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Tuesday, 01 April 2003 01:00

Degrees of Capture

Did you fondly imagine that there might be some useful research going on in our universities to provide alternatives to the fossil fuels that we all know are responsible for global warming? If so, a new report from Corporate Watch entitled Degrees of Capture* will put you straight. The 32-page report outlines how Britain’s cash-strapped universities have forfeited their independence in order to prise open the corporate purse. How independent can you be faced with a £25 million donation from BP, as Cambridge University was in 2001? (The money was used to open the “BP Institute”). Oil companies now routinely fund university programmes, academic posts, even lecture halls in exchange for influence over what goes on in them. Independent academic research is vital to solve problems like global warming, but big oil companies are finding ways to make sure that research and development does nothing to harm their interests, and that they continue instead to encourage our dependence on climate destroying fossil fuels by using new research to find ways to keep prices down.

The government claims to support the search for alternative sources of energy, yet through publicly-funded research (that means we pay for it) it continues to search for cheaper and more efficient ways of guzzling up the earth’s ever dwindling resources. Not only does this prevent other more useful research taking place, it gives the oil industry the competitive edge over other energy sources which don’t have the funds to tempt our universities into doing their work for them. Fossil fuels will eventually run out - we should be looking for alternatives now, not when it’s too late.

Ruby Cox

* Available from Corporate Watch, 16b Cherwell Street, Oxford 0X4 1BG tel 01865791391
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Set in the fictional South American land of Costaguana around the turn of the last century, Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo is the story of a revolution and of the birth of a new republic. As such, it is an archetypal tale of power and political intrigue in a continent that has witnessed enormous upheavals throughout its post colonial history, although there are persuasive arguments to think that Conrad had Colombia specifically in mind while writing this novel, and that the story of the formation of the Occidental Republic was modelled on the breakaway of Panama, right down to the intervention of US forces, fleetingly alluded to within the novel. Throughout Nostromo, the flavour of the period and the setting are evoked with an easy assurance that is almost tangible.

Nostromo is above all a study in incipient imperialism, what Conrad consistently terms the ‘material interests’. Central to the novel is the San Tomé silver mine, operated by the pragmatic Englishman Charles Gould. The mine represents the natural wealth of the country and its subordination to the interests of foreign capital. Conrad shows how ultimately these 'material interests', with their all -consuming, impersonal power, come to shape and dominate the world around them. Towards the end, the cynical Dr Monygham can state with considerable justification that ‘the time approaches when all that the Gould Concession stands for shall weigh as heavily upon the people as the barbarism, cruelty, and misrule of a few years back.’

Conrad conveys his theme with great subtlety through the eyes of Sulaco’s social elite, but standing astride the entire plot is the enigmatic figure of Nostromo himself, the magnificent capitaz de cargadores (dock workers foreman), the only working-class character to be developed in any depth. It seems that it is in Nostromo and in his relationship with the family of the aging republican fighter Giorgio Viola (the Garibaldino) we have a cipher for the whole working class. For the old revolutionary, Nostromo is the unquestioned inheritor of his mantle (the man his son would have been), but to his ailing wife it seems that Nostromo is selling himself and her family short. Ultimately, it is Viola’s daughters that represent the possibility for the future.

Max Fuller