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“Slimlandia,” The Land of Mexican Oligarchs NAKED CAPITALISM


Yves here. As Don Quijones explains, “In many ways, Mexico is the poster child of neoliberalism.” So take this as a cautionary tale of what rule by our modern oligarchs will look like.

By Don Quijones, a freelance writer and translator based in Barcelona, Spain, and editor at Wolf Street, where this article was originally published

Despite being Mexico’s second richest man and owning one of the world’s largest mining groups, German Larrea is an enigma. Until this month the only photo that existed of the media-shy recluse was a blurry black and white image. All that has now changed: his name and a new photo – one taken of him schmoozing with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto at a recent meeting of Citibank’s Mexican division, Banamex – are plastered across the front and financial pages of Mexico’s daily newspapers. This new wave of unwelcome public attention is the result of what many are describing as the worst ecological disaster in Mexican history. On August 6 the Buenavista del Cobre mine belonging to Larrea’s flagship company, Grupo Mexico, the country’s largest mining and infrastructure company, spewed 10 million gallons (40,000 cubic meters) of copper sulfate acid into the Sonora and Bacanuchi rivers, turning the waterways orange and poisoning the water supply of 24,000 people in seven communities along the rivers.

No Apologies

Authorities place the cost of the total cleanup in the hundreds of millions or even billions of Mexican pesos, yet so far the government has issued Grupo Mexico with a one-off sanction of just 40 million pesos (roughly $3 million). As for Larrea, he has quickly crawled back under the woodwork whence he came, having issued not a single public apology. It is not the first time that Larrea has shown such callous disregard for the occasionally destructive externalities of his particular line of business. In 2006 a methane explosion in the Grupo Mexico-owned Pasta de Conchos coal mine left 65 miners trapped underground. Only two of the 65 bodies were found before the decision was made to call off the search, just five days after the explosion. During that time neither then-Mexican president Vicente Fox, nor Larrea, visited the mine or interacted with the families. In fact, not a single Grupo Mexico shareholder bothered to show up. According to Forbes, Larrea is the 60th richest billionaire in the world, boasting a total wealth of $15 billion. Through the control of just over half of Grupo Mexico, he and his family own mining assets in Mexico (Minera México), Perú (Southern Copper) and the U.S. (Asarco). They also own Infraestructura y Transportes México (ITM), which runs two railroads, Ferrocarril Mexicano y Ferrosur, as well as a 30 percent stake in the Mexican airport operator Grupo Aeroportuario del Pacífico. Larrea is also the majority owner of Cinemex, Mexico’s second largest cinema chain. He sits on the boards of Citi-owned Banamex, the Mexican stock exchange, the Mexican Shareholders Group, and until recently the giant Mexican media group Televisa. In fact, rumours are that Larrea is poised to take advantage of the recent shake-up of Mexico’s telecommunications sector to launch his own media empire.

Like many of his fellow Mexican billionaires, Larrea owes much of his fortune to one man: Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who served as president of Mexico between 1988 and 1994. During his six-year presidency Salinas not only signed up to NAFTA, but he also embarked on a privatization spree, selling off mines, banks, railways, electricity networks and, of course, Telmex, the national telephone company. Salinas relied on a relatively small group of Mexico’s oligarchy to supply him with campaign (and perhaps personal) funds, in return for the sale of state assets at favorable rates and terms. For example, Salinas’ close friend Carlos Slim, now the richest billionaire on the planet, was essentially able to pay for Telmex out of the future profits of the company...


In many ways, Mexico is the poster child of neoliberalism. For decades and under successive governments the country has followed the standardized rule book of 21st century economic governance to the letter. According to the economist Julián Castaño, Mexico is now Latin America’s second most privatized nation. It has also signed more bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements than just about any other nation under the sun. Yet the result, far from one of freer more open markets, is ever-increasing concentration of power and wealth, rising prices and dwindling choice for consumers – a trend that seems set to continue as Salinas’ disarmingly handsome apprentice, Enrique Peña Nieto, prepares to complete the project his master began 26 years ago.




Yves here. Martin Khor focuses on the alarm created by the ruling against Argentina that allowed a Paul Singer’s NML, a vulture fund with a small position in Argentina’s bonds, to vitiate a hard-fought bond restructuring. The particularly ugly part that don’t get the attention warranted is that it is widely believed that Singer took a much larger position in credit default swaps, meaning he was seeking to create and betting on an Argentine default. And another ugly wrinkle is the role of private law in these processes. ISDA, a private organization, determines what is an event of default for credit default swaps.

Singer was on the committee that voted whether Argentina was in default (recall it had made payment under the restructuring to the trustee, Bank of New York, but BONY was barred by the court from remitting payment to the bondholders). This gave him a direct say in an event in which he had a large economic interest. And that was no lucky accident.

Lisa Pollack of FT Alphaville described in 2011 how ISDA is set up to make sure CDS payouts take place, regardless of the merits of the case. Who will have CDS positions? Parties either buying insurance or betting on failure. Who gets to vote on whether an event of default has occurred? From her post (emphasis hers):

Imagine playing a game where you bet on the outcome of a certain event. Most of the time the final outcome is unambiguous: you play, and afterwards, it’s clear whether you won or you lost. But every now and then, the result is hazy. Did the ball go into the goal? Was there a handball? Did he reach base?

This is usually where a referee steps in to decide.

So, it’s worth asking, how should referees be chosen?

Knowledge of the game is a sensible prerequisite. Also, the referee shouldn’t be conflicted. For example, anyone who has bet on the outcome of a match probably shouldn’t be the one who awards penalties.

And there’s no reason why what’s true of sports referees shouldn’t also be true of market referees, such as the International Swaps and Derivatives Association (Isda).

However, Isda picks the members of a committee that determines who has won and lost in the game of credit derivatives by selecting those who have the greatest potential to be conflicted. (And then it indemnifies them.)

And her conclusion (emphasis ours):

In summary, 10 out of the 15 members of the committee are picked because they are likely to have the biggest positions in any CDS contract under examination.

In other words, aside from how inefficient this looting is (as in the very high economic costs to the economies involved relative to the returns the vulture funds make on their sovereign adventurism), there are separately serious issues about the legitimacy of the process by which they make their outsized returns.

This post describes how experts are very concerned about the precedent set by Judge Griesa’s ruling against Argentina. Bear in mind that some legal experts contend that it does not have broad implications, that Griesa’s ruling keyed off specific terms in Argentina’s bonds that are absent from most sovereign issues. Nevertheless, there is a troubling tendency in jurisprudence for ruling creep...SEE THE POST, AT LINK


Weekend Economists Salute the 99% September 26-28, 2014

Shall we first take a look at that plaything of the 1%?

Dow Jones Industrial Average


A 100 point rally at 2 PM brought the week to only HALF as big a loss as it otherwise would have been....yippee.

But what do the American People care? They (We) have no horses in the stock market, unless it hasn't managed to wipe out our pitiful retirement savings quite yet. the only market we care about is the job market, and it sucks. It's sucked since at least 2001, here in Michigan. And every day, the CEO corner office is trying to wrest back what little it pays for trained and dedicated workers.

We are going to ruminate on work, workers, and workers' struggles for rights and compensation.

Arlo Guthrie speaks the truth, before he sings:

The US is now involved in 134 wars or none, depending on your definition of 'war'



Understanding Organizational Stupidity


...A country blowing itself up is quite a sight to behold, and it makes us wonder about lots of things. For instance, it makes us wonder whether the people who are doing the blowing up happen to be criminals. (NARCISSISTS!--DEMETER) (Sure, they may be in a manner of speaking—as a moral judgment passed on the powerful by the powerless—but since none of them are likely to see the inside of a jail cell or even a courtroom any time soon, the point is moot. Let's be sure to hunt them down once they try to run and hide, though.) But at a much more basic and fundamental level, a better question to ask is this one:

“Why are we being so fucking stupid?”

What do I mean when I use the term “fucking stupid”? I do not mean it as a term of abuse but as a precise, if unflattering, diagnosis. Here is as good a definition as any, excerpted from American Eulogy by Jim Quinn:

If you had told someone on September 10, 2001 that ten years later America would be running $1.5 trillion annual deficits, fighting two wars of choice in countries that despise our presence, and had not only not addressed the $100 of unfunded welfare liabilities but added billions more with Medicare D and Obamacare, they would have thought you were a crazy doomster predicting the end of the world. They would have put you away in a padded cell if you had further predicted that politicians would cut taxes three separate times, that the Wall Street banks that leveraged themselves 40 to 1 and destroyed the financial system handed $2 trillion of taxpayer funds so they could pay themselves multi-million dollar bonuses, and that the Federal Reserve would triple its balance sheet to $2.45 trillion by running its printing presses at hyper-speed and handing the money to those same Wall Street Mega-Banks.

Well, the evidence is in, and that crazy doomster in his padded cell has turned out to be amazingly prescient, so perhaps we should listen to him. And what would that crazy doomster have to say now? I would venture to guess that it would be something along these lines:

There is no reason to think that those who failed to take corrective action up until now, but remain in control, will ever do so. But it should be perfectly obvious that this situation cannot continue ad infinitum. And, as a matter of general principle, things that can't go on forever—don't.

Back to the question of stupidity: Why are we (as a country) being so fucking stupid? This question has puzzled me for some time. It appears that the problem of stupidity is quite pervasive: look at any large human organization, and you will find that it is ruled by stupidity. I was not the first to stumble across the conjecture that the intelligence of a hierarchically organized group of people is inversely proportional to its size, but so far the mechanism that makes it so has eluded me. Clearly, there is something amiss with hierarchically organized groups, something that causes all of them to eventually collapse, but what exactly is it? To try to get at this question, last year I spent quite a while researching anarchy, and wrote a series of articles on it. I discovered that vast hierarchies do not occur in nature, which is anarchic and self-organizing, with no chains of command and no entities in supreme command. I discovered that anarchic organizations can go on forever while hierarchical ones inevitably end in collapse. I examined some of the recent breakthroughs in complexity theory, which uncovered the laws governing the different scaling factors in natural (anarchically organized, efficient, stable) systems and unnatural (hierarchically organized, inefficient, collapse-prone) ones.

But nowhere did I find a principled, rigorous explanation for the fatal flaw embedded in the very nature of hierarchical systems. I did have a very strong hunch, though, backed by much anecdotal evidence, that it comes down to stupidity. In anarchic societies whose members cooperate freely, intelligence is additive; in hierarchical organizations structured around a chain of command, intelligence is subtractive. The lowest grunts or peons are expected to carry out orders unquestioningly. Their critical faculties are 100% impaired; if not, they are subjected to disciplinary action. The supreme chief executive officer may be of moderately impaired intelligence, since it is indicative of a significant character flaw to want such a job in the first place. (Kurt Vonnegut put it best: “Only nut cases want to be president.”) But beyond that, the supreme leader must act in such a way as to keep the grunts and peons in line, resulting in further intellectual impairment, which is compounded across all of the intervening ranks, with each link in the chain of command contributing a bit of its own stupidity to the organizational stupidity stack.

I never ascended the ranks of middle management, probably due to my tendency to speak out at meetings and throw around terms such as “nonsensical,” “idiotic,” “brainless,” “self-defeating” and “fucking stupid.” If shushed up by superiors, I would resort to cracking jokes, which were funny and even harder to ignore. Neither my critical faculties, nor my sense of humor, are easily repressed. I was thrown at a lot of special projects where the upside of being able to think independently was not negated by the downside of being unwilling to follow (stupid) orders. To me hierarchy = stupidity in an apparent, palpable way. But in explaining to others why this must be so, I had so far been unable to go beyond speaking in generalities and telling stories...so I was happy when I recently came across an article which goes beyond such “hand-waving analysis” and answers this question with some precision. Mats Alvesson and André Spicer, writing in Journal of Management Studies (49 November 2012) present “A Stupidity-Based Theory of Organizations” in which they define a key term: functional stupidity. It is functional in that it is required in order for hierarchically structured organizations to avoid disintegration or, at the very least, to function without a great deal of internal friction. It is stupid in that it is a form intellectual impairment: “Functional stupidity refers to an absence of reflexivity, a refusal to use intellectual capacities in other than myopic ways, and avoidance of justifications.” Alvesson and Spicer go on to define the various “...forms of stupidity management that repress or marginalize doubt and block communicative action” and to diagram the information flows which are instrumental to generating and maintaining sufficient levels stupidity within organizations.


This is your brain on narcissism: The truth about a disorder that nobody really understands


In Greco-Roman myth, Narcissus, a beautiful young man, catches sight of his reflection in a body of water and falls deeply in love with his own image. This is, of course, where we get the word “narcissism.” What many in today’s culture overlook when tossing around the term “narcissism,” explains Jeffrey Kluger, author of “The Narcissist Next Door,” is that it is actually a clinical personality disorder affecting 1 to 3 percent of the population. Kluger’s book goes beyond cautionary tales of narcissism — like that of Narcissus — and explores how the disorder affects daily life, relationships, government, Hollywood, sports and elsewhere...(Narcissism is a) very widely used word culturally, a bit of a shorthand to describe all kinds of behavioral phenomena...(being) far too self-absorbed, having far too much of a sense of entitlement, being far too uninterested in listening...

Is there a correct amount of narcissism?

There’s no sort of fever chart where, below (this level), you are a healthy narcissist, or above (this level) you are an unhealthy narcissist...there is a level of narcissism that energizes and motivates, that makes you creative, that makes you particularly value the reward of recognition, but not become drunk off that reward of recognition. And it can be very, very beneficial. The level of narcissism that helps you step forward with confidence and tell your ideas in an engaging and charismatic way can be really helpful...Whatever else people may like or dislike about Bill Clinton, the man can work a room like nobody’s business, because he wants to be recognized, he wants to make a difference. Even if we don’t necessarily respect the gratification he’s getting from that — the narcissistic gratification he’s getting from that — the fact is that he’s doing to make a difference, to make the word a better place. So, you know it depends on what your larger goal is and how you’re deploying those talents to achieve it.

What were some of the most interesting examples of extreme narcissism that you found when writing your book?

Well I certainly think you see it at almost epidemic levels in politicians. Richard Nixon was clearly suffering from mass-model narcissism, a level of grandiosity that conceals its direct opposite. It is often the case when you’re simultaneously trying to reconcile those two incompatible world views — I’m the best and I’m the worst — that you can generally engineer your own destruction that way...Clinton did that in a much smaller way. Good lord. He knew that if there was one thing his enemies were lying in wait for when he took office, it was the sex scandal. So he went right ahead and served it up to them, because he was incapable of controlling his own lack of narcissistic impulse control. Incapable of seeing something he wanted and denying himself that. So he’s a very good example of that...Lyndon Johnson is a terrific and terrible example of narcissism with his monomaniacal prosecution of the Vietnam war, and his inability to stand down from it because his point was peace with honor, and “I won’t be the first American president to lose a war.” You may have to sit with that historical fate, in order to save the lives of 58,000 Americans. So clearly Johnson was a terrible, quite literally bloody, example, even if that wasn’t his intention...We see it in less consequential ways with people like Justin Bieber. You can’t look away from Justin Bieber, because he’s an unfolding train-wreck.So you know we see these examples of people who do great damage to the world, or damage to themselves by not being able to keep their narcissistic demons under control.

...Do you think that there needs to be greater awareness that this is something that people should get treated in some way? Or at least recognize? Or is it even possible to recognize and treat?

...personality disorders like narcissism, paranoia, histrionic personality disorder and borderline personality disorders are what is called egosyntonic. You think you’re not narcissistic, you really are better. You’re not paranoid, there really are people who are after you. So until you get over that belief, until you can stop fighting on behalf of your disorder, you’re never going to get into a psychologist’s office in the first place. And I also think that for a lot of narcissists, they only get there under duress, and when they get there they still believe that they are smarter than the shrink, and they’re only there because nobody understands them. And they fire the doctor very quickly and go on and continue to make a mess of their lives and the lives of the people around them. So, I agree with you that greater awareness of this as a clinical personality disorder is necessary. But I fear that no amount of banging narcissists over the head with evidence of their issues is going to make a difference, as opposed to someone with OCD or anxiety.

...There’s narcissism of the individual and there’s narcissism of the group, and in both cases it’s essentially the same thing. We are better, we are more entitled, we are different or at least less interested in the people around us, or the tribes or nations around us, because we’re worthier than they are. Our people are the prettiest, our language is the most musical, our clothes are the most stylish. And these people are barbarians or at the very best civilized but crude. We are deserving of resources just as I, as the individual, am deserving of the raise, or deserving of the job or deserving of the hottest girl at the party because I’m better than the other guys around me. Now this has its benign expression in sport, except when people are killed, in soccer brawls or when a fan of the San Francisco Giants is beaten up in a parking lot by a Dodgers fan. Obviously it can get ugly sometimes...almost all that behavior comes from pain. Almost all of that behavior comes from some kind of internal suffering. So, I’d like to have Kanye West’s money and his fame and his privilege, but whatever drives those self-adoring demons can’t feel that great. The same is true of anyone. Anyone who is so tormented by internal doubt and a private personal history that affects the way you behave — I wouldn’t want to feel the pain the raging narcissist feels.


Hard Science vs. Soft Science Con Game

Climate Science Is Not Settled By Steven E. Koonin


...The idea that "Climate science is settled" runs through today's popular and policy discussions. Unfortunately, that claim is misguided. It has not only distorted our public and policy debates on issues related to energy, greenhouse-gas emissions and the environment. But it also has inhibited the scientific and policy discussions that we need to have about our climate future...The crucial scientific question for policy isn't whether the climate is changing. That is a settled matter: The climate has always changed and always will. Geological and historical records show the occurrence of major climate shifts, sometimes over only a few decades. We know, for instance, that during the 20th century the Earth's global average surface temperature rose 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit.

Nor is the crucial question whether humans are influencing the climate. That is no hoax: There is little doubt in the scientific community that continually growing amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, due largely to carbon-dioxide emissions from the conventional use of fossil fuels, are influencing the climate. There is also little doubt that the carbon dioxide will persist in the atmosphere for several centuries. The impact today of human activity appears to be comparable to the intrinsic, natural variability of the climate system itself.

Rather, the crucial, unsettled scientific question for policy is, "How will the climate change over the next century under both natural and human influences?" Answers to that question at the global and regional levels, as well as to equally complex questions of how ecosystems and human activities will be affected, should inform our choices about energy and infrastructure. But—here's the catch—those questions are the hardest ones to answer. They challenge, in a fundamental way, what science can tell us about future climates.

Even though human influences could have serious consequences for the climate, they are physically small in relation to the climate system as a whole.

  • For example, human additions to carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by the middle of the 21st century are expected to directly shift the atmosphere's natural greenhouse effect by only 1% to 2%. Since the climate system is highly variable on its own, that smallness sets a very high bar for confidently projecting the consequences of human influences.

  • A second challenge to "knowing" future climate is today's poor understanding of the oceans. The oceans, which change over decades and centuries, hold most of the climate's heat and strongly influence the atmosphere. Unfortunately, precise, comprehensive observations of the oceans are available only for the past few decades; the reliable record is still far too short to adequately understand how the oceans will change and how that will affect climate.

  • A third fundamental challenge arises from feedbacks that can dramatically amplify or mute the climate's response to human and natural influences. One important feedback, which is thought to approximately double the direct heating effect of carbon dioxide, involves water vapor, clouds and temperature. But feedbacks are uncertain. They depend on the details of processes such as evaporation and the flow of radiation through clouds. They cannot be determined confidently from the basic laws of physics and chemistry, so they must be verified by precise, detailed observations that are, in many cases, not yet available.

  • Beyond these observational challenges are those posed by the complex computer models used to project future climate. These massive programs attempt to describe the dynamics and interactions of the various components of the Earth system—the atmosphere, the oceans, the land, the ice and the biosphere of living things. While some parts of the models rely on well-tested physical laws, other parts involve technically informed estimation. Computer modeling of complex systems is as much an art as a science...For instance, global climate models describe the Earth on a grid that is currently limited by computer capabilities to a resolution of no finer than 60 miles. (The distance from New York City to Washington, D.C., is thus covered by only four grid cells.) But processes such as cloud formation, turbulence and rain all happen on much smaller scales. These critical processes then appear in the model only through adjustable assumptions that specify, for example, how the average cloud cover depends on a grid box's average temperature and humidity. In a given model, dozens of such assumptions must be adjusted ("tuned," in the jargon of modelers) to reproduce both current observations and imperfectly known historical records.

    We often hear that there is a "scientific consensus" about climate change. But as far as the computer models go, there isn't a useful consensus at the level of detail relevant to assessing human influences. Since 1990, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, has periodically surveyed the state of climate science. Each successive report from that endeavor, with contributions from thousands of scientists around the world, has come to be seen as the definitive assessment of climate science at the time of its issue...Policy makers and the public may wish for the comfort of certainty in their climate science. But I fear that rigidly promulgating the idea that climate science is "settled" (or is a "hoax") demeans and chills the scientific enterprise, retarding its progress in these important matters. Uncertainty is a prime mover and motivator of science and must be faced head-on. It should not be confined to hushed sidebar conversations at academic conferences....Individuals and countries can legitimately disagree about these matters, so the discussion should not be about "believing" or "denying" the science. Despite the statements of numerous scientific societies, the scientific community cannot claim any special expertise in addressing issues related to humanity's deepest goals and values. The political and diplomatic spheres are best suited to debating and resolving such questions, and misrepresenting the current state of climate science does nothing to advance that effort. Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future. Recognizing those limits, rather than ignoring them, will lead to a more sober and ultimately more productive discussion of climate change and climate policies. To do otherwise is a great disservice to climate science itself.

    Dr. Koonin was undersecretary for science in the Energy Department during President Barack Obama's first term and is currently director of the Center for Urban Science and Progress at New York University. His previous positions include professor of theoretical physics and provost at Caltech, as well as chief scientist of BP, BP.LN +0.42% where his work focused on renewable and low-carbon energy technologies.

Weekend Economists Talk Like Pirates September 19-21, 2014

In honor of Talk Like a Pirate Day, are we contemplating life on the Spanish Main? (In the days of the Spanish New World Empire, the mainland of the North and South American continents enclosing the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico was referred to as the Spanish Main.

How about Malaysia, the scene of contemporary piracy, which sends out these tips:

What To Do (if kidnapped by pirates)

If you do run into some unlucky trouble, keep the following in mind:

  • The pirates may in fact NOT have a talking parrot.
  • Remember that each kidnapping situation is different, so what you’ve seen on TV may not apply to you.
  • Attempt to relate to the kidnappers by speaking their language (if you can), this may help build some kind of rapport.
  • Keep track of time. You may be held for a considerable amount of time, so its best not to become confused about the time of day.
  • Maintain your dignity.
  • Build a rapport with anyone who is captive with you. They may be useful for an escape and so that's a friend you want to keep!
  • Attempt to maintain your physical condition. Just like when you’re chained to your office chair, its important to keep your legs moving.
  • Attempt to maintain your mental health. Daydreaming, running through daily routines - these activities will help you keep hold of your grip on reality.
  • Take notes on your captors and where they are holding you. This information may be valuable when you have been rescued or are able to signal for help.


The Pirate with a Parrot Conceit has its roots in Hollywood, of course:

In Real Life, it is not known if many pirates actually kept parrots for pets. Parrots are high-maintenance animals that serve no benefit on a ship (unlike, for example, cats, which keep the vermin population down). However, there are records of the occasional (non-pirate) Caribbean sailor keeping parrots and even monkeys as pets, so it's not too unlikely. The whole concept of a pirate and his parrot companion likely started with Treasure Island. And parrots in Real Life do naturally prefer to stand on a person's shoulder. It's also worth noting that at a certain point of time pet parrots commanded huge prices in Europe, so it is not inconceivable for a sailor wanting to settle down to trade in several parrots as a retirement benefit of sorts, probably leaving one to himself — which is probably where it all started.

Expect some amount of Misplaced Wildlife. Cockatoos, for example, come from Australia and Indonesia, and would be far less likely on the shoulder of a Caribbean pirate than a macaw or Amazon of Central and South America. Then again, most animated parrots are some strange conglomeration of psittacine characteristics rather than realistic; macaw-shaped and colored, Amazon-sized, with a cockatoo crest.


As Escapist as this may seem, we are contemplating first and foremost the pirates that roam Wall Street, the City of London, and points beyond.

"The Pirate of Wall St." Cover for Argosy, May 16, 1931

billboard courtesy of Occupy Wall St

Dame Julia Polak obituary AN AMAZING LIFE-STORY


The scientist Dame Julia Polak, who has died aged 75, was a leading figure in the field of histochemistry, the study of chemical components in cells and tissue. After receiving a heart and lung transplant in her mid-50s, she embarked on a remarkable second career developing laboratory organs for transplantation.

As a histochemist, Julia pioneered the use of a technique known as immunohistochemistry to make peptides – amino acid compounds – visible under a microscope. It is now routinely used in labs all over the world. She was able to show that peptides were located within nerves; a highly original finding. She further demonstrated that these peptides were actually present in the little granules that the nerves release when they are activated and by which they control other tissues. This meant that nerves talk to each other by means of peptides. While she first found this in the gut, bladder, lung and heart, she later showed it was also true of the brain itself. These were fundamental discoveries that contributed enormously to our current understanding of how the body's hormones and nerves work together – and how the brain works...

One of Julia's scientific collaborators was the surgeon Sir Magdi Yacoub, who sent her samples of lung tissue from his transplant patients. Julia herself had respiratory difficulties as a young child, which steadily worsened with age. By the age of 56 her illness was so serious that she could no longer climb the stairs and she was finally diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. Yacoub persuaded Julia that her only chance of survival was to have a heart and lung transplant, a very high-risk procedure at the time. He performed the operation in 1995, and after a year spent recovering she made a remarkable return to her lab, where she was determined to take on a new and far bigger scientific challenge.

Julia knew that she had been lucky to find a matching donor, with lungs that could fit in her slight frame. She was also aware that others had died waiting for transplants, and she made it her mission to find a solution. A chance encounter with Larry Hench, a material scientist at Imperial, introduced her to the field of tissue engineering – the idea of growing new organs in a laboratory – and this set her on a quest to create artificial lungs. Julia quickly recognised that such a huge scientific challenge could not be solved by any one scientist, or even one specific discipline, so in 1998 she and Hench set up the centre for tissue engineering and regenerative medicine at Imperial, based at Chelsea and Westminster hospital...

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