Arts + Letters

A Formula for Funny: The Surprisingly Smart Humor of The Simpsons

FOR CENTURIES, FERMAT’S LAST THEOREM defied mathematicians to prove that there are, in fact, no natural numbers for x, y and z that can satisfy the equation xn+yn=zn when n is greater than 2. Countless great minds tried and failed, until 1995, when mathematician Andrew Wiles, after years of monk-like devotion, provided the undisputed proof once and for all. 

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

Will AI Write the Next Great American Novel?

IN SEPTEMBER OF LAST YEAR, a startling headline appeared on the Guardian’s website: “A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human?” The accompanying piece was written by GPT-3, or Generative Pre-trained Transformer 3, a language-generating program from San Francisco–based OpenAI, an artificial intelligence research company whose founders include Tesla billionaire Elon Musk and Berkeley Ph.D. John Schulman. “The mission for this op-ed is perfectly clear,” the robotic author explained to readers.

From the Spring 2021 issue of California.

You Should Know About Ida Jackson

“Since I’ve gotten old, I have wondered how I did all the things that I did then,” Ida Louise Jackson reflected in 1984 at the age of 82. Jackson participated in some of the major movements of the 20th century: the Great Migration, school desegregation, the battles for equitable education and health, and the Civil Rights Movement. Some of her earliest activism began at Berkeley when she organized the second Black sorority on the campus (shortly after the founding of AKA’s rival Delta Sigma Theta).

From the Fall 2020 issue of California.

“Equal Parts Pain and Joy:” Fred Moten’s Life in Verse

When Fred Moten reflects on his childhood, he thinks of music. His mother once slipped a coat over his pajamas, so he could accompany her to a late-night concert by the jazz singer Joe Williams on the Las Vegas Strip. She also played the piano, collected jazz and blues recordings, and baked pies for legendary bluesman B.B. King.

From the Winter 2020 issue of California.

Black Cultural History at Cal: Sun Ra, James Baldwin, and More

UC Berkeley has historically been a magnet for African American activists, artists, and thinkers but never more so than during the tumultuous ’60s and ’70s. And with a little googling, many of these historical appearances can still be seen, heard, and savored online. In honor of the upcoming 45th annual Black History Month (February 2021), here’s a selection of Black speakers and cultural events that the Cal campus has played host to over the years.

From the Winter 2020 issue of California.

Artist, Activist, and Astrophysicist Nia Imara Keeps Her Eyes on the Sky

NIA IMARA ISN’T CONTENT TO JUST LOOK AT THE STARS, so she’s printing a 3-D replica of one she can hold in her hands. “We can’t actually touch these things,” says the astrophysicist and artist, but it’s about imagining the possibilities. “I’m a big believer in that; we can see things not as the way they are. We have the ability to project our vision of the world onto the world.” 

From the Winter 2020 issue of California.

The Berkeley Women’s Canon in 27 Landmark Books

An impressive number of women authors have come out of Berkeley—so many that it was daunting to select titles to include on this ideal bookshelf. Here you’ll find groundbreaking journalists and sociologists, beloved children’s book authors, and some of the country’s sharpest critics. They were on the campus in different eras, some for just a short time (can you guess which author was here only for a semester?), but they all left their mark on our campus and the literary world.

From the Fall 2020 issue of California.

Julia Morgan Changed Architecture and Opened the Field for Women

In late June, visitors find the doors of Berkeley City Club locked, signs imploring would-be entrants to wear masks. The club, originally imagined as a space to foster women’s civic engagement, was designed by the famed architect Julia Morgan (B.A. 1894). There’s a swimming pool inside, its untouched water reflecting the aquamarine, cloistered arch ceiling above. Where there should be the echo of rhythmic splashing bouncing off tile, there’s a cavernous silence.

From the Fall 2020 issue of California.

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