Category Archives: Global Corporate U.

Militarizing academia, a list and an omission

We begin with the latest edition of Days of Revolt, the new weekly broadcast series from Chris Hedges produced by The Real News Network for  Telesur English:

Days of Revolt – Militarizing Education

Program notes:

In this episode of Days of Revolt, host Chris Hedges discusses the militarization of higher education institutions with journalist Alexa O’Brien. They uncover the trail of money and influence from the national security state to college programs. Hedges and O’Brien identify the ways in which this apparatus has long-been in effect, and what it could mean for the future.

While we generally agree with her critique of the military’s increasing grasp on the military, we find one peculiar omission from the list of the 100 most militarized universities she published in VICE News.

Not on the list is the University of California, now headed by former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

Lest we forget, it was UC Berkeley’s own Robert Oppenheimer who headed the immense World War II scientific research program responsible for developing the atomic bomb. Berkeley is still involved in running Lawrence-Livermore National Laboratory, where new nuclear weapons are developed, and appoints three members to the board of Los Alamos National Laboratory, birthplace of the atomic bomb. And it was UC Berkeley’s John Yoo who provided the guiding legal advice justifying torture in the wake of 9/11.

The University of California also provided nearly half of the scientists of the Jason group, the secret, self-selected cabal of academics who provide research and advice to the Pentagon.

Among the Jasons’ “gifts” to humankind are the border patrolling drone and border-installed remote sensing devices, developed for the Vietnam War under the rubric of the Air-Supported Anti-Infiltration Barrier [PDF].

A 2007 College Quarterly review of Ann Finkbeiner’s 2006 book The Jasons: The Secret History of Science’s Postwar Elite, noted:

She was able to contact a number of Jasons and succeeded in interviewing thirty-six (published estimates of the total roster range from forty to about one hundred). Some refused to be interviewed. Some agreed only on condition of anonymity. Her book reveals that the $850 a day now paid to Jasons, while worthwhile, seems to be among the least of the motives for joining. More important is the sense of self-importance to be had from playing the part of a confident Washington insider. More likely still are altruistic, if naïve, beliefs that the Jasons make positive contributions to society by, if nothing else, exposing strategic errors or technological flaws in government plans and, of course, also solving real scientific problems in the bargain. They certainly have the skills to do so. Nobel laureates and giants of the intellectual community including Dyson, Hans Bethe, Steven Weinberg and the legendary Murray Gell-Mann have been Jasons. Too often, however, Finkbeiner concludes that their bargain is ultimately Faustian.

Jason has applied its collective braininess to such projects as the “electronic infiltration barrier” that did not, as it happens, protect South Vietnam from North Vietnam’s flow of troops (they tunnelled underground). Jason also worked out puzzles in adaptive optics, allowing telescopes to correct for atmospheric interference – information kept under wraps for a decade until the military found a use for it in Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (“Star Wars”). Today, they may be providing advice on the occupation of Iraq; but, we won’t get the details on that soon, if ever.

The Jasons have also served as a model for other nations, as noted in a 10 November 2009 report in Nature, the world’s leading scientific journal:

The British government has recruited a group of academics to tackle tricky scientific problems related to defence, Nature has learned.

The programme is similar to a group known as the JASONs, which the US government has consulted on technical issues since the 1960s. “You hear a lot about the JASONs and how much credibility they have in the United States,” says Mark Welland, the UK Ministry of Defence’s chief scientific adviser. Britain needs a similarly “fast-moving, free-floating entity”, he says.

Scientific advice is frequently sought in Britain, but on security-related issues the advice usually comes from inside the government. Scientists at government labs such as the Atomic Weapons Establishment in Aldermaston are consulted on sensitive topics, in part because academic researchers lack the necessary security clearances.

Though the Pentagon created the group in 1958, it was only in 1971 that their existence became known to the public, thanks to the leak of the Pentagon Papers.

While the group’s membership remains a secret, some names surfaced in 1972, thanks to the release of the in-depth report on the group, authored by UC Berkeley Professor Charlie Schwartz and colleagues.

According to one published estimate, fully half of the Jasons have come from the University of California, primarily Berkeley.

The Federation of American Scientists maintains a database of declassified Jason reports.

So any way you look at it, the University of California belongs on any list of the nation’s most militarized universities.

Chart of the day: Cal’s astronomers too earthy

UC Berkeley Campus Climate Survey Topline Results

From a previously secret survey [PDF] of the UC Berkeley Astronomy Department by the office of the Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion:

In Spring 2015, Equity & Inclusion administered a survey on the climate in the Astronomy Department on issues of gender and sexual harassment/violence. Students, faculty, staff, and alumni were invited to participate in the survey. Of the 332 invited, 108 responded (33% response rate). Faculty and graduate students were over-represented among respondents, while undergraduates were under-represented. By design, women were over-sampled due to underrepresentation of women in the department. Preliminary findings indicate that among respondents women are less likely agree that the Astronomy department is healthy with respect to sexual harassment/assault and gender issues and more likely to report experiencing a form of sexual/gendered discomfort as a result of department members’ actions.

Geoff Marcy and John Gertz, SETI BFFs

BLOG The two

John Gertz, [foreground left], is the Berkeley-based American-Israeli propagandist who spearheaded the smear campaign to shut down the Berkeley Daily Planet by intimidating advertisers, and Geoffrey Marcy, foreground right right], just-resigned UC Berkeley astronomer and media celebrity and, oh, yeah, serial sexual predator, were having having a grand old time in April at a gathering to raise some cash for the Foundation for Investing in Research on SETI Science and Technology [FIRST]. Gertz is an avid SETI buff and for many years chaired the SETI Institute,

That’s when Marcy grabbed a self and dispatched it as a Tweet via UC Berkeley’s SETI [Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence] Research Center last April when Marcy decided to grab a selfie and dispatch it as a Tweet.

Here at esnl, we can’t think of two guys better suited to keep each other company.

Headline of day: Oh Marcy me, about damn time

From the Los Angeles Times, Geoffrey Marcy does inevitable given the huge groundswell of blowback:

UC Berkeley astronomer accused of sexually harassing students resigns, source says

Most Cal astronomers call for Marcy’s ouster

Most of the faculty at UC Berkeley Department of Astronomy have signed a petition [on department letterhead] calling for the ouster of serial sexual predator and celebrity stargazer Geoffrey Marcy [previously].

The move follows BuzzFeed’s report that a university investigation had concluded that Marcy had, over the span of a decade, repeatedly groped, fondled, and kissed female students against their wishes and escaped with the “punishment” of posting an online letter of apology.

The text of the letter [PDF]:

October 12, 2015

We, the undersigned UC Berkeley Astronomy faculty, write to make clear that sexual harassment has no place in our Department, and that we fully support the survivors of harassment. We regret the harm caused by our faculty, and reject any suggestion that our sympathies should be with the perpetrators   of   sexual   harassment.   We   are   committed   to   developing   and   maintaining   a supportive,  open  climate  in  which  all  members  of  the  Department  can  thrive,  regardless  of gender,   ethnicity,   sexual   orientation,   disability,   or   religious   faith.   This   goal   has   been compromised by policies that led to a lack of communication in UC Berkeley’s handling of Geoff Marcy’s  sexual  harassment  case.  We  urge  the  UC  Berkeley  administration  to  re-evaluate  its response to Marcy, who has been found in violation of UC sexual harassment policy. We believe that Geoff Marcy cannot perform the functions of a faculty member.


Jonathan Arons
Gibor Basri
Steven Beckwith
Joshua Bloom
Eugene Chiang
Marc Davis
Imke de Pater
Alex Filippenko
Al Glassgold
James Graham
Carl Heiles
Paul Kalas
Daniel Kasen
Richard Klein
Mariska Kriek
Chung-Pei Ma
Burkhard Militzer
Peter Nugent
Aaron Parsons
Eliot Quataert
Uros Seljak
Daniel Weisz
Martin White

Joining the call for resignation or dismissal were 32 post-doctoral students and the majority of the department’s graduate students.

Quote of the day: Groping for apology in Berkeley

From a noteworthy blog post from UC Berkeley Professor of Genetics, Genomics and Development Michael Eisen on the bizarre handling of the sexual misconduct case against a Berkeley media celebrity  astronomy professor:

On Friday,  posted a story about Geoffrey Marcy, a high-profile professor in UC Berkeley’s astronomy department. It reported on a a complaint filed by four women to Berkeley’s Office for the Prevention of Harassment and Discrimination (OPHD) that alleged that Marcy “repeatedly engaged in inappropriate physical behavior with students, including unwanted massages, kisses, and groping.”

Unusually for this type of investigation, the results of which are usually kept secret, Ghorayshi’s reporting revealed that OPHD found Marcy guilty of these charges, leading to his issuing a public apology in which he, in all too typical PR driven apology speak, acknowledges doing things that “unintentionally” was “a source of distress for any of my women colleagues”.

There’s not much to say about his actions except to say that they are despicable, predatory, destructive and all too typical. It defies even the most extreme sense of credulity to believe that he thought what he was doing was appropriate.

But, unlike so many other cases of alleged harassment that go unreported, or end in a haze of accusations and denials, the system worked in this case. An investigation was carried out, the charges were substantiated, the bravery of the women who came forward was vindicated, and Marcy was removed from the position of authority he had been abusing.

WAIT WHAT? He got a firm talking to and promised never to do it again????? THAT’S IT???

It is simply incomprehensible that Marcy was not sanctioned in any way and that, were it not for Ghorayshi’s work we wouldn’t even know anything about this. How on Earth can this be true? Does the university not realize they are giving other people in a position of power a license to engage in harassment and abusive behavior? Do they think that the threat of having to say “oops, I won’t do that again” is going to stop anyone? Do they think anyone is going to file complaints about sexual harassment or abuse and go through what everyone described as an awful, awful process, so that their abuser will get a faint slap on the wrist? Do they care at all?

Sadly, I think the answer to the last question is “No”.

Read the rest.

Chart of the day: Resistance to malaria drug

UC Berkeley “bioengineer” Jay Keasling became a media darling after Bill Gates decided to bankroll Amyris [previously], a company that would tweak the genes to the antimalarial drug artemisinin which would be far cheaper than the standard version, refined from plants grown by small farmers in Africa and Southeast Asia.

By the time all was said and done, production of the GMO-derived drug was given to a Big Pharma outfit and produced at a price that was no cheaper than the existing drug.

The net result: Small farmer saw their incomes cut.

The notion of artemisinin as a panacea for the disease, a cause Gates no doubt saw as a way to use his wealth to do good, has been soundly defeated, as indicated in this graphic from the 31 July 2014 edition of the Wall Street Journal:

BLOG Artemisinin

World Malaria Day offered some key numbers in April:

BLOG Malaria

Keassling’s company repurposed itself to reengineer the bugs to produce cheap fuel from plant cellulose, fuels more efficient than the ethanol derived from more readily refined plant sugars.

The company went public with much fanfare and media hype, and stock soon rose to $33.85. But as the hype proved just that, shares began to fall, currently selling for $2.13 a share. But Keasling sold out early and walked away with an eight-figure payoff.

And the search for a more effective antimalarial is on.