Berkeley in the News

Berkeley in the News is a daily selection of articles and commentaries in the news media that mention UC Berkeley. The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of the campus.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

1. Berkeley in the News will take a break on Thursday, October 17. Publication should resume on Friday, October 18.

2. WIRED25: Stories of People Who Are Racing to Save Us

Electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Dawn Song and information and electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Hany Farid are honored in this WIRED list of 25 people who are working to solve some of humanity's most challenging problems. Professor Song is exploring ways to help people protect their privacy and control and profit from their data. "I think most people don't even know that their data can be valuable,' she says. Professor Farid's profile indicates that he's "one of the leading authorities on detecting fake photos." He says: "This used to be a boutique little field, but now we're defending democracy. ... What happens when more than half the content you see and hear online is fake?"
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3. Two Cal students selected as UC ANR Global Food Initiative fellows
Capital Press

UC Agriculture and Natural Resources has chosen two Berkeley graduate public health students to be Global Food Initiative (GFI) Fellows for 2019-2020. They are master's student Elsa Esperanza and doctoral candidate Andrea Jacobo, and their focus includes community-based initiatives and programs related to food access, food insecurity, addressing the needs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and highlighting the work of the local UC Cooperative Extension offices. "I hope to grow as a researcher and advocate," Esperanza says. "I hope to branch the two roles -- advocacy and research -- in my work at NPI," Esperanza says. "This will be possible through my work in other projects, including creating public-facing materials for policymakers. I want to learn how to frame issues and research appropriately in order to target and educate folks who are in positions of political power." Jocabo says: "I am deeply invested in making sure every person in the community, from child to senior citizen, has access to healthy and affordable foods and resources that improve their quality of life. ... I am excited to be a GFI fellow because it will allow me to pursue what I am most passionate about, community and healthy food."
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4. For all the advances in earthquake science, shaking still takes us by surprise
San Francisco Chronicle (*requires registration)

Despite advances in earthquake science, Peggy Hellweg, operations manager at the Berkeley Seismological Laboratory, suggests one enduring truth. "I think that what the man or woman on the street should do hasn't changed much since 1989. ... People dropping, covering and holding on is always going to be an important thing for safety in an earthquake. ... We're learning more, but there are still lots of questions we can't answer, like when is the next one. ... We keep looking for signs, but none of them are good enough. Unfortunately, earthquake prediction is really, really, really challenging, and I don't expect it to happen within my lifetime." Another story mentioning the Berkeley Seismology Lab appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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5. Towers in earthquake country -- designers say the new ones are safe to their core
San Francisco Chronicle (*requires registration)

The seismic strength of modern skyscrapers resides in their spine, or core, which differs from the perimeter supports of traditional high-rise buildings. Guidelines for the so-called performance based seismic design were developed by structural engineering professor Jack Moehle, and now the strategy has become the West Coast's norm. Testing the strength of those buildings is tricky, though, and there are only two ways of doing it: running thousands of computer simulations, and running those tests and then going "with your gut," according to this reporter. "There's no test equal to an actual full-scale earthquake. I'm not going to contest that," Professor Moehle says. "But barring an earthquake, the very best thing we can do is what we're doing now."
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6. Problems During PG&E's Unprecedented Power Shutdown May Not Be Easy To Fix

Last week's preemptive power outage provided an education on PG&E's ability to conduct such widespread shutdowns, says adjunct electrical engineering and computer sciences professor Alexandra "Sascha" von Meier, director of the Electric Grid program at the California Institute for Energy and Environment. She teaches a course on power systems. "One thing that's probably quickest and easiest to correct" in how it was done, she says, "is the communication. ... Those are lessons learned that I think are going to be corrected pretty quickly." But grid solutions are going to take some time. Speaking of the idea of dividing the system into microgrids that could provide some power in communities, she says: "We could manage local distribution systems more intelligently and run them with local resources. ... Kind of an emergency configuration. I think that would be a really worthwhile thing to invest in, and that's not gonna happen overnight. I think where people really start to disagree is, well, whose responsibility is it to pay for that? ... Who knows, the next power outage might not be something that's within PG&E's control. ... It could be something totally different. It could be a great big earthquake it could be a cyber attack. Who knows? So it does behoove us to prepare for that." Link to video.
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7. How Unpredictable Work Hours Turn Families Upside Down
New York Times (*requires registration)

"We're talking about serious deprivation from relentlessly unstable paychecks," says assistant sociology professor Daniel Schneider about findings on work issues facing hourly workers who have unpredictable schedules. Professor Schneider co-directs the Shift Project at Berkeley's Institute for Research on Labor and Employment with UCSF professor Kristen Harknett. The researchers have found through ongoing surveys of 30,000 hourly workers that -- given equal wages and employers -- staff with irregular hours fare worse than those with stable hours, and the effects hit their children too. They also found that white men had the best schedules, while black and Hispanic women had the worst. Looking at the variables involved, Professor Schneider says, "We think what's left after parsing out all these other reasons is discrimination." For more on this, see the Shift Project's press release.
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8. Most Republicans and Democrats agree: Immigrants make the U.S. a better place to live
Los Angeles Times (*requires registration)

A majority of Democratic and Republican voters in California agree that immigrants make this country a better place to live, according to a new poll by Berkeley's Institute of Governmental Studies. The agreement was among 92% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans. "Lots and lots of people here are transplants or descendants of immigrants," remarks Cristina Mora, the institute's co-director. "The idea of an immigrant in California is different. Here, we understand immigrants as part of Silicon Valley, as students, as entrepreneurs -- as part of a wide and varied landscape."
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9. Free exchange: Wealth taxes have moved up the political agenda
The Economist (*requires registration)

An article on economists' shifting thoughts on wealth taxes focuses on the work of Berkeley economists Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. Professors Saez and Zucman have found that the top 0.1% of taxpayers accounted for about 20% of American wealth in 2012, up from 7% of wealth in 1978 and close to levels last seen in 1929. They believe that concentrated wealth leads to concentration of political power, and that undermines democracy. But they say there are other concerns, as well. For example, in a recent paper they noted that the ratio of household wealth to national income in the U.S. has nearly doubled over the past 40 years, largely due to the rising value of assets. Those higher asset values could mean that either companies are becoming more efficient or economic sclerosis is setting in. Property values may be increasing because regulations make it difficult to build, and higher stock prices could mean that markets are becoming less competitive. Taxing and redistributing wealth could thus be seen as a justified response to misfiring markets.
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10. Never-before-seen Trump tax documents show major inconsistencies

"This kind of stuff is not OK," business and finance professor Nancy Wallace says of the significant discrepancies in the business data Donald Trump supplied to a lender about two of his Manhattan buildings and the corresponding data supplied to tax officials. The data supplied on the buildings looked significantly more profitable and promising to the lender than it did to the tax officials. Calling the discrepancies "versions of fraud," Professor Wallace says: "Especially in underwriting loans, you are supposed to truthfully report." She emphasized that both the lender and the borrower are required to supply accurate information.
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