Category Archives: Academia

Facebook: Stay away for a good night’s sleep


And since we’re on an academic and media jag today, another scientific study of note, from the University of California at Irvine newsroom:

UCI researchers link compulsive Facebook checking to lack of sleep

Study correlates tiredness, bad mood, distractibility and social media browsing

If you find yourself toggling over to look at Facebook several dozen times a day, it’s not necessarily because the experience of being on social media is so wonderful. It may be a sign that you’re not getting enough sleep.

In a recently completed study, researchers at the University of California, Irvine demonstrated that lack of sleep – in addition to affecting people’s moods and productivity – leads to more frequent online activities such as browsing Facebook.

“When you get less sleep, you’re more prone to distraction,” said lead researcher Gloria Mark, a UCI informatics professor. “If you’re being distracted, what do you do? You go to Facebook. It’s lightweight, it’s easy, and you’re tired.”

Sleep deprivation can lead to loss of productivity throughout the economy. It can cause workplace mishaps and make drivers fall asleep at the wheel. Experts in the field of human-computer interaction want to know how sleep loss impacts people so they can design better technologies and products.

“There have been lots of studies on how information technology affects sleep. We did the opposite: We looked at how sleep duration influences IT usage,” said Mark, who will present the findings at a leading computer-human interaction conference in May.

She and her colleagues collected data from 76 UCI undergraduates – 34 males and 42 females – for seven days during the spring 2014 quarter. The study controlled for students’ gender, age, course load and deadlines and relied on sensors to objectively gauge their behavior, activities and stress levels.

Students’ computers and smartphones were equipped with logging software, and time stamps recorded when subjects switched from one application window to another and when they spoke on the phone or texted. They were asked to fill out a sleep survey each morning and an end-of-day survey at night.

Participants also filled out a general questionnaire and sat for an exit interview. Periodically throughout the week, they received probing questions from researchers regarding their mood, the perceived difficulty of whatever task was at hand, and their level of engagement in their work.

Central to the study was a concept known as “sleep debt,” the accumulated difference between the amount of sleep needed and the amount experienced.

Mark said the study’s findings show a direct connection among chronic lack of sleep, worsening mood and greater reliance on Facebook browsing. She also found that the less sleep people have, the more frequently their attention shifts among different computer screens, suggesting heightened distractibility.

Mark’s UCI collaborators on the study, funded by the National Science Foundation, were Yiran Wang from the Department of Informatics and Melissa Niiya and Stephanie Reich from the School of Education.

New study: Organic ag better for feeding the world


Here at esnl, we’ve long believed that agroecology, the science of working with rather than against the natural environment, is the best solution for feeding us big-brained bipeds.

While modern industrial agriculture treats the environment as an externality, something of no value in itself other than as a source of profit, agroecology looks at raising living things for our own consumption as an integral process, in which the environment is to be embraced.

Think of the difference between the two system as similar to the difference between war and peace. In one, nature is seen as something to be conquered; in the other, the natural environment is embraced in a relationship of mutuality.

One way to perceive the relationship is embodied in this chart, from a groundbreaking the study from Washington State University, published in Nature Plants, sadly hidden behind a $35 paywall [and click on the image to enlarge]:

An assessment of organic farming relative to conventional farming illustrates that organic systems better balance the four areas of sustainability.

An assessment of organic farming relative to conventional farming illustrates that organic systems better balance the four areas of sustainability.

The lead author learned agroecology at two University of California campuses, Berkeley and Davis, back when Berkeley had a thriving agroecology program. Sadly, Berkeley has radically downsized agroecology while major corporate grants have transformed the curriculum to one which places heavy emphases on creating GMO crops.

And now for details on the new study, via the Washington State University newsroom:

40 years of science: Organic ag key to feeding the world

Washington State University researchers have concluded that feeding a growing global population with sustainability goals in mind is possible. Their review of hundreds of published studies provides evidence that organic farming can produce sufficient yields, be profitable for farmers, protect and improve the environment and be safer for farm workers.

The review study, “Organic Agriculture in the 21st Century,” is featured as the cover story for the February issue of the journal Nature Plants and was authored by John Reganold, WSU regents professor of soil science and agroecology, and doctoral candidate Jonathan Wachter.

It is the first study to analyze 40 years of science comparing organic and conventional agriculture across the four goals of sustainability identified by the National Academy of Sciences: productivity, economics, environment and community well being.

“Hundreds of scientific studies now show that organic ag should play a role in feeding the world” said lead author Reganold. “Thirty years ago, there were just a couple handfuls of studies comparing organic agriculture with conventional. In the last 15 years, these kinds of studies have skyrocketed.”

Organic production accounts for one percent of global agricultural land, despite rapid growth in the last two decades.

Critics have long argued that organic agriculture is inefficient, requiring more land to yield the same amount of food. The review paper describes cases where organic yields can be higher than conventional farming methods.

“In severe drought conditions, which are expected to increase with climate change, organic farms have the potential to produce high yields because of the higher water-holding capacity of organically farmed soils,” Reganold said.

However, even when yields may be lower, organic agriculture is more profitable for farmers because consumers are willing to pay more. Higher prices can be justified as a way to compensate farmers for providing ecosystem services and avoiding environmental damage or external costs.

Numerous studies in the review also prove the environmental benefits of organic production. Overall, organic farms tend to store more soil carbon, have better soil quality and reduce soil erosion. Organic agriculture creates less soil and water pollution and lower greenhouse gas emissions. And it’s more energy efficient because it doesn’t rely on synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

It is also associated with greater biodiversity of plants, animals, insects and microbes as well as genetic diversity. Biodiversity increases the services that nature provides, like pollination, and improves the ability of farming systems to adapt to changing conditions.

Reganold said that feeding the world is not only a matter of yield but also requires examining food waste and the distribution of food.

“If you look at calorie production per capita we’re producing more than enough food for 7 billion people now, but we waste 30 to 40 percent of it,” he said. “It’s not just a matter of producing enough, but making agriculture environmentally friendly and making sure that food gets to those who need it.”

Reganold and Wachter suggest that no single type of farming can feed the world. Rather, what’s needed is a balance of systems, “a blend of organic and other innovative farming systems, including agroforestry, integrated farming, conservation agriculture, mixed crop/livestock and still undiscovered systems.”

Reganold and Wachter recommend policy changes to address the barriers that hinder the expansion of organic agriculture. Such hurdles include the costs of transitioning to organic certification, lack of access to labor and markets and lack of appropriate infrastructure for storing and transporting food. Legal and financial tools are necessary to encourage the adoption of innovative, sustainable farming practices.

The painful slow death of the liberal church


In this, the latest episode in his series for teleSUR English, Pulitzer prize winning journalist and Harvard Divinity School graduate Chris Hedges joins two graduate students of Union Theological Seminary to discuss the plight of the liberal Christian church in the United States.

As conservative — even radically conservative — Christian denominations surge in membership and their seminaries thrive, the schools which turned out the liberal ministers who served as bulwarks of the civil rights movement are faced with declining enrollments.

As Michael Vanacore and Edward Escalon recount, Union is currently center of a storm of controversy as the school entertains plans to build a luxury condominium tower as a way to fund repair of is decaying campus.

The tragedy is that development of the project would go a long way toward gentrifying Manhattan’s Morningside Heights, a neighborhood largely inhabited be people of color.

It’s a fascinating discussion.

From the Real News Network:

Days of Revolt: The Suicide of the Liberal Church

Program notes:

In this episode of teleSUR’s Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges speaks with two Union Theological Seminary student-activists about their fight against the school’s plans to sell property to luxury condo developers and further gentrify Harlem.

As for esnl, we’re of the atheist persuasion. That said, we don’t espouse to the creed of the so-called New Atheists, folks who are as evangelical about their beliefs that they remind us of Jehovah’s witnesses.

We’ve believed, in turn, in Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and Christianity again, before arriving at our present position.

There are many times in our life when we’ve been helped by religious folks, including the months after we forced out of our parental home for refusing induction into the army during the Vietnam War, when we were given a place to live in the homes of a Quaker family and later a religiously Jewish family.

It was our father’s mother who led the integration of her Presbyterian church in Abilene, Kansas, early in the last century, forcing the overtly racist minister to back down when she threatened to lead her family and friends in an exodus from the church.

The resurgence of fundamentalist Christianity, often tinged with racism and bigotry against all whose lives differ from their narrowly prescribed beliefs and proscribed conduct, is fully as disturbing as the soaring wealth of the one percent.

The fusion of two tendencies in today’s political landscape is troubling indeed.

Greek tragedy and dreams of a Star Trek future


Yanis Varoufakis is a political hybrid, perceived as so a dangerous radical by the financial powers of Europe that they forced his ouster as finance minister in the supposedly radical leftist government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who had be voted into power precisely to resist that Troika of European Central Bank, the IMF, and the European Commission.

His term in office lasted less that six months, from 27 January to 6 July of 2015.

Varoufakis now serves as Professor of Economic Theory at the University of Athens and as private consultant for Bellevue, Washington, video game  development and software distributor Valve Corporation. He’s also a prolific blogger and Twitterpater.

In a 3 August 2015 profile by Ian Parker of the New Yorker, Varoufakis described one incident during his brief tenure a Greek money manager:

At the White House, Varoufakis repeated a line that he had used at Brookings: “Mr. President, my government is planning, and I am planning, to compromise, compromise, and compromise, but we’re not going to be compromised.” (“He liked that,” Varoufakis recalled.) Varoufakis told him, “Mr. President, of course one has to suffer costs in order to get the benefits, but the question is the balance. There has to be a positive balance.” He went on, “We are being asphyxiated for trying to simulate what you did, right?”

Obama showed more solidarity than Varoufakis was expecting. “I know — austerity sucks,” Obama said. (“He used those words. Very un-Presidential.”) According to Varoufakis, the President was referring less to austerity’s unpleasantness than to its ineffectiveness. Obama meant that austerity “doesn’t work — it creates misery, and it’s self-perpetuating, and it’s self-defeating.”

Varoufakis told Obama that he hadn’t felt quite the same comradeship when speaking with the U.S. Treasury Secretary. “Jack Lew is not toeing the Obama line,” he said.

Lew’s views prevailed.

In the following interview for The Real News Network by Canadian lawyer, journalist, and environmental activist Dimitri Lascaris, Varoufakis details the pressure on Greece and the reasons he abandoned his office:

Yanis Varoufakis: How The Greek People’s Magnificent “No” Became “Yes”

From the transcript:

LASCARIS: Let’s talk a little bit about the future, what the future holds for Greece in particular. As you know, I’m sure all too painfully, the Syriza government has been implementing a series of so-called reforms at the insistence of the Troika, which many regard as being harsher than the terms previously dictated to the right-wing New Democracy-led government. And recently Alexis Tsipras, the prime minister, expressed the view that 2016 would mark the beginning of the end of the economic crisis in Greece. Do you think that that’s a realistic assessment in light of the nature and harshness of the austerity measures being implemented?

VAROUFAKIS: Dimitri, a simple one-word answer: no. Look. This program that was agreed in August, and which I voted against in Greek parliament, was designed to fail. There is precisely zero probability that it will succeed. The prime minister himself, Tsipras, said so back in August. He described the treaty that he signed, the agreement that he signed on [I think] the 13th of July, as a document that was extracted from him by coup d’etat. These were not my words. These were his.

Now, the great disagreement we had, we had this personally, as well, in a very comradely and friendly way, but it was nevertheless a strong, intellectual disagreement, was this. He said to me, and he said to the parliament, and he said to the public, that we have to accept this toxic, failed program that is never going to work, because if we don’t then the banks will never open again, and we’ll then have blood on the streets, more or less.

Well, what he intended to do was to introduce a parallel program, legislative program, comprising his own, his own government’s agenda for looking after the weak, sustaining those on very low pensions and income. A parallel program, he called it. So there is the [proposed] failed program, which is the price we have to pay according to Prime Minister Tsipras, for the surrender, the defeat. But we introduce a parallel program which justifies why you are staying in power to implement the toxic program.

Now, it is indeed the case that Prime Minister Tsipras and his government tried to do that. In early–late November, early December, they did table in Greek parliament the parallel program. Two days later, the president of the Euro Working Group, which is the effective functionary of the Troika, it came out and said, uh-uh, you have to withdraw that. And a Greek minister humiliated himself and the Greek government by making it sound as if it was his own idea that they should withdraw this parallel program. So this parallel program now has been withdrawn by the Greek government itself, at the behest of the Troika.

So even by the logic of the prime minister, the answer to your question is no.

If you’re curious about Varoufakis’s political and economic beliefs, here’s a December TED talk in which he expounds of a set of ideas that he believes is simultaneously libertarian, Marxist and Keynesian, via his post on Social Europe:

Why Capitalism Will Eat Democracy

Program notes:

Have you wondered why politicians aren’t what they used to be, why governments seem unable to solve real problems? Economist Yanis Varoufakis, the former Minister of Finance for Greece, says that it’s because you can be in politics today but not be in power — because real power now belongs to those who control the economy. He believes that the mega-rich and corporations are cannibalizing the political sphere, causing financial crisis. In this talk, hear his dream for a world in which capital and labor no longer struggle against each other, “one that is simultaneously libertarian, Marxist and Keynesian.”

A transcript of the talk is posted here.

The New Official City of Berkeley Anthem™


Yep, there’s no more fitting anthem for the City of Berkeley, California, than this little video offering from Berkeley music vlogger 6VIDEO9.

For six years we toiled as the land use reporter for the late print edition of the Berkeley Daily Planet til shortly before the paper folded, laying off its paid journalists but still active as a website.

Despite it’s reputation as a city of the radical Left, Berkeley has a political system devoted to gentrification and the construction of massive apartments catering to upscale tenants, while less monumental erections serve as hives for UC Berkeley students, who are forced to pay their rent to corporations run by investment bankers, massive real estate holding companies, and the occasional UC Berkeley professor.

The reason the city allows the demolition of existing buildings is due in part to the city’s largest landowner — an owner exempt from property taxes and development fees — the University of California.

And the pressure comes from a decades-old decision to stop building student housing for undergrads, rendering students objects of corporate prey. And to cover the coast of soaring rents and ever-increasing tuition rates, they become prey for another clutch of predators, the banksters who force them into indentured servitude to cover the costs of their student loans.

The city government and its police, fire, ambulance, and other services depends in part on funds from it’s share of real estate taxes, and in part on funds from real estate development fees, which serve as the basis for the budget of the city planning department.

Oh, and it’s a former city planning executive who spun through the revolving door and emerged as a [shock!] real estate developer who is spearheading what will be the largest upscale apartment highrise of the 21st Century, with images of the ex-planner and his project featured prominently in the video.

Mayor Tom Bates is also included, his image shown under a Bates Hotel header. Bates is a developer-turned politician, and a former UC Berkeley football star who campaigns are mainly funded by folks from the real estate trade, from builders and owners to those who earn their money from commissions on building and land sales.

And with further ado [or adieu] the :

Stack o’ Dolla

Program note:

Is this the City You Want? Collective

Black Lives Matter, a public health issue raised


We’ve always had the greatest respect for the men and women who dedicate their lives to working in the public health field, where medicine is no longer isolated from the environmental conditions that lead to illness and human misery.

So we were pleasantly surprised to discover a very important discussion on Black Lives Matter and public health hosted by the UC Berkeley School of Public Health on 3 December [the video was just posted to the web by UC Berkeley Events.

While most medical practitioners confine their practices to individual patients, the public health practitioner casts a much wider net, look at how the interplay of disease vectors and community environmental conditions, both physical and social, interact to produce health outcomes.

While Berkeley and its university have earned the reputation of radicalism, the realty is something completely different, with a city government subordinated to the interests of gentrifying developers and the university enserfed to profit hungry corporate interests can catering to wealthy students from abroad.

Indeed, as we have noted before, driving while black is still a crime in good ol’ Berzerkeley.

And now, without further ado, a very important event that resulted in only a single small story in Bay Area news media:

Black Lives Matter: From Moment to Movement

Program notes:

December 3, 2015: Boots On the Ground Advocacy-in-Action Event #3.

Outrage against racialized police violence against African American men and women has crystallized into a movement that builds on existing health and social equity work. What’s the state of the movement here in California? What are the top policy “asks” in Sacramento and Washington, and how can public health activists plug in? Local activists and experts in the Black Lives Matter movement came together to discuss these issues and more.

Moderated by:
-Marc Philpart of PolicyLink
Featuring:
-Pastor Michael McBride of The Way Christian Center
-Rosa Cabrera-Aqeel of PICO California
-Devonte Jackson of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration
-Cat Brooks of the Onyx Organizing Committee
-Andrew Sudler of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health

This event was hosted by the Advocacy Initiative of the UC Berkeley School of Public Health and PolicyLink, and sponsored by The California Endowment, California HealthCare Foundation, SPH Office of Diversity Services, Multicultural Health in Action, and the Asian and Pacific Islander Women’s Circle.

Big Oil, Berkeley, and the politics of power


The latest edition of The Empire Files, Bay Area journalist Abby Martin’s teleSUR English series focuses on the bloody history of Big Oil and its control of the American political process.

Her guests are journalists Antonia Juhasz and Greg Palast, who have devoted their energies to reporting on the hidden agendas of the petroleum industry.

Juhasz has reported extensively on the 20 April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the catastrophic BP offshore well blowout that has wrought incalculable damage to the Gulf of Mexico. Of particular note is that the Obama administration allowed a damage settlement vastly lower than mandated under existing laws.

And that brings us to Palast’s contention that Standard Oil-related companies and the Koch Brothers own the Republicans, BP and Shell own the Democrats, a claim we suggest is fully justified by the evidence.

Pay very close attention to Palast’s deconstruction of the $500 million BP grant to a consortium headed by UC Berkeley under the aegis of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [though he says, in an apparent and natural mixup, that it was Lawrence Livermore that got the cash]. We would also note that Berkeley’s main partner in the largest corporate academic grant in history was the University of Illinois, the state from which Obama launched his political career.

It was scientists from the UC-run national lab who promised the public that microbes would eat up the oil spilled by BP in the Gulf of Mexico — a claim which subsequent evidence has proved utter false — with National Public Radio serving as BP’s shill, reporting on the claims as fact without ever mentioning that the scientists making the claims were BP-funded.

No wonder Palast calls the broadcaster National Petroleum Radio. . .

During our time reporting for the Berkeley Daily Planet, we devoted extensive coverage to that BP grant, a story otherwise given short shrift by mainstream media.

From teleSUR English:

The Empire Files: The Tyranny of Big Oil

Program notes:

The oil industry is a powerhouse with control over land, resources, politics and more. In this episode of The Empire Files, Abby Martin uncovers big oil’s strong-arm reach–its growth, its crimes, its power and its impunity.

Featuring interviews with two investigative journalists who have covered oil disasters on-the-ground — Antonia Juhasz, author of “Black Tide: The Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill”, and Greg Palast, author of “Vulture’s Picnic: In Pursuit of Petroleum Pig, Power Pirates, and High-Finance Carnivores.”

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