Category Archives: Academia

Map of the day: Charting an American tragedy

From A Great Recession, a Great Retreat [PDF], a new report on public college funding from the Center for American Progress:

BLOG Colleges

Two UCLA rallies against the War in Vietnam

Both star-studded, as only Los Angeles rallies can be.

Both are represented in remarkable audio recordings from the 1960s and early 1970s in the wonderful online archives of the University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Communications Studies [and do browse, there’s everything from Bucky Fuller and Timothy Leary to Robert Oppenheimer and Richard Harris].

The first recording is from the 15 October 1969 Vietnam Moratorium Day rally, one of scores held on campuses and in cities throughout the country.

Among the speakers are Los Angeles Urban coalition chair Martin Stone, actors Burt Lancaster and Candice Bergin, several students [including the daughter of a South Vietnamese politician jailed for advocating peace], U.S. Rep. George Brown Jr. [D-CA], Harry Bellafonte, and comedian Stanley Myron Handelman, plus some brilliant performances by esnl’s favorite radical folkie Phil Ochs [previously].

From UCLA’s Department of Communications Studies:

Moratorium Day Rally at UCLA 10/15/1969

The second event is the Vietnam Day rally of 15 May 1972, and features an impassioned speech by Jane Fonda, the actress who became a lightning rod of the American right and was used to discredit John Kerry during his presidential run, a story we covered at the time for the Berkeley Daily Planet.

Fonda’s remarks are prefaced by those of Dong Hong Cai [phonetic], a Vietnamese native awarded a Harvard scholarship, followed by an architectural scholarship to MIT, who delivers an impassioned plea on behalf of his country, and an illuminating perspective on American ignorance of the culture they professed to protect.

His is a remarkable speech, and we still haven’t learned as a nation the lessons he imparted so eloquently.

On with the event:

Jane Fonda speaking at a rally against the war in Vietnam 5/15/1972

Beam us up, Scottie: Cloaking is here

For folks of a certain age, the words “cloaking device” entered our vocabularies way back in 1968, when Star Trek introduced the concept to make the Romulan Bird of Prey a more interesting adversary and the target of espionage.

Well wait no more! The cloaking device is here, or at least an interesting protoype thereof.

From the University of Rochester:

The Rochester Cloak

Program notes:

Researchers at the University of Rochester Create a Three-dimensional, Transmitting, Continuously Multidirectional Cloaking Device

Inspired perhaps by Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, scientists have recently developed several ways—some simple and some involving new technologies—to hide objects from view. The latest effort, developed at the University of Rochester, not only overcomes some of the limitations of previous devices, but it uses inexpensive, readily available materials in a novel configuration.

“There’ve been many high tech approaches to cloaking and the basic idea behind these is to take light and have it pass around something as if it isn’t there, often using high-tech or exotic materials,” said John Howell, a professor of physics at the University of Rochester. Forgoing the specialized components, Howell and graduate student Joseph Choi developed a combination of four standard lenses that keeps the object hidden as the viewer moves up to several degrees away from the optimal viewing position.

“This is the first device that we know of that can do three-dimensional, continuously multidirectional cloaking, which works for transmitting rays in the visible spectrum,” said Choi, a PhD student at Rochester’s Institute of Optics.

Many cloaking designs work fine when you look at an object straight on, but if you move your viewpoint even a little, the object becomes visible, explains Howell. Choi added that previous cloaking devices can also cause the background to shift drastically, making it obvious that the cloaking device is present.

In order to both cloak an object and leave the background undisturbed, the researchers determined the lens type and power needed, as well as the precise distance to separate the four lenses. To test their device, they placed the cloaked object in front of a grid background. As they looked through the lenses and changed their viewing angle by moving from side to side, the grid shifted accordingly as if the cloaking device was not there. There was no discontinuity in the grid lines behind the cloaked object, compared to the background, and the grid sizes (magnification) matched.

The Rochester Cloak can be scaled up as large as the size of the lenses, allowing fairly large objects to be cloaked. And, unlike some other devices, it’s broadband so it works for the whole visible spectrum of light, rather than only for specific frequencies.

Their simple configuration improves on other cloaking devices, but it’s not perfect. “This cloak bends light and sends it through the center of the device, so the on-axis region cannot be blocked or cloaked,” said Choi. This means that the cloaked region is shaped like a doughnut. He added that they have slightly more complicated designs that solve the problem. Also, the cloak has edge effects, but these can be reduced when sufficiently large lenses are used.

In a new paper submitted to the journal Optics Express and available on, Howell and Choi provide a mathematical formalism for this type of cloaking that can work for angles up to 15 degrees, or more. They use a technique called ABCD matrices that describes how light bends when going through lenses, mirrors, or other optical elements.

While their device is not quite like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, Howell had some thoughts about potential applications, including using cloaking to effectively let a surgeon “look through his hands to what he is actually operating on,” he said. The same principles could be applied to a truck to allow drivers to see through blind spots on their vehicles.

Howell became interested in creating simple cloaking devices with off-the-shelf materials while working on a holiday project with his children. Together with his 14 year-old son and Choi, he recently published a paper about some of the possibilities, and also demonstrated simple cloaking with mirrors, like magicians would use.

Chart of the day: Color lines of student debt

From Gallup:

BLOG Student debt

John Oliver tackles $1 trillion student loan debt

Yep, it now tops everything except mortgage debt, and lenders have more coercive power to collect it than do lenders of any other form of debt, while the parallel growth of for-profit colleges [like those owned by UC Regent Richard “Greasy Thumb” Blum, spouse of Sen. Dianne Feinstein] have fuekled the rapid growth of student loans. Blum also presided over the board of regents during the massive inflation in tuition that forced increasingly numbers of students to resort to borrowing to attend the University of California.

From Last Week Tonight with John Oliver:

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver: Student Debt

Program note:

John Oliver discusses student debt, which is awful, as well as for-profit colleges, who are awfully good at inflicting debt upon us.

Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report

Sounding the climate alarm: The IPCC report

From The Real News Network, a Sharmini Peries interview with Michael E. Mann, Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University who holds dual appointments in the Department of Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI) as well a serving as director of the university’s Earth System Science Center (ESSC).

From The Real News Network:

Forthcoming IPCC Report Calls for Control of Fossil Fuel Consumption

From the transcript:

PERIES: So, Prof. Mann, this report is synthesizing the information already captured in previous IPCC reports. But can you break down the key findings that has been sent to governments?

MANN: Sure thing. So in a sense there are no surprises, because we know what material is in this report. It’s a summary of the three working group reports that have already appeared, the report on the basic science of climate change, which was followed by the Working Group II Report on climate change impacts, and then there was the Working Group III report, Mitigation, how we can solve this problem. This is the synthesis report. So it brings it all together. And if there is one word or one sort of assessment that I think summarizes what this report has to say, it’s that we really need to get working on this problem now. We don’t have time to waste. We really need to act now if we are going to protect ourselves against what can reasonably be described as truly dangerous and potentially irreversible changes in our climate.

PERIES: What do you think IPCC expects from the warning sent to the governments?

MANN: Well, what’s interesting is that the IPCC, it’s a very conservative organization, because it’s literally made up of hundreds and hundreds of scientists from around the world, experts in various aspects of the science of climate change. And because of that, it represents sort of a scientific lowest common denominator. The report reflects a very conservative viewpoint that can be shared by essentially all of the scientists contributing to the report, who have various views, various findings. So by their nature, the IPCC reports tend to be conservative. In many cases, the IPCC projections, for example, have actually underestimated the rate of climate change that has actually occurred subsequently. And we see that, for example, with the dramatic decrease in Arctic Sea ice. It’s happening faster than the IPCC said it should. The melting of the ice sheets, it’s happening faster than the IPCC said it should.

So what’s particularly interesting, I think, about this latest synthesis report is the stark terms in which the IPCC, a very conservative body, a very staid body, the very stark terms in which they lay out the problem, essentially saying, look, there’s no question the globe is warming, our climate is changing, it’s due to human activity, and if we don’t do something about it, it’s going to be a real problem. It’s already a problem. We are already seeing damages, in many cases way ahead of schedule.

What is interesting about the report as well is that it also makes it quite clear that it is still relatively inexpensive to solve this problem. If we act now, if we bring our fossil fuel emissions down by several percent a year, which is doable, if we scale up renewable green energy to the point where we can meet growing energy demand through less and less fossil fuel based energy, then we can stabilize global warming below levels that are truly dangerous and potentially irreversible. And it would be fairly inexpensive to do so, because we can actually undergo that transition, we can get that transition underway, we can scale up renewable energy, so that in a matter of decades it meets 80, 90, maybe close to 100 percent of our energy needs.

The problem is if we defer that, if we wait to lower our emissions. Then that means we are going to have to make far more austere cuts in carbon emissions in the future. And that’ll be much more expensive economically, and we will have basically entered into a regime where the cost of inaction, the deferred maintenance, the problems that we will begin to see because we didn’t act on the climate change problem in time, will become far more expensive than any measures necessary to mitigate the problem.

Academic research and U.S. drone kill lists

Living in Berkeley, we’re acutely aware of the deep connections between academic research and battlefield body counts, given that Cal played — asnd continues to play — a key role in nuclear weapons development.

But academic research body counts aren’t limited to those incinerated or lethally irradiated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki or other weapons developed at the national laboratories administered by the University of California for the Department of Energy [formerly the Atomic Energy Commission].

Killer tech can also emerge from social science and computer labs, where software evolves to monitor social currents and metadata, in search of patterns boffins declare are likely source of actual or potential threats to the Moloch of national security.

University of California faculty dominate the roster of the JASONS [previously], the battalion of academics recruited to tackle intellectual conundrums for the Department of Defense.

So we note with interest a fascinating segment from Abby Martin’s Breaking the Set featuring Nafeez Ahmed, political activist and Guardian columnist.

Here’s his bio from the Guardian website:

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar. He is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development, and author of A User’s Guide to the Crisis of Civilization among other books. He writes for the Guardian on the geopolitics of environmental, energy and economic crises on his Earth insight blog.

Their focus of the segment is the role another Pentagon-funded academic research program, the Minerva Research Initiative, described thusly on the project’s website:

Just as our military forces could not effectively operate without understanding the physical terrain and environment, detection of radical actors and regime disruptions is limited by our understanding of the cultural and political environments where those threats develop. The Minerva Research Initiative, initiated by former Secretary Gates in 2008, seeks to build deeper understanding of the social, cultural, and political dynamics that shape regions of strategic interest around the world.

Deeper understanding of global populations and their variance as provided by Minerva-funded research will yield more effective strategic and operational policy decisions. Minerva scholars have already briefed valuable, warfighter-relevant insights to senior officials such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, decision makers in the defense policy community, and on the ground to our combatant commands.

As the nascent program continues to grow, university-driven Minerva research will further enable critical social and cultural understanding to help decision makers effectively address today’s known and tomorrow’s unknown challenges.

With that out of the way, from Breaking the Set:

How DoD Flawed Algorithms are Basis for Drone Kill List | Interview with Nafeez Ahmed

Program notes:

Abby Martin features an interview with author and journalist Nafeez Ahmed, discussing his four-part investigation into the Pentagon’s mass social science project called The Minerva Research Initiative, as well as his latest book ‘Zero Point’.