Builders and Blocks – Engineering Blood Vessels with Stem Cells

by Jalees Rehman

Back in 2001, when we first began studying how regenerative cells (stem cells or more mature progenitor cells) enhance blood vessel growth, our group as well as many of our colleagues focused on one specific type of blood vessel: arteries. Arteries are responsible for supplying oxygen to all organs and tissues of the body and arteries are more likely to develop gradual plaque build-up (atherosclerosis) than veins or networks of smaller blood vessels (capillaries). Once the amount of plaque in an artery reaches a critical threshold, the oxygenation of the supplied tissues and organs becomes compromised. In addition to this build-up of plaque and gradual decline of organ function, arterial plaques can rupture and cause severe sudden damage such as a heart attack. The conventional approach to treating arterial blockages in the heart was to either perform an open-heart bypass surgery in which blocked arteries were manually bypassed or to place a tube-like “stent” in the blocked artery to restore the oxygen supply. The hope was that injections of regenerative cells would ultimately replace the invasive procedures because the stem cells would convert into blood vessel cells, form healthy new arteries and naturally bypass the blockages in the existing arteries.

Engineered Blood Vessel with RBCs 2

Image of mouse red blood cells flowing through an engineered human blood vessel- Image from Paul and colleagues (2013)

As is often the case in biomedical research, this initial approach turned out to be fraught with difficulties. The early animal studies were quite promising and the injected cells appeared to stimulate the growth of blood vessels, but the first clinical trials were less successful. It was very difficult to retain the injected cells in the desired arteries or tissues, and even harder to track the fate of the cells. Which stem cells should be injected? Where should they be injected? How many? Can one obtain enough stem cells from an individual patient so that one could use his or her own cells for the cell therapy? How does one guide the injected cells to the correct location, and then guide the cells to form functional blood vessel structures? Would the stem cells of a patient with chronic diseases such as diabetes or high blood pressure be suitable for therapies, or would such a patient have to rely on stem cells from healthier individuals and thus risk the complication of immune rejection?

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by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

ShadeTreeAllahu Akbar or God is Great, the anthem stolen by the wicked terrorist, whose attack is aimed at life, what holds life together for me— the zikr: Allahu Akbar, God is Greater, greater than prayer, greater than the spectacularly leaping science, the elegance of logic, the morality police, the lust of the spirit or the intellect, greater than the molten heart of a mother, a day laborer’s fatigue, greater than the beauty of discipline, the disciple of beauty, the ecstasy of disarray, greater than terra firma or the firmament, greater than sorrow. This is the way of the Sufi Rabia of Basra, dousing hellfire with water and setting heaven on fire as she walked with a pitcher and an open flame, declaring how God’s love is greater than punishment, greater than reward.

I peel fruit close to its skin. Life is precious and scarce, not like rubies but like air— will it carry my words faithfully to you? War machine, war machine: Will water keep on rhyming with martyr? Will hospitals go dark, gasping for electricity? Will fathers go on talking to meat in plastic bags— as if it is Omar or Nadia, Hassan or Nur, listening—lifeless, grave-less? Missile from airstrike, missile from drone, bullet, car-bomb, roadside bomb: do you hear: your target was the sacred; out of a living child you made meat and ash.

This is bitter and no anthem.

For me is my zikr, for you, yours. Come, sit; only one tree but I swear its shade stretches for us all.

The Implications of Gender Controlled Social Space on Campus Sexual Assault

by Kathleen Goodwin

FaustIn recent months a spotlight, or rather a searchlight, has been shone on college campuses throughout the United States as both administrators and state and federal governments have finally been goaded into taking action to address the problem of campus sexual assault in a critical manner. This past May the White House called out 55 schools specifically for their gross negligence regarding a matter that is both endemic and archaic in its treatment. Overall, I find the attention to the subject to be laudable, and it appears that there are some examples of tangible progress in the way colleges are defining sexual assault and reacting to reports of assault by students. However, I fear that this will be too little too late—the structures that make women vulnerable to sexual assault should be evaluated and reformed with the same scrutiny that the aftermath of assault is receiving in recent months. It will take more dramatic change for college campuses to become safe spaces for women and free of the universal scourge of sexual assault, which undoubtedly negatively affects the experience of both men and women.

As a recent alum of Harvard College, one of the schools on the White House's list of institutions in need of sexual assault policy reform, I have reflected on the incidences of sexual assault that periodically occurred on campus, some of which were brought to the attention of authorities, but in many cases were not. One dorm room is empty in Harvard Yard this fall as the College rescinded its offer of admission to a 2014 graduate of St. Paul's, a boarding school in New Hampshire. Eighteen year old Owen Labrie is accused of raping a fifteen year old freshman girl two days before graduation this past May. The senior purportedly emailed the freshman girl and asked to see her as part of a St. Paul's tradition known as a “Senior Salute” where outgoing male seniors attempt to hook up with younger female students in the final days of the school year. Labrie was supposedly participating in a contest with his friends to see who could hook up with the highest number of female lowerclasmen by graduation. When I read about this case on the website of Harvard's student newspaper, the Crimson, I found myself shocked, not at Labrie's crime, but rather at the eerie sense of familiarity I had while reading about the details. What I find notable about this case, is that it is shocking not in its awfulness, but in its predictability. In fact, as I read this article and the coverage of the case by the Boston Globe, I was struck by the similarities between this situation and most cases I have heard about at Harvard and colleges of other friends. In most of the instances of sexual assault that have been retold to me, a man capitalizes on ingrained structures that give him perceived power over his female peers in order to sexually assault a woman, often younger than himself and thus further disempowered. In many cases the implied or literal support of his male friends is a contributing factor.

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The View From Nowhere

by Misha Lepetic

“Well, I haven't been there yet, and shall not try now.”
~ Conrad, Heart of Darkness

Switzerland_3-1024x604Marlow, the protagonist of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, remorsefully blames an old obsession with maps for his eventual captaincy of a ramshackle steamship, set on a doomed mission up the Congo River. But Marlow was irretrievably fascinated by the blanks on the map – those were the places that were worth going. These days, when we look at a map, we expect objectivity and specificity, or to put it bluntly, the truth. Our sense of entitlement has only grown with the thoroughness in which maps have enmeshed themselves into our daily lives, whether it is via the GPS devices that guide our cars, or the maps on our smartphones that help us walk a few blocks of a city, familiar or not. We may forego the flâneur's pleasure of asking a stranger for directions, but where a certain calculus is concerned, it seems a small price to pay for getting us, without undue delay, to where we need to be.

There are no more places where cartographers must write terra incognita, or where myths and rumors were recruited as phenomenological filler. For just as nature abhors a vacuum, a map is a canvas that demands to be crammed with seemingly confident observations, and it would appear that every nook and cranny of the planet has already had some physical characteristics reassuringly assigned to it. Thus when maps fail us, we are left to decide whom to blame – the map, or ourselves.

I will give you a hint: we never blame ourselves. Rather, it is the map that is inadequate. But what this really implies is our refusal to abandon the conviction that there will be some future map that will capture the truth. Correlating directly with its pervasiveness, it becomes too easy to pass over the obvious fact that, like anything else, the practice of cartography is a fundamentally social practice. Consider not only how immersed we are in maps, as with the example of GPS, but also how extensively, constantly and surreptitiously we ourselves are mapped. Every time you allow an app on our smartphone to “Use Your Location,” indeed with every swipe of a credit card, you are effectively performing an offering of yourself, or rather some quantifiable aspect of yourself, to some kind of mapmaking project, the vast majority of which you will never be aware, let alone see. We are, in fact, subjects of a distinctly cartographic flavor of what Michel Foucault called clinical gaze.

When we are thus swaddled in information that provides so much convenience and in turn seems to ask so little in return – in fact, what is merely a bribe, but an exceptionally effective one – the occasional failure of maps can be galling (or sometimes entertaining). Because we are convinced that a better map is always already right around the corner, this anxiety does not last. But what comfort is there when we are confronted with things that resist mapping?

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Is Wine Tasting Nonsense?

by Dwight Furrow

Winetaster2Wine tasting has become one of the favorite playthings of the media with articles appearing periodically detailing a new study that allegedly shows wine tasters to be incompetent charlatans, arrogantly foisting their fantasies on an unsuspecting public. But these articles seldom reflect critically on their conclusions or address the question of what genuine expertise in wine tasting looks like. In fact, articles in this genre routinely misinterpret the results of these studies and seem more interested in reinforcing (partly undeserved) stereotypes of snobbish sommeliers.

The study that seems to get the most attention is from 2001. Frédéric Brochet asked 54 wine experts to assess two glasses of wine, one red, the other white. But in fact the two wines were identical white wines, the “red” wine having been dyed with food coloring. All the experts used descriptors typical of red wines and failed to notice the wine was in fact white. But this study does not show that wine tasters are incompetent. The study relied only on smell, not taste which would more readily yield clues to the wine's nature. More importantly, wine tasters are taught to use visual clues when trying to identify a wine using the deductive method. Given that the wine appeared red, trained wine tasters would have logically ruled out white descriptors. The study proves nothing about the expertise of wine tasters; only a lack of expertise in designing the study.

In a follow-up study, Brochet served wine experts two bottles, one with the label of a Grand Cru, the other labeled as an ordinary table wine. The wine in both bottles was identical and ordinary. The expensive wine was highly praised; the less expensive one roundly criticized. The conclusion this article attempts to draw is that all wine tastes the same and there is no distinction between cheap and expensive wine. But there is an alternative hypothesis that is much more plausible. We aren't told who these experts were, but the results are not surprising. There is ample scientific evidence that judgments about wine, including those of experts, are influenced by reputation, price, and expectations. That is why wine tasters often taste blind so their judgments are not distorted by these factors. All this study shows is that our judgments are influenced by background beliefs—this is not news and the tendency of wine tasters to be influenced by price and reputation has been incorporated into wine tasting practice for decades.

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Looking Through Glass

by Madhu Kaza

In the borrowed apartment where I'm living for a while, on the top floor of a brownstone, a stone Buddha sits on a low table in front of a center window. The crowns of trees some thirty feet away float in the window; they belong to the park across the street. Many of these trees are rooted near the street below, and the park slopes up behind them, so that through the canopy I sometimes catch flashes of figures moving inside the park at the top of the hill. Through my window I hear the squeaking of swings, and though I don't see them, I hear the squawking of children throughout the afternoon.

One afternoon this summer – it had been dark and humid all morning—I was sitting at my desk working, when suddenly I heard a boom of thunder, immediately followed by the shrieks of children. I looked out the window at the swaying branches of the trees and imagined the scared and thrilled children leaping out of the swings and scattering home before the rain came down. I watched the trees long after the voices emptied out of the park and the rain began tapping the leaves.

I love looking out of windows. I have spent whole afternoons watching the light change inside a room and watching the movements of the world outside. I lived for nearly fifteen years in a studio apartment in Manhattan, where ninety percent of my waking hours at home were spent sitting in a chair by the window, where I worked, ate, read, talked on the phone and idled. I think of the years racked up looking through glass, listening to the muted sounds of the city.

Looking through a window has always felt akin to looking at art. Painters have long made the connections between the canvas and the window. In his 1435 essay, “On Painting,” the Renaissance artist Leon Battista Alberti wrote, “Let me tell you what I do when I am painting. First of all, on the surface on which I am going to paint, I draw a rectangle of whatever size I want, which I regard as an open window through which the subject to 870px-Open_Window,_Colliourebe painted is seen.” In more recent paintings of the 19th and 20th century the window has become a prominent motif, one that can organize or frame the subject of the painting. In Matisse's Open Window, Collioure, for instance, very little (and no detail) of the domestic interior is shown. The painting itself becomes a view from a window.

Even if paintings sometimes open up views onto the world, I recognize that it doesn't necessarily follow that looking out a window is like looking at art. Features that brings these two experiences together for me, however loosely, include the frame and the distance– my position apart from the action. When gazing out a window I am more still in my looking than when I am out in the world. I find myself slightly abstracted from my body and in the position of a spectator. It's great if a window looks out onto a street or a meadow where horses roam, but the view needn't be spectacular or even beautiful. It certainly helps if the view is not of a grim shaftway, if instead it's of a dynamic space where people or animals or clouds come and go, where vegetation comes into leaf, flowers, and dies – anywhere where you can watch things change throughout the day. Through a fixed frame viewed over time the scene becomes cinematic.

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Short skirts and niqab bans: On sexuality and the secular body

Jennifer A. Selby and Mayanthi L. Fernando in The Immanent Frame:

Introduced in Québec in March 2010, Bill 94 proposed requiring women to unveil their faces if they wanted to work in the public sector or access public services, including hospitals, universities, and public transportation. The bill was eventually tabled and was followed in November 2013 with Bill 60, which demanded in more generalist language the removal of conspicuous religious signs in order to dispense or use public services in the province. These Québécois bills—which have not passed—echo the logic of the April 2011 French law targeting the niqab (face veil) and banning the “dissimulation of the face” in public spaces. Both French and Québécois proponents of these laws cited gender equality and women’s emancipation—which they deemed foundational to French and Québécois values—as their primary goal. Despite Québec’s long insistence that it espouses a third path between Canadian multiculturalism and the French Jacobin model, Québec and France have increasingly converged to promote a model of secularism in which liberty and equality are articulated as sexual liberty and sexual equality. In fact, these niqab restrictions represent a broader secular-liberal discourse—what Joan W. Scott calls “sexularism”—that posits secularism as the best guarantor of women’s sexual freedom and sexual equality and, therefore, as that which distinguishes the West from the woman-oppressing rest, especially from Islam.

Much has been written on secularist reactions to veiling, some of it on this blog. Most of that scholarship focuses on the problems that the veil, and Islamic piety more generally, pose for political secularism. Here, we try to provide a somewhat different reading that follows recent work arguing that, like forms of religiosity, secularity too includes a range of ethical, social, and physical dispositions, hence the need to apprehend the secular via its sensorial and affective dimensions and not only its political ones.

More here.

Evolution’s Random Paths Lead to One Place


Emily Singer in Quanta Magazine (photo by Sergey Kryazhimskiy):

In his fourth-floor lab at Harvard University, Michael Desai has created hundreds of identical worlds in order to watch evolution at work. Each of his meticulously controlled environments is home to a separate strain of baker’s yeast. Every 12 hours, Desai’s robot assistants pluck out the fastest-growing yeast in each world — selecting the fittest to live on — and discard the rest. Desai then monitors the strains as they evolve over the course of 500 generations. His experiment, which other scientists say is unprecedented in scale, seeks to gain insight into a question that has long bedeviled biologists: If we could start the world over again, would life evolve the same way?

Many biologists argue that it would not, that chance mutations early in the evolutionary journey of a species will profoundly influence its fate. “If you replay the tape of life, you might have one initial mutation that takes you in a totally different direction,” Desai said, paraphrasing an idea first put forth by the biologist Stephen Jay Gould in the 1980s.

Desai’s yeast cells call this belief into question. According to results published in Science in June, all of Desai’s yeast varieties arrived at roughly the same evolutionary endpoint (as measured by their ability to grow under specific lab conditions) regardless of which precise genetic path each strain took. It’s as if 100 New York City taxis agreed to take separate highways in a race to the Pacific Ocean, and 50 hours later they all converged at the Santa Monica pier.

The findings also suggest a disconnect between evolution at the genetic level and at the level of the whole organism. Genetic mutations occur mostly at random, yet the sum of these aimless changes somehow creates a predictable pattern. The distinction could prove valuable, as much genetics research has focused on the impact of mutations in individual genes.

More here.

Reflections on the Independence Referendum


As we approach the referendum on Scottish independence, several pieces reflect on its meaning and implications. Tariq Ali, John Burnside, T.J. Clark, Linda Colley, David Craig, Tom Devine, Norman Dombey, Anne Enright Colin Kidd, Ross McKibbin, Ferdinand Mount, Tom Nairn, Glen Newey, Hugh Pennington, and David Runciman offer their thoughts in the LRB. Runciman:

The independence referendum is the first of three votes that will help determine the future shape of British politics. The second is the next general election, which is now just nine months away. The third is a possible in-out referendum on EU membership. There is a nightmare scenario here (at least, a nightmare for many Scots and for a few of us south of the border): Scotland votes ‘No’, the Tories win the election and then Scotland, along with the rest of the UK, finds itself out of Europe on the back of the majority view of little Englanders. It’s still odds against that sequence of events, but not by enough of a margin to bring much comfort. I suppose it’s possible that an EU referendum could follow the pattern of the Scottish one: a serious and extended political argument that, for all the nastiness round the edges, generates principled positions on both sides and allows the defenders of the status quo to make their case and have it heard. But I rather doubt it.

Whatever happens on 18 September, it is hard to imagine that the argument ends here. If Scotland chooses to remain part of the UK, it will still be jarring each time a UK-wide decision binds it into a fate it would not have chosen for itself. The pressure for change will grow, not diminish. At the same time, English nationalism is going to rear its head at some point, especially if the result of a ‘No’ vote is greater concessions to Scottish devolution. The other regions are going to want their say. The status quo inside the UK is defensible in the short term but not sustainable in the long run. When it comes to the UK’s position inside the EU it may be the other way round.

More here. William Dalrymple in The Telegraph:

We Scots are far from an oppressed minority. In domestic matters we already run ourselves, and since devolution has given us control on almost all domestic issues, it is only on our place in the world that this vote will have any tangible effect. While I am proud of some of the moral stands made by the Scottish Parliament – such as giving asylum to Palestinians from Gaza, and the opposition the Scots Nationalists made to Tony Blair’s wrongheaded invasion of Iraq – we can continue to make those important moral stands in the Scottish Parliament while also influencing the real world from No 10 Downing Street.

Independence probably won’t be a catastrophe. We are a talented nation. Scots remain as ambitious and highly educated as ever. Emotionally I fully understand the excitement that the prospect of independence brings, and if it does come I will proudly apply for my Scottish passport. Nevertheless, if the drumbeat of freedom excites my heart, my head remains extremely wary. Pragmatism has always been an excellent Scottish quality and it seems to me that independence will be both a massive and unnecessary gamble, socially and politically divisive, and something that will limit rather than enhance the opportunities open to my children and grandchildren.

After centuries of Anglo-Scottish warfare, which led to many more Floddens than Bannockburns, the success of a united Great Britain was no small achievement for the Scots. It made us richer, and it made us bigger. For the first time in our history we played a major role in the world.

More here. Michelle Schwarze on what Adam Smith would say about Scottish independence?

Scotland is poised to vote on the merits of its union with England, but not for the first time. During the intellectually vibrant Scottish Enlightenmentof the 1700s, Adam Smith — the famed Scottish philosopher and economist who sought to explain what made nations prosperous — grappled with similar questions about the advantages and disadvantages of the Acts of Union of 1707. Smith expressed sympathy with those who had opposed the Union immediately following its passage, because the “infinite good” that Scotland experienced post-independence was a “very remote and very uncertain” prospect to Scots in 1708. Scottish voters currently face a converse question: Have conditions changed sufficiently to suggest that Scotland would be more prosperous post-union?

More here.

This Isthmus of a Middle State


Robert Paul Wolff over at his website:

One must indeed have turned a deaf ear to the chatter of the public square not to have heard the constant invocation of The Middle Class. Politicians, pundits, bloggers, even economists speak of nothing else. Presidential hopefuls mouth the phrase more often than teenager girls say “like.” But a moment's reflection will reveal that “middle class” is a rather odd phrase indeed. In truth, a great deal of ideological insight into contemporary America can be achieved simply by meditating on the phrase “middle class.” It is the purpose of this blog post to initiate such a meditation.
As always, a little history is a useful propaedeutic. Old Regime France understood itself to be composed of three Estates, each with its own system of laws and courts, its own customs of dress, and its own sources of income. The First Estate was the Clergy, who owed a double allegiance, to Versailles and to Rome. The Second Estate was the Aristocracy, whose status rested on its possession of the great inherited accumulations of agricultural land. The Third Estate was the Bourgeoisie, which [originally] meant the craftsmen and merchants who lived in walled cities [orbourgs.] The members of the Third Estate were in many cases a great deal wealthier than some of the impecunious aristocrats, and the clergy, of course, controlled vast estates which, however, belonged to the Church, so the classification into Estates was in no way intended to be an indication of relative wealth. The vast majority of men and women in Old Regime France, needless to say, did not belong to any Estate. They were, one might say, beneath the law.
With the dramatic termination of the last vestiges of feudalism, the system of Estates passed into history. When Adam Smith and his followers undertook to analyze the new society emerging from feudalism, they sorted people not into Estates but into Classes according to the position they occupied in the economic organization and processes of the society.
More here.

How Corrupt Are Our Politics?


David Cole reviews Zephyr Teachout's Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin’s Snuff Box to Citizens United, in the NYRB (photo by Lauren Lancaster):

The US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara, is now investigating whether the governor or others violated federal laws by obstructing corruption investigations. Cuomo’s response has been to strong-arm former commission members into issuing public statements supporting him that contradict their own earlier complaints, and simultaneously to assert that since the commission was a creation of the executive branch, any obstacles he may have put in its path cannot possibly constitute interference. So much for independence.

In light of these problems, it is perhaps not surprising that Cuomo appears more threatened than he should be by a challenge in the primary for governor from Zephyr Teachout, an obscure law professor from Fordham Law School. Teachout has less than $200,000 in her campaign coffers as compared to Cuomo’s $32 million. Cuomo sued to bar Teachout from running for governor on the ground that she had not resided for the requisite five years in New York State, even though she has been employed at Fordham Law School and had an apartment in New York since June 2009. A trial court found Teachout eligible to run in the primary scheduled for September 9, and a court of appeals affirmed. Cuomo can’t really be concerned that she will pose a serious challenge at the polls. But Teachout’s central focus—as both a candidate and a professor of law—is on fighting corruption, and right now, that may well be Cuomo’s Achilles heel.

Indeed, according to Teachout, corruption is not just Cuomo’s—or New York’s—problem. It is the most pressing threat that our democracy faces. And the problem, as Teachout sees it, is that those in power refuse to admit it. Just as Cuomo shut down the Moreland Commission’s inquiry into corruption, so the Supreme Court, by adopting an ahistorical and improperly narrow view of corruption, has shut down an exploration of the very real threat that unrestricted campaign spending actually poses to our democracy.

More here.

The Death of Adulthood in American Culture


A.O. Scott in the NYT Magazine:

TV characters are among the allegorical figures of our age, giving individual human shape to our collective anxieties and aspirations. The meanings of “Mad Men” are not very mysterious: The title of the final half season, which airs next spring, will be “The End of an Era.” The most obvious thing about the series’s meticulous, revisionist, present-minded depiction of the past, and for many viewers the most pleasurable, is that it shows an old order collapsing under the weight of internal contradiction and external pressure. From the start, “Mad Men” has, in addition to cataloging bygone vices and fashion choices, traced the erosion, the gradual slide toward obsolescence, of a power structure built on and in service of the prerogatives of white men. The unthinking way Don, Pete, Roger and the rest of them enjoy their position, and the ease with which they abuse it, inspires what has become a familiar kind of ambivalence among cable viewers. Weren’t those guys awful, back then? But weren’t they also kind of cool? We are invited to have our outrage and eat our nostalgia too, to applaud the show’s right-thinking critique of what we love it for glamorizing.

The widespread hunch that “Mad Men” will end with its hero’s death is what you might call overdetermined. It does not arise only from the internal logic of the narrative itself, but is also a product of cultural expectations. Something profound has been happening in our television over the past decade, some end-stage reckoning. It is the era not just of mad men, but also of sad men and, above all, bad men. Don is at once the heir and precursor to Tony Soprano (fig. 2), that avatar of masculine entitlement who fended off threats to the alpha-dog status he had inherited and worked hard to maintain. Walter White, the protagonist of “Breaking Bad,” struggled, early on, with his own emasculation and then triumphantly (and sociopathically) reasserted the mastery that the world had contrived to deny him. The monstrousness of these men was inseparable from their charisma, and sometimes it was hard to tell if we were supposed to be rooting for them or recoiling in horror. We were invited to participate in their self-delusions and to see through them, to marvel at the mask of masculine competence even as we watched it slip or turn ugly. Their deaths were (and will be) a culmination and a conclusion: Tony, Walter and Don are the last of the patriarchs.

More here.

Is ‘Progress’ Good for Humanity?

Jeremy Caradonna in The Atlantic:

LeadThe stock narrative of the Industrial Revolution is one of moral and economic progress. Indeed, economic progress is cast as moral progress.

The story tends to go something like this: Inventors, economists, and statesmen in Western Europe dreamed up a new industrialized world. Fueled by the optimism and scientific know-how of the Enlightenment, a series of heroic men—James Watt, Adam Smith, William Huskisson, and so on—fought back against the stultifying effects of regulated economies, irrational laws and customs, and a traditional guild structure that quashed innovation. By the mid-19th century, they had managed to implement a laissez-faire (“free”) economy that ran on new machines and was centered around modern factories and an urban working class. It was a long and difficult process, but this revolution eventually brought Europeans to a new plateau of civilization. In the end, Europeans lived in a new world based on wage labor, easy mobility, and the consumption of sparkling products.

Europe had rescued itself from the pre-industrial misery that had hampered humankind since the dawn of time. Cheap and abundant fossil fuel powered the trains and other steam engines that drove humankind into this brave new future. Later, around the time that Europeans decided that colonial slavery wasn’t such a good idea, they exported this revolution to other parts of the world, so that everyone could participate in freedom and industrialized modernity. They did this, in part, by “opening up markets” in primitive agrarian societies. The net result has been increased human happiness, wealth, and productivity—the attainment of our true potential as a species.

Sadly, this saccharine story still sweetens our societal self-image.

More here.

Sunday Poem


To judge if a line is true,
banish the error of parallax.
Bring your eye as close as you can
to the line itself and follow it.

A master tiler taught me this.

People wish to walk where he has kneeled
and smoothed the surface.
They follow a line to its end
and smile at its sweet geometry,
how he has sutured the angles of the room.

He transports his tools by bicycle –
a bucket, a long plastic tube he fills with water
to find a level mark, a cushion on which to kneel,
a fine cotton cloth to wipe from the tiles the dust
that colours his lashes at the end of the day.
He rides home over ground that rises
and falls as it never does under his hands.

He knows how porcelain, terracotta and marble hold
the eye. He knows the effect of the weight
of a foot on ceramic. Terracotta’s warm dust
cups your foot like leather. Porcelain will appear
untouched all its life and for this reason
is also used in the mouth.

To draw a true line on which to lay a tile,
hold a chalked string fixed
at one end of a room and whip
it hard against the cement floor.

With a blue grid, he shakes out
the sheets of unordered space, folds
them into squares and lays them end on end.
Under his knees, a room will become whole and clear.

by Gabeba Baderoon
from: _Matter 3_
publisher: Leigh Money and Emily Pedder, Sheffield

‘Someday I might end up as a poet’: Prison letters from Faiz Ahmed Faiz to his wife

Salima Hashmi in Scroll:

ScreenHunter_792 Sep. 13 21.42Since being Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s daughter has given me privileged access to the family archives, I have become an accidental archivist. In 2009 I embarked upon the Faiz Ghar project to set up a small museum in a house leased to us by a friend and admirer of my father. We commenced sorting through Faiz’s belongings, papers and books. It was not a massive collection by any means, owing to his nomadic, rather Spartan, but interesting life, that began on February 13, 1911, and ended on November 20, 1984. My mother Alys was instrumental in saving and sorting what little there was: a smart grey lounge suit, a cap, his scarf, his pen, and a reasonably large cache of letters, certificates and medals.

After my mother’s death in 2003 all these things had been packed away in cartons in my house, waiting for just the sort of opportunity that the Faiz Ghar project afforded. Sifting through the papers, I came across a plastic bag containing some scraps. On closer look, I deciphered Faiz’s writing, and the unmistakable stamp of the censor from the Hyderabad Jail, where Faiz spent part of his imprisonment between 1951 and 1955 for his role in the Rawalpindi Conspiracy – a Soviet- backed coup attempt against Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan. These few letters were in poor shape, but readable. It is surprising that they have survived at all. Alys and Faiz had moved to Beirut in 1978. On return, all seemed to be in order in the house – except the cupboard, which had been attacked by termites. That cupboard contained Faiz’s letters from jail, which were later preserved with the help of Asma Ibrahim, transcribed by Kyla Pasha, and published in 2011 under the title Two Loves.

More here.