University of California

Out of the Gate: Laughing Through Tears

In 1966, the same year that I finished my studies at UC Berkeley, the psychology department made a scientific breakthrough. A graduate student discovered that watching an extremely graphic film documenting the subincision rites (the ritual cutting of the undersides of the penises) of Australian aboriginal boys could raise stress levels, particularly in men.

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.

A Smoking Gun: The Asteroid that Killed the Dinosaurs May Have Had Help

Any third grader can tell you what killed the dinosaurs: an asteroid that smashed into Earth 66 million years ago, obliterating T. Rex, Triceratops, and Velociraptor, and paving the way for mammals to thrive.

But that theory was wildly controversial when first introduced in 1980 by Berkeley Nobel laureate Luis Alvarez and his son, Walter, a UC Berkeley paleogeologist. Their idea plunged the paleontology community into decades of acrimonious debate before it became the accepted explanation. Now the theory is being challenged once again.

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.

Black Cop, White Cop: What can two Berkeley police from the century before tell us about race relations in America today?

It was Berkeley in the 1920s. “The Fighting Swede” was driving through town, feeling even more pugnacious than usual. That’s because he was drunk. The Swede had carved out a reputation as a barroom brawler in the waterfront dives on both sides of the Bay, and he was always more than willing to defend his title—especially when he had a snootful of booze.

So he didn’t feel particularly tractable when a cop pulled him over at Ashby and San Pablo.

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.

California Consequences: What If High Court Bans Race Preferences in College Admissions?

Almost lost amid the recent flurry of marquee U.S. Supreme Court rulings—including one endorsing same-sex marriage and another upholding Obamacare—was a judicial move that could have a huge impact on who gets into top colleges. The justices, by opting to reconsider a case that challenges the University of Texas’s use of race and ethnicity to select students, signaled that they may be ready to effectively end affirmative action in college admissions nationwide.

Trading in Tropes: Video Mashup Shows What TV Writers Think of “Berkeley”

As the 2015 enrollment data shows, the real UC Berkeley is an extremely diverse place. But UC Berkeley as depicted on television? Not so much.

TV Land has been slow to surrender its use of Berkeley as code for Birkenstock-wearing, bean-sprout-loving, radical feminist tree-huggers. Only a few shows are acknowledging the contemporary reality of an institution perennially ranked at or near the top of the public universities worldwide.

From Spider-Infested Digs, U.S. Company Devises Way to Spin Silk—Sans the Spiders

In the beginning, David Breslauer’s office was infested with spiders—lurking in the corners, hunkered down on their webs, crawling up his arms. “I had one right above my desk, and it pooed on my computer like a pigeon,” he says. And these were large, long-legged beasties, too: Nephila clavipes, an orb-weaving species commonly used in scientific studies.

The Good, The Bad and The Robot: Experts Are Trying to Make Machines Be “Moral”

Good vs. bad. Right vs. wrong. Human beings begin to learn the difference before we learn to speak—and thankfully so. We owe much of our success as a species to our capacity for moral reasoning. It’s the glue that holds human social groups together, the key to our fraught but effective ability to cooperate. We are (most believe) the lone moral agents on planet Earth—but this may not last. The day may come soon when we are forced to share this status with a new kind of being, one whose intelligence is of our own design.

The Mountains Are Calling: Cal Says Farewell to Lair of the Bear Extraordinaire Bob Merritt

The Lair of the Golden Bear lost one of its best friends, Moraga lost one of its founding fathers, the law lost an eminent scholar and practitioner, many worthy causes lost one of their biggest benefactors, a remarkable family lost its beloved patriarch, and Top Dog lost its best customer on February 22, when Bob Merritt died at age 74 from complications following heart surgery. There will be a celebration of his life at Cal Shakes in Orinda on Sunday, May 31.

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