Category Archives: Public Affairs

George Packer: Politics and American Identity

8232Two new programs with New Yorker staff writer George Packer explore the association between American politics and identity. “Americans, aided by cable news and social media, have sorted themselves geographically and mentally into mutually hostile and incomprehensible worlds,” says Packer. This tribalism makes it very difficult for people to communicate or to truly listen to one another.

“None of those groups speaks to the whole country… they don’t speak to us as citizens, and they don’t find a way of being truly inclusive,” he says. “Where we cannot understand each other, we see each other as illegitimate in some ways. To even speak to someone from a different tribe is to give them a legitimacy they don’t deserve. And each tribe hopes and thinks the other will somehow disappear, either by being beaten in the polls, or by dying off, or being walled off. It’s as if they can’t acknowledge that the country is made up of more than their own tribe.”

There are many reasons for this increased tribalism, but the collapse of the institutions that have traditionally supported people economically is a contributing factor. In recent decades, fewer and fewer corporations offer job security or competitive wages, and the middle class is disappearing. “The simple answer I think,” says Packer, “is that a smaller pie, divided into less and less equal slices among people who look less and less alike, drives them towards cynical and hateful extremes.”

Watch Harry Kreisler’s interview with George Packer, Identity Politics and the Decline of American Institutions, as well as Packer’s UC Berkeley Graduate Lecture, American Identity in the Age of Trump.

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Rising Inequality: Trends, Explanations and Solutions

32822Income inequality refers to the unequal distribution of income among a population. In the United States, income inequality, or the gap between the rich and everyone else, has been growing for the last several decades.

Economist Valerie Ramey of UC San Diego gives an insightful talk charting the rise, fall and rise again of income inequality in America over the last century. She highlights the special circumstances that created a “Golden Age” for the average worker in the 1950s and 1960s and then follows with the economic changes that led to today’s extreme disparity where the top 1 percent of US households earn nearly 20 percent of the nation’s income.

Watch: The Past, Present and Future of US Income Inequality with Valerie Ramey – Osher UC San Diego

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What Working Class Voters are Thinking

32822This is one of those rare political discussions where two people with different points of view actually listen and learn from each other as each describes their interpretation of why the majority of working-class voters sided with Donald Trump in the last election. Sociologist Arlie Hochschild and political scientist Steven Hayward discuss the causes for the ongoing cultural divide and offer glimmers of hope as they highlight examples of where people of opposite views have found common ground.

Watch: The 2016 Election: What Working Class Voters Are Thinking with Arlie Hochschild and Steven Hayward

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NASA and International Cooperation

32822The 12th NASA Administrator, Charles F. Bolden Jr., shares how NASA’s programs and missions function as an instrument of international cooperation, demonstrating the steady guidance of the United States as the world’s leader.

Watch NASA International Cooperation – An Instrument of US Soft Power with Charles Bolden – 2017 Nierenberg Prize Lecture

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New GRIT Talks from UCSB

842Get an up-close look at ground-breaking research and innovative technology from UCSB. Geared towards the community, these talks present the best minds from UCSB covering a wide-range of topics in science, medicine, technology and more. Check out these recent programs:


The Challenges That Society Brings to Engineering Designs
Understand the unique challenges that surface when seeking to design and control physical infrastructure such as transportation networks, power grids and data centers.

Why Antibiotics Fail – People Are Not Petri Plates
The standard antibiotic test used worldwide is based on how well drugs kill bacteria on petri plates — not in the body. Drugs that pass the standard test often fail to treat bacterial infections, whereas drugs identified by the “in vivo” test are very effective.

How Biology, Ecology, and Technology Balance Tradeoffs in an Uncertain World
Do complex systems exhibit fundamental properties? This talk looks at tradeoffs between robustness and fragility that occur in biological, ecological, and technological systems.

From Bitcoin to Central Bank Digital Currencies
Rod Garratt, UCSB Professor of Economics, describes his work on a project to build a proof of concept for a wholesale interbank payment system that facilitates payments of central bank digital currency using a distributed ledger.

Overcoming Climate Anxiety at a Time of Global Crisis
Debora Iglesias-Rodriguez discusses how humans can contribute to improving current ocean problems and eventually return the oceans to a more sustainable state.

The Remarkable Learning Abilities of the Human Brain
Greg Ashby studies how people learn new categories of objects. By mapping the neural networks, scientists have been able to identify many important and surprising differences in how we learn.

The Future of Computer Science: The Rock We Tricked Into Thinking
Explore the state of the art in computing and how the demands for energy efficient and intelligent systems is driving the creation of entirely new approaches to the problem.

The Math of Swarming Robots, Superconductors, and Slime Mold
Explore the mathematics underlying systems of interacting agents and how such systems can be analyzed using an age old scientific technique: what happens if we poke it?

Check out these programs and more on UCSB’s GRIT Talks.

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