Sunday, April 26, 2015
Tim Maudlin at the PBS Nova website:
How can we understand the world in which we find ourselves? How does the universe behave? What is the nature of reality?….Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. —Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow
This passage from the 2012 book “The Grand Design” set off a firestorm (or at least a brushfire) of controversy. Has philosophy been eclipsed by science in the quest for understanding reality? Is philosophy just dressed-up mysticism, disconnected from scientific understanding?
Many questions about the nature of reality cannot be properly pursued without contemporary physics. Inquiry into the fundamental structure of space, time and matter must take account of the theory of relativity and quantum theory. Philosophers accept this. In fact, several leading philosophers of physics hold doctorates in physics. Yet they chose to affiliate with philosophy departments rather than physics departments because so many physicists strongly discourage questions about the nature of reality. The reigning attitude in physics has been “shut up and calculate”: solve the equations, and do not ask questions about what they mean.
Kenan Malik in Pandaemonium:
‘With the rise of China’, Martin Jacques writes in his book When China Rules the World, ‘Western universalism will cease to be universal – and its values and outlook will become steadily less influential. The emergence of China as a global power in effect relativizes everything.’ The transformation of China into an economic superpower raises important and challenging questions about how we perceive the world. Our understanding of history and culture will unquestionably change. The Era of the Warring States may come to be seen as significant as the Peloponnesian War, or 1911, the end of the dynastic era, as important a date as 1789, and the fall of the French monarchy. Kongzi, Mo Tzu and Zhu Xi may become as well known as Plato, Aristotle and Aquinas. Lu Xun could be regarded as fine a writer as James Joyce.
But what about our understanding of morality? To what extent will the rise of China and the decline of Europe and America transform the way we understand moral values? Will universalism be seen merely as a form of Western particularism? To what extent will ‘everything be relativised’?
The story of this book is the story of how the centre of gravity of moral thinking has historically shifted. In the ancient world, Greece, Israel, Persia, India and China were all sources of civilization and of distinctive moral philosophies. The concepts that developed at each source were shaped by the particularities of the local culture and social needs; there were, nevertheless, also common themes that spanned continents, from the idea of virtue to the Golden Rule. The rise of monotheism, and in particular of Christianity, transformed the discussion of ethics in Europe, establishing the idea of rule-based morality, guided and anchored by a divine intelligence, and developing ideas of universalism. The emergence of Islam at the end of the first millennium CE, and its expansion through the beginning of the second, created a new centre of intellectual gravity. Drawing upon the heritage of Greece, Persia and India, as well as the Judaic and Christian traditions, the Islamic Empire came to be a bridge both between the Ancient world and early modernity and between East and West. The only empire that in its day could challenge the philosophical and technological supremacy of the Islamic Empire was China, where the arrival of Buddhism from India triggered a renaissance in Confucian thinking. What we can see in this history is not moral progress, in the sense we can witness scientific or technological progress, but the maturing, development and deepening of moral philosophy.
Carl Zimmer in his excellent blog, The Loom:
Earlier this week, Chinese researchers reported that they edited the genes of human embryos using a new technique called CRISPR. While these embryos will not be growing up into genetically modified people, I suspect this week will go down as a pivotal moment in the history of medicine. David Cyranoski and Sara Reardon broke the news today at Nature News. Here I’ve put together a quick guide to the history behind this research, what the Chinese scientists did, and what it may signify.
There are thousands of genetic disorders that can occur if a mutation happens to strike an important piece of DNA. Hemophilia, sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis– the list goes on and on. As I wrote in the Atlantic in 2013, a particularly cruel genetic disorder, fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva causes people to grow a second skeleton. It’s caused by a mutation that changes a single “letter” of a single gene, called ACVR1. The protein encoded by the gene doesn’t work properly, triggering a wave of changes in people’s bodies, with the result that when they heal from a bruise, they replace entire chunks of muscle with new bone.
In some cases, people can offset many of the symptoms of genetic disorders with simple changes, like watching what they eat. In other cases, like hemophilia, they have to take regular doses of drugs to remain healthy. In other cases, like fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva, there’s no effective treatment yet.
For decades, scientists have tried to develop a new way to treat genetic disorders like these: to heal the patient, heal the gene.
Robert Collins in The Telegraph:
Dave Eggers has just been reminded why he can’t allow himself near the internet. The night before I meet him in Paris to talk about his latest three novels – published in a burst of creativity over the past three years – he has been up until 3am watching videos on YouTube on a houseboat he has rented in Amsterdam. “I got back, and to wind down I watched the comedy duo Key & Peele,” he says, while we sit in a bijou hotel overlooking the Place du Panthéon. “There’s just hundreds of YouTube clips. I couldn’t stop. That’s my thing. I can’t be near that stuff. I can’t have it in the house. I would never work again.” Eggers, you see, has been working very hard indeed. Since his 2000 debut, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – a bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-nominated memoir about his parents’ deaths from cancer within five weeks of each other and his subsequent rearing of his then eight-year-old brother, Christopher – Eggers has published short stories, novels, anthologies and children’s books. In 2002, he founded a literacy centre, 826 Valencia, for schoolchildren in San Francisco. On the back of its success, he opened a string of them across America, which led to others being set up in Europe. Eggers has come to Paris to visit the latest of these.
In between all this, he has written screenplays – including the film adaptation of Where the Wild Things Are, directed by Spike Jonze in 2009 – and founded an organisation that helps American university students find funding. He runs his own publishing house and literary magazine, McSweeney’s. And he has set up another literary magazine, The Believer, as well as founding a series of oral histories about human rights crises, a theme he covered in his 2009 book Zeitoun, which recounted the ordeal of a Syrian-American arrested in New Orleans in the chaos following Hurricane Katrina. Eggers is not so much a literary darling as a one-man social enterprise.
Salley Vickers in The Guardian:
Julian Baggini is that happy thing – a philosopher who recognises that readers go glassy-eyed if presented with high-octane philosophical discourse. And yet, as his latest book, Freedom Regained: The Possibility of Free Will, makes clear, it is in all our interests to consider crucial aspects of what it means to be human. Indeed, in this increasingly complex world, maybe more so than ever. Freedom is one of the great, emotive political watchwords. The emancipation of slaves and women has inspired political movements on a grand scale. But, latterly, the concept of freedom has defected from the public realm to the personal. How responsible are we as individuals for the actions we take? To what degree are we truly autonomous agents?
...The neural information that has made waves, however, is the fact that scans indicates the brain’s chemistry consistently determines a decision prior to our consciously making that decision. So when I deliberate over a menu and finally choose a mushroom risotto over a rare steak, my brain has anticipated this before I am aware of my choice. At first, this looks alarming. I am not the mistress of my gastric fate, my brain chemistry is. But that is to fail to recognise that my brain’s chemistry may be responding to a vast array of accumulated information about my reading of restaurant reviews, my health, the kind of day I’ve had, my relationship to my weight, my dining companion, my views on animal rights. This is a process not dissimilar to intuition, which is no more than the mind’s ability to process a number of clues too complex to be consciously registered.
You stand far from the crowd, adjacent to power.
You consider the edge as well as the frame.
You consider beauty, depth of field, lighting
to understand the field, the crowd.
Late into the day, the atmosphere explodes
and revolution, well, revolution is everything.
You begin to see for the first time
everything is just like the last thing
only its opposite and only for a moment.
When a revolution completes its orbit
the objects return only different
for having stayed the same throughout.
To continue is not what you imagined.
But what you imagined was to change
and so you have and so has the crowd.
by Peter Gizzi
from The Outernationale
publisher: Wesleyan, Middletown CT, 2007
Saturday, April 25, 2015
Richard Lourie in the New York Times:
The mass of men may “lead lives of quiet desperation,” as Thoreau wrote, but the Polish poet Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012) did just the opposite: She lived a life of quiet amazement, reflected in poems that are both plain-spoken and luminous. Many of them are gathered now in “Map: Collected and Last Poems.”
Born in the countryside, Szymborska moved in 1931 to Krakow, city of kings and culture, and lived there until her death. Though her life was most eventful inwardly, there was no escaping history in Poland. Indeed, Szymborska lived in four quite different Polands: the anxious interwar Poland that had regained its independence in 1918 after more than a century’s absence from the map of Europe; the Poland of the Nazi occupation, the death camps and uprisings, which began shortly after she turned 16; postwar Poland under Soviet domination, where she herself was a Communist until breaking with the party in 1966, about the time she was finding her voice as a poet; and, last, post-Soviet Poland, free, successful, blessedly ordinary.
Szymborska neither evades nor fetishizes her country’s travails. She can be tough and blunt toward them, as in the poem “Starvation Camp Near Jaslo,” where “the meadow’s silent, like a witness who’s been bought.” But Szymborska is always more interested in the individual. After saying, “History rounds off skeletons to zero. / A thousand and one is still only a thousand,” the poem goes off to wonder about that uncounted individual. In “Innocence,” she muses on young German girls blissfully unaware they were “conceived on a mattress made of human hair,” and in “Hitler’s First Photograph” she has a little macabre fun at the Führer’s expense: “And who’s this little fellow in his itty-bitty robe? / That’s tiny baby Adolf, the Hitlers’ little boy!” Of course, as with any newborn, you can’t help wondering what his future will turn out to be: “Whose tummy full of milk, we just don’t know: / printer’s, doctor’s, merchant’s, priest’s?”
James Crabtree in Prospect:
Narendra Modi stood on the walls of New Delhi’s Red Fort on a blustery morning last August, a man at the height of his recently-acquired powers. It was his first Independence Day speech, and also the first given by an Indian Prime Minister born after the end of colonial rule in 1947. Coming just a few short months after his thumping victory in national elections in May, it provided Modi with the most prominent stage afforded to any Indian leader to outline his plans for the nation.
Not a man known for modesty, he began humbly enough, painting himself “not as the Prime Minister, but as the Prime Servant.” Dressed in a white kurta and flamboyant, flowing red polka-dot turban, he stressed his separation from India’s establishment, too: “Brothers and sisters, I am an outsider for Delhi… I have no idea about the administration and working of this place.” His hands jabbing the air for emphasis, he even made brief nods toward harmony between India’s many religions, and the importance of the rights of women—mentions that drew modest praise from anxious liberals worried that Modi might prove to be a right-wing firebrand, in hoc to the Hindu nationalist base of his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Beyond the showmanship, there were hints of substance. As wind whipped around the ramparts, Modi laid out themes that would define his early period in power: an economic revival after years of stagnation; transforming India into a Chinese-style manufacturing powerhouse; and a focus on the concerns of the poor, from building toilets to sprucing up squalid streets. Yet on one issue—indeed, perhaps the most important that lay behind his electoral landslide—Modi had surprisingly little to say: corruption.
Thanks to Farrukh Azfar for having introduced me to Telemann when we were both nineteen and also for sending me this earlier today.
Meredith Tax in Dissent magazine image (Biji Kurdistan/Flickr):
While the Syrian opposition is understandably bitter that the YPG and YPJ withdrewmost of their energy from the war with Assad, leftists worldwide should be watching the remarkable efforts being made by Syrian Kurds and their allies to build a liberated area where they can develop their ideas about socialism, democracy, women, and ecology in practice.
They have been working on these ideas since 2003, when the PYD (Democratic Union Party) was founded by Syrian members of Turkey’s banned Kurdish party, the PKK. By January 2014, they had established a bottom-up system of government in each canton, with political decisions made by local councils and social service and legal questions administered by local civil society structures under the umbrella of TEV-DEM (Democratic Society Movement). TEV-DEM includes people from all the ethnic groups in the cantons, who are represented by more than one political party, but most of its ideological leadership comes from the PYD.
According to Janet Biehl, who was part of an academic delegation to the Cizîre canton in December 2014, the district commune is the building block of the whole structure. Each commune has 300 members and two elected co-presidents, one male, one female. Eighteen communes make up a district, and the co-presidents of all of them are on the district people’s council, which also has directly elected members. The district people’s councils decide on matters of administration and economics like garbage collection, heating-oil distribution, land ownership, and cooperative enterprises. While all the communes and councils are at least 40 percent women, the PYD—in its determination to revolutionize traditional gender relations—has also set up parallel autonomous women’s bodies at each level. These determine policy on matters of particular concern to women, like forced marriages, honor killings, polygamy, sexual violence, and discrimination. Since domestic violence is a continuing problem, they have also set up a system of shelters. If there is conflict on an issue concerning women, the women’s councils are able to overrule the mixed councils.
In short, the Rojava revolution is fulfilling the dreams of Arab Spring—and then some. If its ideas can be sustained and can prevail against ISIS, Kurdish nationalism, and the hostile states surrounding the cantons, Rojava will affect the possibilities available to the whole region. So why isn’t it getting more international support?
“The last time I was in New York,” Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote recently in The New York Times Magazine, in his account of traveling through the United States, “a well-known American writer invited me for lunch. . . . I tried desperately to think of something to say. We had to have something in common, we were about the same age, did the same thing for a living, wrote novels, though his were of considerably higher quality than mine. But no, I couldn’t come up with a single topic of conversation. . . . When we got back to Sweden, I received an email from him. He apologized for having invited me to lunch, he had realized he never should have done it and asked me not to reply to his email. At first I didn’t understand what he meant. . . . Then I realized he must have taken my silence personally. He must have thought I didn’t find it worth my time talking to him.”
Knausgaard doesn’t reveal the identity of the American writer he had lunch with. But I will: It was me. I may be the first reviewer of Knausgaard’s autobiographical works who has appeared in one of them. Therefore, I’m in a perfect position to judge how he uses the stuff of his life to fashion his stories. Ever since Knausgaard turned me into a minor character, I have an inside track on what he’s doing.
When we think of Terminal Island, after all, what do we imagine? Do we know that it was once (in a manner of speaking) two islands, Rattlesnake Island and Deadman’s Island, before they were joined, first by a jetty and then by more direct intervention? Do we know that it was, initially, “a tourist destination with no hotels … a recreational spot for those who loved the outdoors and nature”? As early as 1888, it was declared, by The Times, to be an interesting destination, if “rough looking.”
Hirahara and Knatz are smart and detailed on this early history, framing the development of Terminal Island through the filter of the growth of Los Angeles itself. By 1891, there was a rail line, and the island was renamed, as bathhouses and hotels were built.
A decade later, the authors tell us, “People flocked to Terminal Island for the summer. ... The Times extolled the ‘virtues’ of the island: the best French chef, everything was clean and fresh, and ... [o]n holidays like July the Fourth, there was such a demand for bathing suits that it was hard to rent a dry one.”
There is a black hole at the heart of biology,” says Nick Lane, who is emerging as one of the most imaginative thinkers about the evolution of life on Earth. The hole surrounds the transition around 1.8bn years ago from simple microbes, which had monopolised the planet for the previous 2bn years, to the complex “eukaryotic” cells that went on to become animals, plants, fungi and protozoa. For Lane, a biochemist at University College London, the little discussed origins of cellular complexity are The Vital Question for biologists seeking to understand why life is the way it is.
Yet scientists have paid much more attention to how the first primitive cells originated on the young Earth, when it was some 500m years old. Lane’s latest book, following on from his prizewinning Life Ascending(2009), does, in fact, start with the origins of life. Indeed, he puts forward a convincing argument for the first living cells having formed around alkaline hydrothermal vents. Only in this fiercely hot deep-sea environment could the chemical conditions and energy flow promote hydrogen to react with carbon dioxide and form self-replicating organic compounds.
I have lost a personal friend and hero. I have not stopped crying since hearing the news of this brutal murder. In my last note, I had said to her: "May you live to thrive and flourish and blossom and continue to serve your country and your fellow humans with the same sensitivity and humility." Alas, my darling Sabeen, you have given your life for your cause. It seems Mustafa Zaidi wrote this sher for you my love:
Mein kis kay hathoun pe apna lahoo talaash karoun
Tamaam shehr ney pehnay huay hain dastanay
(Translation: On whose hands should I look for my blood? The entire city is wearing gloves)
Lie on her breast,
I vex my heart alone,
She is at rest.
Beena Sarwar in her blog Journeys to Democracy:
In shock and grieved beyond words at this horrible news that our dear friend and comrade Sabeen Mahmud has been shot dead, her mother in critical condition in hospital. They were returning from the event Unsilencing Balochistan (Take 2) held at The Second Floor (T2F) [NOTE: the facebook event link posted above mysteriously disappeared then reappeared]. It was tremendously brave of Sabeen to allow the event to be hosted there given that Balochistan is essentially a ‘no go’ area. Even as we grieve our friend we refuse to be silenced. “She always spoke out. We must honour her legacy of speaking out,” said Mohammad Jibran Nasir when I spoke to him just now. “We will not let Balochistan be a no-go area”. “They want to make us into a nation of intellectual cripples, no discussion, no dissent, no dialogue,” said Mona Kazim Shah. “How many will they kill?”
This intellecticide cannot continue. Sabeen… all-inclusive humanist, only child of her single mother, cat-lover, a gentle and compassionate soul who did all in her power to create spaces and platforms to give a voice to the less fortunate, the vulnerable, the under-privileged, those whose for whom her heart beat. Rest in peace my friend. I can’t believe you are no more. We will keep speaking out. We will honour your legacy.
The Room Next Door
I want to go to the room next door.
Is it a forest, sad and Slavic
Its old bears barreling past sickly pines?
A sombrous sanctuary
Where beds of brown with vaulted views
Inform the sky of mortal giants
And sweet decay?
I want to go to the room next door.
Is it a beach, where dusty palms
Sway to an ersatz beat of soda pops
In paltry oils?
I want to go to the room next door
Is it a city, chill and gray,
Unmade beds behind steel grids
And melting neon semaphores?
Where asphalt sinks with every step
And cracks jut up like faulty flowers
Before the frost?
I want to go to the room next door
Is it a cave, the mold of ages
Clinging to its dark embrace?
I want to go to the room next door
Where mountain air is thin and fine
Where myths and dreams loom side by side,
While death hones in on willful wings.
I want to go to the room next door,
Where all is well and endings good,
And grass is anything but green.
by Brooks Riley
From the website of the International Crisis Group:
Violence in the Darfur region of Sudan’s far west continues unabated. Some 450,000 persons were displaced in 2014 and another 100,000 in January 2015 alone, adding to some two million long-term internally displaced persons (IDPs) since fighting erupted in 2003. The government remains wedded to a military approach and reluctant to pursue a negotiated national solution that would address all Sudan’s conflicts at once and put the country on the path of a democratic transition. Khartoum’s reliance on a militia-centred counter-insurgency strategy is increasingly counter-productive – not least because it stokes and spreads communal violence. Ending Darfur’s violence will require – beyond countrywide negotiations between Khartoum, the rebel Sudanese Revolutionary Front (SRF) coalition and unarmed players – addressing its local dimensions, within both national talks and parallel local processes.
Darfur’s complex and multiplying local conflicts are increasingly ill-understood, due to lack of information and the limitations of reporting from the hybrid UN/African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). Intensification of combat with rebel factions prompted the government in 2014 to fall back again upon notorious military auxiliaries, this time its new Rapid Support Forces (RSF), thus worsening violence and displacements. Arab militias and paramilitary forces like the RSF attacked non-Arab communities accused of being pro-rebel, fought each other, took part in communal conflicts and even hit at regular government troops.
Friday, April 24, 2015
This is devastatingly sad news! Sabeen was a good friend of my sister Azra's and a great supporter of 3QD. I did not know her well but we exchanged emails about six months ago and she asked if 3QD might be able to help T2F in some way. I said that she should write an article to introduce 3QD readers to T2F. That article can be seen here. She seemed the nicest and most vivacious person in my exchanges with her. It is shocking to hear this news despite knowing that such things are no longer unusual in that wretched country. What madness.
This is from Dawn:
Sabeen, accompanied by her mother, left T2F after 9pm on Friday evening and was on her way home when she was shot by unidentified gunmen in Defence Phase-II, sources confirmed. She died on her way to the hospital. Doctors said they retrieved five bullets from her body, which has now been shifted to Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre.
Her mother also sustained bullet wounds and is currently being treated at a hospital; she is said to be in critical condition.
T2F had on Friday organised a talk on Balochistan: 'Unsilencing Balochistan Take 2: In Conversation with Mama Qadeer, Farzana Baloch & Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur.'
Sabeen had left T2F after attending the session, when she was targeted.
T2F, described as a community space for open dialogue, was Sabeen's brainchild. In an interview with Aurora, she referred to it as “an inclusive space where different kinds of people can be comfortable.”
Aaron Arnold in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:
Speaking from the White House earlier this month, President Obama announced details of a framework agreement between Iran and the P5+1—the United States, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany—that limits Iran’s path to building a nuclear weapon over the next 10 to 15 years. Although negotiators will finalize technical details between now and the June 30 deadline, the parameters provide Iran with sanctions relief in exchange for limits on its uranium enrichment, converting its Arak heavy water reactor, limiting the number and type of centrifuges, and agreeing to intrusive inspections. Should Iran cheat or fail to uphold its end of the bargain, however, the United States and its allies reserve the right to “snap-back” into place tough economic and financial sanctions.
Skeptics of the framework insist that it does not go far enough in preventing Iran’s path to a bomb. Instead, Congressional leaders are pushing for a greater say in approving a final deal. Most recently, Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tentatively reached bi-partisan support on legislation that would reign in Obama’s ability to provide sanctions relief by requiring the president to submit the final deal to Congress for approval. If Congress decides not to approve the final deal, the alternative is returning to stronger sanctions in hopes of bringing Iran back to the bargaining table.
The view that holding out for a “better deal” by strengthening sanctions does not consider the reality of the current sanctions regime, and is based on bad assumptions and outright myths.
Atul Gawande argues that physicians should focus care on the good life—including its very end.
Sophia Rosenfeld in The Nation:
In the early 1990s, an upstate New York doctor became the medical director of a nursing home populated almost entirely by severely disabled elderly people. Unhappy about all the unhappiness he saw around him, the doctor launched an experiment. Shifting attention from “treatment” to “care,” he introduced plants in the living quarters, flowers and vegetables in the garden, and a veritable menagerie all around the property, including two dogs, four cats, and 100 parakeets. Eventually, he added an outdoor play area for the employees’ children. The results were surprising: greater contentedness in the home’s residents (measurable in part by a large decrease in the need for psychotropic drugs like Haldol), but also extended lives.
Atul Gawande believes in targeted fixes, especially small ones. His previous book, The Checklist Manifesto, detailed the outsize benefits of that favorite of highly organized people, the checklist. In Being Mortal, the writer-physician turns his attention to what happens when the elderly or infirm are granted a plant to look after, a chance to break an in-house rule, or even a sustained conversation about their future. His contention is that such little adjustments not only produce big payoffs for well-being, but also represent significant breakthroughs in terms of our thinking about questions of such daunting ethical and emotional magnitude that we generally avoid contemplating them at all. Questions like: What can we do to improve the existence of people in the final phase of life? How do we prepare others—and eventually ourselves—for the end?
We Go for the Union is an anonymous, undated nineteenth-century American painting. Titled, by curatorial fiat, after the political banner at its right, it depicts a group of men who are each, in varying ways, skilled in the manipulation of paint.
One man (of greatest height and most costly attire) holds a palette and narrow brush for applying precise touches. To this auteur’s right, a black man in stained overalls holds a bucket of paint at the ready. This paint has been applied across the background of a painting within the painting, a political sign featuring the likeness of George Washington. At far left, a strangely proportioned, muscular figure with pinched head and blurred features laboriously grinds blue pigment against a stone. An orange horizon emanates through the workshop windows, indicating, if not a clearly identifiable hour, then, perhaps, the sublime.
In this scene the labor of painting is divided into three, with only one worker accorded the status of artist: The giant, yellow-jacketed professional limns august features instantly
recognizable as those of the union’s first president. The artist seems to work from memory, pausing in reserved admiration before the realistic image he apparently believes himself to have authored. Yet we know that this image is in fact a copy of Gilbert Stuart’s famous Athenaeum portrait, which Stuart himself never officially finished, instead copying it at least seventy-five times and selling each reproduction for $100.
Deborah Rudacille in Aeon:
Thousands of working-class communities around the country lament the shuttering of blast furnaces, coke ovens, mines and factories. This yearning for a vanishing industrial United States, a place in long, slow decline thanks to globalisation and technological change, has a name – smokestack nostalgia. It is a paradoxical phenomenon, considering the environmental damage and devastating health effects of many of the declining industries. Our forebears worked gruelling shifts in dangerous jobs, inhaling toxic fumes and particulates at work and at home. Many lived in neighbourhoods hemmed in by industries that pumped effluent into rivers, streams and creeks.
During the 1960s and ’70s, a fine red dust coated my home town near Sparrows Point. The local rivers and creeks, which fed into the Chesapeake Bay, became so contaminated with run-off that dead fish often littered the beaches. As the Sparrows Point monument testifies, many workers died gruesome deaths: burned, crushed, gassed, dismembered. Others experienced a slower, though no less painful, demise from diseases caused by exposure to asbestos, benzene and other toxins.
Few of the steelworkers I’ve known deny the negative aspects of living and working on the Point, including long-standing racial, class and gender discrimination. Still, they grieve the shuttering of the Sparrows Point works, which provided not just union jobs with generous benefits, but a sense of family and community, identity and self-worth. At a ceremony on 24 November 2014 honouring the legacy and history of Sparrows Point, in advance of the demolition of what was once the largest blast furnace in the western hemisphere, steelworkers described what the Point meant to them. ‘My heart will always be in this place. This is hallowed ground,’ said Michael Lewis, a third-generation steelworker and union officer. Troy Pritt, another steel worker, read a poem calling the steelworks ‘home’.
Read the full article here.