involving a total of $35 million. Many other
cases at this time were in the process of being stalled in the same
manner. The stonewalled probes included one case in which Oil Ministry
employees rigged bids for $2.5 million in equipment and another in
which ministry personnel stole 33 trucks of petroleum.

And in another memo obtained by The Nation–marked “Secret and
Confidential”–Maliki’s office earlier this year ordered the
Commission on Public Integrity not to forward any case to the courts
involving the president of Iraq, the prime minister of Iraq, or any
current or past ministers without first obtaining Maliki’s consent.
According to the U.S. embassy report on the anticorruption efforts,
the government’s hostility to the CPI has gone so far that for a time
the CPI link on the official Iraqi government web site directed
visitors to a pornographic site.

In assessing the Commission on Public Integrity, the embassy report
notes that the CPI lacks sufficient staff and funding to be effective.
The watchdog outfit has only 120 investigators to cover 34 ministries
and agencies. And these investigators, the report notes, “are closer
to clerks processing paperwork rather than investigators solving
crimes.” The CPI, according to the report, “is currently more of a
passive rather than a true investigatory agency. Though legally
empowered to conduct investigations, the combined security situation
and the violent character of the criminal elements within the
ministries make investigation of corruption too hazardous.”

CPI staffers have been “accosted by armed gangs within ministry
headquarters and denied access to officials and records.” They and
their families are routinely threatened. Some sleep in their office in
the Green Zone. In December 2006, a sniper positioned on top of an
Iraqi government building in the Green Zone fired three shots at CPI
headquarters. Twelve CPI personnel have been murdered in the line of
duty. The CPI, according to the report, “has resorted to arming people
hired for janitorial and maintenance duty.”

Radhi al-Radhi, a former judge who was tortured and imprisoned during
Saddam Hussein’s regime and who heads the CPI, has been forced to live
in a safe house with one of his chief investigators, according to an
associate of Radhi who asked not to be identified. Radhi has worked
with Stuart Bowen Jr., the Special Inspector General for Iraq
Reconstruction, who investigates fraud and waste involving U.S.
officials and contractors. His targets have included former Defense
Minister Hazem Shalaan and former Electricity Minister Aiham
Alsammarae. And Radhi himself has become a target of accusations. A
year ago, Maliki’s office sent a letter to Radhi suggesting that the
CPI could not account for hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenses
and that Radhi might be corrupt. But, according to the US embassy
report, a subsequent audit of the CPI was “glowing.” In July, the
Iraqi parliament considered a motion of no confidence in Radhi-a move
widely interpreted as retaliation for his pursuit of corrupt
officials. But the legislators put off a vote on the resolution. In
late August, Radhi came to the United States. He is considering
remaining here, according to an associate.

Corruption, the report says, is “one of the major hurdles the Iraqi
government must overcome if it is to survive as a stable and
independent entity.” Without a vigorous anticorruption effort, the
report’s authors assert, the current Iraqi government “is likely to
loose [sic] the support of its people.” And, they write, continuing
corruption “will likely fund the violent groups that our troops are
likely to face.” Yet, according to the report, the U.S. embassy is
providing “uncertain” resources for anticorruption programs. “It’s a
farce,” says a U.S. embassy employee. “There is a budget of zero
[within the embassy] to fight corruption. No one ever asked for this
report to be written. And it was shit-canned. Who the hell would want
to release it? It should infuriate the families of the soldiers and
those who are fighting in Iraq supposedly to give Maliki’s government
a chance.”

Beating back corruption is not one of the 18 congressionally mandated
benchmarks for Iraq and the Maliki government. But this hard-hitting
report–you can practically see the authors pulling out their hair–
makes a powerful though implicit case that it ought to be. The study
is a damning indictment: widespread corruption within the Iraqi
government undermines and discredits the U.S. mission in Iraq. And the
Bush administration is doing little to stop it.

For Iraq’s Oil Contracts, a Question of Motive
BY Peter S. Goodman  /  June 29, 2008

From the first days that American-led forces took control of Iraq, the
conquering army took pains to broadcast that it was there to liberate
the country, not occupy it, and certainly not to cart off its riches.
Nowhere were such words more carefully dispensed than on the subject
of Iraq’s oil.

As they surveyed facilities in the weeks after Saddam Hussein’s
government fell, American officials said they were merely advising
Iraqis on how to increase production to finance the democratic nation
being erected across desert sands that, conveniently, held the third-
largest oil reserves on earth.

Many critics of the invasion derided that characterization. In Arab
countries and among some people in America, there was suspicion that
the war was a naked grab for oil that would open Iraq to multinational
energy giants. President Bush had roots in the Texas oil industry.
Vice President Cheney had overseen Halliburton, the oil services
company. Whatever else happened, such critics said, energy players
with links to the White House would surely wind up with a nice piece
of the spoils.

Behind those competing conceptions was a fundamental reality that
forms the wallpaper for American engagement in the Middle East: oil,
and its critical importance to the American economy, has for decades
been a paramount interest of the United States in the region. Almost
everything the United States has tried to do there — propping up
autocrats or seeking democracy, fighting terrorism or withstanding
Soviet influence, or, in this case, toppling the dictator Saddam
Hussein — could affect the availability of oil for American markets
and therefore entailed some calculation about it.

Today, the question hanging over Iraq is whether its natural endowment
will be used to help create a sustainable new state, or will instead
be managed in ways that reward the cronies and allies of the country
whose army toppled Mr. Hussein. Or perhaps both at the same time.

That basic question was yanked back to the fore recently when word
emerged from Baghdad, in a report in The New York Times, that the
Iraqi oil ministry was close to awarding contracts to service its oil
fields to some of the largest Western oil companies. While relatively
small, these contracts could serve as a foot in the door for much more
lucrative licenses to explore widely for Iraqi oil.

Some 40 companies from around the world had jockeyed for the
contracts, but they were being awarded without competitive bids, the
report said. Those about to land the deals — Exxon Mobil, Shell, BP
and Total — had held oil rights in Iraq before Mr. Hussein
nationalized the fields and kicked them out more than three decades
ago. They all came from countries that had either been stalwart allies
of the Bush administration or — in the case of France, which is home
to Total — had lately increased their support for the American-led
campaign to isolate Iran.

Just as striking were the companies that failed to capture a foothold:
the Russian oil giant Lukoil, which had signed a deal to exploit a
huge field in southern Iraq while Mr. Hussein was still in power, only
to see it revoked just before he fell, and Chinese firms with their
own claims. Before the 2003 invasion, the Russian and Chinese
governments had lent muscle on the United Nations Security Council
toward fending off American-led sanctions aimed at the Hussein

Iraqi officials said the no-bid deals reflected nothing more than
pragmatic stewardship. Iraq needs to get more oil out of the ground to
finance reconstruction, they said, and the oil giants getting the
contracts have the skill to make that happen.

But those most suspicious of the Bush administration’s motives fixed
on the contracts as validation. They accused the administration of
pulling strings and shelving concerns about preserving Iraqi
sovereignty, in favor of expedient deal-making in a time of exploding
oil prices. “There does seem to be pressure from American officials
brought on the Iraqi oil ministry to favor friendly countries and
punish unfriendly countries,” said Michael T. Klare, a political
scientist at Hampshire College and author of the recent book “Rising
Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy” (Henry Holt).
“That’s the way it has to look to an outsider.”

In the days after word of the deals leaked out, three senators,
including Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat, demanded that the
Bush administration somehow cancel the contracts, arguing that they
would damage American credibility.

The White House disowned any role and said the senators were being
hypocritical. Here they were, in effect, accusing the administration
of orchestrating the deals, while calling for orchestration to make
them disappear. “Iraq is a sovereign country,” the White House
spokeswoman, Dana Perino, told reporters. “It can make decisions based
on how it feels that it wants to move forward.”

Sovereignty has been a subject wrapped in thorns ever since American-
led forces drove Mr. Hussein from his palace. Arguments over who
really makes decisions in Iraq, and for whose benefit, cut to the
heart of the very point of the war.

This tension has often hamstrung American efforts, making it difficult
for those on the ground to act decisively. When looting swept across
the country after Mr. Hussein’s government fell, American and British
forces traced their failure to crack down against civilians in part to
a reluctance to be seen as strong-armed occupiers. But their inaction
instead aroused the disgust of many Iraqis when the looters dismantled
much of the nation. Oil has been a more delicate area. Any future
Iraqi government would clearly need hefty oil revenues, and that
requires significant modernization.

In the early days after the Americans took over in May 2003, I drove
with a team from the United States Army Corps of Engineers in Kirkuk
to meet with the head of the North Oil Company, one of two state-owned
giants. The Americans were keen that North Oil hire a private security
firm to guard local installations.

On the way over, the American commanding officer reminded his men that
they were there as advisers, and should treat the Iraqi executive with
deference. But within minutes the Americans were haranguing the
company chief for moving too slowly. Later, the Americans vented about
how much easier things would be if they were simply running the show.
“I like to think of us as really nice conquerors,” one of the
Americans said.

The Pentagon dispatched Phillip J. Carroll, a former head of Shell’s
operations in the United States, to advise the Iraqi oil ministry.
Among critics of the war, it was assumed that Mr. Carroll was there to
make sure that Mr. Hussein’s allies would be walled out of the future
Iraqi oil business while the United States and its friends got the
choice opportunities.

Mr. Carroll dismissed such talk when I spoke with him shortly after he
arrived in Baghdad, but he signaled that the shelf life of any
contract dating back to Saddam might be brief. “There will have to be
an evaluation by the ministry of those contracts and a determination
of whether they were made in the best interests of the Iraqi people,”
Mr. Carroll said.

Five years later, the Iraqi oil ministry is about to hand out secretly
negotiated contracts to a few companies that Saddam Hussein removed,
while excluding firms from the countries that had better relations
with the dictator.

In an interview last week, Mr. Carroll said he assumed critics would
assert unsavory motives, but he said that missed the point. “These
companies are long familiar with Iraq and have wonderful technology
and loads of money,” he said. “The Iraqis could develop their own
skills by learning from the international oil companies.” But energy
experts argue that Iraq is one of the easier places on earth to summon
oil from the ground, making the pedigree of the companies less

No oil law has yet been agreed upon concerning how the oil royalties
will be shared among Iraq’s factions. So, as the Bush administration
enters its final months, much about the future of Iraq’s oil remains a
mystery — expect for which companies will get the first shot at the
rewarding business of extracting more of it.





Mugabe Victory in Zimbabwe Elections a ‘Joke’
BY Louis Weston & Peta Thornycroft  /  June 30, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe — President Mugabe was last night sworn in to a sixth
term as president of Zimbabwe, extending his 28 years in power after
officials proclaimed he had been re-elected by a landslide.
Maintaining the fiction that the vote was a contested poll, the
Zimbabwe Election Commission said that Mr. Mugabe received 2,150,269
votes — or more than 85% — against 233,000 for Morgan Tsvangirai, the
leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change who won the
first round in March.

Between the two polls Mr. Mugabe’s Zanu-PF movement launched a
campaign of violence against the opposition in which at least 86
people were killed, and Mr. Tsvangirai pulled out of the election.
“This is an unbelievable joke and act of desperation on the part of
the regime,” the MDC’s spokesman, Nelson Chamisa, said. “It qualifies
for the Guinness Book of Records as joke of the year. Mugabe will
never win an election except when he’s contesting against himself.”

Prayers at the inauguration were led by an Anglican ally who broke
away from the church, Nolbert Kunonga. “We thank you Lord for this
unique and miraculous day,” he said. “You have not failed our leader.”
Mr. Mugabe waved a Bible as he recited “so help me God,” to cheers
from his supporters.

Mr. Tsvangirai was invited to the event but declined. “The
inauguration is meaningless,” he said. “The world has said so,
Zimbabwe has said so. So it’s an exercise in self-delusion.”
Ambassadors in Harare were conspicuous by their absence from the

Although Mr. Mugabe offered to hold talks with the opposition the
absence of the word “negotiations” was noticeable and analysts said he
intends to remain in office as long as possible. “It is my hope that
sooner rather than later, we shall as diverse political parties hold
consultations towards such serious dialogue as will minimize our
difference and enhance the area of unity and co-operation,” Mr. Mugabe

Election observers from the Southern African Development Community
said that the poll failed to reflect the will of the people. Almost
400,000 Zimbabweans defied the threat of violent retribution by Mr.
Mugabe’s thugs to vote against him or spoil their ballot papers,
official results released on yesterday show.

According to the Zimbabwe Election Commission’s figures, the turnout
of 42% was almost exactly the same as the first round. But many
polling stations were virtually deserted throughout election day.
Papers were spoiled. With 21,127 votes in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second
largest city and an opposition stronghold, Mr. Mugabe lost to the
combined total of 13,291 votes for Mr. Tsvangirai and 9,166 spoiled

Only a few independent observers were accredited for the election. And
the Zimbabwe Election Support Network — which mounted the most
comprehensive monitoring exercise in the first round — pulled out in
protest. Consequently, no unbiased verification of the figures is
possible and the true tallies may never be known.

For weeks, Zanu-PF militias have terrorized Zimbabweans, warning them
they will launch Operation Red Finger, which will target anyone whose
digit is not marked with ink to show that they cast a vote. They will
also target anyone who checks show to have backed Mr Tsvangirai.

Militias force some to vote for Zimbabwe’s Mugabe
BY Cris Chinaka  /  June 27, 2008

HARARE — Many Zimbabweans boycotted their one-candidate election on
Friday but witnesses and monitors said government militias forced
people to vote for 84-year-old President Robert Mugabe in some areas.
The vote, held despite a storm of condemnation from inside and outside
Africa, was denounced as a sham by Western powers and opposition
leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai, who won the first round on March 29, pulled out of the
poll a week ago and took refuge in the Dutch embassy because of state-
backed violence he said had killed almost 90 of his supporters. He
told a news conference millions of people were staying away from the
polls despite intimidation. “What is happening today is not an
election. It is an exercise in mass intimidation with people all over
the country being forced to vote,” Tsvangirai said.

A witness in Chitungwiza town, south of Harare, told Reuters voters
were forced to hand the serial number of their ballot paper and their
identity details to an official from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party so he
could see how they voted. The Zimbabwe Crisis Coalition rights group
said village heads had “assisted” teachers to vote in some rural areas
after forcing them to declare they were illiterate.

Turnout was low in urban areas where Tsvangirai’s Movement for
Democratic Change (MDC) is traditionally strong. But it was not clear
how many voters went to the polls in rural districts that are
difficult for independent journalists to visit. State television
denounced foreign media reports of low turnout. It showed long queues
in rural and semi-rural constituencies and said voters ignored appeals
to abstain.

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network, a monitoring group, said its
observers reported that traditional leaders forced people to vote in
most rural areas. It said the poll would not reflect the will of the
people. ZESN also reported militias and traditional leaders were
noting the names of voters and asking for the serial numbers of their
ballot papers as they left polling stations. ZESN said before the vote
it could not deploy properly because of intimidation of its monitors.
Tsvangirai had urged people to abstain but said they should vote if
they were in danger.

Turnout was much lower in many areas than in parliamentary and
presidential elections in March, when people queued from the early
hours. Tsvangirai won that poll but fell short of the majority needed
for outright victory. The G8 group of rich nations lambasted Zimbabwe
for going ahead with the run-off and the United States said the U.N.
Security Council may consider fresh sanctions next week. Tsvangirai
said pro-Mugabe militias had threatened to kill anybody abstaining or
voting for the opposition. Voters had their little finger dyed with
purple ink. “There is no doubt turnout will be very low,” said Marwick
Khumalo, head of monitors from the Pan African Parliament. Another
African election monitor, who asked not be to named, said turnout was
low except in some ZANU-PF strongholds.

Mugabe voted with his wife at Highfield Township, on the outskirts of
Harare. Asked how he felt, he told journalists: “Very fit, optimistic,
upbeat,” before being driven away. The African Union is optimistic it
can solve the Zimbabwe crisis. “I am convinced we will sort it out and
that our credibility will be maintained,” AU Commission chairman Jean
Ping said during a foreign ministers meeting in Sharm el Sheikh,
Egypt, ahead of an AU summit next week.

Tsvangirai said he understood South African President Thabo Mbeki
planned to recognise Mugabe’s re-election. But he said it would be a
“dream” to expect his MDC to join a national unity government with
Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Mbeki, the designated regional mediator in Zimbabwe,
has been widely criticised for a soft approach towards Mugabe despite
an economic crisis that has flooded South Africa and other countries
with millions of refugees.

Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, often seen as South Africa’s moral
conscience, said Mbeki must join other African leaders in declaring
Mugabe illegitimate if he claimed victory. Calling Zimbabwe’s crisis a
“sad tragedy,” Archbishop Tutu said Mbeki should admit his diplomatic
approach had failed. “Everybody would support him if he now turned the
screws on his colleague Mr Mugabe. I know he would be doing it
reluctantly,” Tutu told Reuters television.

In the affluent Greendale suburb of Harare in the morning there were
scores of people queuing for bread at a shopping centre but only 10 at
a polling station nearby. “I need to get food first and then maybe I
can go and vote … I heard there could be trouble for those who
don’t,” said Tito Kudya, an unemployed man. Mugabe has presided over
an economic collapse accompanied by hyperinflation, 80% unemployment,
food and fuel shortages. A loaf of bread costs 6-billion Zimbabwe
dollars, or 150 times more than at the time of the first round of

A middle-aged man waiting for a bus said it was dangerous to talk
about politics. “Your tongue can cost you your teeth,” he told
Reuters, adding that he would vote. Analysts said Mugabe was pressing
ahead with the election to try to cement his grip on power and
strengthen his hand if he was forced to negotiate with Tsvangirai. A
security committee of the Southern African Development Community
(SADC) called earlier this week for the vote to be postponed, saying
Mugabe’s re-election could lack legitimacy.

But Mugabe, who thrives on defiance, remained unmoved and said he
would attend an AU summit to confront his opponents. Mugabe says he is
willing to sit down with the MDC but will not bow to outside pressure.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Japan that Washington
would raise the issue of further sanctions at the U.N. Security
Council. The European Commission described the run-off as “a sham.”

Zimbabwe’s Tipping Point?
By Roger Bate  /  June 27, 2008

“As I write, a few Zimbabweans are at the polls, some brought
forcibly, to vote in a meaningless election with only one candidate,
dictator Robert Mugabe. Mugabe’s party, ZANU PF, is vainly keeping up
the pretence that democracy exists in Zimbabwe — a fiction that not
even neighboring states are still willing to believe. The normally
vacillating UN has condemned Mugabe’s attempts to rig another election
now that Zimbabwe’s trading partners, Russia and China, have been
persuaded to add their voices; the Mugabe regime probably only has
weeks left.

On Wednesday, three members of the Southern African Development
Community (SADC), Swaziland, Angola, and Tanzania, urged Zimbabwe to
postpone today’s election, acknowledging that conditions in the
country would not permit it to be free and fair. Even the previously
silent South African ruling party, the African National Congress,
issued a statement noting that given “the ugly incidents and scenes
that have been visited on the people of Zimbabwe . . . a run-off
presidential election offers no solution to Zimbabwe’s crisis.” While
he did not mention Mugabe by name, former South African president
Nelson Mandela, speaking at a private dinner in London, cited the
“tragic failure of leadership” in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe’s downfall is long overdue, but he may also take down South
Africa’s president in the process. Thabo Mbeki’s inability to put any
pressure on Mugabe over the past eight years of election rigging and
violence has left his reputation in tatters. Dubbed Thabo “What
Crisis?” Mbeki, he seems to have lost any hope of the international-
diplomacy role he desired upon retiring as South African president
next April.

The fallout for those doing business with the regime is already
starting, too. Angry protestors are today gathering in Munich outside
the headquarters of Giesecke and Devrient, the company which is
printing the money used to prop up Mugabe’s regime. G&D printed
trillions of Zimbabwean dollars in February and March (432,000 sheets
of banknotes were sent to the government-controlled Reserve Bank of
Zimbabwe each week, equivalent to nearly Z$173 trillion (U.S. $32

Cato Institute analyst Stephen Hanke says that the Zimbabwean
government was “financing most of its spending” through money printed
and lent by the RBZ. As inflation deepened and tax revenues dried up,
the government demanded that RBZ print more and more money. G&D
enabled this to happen. This money was used to bribe the army prior to
the March election. The German Minister for Development, Heidemarie
Wieczorek-Zeul, told German radio this morning that she was demanding
that the company stop doing business with the Mugabe regime.

In Britain, pressure is building on Barclays Bank, which has affiliate
offices in Zimbabwe, to shut down operations there. According to a UK
treasury official, the bank has received hundreds of complaints and is
losing numerous valuable bank accounts. Furthermore, Anglo American —
the South African–British mining firm — which has new platinum
investments in Zimbabwe, was told by the British Government that it
was being monitored for any breach of existing sanctions. Like many
businesses, Anglo American argues (with little justification) that its
involvement benefits the Zimbabwean people. It may employ local
people, but all the revenue goes to the treasury — which provides hard
currency for the regime.

Most importantly, the Zimbabwean opposition Movement for Democratic
Change (MDC) has warned EU firms that licenses permitting foreign
companies to operate would be “revisited” when Mugabe is finally
overthrown. Roy Bennett, the MDC Treasurer, who spent many months in
jail for pushing a ZANU PF politician in 2006, says that all
“companies need to be careful because their rights will be
scrutinized.” He also warned that a future MDC government would not
repay recent loans to the Mugabe regime — a veiled threat to the
Chinese, North Koreans, and Malaysians who have financed weaponry and
military training for Mugabe’s army.

Universal Tobacco of Richmond, Virginia, also operates subsidiaries in
Zimbabwe. Like many businesses, they have faced difficult decisions
about remaining in the country, citing the employment of hundreds of
local people (in a country with 80 percent unemployment) as a key
reason not to leave. Unlike Anglo American, they employ many locals
and more of their activities reach the poor. When I interviewed
company officials some time ago about their tobacco processing
operations in Zimbabwe, the company defended its role — but said that
they were closely monitoring the situation. If the company wants to
operate in Zimbabwe, they’d better talk with opposition leaders soon —
waiting till Mugabe goes will be too late. The opposition wants
companies like Anglo American, Barclays, and Universal Tobacco to pull
out now — to remove the few solvent parts of a collapsing economy,
driving Mugabe to sue for a political resolution — and if the
companies don’t, they will be punished by a future MDC Government.

The saying, “It’s always darkest before the dawn” is applicable to
today’s Zimbabwe. For the millions suffering the privations of
Mugabe’s kleptocracy, it is as gloomy as it could be — but their
prospects could brighten in only a matter of weeks. It is up to
regional leaders and business leaders to ensure that is the case.”

[Roger Bate is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise

The African Union has an historic chance at its summit in Egypt to
unite against Robert Mugabe and chart a brighter future for his
country  /  June 28, 2008

Before Robert Mugabe voted yesterday, his enforcers had guaranteed him
a victory of sorts by murdering at least 90 people in his name. They
burned a six year-old boy alive in his home, along with his pregnant
mother. Another woman was found horribly dismembered in her kitchen.
Her crime: to have been married to an opposition councillor. Ten
thousand people have been injured. Two hundred thousand have been

The repugnant image of Zimbabwe’s dictator casting a ballot in his one-
candidate re-election insults the memory of his victims. It compounds
the suffering of their families and challenges the whole of Africa to
condemn him out of hand at last, to isolate him and to end his
country’s nightmare by hastening his departure from power.

Africa’s better leaders have a chance to shed their inhibitions and
start this process almost at once. Mr Mugabe has vowed to attend the
Africa Union summit at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt on Monday, there to
confront anyone brave enough to denounce him and “see if those fingers
would be cleaner than mine”. His point is well taken. Too many AU
member states are still pernicious kleptocracies with little to boast
of by way of democracy. From the Republic of Congo to the summit’s
host country, led by the repressive Hosni Mubarak, misrule is the

But there are exceptions that keep hope alive. Ghana, Botswana,
Namibia and South Africa enjoy rankings comparable with some of the
EU’s newer members in a global survey of democratic institutions.
Botswana and South Africa beat Slovakia and Greece in international
corruption rankings. In Africa as elsewhere, there is a clear,
positive correlation between strong democratic credentials and strong
economic growth rates, and the countries that lead these tables are
leading a growing chorus of denunciation of the terror that Mr Mugabe
is inflicting on his people.

Without waiting for the lead offered by Nelson Mandela in London this
week, President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia said that for Zimbabwe’s
neighbours to stay silent on its suffering would embarrass them and
the entire continent. Botswana has given warning that it may not
recognise the result of an election from which Morgan Tsvangirai was
forced to withdraw for fear of further butchery of his supporters. The
ANC has declared itself “deeply dismayed” by the violence (even if
South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki has yet to see reality), and
Tanzania’s President has called the AU’s silence so far on Zimbabwe

These statements come late. Mr Mugabe’s wilful destruction of his
country started eight years ago. But Africa is finally taking a stand
and deserves recognition for it.

The AU must now heed Tanzania’s warning and go much farther, by
refusing to recognise either yesterday’s blood-soaked parody of an
election or the regime that will claim a spurious mandate for more
power as a result of it. For the bleak truth is that Zimbabwe’s plight
eclipses every green shoot of good governance elsewhere in Africa. In
the land of the six billion-dollar loaf, rampaging paramilitaries and
remorseless Zanu (PF) “re-education” teams have turned the fertile
heartland of southern Africa into a vortex of misery that is
destabilising the entire region.

The AU’s duty in the next 48 hours is clear. Zimbabwe’s neighbours in
the South African Development Community (SADC) have an even more vital
role. They must unite to isolate Mr Mugabe and his inner circle. With
their help, the world can tighten sanctions, targeting the few dozen
men with the blood of so many on their hands. Without it, the shame
that Mr Mugabe has heaped on his country will only spread.

Comment: intervention in Zimbabwe is the only solution
The idea that Mugabe will cave in to sanctions or diplomatic pressure is absurd
David Aaronovitch  /  June 24, 2008

Maybe this time,” sang Lord Malloch-Brown on the Today programme
yesterday. “Something’s bound to begin. It’s got to happen, happen
sometime. Maybe this time I’ll win.”

Well, all right, I am – like postmodernist scholars – decoding the
metatext. What the Minister of State for Africa, Asia and the UN
actually said was that the mood around the world had so turned against
Robert Mugabe and his various cronies that their combined diplomatic
effort would bring him down.

Till now, Lord Malloch-Brown allowed, there had only been a “fairly
limited set of measures” taken against the Zimbabwean President. This
was changing. The Australians were kicking out the kids of Zanu (PF)
officials being educated in Oz. The EU would be freezing bank
accounts. The African Union and the Southern African Development
Community would not be recognising Mr Mugabe’s imminent second-round
election theft thus delegitimising him, and the UN would “force in”
election observers to monitor that second-round (from which Morgan
Tsvangirai had already withdrawn) or – in a manner unspecified –
“force some change of government”. These were “powerful steps – as
long as you accept that there are pressures short of military action”.

Perhaps, I thought, his lordship simply knows something we don’t about
back-channels and internal divisions in Mugabe’s apparat. Because,
unless you regard the recent burnings, rapes, beatings, murders,
threats, arrests, starvings and raids as some kind of exotic preamble
to negotiation, then what seems clear is that the Zanu (PF) military-
security group has no intention of allowing any transfer of power to
an elected opposition, no matter what a whingeing world says about it.

Or am I missing a clue, cleverly hidden in the present repression? If
so, it seems that Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic
Change missed it too when he took refuge in the Dutch Embassy in
Harare on Sunday night. Recalling Bosnia, one can only hope that the
Dutch keep their embassies safer than they did their UN safe havens.

This obduracy on the part of the Zimbabwean junta is not so
incomprehensible. The regime represents that astonishing phenomenon,
the ideo-kleptocracy, which believes that its enrichment and
corruption is a historically necessary reversal of colonialism. “The
people of Zimbabwe,” one senior Zanu (PF) minister said yesterday,
“have declared war against any force that would recolonise Zimbabwe”;
and that would take away his money, power, foreign assets, yachts and
mistresses and – at best – slap him in chokey for the rest of his

What might embolden him is the record. He might reflect that, over
nearly 30 years, he and his comrades have repeated the same essential
pattern of behaviour, each time taking Zimbabwe’s people on another
downwards journey, and have got away with it over and over and over
again. For most of my adult life we have witnessed the incremental and
inevitable destruction of a nation, almost in slow motion. After
initially ignoring the repression and violence, we have for two
decades applied the same strategies of pressure, minor sanction,
condemnation, talks, aid and buck-passing, only to enjoy the same
flickering hopes, to bemoan their subsequent betrayal and to start

Right from the beginning it was all there, in Mugabe’s 1980 revelation
that he believed in a one-party state. It was evident in his 1982-83
suppression of the Ndebele-based opposition of Joshua Nkomo using the
notorious 5th Brigade trained by North Koreans; in the 20,000
resulting deaths and the use of starvation as a political weapon; in
the intimidation of the opposition by Zanu (PF) “youth brigades”
during the 1985 elections; in the 1987 absorption of Nkomo’s Zapu and
Mugabe’s extolling of “one single, monolithic and gigantic political
party”. But we didn’t take too much notice, because there were no
whites involved.

And then the farm grab started, ostensibly redistributing white land
to the poor, and in fact giving it to the ideo-kleptocrats, in whose
hands it became barren. It was all there, this time for the whites:
the roving groups of thugs, the murders and the round-ups. The same
with the stolen election of 2000. The same with the stolen election of
2002. The same with the stolen election of 2004. Each time there were
hopes that maybe the ageing Mugabe would mellow, or that his party
would bring down the curtain and begin to compromise and each time it
all got worse. We chucked him out of the Commonwealth, he macheted a
few more opponents, we refused to shake his hand, he killed another
opposition election worker.

We believed – understandably – in the crucial role of South Africa.
South Africa, led by Thabo Mbeki, in turn believed in quiet diplomacy,
in secret talks, in dignified exits that might be delayed by
incautious condemnations, in governments of national unity between the
raped Opposition and their rapers. Several times President Mbeki, who
dislikes Mugabe intensely, would manage to get the Zimbabwean leader
into talks about this or that aspect of an imaginary future – land
settlement, development, whatever – only to have Mugabe renege the
instant the two men were back in their own capitals.

And what do we imagine now? That Zambia’s crossness, Angola’s
criticism (only a few weeks after that country passed on Chinese
weapons to the armed forces of Zimbabwe) and Botswana’s rather valiant
anger will persuade the Harare murderers that the game is up,
especially now we are investigating freezing their European assets?
Again, one asks, do the diplomats know something we don’t, and that
the historical record fails to suggest? Is there some Zimbabwean
Admiral Dönitz or Juan Carlos, waiting to arrange the transition? Why
aren’t we just as likely to get Mugabe’s Heydrich, Emerson Mnangagwa,
the Joint Operations Command strongman?

“Military intervention,” said one BBC person yesterday, expressing the
views of the consensus, “is not a realistic option.” It might be
better if it was. How many South African or British soldiers would it
take to unseat the junta and disperse the Zanu (PF) “veterans”, who
are now veterans only of whipping and gouging defenceless people, or
raping women without the slightest chance of resistance?

Instead, the suffering people of Zimbabwe (life expectancy, 37) get
what the Foreign Secretary called yesterday “the worst rigged election
in African history”.


A Bad Man In Africa
BY Matthew Sweet  /  Mar 16, 2002

North of the Zambezi, they have long known about the suppression of
free speech, about the bloody redistribution of land along racial
lines, about politicians happy to employ armed – and sometimes
uniformed – mobs to kill their opponents. They are practices imported
to this region, along with the railways, by the British.

Unlike the African press, the Western media rarely invoke the name of
Cecil John Rhodes: nearly a century after his death – on 26 March 1902
– his name is more associated with Oxford Scholarships than with
murder. It’s easier to focus on the region’s more recent, less Anglo
white supremacists: Ian Smith, for instance, who – despite his
Scottish background – seems cut from the same stuff as those Afrikaner
politicians who nurtured and maintained apartheid farther south.

But it was Rhodes who originated the racist “land grabs” to which
Zimbabwe’s current miseries can ultimately be traced. It was Rhodes,
too, who in 1887 told the House of Assembly in Cape Town that “the
native is to be treated as a child and denied the franchise. We must
adopt a system of despotism in our relations with the barbarians of
South Africa”. In less oratorical moments, he put it even more
bluntly: “I prefer land to niggers.”

For much of the century since his death, Rhodes has been revered as a
national hero. Today, however, he is closer to a national
embarrassment, about whom the less said the better. Yet there are
plenty of memorials to him to be found. In Bishop’s Stortford, his
Hertfordshire birthplace, St Michael’s Church displays a plaque. The
town has a Rhodes arts centre, a Rhodes junior theatre group, and a
small Rhodes Museum – currently closed – which houses a collection of
African art objects. In Oxford, his statue adorns Oriel College, while
Rhodes House, in which the Rhodes Trust is based, is packed with
memorabilia. Even Kensington Gardens boasts a statue – of a naked man
on horseback – based on the central feature of his memorial in Cape

But his presence is more strongly felt – and resented – in the
territories that once bore his name. Delegates at the Pan Africanist
Congress in January argued that “the problems which were being blamed
on [President Robert] Mugabe were created by British colonialism,
whose agent Cecil Rhodes used armed force to acquire land for
settlers”. He is the reason why, during the campaign for the
presidential election in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF described its
enemies – white or black – as “colonialists”; why, when Zimbabwe
gained full independence in 1980, Rhodes’s name was wiped from the
world’s maps.

The prosecution case is strong. Rhodes connived his way to wealth in a
lawless frontier culture, then used that fortune to fund a private
invasion of East Africa. He bought newspapers in order to shape and
control public opinion. He brokered secret deals, issued bribes and
used gangs of mercenaries to butcher his opponents, seizing close to a
million square miles of territory from its inhabitants. Although he
did this in the name of the British Empire, he was regarded with some
suspicion in his home country, and when it suited him to work against
Britain’s imperial interests – by slipping pounds 10,000 to Parnell’s
Irish nationalists, for example – he did so without scruple.

Rhodes was born in the summer of 1853, the fifth son of a parson who
prided himself on never having preached a sermon longer than 10
minutes. A sickly, asthmatic teenager, he was sent to the improving
climate of his brother’s cotton plantation in Natal. The pair soon
became involved in the rush to exploit South Africa’s diamond and gold
deposits – and unlike many prospectors and speculators who wandered,
dazed and luckless, around the continent, their claim proved fruitful.

When Rhodes began his studies at Oriel College, he returned to South
Africa each vacation to attend to his mining interests – which, by his
mid-thirties, had made him, in today’s terms, a billionaire. By 1891,
he had amalgamated the De Beers mines under his control, giving him
dominion over 90 per cent of the world’s diamond output. He had also
secured two other important positions; Prime Minister of the British
Cape Colony, and president of the British South Africa Company, an
organisation that was formed – in the manner of the old East India
companies – to pursue expansionist adventures for which sponsoring
governments did not have the stomach or the cash. The result of his
endeavours produced new British annexations: Nyasaland (now Malawi),
Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).

Rhodes imprinted his personality on the region with monarchical
energy: dams, railway engines, towns and anti-dandruff tonics were all
named after him. But his expansionist zeal was not always matched at
home in Britain. “Our burden is too great,” Gladstone once grumbled.
“We have too much, Mr Rhodes, to do. Apart from increasing our
obligations in every part of the world, what advantage do you see to
the English race in the acquisition of new territory?” Rhodes replied:
“Great Britain is a very small island. Great Britain’s position
depends on her trade, and if we do not open up the dependencies of the
world which are at present devoted to barbarism, we shall shut out the
world’s trade. It must be brought home to you that your trade is the
world, and your life is the world, not England. That is why you must
deal with these questions of expansion and retention of the world.”

At around the same time, Henry John Heinz was outlining a comparable
manifesto: “Our field,” he pronounced, “is the world.” By 1900, his 57
varieties were available in every continent. Global capitalism and
imperial expansion developed in collaboration; shared aims,
aspirations, patterns of influence. Today, most of the world’s
political empires have been dissolved and discredited, but the routes
along which capital moves remain the same. After Rhodes came Nestle,
Coca-Cola, BP, McDonald’s, Microsoft.

In 1896, Rhodes’s name was linked with the Jameson Raid – a disastrous
(and illegal) attempt to annex Transvaal territory held by the Boers,
and a principal cause of the South African War of 1899- 1902. His
reputation in Britain accrued a lasting tarnish. A defence of his
character, published in 1897 and co-authored by the pseudonymous
“Imperialist”, offers an insight into the charges against him:
“Bribery and corruption”, “neglect of duty”, “harshness to the
natives” and the allegation that “that Mr Rhodes is utterly
unscrupulous”. His lifelong companion Dr Leander Starr Jameson – a
future premier of the Cape Colony and the leader of the ill-fated raid
– added a postscript insisting that some of Rhodes’s best blacks were
friends: “His favourite Sunday pastime was to go into the De Beers
native compound, where he had built them a fine swimming bath, and
throw in shillings for the natives to dive for. He knew enough of
their languages to talk to them freely, and they looked up to him –
indeed, fairly worshipped the great white man.”

Did anyone buy this stuff? After Rhodes’s fatal heart attack on 26
March 1902, the death notices were ambivalent. News editors across the
world cleared their pages for obituaries and reports of public grief
in South Africa, but few wholehearted endorsements of his career
emanated from London. “He has done more than any single contemporary
to place before the imagination of his countrymen a clear conception
of the Imperial destinies of our race,” conceded The Times, “[but] we
wish we could forget the other matters associated with his name.”
Empire-builders such as Rhodes, the paper said, attracted as much
opprobrium as praise: “On the one hand they are enthusiastically
admired, on the other they are stones of stumbling, they provoke a
degree of repugnance, sometimes of hatred, in exact proportion to the
size of their achievements.” Jameson and “Imperialist”, it seems, had
not succeeded in rehabilitating their mentor.

But the story of Rhodes’s posthumous reputation is just as complex and
contentious as that of his life and career. And curiously, his
sexuality was one of the main battlegrounds. In 1911, Rhodes’s former
private secretary Philip Jourdan wrote a biography of his late
employer in order to counter “the most unjust libels with reference to
his private life [which] were being disseminated throughout the length
and breadth of the country”. Despite the aggressive romantic
attentions of a Polish adventuress and forger named Princess Catherine
Radziwill, Rhodes was indifferent to women and gained a reputation for
misogyny. His most intense relationships were with men – his private
secretary Neville Pickering, who died in his arms; Jameson, whom he
met at the diamond mines in Kimberley where, the doctor recalled, “we
shared a quiet little bachelor establishment”; and Johnny Grimmer, of
whom Jourdan (defeating the purpose of his memoir) said: “He liked
Johnny to be near him… The two had many little quarrels. On one
occasion for a couple of days they hardly exchanged a word. They were
not unlike two schoolboys.”

Rhodes’s excuse for remaining single was the one used today by members
of boy bands: “I know everybody asks why I do not marry. I cannot get
married. I have too much work on my hands.” Instead, he accumulated a
shifting entourage of young men, known as “Rhodes’s lambs”. It’s
probable that these relationships were more homosocial than
homosexual, but that didn’t stop the gossips or biographical
theoreticians. In 1946, Stuart Collete suggested Rhodes was “one of
those who, passing beyond the ordinary heterosexuality of the common
man, that the French call l’homme moyen sensual, was beyond
bisexuality, beyond homosexuality and was literally asexual – beyond
sex. It appears to have had no literal meaning to him except as a
human weakness that he understood he could exploit in others”. The
same biographer wove these comments into an analysis of Rhodes’s
appeal to another set of posthumous acolytes: the Nazis.

As the 20th century moved on, Rhodes’s memory became increasingly
attractive to extreme (and eventually moderate) right-wing opinion.
Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (1918) hailed him as “the
first precursor of a Western type of Caesar – in our Germanic world,
the spirits of Alaric and Theodoric will come again – there is a first
hint of them in Cecil Rhodes”.

It’s easy to see why Spengler, and later Hitler, were fans. Asked by
Jameson how long he would endure in memory, Rhodes replied: “I give
myself four thousand years.” To the journalist WT Stead he said: “I
would annex the planets, if I could. I often think of that.” When, in
1877, he first made his will, he urged his executors to use his
fortune to establish a secret society that would aim to redden every
area of the planet. He envisioned a world in which British settlers
would occupy Africa, the Middle East, South America, the Pacific and
Malay islands, China and Japan, before restoring America to colonial
rule and founding an imperial world government. “He was deeply
impressed,” Jameson recalled, “with a belief in the ultimate destiny
of the Anglo-Saxon race. He dwelt repeatedly on the fact that their
great want was new territory fit for the overflow population to settle
in permanently, and thus provide markets for the wares of the old
country – the workshop of the world.” It was a dream of mercantile
Lebensraum for the English: an empire of entrepreneurs, occupying
African territories in order to fill them with Sheffield cutlery, Tate
& Lyle’s Golden Syrup and Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls.

But it was Rhodes’s Alma Mater that did most to brighten his prestige.
In 1899, Oxford University, an institution with a long and continuing
history of accepting money from morally dubious millionaires, agreed
to administer a more cuddly and less clandestine version of the
“Imperial Carbonari” of the 1877 will: the Rhodes Scholars. In 1903,
the first names were selected. A group of men fitted for “manly
outdoor sports”, who would display “qualities of manhood, truth,
courage, devotion to duty, sympathy for the protection of the weak,
kindliness, unselfishness and fellowship” – men such as Bill Clinton,
the CIA director Stansfield Turner, the first Secretary General of the
Commonwealth Sir Arnold Smith, and the Nato Supreme Commander Bernard

By 1936, ML Andrews was praising Rhodes’s “vision of world peace, to
be brought about by the domination of the English-speaking nations”.
In the same year the Gaumont-British film company produced the
hagiographic movie, Rhodes of Africa. Two years later, the little
Rhodes Museum was founded in Bishop’s Stortford. When it reopens next
year, children will, for a fiver, be able to sign up as one of
“Rhodes’s Little Rhinos”.

A 1956 children’s book, Peter Gibbs’s The True Book About Cecil Rhodes
– one of a series that also profiled Marie Curie, Captain Scott and
Joan of Arc – is the best example of how, in the mid-20th century,
Rhodes was reclaimed as a national hero. More unalloyed in its
enthusiasm for Rhodes than any comparable 19th-century text, it makes
for queasy reading. Especially, perhaps, if you were voting in
Zimbabwe last weekend. Southern Rhodesia, it reports, is now “tamed
and civilised and cultivated, and many thousands of white people have
settled there, and made it their home. Today there are beautiful
modern towns; homes, gardens, parks, towering blocks of offices and
flats; factories, railways and airports. It is a new and thriving
country of the British Commonwealth, where but recently only savages
and wild animals dwelt. And it started from the dreams of one young
Englishman – Cecil Rhodes”.

When natural resources are a curse
BY John Kay  /  Financial Times  /  12 November 2003

It is in human, rather than natural resources, that the origins of
material prosperity are to be found. John describes why natural
resources may be a burden rather than a blessing for some developing

Saudi Arabia has more natural resource wealth per head than any large
nation in the world. But it is a troubled country, whose potential
instability is held in check by an increasingly fragile autocracy. It
is as much a target for terrorism as the US, and more vulnerable.

For centuries, natural resources were believed to be the bedrock of
national prosperity. Expeditions were launched and wars fought to
obtain silver, gold and diamonds, to find Lebensraum and to secure oil

Yet prosperity today is not based on natural resources. The World Bank
has prepared estimates of the value of such endowments – oil and other
minerals, forests, agricultural land – for most big economies. Only a
few rich countries such as New Zealand and Canada have resources in or
on the ground whose value exceeds a year’s industrial production.
European countries such as Germany and Belgium generate income every
two or three months greater than the entire value of their resource

Jeffrey Sachs, the economist, has found that among poor countries
ownership of resources depresses growth rather than stimulates it.*
Abundant resources are a problem, not a benefit. Resource discoveries
attract gamblers, crooks and opportunists, from Francisco Pizarro and
Robert Clive to Cecil Rhodes, and it is not by such people that great
businesses and disinterested governments are built.

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was the result of his discovery of
the horror unleashed in the Congo by the plundering of its assets. The
curse of Mr Kurtz lingered in the Congo even after the Belgians pulled
out. The country was immersed in a civil war that ended only when one
of the nastiest kleptocracies in recent history seized power. When
Joseph Mobutu’s regime collapsed, the country’s infrastructure was in
ruins, its mines were idle and the money that commercial lenders and
the World Bank had disgracefully continued to provide for 20 years had
been dissipated through foreign bank accounts.

The once-poor countries that have grown explosively in post-colonial
decades – such as South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore – are
exceptionally poor in natural resources, as is Japan.

Those countries where stable if undemocratic political structures have
maintained control of resources, as in Saudi Arabia, have been better
off. But they have still enjoyed little economic growth. In an economy
distorted by oil wealth it is impossible for the basic manufacturing
industries that represent the first stages of economic development to
come into being. Wages and exchange, boosted by resource exports, are
too high. In the most prosperous oil states, even jobs in service
industries are filled by immigrants.

Imperialism was largely motivated by the search for resources.
Colonialism ended, and territorial expansions petered out, because the
cost of these adventures exceeded their benefits. It is no accident
that one of the world’s richest countries – Switzerland – is also one
of its most inward-looking. Few resources. No empire, no wars, just
ever-increasing wealth.

The distribution of natural resources remains a source of
international instability, but for different reasons. Resources have
been discovered in countries that have neither the political nor the
economic institutions to handle them. Lucky are those countries – such
as Canada, Australia and New Zealand – where the discovery of
resources coincided with the import of cultures and political systems
to cope with them. Lucky is Botswana, almost the only poor country in
which good government and diamond mines have brought prosperity to
many. But the luckiest of all are those countries such as Norway and
Iceland that made large resource discoveries when they already enjoyed
developed economic and political institutions. It is in human, rather
than natural, resources that the origins of material prosperity are to
be found.

* J. Sachs and A. Warner, Natural Resource Abundance and Economic

The Curse of Riches  /  BY Geoffrey Wheatcroft  /  Nov 3, 2007
on DIAMONDS, GOLD AND WAR by Martin Meredith Simon & Schuster, pp.
569, ISBN 9780743286183

“When the second half of the 19th century began, South Africa was
barely even a geographical expression, as Metternich had
contemptuously called Italy. It certainly wasn’t a country, but merely
an ill-defined area which included two Boer republics, the Transvaal
and the Orange Free State, two British colonies, the Cape and Natal,
and a number of African principalities. The British had acquired the
Cape from the Dutch during the Napoleonic wars not quite in a fit of
absence of mind, but with little enthusiasm, and although the Cape of
Good Hope itself was of great strategic importance, commanding the
passage to India and the Far East, James Stephen of the Colonial
Office unpresciently called the lands of the interior ‘the most
sterile and worthless in the whole Empire’.

Everything was changed by geology, or by its accidental interaction
with human history. Just as it’s a random fact of life, but full of
significance for all of us, that Shiites, although only a one-in-five
minority among Muslims as a whole, happen to sit on top of most of the
world’s oil, so a capricious Providence decided to place most of the
world’s diamonds and gold beneath the bush and desert south of the
Tropic of Capricorn.

How this changed the whole course of South African — and to no small
extent world — history is the enthralling story told by Martin
Meredith in Diamonds, Gold and War.

First came the rush to Griqualand, where immensely rich diamond pipes
were found in 1871. Diggers flooded in and created a vast patchwork of
little claims. After feuding and rebellion, a few men, led by Cecil
Rhodes, Alfred Beit and Barney Barnato, gradually established control
of the mines, while the British ruthlessly acquired what had been a
disputed territory. The diamond town was now named Kimberley, for the
Colonial Secretary of the time (which is why American girls are still
called, at third hand, after the Norfolk village whence the Wodehouse
family took their title).

If the diamonds had lain in a debatable land, the immense gold field
discovered in 1886 did not. ‘The ridge of white water’ —
Witwatersrand — belonged to the Transvaal, or South African Republic,
a statelet of sorts created by Dutch-speaking Boers escaping
northwards from British rule. Incomers came in large numbers to the
Rand and its new boom town called Johannesburg, which was soon
producing an immense output of gold, and which was soon also in a
state of unarmed revolt against the Transvaal.

But there was a fascinating difference between these two mining
business, of which Meredith could have made more. In both cases a
cartel was established, but with diametrically opposite purposes.
Although Kimberley fuelled the great new fashion for engagement rings,
the demand for diamonds was essentially artificial, and with such a
limitless and easily mined supply the price fluctuated wildly, often
plunging downwards. And so the answer for the mine owners was monopoly
in the strict sense of a sellers’ market, controlling production and
thus keeping up the price.

By contrast, from the early 18th century until the Great War the price
of gold was fixed by the gold standard. The Rand was incomparably the
greatest gold field ever found in terms of quantity, but its quality
was very poor, so that in order to make the field payable, as mining
managers say, costs had to be controlled by means of monopsony, a
buyers’ market for the crucial commodity of labour, whose price could
be kept down. It is not too much to say that from these financial and
geological facts the whole history of modern South Africa flows.

Throughout the 1890s the Randlords, the mine owners, chafed under the
regime of Paul Kruger. In 1895 Rhodes promoted the disgraceful Jameson
Raid with the help of the brutally unprincipled Joseph Chamberlain,
now Colonial Secretary.

Far from learning restraint from the failure of the Raid, Chamberlain
sent out as High Commissioner Alfred Milner, a different brand of
villain, who colluded with Rhodes to bring about the Boer war in 1899.

Meredith gives one of the best accounts I have read of how this was
done, a scoundrelly business which has few parallels in British
history, apart from the way we were taken into the Suez escapade and
the present Iraq war, and which no Englishman can read to this day
without a sense of shame.

Militarily disastrous to begin with, morally calamitous at the end,
the Boer war earned this country deep hatred throughout the world. But
the way in which the British dealt with South Africa after the war was
almost worse in terms of its longer effects.

The wretched Milner tried to encourage large British immigration,
supposing that a balance of three to two British to Boer among the
white population would provide safety but that ‘if there are three
Dutch to two of British, we shall have perpetual difficulty’ (he was
right about that), while his oppressive and insulting treatment of
those Dutch inflamed feeling, and may even have stimulated the growth
of Afrikaans as a literary language.

In his eagerness to restore the mines to profitability, Milner
fatefully allowed the introduction of dirt-cheap Chinese indentured
labourers, with awful consequences both human and political. ‘Chinese
slavery’ destroyed any British claim to moral superiority, although
the haughty Milner could do no more than respond petulantly about
‘perpetual faultfinding, this steady drip, drip of deprecation, only
diversified by occasional outbursts of hysterical abuse’. Then the
black majority were deprived of almost all such rights as they had
enjoyed before, a job thoroughly done by the time Meredith’s book ends
with the creation of the Union of South Africa in 1910. What was
called apartheid after 1948 was different in degree rather than kind
from the previous system.

Much of this story, and plenty of the anecdotes, will be familiar to
those of us who have read or indeed written books on the subject, but
Martin Meredith has made good use not only of recent scholarly work
but also of contemporary sources, some of which were unknown to me.
The illustrations are also excellent, though why on earth is there no
list of them after the contents page? He offers no striking new
interpretation, but tells the story lucidly so that the reader can
draw his own moral. It was the Boer war that inspired Kipling’s phrase
‘no end of a lesson’, but those words might be used of the whole story
of South Africa since that day nearly 140 years ago when a few shiny
pebbles were picked up besides a dry watercourse in Griqualand.”

Diamonds – A Blessing or Curse?
By Michael Russell  /  May 30, 2007

“Diamonds should be known as the ‘misery stone’ because of the over-
importance we have placed on them since the Great Hole of Kimberly was
formed in the nineteenth century. Throughout history, diamonds have
always attracted attention and with the discovery of every large new
stone a ‘story’ or tale spread around that gem and so the legends

During the Colonial times, Cecil Rhodes and Charles Rudd founded “De
Beers”, a company created to mine and market diamonds; and no other
business has enjoyed so much protection from the crown and successive
governments since then. This created a diamond monopoly for that
business and at one stage it accounted for over 80% of the world’s
supply and trade in diamonds.

No other company or business has enjoyed such protectionism as De
Beers and its right to trade in raw or uncut diamond gem stones in
both South Africa and on the world markets. It was only by the late
nineteen eighties that its iron-like grip on the market started to
loosen. However, as the past shows they will not be laying down their
so-called ‘divine right’ to trade in diamonds very easily.

In South Africa today it is still a criminal offence for anyone to
trade the raw uncut stones without going though De Beers. There is an
entire police department known as the Diamond and Gold Squad whose
sole purpose is to uncover and prosecute people who want to, or are
trying to, do this. Would this situation exist in the United States or
any country that values the individual’s right to pursue their chosen
path to business success? Of course it would not be tolerated!

Because of the grip this company wanted to have on the entire market
the diamond has become one of the most overpriced commodities around.
Its artificially high price has attracted some of the most notorious
and greedy minded people in the world and it has been used to fund
wars all over the African continent.

At one time or another “blood diamonds” (which is what the illegally
mined stones became known as) have funded dictators, coups and rebels
alike in central and West Africa over the last 20 years. Great
publicity was made about these diamonds and the world was encouraged
not to support or buy them at all. However, how do you stop people
trading in things one can pick up like a bit of dirt and then turn
around and get thousands of dollars for it?

One can’t!  De Beers – or the Central Selling Organization (CSO is the
marketing arm of the company) – has been behind some very successful
sales and marketing campaigns over the last 5 decades, starting with
the well known marketing slogan “a diamond is forever!”

Now with the advent of laboratory made artificial gemstones where you
can now purchase a “diamond” made in the lab at 5% of the cost of the
real stone and not be able to tell the difference, there are some
people predicting the end of the diamond as we know it. We don’t
believe this will happen if this De Beers has its way and keeps alive
just a few of the tales that have accompanied this precious stone in
becoming the most talked about stone in history!”


Fact Sheet: National Strategy to Internationalize Efforts Against

Today, The President Unveiled His National Strategy To
Internationalize Efforts Against Kleptocracy, Pledging To Confront
High-Level, Large-Scale Corruption By Public Officials And Target The
Proceeds Of Their Corrupt Acts. This Strategy Is A New Component Of
His Plan To Fight Corruption Around The World. Public corruption
erodes democracy, rule of law, and economic well-being by undermining
public financial management and accountability, discouraging foreign
investment, and stifling economic growth and sustainable development.

* Kleptocracy Is A Threat To The Governments And Citizens Of Both
Developing And Developed Countries. Corruption by senior officials in
executive, judicial, legislative, or other official positions in
government can destabilize whole societies and destroy the aspirations
of their people for a better way of life.

The President’s National Strategy To Internationalize Efforts Against

This New National Strategy Builds On The President’s Commitment Made
With The G-8 Leaders At Their Recent Summit In St. Petersburg. At the
G-8 summit, President Bush committed to promote legal frameworks and a
global financial system that will reduce the opportunities for
kleptocracies to develop and to deny safe haven to corrupt officials,
those who corrupt them, and the proceeds of corrupt activity.

* The Strategy Has As Its Foundation In The President’s
Proclamation, Made In January 2004, To Generally Deny Entry Into The
United States Of Persons Engaged In Or Benefiting From Corruption.

* The Strategy Advances Many Of The Objectives In The National
Security Strategy By Mobilizing The International Community To
Confront Large-Scale Corruption By High-Level Foreign Public Officials
And Target The Fruits Of Their Ill-Gotten Gains.

* The Strategy Reaffirms The President’s Commitment To Ensure That
Integrity And Transparency Triumph Over Corruption And Lawlessness
Around The World, Expand The Circle Of Prosperity, And Extend
America’s Transformational Democratic Values To All Free And Open

Specifically, The Strategy Promotes Our Objectives By Committing To:

* Launch A Coalition Of International Financial Centers Committed
To Denying Access And Financial Safe Haven To Kleptocrats. The United
States Government will enhance its work with international financial
partners, in the public and private sectors, to pinpoint best
practices for identifying, tracing, freezing, and recovering assets
illicitly acquired through kleptocracy. The U.S. will also work
bilaterally and multilaterally to immobilize kleptocratic foreign
public officials using financial and economic sanctions against them
and their network of cronies.

* Vigorously Prosecute Foreign Corruption Offenses and Seize
Illicitly Acquired Assets. In its continuing efforts against bribery
of foreign officials, the United States Government will expand its
capacity to investigate and prosecute criminal violations associated
with high-level foreign official corruption and related money
laundering, as well as to seize the proceeds of such crimes.

* Deny Physical Safe Haven. We will work closely with
international partners to identify kleptocrats and those who corrupt
them, and deny such persons entry and safe haven.

* Strengthen Multilateral Action Against Bribery. The United
States will work with international partners to more vigorously
investigate and prosecute those who pay or promise to pay bribes to
public officials; to strengthen multilateral and national disciplines
to stop bribery of foreign public officials; and to halt bribery of
foreign political parties, party officials, and candidates for office.

* Facilitate And Reinforce Responsible Repatriation And Use. We
will also work with our partners to develop and promote mechanisms
that capture and dispose of recovered assets for the benefit of the
citizens of countries victimized by high-level public corruption.

* Target And Internationalize Enhanced Capacity. The United States
will target technical assistance and focus international attention on
building capacity to detect, prosecute, and recover the proceeds of
high-level public corruption, while helping build strong systems to
promote responsible, accountable, and honest governance.

The President’s Announcement Builds On Established U.S. Leadership In
The International Fight Against Corruption. The U.S. actively supports
development and implementation of effective anticorruption measures in
various international bodies and conventions. In addition to the G-8,
we have promoted strong anticorruption action in the:

* UN Convention Against Corruption
* OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the OECD Working Group on
* Financial Action Task Force (FATF)
* Council of Europe Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO)
* OAS Mechanism for Implementing the Inter-American Convention
Against Corruption
* Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum’s Anticorruption and
Transparency (ACT) Initiative
* Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) “Governance for
Development in Arab States” (GfD) Initiative.


From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

Do rabbits really use “language”?
Well, scientifically speaking, no. One of the primary characteristics
of language is syntax. Syntax means that words are put together into
phrases using ordering rules that affect meaning. It’s part of
grammar. The scientific term for how rabbits communicate is
“signaling.” Signals don’t necessarily have to be presented in a
particular order. They can change meaning under different contexts,
though, and that certainly is important in rabbit communication.
Nonscientifically speaking, though, a language can be any system of
signs, signals and utterances that are used to communicate. Under that
definition, anyone would agree that rabbits have a very sophisticated
language for a non-human species.


We all know how frustrating it is when we’re unable to understand and
be understood by others. It’s especially important to be able to
communicate with those who share our living space, and for many of us
that means being able to fluently speak and understand Rabbit.
Unfortunately, too few who share their lives with a rabbit know what
their rabbit is trying to tell them, or how to express themselves in
terms their rabbit will understand. This guide was written to help
remedy this situation by explaining some of the signals rabbits use to
communicate, and answer the common question, “What did my rabbit mean
by that?”

Being able to speak and understand Rabbit requires that you learn to
think at least a little like a rabbit. Your rabbit will never learn to
understand many of the mysterious things you do (“Why the heck did she
just change into three different outfits before leaving for work?”),
but you can certainly understand why rabbits do what they do. You’ll
be pretty close to the truth if you think of rabbits as being from a
society very different from your own, with different priorities,
goals, important lessons, and gestures. Learning Rabbit is in some
ways like human cultural studies, but of course the subject
individuals have much longer ears.

People who expect rabbits to be like dogs often find the most
important difference in the relationships they form with humans is
that dogs may give unconditional love and trust, but rabbits don’t.
Please repeat after me… rabbits are not like dogs, rabbits are not
like cats, rabbits are like rabbits. This is why it’s so important to
know how they think and what they want! As it turns out, what all
rabbits want more than anything is respect and affection, and when you
learn to give these properly (i.e. like a rabbit) you’ll freely get
them in return.

A great deal of the signaling described here involves the use of uppy
ears, which not all domestic rabbit breeds have. Lop-eared rabbits
will move their ears in a manner consistent with what uppy eared
rabbits will do, but the results are usually much less obvious.
Different lops will vary in how they are capable of moving their ears,
and may therefore be able to use only certain of the ear signals
described here. Still, with close attention you may be able to draw
almost as much information from the behavior of a lop as an uppy eared
rabbit. You can consider Lop as the language Rabbit, but spoken with
an accent.

Some signals’ descriptions might be superficially similar and yet have
very different meanings. For instance, an angry rabbit, one that’s
scared, and one asking to be groomed will all have their ears back.
Accompanying signals will almost always indicate the real meaning, but
the situation’s context (i.e. recent events) will also help to make
things clear.

Rabbits use a lot of special postures to signal others, but just
because some particular action or pose is a signal in one context
doesn’t mean that every time a rabbit does it a meaningful signal is
intentionally being given. As Sigmund Freud once said, sometimes a
cigar is just a cigar. Don’t worry if some of the material here seems
a bit complicated or hard to master. Humans are excellent at
recognizing nonverbal communication, including context and
accompanying signals. We do it all the time with each other, and it
comes quite naturally.

This guide runs a bit long for the sake of completeness, and you
probably won’t remember everything you’ve read after one time through.
However, if you come away with a good idea of what is important to
rabbits, and a general feel for how they express themselves, you’ll do
just fine. You can always come back to the guide later and easily find
confirmation and clarification for what you’ve seen.

It’s worth noting that the rabbits whose pictures appear here are
neutered, as should always be the case if breeding is not a
requirement. For brevity, this guide doesn’t include signals used
exclusively or almost only by unneutered rabbits. Unneutered rabbits
are often significantly more aggressive, and may be less interested in
conversing with you about anything but hierarchy and territoriality.
Perhaps you can remember when you were irresistibly hormone driven
(last weekend at the neighborhood barbecue?) and will understand. We
can only hope that you didn’t mark your territory by spraying urine
all over.

The stars of this site are two rabbits who patiently provided the
poses I’ve used to illustrate the text: Betsy (a black Dutch) and
Marvin (a tricolored, broken-patterned mix). They’re supermodels of
the rabbit world. My wife provided insightful suggestions and kindly
editing, as well as Betsy and Marvin’s biographies. And of course, my
thanks also go to all the folks who’ve responded to my request for
comments about this guide, and continue to make suggestions using the
Guest Book. You’re all great!

Finally, this guide isn’t about training your rabbit, or about how to
bond two rabbits, which are also important aspects of behavior. You
can learn more about these activities elsewhere, in resources given in
the bibliography. Learning to speak Rabbit, though, will help with
every other aspect of living with a rabbit. Oh, it’s also kind of fun.

see also: Hierarchy; Grooming; Gazing; Nose Wiggling; Offendedness;
Territoriality; Anger; Sadness & Fear; Curiosity; Begging; Play;
Racing; Shudders

Most rabbits at rest will be wiggling their noses. Rabbits don’t need
to do this to smell things, and they don’t necessarily do it in time
with their breathing, and they sometimes stop completely. So why do
they do it at all? A rabbit’s nose is like a thermometer for how
interested it is in what’s being observed. The faster the wiggling,
the more attentive or agitated the rabbit is. Nose wiggle signaling is
generally only used by rabbits that are already moderately relaxed.

A fast wiggle doesn’t necessarily mean a rabbit is upset. It may just
signal interest in something being witnessed, or some passing thought.
A slowly wiggling nose indicates a calm rabbit. Rabbits usually use
nose wiggling to indicate fine gradations in their mood. If you start
moving around or doing something odd, that nose will start moving
faster, and the rabbit may also turn its ears to focus more upon you.
If a rabbit is considering fleeing, though, it will usually stop
wiggling its nose completely.

One way to help calm a rabbit is to do the equivalent of whispering
“there, there, it’s all right” using slow nose wiggling. Of course,
humans can’t really wiggle their noses properly (OK, maybe you can),
but rabbits will understand if you just use your upper lip. If you
roll your upper lip under your top teeth and back again, this looks
much like a rabbit nose wiggle. It’s especially effective if you
happen to have a mustache. On the other hand, some folks can actually
wiggle their noses enough for the rabbit to recognize it. Experiment
to see what your rabbit responds to.

You may also notice a rabbit will suddently stop wiggling its nose,
and this is a signal too. It seems to mean either that the interest
level has gone beyond the highest wiggle rate, or that what is being
observed is somehow confusing (either or both, depending on the

You might have fun with this rabbit conversational technique, which is
also a good way to test if your nose wiggling is being done properly.
(Warning: Doing this can make your family fear for your sanity.) Lie
on the floor facing your rabbit while it’s sitting or lying a few feet
away. Your rabbit, who will be curious about what you’re doing, will
probably indicate its attention by speeding up its nose wiggling. Do
your own wiggling, but a little more slowly than the rabbit. The
rabbit’s nose will probably slow. As its nose slows, keep slowing
yours until you are both wiggling at a sedate pace. Then start
speeding up your wiggling without doing anything else. You’ll probably
see the rabbit start going faster too! Then you can both slow down to
a calm, life-is-good rate of wiggling again. Personally, I only do
this when no one else is watching.

You’ve probably heard that Eskimos have many words for different types
of snow, it being so important to their daily lives. Well, rabbits
have many expressions that mean, “You’ve offended me,” which indicates
how important respect and insults are to rabbits. Disagreements don’t
usually require a brawl, but they do typically require that someone
get insulted and someone apologize. Since the apology usually just
requires some forehead stroking, and maybe a conciliatory raisin, it’s
worth trying to get back on your bunny’s good side. If the rabbit is
really pissed off, though, you may have to just suffer the humiliation
of being shunned. After a while, you’ll be allowed to apologize. An
offended rabbit who is not apologized to can hold a grudge or maintain
a sulk for many, many days.

There is an escalating set of moves that a rabbit will use to indicate
everything from “I don’t care about you anyway,” to “You are the scum
of the earth,” as exemplified in The Offendedness Scale given below.
To some extent, a rabbit’s body position and the direction its ears
are facing are like coarse and fine dials for mood, which when pointed
at you are good and when pointed away are bad. When a rabbit is facing
you directly, with its ear openings facing you, you are being accorded
respect and appreciation. When the ears and/or body start being turned
to face away from you, you’re being told that your behavior has been
questionable. (Note: Some rabbits like to have their backs scratched
or to be groomed with their backs turned, in which case they will
remain in easy reach or even pressed against you. Insulted rabbits
will typically step away, at least slightly beyond easy reach.) If a
rabbit turns away completely, and folds its ears down onto its back,
you are definitely in the doghouse. You can confirm this by offering a
raisin, which will probably be rebuffed (“I don’t want any of your
lousy raisins.”) Only the passage of time will allow you to be given
the opportunity to redeem yourself.

If these moves are performed while sitting, then a conversation is in
progress, and you can act to improve your status with a suitable
apology. But if the rabbit is lying down, then a conclusion has been
reached, and you will have to work harder to make amends, maybe not
even until later after you’ve learned your lesson.

Left ear nearly facing forward (see the pink inside?), with right ear
facing and tilted backwards. Aggressive stance.
Translation: “Are you trying to annoy me? Because it’s working.”

What They Do / What It Means

1. Rabbit moves into your vicinity, faces you a moment, then examines
the ground around its feet as if there is something there much more
interesting than you are.  =  “Not everything is about you, ya
know.” (may be used just to show you who’s boss)

2. Rabbit sitting in your vicinity turns sideways, or a little turned
away, ears up, and looks at you with one eye.   =  “Hmm, what’s your
problem?” or “Just what do you mean by that, buddy?” (not always
meaningful, though)

3. Rabbit’s ears are sloping back instead of held upright, but still
turned to face forward or sideways.  =  “You’re not a nice person.”

4. Rabbit steps away a bit (out of easy grooming range) and turns its
back to you, but looks over its shoulder to make sure you’re
noticing.  =  “You’re in some trouble now, mister.”

5. Rabbit turns and hops away, flicking its feet quickly backward and
to the sides in an exaggerated way, often making a sort of whooshing
noise (a “foot-flick,” or being “flipped off”). =  “I am shaking your
dust off my heels.”

6. Rabbit turns its back to you and sits or lies down, without even
looking back.  =  “You are behaving unacceptably.”

7. Rabbit turns its back to you, lies down, and folds its ears all the
way down, to shut out both the sight and sound of you.  =  “You are
the scum of the earth. I’ll have nothing to do with you.”

By the way, two can play the “I’m offended” game. If a rabbit is not
behaving properly (sitting upon inappropriate furniture, for example)
and you want to indicate this in a mild way using language it will
understand, go ahead and show that you’re insulted. You have to do
this right after the rabbit does something bad for it to work. Go
right up to the rabbit, take one step backwards, and turn your back
pointedly. You might watch by peeking over your shoulder a bit, to
indicate that you are willing to forgive. If your rabbit comes over to
sniff or poke you with its nose, you may choose to provide a small pat
on the forehead to indicate forgiveness. Rabbits are sensitive to
feeling shamed.

Of course, if the problem behavior is something really bad, you should
first shout “No” and make it stop before demonstrating that you are
offended. In this case, you may end up back to back, in an insult
contest. If so, try wiping your face and hair a bit (i.e. grooming
yourself), to show that you’re willing to stand there forever until an
apology is forthcoming. If none is given, walk away, flicking your
feet backwards. Make sure the rest of your family understands what
you’re doing so they don’t drag you to the psychiatrist. Warning: they
might do so anyway.

Rabbits use an ear wobble (or head wobble for lops) not as an insult,
but to politely say “no thank you” or “I’d rather not.” The ear wobble
is a gentle twist of the neck back and forth once or twice that makes
the ears move from side to side, and is usually done while standing
and facing you. Some situations that can evoke an ear wobble are when
you offer food that the rabbit isn’t interested in, or when you try to
slip your hand under its chin and it doesn’t want to groom you
(although some rabbits will find this outright insulting if you’re
assuming a privilege you are definitely not entitled to).

Incidentally, it is considered very insulting to hop quickly by right
in front of another rabbit or you without stopping for a moment to
offer the polite rabbit greeting of touching noses. Obviously, a
rabbit can’t ponder peacefully while someone rushes back and forth in
front of its face, and rabbits looking for trouble with other rabbits
will do exactly this. You may encounter one consequence of this
behavior yourself if you walk right past your rabbit quickly, in which
case the rabbit might even charge at you in outrage! You can avoid
this by giving an equivalent to touching noses when you walk by: a
quick pat on the forehead. Not all rabbits are so easily insulted,

Finally, there is the all-out nuclear weapon of insults, reserved only
for the most offensive, utterly unacceptable, good for nothing
individuals and behavior: urine. And if you’ve ever had to clean up a
pungent puddle of bunny pee, often bright yellow, orange, or even red,
and more than a little odorous, then you know just how powerful this
weapon really is. Note that urine used for marking territory and
ownership is another story entirely. But when your rabbit pees on your
pillow (yes, it happens), you have obviously qualified as the lowest
of the low. If you respond in kind, then you probably deserved it.

Occasionally, you will see a rabbit enraged. You might accidentally
make a social “faux paw,” which may result in anger, before leading to
the inevitable conclusion that you are guilty of insult. Or you might
have gotten yourself into real trouble, leading to sulking and
destructive behavior. It’s useful to be able to recognize the range
from uneasy to furious, since this can save you from a lot of
apologizing and making up later, as well as possibly saving your rugs.

Rabbits express anger using their ears, stance, and tail. Ears are
most important. A happy rabbit keeps its ears pointed up and turned
forward. Increasing anger is indicated by turning the ears to first
point sideways, then backward. A raised tail, held out from the body
instead of tight against the bum, shows excitement and agitation.

The greatest outrage is shown by lowering the backwards-pointing ears
down to the body. You won’t mistake this for an invitation to
grooming, because that is accompanied by lowering the chest all the
way to the ground too, which an angry rabbit never does. At the
extreme, a rabbit’s tail will be held out stiffly and it will look
ready for a leap forward. If you see this, then you’re facing one very
pissed off bunny.

Stance indicates what the rabbit is going to do about its anger. If
you’re being faced head-on, with front legs spread to give a firm
stance, then the rabbit is ready to take you on. You might get bit!
Front legs together is a less aggressive stance. A rabbit turned more
or less to one side is possibly more insulted or afraid than angry.
The actions of “The Anger Scale” below are all performed while facing
you directly.

A very aggressive rabbit, or one who’s decided you are too dumb for
diplomacy, will charge at you and possibly bite whatever part of you
happens to be handy. An angry rabbit may also “growl” which usually
sounds more like an angry grunt. You’ll recognize it from the context,
and because it is always accompanied by the backwards and lowered
ears. If a rabbit growls, a bite may not be far off.

One way to defuse an angry encounter is to start grooming yourself,
wiping your face and running your fingers through your hair. This
indicates that the situation really should not be all that serious,
and that everyone should just chill out. Often the rabbit will respond
by doing the same, to indicate it agrees. Rabbits can be good

Some rabbits, generally those with a history of frightening
experiences and the resulting distrust, are simply extremely
aggressive. They may actually chase you around and clamp their teeth
onto you without any obvious provocation. This is very different from
the occasional nips of a rabbit trying to get your attention, prancing
around your feet happily, or telling you to buzz off. If you’re living
with such a dangerous creature, try reading some of the resources in
the bibliography that address aggressive rabbits.

An unhappy rabbit will usually lay its ears back with the openings
down, and turn itself either to the side or toward you nervously. The
farther back the ears fall, the more unhappiness is indicated. This
differs from other ear-back signals, which require that the rabbit
firmly face toward you (anger), crouch or turn sideways with ear
openings turned sideways (fear), or pointedly turn its back (insult).

A more mild signal of unhappiness (or even some anger) is having one
ear facing backward and one forward, or one ear down and one up. These
usually indicate a rabbit that is less than happy, but sometimes for
only vaguely defined reasons. A little grooming or a raisin gift can
often turn that frown upside down. A more serious sulk is indicated by
ears tilted far back, or (even worse) tilted back and facing down, all
done while lying facing you (or facing to the side; not directly away
from you, which is an outright insult) in a meatloaf position. This is
a seriously sad rabbit, and you should take some time to think about
what might be wrong. It might even be sick, so check the litterbox for

Note that rabbits often sleep lying with their ears laid back in a
fashion very similar to the “sulking” signal and with their eyes
narrowed but not closed. They always have particular places they
sleep, though, so you probably won’t confuse the two.

A nervous or frightened rabbit will face its ears backward and lower
them, but with the openings facing sideways rather than back, and
often will point its ears a bit out to the side rather than straight
back. If you reach for your rabbit and it lowers its head and ears,
spreading its ears or tilting both ears to one side rather than
keeping them pointed straight back, it is scared. This is usually
accompanied with a stance that leaves the rabbit ready to flee, and
may include ducking the head. Mild nervousness may be sometimes shown
by stance alone. A scared rabbit will not stand aggressively as if
it’s about to charge you, like an angry one will, although otherwise
the signals can be a bit related (as are fear and anger).

A rabbit that is dismayed, confused, or trying but not succeeding in
communicating with you will sometimes wince. In a wince, one eye gets
closed, and the whole forehead moves toward that eye. It’s over in
just a second. It looks something like a wink, but it’s a signal of
mild unhappiness. When you first try using some of the signals
described here, you may get winced at, generally because your body
language is not consistent with the signal you’re giving or something
about the context is just not right. If your rabbit winces when you
try to communicate, you probably need to work more on your
conversational skills. However, most rabbits should eventually learn
to understand you once they get used to your incredibly bad accent.

A rabbit that is very scared or nervous may “thump” a hind leg,
slapping it hard against the ground. This isn’t just a warning to
other rabbits, but to you, too. Note that rabbits sometime also thump
to indicate anger, or even just to say “pay attention,” but it should
be pretty easy to distinguish these by the context.

A rabbit that is scared but can’t run, or one that is nervous, may
chatter its mouth (the way humans do when they’re cold). Chattering
teeth or loud tooth grinding (not the soft kind heard sometimes during
grooming) can also indicate a rabbit in pain, so you should do some
checking for indication that it’s sick.

Some rabbits will mutter nervously to themselves. This sound is
usually a little higher pitched than the happy mumbling of a rabbit
being groomed, and sounds very different from a rabbit grunting as it
eats or grunt-growling at you when it’s angry. I’ve been told, though,
that some rabbits just always are muttering to themselves, and in such
cases doesn’t necessarily indicate nervousness, but is probably just
comfortable social mumbling. In fact, female rabbits may “coo” while
nursing their pups. The context of the situation should make the
meaning pretty clear.

When a rabbit is frustrated with being locked in its cage it may
loudly toss things around or otherwise “rattle the bars.” This is
meant to get your attention, of course, and typically is a request to
be allowed out.

Finally, a rabbit in terror or in severe, acute pain may scream. I’m
told it is a terrible sound, but, fortunately, I’ve never heard this
vocalization. I sincerely hope you never hear it either.

Most rabbits of all ages like to play, at least at times. In fact,
rabbits exhibit some of the silliest antics and outright goofiness of
any companion animal. They can be mighty wacky beasts.

Rabbits have several ways to indicate playfulness, and there are lots
of things most rabbits like to do as play. Rabbits like dancing in
pairs and solo (more about the latter later). You may receive an
invitation to pair dance, as evidenced by your rabbit running in
circles around you. This means the rabbit is basically crazy about
you, and terribly happy to see you, and is a very common enthusiastic
greeting. A polite response is to wait patiently for a circle or
three, and then do some dancing yourself, with a little spinning,
walking back and forth in front of the rabbit, or circling around it.
As described later, a few hops or head-flicks are also acceptable.
Note that some rabbits don’t like being circled by a graceless hulk,
and will get nervous, in which case you should probably just accept
the dance as a gift. Dances should be concluded by offering a little
grooming to your partner.

Some rather aggressive rabbits will circle you with joy, and also bite
your ankles! It’s worth noting that these rabbits really think a
little nip is a sign of affection, and you need to train the rabbit
that it’s not acceptable by letting out a loud shriek and then saying
“No!” This is best followed by indicating you are insulted, in a form
the beast will understand (i.e. turn your back). In truth, a rabbit
that bites your ankles while circling to show happiness is no
different than the human dance partner who grabs your butt, thinking
it’s a sign of affection. Remarkably, the exact same approach works
well with both species.

Did You Say Binky?
The happiest rabbit expression is commonly called a “binky.” It’s
impossible to mistake for anything else, and the first time you see
one you will probably wonder if the poor thing is having a convulsion.
When a rabbit binkies, it jumps into the air and twists its head and
body in opposite directions (sometimes twice) before falling back to
the ground. This can be done while standing in one place, or while
running, which is really weird looking, and is sometimes called the
“happy bunny dance.” A rabbit can even turn 180o in midair. All this
is a rabbit’s way of telling you straight out that it is happy and
overall pleased with you and its life. Some rabbits binky a lot and
some hardly at all, even if they are being treated well. Everyone has
their own temperment.

A common variation, which you can easily do too, is the half-binky,
also called a head flick or ear flick. Instead of twisting the whole
body, just the head is quickly turned sideways and back. This is still
a pretty impressive sight in a creature with ears longer than its
head! A head flick can be performed while running, or when sitting in
place. A head flick is similar in meaning to a shudder, but is a
little more playful and silly. It differs in presentation from the
“I’d rather not” ear wobble, because it’s much faster and often
includes a slight rearing up by lifting the front feet.

You can do a head flick too, by quickly dropping your head sideways
and then back up, with a bit of a twist. If you have long hair that
gets flung, your rabbit is even more sure to get the message. Some
happy rabbits will head flick back at you to show that they share your
happiness. It’s always nice to answer a head flick in kind.

If you want to go for the full binky, your rabbit will understand if
you jump up a little in one place while doing a head flick. I
recommend you don’t try to twist your body in mid-air like a rabbit
will, especially if there is any furniture around, you have a history
of back problems, or are over 45 years old. Trust me on this one.


From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]

NANO 101



For Rent: One Nano Research Lab…
BY Earl Boysen  /  March 24th, 2008

Say you’re an aspiring young nanotechnologist with an idea for a new
product. What are the barriers to moving your project forward? One big
barrier is the cost of the equipment to build and test your nano-based
prototype. For example an ebeam lithography system has a price tag of
a million dollars, not counting the cost of installation, a facility
to put it in, and maintance. The reality is that not just every Tom,
Dick, or Mary can set up a nano lab. What’s a researcher to do? Rent a

Several labs and facilities are making their equipment available for
nano related projects. Some simply charge a rental fee, others may
waive some or all fees if your research is non-proprietary. Still
others will test your materials for you if your research is allied
with their mission. Here’s a rundown of some of the facilities
offering this nifty service.

NNIN Lucky 13

If your in need of a lab your first step might be to see if one of the
thirteen facilities of The National Nanotechnology Infrastructure
Network (NNIN) located close to you has the equipment you need. These
facilities, supported by the National Science Foundation, are focused
on nanoscale fabrication and characterization (for example measuring
particle size distribution or material strength).

These centers are all located at universities such as Cornell,
Stanford, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Texas at
Austin, University of Minnesota, and Harvard. Each was funded by the
NSF to provide facilities for researchers from industry and other
universities. After completing a training program to qualify on a
particular tool you can rent equipment to use in building or
characterizing your little bit of nano material.

The DOE Office of Science Supports Nano Materials Research

If you are developing new nanomaterials you’ll be happy to hear that
the DOE has created five facilities called Nanoscale Science Research
Centers. These Research Centers are located in National Labs scattered
around the country: Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois;
Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York State; Lawrence Berekely
National Laboratory in California; Oak Ridge National Laboratory in
Oak Ridge, Tennessee; and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico.

The goal of these facilities is to encourage the development and
characterization of new nanomaterials. Each research center has a
number of focus areas that draws upon the expertise and equipment of
the National Lab where they are located.

For example, one focus at the Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory is on biological nanostructures; one focus at The
Center for Nanophase Material Science at Oak Ridge National Lab is on
nano enhanced catalysts, while down in New Mexico the Center for
Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia National Lab includes among its
focusses nanophotonics and nanoelectronics.

Measuring Health

Making progress in the fight against cancer often requires synergistic
efforts that involve sharing ideas and tools. The National Cancer
Institute, in association with the National Institute of Standards and
Technology and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has established a
Nanotechnology Characterization Laboratory in Maryland. The mission of
this facility is to perform preclinical efficacy and toxicity testing
of nanoparticles in order to accelerate the transition of
nanoparticles into clinical applications.

If you’ve developed a nanoparticle for the treatment of cancer but
can’t afford to do the testing required to demonstrate that your
material is effective and safe, you can submit it to this facility,
but be sure to take a number: The testing program to characterize
physical attributes, biological properties, and compatibility of
nanoparticles takes about a year.

Nanofabrication and Measurement

The Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) Nanofab in
Maryland is part of the National Institute of Standards and
Technology. The mission of the CNST is to solve nanoscale measurement
problems that hamper the progress of nanotechnology research.

These folks charge an hourly fee. If your research is non-proprietary
and could help to solve a nano measurement problem that supports the
production of nanobased applications you may be in luck. They may
offer discounted fees or waive fees entirely.

For more information on nanotechnology research labs and links to the
labs mentioned here:

National Institute of Standards Technology’s Nanofab
Nanoscale Science Research Centers Founded by US Department of Energy
The Center for Nanoscale Materials at Argonne National Lab.
The Center for Functional Nanomaterials at Brookhaven National Lab.
The Molecular Foundry at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab.
The Center for Nanophase Material Sciences at Oak Ridge National Lab.
The Center for Integrated Nanotechnologies at Sandia and Los Alamos
National Labs.


A Green Energy Industry Takes Root in California
BY Matt Richtel and John Markoff  /  February 1, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — The sun is starting to grow jobs. While interest in
alternative energy is climbing across the United States, solar power
especially is rising in California, the product of billions of dollars
in investment and mountains of enthusiasm. In recent months, the
industry has added several thousand jobs in the production of solar
energy cells and installation of solar panels on roofs. A spate of
investment has also aimed at making solar power more efficient and
less costly than natural gas and coal.

Entrepreneurs, academics and policy makers say this era’s solar
industry is different from what was tried in the 1970s, when Jerry
Brown, then the governor of California, invited derision for
envisioning a future fueled by alternative energy. They point to
companies like SolarCity, an installer of rooftop solar cells based in
Foster City. Since its founding in 2006, it has grown to 215 workers
and $29 million in annual sales. “It is hard to find installers,” said
Lyndon Rive, the chief executive. “We’re at the stage where if we
continue to grow at this pace, we won’t be able to sustain the
growth.” SunPower, which makes the silicon-based cells that turn
sunlight into electricity, reported 2007 revenue of more than $775
million, more than triple its 2006 revenue. The company expects sales
to top $1 billion this year. SunPower, based in San Jose, said its
stock price grew 251 percent in 2007, faster than any other Silicon
Valley company, including Apple and Google.

Not coincidentally, three-quarters of the nation’s demand for solar
comes from residents and companies in California. “There is a real
economy — multiple companies, all of which have the chance to be
billion-dollar operators,” said Daniel M. Kammen, a professor in the
energy and resources group at the University of California, Berkeley.
California, he says, is poised to be both the world’s next big solar
market and its entrepreneurial center. The question, Professor Kammen
says, is: “How can we make sure it’s not just green elite or green
chic, and make it the basis for the economy?” There also are huge
challenges ahead, not the least of which is the continued dominance of
fossil fuels. Solar represents less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the
$3 trillion global energy market, leading some critics to suggest that
the state is getting ahead of itself, as it did during the 1970s. The
optimists say a crucial difference this time is the participation of
private-sector investors and innovators and emerging technologies.
Eight of more than a dozen of the nation’s companies developing
photovoltaic cells are based in California, and seven of those are in
Silicon Valley. Among the companies that academics and entrepreneurs
believe could take the industry to a new level is Nanosolar, which
recently started making photovoltaic cells in a 200,000-square-foot
factory in San Jose. The company said the first 18 months of its
capacity has already been booked for sales in Germany. “They could
absolutely transform the market if they make good on even a fraction
of their goal for next year,” Professor Kammen said. “They’re not just
a new entrant, but one of the biggest producers in the world.”

Many of the California companies are start-ups exploring exotic
materials like copper indium gallium selenide, or CIGS, an alternative
to the conventional crystalline silicon that is now the dominant
technology. The newcomers hope that CIGS, while less efficient than
silicon, can be made far more cheaply than silicon-based cells.
Indeed, the Nanosolar factory looks more like a newspaper plant than a
chip-making factory. The CIGS material is sprayed onto giant rolls of
aluminum foil and then cut into pieces the size of solar panels.
Another example is Integrated Solar, based in Los Angeles, which has
developed a low-cost approach to integrating photovoltaic panels
directly into the roofs of commercial buildings. In 2007, 100
megawatts of solar generating capacity was installed in California,
about a 50 percent increase over 2006, according to the Solar Energy
Industries Association, a trade group.

That growth rate is likely to increase, in part because of ambitious
new projects like the 177-megawatt solar thermal plant that Pacific
Gas and Electric said last November it would build in San Luis Obispo.
The plant, which will generate power for more than 120,000 homes
beginning in 2010, will be built by Ausra, a Palo Alto start-up backed
by the investor Vinod Khosla and his former venture capital firm,
Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. The industry in California is also
helped by state and local governments’ substantial subsidies to
stimulate demand. The state has earmarked $3.2 billion to subsidize
solar installation, with the goal of putting solar cells on one
million rooftops. The state Assembly passed a law to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020, which could spur alternatives
like solar. Additional incentives have come from a small but growing
number of municipalities. The city of Berkeley will pay the upfront
costs for a resident’s solar installation and recoup the money over 20
years through additional property taxes on a resident’s home. San
Francisco is preparing to adopt its own subsidy that would range from
$3,000 for a home installation to as much as $10,000 for a business.

The subsidies have prompted a surge in private investment, led by
venture capitalists. In 2007, these seed investors put $654 million in
33 solar-related deals in California, up from $253 million in 16 deals
in 2006, according to the Cleantech Group, which tracks investments in
alternative energy. California received roughly half of all solar
power venture investments made in 2007 in the United States. “We’re
just starting to see successful companies come out through the other
end of that process,” said Nancy C. Floyd, managing director at Nth
Power, a venture capital firm that focuses on alternative energy. “And
through innovation and volume, prices are coming down.” Whether any of
this investment pays off depends, as it did in previous eras, on
reaching the point at which solar cells produce electricity as
inexpensively as fossil fuels. The cost of solar energy is projected
to fall steeply as cheaper new technology reaches economies of scale.
Optimists believe that some regions in California could reach that
point in half a decade.

At present, solar power is three to five times as expensive as coal,
depending on the technology used, said Dan Reicher, director for
climate change and energy initiatives at, the philanthropic
division of the Internet company. Among its investments, Google says,
is $10 million in financing for eSolar, a company in Pasadena that
builds systems that concentrate sunlight from reflecting mirrors.
“We’re at the dawn of a revolution that could be as powerful as the
Internet revolution,” Mr. Reicher said. The problem is, he said,
“renewable energy simply costs too much.” At a conference of
alternative energy companies in San Francisco last month, to discuss
how to encourage the industry’s growth, Mr. Brown, the former
governor, joked that if the participants wanted to make real headway
selling alternative energy, they should try not to come off as flaky.
“Don’t get too far ahead of yourselves,” said Mr. Brown, now the
state’s attorney general. “You will be stigmatized. Don’t use too many
big words and make it all sound like yesterday.”


Nanarchist: Someone who circumvents government control to use
nanotechnology, or someone who advocates this. [Eli Brandt, October

Nanarchy: The use of automatic law-enforcement by nanomachines or
robots, without any human control – see blue goo [Mark S. Miller].

Nanochondria: Nanomachines existing inside living cells, participating
in their biochemistry (like mitochondria) and/or assembling various
structures. See also nanosome. [Ken Clements 1996]

Nanodefenses: any of the “good” goo’s, such a Blue Goo. Protectors
against Grey Goo, destructive nanoswarms, and the like.

Nanodisaster: See the various ‘goo’ scenerios that have potentially
negative outcomes.

Nanogypsy: someone who travels form place to place, spreading the
“nano” word. Usually a person who takes the most optimistic viewpoint,
and is enthusitic. [uhf]

Nanohacking: describes what MNT is all about — “hacking” at the
molecular level.

Nanosome: Nanodevices existing symbiotically inside biological cells,
doing mechanosynthesis and disassembly for it and replicating with the
cell. Similar to nanochondria. [AS January 1998]

Nanotechism: the religion of nanotech, as opposed to the science of

Nanoterrorism: using MNT derived nanites to do damage to people or

Nano-test-tubes: CNT’s opened and filled with materials, and used to
carry out chemical reactions. See The Opening and Filling of Multi-
Walled Carbon Nanotubes (MWTs) and The Opening and Filling of Single-
Walled Carbon Nanotubes (SWTs).

Nanny: A cell-repair nanite

NE3LS: Nanotechnology’s Ethical, Environmental, Economic, Legal, and
Social Implications. From ‘Mind the gap’: science and ethics in
nanotechnology. click here (requires free registration) [Anisa
Mnyusiwalla, Abdallah S. Daar and Peter A. Singer 2003 Nanotechnology
14 R9-R13. 13 Feb 2003]

Shape-shifting robot forms from magnetic swarm
BY Tom Simonite  /  29 January 2008

Swarms of robots that use electromagnetic forces to cling together and
assume different shapes are being developed by US researchers. The
grand goal is to create swarms of microscopic robots capable of
morphing into virtually any form by clinging together. Seth Goldstein,
who leads the research project at Carnegie Mellon University,
Pittsburgh, in the US, admits this is still a distant prospect.
However, his team is using simulations to develop control strategies
for futuristic shape-shifting, or “claytronic”, robots, which they are
testing on small groups of more primitive, pocket-sized machines.
These prototype robots use electromagnetic forces to manoeuvre
themselves, communicate, and even share power.

No moving parts

One set of claytronic prototypes were cylindrical, wheeled robots with
a ring of electromagnets around their edge, which they used to grab
hold of one another. By switching these electromagnets on and off, the
so-called “claytronic atoms” or “catoms” could securely attach and
roll around each other (see video, top right). The robot’s wheels were
not powered, so they had to rely entirely on their magnets to
manoeuvre themselves around. “These were the first mobile robots
without any moving parts,” says Goldstein. They also used their
electromagnets to share power, to communicate, and for simple sensing.

Since using magnetic forces are less efficient at smaller scales, the
team has now begun experimenting with electric forces instead. The
latest prototypes are box-shaped robots dubbed “cubes” that have six
plastic arms with star-shaped appendages at the end of each. These
stars have several flat aluminium electrodes and dock together, face
on, using static electricity. Electrodes on different stars are given
opposing charges, which causes the stars to attract each other. Once
connected, no power is needed to hold the stars together.
Micro-scale robots Tests have shown that it is possible to send
messages and power to other cubes over the same links. “Our hope is to
assemble around 100 cubes to experiment with ideas,” Goldstein says.

Rob Reid at the US Air Force Research Lab is collaborating with the
Carnegie Mellon team to develop even smaller prototype robots. Reid
and colleagues can fold flat silicon shapes into 3D forms as little as
a few hundred microns diameter. “We will drive those using electric
forces too, by patterning circuits and devices into the silicon
design,” Goldstein says. He predicts that by the summer of 2008 they
will have prototypes capable of rolling themselves around this way.
Modularity is a popular theme with robotics researchers around the
world. Other designs include Swarm-bots, Superbot, and M-TRAN.

Complex connections

“The physical mechanism for docking different pieces is really tough
to do,” says Alan Winfield, who works on artificially intelligent
swarms at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK. “Most use
mechanical latches with hooks.” Although these physical connections
are complex, they do not need power, Winfield points out, unlike
magnetic connections. Using electromagnetic forces may make more sense
at smaller sizes, he adds. “My guess is that electrostatic connectors
will come into their own on the micro scale where less power is needed
to have a large effect,” he says. But software, not hardware, may be
the biggest challenge facing researchers working on swarms of robots,
he says: “Right now we just don’t know how to design a system that
produces complex overall behaviours from a group of simple agents.”
Ultimately, Goldstein believes his claytronic robots may one day
achieve this, and much more: “I’ll be done when we produce something
that can pass a Turing test for appearance,” he says. “You won’t know
if you’re shaking hands with me or a claytronics copy of me.”

Alan FT Winfield
email : Alan [dot] Winfield [at] uwe [dot] ac [dot] uk

Seth Goldstein
email : seth [at] cs [dot] cmu [dot] edu


Marco Dorigo
email : mdorigo [at] ulb [dot] ac [dot] be

Francesco Mondada
email : francesco [dot] mondada [at] epfl [dot] ch

Robot swarm works together to shift heavy objects
BY Tom Simonite  /  17 October 2006

A “swarm” of simple-minded robots that teams up to move an object too
heavy for them to manage individually has been demonstrated by
robotics researchers. The robots cannot communicate and must act only
on what they can see around them. They follow simple rules to fulfil
their task – mimicking the way insects work together in a swarm.

The robots were developed by Marco Dorigo at the Free University of
Brussels, Belgium, along with colleagues at the Institute of Cognitive
Science and Technology in Italy and the Autonomous Systems Laboratory
and Dalle Molle Institute for the Study of Artificial Intelligence,
both in Switzerland. “In the future we might have robots that actively
seek help from others when they come up a problem they can’t solve
alone,” says Dorigo, “For example if a robot can’t climb an obstacle
without tipping over it might go back and get others to climb over as
a group.” In experiments, six of the cylindrical robots were able to
drag an object across the floor of a room. Working autonomously, they
locate and assemble around the object and either grab hold of it
directly or of another robot nearby, before slowly dragging it towards
a target.

Mapping out
A video shows the six Swarm-bot robots gradually transporting a object
lit with red LEDs over to a large white target. Another video clip,
shown at 10 times normal speed, shows a larger team of robots working
together to map out a path from a red object and a blue target. This
strategy is necessary because none of the bots can see far enough to
work out the route between the object and its target for themselves.

Each Swarm-bot is 19 centimetres high, has a rotating turret, a claw-
like gripper and moves using a combination of caterpillar tracks and
wheels. Each also has a basic computer and is loaded with the same
software. The simple rules laid out in this software allow the robots
to perform complex actions as a group. A swarm of ants uses a similar
strategy to tackle difficult jobs like carrying a large object.

Evolving rules

The rules preloaded onto the Swarm-bots were “evolved” to suit the
particular task and incorporated genetics-based algorithms and a
detailed 3D simulation (see Nuclear reactors ‘evolve’ inside
supercomputers). “In the object transport scenario they search for a
red object and grasp onto it,” explains Dorigo. “When they do that
they also change colour from blue to red.” This means a cluster of
bots is “connected” to the object. When the bots cannot see any more
blue – meaning they are all linked together – they start dragging the
object towards its target.

The robots can adjust their caterpillar tracks, to ensure they are all
pulling in the right direction. “Each robot has a traction sensor
inside that detects all the external forces on it,” explains Dorigo. A
robot uses its sensor to identify any conflicting forces, and then
changes direction accordingly. Dorigo is now working on a swarm of
robots that could operate in a human environment. “It is called
Swarmanoid and will have three different kinds of robots,” he
explains. Some robots will be able to crawl along like Swarm-bots,
others will be able to climb walls, and others still will be able to
fly, he says.

Scientists decode dolphin-speak
AAP  /  19 December 2007

Humans have taken a major step forward in unlocking the mysteries of
dolphin-speak, and found their communication is more complicated than
originally thought.

A researcher who spent three years listening to bottlenose dolphins
living off the coast of Byron Bay, NSW, has found certain whistles are
linked to specific behaviour.

PhD candidate Liz Hawkins from Southern Cross University’s Whale
Research Centre in Lismore listened in to more than 50 different pods
of dolphins.

Using the starting and final frequency of the sound and its duration,
she distinguished 186 distinct whistle types among the 1650 recorded,
of which 20 were heard frequently and common to more than one pod.

Ms Hawkins also grouped the whistles into five classes based on tone,
and found they were related to certain behaviour.

While socialising, dolphins made almost exclusively flat-toned or
rising-toned whistles.

Travelling pods made mostly “sine” whistles, which rise and fall in
bell curves, which Ms Hawkins suggested could be advertising their pod
to other pods.

“They could be talking to another pod and saying `we are over
here. . . do you want to join?’,” she told AAP.

Resting was associated with “concave” whistles, sounds that went down
in pitch and back up again, while downward toned whistles were not
found to be associated with any particular behaviour.

One particular whistle was associated with feeding.

“They could be advertising they have found food, they could be
advertising to other animals there is food there, or it could be
referred to a particular type of feeding or a particular type of
food,” Ms Hawkins suggested.

And Ms Hawkins noticed that dolphins riding the waves her boat created
had often made a particular sound, while in early research she found a
group of dolphins living off Queensland’s Moreton Island emitted a
particular whistle when alone.

“That whistle could definitely mean: ‘I’m here, where is everyone?”‘,
Ms Hawkins told New Scientist magazine.

Ms Hawkins said the sounds were not evidence of a language, but showed
the dolphins were communicating “context-specific information”.

“A specialist in linguistics would not call this a language,” she told

“They are wild animals and generally wild animals only make sounds or
transmit information that is essential to their survival.

“It basically suggests their communication is a lot more complex than
what was generally thought.”

Ms Hawkins said she hoped to take the project underwater to observe
the dolphins’ behaviour and try to more closely match the whistles to

“There is only so much information you can get from looking at the
surface activity,” she said.

“You really need to get under the water and to somehow eavesdrop and
look what’s going on with their lives under there.”



Dolphin Talk
Reporter: Jonica Newby  /  Producer: Paul Schneller  /  26 February

PhD student Liz Hawkins is trying to discover, why some of our
dolphins have become so quiet, that it appears the noise we humans
make is affecting the way dolphins communicate. Many scientists
suspect dolphins have a complex vocabulary, but as Catalyst’s Jonica
Newby reports, surprisingly little research has been done on dolphin
language in the wild. But thanks to the latest software, Liz, is
managing to match individual dolphin whistles to behaviours. She has
identified 68 distinct whistles – far more than anyone in the world
has recorded before. And because she can see the behaviours so
clearly, for the first time, she’s been able to work out what many of
them mean. And she’s recorded a lot more than she bargained for. This
story has the first ever sound recording of a dolphin rape. But,
perhaps her most remarkable finding is that dolphins appear to have
changed the frequency they use to communicate to one is can’t be
interfered with by the noise we’re making in the water.

Narration: For millions of years, dolphins have been communicating
with each other, in peace. But lately, they’ve had intruders. So could
all this noise be interfering with their channels of
communication? That’s what PhD student Liz Hawkins wanted to know.

Liz Hawkins: These boats are very loud which is a prime example of
what dolphins have actually got to deal with.

Jonica Newby, Reporter: You can’t even wear headphones when they go

Liz Hawkins: No. It really does hurt the ears listening to those
boats. And we’ve got dolphins just here.

Narration: Liz is a trainee dolphin interpreter, on assignment here in
Byron Bay. She set out discover whether humans were disrupting dolphin
talk. But in the process, had an extraordinary insight into the secret
language of our coastal dolphins. It all began when Liz started trying
to record and decode normal dolphin communication. And that’s not

Liz Hawkins: There they are.

When we spot them today, they’re right in the middle of the surf break
at Watago Beach.

Liz Hawkins: Hey Stumpy.

Jonica Newby, Reporter: Stumpy?

Jonica Newby, Reporter: Are they surfers?

Liz Hawkins: Are they surfers? Oh for sure.

Narration: Despite the fact scientists suspect dolphins have a complex
vocabulary, surprisingly little is known about how they communicate in
the wild.

Liz Hawkins: Oh, there’s a whole lot over there on that wave too.
You’re joking.

Narration: That’s because they’re notoriously difficult to follow and
study, especially when they decide to hang out where the surf is
really breaking.

Narration: But Liz is undeterred, and when the dolphins move to calmer
waters, we get our first chance to kill the engines.

Liz Hawkins: Ok – Throw the hydrophone in.

Jonica Newby, Reporter: Yeah, I’ve got it.

Liz Hawkins: Turn her on. See if we can hear anything.

Narration: All of a sudden, we’re eavesdropping on their conversation.

Liz Hawkins: Ah – there’s the calf – What did the calf say? He just
did a really intense buzz. which is like a really intense series of

Narration: The clicks are the dolphins echolocation. But Liz’s real
targets are the squawks and the whistles.

Liz Hawkins: There was a little whistle then. Can you hear that?

Narration: It’s these complex whistles scientists believe are most
likely to carry encrypted information.

Liz Hawkins: There.

Narration: And while they’re not easy to decode, already Liz has
deciphered more than she bargained for.

Liz Hawkins: one day in front of the Cape we recorded a group of
dolphins. And what it looked like was 4 males pursuing and chasing a
female who really didn’t want to be chased.

Narration: Amazingly, Liz captured one of the only known recordings of
a dolphin courtship – more like a rape.

Liz Hawkins: and she would basically put her genitals above the water
and she’d keep putting her belly above the water so the males couldn’t
get to her. And as she did that there was a really intense emission of
whistles, and basically it was the same whistle being called over and
over and over again and it was quite a distressed type of call.

Narration: But Liz has also interpreted more benign communications.
Mainly here, in the calmer waters of Moreton Island, just near
Brisbane. These are wild dolphins. But every night, they gather here
for a small feed from the tourists. With this clear water and ideal
recording conditions, Liz has managed to identify 68 distinct whistles
– more than anyone before.

Jonica Newby, Reporter: Oh yeah, I heard that.

Narration: Scientists already knew each dolphin has it’s own distinct
whistle. Called a signature whistle, it’s like an individual dolphin
name. But this call is new. Liz has discovered a group whistle –
possibly a dolphin surname.

Jonica Newby, Reporter: Is this like their family name?

Liz Hawkins: I predict it is. Basically it’s one whistle which seems
to be a contact call. If one member of the pod is in the feeding area
by themselves they will constantly emit this whistle,

Narration: She’s also discovered a specific call that initiates play,
such as a game of chase.

Liz Hawkins: : So basically one dolphin will come up behind another
dolphin and then emit a series of squawks meaning; we’re going to play
chase now and you’re it.

Narration: Decoding dolphin is in its infancy, but it’s already clear
audible communication is incredibly important to them. That’s why Liz
became so concerned – how were the dolphins were coping with this. But
it wasn’t until an incident last year that Liz’s concern turned to
genuine worry. Liz visited Port Phillip Bay in Melbourne for some
additional recordings. But this time, the dolphins were completely,
eerily, silent.

Liz Hawkins: I threw my hydrophone and the dolphins were facing us so
we should have been able to hear every sound they emitted. Why weren’t
they emitting anything?

Narration: At first, she thought her worst fears had come true. Boat
noise occurs at roughly the same frequency as normal dolphin
communication. So in the face of overwhelming interference, were the
dolphins simply giving up and going mute? Or, as Liz began to suspect,
were the supposedly silent dolphins actually doing something much
cleverer. Back in Byron Bay, the puzzle started to slip into place.
The missing piece came as Liz was analysing more dolphin recordings.
This visual display shows a normal wild dolphin call.

Liz Hawkins: shall we have a listen?

Jonica Newby, Reporter: sure

Narration: But this is the very different whistle made by a captive

Liz Hawkins: You can see it starts in our human hearing range and it
goes up into beyond our hearing range. And then the tail end of the
whistle comes back just into our human hearing range.

Narration: Remarkably, it appears the captive dolphin has learned to
change channels to a higher frequency. Liz thinks the reason is that
inside a pool, the normal low frequency
sounds would bounce dangerously.

Liz Hawkins: it’s a confined space. And basically if they used their
acoustics to the full extent in that environment, it will actually
cause them permanent hearing damage.

Narration: But by switching to a higher frequency, they may have found
a way to protect themselves. And with the realisation dolphins could
change frequency, Liz had a brainwave about the mystery of the silent
dolphins from Port Phillip Bay. What if when boats were around, they
weren’t silent at all. What if, they too had cleverly worked out how
to switch channels.

Liz Hawkins: so it’s actually possible that they’re changing their
acoustic channels so to speak a little bit higher to occupy a
different niche in the acoustic environment.

Jonica Newby, Reporter: Using dolphin stealth mode.

Liz Hawkins: Dolphin stealth mode yes. Absolutely.

Narration: Frequency switching is a fascinating possibility, and one
Liz will spend the rest of her research trying to prove or disprove.
But there’s plenty of evidence dolphins are adapting their behaviour
to humans. Why not their secret communications too?


Dolphins speak a contextual language
BY Emma Young  /  December 21, 2007

Listen to dolphins whistling to each other and you could be forgiven
for thinking that they are having a conversation. Now we’re a bit
nearer to understanding what they might be saying, thanks to a project
that has distinguished nearly 200 different whistles dolphins make and
linked some of them to specific behaviours.

Liz Hawkins of the Whale Research Centre at Southern Cross University
in Lismore, New South Wales, Australia, eavesdropped on bottlenose
dolphins living off the western coast of Australia for her three-year

“This communication is highly complex, and it is contextual, so in a
sense, it could be termed a language,” says Hawkins, who presented her
work at a meeting of the Society for Marine Mammalogy in Cape Town,
South Africa, this month.

Dolphins were known to use “signature” whistles to identify themselves
to others, but the meaning of the other whistles they make was a

Hawkins recorded a total of 1647 whistles from 51 different pods of
dolphins living in Byron Bay, New South Wales. From the starting
frequency of the sound, its duration, and its end frequency, she
identified 186 different whistle types. Of these, 20 were especially

Hawkins grouped all the whistles into five tonal classes and found
that these groups, and even individual whistles, clearly went with
different behaviours. When a pod was travelling, for instance, 57 per
cent of the whistles were “sine” whistles, rising and falling
symmetrically. But when the dolphins were feeding or resting, they
made far fewer whistles of this type. And while socialising, they
communicated almost exclusively using flat-toned or rising-toned

The dolphins often made a particular flat-toned whistle when they rode
the waves created by Hawkins’s boat, and it’s tempting to speculate
that the whistle is the equivalent of a child going “wheeee!”. And in
a group of dolphins living off Moreton Island in Queensland, Hawkins
identified a whistle often emitted by an animal when it was on its
own. “That whistle could definitely mean: ‘I’m here, where is
everyone?'” says Hawkins.

Melinda Rekdahl, of the University of Queensland in Brisbane, is also
investigating dolphin whistles. She found they make more whistles when
they’re being hand-fed than dolphins feeding in the wild. It’s too
early to know whether whistles might mean something as specific as
“hurry up” or “there’s food over here,” Rekdahl says. “But it’s
possible. Dolphin communication is much more complicated than we

Study finds dolphins speaking “Welsh” dialect
Reuters  /  May 24, 2007

BANGOR – Dolphins living off the coast of Wales whistle, bark and
groan in a different dialect from dolphins off the western coast of
Ireland, scientists have discovered.

Different physical environments might have contributed to the mammals
developing distinctive sets of vocalisations or “dialects”, said Simon
Berrow from the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation.

Berrow supervised a master’s thesis by student Ronan Hickey at
University of Wales, Bangor, who analysed 1,882 whistles from the
dolphins in the Shannon estuary and bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan
Bay in Wales. The study found 32 different sound categories, of which
eight were only produced by the Shannon animals.

“The idea that the sounds are different is not a bad notion — you’d
expect the information had to be different given the diversity of the
areas where they reside,” Berrow told Reuters, adding he would use the
data to create a dictionary of sounds and pursue the research further,
should time and money allow.

On Apr 8 2007, 1:03 am, “spectre” wrote:


Experts Open Dolphin ‘Chat Line’ in Fla.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Key Largo, Fla. (AP) — A marine mammal rehabilitation facility opened
a dolphin “chat line” of sorts Saturday, hoping to teach a deaf
dolphin’s unborn calf to communicate.

Castaway, as the stranded Atlantic bottlenose dolphin is named, has
been recovering at the Marine Mammal Conservancy since Jan. 30. A
battery of tests has confirmed she is deaf.

Dolphins need to hear echoes of sounds they produce to find food,
socialize and defend themselves against predators.

“We asked ourselves `How do we get the calf to speak when we have a
deaf mother?'” said Robert Lingenfelser, the conservancy’s president.

They decided to electronically connect Castaway’s habitat with a
lagoon at Dolphins Plus, a research and interactive educational
facility a few miles down the Keys Overseas Highway. Underwater
speakers and microphones were installed at both locations and
connected via phone lines.

Castaway should deliver her calf in about a month.

“Even before it is born, we want the calf to have an idea of what
normal dolphin vocalization is,” Lingenfelser said.


TO:  rgl [at] marinemammalconservancy [dot] org, info [at] dolphinsplus [dot] com

[TEXT APPROXIMATE] : ‘is there any possibility, pretty please, for
popular educational benefit, to make 24-7 live stream of audio signals
discussed above available online? Wouldn’t be that complicated, great
research resource (good also for promotion)…’