Category Archives: UC Santa Barbara

Does Trump Have a Middle East Policy?

The Trump administration has clear objectives in the Middle East, but there is a wide gap between those objectives and the methods employed to achieve them. That’s according to Dennis Ross, a former special assistant to President Obama and current fellow at the Washington Institute. Ross spoke recently at UC Santa Barbara, breaking down President Trump’s Middle East policy into three key elements: counter-ISIS, counter-Iran, and achieving the “ultimate deal” between Israel and the Palestinians.

When it comes to ISIS, Ross says the president’s strategy is working in part, but is incomplete. The military effort to defeat the terror group has been largely successful, but ISIS will leave behind a power vacuum. Ross says without a comprehensive plan for reconstruction, security, governance and the inclusion of Sunnis in place, we risk another, similar terror group filling the vacuum.

In Iran, Ross says the Trump administration is pursuing a maximum pressure strategy, hoping to squeeze the regime with sanctions until it is forced to give up its nuclear program. Ross says a similar plan has made some headway with North Korea, but there is a major difference: the Iran nuclear deal. Ross says it will be difficult to put the necessary pressure on Iran when the US is the only country that has pulled out of the deal. Additionally, Ross says the administration has been largely absent from a growing conflict in the region concerning Iranian surface-to-surface missiles being sent to Syria, threatening Israel.

Finally, when it comes to Israel itself, Ross says the Trump administration is pursuing a deal with the Palestinians, but has made some missteps. Ross argues the approach of getting Arab leaders involved with negotiations was a step in the right direction, but the execution of the plan pushed Palestinians away from the table, and has ignored the recent actions of Mohammed Bin Salman in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

While Ross argues the Trump administration lacks sufficient strategy in three key areas of Middle East policy, he believes there are relatively simple changes the president could make. In the fight against ISIS, Ross lays out a plan to ensure the terror group is not replaced by something worse. In Iran, he predicts an opportunity to negotiate with Russia on both sanctions and a deal to keep Iranian weapons out of Syria. And, he even has some suggestions for how to achieve the ultimate deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

Watch Does Trump Have a Middle East Policy?

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Is the Possibility of a Unified Korea Lost?

Two decades ago, Harold Koh thought he would soon see North and South Korea reunited. Today, the Yale professor who served in both the Clinton and Obama administrations says he no longer expects it will happen in his lifetime, if ever. Koh explained why he believes a series of missteps by Presidents George W. Bush and Donald Trump have stopped progress toward a unified peninsula during a recent talk at UC Santa Barbara.

Koh has dealt with the challenges of North and South Korea since before he was born. His mother was trapped in North Korea when the country was divided after WWII. She and her family hiked for days to the border, and were able to make it back to Seoul. His father worked in politics, but was forced to seek asylum in the United States after the South Korean government was overthrown in 1961. Koh eventually followed in his father’s footsteps, becoming a legal scholar and diplomat.

Koh was optimistic about a peaceful resolution between North and South Korea back in 2000. He had just left Pyongyang after what was the highest-level diplomatic visit up to that point. He says there were plans in motion to move the 2002 World Cup to North Korea with a unified Korean team. But, when George W. Bush took office and named North Korea as part of the “axis of evil,” Koh says those plans, and any hope of uniting the countries, died.

As much as Koh disagrees with the Bush administration’s approach to North Korea, he is even more critical of how President Trump has handled the situation. Koh says the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un was a mistake, because the administration should have demanded concessions from the North Korean regime before agreeing to such a high-level meeting. He also says Trump should have made clear demands from Kim, and certainly should not have publicly said he, “fell in love” with the dictator. But, Koh does believe we’re approaching a “moment of change.”

Watch The Trump Administration and North Korea

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The Fallen Angel

“I ought to be thy Adam, but I am rather the fallen angel…”
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Since its first (initially anonymous) publication in 1818, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein has intrigued successive generations of readers and critics while inspiring dozens of cinematic adaptations and re-imaginings. In honor of the novel’s 200th anniversary the Carsey-Wolf Center at UC Santa Barbara presented Frankenstein: Afterlives, a series of screenings and interviews that explored the lasting impact of Shelley’s Gothic masterpiece on popular culture.

The inaugural program in the series uses the 2017 biographical film Mary Shelley as a springboard for discussion about the author’s relationship to her most famous work, and the various interpretations of Frankenstein arising from scholarly examination of her life. UC Santa Barbara’s Professor Julie Carlson frames Shelley’s story, both personal and fictional, as a series of oppositions – radicalism vs. conformity, class distinctions vs. egalitarianism, intellect vs. imagination, pragmatism vs. idealism, art vs. commerce – while noting that it is only fairly recently that scholars and commentators have begun to fully grasp the complexities of Shelley’s life and work. Frankenstein is key to any such discussion, not merely because of its iconic status but because it was one of the first popular texts to foreground the post-Enlightenment confluence of art and science. The story’s resulting conflict between pure scientific inquiry and philosophical concerns constitutes an early treatise on bioethics, a topic of increasing urgency today.

Frankenstein has also been championed by modern scholars and critics as an early feminist text, but Carlson cautions that this interpretation is dependent upon a consensus definition of “feminism” and is therefore debatable. According to Carlson it may be argued with equal validity that the novel was autobiographically-inspired, an allegorical reaction to Shelley’s own upbringing as, in Carlson’s words, “an experiment of radical parents.” Shelley was doubtless keenly aware of the oppositions mentioned above and incorporated them into her work, but she doesn’t resolve them neatly for the reader; rather than a destination, her interest was in the exploration. The many other possible interpretations of Frankenstein – as cautionary fable, post-revolutionary tract, political allegory, critique of English Romanticism, etc. – are a tribute to the novel’s many facets and confirmation of its status as a vaunting work of imagination.

Watch Frankenstein: Afterlives – Mary Shelley

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Cancer from an Evolutionary Perspective

Humans have a relatively high risk of developing cancer in their lifetimes. But cancer is not unique to humans. Across the tree of life, we can trace cancer vulnerabilities back to the origins of multicellularity. Cancer is observed in almost all multicellular phyla, including lineages leading to plants, fungi, and animals.

However, species vary remarkably in their susceptibility to cancer. And some organisms are much better at killing problem cells. Amy Boddy discusses how this variation is characterized by life history trade-offs, especially longevity. Interestingly, different species have evolved different ways to fight cell mutations that cause cancer. This may lead to a better understanding of cancer susceptibility across human populations.

Amy Boddy is an Assistant Professor in the Integrated Anthropological Sciences Unit and a Research Associate in the Broom Center for Demography at UC Santa Barbara. Boddy completed her PhD in molecular biology and genetics at the Wayne State University – School of Medicine in 2013. Her work uses applications from evolution and ecology to understand human health and disease. She uses a combination of genomics, computational biology and evolutionary theory to understand life history trade-offs between survival and reproduction across different levels of biological organization. One component of her research program examines how environmental cues, such as high extrinsic mortality, may guide resource allocations to cancer defenses and reproduction. Current cancer research topics include comparative oncology, intragenomic conflict, cellular life history trade-offs, and early life adversity and cancer outcomes later in life. In addition to her cancer research, she studies maternal/fetal conflict theory and the consequences of fetal microchimeric cells in maternal health and disease.

Watch Cancer Across the Tree of Life: New Insights into an Ancient Disease

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Talking with Machines – Artificial Intelligence

With the vast amount of data available in digital form, the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is evolving rapidly.

If you’ve even been caught on a phone tree with a computer that doesn’t understand what you are saying, you’ll appreciate that scientists are trying to figure out how to teach machines to understand, to communicate and even be empathetic.

William Wang, Director of the Natural Language Processing Group at UCSB, summarizes the stunning achievements of Artificial Intelligence for the past decade and talks about the intersection of AI and language. He’s trying to build an empathetic conversational agent that can understand and generate human sentences with rich emotions.

Wang also looks at the challenges facing AI in the future and the work ahead of these researchers as they strive to keep improving AI and making it better for everyone.

William Wang is the Director of UCSB’s Natural Language Processing Group, and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer Science at UCSB. He received his PhD from School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University. He has broad interests in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, and Natural Language Processing. He is the recipient of a DARPA Young Faculty Award, an IBM Faculty Award, a Facebook Research Award, and an Adobe Research Award. He is an alumnus of Columbia University, and he also worked at Yahoo! Labs, Microsoft Research Redmond, and University of Southern California. His work and opinions appear at major tech media outlets such as Wired, VICE, Fast Company, The Next Web, and Mental Floss.

Watch Artificial Intelligence: What’s Next?

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