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Reading Roundup: Probing the Sun, Draining the Swamp, and More

August 10, 2018
by Krissy Eliot

Hot Hot Heat

This Saturday, NASA plans to launch the Parker Solar Probe, a spacecraft designed to touch the edge of the solar corona, the aura of plasma that surrounds the sun. It will be the first-ever spacecraft to enter into the orbits of Venus and Mercury, a feat scientists have dreamt of for decades.

The probe will finally be close enough to the sun to allow scientists to see how it dumps its energy into the haloing corona and spawns the extremely hotthink 2 million degrees Fahrenheitsolar wind that buffets our planet with charged particles and magnetic clouds. Traveling at 430,000 miles per hour, faster than any spacecraft in history, the probe will be armed with a heat shield capable of withstanding the sun’s heat.

“This is a piece of heliophysics science we all really wanted for a long time, since the 1950s,” said Berkeley physics professor Stuart Bale, former director of the campus’s Space Sciences Laboratory and one of four principal investigators for the instruments aboard the mission. “For me personally, I’ve been working on the probe since it was approved in 2010, but I really spent a large part of my career getting ready for it.”

The probe is equipped with instruments conceived and built by experts at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory to test the “wave theory,” which postulates that the sun heats the corona via electric and magnetic fields. In short, the sun’s far-reaching magnetic fields are anchored to surface regions that are constantly in motion. When the surface regions move, scientists believe the fields wiggle, creating magnetic waves that somehow accelerate particles until they are launched into space.

“If the wave-driven model is correct, then I think our measurements will be the fundamental measurements on the mission,” Bale told Berkeley News.

Burning a Hole In the Pocket

As many people in California know, space isn’t the only place things are heating up. In light of growing blazes across the state, California officials are giving $170 million in cap-and-trade funds to organizations and local governments to help combat the wildfires, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. $7.4 million of that is going to six Bay Area county groups, with the largest portion going to UC Berkeley—a university that controls five research forests.

At present, it’s unclear how all of these funds will be used, but Berkeley forest economics professor Keith Gilless says the state should put serious energy into reducing hazardous plant fuels that exacerbate wildfire risk.

“One of the things we need in California moving forward is striking a better balance between carbon sequestration in forests and the risk associated with that densely stocked carbon sequestration,” said Gilless. “We need to figure out ways to do vegetation management that are socially acceptable with the smallest public subsidy possible.”

Fab Collab: Berkeley and The Karuk Tribe

Speaking of vegetation management, UC Berkeley is pairing up with the federally recognized Karuk Tribe to figure out how protect resources and food in the mid-Klamath River Basin. Over the last five years, in the wake of climate change and environmental degeneration, 92 percent of tribal households experienced some level of food insecurity, UC Berkeley assistant cooperative extension specialist Jennifer Sowerwine told Times Standard. To help combat this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is giving Berkeley and the Karuk Tribe a $1.2 million grant to investigate.

Both Berkeley and tribal researchers will study how land, climate change, and ecology affect five separate food groves in the tribe’s aboriginal territory, which extends across more than 1 million acres. Researchers seek to grow the tribe’s herbarium of cultural plants and create digital instruments to collect and store agroecological field data for the tribe to analyze.

“It will also help the tribe measure and monitor changes in the distribution and abundance of cultural food and fiber plant species resulting from habitat modification and climate change,” Sowerwine said.

UC Berkeley first got involved with the Karuk in 2008, when Cal faculty took an interest in the tribe’s avid restoration efforts, and a partnership was formed.

“We are honored to have the opportunity to continue our collaboration with the Karuk Tribe, building on our friendships, and leveraging some of the tools of western science together with traditional ecological knowledge to work toward greater agroecological resilience, and ultimately food security and food sovereignty,” Sowerwine said.

Our Town, Not His

UC Berkeley’s involvement with groups outside the university is very common, and the town and gown relationship between Berkeley the city and Berkeley the university are inextricably tied—a topic we explore in depth in our Summer 2018 issue: Our Town. Many have praised both the town and university, citing Berkeley as a liberal haven and destination spot.

This week, journalist and self-declared liberal Alexander Nazaryan caught our attention with his National Review op-ed—in which he explains what’s wrong with Berkeley, why he’s given up on it, and why Berkeley just isn’t his kind of place anymore.

David Sanabria, Flickr” width=”479″ height=”640″><a data-cke-saved-href=”″ href=”″ target=”blank”>David Sanabria</a>, Flickr

Nazaryan seems to suggest that the city of Berkeley has become a joke: it’s only going through the motions of radicalism and is a shadow of the activist buttinsky it once was.

“There are still hippies, but they have aged and grown despondent, aware that they have been duped by history, which conformed perfectly to the prediction of Karl Marx by turning out to be a farce,” Nazaryan writes. “The bumper stickers on their Volkswagen buses are peeling. Tie-dye T-shirts stretch over beer bellies. A crucial battle has been lost.”

He criticizes Berkeley’s civic order, waste management, income inequality, and “eager” support of marijuana, saying that while he continues to support decriminalization to keep young men out of prison, it’s “shockingly irresponsible” of Berkeley not to educate the public on weed’s “deleterious effects” on the human brain. And, he adds, the city should more adamantly regulate stoned drivers.

Nazaryan says that even though he’s liberal, he doesn’t quite fit in with the people of Berkeley, who are so self-assured, so “certain they have found the answers, they decline to ask any more questions.”

“In its quest to stay eternally woke,” Nazaryan says, “Berkeley went blind.”

Another Tale From “Trump’s Swamp”

In the vein of staying “woke” to the truth, a new report from Forbes revealed that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, nominated by Donald Trump in 2016, may have helped siphon over $120 million from business associates—the fateful conclusion of a host of lawsuits, reimbursements, and a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation that resulted in civil penalty.

“If even half of the accusations are legitimate,” the report said, “the current United States secretary of commerce could rank among the biggest grifters in American history.”

The Department of Commerce denied the report’s conclusions last week, saying in a formal statement that the Forbes story is “based on false rumors, innuendo, and unverifiable claims,” and that the report stems from “the result of a personal vendetta.”

Others say these accusations align with Ross’s general M.O., citing stories of his cheating charities out of pledged donations and stealing packets of Sweet ’N Low from restaurants–allegations which one commerce official rebutted as “petty nonsense.”

For his part, Robert Reich, UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Professor and Carmel P. Friesen Chair in Public Policy, called the debacle “another tale from Trump’s swamp,” in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

“Did anyone at the White House even bother to look into these swamp creatures before appointing them to run the country? The allegations against Ross include skimming money from investors, hidden fees, and bogus paperwork to cover his tracks,” Reich said. “Folks, we have become a nation in which a poor kid caught with an ounce of drugs can get 20 years to life, but a billionaire accused of fraud can get a spot in the president’s cabinet.”

Ross currently faces many allegations from former colleagues, and 14 Democratic congressional representatives have requested the inspector general investigate Ross’s conflicts of interest.

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