The Kenguru: The First Car Exclusively Designed For Wheelchair Users

Over at Big Think, Teodora Zareva introduces a revolutionary new car that will give wheelchair users much needed mobility and independence: the Kenguru, designed by a Hungarian company of the same name and manufactured by the Austin, Texas-based Community Cars.  This clever vehicles is the first of its kind, the product of an international partnership between Texas lawyer and wheelchair user Stacy Zoern, and Kenguru chief executive Istvan Kissaroslaki.  Continue reading

A World of Dreams

While traveling the world as a journalist, Roc Morin spends his down time “collecting dreams” for the World Dream Atlas, an index that aims to compile dreams from every country on Earth. Over the past ten months, he has managed to gather dreams from hundreds of people across 17 countries. Continue reading

The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved (Vardo, Norway)

Norwegian Town Honors Centuries-Old Victims of ‘Witch’ Killings

It may be too little too late, but there is tremendous symbolism and educational importance in recognizing, and atoning for, the baseless killing of dozens of innocent people. That is why the small town of Vardø, once known as ‘the witch capital of Norway’, has commemorated those loss with an intriguing and beautiful monument.

The Daily Beast provides a background to this atrocity, which was part of a continent-wide campaign that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people.

Four hundred years ago, Vardø embarked on a crusade to rid itself of witchcraft. For more than a century—between 1593 and 1692—there were more than 140 witch trials in the small village.

At least 91 people, both men and women, were found guilty of sorcery and burned at the stake or tortured to death.

The number may not be as large as elsewhere in Europe, but in northern Norway’s sparsely populated landscape it touched a disproportionately large chunk of the population.

About a third of these trials were specifically targeting Norway’s indigenous Sami population who arose suspicion by practicing traditional healing rituals.

The killings came in spates—one in the 1620s and another in the early 1660s, when 20 of the 30 people were put on trial were killed.

The proceedings were meticulously recorded, giving modern historians insight into the accusations and reasonings that fueled the witch hunt.

As in most other instances of persecution against alleged witches, a combination of ignorance, fear, desperate circumstances, and sometimes even politics were contributing factors. Daily Beast provides more context to the case of Vardø:

Testimony from the time revealed that witchcraft was believed to be something one consumed—it came in the form of magically tainted milk, bread, or beer.

According to an article by historian Rune Blix Hagen at the Arctic University of Norway, the sudden spate of sorcery accusations came after a particularly brutal Christmas storm that killed 40 fishermen in the early 1600s.

It took three years for legislation that allowed mass prosecution on suspicion of witchcraft, but with that go-ahead, Vardø prosecuted with fervor.

When a woman arrived in the court and described how witches had tied knots and cast spells that caused the wrecks she was swiftly tossed to sea. When she floated, she was dubbed a witch and killed.

That year, in 1621, many more women followed in her ghostly wake after being accused and found guilty of sorcery. Many were burned at the stake, others were tortured to death.

The geographical remoteness may have had been related to the vengeance with which witches were persecuted in northern Norway.

According to historian Liv Helene Willumsen, speaking with Deutsche Welle, there was an theory “that evilness could be found in the north and that even the entrance to hell was in the north. There was an idea in Europe that in the north people might be more inclined to witchcraft and evilness than other places”.

I can scarcely imagine how horrifying life must have been at this time; to live in an environment so fearful and miserable that even a small, close-knit community can tear itself apart with cruel hysterics. Norway, and indeed much of Europe, have come a long way from those times.

In 2011, these victims were granted official recognition. The Steilneset Memorial was unveiled by Norway’s queen on the same spot thought to be the execution site of the 91 so-called witches.

It was built as a collaboration between two world famous artists: Swiss architect Peter Zumthor and French-American artist Louise Bourgeois.

Zumthor’s “Memory Hall” is starkly simple: a long cross-hatched frame containing a corridor filled with 91 lamps. Each one illuminates a window and a plaque that tells the story of the men and women killed with testimony from their trials.

Zumthor described their creative process to ArtInfo magazine: “[T]he result is really about two things—there is a line, which is mine, and a dot, which is hers… Louise’s installation is more about the burning and the aggression, and my installation is more about the life and the emotions [of the victims].”

Next to the hallway is Bourgeois’ piece: a black glass box with a constantly burning chair in the middle. Above it, three mirrors reflect the fire. She gave her contribution a fittingly dramatic title: “The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved.”

Wikipedia provide a more detailed description of this cleverly designed memorial. It is clearly designed to do more than inform and commemorate; one cannot help but feel reflective and contemplative.

The Memorial comprises two separate buildings: a 410-foot-long wooden structure framing a fabric cocoon that contains Zumthor’s installation; and a square smoked glass room, its roof 39 feet on each side, that contains the work of Bourgeois. Zumthor’s structure is made from wooden frames, fabricated off-site and assembled to create sixty bays in a long line within which, suspended by cable-stays, is a coated fibreglass membrane that tapers at each end. Inside is a timber walkway, 328 feet long but just five feet wide, and along the narrow corridor are 91 randomly placed small windows representing those executed, each one accompanied by an explanatory text based on original sources. Through each window can be seen a single lightbulb, intended to evoke “the lamps in the small curtainless windows of the houses” of the region.

The building that houses Bourgeois’ installation stands in stark contrast to its companion. Its square structure is fabricated from weathering steel and 17 panes of tinted glass, forming walls that stop short of the ceiling and floor. Inside, Bourgeois has set a metal chair with flames projecting through its seat. This is reflected “in seven oval mirrors placed on metal columns in a ring around the fiery seat, like judges circling the condemned.” Writer Donna Wheeler, reflecting on Bourgeois’ sculpture with its fire burning within the solitary chair, observed: “The perpetual flame – that old chestnut of commemoration and reflection – here is devoid of any redemptive quality, illuminating only its own destructive image”

Here are some photos of the full memorial, courtesy of Gessato.com. The stark yet tranquil environment offers an appropriate backdrop.

It says a lot about the people of Norway that they would honor these 91 historically-inconsequential individuals, providing future generations with a reflective and informative memorial that details each victim’s humanity.

Interesting Lessons From A Norwegian School

Ideas for improving primary education are a dime a dozen, especially once you venture out into the varied international landscape. To the highly individualized approach of Finland, to the more rote-based standards of Singapore, there are many diverse yet seemingly effective models to draw from, each reflecting particular cultural, social, or demographic factors.

Norway does not tend to figure much into these discussions — it ranks somewhere in the middle of educational quality, according to the most recent OECD data — but at least one of its schools offers an intriguing approach that stands out from all the rest: “cross-curricular” work that, among other things, entails the elimination of clearly delineated subjects. Quartz has more:

These educators were inspired by the Danish pedagogue Knud Illeris and his ideas of cross-curricular project work, and in the 1980s, the fundamental concept and organization of the school was revamped. Although the pedagogy of the school has been developing ever since, the basic idea of learning through multidisciplinary studies has endured.

The lower secondary school is organized in a way that supports this multidisciplinary learning. When teachers are hired at this school, they know very well that they will have to cooperate with other teachers—and not just the ones who teach the same subjects as themselves. They will have to work in multidisciplinary teacher-teams.

Each teacher-team, consisting of 4-6 teachers, is responsible for the education and growth of 60-75 students. The teachers together craft the students’ schedules from week to week, and make their own plans based on the national curriculum and the expectations of the school leaders. The school uses different cross-curricular methods, and is constantly refining methods like storyline, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, simulations, etc. The teachers pick up ideas from each other and share their experiences ensuring that although the school does not have a local specified curriculum, all students experience the same learning methods and multidisciplinary themes.

It sounds like a highly engaging approach, allowing students to learn through a varied and dynamic curriculum that focuses on hands on, participatory projects. It also pools together the best ideas from multiple instructors. Here is an example of how it would play out:

Students in the 8th grade, at age 13, will often study earthquakes, volcanos, and other forces of the earth—topics usually taught in natural science and geography courses. Instead of working with this subject in fixed lessons, teachers have to come up with different storylines that incorporate several different subjects. In one of the storylines, the students pretend that they are going to climb Mount Everest. In preparation, they have to study maps, weather, and climate. As the story moves forward, they are

assigned different tasks from the teachers—such as suggesting the best route to the top of Mount Everest, making a list of the equipment they need, calculating the time they will use, making a budget, and applying for funding in English, which is a foreign language to these students. As they solve these tasks, the students have to find a lot of information and discuss their findings within the group.

The students at the Ringstabekk school work in small groups most of the time. This is based on the theory that most of our learning happens when we think, talk, and solve tasks together instead of on our own—and the idea of “learning by doing”, theories developed by the late Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky and the late American philosopher and psychologist John Dewey.

I can definitely see how this can be a more stimulating approach than putting kids through a regimented, industrial-type regimen of classes. It synergistically taps into the creativity of both teachers and students, creating something unique and engaging, like the following example:

Another cross-curricular theme, often executed in the 10th grade, focuses on the environment and sustainability. This is done in different ways by different teacher-teams. One way is to give each group of students a unique area of their local municipality and let them work as consultants. They produce a report and perhaps some models on how one should develop their specific part of the local community—with special focus on transportation, energy, waste, etc. If they are to produce models, they have to work with ratios and other mathematics, as well as design. They will need to investigate different kinds of energy and corresponding pollution outputs—which is part of the natural sciences—and produce and present their report both written and orally. The first year this project was run, the teachers cooperated with a local consultant company that was doing these kind of jobs. The consultants and engineers were impressed when the students, aged 15, were able to inform them of a new technology that they were not aware of.

During cross-curricular work, the students don’t have a fixed weekly plan—one that segregates English to one lesson, and science to another. They stay in school for at least the specified number of lessons given in the national curriculum, and they work on their task through the weeks, receiving guidance and instruction from their teachers.

Of course, this is just one school of 425 students, but it does seem to be doing quite well so far, and parents and students alike are satisfied. Finland, ever the darling of innovative and effective pedagogy, will be trying something similar soon. We should definitely see this model being applied in more schools, if at least to try another way to improve education.

The Forgotten Inventor of the Piano

Yesterday was the 360th birthday of Bartolomeo Cristofori, the Italian artisan generally credited with being the sole inventor of the piano in the early 18th century.

Vox.com reminds us why he remains largely forgotten despite the importance and ubqituy of the musical intrument he invented (just imagine what music would be without the piano?)

We may know so little about Cristofori because he was just a hired hand (albeit a well-respected one). As an employee of Ferdinando de’ Medici, an Italian prince and member of the famous Italian family, Cristofori was hired to serve the court, not music alone.

As an employee of the Medicis, Cristofori was a cog in a royal machine. Though he was earnestly recruited to work for the Medicis, he was initially shoved into a workspace with about 100 other artisans (he complained about how loud it was). Ferdinando de’ Medici encouraged Cristofori to innovate, but the inventor was also tasked with tuning and moving instruments, as well as restoring some old ones. Unlike musicians, who circulated royal courts and could become famous far beyond their borders, Cristofori was a local commodity. He wasn’t seen as a revolutionary genius — rather, he was a talented tinkerer.

At the same time, without the Medicis Cristofori may never have been able to invent the piano. The royal family gave him a house to work in, space to experiment, and, eventually, his own workshop and a couple of assistants. As the wealth of the Medicis declined, Cristofori did sell some pianos on his own, but he didn’t possess anything like a modern patent — other people were free to sell their own improvements on the instrument. He remained in the court until his death in 1731.

Ten Post-Soviet Films to Watch

In a previous post, I touched on the Soviet Union’s and Russia’s rich history of producing ingenious science fiction films, in both the technical and conceptual sense. That legacy lives on to this day, and not just in Russia or within this one genre. Here are ten award-winning films from across the former Soviet Union, ranging from tiny Estonia to expansive Kazakhstan.

Leviathan (Andrei Zvyagintsev, Russia, 2014)

Winner of the best screenplay award in Cannes this year, this immaculately crafted drama works on multiple levels. Superficially, it centres on a stubborn man’s refusal to sell his family home, located on a prime real estate spot near the Barents Sea. But it’s also a coolly devastating indictment of corruption that permeates every level of Russian society, from local government to the Orthodox church. Lush cinematography, top-notch acting and a propulsive pace are added bonuses.

Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa, Ukraine, 2014)

Sergei Loznitsa, a director born in Belarus but raised in the Ukraine (who now mostly lives in Germany), raced back to Kiev last December to record the extraordinary events unfolding in Independence Square, ground zero for the so-called Euromaidan wave of civil unrest that became a revolution. The result is an extraordinary, courageous work of documentary-making, austere yet emotive, which records soup distribution and riots alike with the same steady, unblinking gaze.

Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus (Madeleine Sackler, Belarus, 2013)

A bit of a cheat this one, because the director is American, but then again, they don’t make a lot of films these days in Belarus – arguably the most oppressive regime of all the former Soviet republics. Documenting the valiant efforts of an underground Minsk-based theatre company to continue making dissident plays despite arrests and police brutality, the film was made from footage smuggled out of the country at great personal risk to all involved.

Harmony Lessons (Emir Baigazin, Kazakhstan, 2013)

Kazakhstan may be the butt of jokes in Borat, but the relatively wealthy republic has one of the strongest film industries among the ex-Soviet states, and this is one of its best films of recent years. Made with formalist precision in every way, this story about a lone wolf of a boy being bullied at school evolves into a devastating dissection of crime and punishment, alienation, power and our complex relationship with animals.

In Bloom (Nana Ekvtimishvili, Georgia, 2013)

Georgia has long been a breeding ground for cinematic talent, from auteurs such as Sergei Parajanov and Otar Isseliani but there’s a new generation coming through now who show immense talent, including Nana Ekvtimishvili. Her film In Bloom, co-directed by Simon Gross, revolves around the charged relationship between two 13-year-old girls who come from very different but equally unhappy homes. The intimate drama intersects satisfyingly with its early 1990s setting.

The Light Thief (Aktan Arym Kubat, Kyrgyzstan, 2010)

Aktan Arym Kubat writes, directs and stars in this poignant, frequently humorous story about an electrician who illegally siphons off power from a local wind farm to keep everything going in his rural small town. Meanwhile, the corrupt mayor is plotting to sell the town’s land off to the Chinese. The political message is palpable but not overstated, leaving room for charming slice-of-life interludes, such as a cracking scene depicting the local horseback sport of goat-grabbing.

The Hostage (Laila Pakalnina, Latvia, 2006)

Prolific Latvian director Laila Pakalnina is an original – a natural surrealist whose quirky, humorous, highly stylised docs, shorts and features couldn’t be mistaken for the work of anyone else. Hostage is one of her more accessible, but no less peculiar efforts. It is the tale of a plane hijacker who lands in Riga, takes a young boy hostage and demands $30m (£17.9m), a CD-Rom to help them learn about Latvia and local chocolate. In its own weird way, the film is a love letter to Pakalnina’s homeland.

Before Flying Back to Earth (Arūnas Matelis, Lithuania, 2005)

Inspired by the fortitude and kindness he saw when his own child fell ill with leukaemia, director Arūnas Matelis returned to the oncology ward at the top paediatric hospital in Vilnius to record the experiences of patients and staff who confront death there every day. On paper this might sound mawkish and offputting, but it’s a remarkably unsentimental film told with a vérité matter-of-factness and an endearing lightness of touch.

Revolution of Pigs (Jaak Kilmi, Estonia, 2004)

This ebullient, youthful comedy-drama tracks a bunch of Estonian teenagers in the 1980s who plot a mini revolution at their yearly socialist summer camp, described by Variety as Meatballs meets Lindsay Anderson’s If…., with a big dollop of Soviet kitsch. It’s cracking, bawdy fun that grows progressively darker as we get to know the various characters – standard-issue teen-movie types who just want to get laid and who fear getting shipped out to the war in Afghanistan when they grow up. Plus ça change.

Koktebel (Boris Khlebnikov and Alexei Popogrebsky, Russia, 2003)

This was the first feature for both its two co-directors. They’ve both gone on to have interesting careers that built on the promise of this luminous work, which was somewhat overshadowed the year it premiered by Andrei Zvyagintsev’s similarly themed The Return. A road movie about a homeless father and son travelling on foot from Moscow to the Crimea, it’s a beautiful study of parent-child dynamics that recalls Terrence Malick in its painterly elegance.

Source: The Guardian

Seven Soviet Sci-Fi Films To See

Russia and Soviet filmmakers have long been among the innovative and pioneering in the world, producing groundbreaking advances in cinematography, editing, film theory, and more. So perhaps it is no surprise that the combination of its cinematic prowess with its equally accomplished scientific vision would lead to some amazing films

From developing the genre of mockumentaries, to inspiring Star Wars, here are seven Soviet-era science fiction films you should consider watching (Courtesy of The Guardianwhere you can see the video clips and image stills).

Aelita (1924)
Dir: Yakov Protazanov

Based on Tolstoy’s novel of the same name, Aelita is considered a classic not only of Soviet filmmaking, but of world cinema. It tells the story of an engineer, Los, who creates a spacecraft capable of flying to Mars.

Los sets out for the Red Planet in the company of Gusev, a Red Army soldier, and a sleuth called Kravtsov. On Mars, the trio encounters an alien humanoid civilisation. While Gusev plots a revolution, a love affair blossoms between Los and Aelita, the daughter of the Martian leader.

The novel is regarded as an original work of fiction with strong topical resonances. Alluding to the real-life rocket engine developer Iuzef Dominikovich, the book also features an ideological dimension,referencing the trans-humanist teachings of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.

Cosmic Voyage (1935)
Dir: Vasily Zhuravlev

Initial attempts at a moon landing end in failure. A rabbit launched into space perishes en route. A second rocket, this time with a cat on board, vanishes without a trace. The third, manned by a small party of scientists, proves a success. Finally, the moon is colonised by the USSR. And on the way back, they even find the cat, long presumed dead, alive and well.

This naive Soviet pop sci-fi flick makes for impressive viewing even today, and for good reason. It is this very film that gave rise to the now standard practice of employing real-life scientists as on-set consultants (with Christopher Nolan’sInterstellar being a recent example ).

The scientific aspects of Cosmic Voyage were supervised by none other than Soviet rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, who created 30 technical drawings of the spacecraft for the film.

Meteorites, The Universe, Road to the Stars, Planet of Tempests, The Moon, et al. (1947 – 1970)
Dir: Pavel Klushantsev

A fan of the Soviet documentary-meets-sci-fi genre, it was director Pavel Klushantsev who pioneered this hybrid, combining elements of pure documentary with live action fantasy .

His films juxtapose talking heads documentary and laboratory footage with carefully choreographed scenes set on alien-inhabited planets. Klushantsev’s Planet of Tempests made such an impression on US filmmakers that it ended up spawning two American adaptations. The first of these, Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet, was produced in 1965 by Roger Corman; the second, actually an adapted version of Corman’s film, was directed by Peter Bogdanovich and released in 1968 under the title Voyage to the Planet of the Prehistoric Women.

According to a story that sometimes does the rounds in film circles, George Lucas, who regarded Klushantsev as the godfather of Star Wars, desperately wanted to meet the Soviet director, but ultimately the two sci-fi pioneers never crossed paths.

Solaris (1972)
Dir: Andrey Tarkovsky

Tarkovsky’s film tells the story of Kris Kelvin, a psychologist who has travelled to the space station Solaris to evaluate whether the scientific mission being conducted there should continue. The scientists on board the station have been driven to the verge of madness, and soon Kelvin finds himself haunted by a manifestation of his beloved, who had committed suicide back on earth.

Needless to say, no overview of the Soviet sci-fi tradition would be complete without mention of Tarkovsky and his films Solaris and Stalker, both classifiable, to some extent, as science fiction. Like the rest of Tarkovsky’s filmography, these two works have received extensive analysis .Coming on the heels of the shelvedAndrei Rublev, long withheld from release by the Soviet government, Solaris enjoyed such a degree of success that Tarkovsky was effectively given carte blanche for any future projects.

American director Steven Soderbergh remade Solaris in 2002, with George Clooney as Kelvin . However, Soderbergh’s Solaris lacks the artistic and conceptual power of the original.

Pilot Pirx’s Inquest (1978)
Dir: Marek Piestrak

This joint Soviet-Polish production revolves around a mission to Saturn. A big corporation succeeds in creating humanoid robots and, paying no heed to the skeptics, decides to put them into mass production. A crew of robots and humans – headed by a captain named Pirx – is sent out into space to launch two satellites into Saturn’s rings. True to the finest traditions of the genre, things don’t go quite to plan.

Even today, this film feels contemporary – and all because its Polish director,Marek Piestrak, strived to achieve maximum realism. Costumes and models were devised on the basis of existing American and Soviet prototypes. It’s electronic soundtrack, written by progressive Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, also feels very contemporary, and was an influence on The Prodigy’s Smack My Bitch Up.

Per Astra ad Aspera (1981)
Dir: Richard Viktorov/Nikolai Viktorov

The action of this film, whose Latin title translates as Through the Thorns to the Stars, is based on a screenplay by cult Soviet sci-fi writer Kir Bulychev and is set in deep space . A reconnaissance craft – named Pushkin in homage to Russia’s greatest poet – encounters a derelict starship. Inside is a humanoid woman with the inhuman abilities of teleportation and telekinesis.

Richard Viktorov directed the original 1981 version of this film. He died soon afterwards in 1983 and Viktorov’s son, Nikolai , released a new version in 2001, having remastered the sound and special effects and shortened the running time by cutting several set pieces laced with Soviet ideology.

Hard to be God (2013)
Dir: Aleksei German Sr

On a planet mired in its own Middle Age, chaos, darkness and degradation reign. The situation is carefully monitored from Earth, and when it finally appears that a renaissance is imminent, Don Rumata Estorski is sent to the planet to investigate. He must remain a detached observer of events, but witnessing rabble-rousing and lawlessness amongst the local inhabitants, he breaks his neutrality and interferes in the process of an alien civilisation.

A Musician’s Defiance

Iraqi cellist Karim Wasfi plays music at the site of a recent car bombing in Baghdad as defiant message to terrorists.

Wasfi said that if there are problems in Iraq then bombs are not the solution.

He said: “We just want to live a decent and safe life like people in Europe and America. Bombing is not a solution for our problems”.

And, he said, terrorists will never destroy Iraq.

Wasfi said: “The Iraqi people want to live and protect their civilisation and heritage”.

“Civilisation started in Iraq and will continue and never die”.

Source: 7 Days in Dubai

Nepal Before The Earthquake

In addition to the thousands killed and the many more left injured and homeless, Nepal has irreparably lost much of its rich cultural heritage, from recognized World Heritage sites, to otherwise religious or historically significant buildings.

NPR shares photos from Vermont native Kevin Bubriski, who travelled the country over the span of forty years, compiling a portfolio of its people, customs, and sites. Most date back to the 1980s. Here is a small sampling:

Meanwhile, the New York Times presents a more contemporary comparison of Nepal before and after the earthquake. It show the horrific extent to which the country has been physically damaged, to say nothing of the human cost.

screenshot-www.nytimes.com 2015-04-30 10-56-35

screenshot-www.nytimes.com 2015-04-30 10-57-26

Though many Nepalis lament the loss these religious and culturally significant sites, this issue is obviously the last thing on their minds, especially as they lack the resources to do anything about it:

…in the meantime, in many places, the detritus of centuries-old temples and palaces has been left unguarded, diminishing chances to eventually rebuild one of the world’s largest clusters of cultural heritage sites. Pedestrians, possibly for sentimental value, are walking away with bricks from the 19th-century Dharahara Tower, which crashed to the earth on Saturday, trapping at least 40 people inside.

On Monday, after a citizen called an official in Nepal’s department of archaeology to report having thwarted an attempt to steal a bronze bell from the roof of a temple here in the capital, the authorities took some first steps to guard against looting. A notice was printed in a local newspaper on Tuesday, warning that anyone taking artifacts will be punished.

Iran, A Future Global Power

Given its rich historical legacy as a prominent center of power and civilization, perhaps it is fitting that modern Iran retains considerable economic, social, and scientific potential — if it is better governed and made fully a part of the global community.

Al Jazeera makes this point in the context of the continuing nuclear deal with the West, which among other things would lead to the lifting of the decades-long sanctions that have crippled the economy and left the country largely as an international pariah. Despite these external challenges, and years of mismanagement by a venal and authoritarian government, Iran has had a lot to show for itself:

Compared with other developing countries, especially considering the damage of war and sanctions, Iran performs decently on measures of human development. Its average life expectancy increased dramatically, from 54 in 1980 to 74 in 2012; 98 percent of 15-to-24-year-olds are literate; and according to the United Nations, Iran’s overall human development index has improved by 67 percent in the last decade.

Despite sanctions, Iran is one of the world’s top 20 economies. For the first decade of the 21st century, annual growth rates hovered around 5 percent, sometimes reaching as high as 7 percent. The 2010 round of sanctions were devastating, but the government has recently announced the return of positive growth. According to an International Monetary Fund forecast, the Iranian economy will grow 2 percent in 2015, an impressive reversal from the 5 percent contraction that occurred in 2012.

Iran, which invests more in scientific research than any other Middle Eastern nation, has seen rapid growth in its high-tech sector. Its elite technical universities are ranked among the top in the world. Sharif University of Technology — Iran’s MIT — was hailed by a professor of electrical engineering at Stanford as the the finest university in the world preparing undergraduate electrical engineers. Iran also stands among the leading countries in cutting-edge sciences such as stem cell research and nanotechnology.

While the Iranian economy is still largely dependent on oil exports, it has also seen significant industrial development. In 2009, Iran’s auto industry became the 11th largest in the world, producing more than 1.4 million vehicles (more than the United Kingdom or Italy). Auto is the second-largest sector, after oil, and offers vast employment opportunities to young workers in Iran. The country boasts significant development in high-tech industries such as machinery, automotive, steel, petrochemicals and medical technology.

Though Iran’s complex, authoritarian, and theocratic framework of government remains firmly entrenched, the current administration is, by historic standards, quite progressive; for example, its cabinet employs more graduates of prestigious American Ph.D. programs than its U.S. counterpart.

So while Iran struggles from a range of political problems at home and abroad, its people have lived up impressively to their proud historical legacy. If the country has managed to come this far in everything from human well-being to scientific research, imagine what it can do for itself and the world when freed from its present sociopolitical predicament.

Time will tell, and at this rate hopefully quite soon. The much-beleaguered, yet persevering, people of Iran deserve that much.