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Reading Roundup: Bugs and the Power Ranger, the Horse He Rode in On, More

December 16, 2017
by Pat Joseph

Bugs and the Power Ranger

In life, as in fishing, there are always a few that get away. And so it is with most issues of the magazine. Take our Bugged issue, for example. We had all kinds of bugs in there: insects, cyberbugs, surveillance devices, viruses, even VW bugs. The one thing we wanted to include but didn’t find a solid enough Berkeley connection to was Bugs Bunny. We looked and looked.

But we didn’t look hard enough.

As it happens, there was a perfectly good connection: Cal alum Milt Franklyn (1897-1962) was a longtime composer for, and eventual musical director of, Merrie Melodies, the musical side of Warner Brothers’ Looney Tunes joint. Among Franklyn’s many credits: Bugs and Thugs, What’s Opera, Doc?, and Past Perfumance—starring Pepé Le Pew, of course.

In the Power issue, which arrived in mailboxes this week, the one that got away from us was Betty Reid Soskin, America’s oldest park ranger. At age 96, Soskin is still giving tours at the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Park in Richmond. She didn’t attend Cal but she was, for many years, a faculty spouse, married to UC Berkeley psychology professor William Soskin, whom she met while working on a research project at the University.

In a fascinating oral history at the Bancroft Library, Soskin talks about her Louisiana Creole heritage, her involvement in the Unitarian church, and the activism that grew out of the Port Chicago incident. Of her former hometown, Soskin says, “Berkeley is fascinating. Berkeley is really the edge of political change, almost in the world … things tend to start here and then move out. If you keep in mind that the UN started in the Bay Area, the atomic bomb started in the Bay Area, I mean all these things that were the basis for social and fiscal change, even the environmental stuff, so much of this has started here. We live on the edge of the ocean; we live on the edge of everything. It’s the cutting edge of so much.”

The Horse He Rode In On

On Tuesday, Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore rode to the polls in Alabama atop a horse and wearing a cowboy hat. Politicians can’t seem to shake their affection for the trappings of western-ness, or perhaps, (in the Alabama context) country-ness, something we wrote about in an earlier post about then-nominee and now Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Folks on Twitter were not impressed by Moore’s horsemanship and Alabama voters rejected him at the polls, electing civil rights attorney Doug Jones by a narrow margin. It was the first time Alabamians have elected a Democrat to the Senate in 25 years.

A former judge who was dogged by numerous allegations of preying on teenage girls while he was in his thirties, Moore was not only a far-right candidate but also a fundamentalist Christian one. As Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama, Moore famously had a monument to the Ten Commandments installed in the Alabama Judicial Building, then refused a federal court’s order to remove it.

To understand his politics, as well as those of Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, et al., it helps to know something about the philosophy of Berkeley alumnus, Rousas John Rushdoony, father of the Christian Reconstructionism and the Christian homeschooling movement in America. Chris A. Smith profiled Rushdoony for us in a 2012 article entitled “His Truth is Marching On.”

King of the Quants

In the latest New Yorker DT Max profiles our 2016 CAA Alumnus of the Year James Simons, founder of the hedge fund and investment management firm Renaissance Technologies. An award-winning mathematician, Simons grew rich by applying sophisticated quantitative analysis to financial markets. Now, through his non-profit Flatiron Institute, Simons is turning the same techniques to addressing big scientific challenges in fields ranging from astrophysics to genetics.

At UC Berkeley, the Simons Foundation provided $60 million in funding to establish the Simons Institute for the Theory of Computing, which is housed in the Calvin Lab.

Writer Sean Elder profiled Simons in our pages last year. The mathematician turned billionaire trader explained how he was moved to bring science to investing.

“When you’re a fundamental trader,” said Simons, “one day you come into the office and everything has gone your way overnight—Oh boy, I’m a genius! And the next day you come in and everything has gone against you and it’s Oh, boy, I’m a dope. It’s kind of stomach-wrenching.” So he systematized his investments and turned to the world he had come from for his talent.

“We didn’t hire anyone who had worked on Wall Street before,” he said. “We hired people out of universities, national laboratories; people who were very good scientists but who wanted to try something different. And make more money if it worked out.”

You can read the whole profile here.

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