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Michael Pollan and Me: When Lives, Books and Acid Trips Collide

Two journalists who’ve spent varying amounts of time teaching their craft at Cal give themselves an assignment that, in the end, blows away that well-worn rubric of “who, what, where, when, why.”

They are Michael Pollan, famous for his smart writing about food, and Don Lattin, a.k.a. me, known for my reverently irreverent writing about religion. Pollan and I found a subject that falls within each of our “beats,” a magic mushroom that offers the omnivore a tantalizing glimpse of God.  

Save the Drama For Your Llama: Cal’s First Llamapalooza

It was a Friday morning and I was feeling distressed, unsettled. Maybe because I sensed the stress of Cal students as finals week approached… or maybe it was the bad lamb I had the night before. Regardless of cause, there was one thing for certain: I needed a reason to smile (and to get a paycheck). So I grabbed my notebook and headed to Llamapalooza, UC Berkeley’s first llama festival, in the hopes of lightening my emotional load.

Silicon Valley Wants to Hack Your Kid’s School

For some years now, Republicans have endeavored to “fix” American education by promoting charter schools, vouchers and merit-based raises. Progressives typically have decried these efforts, maintaining they come at the expense of public schools, particularly public schools that serve disadvantaged students. Variation in educational achievement, they claim, has more to do with student demographics, district funding and English proficiency than, say, the educational chops of individual teachers.

The Berkeley Bowl Cookbook Celebrates the Unusual and Unknown

When I go to Berkeley Bowl with Laura McLively, I immediately feel like a tourist, too delighted to keep my cool among the rows of citrus and loose leafy greens. Used to produce sold in hard plastic clamshells at my Los Angeles Trader Joe’s, I marvel at the wall of eggplants, not just purple but white, green, and some—like the tiny, speckled Indian graffiti eggplant—all three colors at once.

Press-Democrat Staff on Surviving the Fires and Winning Pulitzer

The North Bay fires were national news mere hours after they ignited early in the morning of October 9. The dawn sun, glimmering wanly through the pall of smoke cloaking Sonoma and Napa Counties, illuminated the smoldering ruins of hundreds of homes. No relief was imminent: the hot, dry winds that had sent the flames howling from Calistoga to Santa Rosa continued unabated, and the forecast was for more of the same.  This was a natural catastrophe on the scale of Hurricane Katrina—possibly worse.

New Report: How UC Can Meet Its Ambitious 2025 Carbon Neutrality Goal

The University of California believes it can go carbon neutral by 2025. That means zero carbon emissions from powering its buildings and vehicles on all ten campuses. But according to a recent report and related commentary by experts from across the system in the journal Nature, it could be a tough goal to reach. That’s a position shared by Berkeley professor and energy expert Dan Kammen, who was not affiliated with the report. “We’re not actually on pace for our 2025 goal,” he said—more like 2035 or 2040.

“Toe-to-Toe with the Rooskies?” We Ask Steven Weber

The Mideast returned to a high boil last week with the launching of more than a hundred cruise missiles by the U.S., Britain and France against Syrian chemical weapons depots. In the run-up to the strike, President Donald Trump lashed out against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia, tweeting promises of destruction from above:  “Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice, and new and ‘smart!’” Trump inveighed.

Retiring Cal Bands Director Robert Calonico’s Many Musical Lives

Robert Calonico hasn’t been leading a secret life, but his nocturnal activities might shock the thousands of students who’ve played under his baton. During his four-decade career as a band director, including a 28-year reign as Cal’s director of bands, which is rapidly coming to an end, Calonico has quietly maintained a thriving practice as a top-shelf saxophonist and clarinetist. 

A Tour of the Gourmet Ghetto with “the Balzac of Berkeley”

L. John Harris, food writer, filmmaker, Gourmet Ghetto fixture, has been called the “Balzac of Berkeley.” But on a recent drizzly morning, he could have passed for Proust as he stood outside the original Peet’s, describing the caffeinated madeleine moment he had at the shop nearly 50 years before.

“It was a house blend, mostly likely a French roast, and it reminded me of coffee that I’d had in Europe,” he said. “We’ve all had food epiphanies that flood us with memories. This was one of those for me.”

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and Cal Celebrate 50 Years Together

When the Alvin Ailey dancers are in the house, Zellerbach can feel more like a church than a theater. When the doors open, the audience members file in like parishioners. Some are regulars, while others are first timers, but when the curtain comes up it doesn’t matter. Young, old, student, professional, black, white, devout, secular, right, left; the differences between them disappear during the rapturous gospel of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Facebook?

We may never know the true number of Facebook users who suffered data breaches as a result of Cambridge Analytica’s antics, or what it all means in terms of personal security. And Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg certainly didn’t provide a great deal of insight when he testified before Congress today.

Underlying the brouhaha are a couple of overriding questions: Who’s to blame, and how to fix it? Also, perhaps, is Facebook’s time done? Is the breach one of trust as much as data, and is it so damaging that the social media giant will founder?

Will the EPA Really Trump California’s Fuel Standards?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has decreed a roll-back of fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for automobiles, benefitting automakers and oil companies while predictably enraging environmentalists. In making the announcement, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt declared the CAFE (for Corporate Average Fuel Economy) standards set by the Obama administration were too high and “didn’t comport with reality.”

Deep Water in Deep Trouble: Can We Save California’s Drying Aquifers?

It may not be a true meteorological “March Miracle,” but it’s close enough for government work, as government workers are wont to say.  The series of storms that have battered California in recent weeks have pumped up the snowpack in the Sierra and swelled streams at lower elevations. And it looks like we could be in for a last wet gasp from the Pacific, with a fairly robust front poised to dump rain and snow mid-week. For a state that still teeters on drought despite last year’s extraordinarily wet rainy season, that’s good news.

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